Thinking out of the box

Celebrating 45 years of television that not only entertains, but has managed to educate toward decent values and preserved an element of innocence and togetherness.

old television 521 (photo credit: courtesy)
old television 521
(photo credit: courtesy)
Before the global village, kids used to play outside with real friends and then watch a bit of television. The sort of programs they watched thought of Big Brother simply as an older sibling who helped solve “The mystery of…” and characters like Ishuni the Firefighter from the ’hood became part of local folklore.
Israel’s Educational Television Channel (Hatelevizia Hahinuchit) is celebrating its 45th birthday, in its own modest way.
Established in 1965 as a joint project of the Rothschild Fund and the Education Ministry (under whose auspices it still operates), its first broadcast took place on March 24, 1966, with then-prime minister Levi Eshkol symbolically pressing a button to mark the official start of transmission – two years ahead of the launch of Israel Television. This was a government that (in)famously barred The Beatles for fear a performance would lead to general decadence, so it’s not surprising to learn that it was reluctant to permit television broadcasts on the grounds that they thought it might lead to cultural degradation.
Nonetheless, Educational TV was allowed to go ahead because it was, well, educational.
Initially known as Hatelevizia Halimudit (Pedagogic Television), it did not kick off with the sound of trumpets and drums, but rather with broadcasts of mathematics, biology and English lessons to some 30 schools, which had all been specially provided with television sets.
Its broadcasting has become ever broader over the years: Now it has its own station – Channel 23, transmitted via the cable  sharing time with both Channel 1 and Channel 2, which has led to much confusion. Erev Hadash (A New Evening), Educational Television’s flagship news program, for example, is frequently mistaken for a Channel 1 show because that’s the channel where it’s screened.
Living up to its slogan, “Televizia katana vehachama” – “Small, smart television” – ETV couldn’t be more different from the crass commercial stations. The closest thing it has to a reality show, at the moment, is a vote open to the general public on its website ( and Facebook to choose its all-time favorite stars.
Old broadcasts are also available via the site, providing a popular trip down memory lane for many.
“I love Baba Booba. He defintely gets my vote,” declared one friend of mine recently.
Baba Booba, a parody of a kabbalistic figure, appeared on the show Zehu Zeh! (This is it!) which enjoyed huge popularity in the late 1980s, when satire was still biting rather than rabid. Baba became a fixed part of the collective consciousness during the 1990 Gulf War, when we all needed a laugh in our sealed rooms with gas masks at the ready.
Yatzek and the Polaniot (Yatzek and the Polish mothers) – more Zehu Zeh! figures – also appear on the Top Twenty choices along with characters such as Fistuk, Kishkashta, Kippy Ben Kipod (Kippy the Hedgehog), Sheriff Goodman and Yehoram Gaon from Krovim Krovim (Close Neighbors).
If that last program rings a bell, it’s likely that you answered “Pa-tuah!” (“It’s o-pen”) as Aunt Hanna (actress Hanna Marron) used to do every time the doorbell rang at Rehov Vittek 9. As new immigrants in the early 1980s, my family learned Hebrew with the help of the gags in this show, which has been billed as the “first Zionist family sitcom,” portraying a “typical” Israeli family, who live on three stories of the same building.
Nowadays, I occasionally catch the Arabic programs on the channel to see what I can pick up from them (although I usually have to guess the questions as well as the answers in the quiz shows).
Nevertheless, learning is fun! The English lessons must be fairly successful, or at least popular. When I mentioned at work that I was writing about ETV, native Hebrew speakers uncharacteristically burst into song, courtesy of such programs as Gabby and Debby, Sheriff Goodman of Hollywood Hills and Here We Are.
One friend admitted she would occasionally feign illness just to be allowed to stay home and watch Educational Television.
Among the all-time favorites – it was voted most popular program during ETV’s 40th anniversary – is Rega Im Dodli, based around the life in Dodli’s old-fashioned store where Rega and the neighborhood kids learn lessons such as tolerance and friendship.
Doberman Hahevreman, the friendly doberman (otherwise known as the Traffic Rules Doctor), is still barking about traffic safety in slots which gave the country slogans about crossing roads like “diagonally is dangerous” (alachson mevi ason).
And despite the regular threats to put it in the television equivalent of formaldehyde due to budget cuts, Parpar Nehmad (Nice Butterfly) – a classic program for preschoolers – continues to spread its wings after more than 20 years on the air.
Hani Nahmias is a true veteran of Educational Television, having appeared in shows like Bli Sodot (No Secrets, a great show that taught little ones how to read), Besod Ha’inyanim (the follow-up show to Bli Sodot) and as the hostess with the mostest in the terrific Heder shel Hani (Hani’s Room), where she brought out the best in everyone she interviewed, young and old.
Now she is tackling the issues that affect grown-ups as copresenter, with the equally wonderful Dalik Volinitz, on a show called Mo’adon – aimed at the not particularly exclusive 50+ club which I just joined.
Admittedly not all the dust is stardust, but over the years ETV has managed to educate toward decent values and preserved an element of innocence and togetherness – something that’s certainly worth tuning into.