70 Hungarian postcards to the 70-year-old Israel
He laughed in the face of hardship
By Rafi Kishon - 2018-03-18
Translated from the Hungarian original: Bea Sara Goll
We can justly claim that he was (here, in Israel), the greatest Hungarian. The greatest Hungarian of Israel was just like the young Israel himself: he struggled for everything, but he also laughed at the turmoil produced by this very small and very new country. He learned Hebrew so fast that just after two years he could publish his first volume of satire - and took only a few more years to direct his amazing film essays: About us, about them, about the little Jewish homeland. Rafi, Ephraim’s son remembers.
Tratratratrattatta… It happened in the early 1950s, in the State of Israel, that the residents of the neighborhood who had lived there since they made aliyah, were awaken by a loud booming sound rising. Every neighbor came out to watch as a worker in the middle of the road was systematically destroying it with a jack hammer. The angry neighbors cursed their council for destroying the road in front of their home. One of them, a gaunt type with thick glasses and a rather strong Hungarian accent – was my father, Ephraim Kishon, a very new immigrant himself who was born 26 years before that in Budapest, under the name of Ferenc Hoffman; well, so my father was cursing out the worker, too, but in Hungarian, because he still did not speak Hebrew properly. Suddenly, a crazy idea occurred to him in a moment: “Could it be that this man is not an employee of the council, but simply a crazy person who had stolen an air hammer and decided, just out of some wild enthusiasm, to start drilling in the middle of our street?”
The Kishon family with baby Rafi – photo: family property
If someone had, at that time, whispered into my father's ear that this event would be the start of a frantically humorous work that would conquer Israel and the world, he would have considered that person foolish. And if that person had told him that he would become the one to write the most widely published Hebrew book translated into the largest number of languages after the Bible, or that he would be the most successful scriptwriter with the most awards in Israel and around the world, he would have just told him with his strong accent: Are you mad? I can’t say a word in Hebrew! And I’ve never learned filming!
Ephraim Kishon and Haym Topol after receiving the Golden Globe awards– photo: family property
The satire - The Blaumilch Canal - was written after this traumatic event and published in the newspaper Davar in 1951; just two years after his emigration from Hungary to Israel without knowing a word in the Hebrew language; later it was also included in his first book Thousands of Gadia and Gadia (Elef gadia vegadia). The satire is about a crazy patient escaped from the mental hospital who stole an air hammer and started digging in the middle of the city's main street. Officers of the police and the council, instead of bringing him back to the hospital, instantly and instinctively collaborate with him. Confusion, stupidity, ego and power games constitute the basis of the story, as they are just as typical of bureaucracy and government in Israel as in the world as a whole.
Golden Globe tableau
It was at a warm noon hour in 1968 when my family and I left the authentic Hungarian Kispipa restaurant and walked to the Allenby Cinema where my dad stopped, spreading his arm and told us: Within a few months I will build this cinema, and 150 meters of the Allenby Street in the studio of Herzlia.
I have a lot to tell everyone about my deep personal relationship with my dad, who taught me his wisdom. One year ago I decided to try and pass it on to others, like Ephraim Kishon – as a stand-up with video details - I'm talking about him all over the country, wherever I am invited: at corporate events, salons, in the Cameri theatre or even in the living room. I want to tell you about my daddy to keep his memory.
Dr. Rafi Kishon
Any sober thinking person would have thought that he was facing an irrational megalomaniac, but as his child of 11 years I considered my father's statement completely sensible, because as for every boy, my dad was omnipotent for me too.
Soon, really muscular workers helped me climb the loose structure of the set built of cardboard, pipes and plywood. With some effort, I managed to get up to the impromptu porch. The view in front of my eyes was frightening. Tel-Aviv's Allenby Street was completely destroyed. Ditches furrowed into the road, heaps of garbage and stones everywhere, with big bulldozers digging the canal to the sea.
This was the set of the movie Blaumilch Canal, which was built in the Herzlia Studio parking lot. The film was written and directed by my dad, and he was also the producer in 1969, and I also had a small role in this great movie.
When we were children, my father was chasing my brother Amir, my sister Renana and me, with his 8mm camera all the time. He asked us to arrange for various positions and situations based on his directorial instructions. Every Saturday night, we enthusiastically watched the edited films in which we were the stars.
Amir, Rafi and Renana Kishon
In 1963, my dad figured he already had enough film experience with family photography and that anyway; an intelligent man could accomplish anything with success - including making a full movie. This is how the Salah Shabati, the first Oscar-nominated Israeli film was created, which immediately won two Golden Globes and several other international awards. By the way, the second Israeli film, later nominated for Oscar and Golden Globe, The Policeman – happened to be also my father's film.
Ephraim Kishon at an awards ceremony
My father was born in Budapest in 1924 and has survived the anti-Jewish laws and the Holocaust as a Hungarian Jew. He escaped from the Labor and Death Camp and also survived the bombing of Budapest. When he emigrated to Israel in 1949 he did not know a word in Hebrew. He lived in a temporary camp and in a kibbutz, and then moved to Tel-Aviv. After two months, he wrote humorous texts for the Új Kelet, and he began studying Hebrew, too. Over the years, he became the most popular Hebrew writer in the world and became the most successful film director in Israel. Nine of his plays were featured worldwide with great success.
And meanwhile, he was a father who wanted to give me the name “Doctor” as my first name at birth, saying, "Have you got any idea my son, how many years of learning I save you with this?"
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