Viewers were gripped Monday night by the first episode of “Valley of Tears,” or “She’at Neilah” in Hebrew, a fictionalized retelling of the 1973 Yom Kippur War that is the biggest-budget Israeli TV series to date.
At 9:15 p.m. on Kan 11, and on the Kan 11 website, the main characters were introduced in an engrossing double episode lasting 83 minutes.
Intended to tell the stories of the soldiers who battled in the war and deal with the national trauma the war inflicted on the Israeli psyche, “Sha’at Neilah” brings the 1970s to life, from cars and fashions to slang and tanks.
(Ynet reported that the army gave permission to use its tanks, including those purchased for Israel by the US in the 1960s and used during the war.)
During the episode viewers meet Dafna (Joy Rieger), whose boyfriend, Yoav (Aviv Alush), is stationed at the Mount Hermon outpost that’s later attacked by Syrian commandos; Alush (Imri Bitton), saying goodbye to his girlfriend before heading to the Golan, and Meni, a boozy journalist played by Lior Ashkenazi, who’s in bed with two young women on Yom Kippur when his ex-wife calls, hysterical that their son is heading to battle.
Up north in the Golan Heights, viewers meet the soldiers stationed at the Mount Hermon outpost, including Avinoam (Shahar Taboch), a genius and socially awkward intelligence soldier who speaks Arabic and is terrified about what’s coming their way.
His commander, Yoav, isn’t concerned; neither are the tank soldiers relaxing in the sun, discussing their travel plans for after their military service.
Very soon, the outpost is stormed by Syrian commandos, sending the intelligence soldier into hiding while the tank unit, initially successful, sustains heavy losses within the first hours of battle.
“It gave me goosebumps,” was the most common response on Twitter on Monday night.
“Don’t bother me between 9:15 p.m. and 11 p.m.,” was another common refrain.
“I miss tanks,” said one Twitter commentator, while Maariv reporter Arik Bender posted a screen grab of one of the show’s tank shots, alongside his own tank during the opening shots of the Yom Kippur War.
שימו לב. בצד ימין צילום מהסרט "שעת נעילה" שהוקרן הערב בכאן 11 שבו סצינה מהדקות הראשונות לקרב בגולן. משמאל הצילום האמיתי של גדוד 71 חברי ואני ברגעים הראשונים למלחמה בצומת וואסט לאחר הפצצת מטוסי סוחוי ומיג סורים יום שבת ט לאוקטובר 14:00 pic.twitter.com/texwlqzlHK
— arik bender (@arikbender) October 19, 2020
Local viewers kept up the commentary throughout the day.
The NIS 2 million per episode price tag, according to Calcalist, was split between Kan, WestEnd Films and Moshe Edry from United Films. The show is directed by Yaron Zilberman, who also directed “Incitement,” last year’s controversial portrayal of Yitzhak Rabin’s murder.
“It’s dealing with a national trauma,” Roni Peri, head of drama at Kan, told Calcalist. “This is our flagship series. We’re not making it to bring abroad, we want to create conversation.”
Television presenter Kobi Meidan is featured on the Kan “She’at Neilah” webpage, interviewing two soldiers who fought in those battles and a woman whose father died during the war.
“I still dream about it,” said David Nachliel, who fought at the Mount Hermon outpost.
The Kan site for “Sha’at Neilah” also includes interviews with soldiers, their families and original footage from the war.
World rights for “Sha’at Neilah” were purchased by HBO Max for production abroad.