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What Happens When Sparks Fly Between a Married Rabbi and a Single Young Woman?

“Fire Dance,” described as a Haredi “Succession,” is streaming on Chai Flicks
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April 3, 2024
Yehuda Levi, Mia Irvyn and Noa Koler as Rabbi Nathan, Feigi and her mother, Reyzi in “Fire Dance” on ChaiFlicks.

The characters in Rama Burshtein-Shai’s work find themselves at a personal and spiritual crossroads, trying to balance their personal desires against their religious or societal obligations.

Rama Burshtein-Shai won three Ophir Awards for “Fill The Void”

In 2012’s “Fill The Void” Shira (Hadas Yaron of “Shtisel” fame) is a woman unsure if she is doing something wrong by marrying her former brother-in-law after her sister’s tragic death. In “The Wedding Plan,” when Michal’s (Noa Koler of “Checkout”) fiancé jilts her, she decides she is still going to get married, even though at the moment she doesn’t have the groom; her friends think she’s lost her mind. In the TV series, “Fire Dance,” (now streaming at Chai Flicks) Nathan, (Yehuda Levi) a handsome rabbi,saves Feigi (Mia Ivryn, in an unforgettable debut) from a suicide attempt. While she owes him her life, Feigi starts to believe she owes him more.

Asked which of her characters experienced the deepest relationship, said “all of them feel love and have a love of passion, but it’s complicated.”

Burshtein-Shai was born in New York but moved to Israel when she was a baby. It wasn’t until she was 27 thatshe became observant.

What caused her to become religious?

“It’s impossible to answer this question,” she said. “It’s more of a journey and a quest. I was a seeker looking for answers and meaning. Even in my secular life I was looking for that. Even as a Jew in Israel, I didn’t know Judaism at all. It’s like they keep it away from us in school. I didn’t know (anything) besides the folklore.”

“Someone had to speak from the inside and say whatever it is that they wanted to say. That’s what pushed me.” – Rama Burshtein-Shai

But Burshtein-Shai, an alumna of the prestigious Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem, was not impressed by earlier films about observant Jewish women, such as “A Price Above Rubies” starring Renee Zellweger or “A Stranger Among Us” with Melanie Griffith.

“It’s always about someone trying to get in or someone trying to out,” she said, “it’s never about the thing itself which is 3,000 years old that might be interesting by itself.”

Someone, she thought, “had to speak from the inside and say whatever it is that they wanted to say. That’s what pushed me.” One example she used is the misapprehension that many ultra-Orthodox women are forced into arranged marriages.

“I would never choose a religion that takes the right of choice out of my hands,” she said. “I think what happened when I became religious was the right of choice. When it comes to fixed marriages, I think today more than ever it’s fixed options.”

“Fire Dance” takes place in Tiberias and opens with Rabbi Nathan dramatically saving Feigi from ending her life. She is helpful and has a spark, while not looking like what someone would call a classical beauty.

Problems begin to arise for the rabbi when he counsels women who are having difficulty with their husbands and may want a get. His methods are unorthodox; in one scene, he tapes a married couple’s mouths shut and tells them he is in love with them (he is not actually in love with them — he wants them to hear what the words might feel like coming from their spouse).

This scene was the hardest to for her to realize; it was important that it was believable.

When a group of Hasidic youths warns the women that going to the home of the rabbi is not proper and threaten them, the women worry — are they bluffing or mean business? Complicating matters is that something from Nathan’spast keeps him from becoming a rebbe, even though he feels as though he deserves it.

While the writing is spectacular, direction stellar and the cinematography on point, it is Ivryn’s performance as Feigi that makes the greatest impression. Levi and Irvyn have strong chemistry, expressed mostly through eye contact and a few phrases.

One subplot involves a woman trying to get a divorce, known as a get, with the husband refusing to do so despite major problems. Burshtein-Shai said such men who do this should be “treated like criminals.” She added that she does not speak for Haredim in her films but simply tells personal stories that she hopes will have an emotional impact on the viewers.

How is Burshtein-Shai able to find the perfect female leads for the characters she has written?

“When I cast Hadas Yaron, it immediately felt like she was Shira,” she said. “When I saw Mia, I knew it was Feigi. She needed to be someone who would be strong, smart and have the brain for it. She had to someone you at first maybe wouldn’t notice but by the end you would realize how strong she was.”

“Fire Dance” has been called a Haredi version of ‘Succession.’ The comparison only goes so far; while the HBO series had its share of dark humor, “Fire Dance” just gets dark. There is a scene at a wedding will leave you shocked.

The series also examines the nature of forgiveness and the potential dangers if we grant it too easily and bad behavior goes unchecked.

Among the directors Burshtein looks up to is Quentin Tarantino for the way he depicts good vs. evil.

Burshtein-Shai subject matter is religious Jewish woman seeking to carve out her own identity. In the hands of many writers and directors, the result would be something corny or clichéd. But her works get under your skin-in a good way and “Fire Dance” is a show you can watch twice and catch nuances you didn’t pick up the first time. The actors do a delicate dance in which uniquely, the steps don’t come across as rehearsed.

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