Small screen, small country

While New York may have a wide range of networks and channels, Israel has its own special type of connection.

December 3, 2010 14:21
3 minute read.
Gertrude Berg as Molly in 'The Goldbergs'

Gertrude Berg_521. (photo credit: Courtesy)

During the summer, when friends of mine had come to visit from Montreal, one of them marveled at the fact that we don’t have commercials on most of our TV stations. Indeed, being able to watch a sitcom or a drama series, let alone a movie, on television without interruption is one of the things we should not take for granted here. (I know, but we’re not talking DVDs or Internet downloads right now.)

This fact was brought home to me on a recent visit to New York, where I watched some television and was reminded of how annoying it is to have a string of commercials intrude on the flow of a good comedy or drama. Granted, our Channel 2 has an inordinate number of commercials in a row and invariably cuts into a program when a character is in mid-sentence or the storyline is in mid-action, but we can be forgiving because it and Channel 10 are the only commercial stations on our roster.One of the interesting channels on the New York roster is JLTV. A cable channel based in Los Angeles, Jewish Life TV is the only 24-hour television channel in the world that airs solely Jewish-themed programming. Launched in 2007, it is seen in more than 25 million homes in the US across all the 50 states. With broadcast studios in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto, as well as bureaus in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Washington DC, Miami, London and Moscow, it presents a wide range of news, sports, lifestyle and entertainment programming including films, documentaries, music, reviews, interviews and special events. JLTV has commercials, too, all of which promote Jewish or Israeli products and services.

One of the shows I glimpsed on JLTV was The Goldbergs. I can’t remember the last time I saw the venerable Molly Goldberg (Gertrude Berg) impart her homespun wisdom to her neighbors, her children her husband Jake. Other JLTV programming of that genre and generation include the shows of such Jewish icons as George Burns, Jack Benny and Groucho Marx.

A real hoot was a program on JLTV called something like Cooking with Bubby. In the segment I saw, this plump, dowdy American woman was teaching the audience how to make blintzes.

“It doesn’t matter if you make a mistake at first,” she says, dumping her first attempt from the fry pan because the batter was too porous. As her next sphere of blintz batter begins to sizzle in the pan, she says, “Now take your latke and turn it over. Oh, did I say latke? I mean blintz,” she laughs.

I could have watched her all day.

But it was watching the TV news and weather reports in New York that made me patently aware of how different the viewing experience is here than there. In New York the local news, let alone the national news, is about people most viewers don’t know or care about. In Israel, the national news can usually strike a resonant chord, and the report of any road accident, slaying or wounded soldier really hits home. And more often than not, someone knows someone who knows someone who knows the family.

And even the weather report takes on a personal significance here. In New York when the national weatherman predicts rain in Rhode Island, fog in Fargo or snow in Cincinnati, well, so much for that. But here, no matter what the forecast is for any part of the country, it often means something to us. It’s going to rain in Netanya? (we wish.) I have a meeting there tomorrow, so I’ll take an umbrella. Forty degrees in Eilat? Hope Yossi took a lot of sunscreen on his hofesh. Hamsin in Beersheba? Better take an extra fan when we go down to visit the children. Snow in the Hermon? That’s great for them!

According to the TV listings I saw, New Yorkers have some 57 channels to watch. While Israel may seem like small potatoes compared to the Big Apple, they’re our potatoes (couch variety included).

As the song says, “Ein lanu eretz aheret.” Except this eretz nehederet. We don’t have any other country but this beautiful land.

So we may be limited in our local television access, but we more than make up for it in our depth of community and wide range of emotions.

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