Like Starbucks, McDonald’s and Coca Cola, chalk up “This American Life” as another item to achieve Western cultural exportation. “TAL,” the weekly hour-long public radio program, serves as the model for “Israel Story,” an Israeli-produced broadcast self-described as a “radio initiative aimed at introducing high-quality, long-form nonfiction content to, and about, Israel.”
Hosted by Mishy Harman, “Israel Story” is played on Israel’s Army Radio and available as a podcast, with both Hebrew and English episodes.
While podcasts and radio have long divorced sight from sound, local listeners last week were treated to a live performance from the traveling Israeli group. The event, presented by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, was able to “draw us into the lives of everyday Israelis,” remarked Cindy Goodman-Leib, event chair.
From the stage of the New Hazlett Theater on the city’s North Side, Harman and his teammates explored the narrative of Israel’s melting pot for more than an hour. Achieved with the aid of vocalization, recordings, live music, photographs and videos, Harman began by replaying an interview of an aged David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, and questioning the country’s sociological evolution.
Although Ben-Gurion believed that Israel would enable diverse Jews to amalgamate into a common identity, nearly 70 years later, Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s president, described the country as possessing four distinct “tribes”: Jews from haredi Orthodox, religious or secular camps, as well as Arabs, noted Harman.
In literature disseminated at the evening’s outset, attendees were informed that they would “discover how Ben-Gurion’s dream became Israel’s modern reality.” However, as entertaining as the function was, the vignettes offered by “Israel Story” served more as explanatory examples of demographic cross-sections than reasons how or why Israeli society evolved.
Act I, titled “No Man’s Land,” shared the story of a 24-year-old Ukrainian Jewish emigre and her 19-year-old Palestinian Muslim boyfriend. As the tale unfolds, the audience discovered that the partners, who met at a Ramallah bar, felt largely rejected by their families, their faiths and their countries. Sacrifices undertaken, coupled with the union’s ultimate uncertainty, provided a curious expose on seemingly forbidden love.
Act II, titled “50 Shades of Black,” featured further pullings of the heart by revealing the rapid rise and casual unraveling of a marriage. With as much of an insider’s eye to another’s relationship as one can achieve, listeners navigated an ultra-Orthodox couple’s journey from an Israeli hotel lobby to Venetian bridges and back to Israel again.
Following the performance, Harman said the two acts “represent something interesting regarding Rivlin’s fairly schematic division of Israel into four tribes.”
“When people achieve the unexpected, that makes a good story,” added Yochai Maital, a member of the team.
The program was “outstanding and unbelievable,” remarked Ram Amir, an Israeli who relocated to Pittsburgh three years ago. “The way they delivered the stories was very well put.”
In packing the tales, the producers interspersed music, which “really added to the mood of the storytelling,” noted Jessica Neiss, a member of Kol Shira Pittsburgh, a Jewish women’s a cappella ensemble.
Equipped with not only euphonious voices, the three female Israeli musicians, with seemingly boundless ability, proficiently played the violin, ukulele, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, flute and percussion instruments.
Said Neiss, “They were just really talented.”
“Israel Story” is available for download at israelstory.org or on iTunes. After leaving Pittsburgh, the group will visit New York City, Indianapolis, Seattle and Miami before returning to Israel.
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.