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Post-‘Unorthodox’ fever, two new streaming services vie for Jewish eyes

Millenials and their boomer parents may have different ideas about Israel and how to be Jewish, but two new streaming services for Jewish and Israeli TV and film are banking on the fact that both groups are hungry for good content.

A global pandemic and a clamor to find a replacement for “Unorthodox” form the backdrop for IZZY, a hub for Israeli film and television now in beta mode and set for a complete launch on September 3, and ChaiFlicks, a one-stop-shop for Jewish culture that rolled out in full on August 12. While both services are vying for Jewish subscribers — a niche viewership, as they acknowledge — they have different ideas about their ultimate audience.

“There’s a lot of opportunities for us to reinvigorate the growing number of primarily young Jews that are feeling more and more disconnected from Israel,” said Josh Hoffman, 30, head of marketing and operations for IZZY. “This could be the initial connection point.”

Hoffman, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, sees IZZY’s typical customer as someone like his younger self: A Jew who is secular and indifferent to Israel. Like many millennials, Hoffman’s discovery of Israel came through a Birthright trip, which he took in January of 2013. After extending that visit, he decided to make a home in the Jewish state. Now, he’s hoping to use IZZY to help Israeli culture assume a more prominent position on the world stage — and channel returns back to Israel.

“50% of all of our institutional revenues go back into the industry in Israel — whether it’s filmmakers or editors, production companies, audio engineers — anyone who’s involved in producing entertainment content,” said Hoffman. “Some of that will go into licensing existing content and the remaining part will go into original content that we will co-produce and in many cases fund ourselves.”

When asked about ChaiFlicks, Hoffman distinguished IZZy as being more Israeli than Jewish in its focus. “In my experience, being Jewish is not really cool anymore,” Hoffman said. IZZY, he said, strives to promote content that shows modern Israeli life as vibrant and exciting and not necessarily steeped in Judaism. While most of IZZY’s current users are older — and he wants to retain them — Hoffman ultimately sees his service appealing to a younger crowd on the strength of the platform’s eclectic offerings, hooking a sports fan with a documentary on soccer or a music buff with a film about Israeli rock and roll. In doing so, he hopes to change some minds about what the country is like, and better inform viewers about its history.

IZZY’s early subscribers, who mostly hail from the U.S. and Canada, but also include viewers from the U.K., Australia, Hong Kong, India, Sweden and the Netherlands, pay $4.99 a month or $49.99 annually for a wide array of dramas, comedies and even student films. Current marquee items include the cult 2019 comedy “Tel Aviv on Fire;” the series “Tech Talk,” about Israeli innovation; and the upcoming three-part docuseries “Iron Dome,” which IZZY co-produced and which will be available at the platform’s full launch in September.

While IZZY’s ambitions are international, ChaiFlicks, which sources Jewish content from around the world, including Israel, is focusing on North America for now, with plans to expand. They are also explicitly Jewish and enter the game with a devoted — primarily older — audience. Compared to IZZY’s largely contemporary Israeli lineup, many of ChaiFlicks’ offerings are concerned with Jewish history, with a number of films set during World War II. Much of their content also handles Jewish themes of continuity and identity in the diaspora.

Founded by Neil Friedman and Heidi Bogin Oshin of Menemsha Films with Bill Weiner, former executive vice president of New Regency Productions, ChaiFlicks had a soft launch in the first week of March. It was timed to service the loyal fanbase that attends Jewish film festivals, for which Menemsha is the leading distributor.

“As a result of not being able to go to theaters, this particular market that Neil and Heidi have cultivated over the last years, [audiences] don’t have a place to go,” said Weiner. “This was almost a gift to them.”

ChaiFlicks launched with 150 titles, including the American sitcom “Soon By You,” about the life of Orthodox friends in New York City, and “1945,” a Hungarian black and white film from 2017.

“We hope for it to be a repository for Jewish culture, be it films or TV shows,” Oshin said. “We have theater pieces, we’re hoping to get cooking shows.”

Friedman said the platform’s goal is not to replace the festival model or major streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, but to supplement them with content that is often hard to find outside of limited theatrical runs..

Unifying all of ChaiFlicks’ offerings, which can be accessed for $5.99 a month or $66 annually, is the tastemaking that devotees of Jewish film seek from Menemsha, which introduced the U.S. to films like “The Women’s Balcony” and “Dough,” both of which were subsequently acquired by Netflix.

“I’m sort of programming for my parents,” said Friedman, citing his first big success in film distribution, the 1999 film “Gloomy Sunday,” as something his late parents suggested.

At the same time the three partners realize that, as baby boomers, they are their own target audience.

“The filmgoers are pretty much our demographic,” said Oshin. “What turns us on is usually a good indication.”

Both IZZY and ChaiFlicks are continuing to expand their libraries. Given the broad success of shows like “Shtisel” and “Fauda,” they hope the programming they amass will have appeal beyond a Jewish viewership.

“I have a feeling the programming will expand outside of this kind of market,” said Weiner. “The word of mouth will be ‘This was a great movie.’ ‘Oh, that’s a cool show.’”

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].

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