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In Israel's latest original reality show, you won't see ambitious teenagers singing, agile dancers pirouetting, romance-seekers kissing, or, as is the case with Uri Geller's new hit program, mentalists reading minds of celebrities. In fact, you won't see anything at all. This reality show is broadcast over the radio to religious families, many of whom don't own televisions. And if they did, they certainly wouldn't be watching A Star is Born or Born to Dance, which are replete with costumes and performances that offend religious sensibilities.
A Life of Riches and Honor, which premiered January 4 on Radio Kol Chai, Israel's highest-rated religious radio station, is much less glamorous than the reality blockbusters on TV. That's because this reality show deals with biting reality. Over the course of 10 weeks, 13 families representing a cross section of the religious spectrum, from religious Zionist to haredi (Ultra Orthodox), must prove they can run their household more economically and efficiently than the rest. A commercial teaser lures in listeners with household tips, such as: "Don't go supermarket shopping when you're hungry."
"In the religious community, especially the haredi communities, people don't have televisions at home. Whereas a secular person comes home after work and turns on the TV to watch news, a religious person comes home and turns on the radio," says Ido Lebovitz, CEO of Radio Kol Chai. "We wanted to give our listeners a program that was useful, not mere entertainment." In fact, entertainment for entertainment's sake is not a desired value among very religious families.
"There is no recreation within haredim communities," explains Avinoam Hadas, strategic advisor to Kol Chai. Hadas assists the radio station with adapting modern broadcasting and entertainment trends to the needs and restrictions of religious communities as well as advising businesses on how to penetrate and cater to the religious market. Television is not only potentially immodest, he adds, it's also bitul Torah (a waste of Torah study time). "If you have free time, you study Torah."
To maintain its edge among Israel's religious population, Kol Chai adopted the reality format to help its listeners solve real-life, pressing household dilemmas. Producers chose 13 families among 100 applicants based on their profile, expressiveness, and drive not only to win, but to solve their financial troubles.
The profile of some families makes the show sound like a religious version of the American reality hit, Survivor. Family A with seven children ages three to 14 must survive on a joint salary of NIS 10,700. To make the mortgage payment of NIS 3,000 and to put food on the table, the father states: "We don't pay for things we don't use right away [such as school tuition, which he avoided paying for over a year]. I'm afraid of confiscations, but I have no choice."
Family C with 12 children ages four to 24 barely manages off a joint salary of NIS 8,300. "We try to maneuver here and there. We try to cut. The kids don't have after-school activities."
A LIFE of Riches and Honor forces these families to figure out how to cut costs and get out of the hole. At the second "taping" of the show on January 11 at the Kol Chai studios in Bnei Brak, all the contestants shared, on air over the phone, their experience overcoming the first, real, most basic challenge: purchasing weekly groceries while adhering to an individually customized budget provided by the producers.
"We tried to cut and buy only what we need, not just what was within hand's reach, but to think before buying," one contestant concluded. "We tried to buy more with less," said another.
In the studio, a panel of experts from the show's sponsors, Bank Poalei Agudat Yisrael, which caters to the religious community, sat around a table with the show's presenter and judged the contestants' shopping prudence. Producers keep detailed records of the contestants' finances and compile figures comparing their new spending habits with the old. The experts, along with the contestants and callers from home, offered their own tips, such as: "Don't take the kids shopping, and if you do, don't be afraid to say 'no'" and "Always go shopping with a list."
Listeners at home and the show's panel of experts and judges will vote for the winners based on their ability to cut costs. Unlike television shows, looks and charisma cannot bias the voters. At the end of each show, one family is sent back to its poorly managed home. The first place winner receives NIS 20,000 worth of electrical appliances-not a bad way to ease some financial woes.
But Lebovitz maintains, "The point is not to find a winner, but to increase awareness. The real winners are the hundreds of thousands of people who learn to save."
And while the reality show is a far cry from Donald Trump's Apprentice, the contestants could probably learn a thing or two from the business mogul.
As one judge on the show put it: "Running a family household is a business in every way."
A Life of Riches and Honor is broadcast on Thursday from 8-9pm on Radio Kol Chai, 93 FM.