A central challenge our forefathers faced upon their exodus from Egypt was adapting to a new culture, one which no longer emulated the practices of the center of the civilization of that age, Egypt. The people of Israel succeeded and the ethics and morality they accepted strove for justice, empathy with the downtrodden, care for the poor and for the orphan. This was very different from their Egyptian experience and it is not surprising that along the journey to the Promised Land there were those that expressed their desire to return to the “old ways.”
Given the time of year, it is appropriate to apply that ancient model to today’s problem of Israel’s media identity.
Israel’s media is driven and guided by American and European culture. The reality shows, even with their high ratings, represent low culture. Other symptoms of sickness include the growing practice of replacing hard news with infotainment and creating media icons who are employed for their good looks and quick tongues. Our newspapers no longer separate between news and views, as the last election campaign amply demonstrated.
It does not have to be this way. The time has come for our media to make its own “exodus from Egypt,” from the superficiality and the emptiness too often purveyed abroad.
Israeli science is excellent because it does not emulate the United States. Basic science is valued in Israel. Our scientific community understands that fundamentals drive scientific progress. Our colleagues abroad look at us with envy. Increasingly, they are forced to turn toward applied science, otherwise they do not get funding.
Our Israeli media could also become a light unto the nations, if only the powers that run it were driven by Jewish culture and heritage, if only they were proud of their background.
Israeli television can and should reflect our national values. We have a rich, 3,000-year history which could be a limitless source of inspiration for historically based entertainment and education.
Jewish humor and especially the Yiddish and Sefardi humor of the past few centuries enabled our people to survive with a smile even under very difficult circumstances. It is very different from the slapstick humor of American sitcoms. Typically, it is biting, makes a point but at the same time is hilarious.
Oddly enough, Jewish comedians in the US seem to be very successful. Why has this genre disappeared here? Only last week, we were at the premiere of The Little Dictator, a 27-minute film created by Nurith and Emanuel Cohn. The Jerusalem Cinematheque hall was packed and the crowd was enthralled. Jewish humor at its best. Why can’t we have more of this on our screens? Are the biographies of people such as Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman or Baruch Spinoza boring? It is not difficult to think of a documentary series describing the rise of Jewry in the United States.
Colleagues our age bemoan the fact that their children and grandchildren are quite ignorant of their Jewish heritage. Too many of our youngsters no longer understand the Bible. The Jewish prayer book, which has helped generations of Jews, is a stranger to them. Religion should not be a “four-letter word.” High-quality TV programming could go a long way in educating us. Who among us knows the history of our prophets Elijah, Elisha or Jeremiah, to name a few? Bruriah, the wife of Rabbi Meir, is an amazing example of female leadership in our history. Queen Shlomzion is not less an outstanding personality.
The Rabbinical Court, with all of its drawbacks, is a unique Jewish institution. How about a TV series depicting the dilemmas of people appearing before it? One would suspect that if the Jewish Israeli population had a better understanding of the deliberations of this court, it would also know how to stand on its rights and get more out of this court system. One film in 50 years (“Gett”) is just insufficient.
But not only history and Jewish culture should be at heart of our media. We live in a globally based business environment. Most of our parents had no knowledge about the financial markets, derivatives meant nothing to them, and they also had no money to worry about. The situation today is very different. Yet too many Israelis are not well educated in financial matters. The only reason that our pension system is so complex is that no one in the media has taken the political leadership to task and demanded a thorough revision, simplification and end to profit of financial institutions on account of the pension funds. These issues could be dealt with and even be entertaining.
One of the problems many of us face as we grow older is taking care of our aging parents.
Most do not have a clue how to face the various dilemmas arising from debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s, dementia or Parkinson’s disease, to name a few. Do we or don’t we urge our parents to enter old age homes? The same is true when taking care of children with disabilities. A media interested in helping could go a long way in providing answers. Our newspapers, instead of harping on murder and drugs, could send their reporters to provide information on these and many other issues which we face on a daily basis.
We pride ourselves as being a high-tech society and rightly so. But is this sustainable? Only if we create enthusiasm for science and technology in our younger generations. Our media should play here a central role. We grew up on the space race, in the aftermath of the immense success of science in World War II to help eliminate the German and Japanese dictatorships. As children, science was the “in” thing. Today, our best and brightest become lawyers and accountants. We do not denigrate these occupations, but wouldn’t it be better if more of our bright youngsters were excited by the inspiration and creativity to be found in the sciences? Where there is a will ,there’s a way. Admittedly, presenting original, inspirational and informative programming and newspapers is expensive. Much more expensive than the low-quality material we receive now. But, just as good science in the long run is a worthwhile investment, the same goes for the media. Original films can be sold all over the world. Not only do they lead to good economics, they also would go a long way in presenting Israel in a positive light to the world, something we are sorely lacking.
The Jewish community is not limited to Israel. The evangelical Christian community is huge and would be very interested in Jewish and Israeli documentaries. The Chinese interest in Israel and the Bible is huge. In South Korea, schools have adopted the Talmudic pilpul model whereas in Israel, secular state school pupils have no knowledge of the Talmud at all.
The Israeli media should exit Egypt. With leadership – we do need a Moses – and determination, it could be a light onto the nations.The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il).
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