Israelis - and the audiences worldwide, have responded enthusiastically to the series, and not only because it pulls the curtain back on an insular culture; there's a struggle for personal expression at the heart that has a universal quality.

The Israeli series ''SHTISEL'' hired two portraitists to create a character's work. Off camera, artists realize a show's vision.

In the middle of the night in a Jerusalem alleyway, a black-hatted yeshiva principal stands before a blazing mass of canvas. He has just set fire to his youngest son's paintings - portrait of the son's deceased wife and he is somberly watching them burn. 

Oil, it seems, is a great accelerant.

It's a Hasidic bonfire of the vanities, with a touch of 21st-century cancel culture : a distillation of artistic, cultural and Oedipal tensions at the heart of Israeli series ''Shtisel,'' which explores the quiet intricacies of a Haredi Jewish family ultra-Orthodox life in Jerusalem.

In SEASON-3, which arrived on Netflix last month, the son's paintings - especially the portraits of his wife, Libbi [Hadas Yaron], who died mysteriously between seasons - are vessels for his grief, which has prevented him from moving on, much to his father's exasperation.

Suddenly the son, Akiva [Michael Aloni], wakes in a sweat : The whole thing was a dream, a grotesque allegory for his father's relentless attempts to get his son to stop acting like a ''a dried-up radish'' and move on from the woman he obsessively paints.

''My parents have always encouraged my art, and yet, there is always a tension between religious tradition and art,'' said the series's co-creator Ori Eon, who modeled Akiva's story partly after his own experiences.

''That tension has always been a part of my life.'' Ellon added, ''and it still is.''

Art and image-making have been a point of contention in every season of ''Shtisel'' - perhaps never so much so as in Season 3, in which Akiva's striking canvasses acquire the weight of an actual character.

Each created works that exemplified the character's talent and proclivity for dramatic colors. Akiva's first drawings in Season 1, made by Halberstadt, are of lemurs at a zoo scribbled in a notepad; later in the season, Akiva moves on to melancholic self-portraits and quasi-impressionistic oil paintings, also pained by Halberstadt.

''Akiva has a combination of humor and childishness, along with deep and spiritual emotions,'' Halberstadt said. ''I tried to give expression to both of these sides.''

''I think his attitude to his art changes during the first season,'' he added, ''from something that is a kind of hobby, which he does in his spare time for his own enjoyment, to something that has emotional and spiritual significance for him.''

In Season 2, for which Tubis made the art, Akiva's work changes to include sharply rendered portraits, like one boy holding a goldfish in a bag. The subject confronts the viewer with a direct gaze, evoking the courtly portraits of the mid-17th-century painter Diego Valazquez.

''I think they're trying to represent some genius in a very, very high level in the series,'' Tubis said. ''He is a religious man,'' he added about Akiva, and ''God is coming to him from another place. But as I see it, he feels it through his art.''

''Akiva is dealing with the question of individualism, even if subconsciously.'' Halberstadt said. ''On the one hand, he does not want to break away from his family and community. And on the other hand, he feels that he as an individual has a voice that he wants to give expression to.''

The World Students Society thanks author Marisa Mazria-Katz.


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