I love Israeli television. At this time of the year I can watch it for hours. I don’t mean the programs, they prompt me to make a cup of tea or fill the dishwasher. And definitely not the news. First item is a repeat broadcast of trumped up charges against Netanyahu (do Americans say netanyahued up charges against Trump?) Next we hear the Arabs whining in Europe who in Pavlovian reaction denounce Israel for not protecting Gazan child demonstrators or refusing arms smuggling. We will see a few crazy Charedim whose whole life is Torah except for when they are stopping traffic flow in the Almighty’s name. Lastly the weather report, “tomorrow will be like yesterday only 1 degree warmer/colder”. Often we need pictures of gales in the USA or Europe to justify the forecasters’ existence, and to appreciate our calm in the storm.
No, not the news nor the programs – I love the advertisements. Those short sharp gems which are so rudely interrupted by TV content. I grew up in a religious Jewish school system, where we were prepared for whichever holidays were coming up and learnt their significance. After I got married, my kids would come home with their precious handmade menorahs or masks or models of Mount Sinai, so I got fair warning that Chanuka or Purim or Shavuot were close. Before Pessach we would need to provide a potato and hard-boiled egg for the mock seder. And just before Lag BaOmer every child had to contribute a log for the bonfire, even at the expense of chopping up the salon furniture. So my calendar was set by the rhythm of my children’s demands.
But one day they all grew up and left the nest. How would I know what season it was, which holiday loomed ahead, should I be baking a honey cake or cheese cake? But I need not have feared. Israeli television will never let us forget what we need to prepare ourselves for and buy. In the words of Mary Warlick, an American art historian who specializes in advertising, “What advertising does is give a visual record of our cultural ambiance and history, our tastes, our trends, our wants, our needs, our buying.”
And like it or not, our culture is based strongly on our religion. The sight of youths building a Sukka on Shabbat makes some of our Rabbis shudder, but I see it as a wonderful recognition of the symbols of the holiday. Families of all denominations will sit together at a seder table on Pessach. They might need a designated driver who must make do with grape juice instead of wine, but the “spirit” of the festival is celebrated by all. And if advertisements ‘give a visual record of our cultural ambiance’, then television is a mirror of Jewish tradition.
So by mid-August, expect to see ads for honey in anticipation of the coming New Year. And of course perfume for the hostess. Then bicycles for Holy Fast-Bike Day (Yom Kippur in Hebrew). In November you’ll see olive oil. And toys and games, a Hanukah tradition which sneaked in from Christian countries to compensate the poor Jewish kids who were dazzled by the glitter of Christmas. January – dried fruits, (mostly from Turkey trees) when we celebrate Tu Bishvat – the festival of Israeli trees.
Switch quickly to Purim costumes, and before you have time to mop up the results of drunken parties and over-indulgence, it’s time to clean, renovate, paint and refurnish your house for Pessach. Who needs TV programs in March? You have to sell the wine, dishes, pots, tables that open up, and lots and lots of food. And of course perfume for the hostess. Then meat for Independence Day and more meat for Lag BaOmer. Wait six hours (less if you come from the right background) and the cheese and other dairy products come out for Shavuot.
But what really got me thrilled this year were the ads for our 70th birthday. The satisfaction in our achievements, the remarkable development of industries, the world-wide reputation of our products – all portrayed in blue and white with classic Israeli music to inspire us. It all said “We are on the map and we are staying on the map”. Even the ads themselves were artfully conceived and beautifully executed.
The television advertisements inform us of the seasons. This year’s ads also reminded us of who we are and why we are here. We watched and got all choked up with emotion and pride. And then we had a break for a real live program. Someone call me when the commercials are on again, I need to know what the next holiday is. Meanwhile I’ll take advantage of the program to finish off my blog.