Photo Credit: Courtesy Israel Story
Graphic that hangs on a studio wall promoting “Signed, Sealed, Delivered?,” the news subseries that is part of Israel Story, the most listened-to Israeli podcast in the world. Photo shows the 37 signatories to Israel’s Declaration of Independence, surrounded by some of their living descendents.

“Dear Sir, we are hereby honored to invite you to the occasion of the Declaration of Independence, which will take place on Friday, the 5th of Iyar, May 14, 1948, at 4 pm, at the Museum Auditorium, 16 Rothschild Boulevard. We ask that you keep the contents of this invitation and the location of the gathering secret. Guests are kindly asked to arrive at 3:30.”     Excerpt from Israel Story, episode 84



Dr. Mishy Harman is the founder and CEO of Israel Story, which he claims is the most listened-to Israeli podcast in the world. For nearly a decade, Harman has told the story of Israel to hundreds of thousands of listeners tuning in from 194 countries around the world. In honor of Israel’s 75th Anniversary, Israel Story released the subseries “Signed, Sealed, Delivered?,” which takes the listeners into the minds of Israel’s first fathers: the signors of the Declaration of Independence, which has risen to the front of the national attention in the wake of proposed judicial overhaul and the reactions to it.

Harmon met with The Jewish Press to give some insight into how it came to be.

The Jewish Press: You are the creator of Israel Story, an international podcast phenomenon that has managed to become uber-relevant with its new sub-series Signed, Sealed, Delivered? How did it all begin?

Dr. Mishy Harman interviewing guests for Israel Story.

Dr. Mishy Harmon: I began Israel Story with three of my closest childhood friends almost 13 years ago. It was the first major podcast in Israel, and in the beginning the idea was to create a show in Hebrew which would explore Israel’s cultural diversity. Starting in 2014 we created an English version of our podcast Sipur Yisraeli, called Israel Story, which is now in its seventh season. The first six seasons were in collaboration with Tablet Magazine, while the seventh season is with Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Foundation. Today it’s by a very large margin the most popular Jewish podcast in the world. We have listeners in many different countries. About 60 percent are in the United States, about 20 percent in Israel, and the remaining 20 percent are scattered around the world in countries as diverse as Iran and Brazil.

How diverse is that audience? Is it mostly religious people? Is it only for Jews?

That’s a question we ask ourselves all the time, and we collect a lot of data about our listeners to understand who we’re reaching and what kind of impact we’re having. When we started the show weren’t exactly sure whether our audience would be fully within the realm of Jews who are already engaged in Israel or if we would appeal to a wider audience.

To our delight, most of our listeners are Jews, though we do have a sizeable following of non-Jews as well. People who have discovered us over the years, listeners who have never been to Israel and those who know little about Judaism. However, the vast majority of our listeners are Jews and among the Jews there is quite a diverse spread between atheist to ultra-Orthodox. Most of our listeners are involved with Israel in some way or another, though we are always most excited about those in which our podcast is the only form of connection.

Tell us about your “ah-ha” moment, the moment you realized the world could use a podcast like Israel Story. What inspired you to take on such an ambitious project?

Right before I moved back to Israel, I went on a very expensive road trip around the United States with my dog Nomi. During that trip I heard a podcast called This American Life, which uses the tools of journalism, with a lot of fact-checking and investigation, and applies it to the life stories of regular people who wouldn’t otherwise be in the media.

I was so excited about this because in Israel there’s very little careful storytelling on the radio. In Israel it’s a mostly aggressive style of interviewing with a man on an open mic yelling at a rotating cast of politicians and public figures. I thought that this could be an extremely creative, important project and worthwhile to try to create an Israeli version of what I had heard. So I enlisted three of my closest childhood friends and we began this knowing nothing about podcasting or journalism. We taught ourselves how to edit, record and write for radio. Being the very first podcast in Israel we had no assurance anyone would listen, so when we released our first episode in 2012, which we worked on for over a year, no one knew about it.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Israel is a very fragmented society and people surround themselves only with people who look, pray and live like them. And what happens is, you see someone and you immediately decide what they believe in based on what hat is on their head, their skin color or the clothes they are wearing, and with very minimal input you place them in a box and start piling up all these assumptions about them. So we thought by eliminating the visual aspect we would be able to give listeners a sort of grace period – an unusual gift of even a short time in which they can suspend their judgment and listen to the story of someone who comes from a segment of the population that you would normally have limited access to. Then, a minor miracle happened: we were offered four episodes on Galey Tzahal, the army radio station in Israel, and we aired them on the fourth night of Chanukah in 2012.

After we aired them, thousands of people wrote in to the station to say it was the first time they’d heard a story about other types of Jews. And with that, we were asked to create an entire season, and it became very popular – the most popular primetime radio show in Israel.

Once you realized your popularity, did you feel an obligation to change your original goals in any way? Did you feel any pressure to fall in line with any current trends in order to be considered politically correct?

Our goal was always to complicate the messaging coming out of Israel. The goal was never to make people like or support Israel. We felt the narratives that existed about Israel were very flat narratives, either religious or political, and we wanted to portray a vibrant, messy, interesting society which we recognize as our home. It takes us months to produce a single story, and now we’ve produced four seasons in Hebrew, and we are in our seventh English season and our hundredth episode. Our team has grown from the four initial founders to a large team of musicians, sound designers and producers.

Tell us about your Israel Story miniseries, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered?”

“Signed, Sealed, Delivered?” is a series within Israel Story that we launched in April of this year in honor of Israel’s 75th anniversary, and we will be releasing new episodes throughout the year. So far, we’ve released 12 out of about 40 episodes.

We were thinking very carefully how we wanted to mark Israel’s 75th birthday in a way that was nonpolitical but current to what’s going on. So, last year, 2022, before Israel’s new elections and the wave of demonstrations against the government’s attempts at judicial reform, we had the idea of exploring the Israel Declaration of Independence of 1948, in which Ben Gurion established a state. We read it very carefully, then decided to focus on the very last part of that document: the 37 men and women who signed it.

We wanted to ask questions about who they were and what they envisioned and once we delve into that, the entire world opened up to us. A lot of these signors are well-known people, while others have completely slipped out of our collective memory. All of them are dead, and Rabbi Meir Vilner, a Communist, was the last to die, in 2003. But of the 37 signers, 14 have children who are still alive.

Next, we decided to track down the closest living relative of each one of the 37 and interview them about who their ancestors were, and finally, their thoughts about the Declaration of Independence itself, the promise of it – where we lived up to the promise and where we did not. And to our delight as we working on this, in national current events the Declaration of Independence suddenly became the focal point of attention as Israel entered into this tumultuous period of people with very different visions for the country’s future trying to battle out the democratic nature of Israel. We didn’t realize or plan this, but the series had since become incredibly relevant.

And the group represents a very wide range of the Jewish population, from ultra-Orthodox like Rabbi Levine, who was one of the leaders of Agudas Israel and a central charedi figure, to some who were atheists or Communists. Some of them were socialists and capitalists, but what they were not was diverse: 35 were men, only two women, 35 Ashkenaz, only three Mizrachi, only one Jew who had been born in Israel, and only one whose native language was Hebrew. Today, it’s almost unimaginable to us the concept of different people being able to reach some sort of agreement, and these 37 sort of represented the last moment when there was widespread consensus, including people like Rabbi Levine, who was originally on the fence about attaching himself to this project.

In your opinion, keeping in mind that the signers were very diverse, would you say that Israel today is a fair representation of what the signers had in mind?

Because they themselves had such different visions, each of them would find things they are proud of and what they are angry about. Very few people are completely uncritical of Israel today, some from the left, some from the right, but I think all would say their ancestors would be both proud and have reservations.

Please share with us what your favorite episode (so far) from the “Signed, Sealed, Delivered?” series has been and why.

My answer is always the last episode we produced, and indeed I very much like the episode because I think it does a good job bringing to our audience views that, while perhaps a listener from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, might be familiar with, they are not opinions that are heard outside of ultra-Orthodox circles in this kind of manner: level-headed and well-reasoned and allowing the listener time to think about the rationale behind it. This is one of the reasons I love the “Signed, Sealed, Delivered?” series so much. And I think, especially for The Jewish Press readers, the Rabbi Levine article is a good starting point into this project.

It’s amazing how we can start a project with hopes of making a difference in someone else’s life and end up having a profound positive effect on our own. How have you grown from this project and what are you hoping your listeners get from it?

I think that from Israel Story as a whole, what I’ve gained over the last 13 years is the opportunity to be a tourist in my own country, so I’ve stepped out of my little comfort bubble.

I hope this project will give our listeners a chance to reflect on whether we are going in the right direction, and I hope the message of equality resonates and affords our listeners a moment to reflect on what we set out to do here in Israel; and to take stock of whether we’re actually doing what we set out to do.

Share this article on WhatsApp:

Previous articleShould A Lawyer Defend Someone In Court Whom He Thinks Is Guilty?
Next articleKudos To NH Gov. Christopher Sununu For Anti-BDS Executive Order
Baruch Lytle is a Jewish Press staff writer.