10 AM yesterday (Sunday)
I thought I was signing up for a Biblical Hebrew class. At least, that's what I was looking for when I walked into the Alma Institute this morning. Unfortunately, the woman told me they don't offer classes in Biblical Hebrew, just classes about Bible given in Hebrew.
Me: That would be too hard for me. I need a class in English.
She: Well, we do offer classes on Jewish culture in English in our Bet Midrash. In fact, there's an interesting one this afternoon. The course started three weeks ago, but you can join today. There are 10 more sessions, one a week.
I'm sitting in a seminar room at the Alma Institute with about 11 other people and the teacher, Ruth Calderon. There's a quick round of introductions and then we get a handout with some text in both Hebrew and English. Ruth explains: the text is intended to stimulate our thinking about creativity in Israel, and particularly creativity in Tel Aviv today and how it has been influenced by ancient Jewish sources, such as the example we will analyze. The technique is to read the paragraph, then turn to the person sitting next to you and discuss it between you for about 20 minutes. The paragraph is from a Talmudic tract dealing with God just putting the finishing touches on the Torah before he gives it to Moses. We analyze. We interpret. Then there is a class discussion with Ruth. It's delicious.
3:45-4:10 PM Coffee break
I go and register, i.e. pay tuition
4:15 PM Ori Sivan the head scriptwriter on an Israeli TV series called BeTipul (In Treatment) arrives. He describes his situation: last year's series was so successful that HBO bought it to Americanize, and tomorrow he starts filming this year's series for Israel. He's under a lot of pressure, but he promised Alma he'd speak, so here he is. He's brought a DVD to illustrate samples of last year's episodes, in Hebrew of course, and lucky for us with English subtitles that were added for the HBO people. The season consists of 50 episodes (!) For ten weeks the show plays in the same time slot every night, five nights a week.
In the first episode, on the first night of the week – in Israel it's Sunday night – the first patient comes to a therapy session with the psychologist, who is played by the actor Assi Dayan, real life son of Moshe Dayan. For the next nine Sunday nights each entire episode is that patient's talk therapy. Just the two actors talking. On Monday nights, the second patient has his sessions. On Tuesday nights it's a teenage girl. On Wednesday nights it's a married couple. On Thursday nights the psychologist has a session with his psychologist, played by Gila Almagor, a famous old-time Israeli actress.
5PM We interrupt the viewing of introductory clips to visit the set, which happens to be across the street. The production team is heading out, because they have to be back at 4AM tomorrow to start filming. I have a small weakening of the knees when I realize the beautiful mandate-era building where they will be filming is the very one that an old engineer friend of mine used to work in. I would meet him there often. Is Tel Aviv that small? Have I lived here that long?
5:15 PM We resume viewing and I am bowled over. You remember Tony Soprano's great sessions with his psychologist? From the samples, these look 100 times better, and there's no action outside the therapist's room. Now I certainly have to rent the DVDs and watch last year's episodes.
Sivan confesses that he had absolutely no concept of psychology as a substitute religion, which is what Ruth is getting at, but that writers and psychologists both work as detectives, coaxing secrets out of their characters/patients.
It will be fascinating to compare the Israeli and American versions of In Treatment. Watch your HBO schedules, guys.