May 2, 1968: Israeli TV Goes on Air

The sheer festivity of sitting on the chairs arranged in a row facing the television made us feel that maybe we were a little bit in America.

“It’s from reparations payments, definitely from reparations, otherwise where would he get the money to buy a television?” my father asked rhetorically when it suddenly materialized in our neighbor’s home, a big brown box that perfectly matched the teak furniture from Hazorea and the mocha-colored stucco on the decorative wall in the living room. “That’s Saba,” the neighbor said with pride. I, who had a flesh-and-blood saba (grandfather) who lived in Haifa, thought at first he was referring to an imaginary grandpa (the word virtual did not exist then), a substitute for that absent grandfather shared by most of my classmates whose parents, unlike my mother, were not born in Israel.

“It isn’t Saba, it’s SABA; that’s the name of the television manufacturer,” my mother said, and proceeded to explain to me, in the spirit of Ben-Gurion’s values that guided the education of her students and children, how this invention might corrupt the souls of the country’s youth and therefore she would allow this danger into her home only over her dead body.

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Secretly my father and I would go down to the neighbors’ house to watch programs that were broadcast from Lebanon. We saw largely static and sometimes it was possible to spot shadows of horses and people. We could hear the melody clearly. It was called “Bonanza” but even though we barely saw anything, the sheer festivity of sitting on the chairs arranged in a row facing the television, not to mention the ceremonial unveiling – removing the handmade lace doily that covered the television set to protect it against all depredations – made us feel that maybe we were a little bit in America, the country whence those same neighbors of ours received packages, the lost paradise that held such figures as the singer Helen Shapiro who, according to the newspaper Davar Le’yeladim I read back then, already used makeup at the age of 12, and Elvis Presley, to whom it was forbidden to listen under any circumstance for fear of being corrupted.

Who would have believed that just six years after that SABA was purchased, the mammoth snakeskin-covered Philips in our living room would become the household totem? It used to be customary to invite company over to watch television, not just what was broadcast in black and white on the round screen but to see the appliance itself, always positioned like a statue in the most prominent spot in the living room with all the furniture facing it.

From then on the household’s daily schedule began to split in two – before and after the evening news broadcast “Mabat.” The newscasters became the new idols. I remember to this day the public storm that arose when Dalia Mazor decided to change her perennial rose hairdo and the excitement surrounding Carmit Guy’s nuptials. I followed with great interest Dan Kaner’s difficulties adjusting to his contact lenses. The evening news broadcast became a sacred time in people’s homes. At our house you weren’t allowed to make a sound as my father cursed and argued with the figures on the screen. That is also when “they said on TV” began replacing “they wrote in the newspaper” as a measure of the absolute credibility of the report.

The Arabic movie on late Friday afternoons became a cult in many households, including ones in which not a word of Arabic was spoken, and when the satirical show “Nikui Rosh” started airing, it went without saying that nobody would dream of going to the movies that day for fear of missing the program. With ratings of close to 100 percent, TV became what would later be termed “the tribal campfire.”

Today, when every home has at least one television set on which countless channels may be viewed, it’s hard for me to believe that from the moment I left my parents’ house and throughout my years as a student and later on a young wife, I did not want to have a television set in my home. Life seemed too interesting to waste on watching the small screen – at least until my kids were born and I discovered that when it comes to babysitting, nothing beats TV.