Monday, October 14, 2019 -
Print Edition

The national concierge desk

Reuma Eldar of The Voice of Israel radio has passed away. She truly was the voice of Israel. I was raised on her melodious voice. For early risers, her brother was equally famous for the early Shma Yisrael he daily and dramatically read on the radio. I can still remember Reuma’s sonorous radio voice, as she pronounced each and every Hebrew word that left her mouth with exactitude and perfect diction. Her Hebrew accent was not the typical one you might hear on the street or even in school. With her Yemenite background, she was able to pronounce difficult letters (such as ayin or chet) in their authentic enunciation. Her grammar was flawless, down to smallest details. She set the standard for the language of Israeli broadcast.

For 40 years, every hour on the hour, before she broadcast the news, Reuma’s signature opening line was her famous time keeping. Before she uttered a word of news, she framed it by telling the exact time.

Reuma was the voice of the nation, but also was the clock of the nation.

Here’s a little quirky time keeping piece of old-school Israel, or maybe even up to the era of the smartphone. I am not referring to reading military time. 13:00 hours, or anything like that. If I am wrong, and this service of which I am thinking is not a relic of the past but is in fact still available, I will be charmed. It was called “ha-sha’on ha-medabber, the talking clock.”

You’re probably picturing a popping cuckoo clock — it’s not that either.

It’s something much simpler, yet so endearing. Basically, if you wanted to know the exact time of day, you would dial 155, and a woman’s voice in perfect Hebrew diction would come on and tell you the exact time. I can still hear it in my head: “The time is three twenty-seven, I repeat, the time is three twenty-seven, ha-sha’ah shalosh esrim v’sheva, ani chozeret, ha-sha’ah shalosh esrim v’sheva.”

Believe it or not, there were times when I relied on her. I was one of those holding out on getting a smartphone, so it’s not like I constantly had an electronic device with the time automatically incorporated. So every once in a while, if my clock stopped and I hadn’t had a chance to get a new battery, I called Reuma on 155.

Honestly, I just loved her soothing way of telling the time. And she was always absolutely one hundred percent reliable. She was like the Greenwich of Israel by which all clocks were unofficially checked or set.

Once a friend of mine was over when I dialed 155 and she was overcome with surprise that I actually used that service. Since there was an extra charge to dial 155, she suggested, why don’t I just dial information at 144, which is cheaper, and just ask them for the time? A good idea, to be sure. But no way was I going to give up on hearing Reuma Eldar repeat the exact time in perfect Hebrew. Like a little game I played with myself, after I’d hung up, I would repeat Reuma’s articulate and pleasant time keeping in my head.

A little detail, but if you would ask someone on the street, “excuse me, do you have the time?” (another relic as now we all check our phones), and it was, say, 1:35, they’d probably give their answer as, “echad…” but Reuma’s grammar was always perfect, so she would say, “ha-sha’ah achat…” Achat not echad; It’s such a small thing, but it was a pleasure!

Lest I mislead you into thinking that I am the grammar police or have any competence in grammar at all, let me disabuse you of this false notion pronto. It couldn’t be farther from the truth! But in my own way, I carry an appreciation for that well articulated flawless grammar or literary expression.

The other funny thing about this phone line or one related to it was that if you put in a request for a wake-up call, it would call you at the exact, requested time as a personal alarm. It’s little things like these that, even as advanced as Israel is technologically, have such a personal touch. It makes one feel as if little Israel is one big hotel everyone is a part of. There’s a national concierge desk that will give you a wake up call.

Believe it or not, I made use of this service too. Maybe only a few times, but I did. With my aversion to alarm clocks, I never set an alarm. I didn’t even own one. I’ve developed some kind of inner clock where I can rely on myself to wake up on my own at the exact time, or at least in the close vicinity thereof, each morning. Still, there were those rare times when there might be a crucial early meeting, or something else that is an absolute must that I cannot be even one minute late for (like an air flight), and I must have an ironclad way to wake up at a specific time, no wiggle room! In those rare situations, with the nine hour time difference between Denver and Israel, oftentimes I relied on my mom to call and wake me up. But there were also those times when I most certainly used this quirky national Israeli wake up call service.

Formal time keeping is so passé. Forget about grandfather clocks that chime the time on the hour and bring awareness of the passing day. It seems that people barely wear watches these days, let alone call a telephone service line to hear the exact time of day.

Reuma Eldar’s voice was not only Kol Yisrael, “The Voice of Israel,” hers was also the voice at the other end of line 155, a time piece of a time gone by.

Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

Leave a Reply