Curiously enough, one of the most recognized voices in Israel belongs to a woman whose claim for fame has nothing to do with her personal qualities or her accomplishments.

Her voice is not special either, but when, all of a sudden, the phone rings and the words “it’s Erela speaking,” are heard, the person on the other end of the line knows that good things are about to happen.

Erela who calls from Israel’s State lottery is a real person. Her name is Erela Eidinger and she has worked in that organization for thirty years. Part of her job is to place calls to subscribers of the State Lottery to inform them about the prize which they won as a perk for being in that program.

In the last few years those calls have been turned into commercials which capture the exciting moment when the lucky winner gets to hear the good news.

Erela’s calls have a predictable, almost ritualistic order: They always start with: “Hello it’s Erela from Israel’s State Lottery speaking,” then usually a pause, and afterwards there are cheers and exclamations such as “I can’t believe it,” or “you must be kidding me,” or “I have been waiting for this call for so long” etc.

Finally Erela reveals the exact nature of the prize : “Congratulations, you won a new car” or “you won 50,000 NIS.”

On the radio those commercials have a special, almost addictive power. It is one thing that a lottery employee calls subscribers to tell them about their winning. But packaging those calls as real live commercials starring Erela and the winners, is a brilliant business ploy.

It is true that advertising and marketing are all about manipulation, but it bothers me how, in this commercial, two weak segments of the population in our society are being cynically used –older women, who normally are quite invisible, and poor people with gambling problem. Clearly the advertisers deliberately chose Erela, a middle-aged woman who seems safe and  non-threatening, to allure listeners to spend even more money on lottery. The clever ad makes it seem so easy and attainable, surely Erela would call you, all you have to do is to get a subscription to the lottery.

Although she deals only with subscribers to the lottery, the commercials are so successful that Erela has become almost a cult figure in Israeli culture, and often when people are in need of money they say that they are waiting for her call.

And speaking of cult, sometime ago I read with my students a short text about a tribe on the island of New Guinea known as the Cargo Cult. The tribe people have been waiting for decades for a great bird to to drop riches and magical gifts on them. Their whole lives revolve around different rituals which aim to make this happen. It all started during World War II, when huge airplanes dropped all kind of boxes of food and goods and sometimes even bombs. After the war, the tribe made a decision to recreate the wartime conditions and to do everything to lure back the big bird.

Of course I don’t suggest that Israelis who have subscription to the lottery and wait for Erela to call are anything like the members of the Cargo Cult tribe whose life center on waiting for the bird to return. But, to put it mildly, in both cases the odds are not in their favor.