The King of telenovelas

Severely wounded on the Egyptian front, Argentinian-Israeli entrepreneur Yair Dori went on to build a thriving multinational media empire.

Freedom: Yair Dori is released from Egyptian captivity, Ismailia, March 28, 1971 (photo credit: COURTESY YAIR DORI)
Freedom: Yair Dori is released from Egyptian captivity, Ismailia, March 28, 1971
(photo credit: COURTESY YAIR DORI)
There are two sides to Yair Dori. There is the Argentinian Jew who immigrated to Israel and became a war hero. And there is the entrepreneur who entered the entertainment world and became famous in the Spanish-speaking world as the “King of the Telenovelas.”
Born in Buenos Aires in 1947 as Victor Dori, he was always seeking action. He became a wrestling champion, and took his skills to the streets by battling the Tacuara anti-Semitic gang.
A member of a Zionist youth group, Dori first came to Israel in 1967, immediately after the Six Day War, as a volunteer, and worked on Kibbutz Lehavot Habashan in the Hula Valley for eight months. The experience proved formative, and he returned to the kibbutz the following year as an immigrant. Three months later, he was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces as a paratrooper.
His military service culminated in an incident that nearly cost him his life. On May 30, 1970, his unit, which was serving on the Suez Canal, was ambushed by an Egyptian commando force. Fifteen Israeli soldiers were killed, and two, including Dori, were captured.
Dori was seriously wounded in the ambush; his right arm was amputated at the elbow and he was blinded in one eye (surgery 30 years later restored his sight).
In addition, he was tortured during his close to a year in captivity, so much so that he even attempted suicide. Despite the pain, though, he managed to keep his spirits up by singing the national anthem, Hatikva.
On his release he was given a hero’s reception, and his life took a turn for the better. He studied philosophy and arts at Tel Aviv University and, in 1972, married Susy, who had also immigrated from Argentina. Moshe Dayan and Menachem Begin were among the wedding guests.
He wrote a book about his experiences in Egyptian captivity and served in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. A turning point in his life came in 1978, when he participated in a peace mission to Egypt as a former prisoner of war. This experience changed his outlook.
“Returning to Egypt, I could see the peace process, the changes; the scales fell from my eyes,” he recalls to The Jerusalem Report.
He went into business, dividing his time between Israel and Argentina, but it was not until the 1990s that his career took off. In partnership with his twin brother, Daniel, who had remained in Argentina, he spotted a way of putting his Argentinianorigins and Israeli experiences to good use.
They founded a company called Yair Dori Communications, later renamed Dori Media, which produced a number of successful Spanish-language telenovelas aimed at the start for a global market.
Cable television was just starting in Israel, and Dori’s telenovelas were broadcast in Israel on the Viva and Viva Platina channels. They proved popular. The Argentinian-accented Spanish that some Israelis speak has been attributed to their influence.
Dori is intrigued by being named as “King of the Telenovelas.” “I accept this motto as recognition. But I prefer to think that I am a bridge between my Argentinian culture and Israeli society,” Dori says.
His reputation grew as his company found new markets for his programs.
Occasionally, controversy erupted around the shows. One, “Rebelde Way,” popular with Israeli teens, was a high-school soap opera that attracted criticism for its sexoriented themes. Worse though were anti- Semitic remarks made in some episodes that drew hostile attention from the Argentinian Jewish community.
Dori was unrepentant. “Yes, there was a teacher in the program who told the students that there were peoples that do not feel love for their motherland, like the Jews, who move around the world thinking only of making money. But we wanted to show some bad behavior in order to discuss and debate them,” he contends.
“Our goal was to discuss every hard topic, to provoke debate. I testified before a Knesset committee in order to explain these points because the show was very successful and a lot of children were watching it.”
Dori’s cultural exports from the Spanish-speaking world to Israel were not confined to television, and he was even able to engage in some PR for Israel on the way. Spanish singer-songwriters Joan Manuel Serrat and Joaquin Sabina performed in Israel thanks to Dori. “They had a view of the Middle East before the trip, like most of the leftist or liberals who read the anti-Israeli press of Spain, and another view after the trip, closer to the truth,” he explains.
In addition, he has, over the last 20 years, brought to Israel the Argentinian soccer team, singers such as Mercedes Sosa and Leon Gieco, Argentinian ballet dancer Julio Bocca, Brazilian television personality Xuxa, and Uruguayan actress and singer Natalia Oreiro.
Dori Media has gone from strength to strength, successfully developing new markets in Eastern Europe and South Asia. But Dori himself is no longer directly involved in the company. New investors took the business in other directions despite Dori’s opposition, and the untimely death of his brother and partner, Daniel, in 2008 caused him both personal grief and a sense of alienation from the company. He sold it, maintaining only a consultancy role.
This darker, introspective period was intensified when a grandson had an accident. He was not hurt, but it triggered long-repressed emotions from the time of his war experiences and his captivity.
Recognizing the need for professional help to cope with these traumas, he consulted psychologist Miri Shalit, who specializes in helping soldiers cope with the aftermath of combat experiences. With her help, hewas able to come to terms with his past.
As part of this rehabilitation, he realized that he needed to take stock of his life. In 2010, he started writing his autobiography.
His original working title was “Nothing to Regret,” but his friend, Argentinian musician Alejandro Lerner, came up with the final version, “De Infiernos y Paraisos” (Of Hells and Paradises).
“When I read the draft of the book, I cried and smiled, and felt both bad and happy,” Lerner explains to The Report, “and one line of the book contains the phrase about hells and paradises. So I called him and suggested that this would be the best title.”
In 2012, Dori felt that at long last he was able to return to his entrepreneurial and business roots, and work again in the media and entertainment business. He now has a company called simply Yair Dori, and a motto that encapsulates his new, more grounded way of going about things. “We produce fantasies, we create realities.”
And the company is prospering.
In December last year, Argentina’s government-run National Public Television aired a new Dori program aimed at teens, “Señales del Fin del Mundo” (Signs from the End of the World), an adventure series with musical segments.
His literary career is also going well.
In June last year, in front of a glittering audience, he fronted the debut of his book at the Buenos Aires Book Fair. One month later, he gave a similar presentation at the Sverdlin Institute for Latin American Studies at Tel Aviv University before an Israeli Spanish-speaking literary and academic audience.
Dori´s current dream is to bring his story to the cinema. “Why not, like an Israeli version of the “Saving Private Ryan” story?” he asks, and smiles.
Nothing seems to be impossible for this man, a creator, a doer, an expert in living between fantasies and realities, hells and heavens. “I am at peace with my past and my future,” Dori explains in an interview in his Buenos Aires office.
He divides his time equally between Argentina and Israel, where his three daughters, Miri, Lital, and Galit, and eight grandchildren, live.
“My grandmothers ran from the Nazis in Europe. I ran from Nazis in Argentina. I solved this problem for my daughters and now they don’t need to run anymore to anywhere.”
Dori is uncomfortable with the idea of being a war hero. “I don’t want to be a hero of something so terrible,” he says. “I want to be a peace hero. But of course, I’m proud of all the battles that I fought in, our wars were just.”