Turkish drama’s nuanced portrayal of good-looking Jews

Netflix has a new Turkish drama series , The Club – starring  Jewish characters and giving viewers a flavour of their Ladino culture.   They are good-looking and sympathetically portrayed, although tensions between Jews and Muslims are also present. Feature by Lior Zaltzman in Kveller magazine:

A scene from the Netflix drama ‘The Club’

A new Netflix show opens with a scene of a dark-haired woman lighting Shabbat candles, reciting a Shabbat prayer in Hebrew to herself in a crowded dorm room filled with women wearing head coverings.

No, this isn’t the latest season of the Israeli hit “Shtisel.” It’s a new, incredible drama called “The Club,” and it hails from a perhaps unexpected place — Turkey, a land not usually known for its portrayals of Jews.

“The Club,” or “Kulüp” in Turkish, landed on Netflix on November 5, and it is comprised of six masterfully crafted, compelling and incredibly Jewish episodes — with dialogue in Turkish and Ladino, or Judeo-Spanish, the Jewish language spoken by Sephardic Jews of Spanish origins. The show is helmed by prolific and accomplished drama director Zeynep Gunay Tan (love me a woman-run show!) and features an all-star cast.

The name of the show refers to Club Istanbul, a new club opening up in the Turkish capital in 1955, and the show focuses on the many souls who work there. But it is mainly the story of Matilda, a Jewish woman played by the mesmerizing Gökçe Bahadir, a well-known Turkish drama and movie star. When we first meet Matilda in that crowded Jewish dorm room, she has just gotten a pardon and is out of jail for the first time in almost two decades.

Like many Turkish Jews before her, she sets her sights on Israel, hoping to start a new life there, as well as leave behind a land where she has no family left. No family, that is, aside from a daughter, who was born out of wedlock while Matilda was in prison, who she had to give away — and who she knows nothing about.

Before she gets on that ferry, Matilda has to get her affairs in order — she visits David, with whom she left her daughter 17 years prior, to leave something behind for her and to get help with assembling the paperwork needed to make aliyah. David tries to dissuade her from leaving — “It’s been more than 400 years, this is our home,” he tells her, urging her to reunite with her daughter instead. When she refuses, he divulges her daughter’s name — Rasel — and shows her a black-and-white picture of her daughter, now a beautiful young woman.

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