Everyday life in an extraordinary place.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Israeli Television

This Postcard from Israel was originally written on 7 March 1999

Ten years ago, there were only two television stations that broadcast from within Israel. Depending on where you lived, you might also have been able to pick up Jordanian TV or the Middle East TV channel, which is broadcast from Lebanon.

Now, we have cable TV like most of the rest of the world. We have CNN, MTV (broadcast from Europe), BBC and Sky News (from Great Britain)...more channels than I can name without consulting a newspaper.

And, we have what is the most-watched channel in our house: Channel Six, the Children's Channel. This Israeli TV station's programming is packed with American cartoons (most dubbed into Hebrew) and sitcoms (in English with Hebrew subtitles), and even some original Israeli programs.

Why am I mentioning all of this? Because of something that strikes me about television here, and life here, whenever there is a holiday. For example, last week we celebrated Purim, the story from the Book of Esther. Naturally, every Israeli TV personality, from the dignified news anchor on Channel One (you guessed it, the very first television station in Israel) to the manic twenty-somethings who serve as hosts on the Children's Channel, wished everyone a happy holiday. And on the Children's Channel, they had a Purim trivia contest. The host asked questions ("What are the names of Haman's sons?" "What is Esther's other name?") and kids called in with the answers. Even my six year old daughter knew some of the answers, though she couldn't get to the phone in time to call in.

Maybe this doesn't seem like a big deal, but it is to me. I love it that no matter how religious you are, or how observant you are of all of the commandments specified in the Torah (the Pentateuch), the entire country celebrates the full calendar of Jewish holidays with fanfare and gusto. I love it that Bible is part of the public school curriculum, starting in the second grade. I love seeing enormous billboards, sponsored by the city I live in, that wish everyone a Happy Passover (or whatever holiday it happens to be). I love it that, when the television host asks, "What is Esther's other name?" my little girl's immediate response is, "Oh, who doesn't know that?!"

Now, I don't particularly want my kids to become Orthodox Jews...but I do want them to know who they are, and what they come from. In Israel, if you're a Jew, you're part of the majority culture, even if you never go to synagogue, don't keep kosher, and don't strictly observe Shabbat (the Sabbath).* All you have to do is turn on the television.

* Religious (or observant, as they are also called) Jews do not drive, use electricity or the telephone, spend money, cook, sew or do work of any kind from sundown on Friday night until one hour after sundown on Saturday night.

(c) Amy Samin

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