Media Comment: Our media’s view of Hanukka

The Zionist concept of Hanukka, a celebration of Jewish independence, a memory of days which preceded the terrible diaspora, has eluded many parts of our media.

Netanyahu Erdan Hannuka candle 370 (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Netanyahu Erdan Hannuka candle 370
(photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO)
When you really think about it, Hanukka is a problem for progressive liberals, whether religious or secular. The festival celebrates the victory of religious zealots over Greek sympathizers.
It reaffirms every year the deep connection between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount. The Hanukka song “Maoz Tzur” expresses the thanks of the Jewish People to the Almighty for his help in restoring the sacrificial customs at the Temple Mount altar. It ends with the outrageous request for the Almighty to take revenge for the Jewish blood spilled and bring about the full redemption. Clearly this is not politically correct, and yet Hanukka is celebrated in the vast majority of Jewish homes. It is a week of vacation from school. And yes, even parts of our media participate.
The Israel Broadcasting Authority, guided by Moria Lapid who heads Jewish-related programming, invested much effort and funding in creating a new Hanukka series devoted especially to various Jewish communities in the Diaspora. The seven programs of the series, directed by Moshe Alafi, bring every night a perspective of communities in Toronto, Boston, Odessa, Buenos Aires, Oslo, Torino and Toulouse. Each program ends with the lighting of the Hanukka candles.
For the first time in many years, the IBA brings into our homes a view of the life of a Jewish community, its difficulties, its relationship to Israel and Judaism. It brings home to the Israeli viewer the immense responsibility which we have for the perpetuation of Jewish life also in the Diaspora.
It also presents to the Israeli a different view of Judaism, one that is much broader than that of Orthodox Jewry as it appears in Israel. It shows how people who are secular in outlook can still identify with their Jewish roots and even visit the synagogue or the mikve (ritual bath) from time to time.
Especially moving was the scene from Torino where the son of Primo Levi is interviewed. He described how his children caused his family to reconnect to their Jewish roots.
This in a community so small that the local Jewish school is not limited solely to Jews. In fact, it highlights one non-Jewish mother who explains that she sends her children to the Jewish school since she knows that it is only there that they can be educated to values that she believes in.
The IBA outdid all other broadcasters in the time it spent on Hanukka.
Reshet Beth radio covered the candle lighting ceremony every day. Even the music channel joined the party by broadcasting, for example, the oratorio Judah Maccabi by Handel.
However, the difficulty and challenge presented by Hanukka did not pass over the IBA completely. Consider the song “The days of Hanukka.”
It has two versions; one talks about the miracles that the Maccabees created, while the other version is about the miracles the Almighty made for the Maccabees.
Only the first version is broadcast on the IBA radio.
The Army Radio station had a big headline on its website: “Lighting the Hanukka candles with Galatz during the festival at 7 p.m. – special Hanukka programs.” The 7 p.m.
“Hanukka” program was titled An Israeli Story and was broadcast on four days this week. On Tuesday evening, the story revolved around the “Pancake House,” an eatery open seven days a week at a gas station.
Presumably the place was chosen due to the custom of eating pancakes on Hanukka.
Jewish content? A real connection to Hanukka? Forget it. Neither the Hebrew word for pancake, “leviva,” or the Yiddish latke were used once during the 40-minute program. The program really had nothing to do with Hanukka, but was rather a celebration of foreign culture. Some of the other Hanukka programming on Army Radio was slightly more to the point. Especially noteworthy was a celebration of the Hebrew language on Tuesday. But a deep connection to Hanukka was not to be found.
One way to run away from the questions posed in the beginning of this column is to pay attention only to exterior aspects of the festival, such as food. Indeed, last Shavuot this was also the case with the Educational TV station.
While Educational TV did have some special programs for Hanukka this year, most of them were rehashed material from previous years. To its credit, one should mention that in the some of the children’s programming the station did not only deal with exterior issues but actually gave the story of Hanukka.
Judging by the published programming schedules of TV’ Channel 2 and Channel 10, Hanukka does not exist.
While ignoring issues is one very good way of running away from a difficult topic, perhaps the reason is more prosaic. Hanukka, in the minds of the commercial stations, probably does not “sell.” No sex and no drugs, and the only violence is that of a bunch of zealots who believed in Jewish independence and religious customs.
The difficulty of dealing with Jewish and Israeli values is not limited to Hanukka. Dr. Ron Breiman, who writes in Ynet, News1 and other media outlets, has noted on more than one occasion that around Shavuot time, our media no longer broadcasts the song “Our baskets are on our shoulders,” a formerly quite popular song for adults as well as children.
The song refers to the biblical commandment of bringing the first fruits to the Temple Mount. Breiman notes that the words of the song are: “We have brought the first fruit from even the far parts of the country, from the valley, the Galilee, Judea and Samaria.” He surmises that the song is not broadcast due to the reference to Judea and Samaria as parts of Israel.
Perhaps symptomatic of this atmosphere are two op-ed columns published in Israel HaYom on Tuesday.
Chagit Ron-Rabinovitch explains how she was born during the Hanukka period, how the Hanukka candles bring the family together. In her words: “How I love Hanukka” because “that’s how it is.”
The second column, authored by Hagai Uzan, revolved about the stupidity of having such a long vacation at this time of year. Uzan complains about how difficult it is to take care of the children who are not in school.
“In other vacations,” he wrote, “there is some logic. On Succot there are 700 festivals in the neighborhood... but during Hanukka, everything is wet, cold or both together.”
The Zionist concept of Hanukka, a celebration of Jewish independence, a memory of days which preceded the terrible diaspora, a return to those days when Jews, despite their minority status or numeric disadvantage, would not turn the other cheek but fight and be proud of their beliefs, has eluded many parts of our media.
The authors are, respectively, vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (