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Culture

Israeli Independence Day goes virtual with ‘IsraPalooza’

Israeli Independence Day usually finds the team behind the podcast “Israel Story” trekking to venues throughout the United States with dancers, musicians and storytellers to perform a live version of their show. This Yom Ha’atzmaut, coronavirus has put a damper on traveling, but the show is making up for this setback by hosting an all-day, online-only “IsraPalooza” April 29 with some marquee names. Now you don’t have to live in one of the cities they’re visiting to get a front row seat.

“The whole idea of IsraPalooza. to be honest. came to us in the middle of the night about a week ago and now suddenly it’s a reality and there’s thousands and thousands of people who are going to be attending,” said “Israel Story” host and co-creator Mishy Harman. “So that’s a cool little turnaround.”

The Zoom event, sponsored by Tablet Magazine, the Marlene Myerson JCC Manhattan and the iCenter for Israel Education, promises a packed schedule with talks and workshops from Israeli celebrities or well-known friends of the Jewish state. It’s a unique opportunity, Harman said, to hear well-known figures relate a different side of their experience. “People like Itzhak Perlman, you really don’t get to hear him recounting growing up in Tel Aviv in the ‘50s,” said Harman. “Or Moshe Safdie, the architect, you’ve perhaps had a lot of opportunities to hear him talk about architecture but less so about coming from a Syrian family in Haifa.”

Harman will be interviewing both Perlman and Safdie, as well as Sha’anan Streett of Hadag Nahash, Israel’s hit hip-hop group. The online audience is also invited to chime in with questions for the wall-to-wall guests, a chageup to the show’s usual storytelling format.

The team behind the podcast — which broadcasts as a radio show in Israel and has been likened to “This American Life” — is leery of the wrong kind of audience involvement. They hope they won’t fall victim to Zoombombing and are screening audience questions for political talking points, particularly in relation to their non-Jewish participants, like Arab-Israeli news anchor Lucy Aharish.

“‘Israel Story’ really is a nonpolitical entity and we try to keep it that way as much as possible,” said Harman. “While you might feel this or that towards the current government of Israel, we don’t enter into those realms of political discourse. Yom Ha’atzmaut is a day in which it’s a little bit more difficult to make that separation, but we’re going to great lengths to keep it focused on people’s life stories and experiences and away from the political sphere.”

Instead, viewers of the stream are invited to celebrate Israeli culture, making a self-portrait with artist Hanoch Piven or shakshuka with celebrity chef Nir Mesika. Those more on the techy end of things can listen in on co-creator Yochai Maital’s chat with Checkpoint CEO Gil Shwed, the inventor of the modern computer firewall.

“We all have him to thank for even being able to do this because I guess Zoom is very much predicated on the existence of firewalls,” said Harman.

IsraPalooza is already a part of some Jewish school’s curriculum for the day, and a number of congregations and Jewish organizations are sponsoring segments. But the event’s reach is likely to expand beyond the Jewish community. A quarter of the podcast’s listeners are non-Jews, and Harman hopes that the online event will continue to invite a wider audience and present a different side of Israel from the one that’s lately been making headlines.

“I think, for the last year really news of Israel has been so dominated by the political narrative,” said Harman, noting the multiple elections and the corruption indictment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “This is a moment to step away from all of that and realize that Israel is much more than the political narrative and there are amazing Israelis from all different kinds of fields and walks of life who are doing amazing things.”

Tickets for “IsraPalooza” are available here with a suggested donation of $18.

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture fellow. He can be reached at Grisar@Forward.com.

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