The Whole Story Full Circle

It was the 1980s. I had just moved to Israel from New York, straight out of college and, within a few months, into the business of reporting to the world about the Jewish state on English-language programs of Kol Yisrael public radio in Jerusalem.

We could be heard on local radio within Israel, but around the world, people were listening to us on shortwave radio. It was, of course, before the days of the internet.

I remember having a difference of opinion with at least some members of the Russian-language service who spoke of the need to present Israel in a positive light.

I don’t want to be presumptuous and speak for others, but I believe that most, if not all, of my colleagues on the English shows felt that we had to tell the whole story.

I wanted to tell the story of a vibrant democracy, an amazing country, a place where Jews were returning from exile. But when there were negative things to report, I didn’t want to ignore them.

It was basic journalism.

“You know what else?” I argued. “If you don’t tell the truth when things go bad, people won’t believe you when you report what is really good.”

The Russian service was targeting itself primarily to an audience in, or from, the Soviet Union. Members of that department, which included immigrants from behind the Iron Curtain, were speaking from that perspective.

I understood those who argued that Soviet propaganda had to be countered but I also believed that the way to fight it was through Western values of open reporting.

I had heard back then that we at the English Programing Department were receiving feedback from Soviet Jews that they were listening to us. From what I understood, it was more difficult for them to listen to the Russian-language programs because of Soviet jamming of those broadcasts.

Decades later, I have had the opportunity to meet a few of the people who were listening to us back then in the Soviet Union. They, too, now live in Israel.

Apparently, my voice was recognizable enough, even through some faulty shortwave reception, that twice while riding on an Israeli bus and involved in conversation, I’ve been asked by individuals with Russian accents sitting nearby if I was David Ze’ev who they remembered from those radio broadcasts before they moved to Israel. I was shocked and in tears.

And then, this happened this week.

l was walking in the city of Beit Shemesh, where I currently live. I came across an acquaintance from the neighborhood. We exchanged pleasantries and spoke of how challenging Yom Kippur was this year because of the pandemic.
That was the extent of the conversation.
But sitting nearby on a bench was a gentleman who had apparently heard our conversation.
Speaking with a Russian accent, he said: “Don’t talk to me about difficult Yom Kippurs. I spent Yom Kippur in prison.”
The truth is that if we weren’t in the midst of COVID-19, I would have sat down to hear his story. Instead, I simply told him that I am honored to live with him in the same city in the Jewish state. Still, this would be the longest conversation I’ve had with a listener from the Soviet Union.
He asks me: “What’s your name?”
“David Jablinowitz,” I reply. “No, that’s not it,” he says.
I somehow realized where we were going with this, so instead I introduced myself by my radio name: David Ze’ev.
“Yes, that’s it!” he exclaims.
He then proceeded to name some of my former colleagues at Kol Yisrael-English. He said that his name is Yevgeny.
“I fell in love with you and your colleagues, listening on shortwave radio from the Soviet Union. Over the radio, I fell in love with the State of Israel,” he told me this week.
I didn’t ask him if he preferred rose-colored reporting or telling the whole story of Israel, good or bad, but either way, right before my very eyes, I had just come full circle. Yevgeny and apparently many other Soviet Jews were out there listening to us decades ago from so far away.
But this week, just the two meters away required by corona regulations, there he was, not suffering in a Soviet prison cell, but instead sitting on an Israeli bench and introducing  himself to me in person.

 

 

About the Author
Made aliyah in 1981 from New York. 1981-2017 - Kol Yisrael English News. 2017-2018- Kan - English Radio. Anchor/producer/editor, etc.
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