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Israel

‘Transparent’ Finally Takes On a Charged Issue: Israel

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Like so many I have been captured by Jill Soloway’s “Transparent” since Season One. It is very hard for me to stop myself from binge watching each season of the show about a Jewish family whose father comes out as trans. The show’s characters are flawed, yet lovable; it is audacious and fabulously written–and in many ways, it is the most Jewish TV show I’ve ever seen. For instance, its intimate depictions of Jewish burial, prayer services, and even a mikvah, are fantastic.

But the trailer for the new season of the show has left me quite shaken. And it’s not just because of how hilarious Judith Light is in it (I laughed out loud when her character drunkenly admits “I have no idea what boundaries actually are.”). It’s because this season, the Pfeffermans are going to Israel, and that could possibly be revolutionary.

Israel is one of those topics that hasn’t been dealt with in pop culture much in general, and in Jewish pop culture in particular. Sure, there’s the joke here or there, and even the occasional Birthright flight. But those awkward, in-depth portrayals about the political realities of Israel is a particular minefield no American TV show or movie wants to set foot in.

I understand why. As an Israeli, as someone who works for Jewish media, I have, too often seen the conversation devolve into someone essentially dismissing you as a self-hating Jew, or as a Zionist pig, as is exemplified by this evergreen sketch from Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show (I miss him too).

In a Rumpus interview from 2012, Soloway (who was interviewing fellow Jewish American artist Elana Mann already unpacked this quite well):

“Israel’s this thing at the center of Judaism that refuses to be unpacked. Sometimes it reminds me of the way feminism simply cannot have conversations about pro-life vs. pro-choice. There’s just this giant void. It seems the same with Judaism and Israel”

But just like with so many things that are painful and raw, “Transparent” is bravely trudging right along into one more charged topic. The trailer for the new season shows the obligatory revelatory floating in the dead sea, but also Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) and Ali (Gabby Hoffman) being stepped on and ignored by two Ultra-Orthodox men–and yes, the checkpoints and the border wall.

As an Israeli, I deeply long for a nuanced but unreserved portrayal of my country. I know that pop culture often is the best way to get these really important conversations into the forefront, in much the same way that “Will & Grace” and “Ellen” have done for gays and lesbians, “Transparent” has done the same for trans people. These show are so successful at breaking boundaries because they show the intimate and human aspect of charged political issues.

I know the way Soloway will tackle Israel in a sensitive, but unflinching way, and I can’t wait for this new season to come out.

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