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Stars of ‘Shababnikim’: The haredi heartthrob and hilarious headmaster

By ALAN ZEITLIN
Photo by: Ohad Romano/Courtesy ChaiFlicks

Not since Michael Aloni’s character Kive in Shtisel has there been an ultra-Orthodox figure that made women dream about standing next to him under the huppah. 

Daniel Gad, 31, has taken up the mantle as Avinoam Lasri, the handsome ringleader of a group of four haredi friends in the award-winning Shababnikim, also known as The New Black.

“I get requests on the streets and online for matchmaking for a shidduch,” Gad told the Magazine. “It makes me smile and it’s flattering.”

Gad said he and Aloni are friends, give each other advice, and were once double casted as William Shakespeare in a production of Shakespeare in Love. One quality he and his character share is the desire for unity.

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a peacemaker, because I’ve been a student in physics, in theater and played soccer,” he said. “I’ve been around different types of people and different cultures. I usually try to connect people I’ve been exposed to, and there is no doubt in the case of Avinoam, it is one step up.”

 A stillshot from ''Shababnikim.''  (credit: CHAIFLICKS)

After taking Israel by storm and winning the Israeli Academy of Film and Television’s awards for Best Comedy Series, Best Screenplay and Best Direction, the show is gaining steam in America, Canada and Australia, as it is available on ChaiFlicks.

In real life, he said, he is simply looking for a nice person, and on the show’s first season he has an interest with a young woman named Shira, though the obstacle is that she is secular.

Gad said he comes from a traditional home and keeps as many mitzvot as he can and studies with a havruta, or study partner. He said he read from the Torah for his bar mitzvah.

He is a fan of NBA star Stephen Curry and Israeli soccer player Manor Solomon. One of the show’s funniest scenes features the yeshiva boys playing American football against secular Israelis.

“I never touched a football before,” Gad admitted.

While his on-screen version loves coffee, he said he prefers tea. Asked why his character has resonated with his fans (aside from good looks), he said it’s likely easy for viewers to relate.

“I think that a lot of people identify with him, as an Avinoam exists within them,” Gad said. “They have an internal conflict like him – he is a man who believes in God, but he is trying to integrate into society in the modern era.”

He said a man from Germany asked for a selfie and said the show changed his life. When Gad saw people dressed like the show’s characters for Purim, he knew they were on to something.

He said that in a scene where they have to carry a flat-screen TV out of the apartment [such religious guys aren’t supposed to have a TV], it was a prop, but sandbags were put in it to make it really heavy.

He added that the four actors didn’t know each other before the show, did research by spending a Shabbat in Jerusalem, and now are great friends.

Do they have a problem of cracking up during scenes and have to do multiple takes?

“The pace of shooting in Israel is very fast, which does not allow you to laugh too much,” he said.

ORI LAIZEROUVICH, 34, looks like he was shot out of a comedy cannon. It’s no surprise that for his role as Gedaliah, he won the award for Best Actor in a Comedy Series from the Israeli Television Academy, which is the Israeli version of an Emmy Award.

Laizerouvich explained that he knew that about 700 actors were up for the role, but he had full confidence it would be his.

“I was super crazy,” Laizerouvich told the Magazine. “I just came. I got the amazing script which Eliran Malka wrote. I was thinking like, 100% I have to be Gedaliah. I knew maybe some people would funnier than me or more dramatic or fitter or look more Orthodox, but I knew inside that I’m the only one who can make the whole thing work.”

He said he even refused to say a line, arguing that his character would never say that, and the stubborn attitude, a major quality of the character, may have helped him get the role.

He said he was never sure he would win the award but was certain the show would be a hit.

“I feel very blessed and honored,” he said. “My big prize is to be a big part of the show and play alongside my talented costars. The fact that the show did such amazing stuff is much more important than the prize itself.”

As some frame the show as a religious Jewish version of HBO’s Entourage, Laizerouvich gave credit to the talented costars, Gad, Omer Perelman Striks, who plays the rich and calm Dov Laser, and Israel Atias, who plays Meir Sabag, a character who is given a chance at love if he agrees to make a big sacrifice.

“We’re a four-headed monster,” Laizerouvich said.

He said the show, about four yeshiva students navigating the need to study Torah with their desires to find a bride and adapt to the outside world, has a real impact on Israeli life. After an episode showing that the yeshiva bahurim could not look at the bodies of women, he said a friend told him she was on a bus from Ramat Gan that picked up an ultra-Orthodox young man. She was on her way to a dance studio and wearing a revealing tank top when she saw him. They looked at each other and she quickly raised a shopping bag to cover up a little. The pair laughed and spoke about how they had seen the Shababnikim episode the day before.

“To me, that’s a victory for the show,” he said.

Gedaliah, aside from being a Talmudic genius and headmaster, has anger issues and can fly off the handle at any moment. Does the actor share this temper?

“Who doesn’t?” he asked. “Most of the time I’m very happy, positive and easygoing, but when I’m extremely tired, I can be cranky. If I’m tired and hungry at the same time, you don’t want to be around me.”

He said he speaks quickly like his character but is calm and hasn’t studied Talmud.

His character is freaked out by the smallest of things, like his girlfriend wearing clothing that is red, and even throws something out the window.

“Gedaliah needs therapy, but it would be a waste of time for both Gedaliah and the therapist,” he said.

The actor said he started doing impressions of teachers and family members at a young age. Asked if he can do Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, he said that role is done by Eran Zarahovitsh, but then launched into a great impersonation of US President Joe Biden. As a cast member of Eretz Nehederet, which is the Israeli version of Saturday Night Live, he once did a fantastic depiction of Israeli NBA forward Deni Avdija.

He said he is told by many fans that they know people in real life exactly like Gedaliah. As for the best compliment he’s gotten, he said a person said his humor was the only one to make their sick mother laugh, and another said he was depressed, and the show made him smile.

He also said that since the show depicts Gedaliah as an outsider of the group but then being accepted, he hopes the show will inspire people to stop bullying and make connections to people who aren’t the same as them.

“When someone is different from you, if you don’t try to discover their background or their world, it’s a kind of ignorance,” he said. “That’s why people don’t get along. If you look and see someone wearing black and white with a strange black hat, and you just think the person is weird, and you never ask them why, and say ‘Okay, bye, I’m gonna ignore you’… when you start to have a conversation and get to know the other, that’s what gets people together.”

He said a producer told him that the way he was doing the character was too extreme, but he said that from going to yeshivot he saw that there were people who swayed violently when they prayed. He said he visited Bnei Brak and was extremely happy to get support for his character.

“I get so much love, and we start a conversation about life and the way of living,” he said. “The show is not only about Orthodox or not Orthodox, Jewish people or non-Jewish people. It’s about four young guys who love, who fear, who want to be something, who want to meet people and want to discover the world. That’s why the show is so good, because it talks about the feelings and connections between people.”

In a brilliantly written, tension-filled scene in season two, Gedaliah and his friends compete in a Torah competition on the radio, but a teammate takes an important question involving a food item brought on Shabbat. Was Gedaliah stumped or giving a teammate a chance?

“Gedaliah knows everything,” he said.

If he could have any actor guest-star on the third season of the show, he would opt for Jim Carrey in a dramatic role as a rabbi. What about Gedaliah on a motorcycle?

“I think he would fail the test,” he said. “I don’t even think he knows how to ride a bicycle.”

There’s no doubt Hollywood filmmakers have their eyes on both actors. Laizerouvich said he’s already filmed projects in America, and if the role fits him, he will travel for his career and to make money. But he doesn’t see himself permanently leaving the Land of Milk and Honey.

“I love Israel,” he said. “I love my audience. I don’t think I will move to LA.” ■

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