Academic journal article Jewish Film & New Media

Televised Agendas: How Global Funders Make Israeli TV More "Jewish"

Academic journal article Jewish Film & New Media

Televised Agendas: How Global Funders Make Israeli TV More "Jewish"

Article excerpt

It is Friday night in Jerusalem at Shimon and Leah Sadeh's apartment, and Shimon (Shmil Ben Ari), the patriarch, is seated at the dinner table with two of his grown children, his daughter-in-law, and his father. Leah (Sarah von Shwartze), his wife, serves him tea following a Sabbath meal. The Sadehs are a traditional religious Mizrahi family in Jerusalem-the TV camera captures a hamsa1 featured prominently on the wall behind Shimon's seat. The married women have their heads covered in scarves or hats; the men wear black kippot (head coverings). Suddenly, the doorbell rings-an act prohibited by many religious on the Sabbath. "What's that?" asks the youngest daughter, Ariela (Rotem Abuhab). "Who is ringing our doorbell on Shabbat?" a disgruntled Shimon asks. "Shabbat!" exclaims his daughter-in-law, Michal (Emuna Zvi). Efraim (Nevo Kimchi), Shimon's son, opens the door to reveal a bouquet-carrying Pavlo (Eli Eltonyo), the new secular boyfriend Ariela has met in the army. "My brother, are you aware that it's Shabbat today?" Efraim asks. After Pavlo's casual apology, he is invited inside, much to the visible consternation of Shimon, who mumbles angrily under his breath. "Shabbat Shalom," the delighted sister-in-law and step-mother exclaim, as the blushing Ariela fidgets with her hair. "I came to surprise you," Pavlo tells her. "Come in," says the bashful Ariela, and the women immediately rush to serve him food. "Have you eaten?" "You must be hungry." "Grab a chair." Though Pavlo attempts to decline their hospitality, he is quickly handed a full plate. "Bon appetite," "Eat," urge several family members. "Make yourself at home," Ariela insists. The patriarch glares at Pavlo disapprovingly, and just before the young man takes a bite, Shimon abruptly stops him, stating, "We recite a blessing before eating." After some protesting, glaring, and eye-rolling from the other family members, Pavlo assures everyone that it's completely fine-he'll recite the prayer. He is handed a prayer book and a kippah but quickly puts the book aside, lifts up a wine glass, and states self-assuredly, "Harei at mekudeshet li" ("Behold, you are sanctified to me"-a prayer not for wine but one that traditionally a groom says to his bride at the wedding huppah). Amid the eruptive laughter of the women, grandfather, and stern-faced Shimon and Efraim, Pavlo smiles, raises his glass, and drinks.

The above is a scene from the second season of the hit series Meorav Yemshalmr (Jerusalem Mix), which aired from 2004 to 2010 on Israel's Channel 10. While it's not absolutely clear from the scene whether Pavlo's religious faux pas was intentional or simply a reflection of his ignorance as a result of his secular upbringing, the segment, like much of the series, offers a lighthearted and often humorous approach to a highly contentious issue in Israel: the divisions between religious and secular. The show received critical acclaim in the media and a few coveted Israeli Ophir Awards (from the Israeli Academy of Film and Television). Some of the media surrounding Meorav Yerushalmi heralded it as a watershed development in the representation of religious Israelis. Yet what the press generally neglected to mention in their coverage was that the popular TV show was conceived and heavily supported financially by Avi Chai (AC), a US-based3 private foundation endowed by businessman and philanthropist Zalman Bernstein.

Israel's secular-religious divide has long been seen as one of the country's key internal issues of conflict. Though Israel was established as a Jewish state, its primarily European Zionists were largely secular and established the state as such. Though the ultra-Orthodox comprise only about 9 percent of the Israeli population, they have gained tremendous power in the Israeli Knesset against an increasingly resentful Israeli public. This secular-religious divide is reinforced by the government's public school system, which segregates students into either religious or secular schools. …

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