ON ELIHU’S 90th
I’m in Israel today because of Elihu. He brought me here twice. I don’t know whether to bless him or berate him. Let me explain.
I have a peculiar background being both an English practicing lawyer ( solicitor), a film maker, ( New York) and a University lecturer (California). I also for my sins worked as Assistant Producer during the televising of the Eichmann trial.
OK. It’s 1967.I’m in Israel as a volunteer and notice in Haaretz that a guy called Elihu Katz might be setting up an Israeli TV team. At that time there was no TV in Israel, but Israelis had noticed that the Arab side had used TV during the Six Day war.
I meet Elihu in a tiny cubby hole of an office, he notes my particulars, and basically says “don’t call us we’ll call you.”
A few days later I return to my London legal office. Months pass. I get a call. Elihu is in
London interviewing people for a possible TV start up team. Wonders never cease. For half an hour, dressed in my best lawyer’s suit I’m interviewed by Elihu, ( a sociologist), an Israel poet, and a BBC specialist. In April I get a letter. Come join us in Israel to get the show on the road.
I arrive to find I’m one of 18 foreign advisors who’ve been invited to Jerusalem to help set up TV under Elihu’s leadership.
Soon it’s apparent Elihu has a massive thankless job on his hand as his fledgling TV team, mostly recruited from the radio, seems to be taken from a Marx brothers film. Everyone is an expert. Everyone knows more than Hitchcock or Eisenstein. I teach them TV on Sunday and Monday. Tuesday my students are already advertising their own TV school in a newspaper. Someone has an argument in the TV House. He steals all the fuses from the studio. I can’t use a film car for a production on Friday because the Head of Transport needs to take his family to the Kinneret. My religious editor refuses to work on my film because maybe the food people are eating in one scene isn’t kosher.
In short Elihu’s task is to bring order into what at first seems like total anarchy. And he does. Magnificently. The measure of his success is that within three months, starting from scratch, we are on the air.
And gradually we begin to perceive Elihu’s vision. A broadcast service that will somewhat resemble the BBC, and which will bind the people together . And Elihu’s TV provided one new vital function.Yes, the cinemas had previously played newsreels, but they were mostly about sport and fashion shows. Now for the first time ever people could see the real Israel on the nightly news.
After a year with the TV I took time out to help set up a new film department at a Canadian University. But I kept in touch with Elihu. Did I want to return to Israel to teach in his growing Communications Dept. I didn’t know what Communications studies were…maybe something t o do with sex…but I agreed to meet Elihu in New York.
But where? Now the secret can be told. In Grand Central Station, NY, there is a special room called “Elihu’s Den.” Here, over the years, while he waits for a train to Long Island or Canada, Elihu has interviewed would-be members of the Communications Dept. Maybe there should be a plaque on the wall commemorating all that. The seats were hard. The coffee cold. But the upshot was Elihu asked me to leave the wilds of Toronto and once more brave the challenge of Jerusalem and teach film at the University. In a moment of madness induced by the awful coffee I said yes. Soon I discovered it was a great decision.
The Department met on the Givat Ram campus. It was small. Intimate. And very very friendly.
Elihu set the tone, and the relations between staff and students was excellent. After classes you sat with the students or other staff members on the grass, and felt your youth would go on for ever. There were many parties, the atmosphere graced by accordions being played or guitars being strummed. One notable Purim we had a great part at Elihu’s own apartment.
And did I mention faculty meetings. In later years , when we’d moved to Mt. Scopus I’d take an alarm clock to a staff meeting and set it for two hours to wake us all up after an endless soporific meetings. When Elihu was Head of Department we were up and out after twenty minutes.
Not being a sociologist I only assisted Elihu on one project. I was in New York and Elihu asked me to accompany him to a meeting with the Smart Family, who published “Esquire Magazine.”
Elihu was looking for a grant for the department. As far as I remember they were interested in us as a practical media department. Maybe we could train filmmakers and writers. So my function was to prove that yes, we had filmmakers on staff. We got the grant, but to my endless sorrow all the money went into research, creating the Smart Institute we know today.
Just a few words in conclusion. It has been my total privilege and honor to work with Elihu over the years. In so many things he has shown us the way. So once more may I wish him mazal tov and a happy birthday.