Media Comment: Cultural Autism
Elements within Israel’s media suffer from what we could term “cultural autism.” We observe them limiting their coverage.
The Vizhnitzer Rebbe Photo: Reuters
Autism, according to the United States National Institute of Neurological
Disorders and Stroke, is a neuro-development disorder characterized by social
impairments, communication difficulties and stereotyped patterns of behavior.
The hallmark feature of ASD is impaired social interaction. Among its indicators
are stereotyped, repetitive, or unusual use of language, restricted patterns of
interest, preoccupation with certain objects or subjects and inflexible
adherence to specific routines.
Elements within Israel’s media suffer
from what we could term “cultural autism.” We observe them too often limiting
their coverage to social, political and artistic events which are close to them
culturally and with which they easily identify. They do not find interest in
happenings which could appeal to audiences coming from different cultural
backgrounds. There are too many instances of the “closed circle”
Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg was born in 1910 in Europe. At
the age of nine, together with his mother, he joined his father who had
emigrated earlier to the United States. The family lived in the Lower East Side
of Manhattan. He was given an Orthodox Jewish education, studying to become a
rabbi at the Yitzchak Elchanan Yeshiva at Yeshiva University. He was ordained by
the yeshiva’s head, Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik, the father of Rabbi Joseph Dov
Soloveitchik, the famous 20th-century rabbinical leader of the modern Orthodox
Jewish Community in the United States.
He continued his Torah studies in
the Mir Yeshiva in Poland, returning to the United States in 1936. He then
served as the spiritual head of the Chafetz Chaim Yeshiva in Queens. In the
early Sixties he founded the Torah Ohr Yeshiva in New York, but after a year
came on aliya to Israel with his yeshiva which he then proceeded to lead for the
next 50 years. He was considered one of the most important American Litvak
haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbinical leaders. He served as a member of the
“Gedolei Hatorah Council” of the Degel Hatorah political party.
also the rabbi of the Matersdorf neighborhood of Jerusalem. He was married for
80 years to his wife Masha, who passed away two years ago.
THE RABBI was
the author of numerous books, and was considered the Dean of Yeshiva Heads in
Israel. The number of his pupils reaches into the tens of thousands.
educational influence extends to many corners of the world. The respect he
garnered within the ultra-Orthodox community may be deduced from the notice
uploaded to the Egged website: “disruptions of the bus service due to the
funeral procession of 300,000 of his Hassidim.”
Israel’s most popular
newspaper, Israel Hayom, did not report the death of Rabbi Scheinberg even once.
A haredi reader sent a letter of complaint. He was answered by Mr. Gonen Ginat
in the following language: “This is a spiteful, redundant and baseless
Israel Hayom was not alone in ignoring Rabbi Sheinberg’s
death and funeral.
Consider Channel 1 TV of Israel’s Broadcasting
Authority. On the evening after the funeral there wasn’t even a hint of its
taking place. No doubt an item on Israel’s youth boxing champion, which did
appear, was much more important and could not be set aside. The lack of coverage
was not different in the news magazines of Channel 2 and 10 that same
Compare this with the reaction to the death of Amy Winehouse, a
Jewish icon, singer and songwriter who tragically died of alcohol poisoning last
July. Her death was broadcast and reported on in almost all of Israel’s major
media outlets. Video clips of her singing were shown. Many minutes and column
lines were devoted to her. No doubt the mysterious circumstances surrounding her
death contributed to the media interest. Yet there is also no doubt that the
international celebrity status accorded to her was a major factor.
same may be said about the death of Whitney Houston, which was naturally
extensively covered by our media. In fact, it was the media’s duty to report the
deaths of both Ms. Winehouse and Ms.
Houston. They were known and meant
something to many people, who enjoyed and respected their music and artistic
greatness. But it is the glaring lack of reaction to a death of a haredi leader,
who meant much to many people, which demonstrates our media’s
Rabbi Scheinberg’s life could be considered by many as
exemplary. He lived through tumultuous times in the United States. The history
of Jews in the USA during the first half of the previous century is not well
known or understood here in Israel, especially the difficulty of keeping one’s
Jewish way of life in the face of financial and social pressures. Yet none of
these issues came to the fore. Our media’s culture is far from that of the
haredi world. They don’t understand it and are even fearful of it.
at the same time, the Vishnitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager, also passed
away. His funeral too, was massively attended. He was just six years younger
than Rabbi Sheinberg, with a very different history. The media coverage of this
event was a bit better, but still rather apathetic. Israel Hayom, as well as
Channels 2 and 10, did report his death and funeral. Perhaps the fact that Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office as well as Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin
communicated to the press their sorrow and condolences helped.
Yedidya Meir, writing on the haredi Kikar Hashabbat website, noted that the item
on Channel 2 was: “The Vizhnitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager, the head of
the Gur Hassidim, passed away last night at the age of 95.”
notification was a prepared and written item yet the editors as well as the
anchor who read it on air did not realize the glaring error; a striking example
of the cultural distance of our media.
Channel 1 TV did broadcast an item
this week on Orthodox Rabbi Dovi and Esty Scheiner, who were named among 2012’s
most stylish New Yorkers by Stylecaster, a relative exception to the rule. But
the question still remains: are too many of our media elements trapped within
their own cultural ghetto?
The authors are respectively vice chairman and
chairman of Israel’s Media Watch.