It was not long ago that I got the opportunity to interview Amos Ettinger. I realize that most readers will not really know who I am talking about but do not worry, the words he said are interesting and important either way. He is 78 years old, meaning he was born before Israel was formed. The important thing to know, before you read, is that he played a major role in developing the culture of the Israeli society.
Q: From my research I read that you used to work in ‘The Voice of Israel’ (an Israeli radio station), which means that you probably have a great deal of experience with interviews. Perhaps you could tell me how you managed to get to this position?
A.E: Everything is a coincidence. I open my show and say- ‘I am a man who did not fulfill his dream’. I wanted to be a theatre actor, really wanted it, put a lot of effort into it as well. But then I arrived to the army, ended up in the IDF band, and saw people that are in the front row of the theatre world today; next to them I was not more than an extra. And that was the hardest thought to come to ends with – that I am not an actor. But I always wrote and I had a friend in ‘The Voice of Israel’, Rivka Michaeli, (now a famous Israeli actress, television hostess and comedian) who suggested I should take the entrance examinations. But the exams were for narration and I was not a narrator so they did not pick me. Instead, I was asked to write. I was writing so much that they said- ‘you are making more money than your superiors’ and so I was made official.
That is the story of how I made it to ‘The Voice of Israel’ and my luck was that I always did the shows I wanted to. When I was in England I saw the show ‘This is your life’ and told myself ‘One day, when I will grow up, I want to do that.’ And it sank because back then there was no TV and I was a kid after the army. I suggested it to my radio station but it ended up on the IDF station. It was so successful that the others changed their mind. I did it for four years on the radio, but it is a TV show, you need to see the encounters; not just hear them. When the TV was created I ended up doing it for thirty years. The name changed but the opening music didn’t, and neither did the method – surprising people. Moreover, the host did not change – me.
In-between, I was writing books and poetry (seven of them begin with the word ‘quarter’; quarter to midnight, quarter to war, quarter to dawn, quarter to love, after love… I don’t remember.) I also wrote biographies and a tiny novel. I wrote many biographies.
Q: Whose for example?
A.E: There was Sammy Ofer, who died recently. The time with him was the best time of my life because I was constantly traveling around the world. He had a ship company, the second largest in the world in the private ship scene. He said that the only place we could work in silence is on his yacht. And so he called me – come to Sicilia, come to the Caribbean. That went on for two years.
Q: I assume that interviewing figures such as Golda Meir (Israeli’s only woman prime minister) was followed by a great deal of stress. May you give an advice on how to deal with that? Are the questions coming out as planned?
A.E: The questions always change. You come prepared, do your research and things grow along with the conversation. That is the most beautiful thing in it. Suddenly people see each other and remember all the things they didn’t think about, but want to say. And as for the stress… I don’t understand which stress are you talking about, I’m always stressed.
Q: I am interested to hear your opinion about the shows of today. Your show, ‘This is your life’, is very different. Are you pleased with the progress?
A.E: I cannot give a general answer. The real reality show was ‘This is your life’. The surprises and the encounters were real. When guests cried, they really cried, it came from the soul, not a game of some challenges. But look, there are some things which are good and some which are less. I like to fool around and watch others do the same. There are some great things today, especially documentaries. I have no greater love, besides for women, than to go to the field with my camera. I made a film in South America, took me half a year, 13 countries. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs ended up buying it. They called it a ‘breath of fresh air’.
And another thing, I have always dreamt to study geography and see the world. It actually happened – I visited 95% of the countries in the world. All South America, the U.S.A., Australia. I wasn’t in New Zealand though. All Europe of course. By the way, before the army, when I was not even 18 years old, I befriended the sculptor Nathan Rapoport, the one that did the sculpture in Warsaw and some in Israel. I used to come to him and we talked about Israel; there was a war going on and he just made an ‘Aliya’ (Jewish immigration to Israel). He told me about his days abroad and used to tell me – ‘stand like this’ – and sculpt in clay and plasticine. One day he gave me an apple to hold and so I did. The point is that the sculpture of Mordechai Anielewicz is me, the head was the only thing he changed.
“Everything is interesting. The curiosity is in this and in that. The pleasure is in writing a poem, a book or a TV show.” -Amos Ettinger
Written by Ma’ayan Agmon
Edited by Maria Tirnovanu and Carlos Sevilla