You Should Know… Itsik Sayag

Photo courtesy of Itsik Sayag.

Itsik Sayag, 29, has spent the last year bringing Israel to American Jews at Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County in Bethesda and Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville. A shaliach (emissary) from the Jewish Agency, the Tel Aviv native teaches about Israeli cooking, movies, music and other aspects of the culture.

But Sayag’s life goal is to host his own morning talk show in Israel — a continuation of a media career he began as a film student at Sapir College in Sderot.

Why study film?
I like to tell stories and I like to listen to stories, and I think film does both very nice. Sometimes you’re interviewing people or following them and you have to be patient to see when the drama will come, where the conflict is. And you also take events and stories from your life to do a new thing. The movies that I made were mostly about LGBT and Middle Eastern Jews. I took events from my life and entered them into the script to see how the new character relates to the script. It’s fun.

Tell me about “Knock Knock,” the children’s TV show you wrote.
The show has guests, but also other stuff like a rabbi answering halachic questions with kids. The guests are actors who act as characters from the Bible, but the set looks exactly like the set of a talk show. There’s chairs and a table and coffee.

So it’s an educational show?
Yes, but it’s super funny.

What’s an example of an episode?
There’s Eliezer, who did the first shidduch [match] in history between Yitzhak [Isaac] and Rivka [Rebecca in the book of Genesis]. So, now he opens a shidduchim office where he helps people find their soulmates. He also combines objects in a way that looks silly like a map and wine. Stuff that doesn’t connect.

Have you ever hosted it?
No, but once I played a production assistant fighting with the host, so I had a 10-second gig there. Another time I came to the studio and they knew me as someone who writes. And they’re doing an audition for a trivia show for kids. And I said, ‘Can I audition and read from a teleprompter?’ They were quite shocked and I really believed that I could pass this audition. They said they would prefer me as a writer. Maybe some other time it’ll happen.

Could “Knock Knock” be adapted for an American audience?
It’s very Jewish, this show. I don’t know how many American kids want to watch Jewish shows.

What kind of talk show host do you want to be?
I want to be a talk show host in the morning. I don’t want to be on prime time. I’d talk about fashion and food and new shows for kids. But I don’t want to compete for ratings. I just want to have a nice time with guests. Something that combines the fact that I like studios and to host people.

Is there someone you would want to model your show after?
There used to be a nice woman in Israel who hosted a show in the morning. Her name is Odeta Shvartz, and she’s kind of the Martha Stewart of Israel. She gives tips on how to make good laundry, how to keep fruit fresh and she had a morning show for a lot of years. But she still writes newspaper columns. She’s super funny and old, but what I like about her is that she’s giving street talk. There’s no drama.

How does your work as a shaliach tie in with your talk show dream?
I talk a lot. I listen a lot. I really came first to learn. I want to be part of a community and while I’m part of it I can share stuff about Israeli film and literature and art and food because this is the world I’m coming from. The Hebrew meaning of shaliach is a delivery guy. In Israel, when you ask, ‘Where is the shaliach?’ it’s like the pizza is late. I didn’t come to deliver only. I came to receive a lot of knowledge that we probably can’t get in Israel.

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