Life & Culture

Listening in: podcasts from Israel

Anna Behrmann’s pick of the best Jewish-interest podcasts


They say that starting a podcast is the new starting a band. Two of my friends have launched podcasts in the past six months, one on dating (Swipe Right For Love) and one where a comedian and a scientist discuss end-of-the-world scenarios (Apocalypse How?!) All you need to start a podcast is a microphone, headphones, audio software — and a belief someone will want to listen.

You can listen to most podcasts, especially cultural or storytelling ones, in your own time, catching up on episodes that interest you months or years after your friends.

This week, I’ve focused on Israeli podcasts. Unsurprisingly for a start-up nation, there are many to choose from. Here are five of the best.

Israel Story

This podcast is broadcast in both English and Hebrew, with the English version receiving high-profile support from funders including Steven Spielberg. Host Dr Mishy Harman, 34, makes no secret of the fact that his podcast closely follows the formula of hit US podcast This American Life. Both are documentary podcasts which tell compelling and unusual stories about people’s lives. Mishy set up Israel Story with three childhood friends from the youth movement Noam.

Each episode of Israel Story reveals something about Israeli society. One looks at cannabis culture in Israel. The hosts interview the founder of “Telegrass” — an encrypted phone app that allows Israelis to (illegally) buy and sell weed — who grew up in a Strictly Orthodox family! 

In another episode, we explore the story of an abandoned Hashemite palace on a hill in East Jerusalem — who lived there and why is it now filled with rubbish.

The English version of Israel Story is published in partnership with Tablet Magazine. Download episodes on i-Tunes, or listen on the Israel Story website 

Israel in Translation

This is my kind of podcast — with short seven-minute episodes focusing on a different work of contemporary Israeli literature translated into English.

The host, Dr Marcela Sulak, reads out extracts from novels in a soothing voice, sometimes with some analysis and details about the author, in short episodes lasting less than ten minutes. She reads from Petty Business by Yirmi Pinkus, a humorous and affectionate portrait of two middle-class families. In another episode, she looks at the story of a cursed diamond in Moshe Sakal’s novel, The Diamond Setter. 

The podcast is part of the TLV1 network. Download on i-Tunes, or listen on the TLV1 website.

Streetwise Hebrew

This upbeat podcast is a little too advanced for my basic standard of Hebrew, but I think it would be good for serious students. Each episode looks at modern Hebrew words and expressions, and what they can tell us about the etiquette, mind-set and culture in Israeli society. This might be the podcast for you if you want to learn the subtle intricacies of the language, so you can speak it like a native. 

Download on i-Tunes, or listen on the TLV1 website.

Tel Aviv Review

This is a pretty heavyweight ideas programme, and not one to listen to when distracted and doing something else at the same time. It is designed to showcase the latest developments in academic thought in Israel. The hosts, Dr Dahlia Scheindlin, a political and strategic consultant, and Gilad Halpern, a journalist, interview academics, thinkers and lawyers.

It is sponsored by research centre The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, and the podcast reflects its liberal stance. Recent episodes include an interview with a leading human-rights lawyer working in the occupied Palestinian territories. 

Download on i-Tunes, or listen on the TLV1 website.  

The Promised Podcast

This news review programme assumes that you are keeping up very well with day-to-day Israeli current affairs and is otherwise a bit tricky to follow. 

You could use it to catch up with important issues in the news that week, but it wouldn’t be the easiest way. The hosts are a fast-talking professor, journalist, and a person working for an NGO, and they keep up a fiery, relatively balanced debate with some interesting analysis. 

In a recent episode, one of the hosts remarks: “You can make a strong case that the true religion of Israel is politics” — an interesting point. 

Download on i-Tunes, or listen on the TLV1 website.

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