view from central park

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 Shema 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 a 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, authentically. 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 timekeeping. Before she uttered a word of news, she framed it by telling the exact time. Reuma was the voice of the nation, but she was also its clock.

There was a little quirky timekeeping piece of old-school Israel, or maybe even up to the era of the smartphone. I am not referring to military time, 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 hashaon hamedaber, the talking clock.

You’re probably picturing a cuckoo clock — it’s not that either. It’s much simpler. 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 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, hasha’ah shalosh esrim v’sheva, ani chozeret, hasha’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 updated. 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 whom all clocks were unofficially checked or set.

Once a friend of mine was over when I dialed 155. She was overcome with surprise: since there was an extra charge to dial 155, she said, why didn’t I just dial information at 144 and just ask them? A good idea, to be sure. But no way was I going to give up on hearing Reuma Eldar tell the 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 timekeeping in my head.

A little detail, but if you would ask someone on the street “Excuse me, do you have the time?” (another relic of the past, 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, “hasha’ah achat…”

Achat, not echad. 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 notion pronto. 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 was that if you put in a request for a wakeup call, it would call you at the requested time, a personal alarm. It’s the little things that, even as advanced as Israel is, have a personal touch. It makes one feel as if little Israel is one big hotel, with a national concierge desk that will give you a wakeup 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 didn’t own an alarm. I’ve developed some kind of internal clock and can rely on myself to wake up on my own each morning.

Still, there were those rare crucial early meetings or flights, where I needed an ironclad way to wake up at a specific time. With the nine-hour time difference between Denver and Israel, oftentimes I relied on my mom to call and wake me. But there were also those times when I used this quirky national Israeli wakeup service.

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

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

Copyright Intermountain Jewish News