Not For Water

by R. Wineberg - ONTARIO, CANADA

December 23, 2002

The ratings are in and they’ve never been better, says Michael Kigel, producer of Passages and Messages, two religiously themed shows that air weekly on Rogers Cable Channel 9 in thousands of Ontario homes. In fact, since introducing a fifteen minute segment titled “My Soul is Thirsty for You; The Ideas and Ideals of the Lubavitcher Rebbe” to the program, the show’s Nielsen ratings have risen dramatically—this year’s tally has 40,000 viewers tuning in and out and 10,000 watching the entire show—an increase of exactly double over last year’s ratings. Co-produced by Kigel and Rabbi Moshe Spalter of Lubavitch of Ontario, the segment features a short video clip of the Lubavitcher Rebbe speaking publicly or to an individual, followed by a discussion on the topic with several local Chabad Rabbis.

“The idea is to present the Rebbe, ultimately, as a teacher, and his words as powerful lessons for our lives,” says Kigel. The discussion segment of the show, expertly constructed from various taped interviews with the rabbis gives viewers the opportunity to understand the Rebbe’s words in the context of today’s reality, he says, pointing to the example of one show which featured an audience with Ariel Sharon, and the ensuing discussion, which analyzed the Rebbe’s message to Sharon in the context of today’s political reality. Given the generally unpopular hour of the show (10:45 pm on Sundays) and the typically poor appeal of a religiously themed show, the show’s broad popularity is an indication of an interest on the part of the general public for something “genuine and spiritual,” Kigel says. Spalter, a member of the Chabad team in Toronto for over 20 years, couldn't agree more. From several short appearances on the show, he says he has strangers—Jewish and non-Jewish—stopping him on the street, curious to know more.

The show’s opener, a desert scene with footage of the Rebbe singing the well-known Chabad song “Tzoma Lecha Nafshi,” (My Soul Thirsts For You), from which the show takes its name, has proven an accurate reflection of the public’s reaction to the show, he says. “When we first approached Michael about showing some clips of the Rebbe produced by Jewish Educational Media on his show in honor of the Rebbe’s 100th birthday last April, none of us were sure how it would take off,” he recalls. But the positive response encouraged Kigel and Spalter to establish the 15 minute segment as a regular part of the show, seeing as “people are literally thirsty for this kind of genuine spirituality,” Spalter says.

Following the dramatic rise in ratings, the show’s 15 minutes may be expanded, and, say the producers, they are looking forward to more of the enthusiastic feedback.

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