Two weeks ago, Bruria Becker announced her retirement after serving for years as director of the Education Ministry's so-called national culture basket, which tries to expose Israeli children to art and culture. Two questions arise that must be answered. First, why did someone for whom this enormous project was her life's work decide to pack up and leave? Second, why did all the poisoned arrows that were aimed at Becker and the culture basket in recent months have to do with theater and not other fields like film, literature, music, dance or the plastic arts?
The answers to these questions are intertwined. The culture basket's theater repertoire committee, of which I am chairman, is at a key crossroads. A lot of money is involved and many actors and others are dependent for their livelihoods on the outcome of our deliberations. This is why everyone in the theater has always had an eye open for ways to influence the committee's decisions and bend them in their direction. However, the structure and goals of the culture basket, as well as those of the various committees, are immune to such external influences; it seems that this more than anything was why things reached boiling point. Devoid of ways to influence the committee, the frustrated parties began a smear campaign.
From the eye of the storm, I can testify that everything that has been said recently about the way Becker ran the committees - from accusations of dictatorship to charges of settling accounts with theater companies and producers - is sheer malicious nonsense. For years, all the members of the theater repertoire committee have been theater people, but to avoid conflicts of interest, they have not been active creatively. They are all intelligent with absolutely independent minds, and they are guided only by the good of the students. They have never been in the thrall of Becker or anyone else.
Becker never interfered in the committee's deliberations and never tried to sway us in one direction or another. All the talk of her being an "autocrat" or a "cultural commissar" who ran the culture basket high-handedly is nothing more than a falsehood that has taken on the appearance of truth simply because it has been repeated so often.
The national culture basket is a project that is unmatched anywhere in the world. It has improved steadily during the years Becker has run it, both in the way the committees function and in the deep and vital links that have formed with schools' cultural coordinators. It's not a failed organization whose director should be replaced. It's a unique institution that for almost a decade has kept its head above the sewage of the ratings culture that is flooding us from all directions.
We don't need reform, but rather preservation by making the culture basket a statutory body, enshrined in law, and maintaining its current successful format, including all its committees. If Becker's resignation is exploited as a lever for significant change in the organization's structure and activities, we will have surrendered to evil market forces and cut down yet another blossoming tree in our cultural grove. And when in a few years all that is left of that grove is a bald patch, we will once more find ourselves bewailing the ignorance of our children and their lack of understanding of our cultural assets and those of the world.
The writer, a professor emeritus at Tel Aviv university, is the chairman of the national culture basket's theater repertoire committee.
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