This week, a new series began on Israeli TV. It is a drama about a group of Hilonim (secular Israelis) who have all left the Haredi (Ultra Orthodox) community. It is called Simanei Sheela (Question Marks) which is a play on the phrase חזרה בשאלה - a contemporary Hebrew phrase indicating a movement from the Religious world to the irreligious. You can watch the opening episode here. It centers around a clandestine apartment which is a "safe house" for Haredi escapees. They keep the address secret so that the Haredi community cannot find them.
One of the fascinating scenes in episode 1 sees all the members of the apartment eating Friday night dinner, with the TV on, smoking, and singing zemirot! A passionate debate ensues instigated by the freshest memeber of the apartment as to why they should be singing zemirot at all if they are now Secular. As many op-eds on the topic have noted (link, link), any religious person who moves to the Hiloni community still carries the baggage of his or her religion throughout their lives! For these people, their songs are still a part of their identity. Their secret knock is to the beat of Hassidic hit music!
Another great scene is when one of the girls who has already been secular for 3 years, becomes terrified of a dog that barks at her. This plays into one of the classic cliches about Haredim that they are terrified of dogs. (Since I also share this fear, I fully identified.)
Incidentally, the phrase חזרה בשאלה is a play on the term חזרה בתשובה. Rather than translating it as "returning (to God) in repentace," it is read by the secular public as "a return to having answers" as if the religious world purports to being able to offer answers to life's difficult questions. In that case חזרה בשאלה means "living with questions." I have to say that from my perspective, this is wholly wrong. I follow Rav Soloveitchik in this regard who says that belief in and practice of Judaism isn't a respite for life's big questions, in fact, it just deepens them! See Halakhic Man, footnote 4(!). Religion should deepen our sensitivity, our caring, our ethical conscience, our peoplehood, our humanity. Our struggles are more and not fewer.
So, let's see how this series develops. Will it have any depth? Will it just be a Haredi-bashing series, or will it be intelligent about this fascinating sub-group in Israeli society who certainly do not have an easy life.