In Hani's Yeshiva

Not long ago, I was invited to take part in the television program "Media File." I accepted the invitation, even though I find a certain moral flaw in the program's very existence. "Media File" treats journalism as a serious, responsible and decent profession that merits earnest discussion with respect to its content and the ethical issues it raises. But viewers are being dangerously misled here. Nearly the whole of the media is based on two cardinal principles: popularity ratings and deadlines. Therefore - and I beg the pardon of the president of the Israel Press Council, retired justice Dalia Dorner - nearly every discussion about other values in the media is self-righteous (by the way, this would be an excellent topic for discussion during the next program).

"Media File" is videotaped on Thursday mornings in the ancient studios of Educational Television in Ramat Aviv. It does not have a budget like a Channel 2 (commercial TV) program, a fact that is apparent everywhere. The set is modest, the opening sequence is ditto, and no producer is there to butter you up as you emerge from the taxi. In fact, there is no taxi. There is a kind of van that drops off the participants after the videotaping. This is perhaps the place to beg the pardon of the former chairman of the Second Authority, Mr. Yitzhak Livni, for the long delay.

But "Media File" has one advantage that no other program in the world has: It turns out that the long-running children's program "In Hani's Room," starring Hani Nahmias, is videotaped in the adjacent studio, a few steps away. Through the window of the van I saw the small sign - "To the filming of 'In Hani's Room'" - and my heart skipped a beat. We never had a television set at home, so I can hardly say I grew up with the program. But here and there, I did get to peek at a TV, and if there was one program that made me feel good it was "In Hani's Room." In fact, to this day, at my advanced age, whenever I encounter the program, I am glued to it. I am enchanted by the naivete, by the warmth and above all by the presenter. How can it be that after so many years and numberless programs, she continues to display the same vitality? I have to see for myself. Haim Zisowitz - the host of "Media File" - can wait.

I pushed open the heavy door at the end of the corridor and slipped quietly into the dimly lit studio. They were in the middle of shooting a quiz. It's a lot more grueling than I thought: They shoot the whole week in one day. That means that four or five programs are videotaped together, one after the other, from morning to evening. And that is really wearying: For each episode the participants have to change clothes, connect chronologically to the previous day, know when to enter and exit, be full of energy and activate the little interviewees - and all this in a pretty small studio, crammed with production staff and a buzzing audience of about 40 kids (all of them, by the way, are religious, which is obvious: I mean, do secular kids watch Educational TV programs these days? They have long since moved on to "Nip/Tuck"), who have to be silenced because they are starting to lose their patience.

What is this book that Hani quickly peruses between takes? As soon as the camera is turned on, she hides it under the table and goes on with the program. Then, cut: a problem with the lighting. Hani whips out the book and immerses herself in it, ignoring the chaos all around. She reads for three minutes. The lighting man has finished arranging the spots, and again she hides the book as shooting begins. What is so urgent for her to read there? Does the book contain the answers to the questions of the quizzes? And why are they now urgently summoning me to the "Media File" studio?

A few months had gone by since I sneaked into Hani's room. Then a few days ago, totally by chance, I ran into her going into an interview on a morning show and I suddenly remembered that day. I told her I had a slightly peculiar question and rattled off the whole story, from slipping into the studio to the book. She heard me out, smiled modestly, and said innocently: "Look, in my job there is a lot of spare time. Between takes, during makeup, in rehearsals for the children's festival, on the way to performances. So I always try to have a book with me. I try to take advantage of the time. You might find this funny, but I even bought a flashlight that you put on your forehead, like coal miners do, so at night, during the long trips back from performances, I can read. The truth is that I have also written three books. In the car."

When we were yeshiva students the rabbis always told us marvelous stories about how the great sages of Israel utilized their time, about supreme tzadikim from earlier generations who, even while waiting to see the doctor, studied diligently, about yeshiva heads who never stopped reciting the Bible even while walking on the street. And here, ladies and gentlemen, in our generation, in our time, even on the set of "Grease," sits a woman with a book tucked beneath the table, just waiting for the chance to soak up another literary gem, between one audition and the next.

Hey, who said the media is just ratings and deadlines?