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Channeling Tradition, Untraditionally

September 7, 2006 By:
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The nation's eyes are on Rabbi Mark S. Golub's new TV venture here.

How best to bid welcome to a new national Jewish TV network?

Wilkommen? Bienvenue? Welcome?

This is cable TV; not "Cabaret."

So ... Shalom, Shalom TV.

It's a greeting worth savoring, for Shalom, in bidding hello locally, is also bidding for national prominence by staking its network roots first in Philadelphia, where it has established a relationship with Comcast for broadcasts to southeastern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware.

As of last week, Shalom TV had started out to meet a demand for Jewish television fare by going "on demand" with programs as diverse as films, educational courses, holiday highlights, celebrity coverage and cooking shows.

Nu, so what's cooking, Mark S. Golub? The rabbi should know; he's the spirit and the spunk behind the myth-shattering Shalom.

"There has been a stunning void of Jewish TV programming," says Golub, who, as a teacher, has been familiar with the blackboard and broadcasting for the past 35 years. "If you do ethnic television, TV for the Jewish community, it has to be of high quality."

Must-see TV? Must-pay TV! As the saying goes, you don't get something for nothing. And nothing says more about what go-to guy Golub has going for him than a history in quality programming -- be it the Russian cable-TV network he founded, sold, then rebought, or giving life to "L'Chaim," a 27-year-old program that has evolved from its radio roots.

But, says the vibrant 61-year-old of that series and its focus on interviewing world leaders, class-act artists, authors and educational experts, "if 'L'Chaim' were all Shalom TV were about, it would not be successful -- and 'L'Chaim' has been successful."

But Shalom shifts onto an even higher level, says the rabbi, channeling cable into a new direction. When you're a premium channel, you better be offering premium programming. And, adds Golub, this is primo prime-time TV, all day long.

Channeling tradition untraditionally: Why has Golub, Shalom TV president/CEO, been a stranger in a strange land? Alone in the dialing desert? Not that there haven't been other pioneers positioning themselves as Jewish TV titans. "But no one in the Jewish community has done ethnic TV with competence," he says.

"I have all my infrastructures in place."

As well as his funding. Here is a rebbe as rebel, an iconoclast with class eager to edge closer to a Jewtopia (not the off-Broadway show), where Jews don't have to surf the turf of Jewish Sunday ghetto programming to get what they want. It's where audiences get that soul sensation -- not that sole feeling they're out there alone.

But this is not a rabbi who has gone yarmulke in one hand, programming pishka in the other. "I have not gone to anyone to raise money," he says. "I am not doing a charity here."

He pledges, instead, a choice that Jews will clamor for rather than kvetch over: "I don't want Jewish audiences to do me a favor. I have an opportunity here that the average Jew will want to watch."

Watch this, says Golub to those average Yusseles: He is about to turn into a Jewish magician, conjuring quality out of the air -- and maybe a shtickle of pickle, too -- where it once didn't exist.

Where politicians of old promised a chicken in every pot, Golub wants that kosher chicken to come with good seasoning, some spiritual spice. "If you are a young Jewish couple with a child, there is nothing on American TV geared toward Jewish values for the family."

Book this one on your schedule then, says Golub of "Mr. Bookstein's Store," a program set in a Jewish shop "where Jewish children come to read Jewish books."

A new nonsecular "Sesame Street"? Hamantashen monster? It's "where a mail carrier comes in with a letter, but it's a Hebrew letter."

Such chai-lights, he hopes, will shed light on Jewish education and learning.

And should you want a nosh after that nice show? Dish TV ... nah, make that cable: There are Jewish cooking programs that will break bread over brisket, and other shows about "Jewish customs and holidays."

Shofar, show good: "There's also one show about a place where shofars are made."

In a way, the entrepreneur is chauffeuring a brand-new kind of TV onto the national set, where alphabetically speaking, he'll offer the ABCs of programming. "If you don't know your aleph from a bet, there will be lessons on how to read Hebrew, fundamental classes, for beginning Hebrew students, whether you're 10 years or 50 years old."

And if you're like a virgin when it comes to connecting to Kabbalah, but have crossed Madonna off your Chanukah list ... there will be lessons, too, on Kabbalah, no strings attached.

Israel is real important for the network, too: "I believe no one position is needed on Israel," he says of diverse views. "But I believe that Israel should have a voice."

It comes through loud and clear that Shalom TV is far from the shallow end of programming, with different voices encouraged for talk shows, too. Tim Russert with a tallis? "Good Shabbat, America"? "We'll also be doing our own Sunday-morning type talk shows, a week in review, and we're acquiring from Israel a news show in English."

And, of course, not to be forgotten is "Never again."

"The Six Million will not be forgotten," he says of Holocaust testimonials, which are also on the agenda.

His roundup shows how well-rounded the schedule is, but then Golub himself is a protean player with sundry interests. A softball player (Israel Baseball League games are part of the network's offerings) with hardball questions, he's gone through successful stages in his life -- including being on one.

This self-professed "theater junkie" recalls a cracklin' golden moment -- "the most wonderful single night of my life" -- when the baseball fan doubled as a Broadway star.

"Broadway is my passion," the one-time theatrical producer says, "and if I had the talent, I would have written Broadway shows for a living."

Siddur and Sondheim? Isn't it rich? But this was no send in the clowns; more -- send in the rebbe: "For my 50th birthday, my wife purchased -- through Equity Fights AID -- the chance for me to be in the chorus during a performance of 'Crazy for You' on Broadway."

"Crazy for You"? He knows the lyrics well: "That's exactly how we feel for each other," he says of his longtime love.

But theater also provided some drama on a health front, too; it happened four years ago, in a local Connecticut production of "Fiddler on the Roof." On the one hand, Golub was overjoyed with his heartfelt performance; on the other hand, his heart didn't seem to take it as well. "I felt something coming over me," he recalls.

Who knew that Anatevke would be the perfect place to be at the time? As the other characters prepared to leave for America and beyond, Golub was headed for the ER. "Sometimes, you're in the right place at the right time," because the actor playing Motel was tailor-made for what befell Golub.

How could he hope to make him understand what he felt, how he felt? Because "he was an EMS guy; he took my blood pressure immediately and discovered I had a ruptured ascending aorta."

In English, Tevye, in English: "I was bleeding to death."

A week after emergency open-heart surgery, Golub proved how theater will forever be in his blood. "My only question was, 'Could I go on next weekend?' "

Go, Golub, go; he has gone on to other things since. And the latest, and not the least, is the greeting he hopes Shalom TV will bring many from its local/national base at Comcast. (It is also offered by Blue Ridge Communications.)

The man proclaimed to be the best of the best -- including earning a proclamation from City Council of New York for his work with Russian cable TV ("I was the only non-immigrant ever so honored") -- gives a shout-out to his fans, so loud and heartfelt it would knock the Fiddler right off his cable-ready roof. And he also hopes audiences who hear him have a shout of their own. And just what would that be?

Grins Golub, the talmudic answer to "TRL": "I want them to say: 'I want my Shalom TV!' "

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