In 2012, four friends came together to create and produce Israel Story, a small podcast originally intended for family and friends. Today, Israel Story is known for amplifying diverse voices from across Israel, showcasing and celebrating the plurality of local communities and traditions.
I went behind the scenes and spoke with Mishy Harman, the show's host, co-founder and an ROI Community member to learn more about Israel Story's approach to elevating the discourse about Israel on the world stage. Below, you can listen to our audio interview and read our Q&A.
Tell us a bit about how you started Israel Story?
After my army service, I came to America for college, then got my master's degree in England, and came back to Jerusalem to do my Ph.D. in history at the Hebrew University. While I was doing my Ph.D., I started Israel Story with three of my closest childhood friends as sort of a side hobby. To our utter delight—and even more so, surprise—the show took off. Today, we just concluded our fourth season and have many listeners in 192 countries around the world.
Did you have any production or journalism experience before starting Israel Story?
No. I did storytelling in the sense that I talked to people and told them stories. And I went on dates and told stories on those dates, and I had friends that I had hummus with and I told them stories while we were eating hummus. I think I always was attracted to stories in one way or another, but I definitely had no radio experience. When we started Israel Story, we essentially had to teach ourselves everything from scratch—how to edit and how to write for radio, who our target audience was, how to record. Luckily, it's not very difficult. The nice thing about radio and podcasting is that anyone can start basically today.
What would you say is the purpose of the podcast? What makes a story an “Israel Story,” rather than just a story about Israel?
What we want people to get out of our show is that Israel is a complicated place. I think that in recent years—or even recent decades—Israel has become a contentious and polarizing topic. I think as a result it's easy for us to forget that Israel is like any place really. It's a very vibrant society full of interesting people from all kinds of walks of life. There's a lot of beauty and glory and triumph, and a lot of warts and filth and dust as well. So we complicate the messaging around Israel rather than simplify it. Additionally, we want people to understand that we're all just people before we're Jewish or Arab, right-wing or left-wing, rich or poor, Ashkenazi or Mizrahi, and so forth.
Does Israel Story have a political perspective?
Israel Story is an apolitical organization. We don’t take a stance on what should happen in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or ask our audience to support a certain candidate. So, on this superficial level, we're completely apolitical. On a deeper level, the entire premise of the show is a political one because it tries to show that we are all smarter and better off by hearing the stories of those around us, that we can learn from people who are different from us and feel empathy towards them regardless of what their position is and what their circumstances are. Unfortunately, I think we live in an age in which that's a partisan opinion.
What advice do you have for others who want to showcase the plurality of voices in Israel?
I would say step out of your bubble and go ask people questions. Be open-minded. Don't be afraid to challenge people on their beliefs. And get out! Get out of the house and out of your neighborhood and out of your town. Before working on the show, I had very limited experience of what it's like to live in a West Bank settlement, or a Palestinian city or to be an Ethiopian living in the south. Getting to go out and meet people who live very different lives from me has made me more hopeful about Israel than anything else.
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Photo Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv