The Israel Story podcast is back with a new season of unusual stories

“The Israel that people hate and the Israel that people love are imaginary places, and we wanted to tell the story of our Israel, which did not glorify or vilify the country,” said Mishy Harman, co-founder, host and senior producer of the Israel Story podcast. , which is based on This American Life, the US public radio show and podcast.
Harman and his youth group friends Noam, Roee Gilron, Shai Satran, and Yochai Maital, initially created the podcast almost 10 years ago in Hebrew on Army Radio, and added an English version a few years ago. Now the English edition has become the world’s largest Jewish podcast – “by a wide margin,” Harman said – with hundreds of thousands of listeners in 190 countries. It can be reproduced or downloaded from the Israel Story website ( or, as they like to say on This American Life, it’s available “wherever you get your podcasts,” and a new season just started.
The show focuses on real life in Israel, not the Israel of tourist posters or news headlines, and tells fascinating stories that you would probably never hear if you didn’t tune in. The podcast largely follows in the quirky and evocative footsteps of its American inspiration: one of the first 24-hour shows at an Israeli pancake restaurant, similar to the This American Life episode about a Chicago restaurant. A recent episode similarly examined a day in the life of the YMCA in Jerusalem during the pandemic, interviewing people at the gym, a preschool, and other activities that attract people of all faiths. The new season features an episode called “Pigging Out,” which looks at dietary laws and discusses taboos, from interviews with archaeologists who believe ancient Hebrews sometimes ate pork to a hike through a forest near Haifa with a woman. . who has, of all things, a phobia of pigs, on a quest to face his fears and find wild boars. Other shows have looked at the complex saga of US-born Israelis trying to popularize baseball in Israel; the soldiers’ memories of the battle of Tel Saki in the Yom Kippur war, recounted in two episodes; and the quest for Palestinian comedian Ghazi Albuliwi to find a woman as beautiful as Queen Rania of Jordan to marry and to please his ailing father. The show also features fiction, including stories by acclaimed writer Etgar Keret, whose work is also sometimes featured in This American Life.

Sitting in a café near the First Station in Jerusalem, Harman mingles with hipsters, some of whom are his friends, and they stop to chat, as he talks about the long and strange journey Israel Story has been for him.

He grew up in Jerusalem and still lives here and is aware that “there are approximately one million people [in the capital], about a third are haredim [ultra-Orthodox] and a third are Arabs, but growing up here I had very limited social interaction with people who were not very similar to me … Of course, I would meet people from other groups, but in a split second, I had built a complete story . on them, I would label them, put them in a box; you start to build up all these assumptions about who these people are … In a few seconds you’ve created this whole story that actually avoids the need to hear their story, and as a result, you don’t. “

Mishy Harmon of ISRAEL STORY in the field. (credit: courtesy)

Harman has an unusual experience for someone on the radio. He grew up in a family of academics, writers and journalists and did his military service not on Army Radio, but in a house demolition unit, which he remembers as “a complicated period of time, because basically I was ideologically opposed to what it was. . doing in the military … It was a challenging time. “He studied history at Harvard and then taught there, studied archeology at Cambridge and earned his Ph.D. at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he wrote a biography of the first Protestant missionary in Ethiopia. He is married with an Italian woman and has a young daughter.

AFTER TAKING A TRIP ACROSS THE UNITED STATES AND DISCOVERING This American Life, she realized that a podcast would be the perfect medium to tell Israeli stories, and her friends agreed. “We thought that with a podcast, which was not something that really existed in Israel at the time, we could essentially play this trick on the listeners where we would remove the visual aspect so that people would have a hard time locating the person to listen to … people speak with accents and speak in idioms, but maybe for 60 seconds or 30 seconds you would be a little confused or puzzled about who they are and it would give you the rare opportunity to practice your empathy muscle and actually listen to this person as a human being “.

He is very pleased that shortly after the podcast began airing, “thousands of people wrote, saying, ‘Last night was the first time in my life that I heard, I actually heard a story of an ultra-Orthodox woman from Safed adopting children with Down syndrome or a Bedouin teenager … or a Russian immigrant working as a night watchman in a parking lot ‘or whatever ”.

While they started the podcast on a tight budget, learning to master the technical and logistical side of production as they went along, Harman is proud to say that there is now a staff of 15. “At first it was just a hobby,” he said. said. Initially, he sent letters to over a thousand Jewish organizations and groups seeking funding, and now Israel Story is produced in association with Tablet Magazine and the Jerusalem Foundation.

“We are tremendously lucky and privileged to be independent, which is both a curse and a blessing. It is always difficult to finance this operation and every year we start from scratch, that is the curse, but the blessing is that we have the tremendous opportunity to choose the stories that interest us, “he said. “We are very intentional about our blind spots” and the staff tries to include voices from all communities in Israel.

Harman is happy, he said, “that we get emails from time to time from people in all kinds of unlikely countries, like Chad and Iran.”

As you would expect from the producer of such a show, Harman asks almost as many questions as he answers, always looking for a new story. He admits that he tries to stay away from politics on the show, but realizes that it is in the nature of this type of company that “everyone is going to be upset about something.”

Finishing his coffee, he headed off to take on a typically Israeli bureaucratic errand with his family. “If I’ve learned anything in the last 10 years, it’s that people rarely conform to these stereotypes that we have of them,” he said as they walked away.

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