Last Night's TV: Two Jews on a Cruise: A Wonderland Film, BBC2


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The Independent Culture

I don't know whether you remember Gaby and Tikwah. They were last on our screens in Paddy Wivell's 2011 Wonderland documentary about Hasidic weddings.

They weren't a typical Hasidic couple exactly and there may have been members of the community who felt they were altogether too accommodating to the man from the BBC. But for an outsider they were memorably charming and they clearly captivated Wivell himself, because he's gone back for a second helping, this time following Gaby and his long-suffering wife on their first holiday in more than 40 years of marriage. What a holiday, too, a Mediterranean cruise on the Golden Iris, departing for multiple ports from Haifa. As a man who approaches observance as a competitive sport (he chucklingly owned up to the fact later), I don't think Gaby would even have set foot on the gang-plank if the cruise hadn't been 100 per cent kosher. But even so he was a long way from Stamford Hill. "What would you like on the cruise?" he asked Tikwah excitedly before they set off. "I want to enjoy the Jacuzzi."

The truth was that what Tikwah would like is more attention from her husband, and the melancholy thread that ran through Two Jews on a Cruise was that Gaby found it very difficult to meet this simple need. Within five minutes of embarking, he'd disappeared, confirming Tikwah's wary prediction earlier that "once he starts talking to other people he forgets me". "Ahh, you're such a schlimazel," she scolded when she eventually tracked him down. Gaby's clubbability is a volatile quality, though, which can tip in a moment into megaphone misanthropy. As they queued for their first onshore excursion in Crete, Tikwah became a little distressed at the crush to get the best seat on the coach, but Gaby loudly assured her he was fine: "I don't see any of these people," he said as he buried himself in his prayer book, "to me, they're all like animals." Some of the animals looked a bit startled by his candour.

There was lots to do on board, but Gaby and Tikwah didn't last long at the cabaret, the combination of amplified music and dancers' cleavage driving them out of the door. Fortunately, they were long gone before the belly dancer arrived. They weren't much interested in the food-sculpting demonstration or aerobic classes either, and they couldn't go swimming because women and men shared the pool. But Tikwah had signed them up for the on-board relationship-counselling sessions, at which Gaby, a man intimately at home with ancient Talmudic wisdom, found himself obediently parroting Californian therapeutic jargon. "Ask him if he's willing to cross the bridge and come to Tikwah-land and listen to what you're saying," the therapist told Tikwah. Gaby insisted he was, but it didn't do him much good. "Do you feel like he understands you?" the counsellor asked after Gaby had dutifully "mirrored" his wife's concerns. "No," she replied sceptically.

Not everyone was as keen to spend more time with Gaby as Tikwah. "I live for arguments... I like to make awkward situations... I love it," he explained cheerfully, after getting into a blazing row at the creative towel-folding workshop with a woman who was annoying Tikwah by talking too much. He also provoked an on-shore guide into a bristly argument about the sacredness of nature and caused some exasperated raised eyebrows with his requests for rabbinical clarification as to whether it was acceptable to leave the vessel during sabbath. But when he finally realised that Tikwah was genuinely hurt by his lack of attention, he did his limited best to put things right, buying her a present and bringing her breakfast in bed. "It will come down with a bang when we get home," Tikwah said, chuckling. It did, but Wivell's very funny and often touching film was wise enough to accommodate the fact that a good marriage need not be a perfect one.