Popular Israeli podcast comes to the stage

Yochai Maital, left, Hannah Barg, Yuli Shiloach, Zev Levi, Maya Kosover, Mishy Harman and Shai Satran produce the podcast and radio show Israel Story.

A stage show produced by Israel Story, the Holy Land’s popular podcast and radio show, will make a stop in Toronto on its upcoming North American tour.

A celebration of Israel’s 70th birthday, the show, Mixtape: The Stories Behind Israel’s Ultimate Playlist, arrives at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre on April 17 (it was originally scheduled for April 16, but the date was changed due to the weather).

Presented by the New Israel Fund of Canada for Yom Ha’atzmaut, Mixtape is the seventh Israel Story stage show and the first to include Canada in its U.S. tour schedule. The shows are also released as podcasts.


Like the podcasts, the core of the live show is made up of stories. Through the stories, videos and iconic Israeli songs, the show explores the political and historical complexities of Israeli society over the past 70 years, said Michy Harman, speaking from Jerusalem on a conference call, along with his co-producer, Yochai Maital, on the line from New York.

Harman, with Roee Gilron, Shai Satran and Maital, created the first Israel Story podcast  in 2012, after becoming a fan of This American Life, a podcast and radio program that he listened to while he was going to college in the United States. This American Life features documentary-style journalism with a focus on human interest stories about ordinary Americans. In 2012, the only documentary-style journalism on Israeli radio was in the form of in-depth features broadcast on national holidays.

“We really loved this idea of diving into stories that have a strong human interest factor – discovering Israel through stories,” Maital said.

Harman added that sectors of Israeli society remain isolated from one another by choice. “Even though there’s a tremendous social, religious and ethnic diversity in Israel, the quality of daily interactions is somewhat limited. People flock to their own kind and interact with their own kind,” he said.

“We thought, ‘When do we get the opportunity to sit and listen to a story told by a Bedouin girl, an Arab or an Orthodox Jew?’ The kind of radio we wanted to do would allow our listeners to meet people who they would never interact with in real life.”

When Harman and his friends came up with the idea for the podcast, they decided to stay away from overtly political stories as most journalism coming out of Israel relates to the political sphere. Nor did they intend to do feel-good public relations about Israel.

“We didn’t want to engage in the PR narrative  – how great Israel is,” Harman said. “We recognize there’s a real need for Jews and non-Jews around the world to interact with Israel on a different level and to be able to be engaged and proud about their engagement with Israel.”

It took them about a year to make their first podcast, in Hebrew, as it was a hobby for the foursome. They were surprised when the podcast became an instant hit on its release in 2013. Soon afterward, it was picked up by Galey Tzahal, Israel’s leading national radio station.

They then partnered with Tablet magazine and began producing episodes in English. They wanted to reach Jews outside of Israel “who might not be as emotionally invested as their parents’ or their grandparents’ generation in the Zionist ideas,” Harman said.

So far, Israel Story has produced three seasons of Hebrew-language podcasts and three seasons in English. Some of the hour-long podcasts have a single theme, with several related interviews, or they’re “one acts,” with the entire podcast devoted to a single interview.

The theme of a recent podcast is the Balfour Declaration, a statement issued by the British government during the First World War in support of the establishment of a national home for the Jewish People. The podcast includes interviews with three academics; a meeting with a living relative of Arthur Balfour; an interview with an old-timer who lives on Moshav Balfouria, which is named for Lord Balfour, and two other related interviews. A recent “one act” podcast is an interview with an Orthodox Jew who has created an app that allows Israelis to order cannabis online.

The podcasts have listeners in 190 countries. You can find  them on Tablet ’s website.  n

For tickets to the show at Miles Nadal JCC on April 17, visit eventbrite.ca