TALI on the air

School kids take part in a unique extra-curricular activity to connect to their Jewish roots.

kids radio 88 (photo credit: )
kids radio 88
(photo credit: )
Figures huddled over desks furiously writing and rewriting scripts, others excitedly preparing to go on air, making sure microphones are in place and the sound level is just right... none of the above would seem out of place in any radio station across the globe. There is one striking difference, however - most of the above radio personnel are aged between 11 and 12. The media venture in question is the TALI schools' program that airs one Wednesday per month, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on 106 FM. The radio project was initiated by Nava Tal, the southern regional director of the TALI Education Fund responsible for network schools between Tel Aviv and Eilat, and is now into its first - and thus far highly successful - year. TALI (the Hebrew acronym for Enriched Jewish Studies) is a nationwide network incorporating over 70 state schools and pre-school facilities that aims to provide a pluralistic Jewish education for secular Israelis. Tal says the radio program, which involves around 20 fifth-grade pupils, is an extension of the network's ethos, and is a means to disseminate a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to Judaism. The seed for the project was sown, in fact, by default. "I got the idea about 10 years ago, when I was principal of a school in Armon Hanatziv," Tal explains. "We had weekly sessions between kids from the school and kids from an Arab school in the nearby village of Jebl Mukaber. The idea was to generate dialogue between the children and to enlighten each other about our cultural and religious baggage." However, the exchange of information proved to be a little one sided. "We had serious communication problems," Tal continues. "The Arab children came from a conservative rural background and the Jewish kids couldn't answer the Arabs' questions about their own, Jewish, religion. I then realized we had to do something about reinforcing the kids' Jewish roots." Tal started working with the TALI network and soon realized there was fertile ground for turning her cultural enrichment vision into reality. "I thought about how to take the Jewish topics taught at TALI schools - like the parshat hashavua and religious holidays - and make them more contemporary and relevant to the kids' lives." But it wasn't just about making religious themes more amenable. Tal believed that if the kids were really to get to grips with Jewish topics they would have to "get their hands dirty." "I wanted the children to do the work themselves. The media allow kids to take subjects they study and present them to listeners, while aiming for the common denominator between us all. That is an important [principle] of TALI, and of the radio show. We want to bridge gaps, and connect with things that bring us together rather than divide us. There are enough divisions in Israeli society, it is time we bridged some." Judging by the action going down at the Kagan Center - in the old part of the Katamonim quarter - before the last broadcast of the TALI radio show, Tal has found some willing junior partners in her quest. "I love doing the show," says Nir Ben-Dror, 11, from the TALI school in Gilo A. "I've been doing it for about six months. It's a lot of fun and I think it's a good way of bringing people together." Ben-Dror is certainly a streetwise 11-year-old. "I know there are all sorts of arguments between religious and secular Jews. We're traditional, I think that's the best middle ground. It brings haredi and less observant Jews together. It's not extreme." "And we don't necessarily look at things in a religious way," proffers 11-year-old Alona Rabin from the Frankel TALI school in French Hill. "It's like we did something on [Israeli astronaut] Ilan Ramon. We talked about his space voyage, but we also mentioned that he took religious artifacts with him on the space ship, and made kiddush. Rabin ("I'm not his relative," she quickly pre-empted an oft-asked question, when she gave her name) agrees with Ben-Dror's golden mean observation. "You have to look for the things we share, and not go to the extremes. That only brings arguments." Thus far, the junior radio presenters have put on shows about a wide range of topics, from religious holidays to adults' hobbies, with added musical entertainment - some of it somewhat surprising for children of such tender years. "We've had a lot of Israeli music - contemporary and older - but I also put a couple of Beatles numbers in one of the shows," says Ben-Dror. "Actually, I wanted to play four Beatles songs, but we ran out of time." The kids write their own scripts, find all the interviewees themselves and surf the Internet for material. They get in situ guidance from media professional Naama Bar-Zvi, who is duly impressed with what she has seen and heard so far. "They are a great bunch of kids, and they are always enthusiastic about coming here and doing the work," she says. "I don't have to push them all. I just give them a gentle nudge in the right direction once in a while." There's been plenty of positive feedback over the eight or nine months since the radio show began. "We get all sorts of children and adults writing to us to our Web site," says Shoham Shenhav, 11, from Mevaseret Zion. "They tell us what they liked or didn't like, and make suggestions for new items. I think we are getting something across to other children, and to adults." The radio show is enthusiastically supported by parents, too. "They pay NIS 750 a year for their kids to take part in the show," says Tal. "One parent told me she thought it was the best [activity] her child had ever participated in. It also shows the parents are committed." The parent's financial input is crucial. "We don't get any support from the Education Ministry," Tal adds. "I didn't really expect [any]. The government has a long list of priorities and education doesn't always feature at the top." Nonetheless, she feels the show has a bright future. "The response until now has been wonderful. There is obviously a real need for something like this, and for the messages the kids are getting across. We purposely took fifth-graders, and they will stay on next year and help the next group of fifth-graders. I think the show is going to be around for a while." TALI radio shows can be listened to at: http://www.icast.co.il/default.aspx?p=Podcast&id=5702