70 Hungarian postcards to the 70-year-old Israel
Thank you, Bezeq ?!
Few people know this about the iconic show Zehu Ze: that during its twenty-year run, Éva Bodnár was the program’s Hungarian production manager.
Translated from the Hungarian original: Bea Sara Goll
“As far as I know, you were the inspiration for the parody Thank you, Bezeq? As a Hungarian ole I have often been asked about this, but to this day I have no clue what it means.”
“According to Rivka Michaeli, it was not me who they made fun of; supposedly another mefika * who also said thank you all the time.”
“Another courteous mefika?” I ask skeptically. Later, when I find the scene on the Internet, there is no doubt: Rivka Michaeli is wearing a wig copying Éva’s blond hairdo, and pronounces “Israeli television” in a way that is all too familiar to Hungarian ears.
“Indeed, they often asked me just how many more times would I say thank you. Become Israeli! Because we Hungarians thank for everything, but in Israel this sounds strange. In any case, in our program Zehu Ze, there was this sketch played by Rivka Michaeli and Moni, in which a couple desperately tries to make a phone call somewhere, but the call gets messed up every time. Total chaos. “Gezeq, not Bezeq. That's how you should say it. Thank you, Bezeq. That’s how they say it in Hungarian.” They keep correcting each other. At last someone answers, but then the line breaks, and Moni yells in the mussel, halfways in Hungarian, saying, “Thank you, Bezeq!” These sketches, marchons ** are still alive in the public consciousness today. If you go to the market, the vendor just knows who Zkenim SelTveria, HaGasas Hahiver are and the same way he knows “Thank you, Bezeq.”
Zehu Ze became part of Israel's history in the 1991 Gulf War when it helped keep up the spirit of a whole country. Zehu Ze's beginnings date back to the pioneer era of Israeli television in the early '80s. I am astonished to realize that, unlike in other countries, television in Israel has started so late. The task of the only transmitter that had been operating since 1966 was, for a long time, providing educational materials and short films. Until the first Lebanese war in 1982, it had no permanent news coverage. The entertainment shows made for the whole family were later developed from the educational programs.
"I went to Televizia HaLimudith in 1980, the only operating channel," Éva says. "It was characteristic of the primitive circumstances that one man was running around with a notebook to write down what’s needed, who needed a little studio or some cutting. In Hungary, the professional production of programs had long been established by then. The knowledge I had acquired at the Hungarian Television and the College was my great asset here. To organize a capacity, to compile a budget for a show, you need to be able to calculate the number of lighting crew, installations, make-up, preparations, wigs and costumes needed. These are details that, at that time had not yet been set up. I feel very lucky that I could partake from the beginning.
Zehu Ze was a successful series. At the same time, we were asked to produce a memorial program about the soldiers who died during the Israeli wars, and for seven years I became the editor. This ties me so much more to this country. Think about it: to deal with the poems or letters that have been written by the fallen soldiers - girls and boys and Druze - which finally served as the basis of the show. I still have these letters from the parents of the fallen soldiers who, for three minutes, because this is how long an excerpt was on, were brought back to the television screen to their parents. This show provided a true and dignified remembrance for these fallen young people.
“But you were also the producer of a documentary about Theodor Herzl,” I'm trying to change the subject after this heartbreaking theme.
“On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the death of Theodor Herzl, in 2004, a group of filmmakers came to the Hungarian television with the idea of a co-production. Upon this request, I began to break my head as to who I could ask, so I turned to Channel 8 where they made really great documentaries and I was able to get them interested. This is how this documentary about Herzl's life, based on his journal entries, was created; filmed in Austria, Hungary and Israel. We interviewed Simon Peres, who wrote a book about Herzl, and also Benjamin Netanjahu, then finance minister, since, as we know, Herzl's great dream: the economic foundation, financial investors, and even the idea of the Bank Leumi came from him. Among our interviewees were Huldai, who was already the mayor of Tel-Aviv at that time.
As the interview progresses, I feel more and more that the apropos of the “Thank you, Bezeq” comedy known all over the country is just the tip of the iceberg, because we should rather be talking about the work of Eva, her loyalty to the two countries. She was an active participant, not only at the birth of the Israeli television, but she was also there in 1987 to establish a cultural event preceding the diplomatic contacts of the two countries, for which she had received the “Pro Cultura Hungariae” prize as a public acknowledgment given by István Hiller, Minister of Culture.
“Yeah. About this period, I have many touching memories. For example the concert performance of Israeli Tizmoret HaKameri in the Great Synagogue of Budapest and at the Congress Center. This trip was accompanied by an entire Israeli group, so we arrived at the Congress Center with a large excursion bus, where the Hungarian Television's broadcast van was waiting. I got off and Attila Apró, with whom I worked a lot together in the music department long ago, was there, and we fell into each other’s arms, sobbing. I told myself that the circle was closed. Éva Bodnár arrives in Budapest with an Israeli group, with an orchestra, and she will be shooting at such an event: a gift from life that I can’t thank enough for even today. This is another experience that ties me to the two countries both ways, when you think about it.
Of course, we also made a documentary about the great Russian aliyah in the early '90s. Seeing them arrive with the morning train at the Keleti Railway Station, with their paltry things, and then watch them taking off by the El-Al in the afternoon. To witness their day in Budapest in the former military barracks was also very shocking. We survived a terror attack on the bus. The bus behind us was blown up.
“But what is that for an Israeli” ... I add to it ironically.
“Katan alenu” *** ... – we both say it at once, laughing.
* Production manager
*** Piece of cake for us
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