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The Titanic it wasn't, nor even the Exodus, and it didn't hit an iceberg or even start to sink. It was no more than an old cruise ship belonging to the Mano shipping company, which takes Israeli vacationers from Haifa to Istanbul and back. What happened was that the air conditioning broke down and the water wouldn't flush in the lavatories. Drama. Channel 10 News on Sunday (8 P.M.) gave us this story from start to finish, as it was filmed on the ship by passengers' video cameras, including a close-up of a filthy toilet and a voice that explained exactly what we were seeing. And we saw people screaming and crying, but at the end, of course, forgiving and reconciling - and applauding, too, when the spokesman of the company in person promised them compensation: another cruise for free on one of the Mano ships.

But then again, as the cameras rolled, while disembarking at Haifa port, there was more screaming and crying, "Worse than an illegal immigrant ship." A woman called Lily, I think, hogged the camera lens in a pose of someone who has triumphed over the forces of nature and all the edicts of the White Paper: exhausted, but not giving up.

The moral: All those who maintain that history doesn't repeat itself should go to sea for a day or two on a ship filled with Israelis. They will experience the Exodus from Egypt and the wandering in the desert and the Altalena, and they will witness the realization of the verse, "And the rabble among them felt a gluttonous craving." Why a craving? To live a drama. Why gluttonous? So they could be compensated for the drama they underwent with another drama. And so everyone will see how they suffered all the way down to the kishkes, and even what comes out of the kishkes into the toilet.

The Hershele joke

So there's this guy sitting in the studio of the current events program "London & Kirschenbaum" (Channel 10, Monday, 7 P.M.), a palsy-walsy kind of guy, who has come to tell us that the illegal settler outposts are actually - walla! - legal and that everything is - walla! - hunky-dory, and the fact is that they exist, so it follows that we're just pulling the wool over the Americans' eyes. The text at the bottom of the screen identifies this guy as "Yehoshua Mor Yosef, the political secretary of the Yesha Council of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza." No one in the studio thinks the bombastic diplomatic description emanating from this palsy-walsy guy is absurd, or that the gist of his politology is at the level of Hershele from the old joke, who stole a horse and when he was caught couldn't believe it: "I stole a horse? I saw a rope, I pulled it, how was I supposed to know what was at the end of it?"

So this story ended in the following way. In the evening the diplomat from the Hershele joke returned home and ate a slice of watermelon on the veranda with the guys from the settlement. They asked him how things went with London & Kirschenbaum. "Walla - I really gave them a line," he said. "They - walla - believed that Yesha has a political secretary, who is me, Hershele, who took a rope, and the rope was attached to a settlement, and the settlement was attached to the State of Israel, and I pulled it, what do I know, until it broke."

Thus spake the political secretary about Hershele, about half a watermelon, about the veranda, with the guys.

Inside the box

If only it were possible to reverse things for a moment and have people from the street deliver the news on television and send the television journalists to the street in order to give us a rest from their implacably cliche-ridden language!

Example A: Two children burned to death in a shack in Rehovot. From the studio, Oded Ben-Ami ("Six O'Clock With ...," Channel 2, Tuesday, 6 P.M.), smooth-faced and suit-and-tied against a blue background, describes the event as "the harsh tragedy" and again, after a time, as "a harsh tragedy." Okay, we heard already. It was a harsh tragedy.

The people in the neighborhood where the event occurred might not have heard of Sophocles, but even a regular citizen named David Aboutbul, who wore a cap the wrong way round, sounded more credible than Ben-Ami. "I hear the truth shouting," he related. And afterward, with the restraint of someone who doesn't make a big deal out of himself: "I was first who saw the bodies."

This, then, is how the world is divided: into those who are inside the box and, tragically, are incapable of hearing or seeing but only of classifying; and, in contrast, those who are outside the box and who, tragically, hear and see and want to save, but because their name is Aboutbul and they wear their cap backward, they will always appear to be the comic element in the tragedy.

Example B: Tali Fahima, a young woman from Tel Aviv, was arrested on a charge of aiding Zakariya Zubeidi, one of the heads of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. As she was being taken to prison, a reporter shouted to her, "Are you having an affair with him?" As we noted, the world will forever be divided into those who classify everything into literary genres - because why in the world would an Israeli woman protect a terrorist with her body if not because she's sleeping with him? - and those who, like Fahima, state with heroic simplicity: "I am ready to die in order to show that it's possible to talk to them."

But for those inside the box, that doesn't come under the definition of an affair.

Schmaltz attack

Somehow I found it difficult to accept the simplistic explanations of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, in his brief program on Judaism, "Do you have any idea?" (Channel 1, Monday, 7:24 P.M.), about the two black boxes he showed, with which believing male Jews get in touch with the Lord every morning. It needs to be said that the history of tefillin (phylacteries) is too fascinating to be left to a bland speaker.

In fact tefillin are mentioned in Ugaritic writings from the fourteenth century BCE, long before the people of Israel existed. Tefillin were also found at Qumran (where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered) and in the caves of the Bar Kochba rebels. There is so much to show and tell.

In a strangely dramatic tone, Rabbi Lau explained how to proceed "if someone doesn't have tefillin in the camps, the ghettos, the forest." He used the present tense, as though the Holocaust is still with us. To this he added a story about a man who had an operation on his head and lost a hand in the Yom Kippur War, whose first question upon awakening was whether he would be allowed to put on tefillin with his remaining hand. The only cure for this kind of schmaltz attack, I think, is to really put on tefillin and take two pills against nausea after eating.

Another example of the effectiveness of the tefillin commandment was broadcast about half an hour later, on the Channel 10 News, in a report about three Jewish terrorists - Itzik Pas, Matti Shevo and Ofer Gamliel - who are serving time in prison for their attempt to send children from an Arab school to heaven in a firestorm.

Shevo and Gamliel showed the reporter who came to interview them the whole outfit: a tallit on their shoulders and tefillin on head and arm. Thus they sit the whole day and thus they walk in the prison yard. They insisted strenuously that "Jews are not murderers," and I said to myself that if tefillin could change their color they would first of all turn red from shame.