Where should you live: Cleveland or the Holy Land?

A new Israeli TV series by Chaim Hecht - 'Between Arizona and Ness Ziona' - works to scare people away from moving to the US, with scant facts and plenty of hyperbole.

Chaim Hecht (photo credit: COURTESY KESHET)
Chaim Hecht
(photo credit: COURTESY KESHET)
Chaim Hecht just wants his son to move back to Israel.
But apparently, the begging and pleading by the veteran Israeli TV host hasn’t been doing the trick. So instead, he created a TV show.
Hecht’s From Arizona to Ness Ziona premiered earlier this week on Keshet 12, the first in a three-part documentary series comparing life in the United States to that in Israel. And while Hecht repeatedly claims he’s reporting the facts and letting the viewer decide, it’s obvious the TV host has a clear point of view on the subject.
“I’m not just scared of America,” Hecht told The Jerusalem Post in a phone interview on Tuesday, “I’m petrified – as a father and as a grandfather.”
Chaim Hecht with his grandchildren (Courtesy Keshet 12)
Chaim Hecht with his grandchildren (Courtesy Keshet 12)
What has Hecht so scared? That’s a very good question.
Though the show’s name references Arizona, Hecht does most of his filming in Ohio, where his son and grandchildren live. He starts out with the pull of the goldene medina, “the golden land” of America and what sends so many people away from Israel: housing prices.
As he shows repeatedly on screen, three- and four-bedroom homes in a suburb of Cleveland are often selling for less than $130,000 – approximately NIS 500,000.
What can one buy in Ness Ziona for that sum of money?
“You can’t even find a hut for half-a-million shekel here,” Ness Ziona Mayor Yossi Shevo tells Hecht in the show. A local real estate agent digs up the cheapest apartment she can find in the city: a cramped, run-down walk-up in bad need of repairs. The price? NIS 1.5 million.
So what are the downsides to life in Ohio? That’s where Hecht gets a little creative.
For a solid five minutes of the show – accompanied, inexplicably, by video of a man in an American flag Speedo dancing while he mows his lawn – Hecht decries the local ordinances that mandate cutting the grass.
The veteran broadcaster even had the gall to compare the US to North Korea, proclaiming that even murderous dictator Kim Jong Un wouldn’t demand such a thing of his citizens. It’s a patently ridiculous claim that only undermines any point Hecht might have been trying to make.
Asked about reactions to the first episode of the series, which aired Sunday evening, Hecht was triumphant.
“There is only one important feedback in this business, the ratings,” he said. And there the show was undoubtedly a winner, garnering 15.3% of the viewing public, making it the most-watched show of the night, beating out several reality TV shows. “People sat for an hour and watched it because it interested them,” he said.
“THE CRITICS don’t love me, and they haven’t loved me for years. That’s how it’s been for all of my programs... they will criticize and I will bring the numbers.”
Undeniably, reviews of From Arizona to Ness Ziona were not kind.
Yediot Aharonot reviewer Einav Schiff said Hecht “mixes things up, inflates nonsense and devotes himself to controversial agendas, at best,” while Walla News called the show “superficial, with a puzzling focus on certain issues... and many figures who contribute nothing.”
Indeed, a slate of often surprising interviews pop up throughout the show, including with Housing Secretary Ben Carson, law professor Alan Dershowitz and New York Times writer Thomas Friedman.
It’s unclear why Hecht focused several minutes on Carson’s childhood and political career; and Dershowitz’s appearing on screen to proclaim, “Get the government out of my bedroom, get the government out of my bank account, get the government out of my doctor’s office” is pushing the realms of relevance. It certainly rings hollow compared to living in Israel, with its government healthcare and rabbinate-controlled marriage – among many other examples.
With his rumpled suit and over-excited hyperbole, Hecht and his grandfatherly, irate persona have created a series aimed at terrifying Israelis away from living in the United States. And many of his attempts to dramatize city ordinances, property taxes and endless bureaucracy are laughable compared to the realities in Israel.
The second episode of the series will deal with education, while the third will address law and order. Hecht promises viewers will be as shocked as he was to learn about government intervention in child protective services and the massively spreading opioid epidemic in the US.
“Young people think they’ll go to America and find money on the street,” Hecht told the Post. “But the dream is broken. It’s gone.”
The second episode will air on Keshet 12 on Sunday at 9 p.m. and full episodes can also be found on mako.co.il.