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We enjoy the Shaon Horef, or Winter Noise, festival in different parts of the city each Monday in February, Jerusalem Cinematheque movies enabling us to “travel” to Europe and Japan, and Zappa Club concerts featuring our favorite Israeli singers, when the weather is cold and rainy, or we are just plain tired, we stay home and watch TV. 

The television was purchased last year as a Hebrew-perfecting tool. While we may not understand every word, we often get the gist, aided by Hebrew captions racing across the screen during some shows, but we always enjoy watching.

Israeli television debuted on March 24, 1966, with educational programming through the government-owned Israeli Educational Television. According to a 1997 scholarly paper written by Elihu Katz from Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, television in the early years was not without its opponents, including none other than David Ben Gurion. 

The concern was “that the people of the book would turn into the people of television, that ascetic and pioneering values would be displaced by personality politics.” In part, he was right, for we certainly see personality politics as Israel approaches the April 9 national election. However, others saw the potential of television to “inform, educate, teach Hebrew, absorb immigrants, foster creativity, enfranchise marginal groups, show Israel’s achievements to itself and to the world,” and indeed it has to this day. 

The Six-Day War in 1967 made the absence of television most apparent, when Arab television stations gave reports on the war, but the Israeli voice was silent. In May 1968 more public programming from the Israeli Broadcast Authority was launched. The IETV and the IBA shared a single Israeli TV channel from 1968 until 1986. 

Today, Israel has five public broadcasting stations. Two popular cable networks, Yes and HOT, produce such imaginative and engrossing dramas that they have been copied for U.S. audiences. Most famous is “Hatufim” (“Prisoners of War”) or “Homeland.” “Fauda” and more recently, “When Heroes Fly,” can be streamed on Netflix. The high-creative quality is as prominent as it is in the food and high-tech for which Israel has become so famous. And we have come to appreciate how very talented the pool of Israeli actors are when we see them flip effectively from role to an opposite role. Case in point: Michael Aloni as “Shtisel” and then as Himmler in “When Heroes Fly.”

Equally creative are the comedies. “Eretz Nehaderet,” (“Wonderful Country”) debuted Nov. 7, 2003. A satirical look at current events, it features host Eyal Kitsis. Guests dressed and made up to portray people of social or political renown come and go, are interviewed by Kitsis, or interact with each other in sharp and well-targeted humor. There is always a gasp as the audience recognizes who has entered the set. “HaShoter HaTov” (“The Good Cop”), now an American TV comedy starring Tony Ganza, was recently added to Netflix. As the beginning Hebrew credits roll, star Yuval Semo, playing tough-guy Danny Konfino, dances up the police department hallway as fellow officers and the police chief join behind him one by one.

Just as Israel has exported TV programs, so has it imported some. British quiz show “The Chase” has become the popular Israeli quiz show, “HaRodef” (The Chaser), in which a team of four players try to outsmart an “expert” with their answers to the emcee’s quickly fielded questions. The American comedy, “The Superstore” has been transformed into an Israeli comedy with the same name, but with very Israeli grocery-store characters.

So, were all the early predictions about television in Israel correct? We don’t know, but we are sure enjoying all of it.

Julie Jaslow Auerbach, a Jewish educator who lives part of the year in Jerusalem and part of the year in Shaker Heights, writes regularly about life in Israel for the Cleveland Jewish News. 

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