I first started watching Amazon’s The Baker and the Beauty in hopes that its uncomplicated plotline would help me brush up on my Hebrew. While 13 years of schooling in my grandparents’ native tongue came rushing back to me, the show did an even better job of portraying the culture of my people. It also helped that the main characters, supermodel Noah Hollander, played by Rotem Sela, and baker Amos Dahari, played by Aviv Alush, are strikingly beautiful.
Fresh off the heels of shows like Fauda and Shtisel that focus on Ultra-Orthodox and IDF culture, this Israeli romantic comedy series about the complex love story between a simple baker and an international Bar Refaeli look-alike supermodel centers around Israeli culture. Like these star-crossed lovers, my Israeli grandparents, too, were caught in a socio-economic power struggle when they were dating. My grandmother wasn’t a celebrity but her family owned a fruit store and lived comfortably in Tel Aviv, while my grandfather’s family bartered rugs and lived in a decrepit shack in Rosh Pinah. Before them, my great-grandparents from Syria eloped to Israel when my great-grandmother’s parents, who came from a well-off family, would not allow her to marry a poor orphan. Still, like my ancestors, Amos and Noah made their relationship work, and that’s a big reason why I love this show so much.
And apparently I’m not alone: The show’s producers, Assi Azar and Keshet Studios, won the world over, with ABC recently announcing that they’re producing an American adaptation of the show featuring a Miami couple. Before the American studio loses the essence of the OG storyline (sorry, I’m a pessimist), here are some reasons to watch The Baker and the Beauty in its original Israeli glory (yes, there are English subtitles on Amazon).
1. It shows another side of life in Israel
When someone who’s never been to the Middle East thinks of Israel, the first thing that typically comes to mind are terrorists and war. In two seasons of The Beauty and the Baker, the area’s political violence is only mentioned once. When Amos’ brother, Assaf, brings home Blanca, whom he met in Spain, her Spanish mother is far from happy that she moved to Israel. Blanca’s mother pleads with her over FaceTime to come home. (“Darling, I warned you about those Jews. They’re the worst!” she says.) Assaf reassures his girlfriend that there’s nothing to worry about: “Terrorist attacks only happen every couple of years, anyways.” The only violence we’re privy to in the series happens unexpectedly in the season finale (but I won’t spoil that for you!). While of course the conflict is a real aspect of Israeli life, producer Assi Azar clearly wanted to show viewers that there is much more to Israel than just politics.
2. It gets at the never-ending “interfaith” debate
Religious entities aside, for most secular Israelis it’s still considered blasphemy to marry a non-Jew when you live in a country surrounded by Jews. It’s less about religion than it is about Israeli pride and Jewish nationalism. So when Assaf brings home Blanca, his mother immediately disapproves. Assaf goes to extreme lengths to gain his overprotective Jewish mother’s approval. He convinces Blanca to cook his family a meal (which ends up containing pork), and even tricks her into attending conversion school (which, yikes). After much conflict, Momma Dahari warms up to Blanca when she learns she actually will be converting. As someone whose traditional Modern Orthodox family expects me to only date within the tribe, I can relate.
3. It gives us a different kind of Jewish mother
We all know the stereotypes of Jewish mothers — overbearing, overprotective, overly involved in their children’s lives — and that’s pretty much the only portrayal of Jewish mothers we ever see on TV. The Beauty and the Baker gives us the ultimate “sabra” mother. Israelis are often compared to the thorny fruit that are prickly on the outside but soft on the inside. Amos’s mother, Amelia Dahari, exemplifies the sabra personality to a T. She’s constantly yelling for some reason or another, but she loves her family fiercely and will take a bullet for any of them. When Noah is caught on tape calling her future mother-in-law “overbearing,” Amalia is not too happy about being publicly shamed. But, after Noah apologizes and sincerely says she is like the mother she doesn’t have, Amalia is quick to welcome her back with open arms.
4. It shows the many subcultures within Judaism
There are so many subcultures within Judaism. Between just Sephardim and Ashkenazim, there are Egyptians, Yemenites, Bukharians, Moroccans, and more. In the show, Amos comes from a Yemenite Sephardic background, while Noah’s family is Ashkenazi. We are constantly privy to their clashes in culture, like when Noah doesn’t want to invite her fiancé’s “sweaty Yemenite uncles” to their wedding, which causes an uproar from media critics who overhear her comment out of context. Soon after, a swarm of Yemenite Jews show up outside the supermodel’s door with picket signs and angry commentary. Amos, on the other hand, defends her, knowing that she did not intend for her joke to be racist. Even so, this scene reflects how a small country can consist of so many different cultures, and that sometimes there is conflict between your own people.
5. Because we all have a nightmare ex that pops up in our lives
When Amos breaks up with his girlfriend of nine years in the pilot episode — an obvious ending to make room for someone new — we assume we’ll never hear from her again. But much to Amos’ chagrin (and the viewer’s enjoyment), she becomes a main character and is forever weaved into the lives of her ex and his new lover. In lieu of seeing the one that got away all over social media (the way one typically would), she sees them all over skyscraper billboards and the cover of tabloids. To some degree, any viewer can relate, except for the whole mega-celebrity part.
6. There are SO many steamy romantic relationships
Every which way you turn, there’s another unexpected couple lurking in the shadows. At first, the dominant focus is on Noah and Amos (because who doesn’t want to see that?). But as the story unfolds, the underdogs take part in the spotlight with their own romantic interests. Vanessa finds a new man to boss around. Amos’ sister, Meirav, finds a girlfriend after coming out to their parents. And even Grandpa Dahari meets up with his secret girlfriend in between vitamin refills. The Daharis symbolize the true identity of Israel — a country and people imbued with fiery passion and love.