Cooking up a coalition

Does Israel’s reality TV have any connection to our political reality?

master chef judges_311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
master chef judges_311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
An Arab, an Orthodox Jew and a German walk into a kitchen. No, it’s not the beginning of some old joke; that’s how Tuesday night’s grand finale of Israel’s version of Master Chef began.
The third season of Master Chef, the Israeli version of the UK-based cooking reality show, broke ratings records on Tuesday evening, drawing in the highest ratings for a single TV episode in Israeli history. At its peak, some 52.3 percent of Israel’s Jewish households (1.5 million viewers) were tuned in to the show, in which Tom Franz, a 34- year-old attorney from Germany who converted to Judaism and now lives in Tel Aviv, beat fellow competitors Salma Fiyumi, a 27-year-old Arab nurse and Alzheimer’s researcher from Kafr Kassem, and Jackie Azoulay, a 29- year-old Orthodox housewife from Elad.
Sure, it might be the cooking that drew in all those viewers, but I doubt it. Unlike other “reality” shows like Kochav Nolad (“A Star is Born,” Israel’s version of American Idol) or Big Brother, where TV viewers watch and then vote for the contestants they want to keep in the contest, on a cooking show like Master Chef it’s left up to the four judges to taste and rate the food. The TV audience has no say.
I believe it’s the three finalists themselves that caused the ratings to soar for the grand finale.
There was Salma, a petit and devout Muslim who wore a tightly wrapped hijab. She refused her family’s marriage match because she wanted to study. She has a master’s degree in public health and works in brain research.
There was Jackie, the outspoken, wig-wearing young mother from the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) town of Elad, who blow-torched all the pans before she started cooking to make sure they were kosher. She grew up in a family of 11 children.
And finally, the winner, Tom, a tall, curly-haired perfectionist, who first encountered Jewish Israelis in a school exchange in his small German town, fell in love with the religion and the country, and converted to Judaism. Tom is observant, but doesn’t wear a kippa.
So, Arabs, Orthodox Jews, and new immigrants/converts were all represented. With such a cross-section of the Israel’s population represented, no wonder the ratings were through the roof.
AND ALL this comes on the heels of our recent national election in Israel. One wonders if Tom, Salma and Jackie started a political party, how many votes they would get.
Israel’s Arabs, haredim and new immigrants joining together for certain causes is not unheard-of – but not so much in the political arena.
But, as Bob Dylan put it, “the times, they are achangin’.”
The Likud joined forces with the predominately Russian immigrant party Yisrael Beytenu. Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party seems to have a little bit of everything (men, women, young, old, religious, secular, etc.). Even Bayit Yehudi got into the act by adding Ayelet Shaked, a young secular woman, to their traditionally exclusively nationalreligious list.
The only ones who do not seem to have joined the “diversity” party are the haredi and Arab parties. Perhaps it is understandable. The only thing that sets them apart is that they don’t mix it up when they come to their lists.
No diversity makes their lives easier.
Maybe those parties need to wake up and take notice.
Things are heating up on the political scene and if you want to survive, you need to adapt, you need to change.
If you want to get the highest ratings (i.e. votes), you need to shake things up.
And as any of the three diverse finalists on Master Chef could tell you, “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen”!
The writer has an MA in Creative Writing from Bar-Ilan University.