Netflix’s ‘Rough Diamonds’ brings viewers into the drama of Antwerp’s Orthodox diamond district


Kevin Janssens, center, as Noah Wolfson in “Rough Diamonds.” (Screenshot from YouTube)

Gabe Friedman, JTA

(JTA) — A new drama on Netflix centered on a haredi Orthodox family that runs a business in Antwerp’s famed diamond district hit the platform on Friday and is drawing comparisons to the hit Israeli series “Shtisel.”

“Rough Diamonds,” a joint production from Israel’s Keshet International and Belgium’s De Mensen, follows the Wolfson family as it navigates internal tension and business struggles in the wake of a death in the family. The protagonist, who left the haredi world 15 years earlier, returns to Antwerp to look into his relative’s death and help steer the family company back to prominence.

Until the past decade, Antwerp was home to over 80% of the world’s annual uncut diamond trade, and much of it was dominated by haredi Orthodox Jews. The city was home to a large Jewish population for centuries after welcoming many Jews who left Spain and Portugal in the wake of the Inquisition in the 15th century, including many diamond dealers who were barred from working in many other industries. Although the community was decimated by the Holocaust, by 2018 Antwerp was home to at least 20,000 Jews, many of them haredi Orthodox. In recent years, Indian families have assumed control of as much as three-quarters of Antwerp’s diamond industry.

“Rough Diamonds” is mostly filmed in a mix of Flemish and Yiddish, in addition to some French and English. Co-creators Rotem Shamir and Yuval Yefet, who are both Israeli and worked together on the Israeli military thriller “Fauda,” told the Times of Israel that they had to use a “lot of advisers and translators” while working on the show over the course of six years.

“We’re not from an ultra-Orthodox background, and we’re not from Belgian backgrounds. .. You have to kind of submerge yourself in this world to learn about it” Yefet said.

The show’s lead, Noah Wolfson, is played by Kevin Janssens, a popular non-Jewish TV actor in his native Belgium. About half of the Wolfson family are played by Jews, producer Pieter Van Huyck told the London Jewish Chronicle.

“We want to portray a normal Hasidic family in the most authentic way possible but, of course, it is a family which is in trouble so it is not a normal situation they are trying to survive,” he said. “It wasn’t easy finding Jewish actors who knew that specific way of living and so we had a mix of Jewish and local Flemish actors and we had quite a few Jewish coaches.”

Jews in New York City’s Diamond District were given the silver-screen spotlight in “Uncut Gems,” a 2019 drama starring Adam Sandler.