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Years ago, we hitched a ride with a kibbutznik. As we drove through the lower Galilee, he proudly pointed out the sites to the tourist he'd picked up, citing the biblical connections of the various places. Thanking him as he dropped us off, we marveled at how even secular Israelis were in touch with their Jewish roots.
Ah, but that was then and this is now, a time when it seems that many of our secular young people are out of touch with their Judaism. For a variety of reasons, a young generation is growing up with a looser connection to its traditions.
With that in mind, it was refreshing to see one of the mediums perhaps least revered by the religious establishment - television - taking a stab at expanding the knowledge of young Israelis regarding their heritage. Check out the Logi Channel's (Channel 81) on HOT new 100 in Bible (Meah B'Tanach).
The idea is cute: the eighth-grade class at a kibbutz school has a new Bible teacher, Liora (Yarden Bar-Kochba), who has a refreshing way of teaching her subject, trying to make it as lively as possible.
But those pupils are, well, teenagers - teenagers going through all the stuff that gil tipesh esreh has to offer, including young love, social pressure, trying to find themselves, etc. Accordingly, each of the eight episodes focuses on a biblical character, from Cain and Abel to Samson. But at the same time, each struggle the biblical characters are facing is also faced by one or more of the students.
With perfect timing, the season opener focused on Joseph being sold into slavery. So while Joseph was experiencing the ups and downs of interpreting dreams, so was Dory, the social misfit of the class. Dory dreams about the principal (played by veteran children's program actress Tzipi Shavit) and that he will somehow determine which of the two eighth grade classes will go on a coveted trip to Sakhne.
Of course, at first his friends turn on him for being such a dreamer, and the already socially awkward youth gets tagged with the nickname "Dr. Dreamer," almost like Joseph's brothers treated him at first.
But when Dory's readings of a few of his friend's dreams come strangely true, eventually leading to his determining whether or not his class gets to go on the trip, the "dreamer" becomes a class favorite, even drawing the attention of a goofy girl at the class party - a benefit that Dory learns may not be such a treat after all.
Each program covers the story of the biblical character, as laid out by the plot and by the kids' teacher in classroom scenes, and ends with a biblical verse about the character. The second program we viewed, focusing on Samson, was not as successful as the first, telling the story of Shimi, the class ne'er-do-well whose temper often gets the best of him. "If it were up to me, I would've changed my behavior long ago," says Shimi to his girlfriend Lily.
Like Samson, Shimi's known for his long hair, and like Samson, he's hopefully in love with Lily, who's getting tired of his outbursts. At a party, Shimi, who's trying to turn over a new leaf for Lily's sake, loses it, "bringing the house down" and ruining the party. But why the hunky Shimi would consider cutting his hair, as he does in the school bathroom while going through some badly acted angst, was beyond us. No 8th grader we know would dare cut his own hair.
The second show therefore didn't establish as firm a connection between the biblical character and the pupil, but the series still deserves credit for trying, even if occasionally it feels like Degrassi High meets Verse of the Day.
Logi's running the series at 3 p.m., with reruns at 7 p.m. Hopefully each episode will be shown a few times, so that even those kids who roll their eyes when Bible stories come up for discussion will be able to relate to them better, and one day maybe even get Mea B'Tanach.
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