Podcasts are one of the best ways to connect to the stories, ideas, and people that animate modern Israel. No matter your political persuasion or interest, there will always be one that speaks to you.
But with so many podcasts on Israel out there, it’s hard to know where to begin.
That’s why we’ve done your research for you. We’ve reviewed the top Israel-related podcasts for you to tune into this year.
Whether you’re interested in Israeli politics, news, history, culture, identity, or something else – we’ve got you covered.
Balagan is the Hebrew word for “mess.” In a country that will have four elections in the space of two years, it’s also the perfect title for a podcast explaining Israeli politics.
It’s hosted by Jerusalem-born and raised Kobi Cohen, who now lives in the US where he served as a shaliach with the Jewish Agency.
Given how often new political parties have been popping up in 2021 (we are up to six at the time of writing this article), this is an essential podcast for those looking to understand the key ideological issues that motivate the mergers and splits as lists are formed for the 24th Knesset.
The Promised Podcast
Few podcasts model the ideal of “hugging and wrestling” with Israel as well as The Promised Podcast. An insider view of how this country can warm your heart and make your blood boil, it’s a show by three folks who live in and love Israel even though it drives them crazy, and who each week discuss the latest in Israeli politics, culture, and society.
Even though all the panelists are from the left or political centre of the Israeli political spectrum, there is also a great deal of nuance in the opinions shared, with enough difference between the guests each week to ensure there will always be disagreements that will enlighten rather than infuriate most diaspora liberal zionists (although that happens sometimes too).
One of the most special aspects of this podcast is the “vat a country” segment at the end of each episode where each panelist shares a unique moment from their past week. Unlike the “Only in Israel” lists we often see on hasbara sites, the way this segment is done is often deeply affecting where each reflection shares the authentic highs and lows that olim experience when they choose to make Israel their home.
The Tikvah Podcast
The Tikvah Fund describes itself as “politically Zionist, economically free-market oriented, culturally traditional, and theologically open-minded.” Yet in all issues and subjects, they welcome vigorous debate and big arguments.
One reviewer wrote of this podcast, “Don’t miss this if you are looking for the best in Jewish intellectual contemporary thought. The interviewer does his research and is not afraid to ask challenging questions. The guests are world-renowned and inspiring in their genuine passion for moving the Jewish Story forward.”
In an in-depth episode about the Russian Aliyah with the eloquent Matti Friedman, listeners learned why Shimon Peres initially opposed the creation of a Russian-speaking theatre. A fascinating quote shared by Matti Friedman in that episode was from Natan Sharansky, who once said of the struggle to maintain Russian identity in Israel, “If I didn’t give up my culture in a KGB interrogation room, I’m not going to give it up in Israel.” The whole conversation is a real eye-opener.
Journalist Ami Kaufman sees the purpose of this podcast as “talking to anyone and everyone between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.”
In explaining why he started it, the former editor of the prominent Israeli financial daily Calcalist explained, “I want to hear the stories of anyone and everyone – regardless of religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation – between the River and the Sea. I want to understand what makes these people tick, how they formed their views, what they see for the future, and hope that somewhere deep down that knowledge, about all of us here, can bring us closer.”
Previous episodes include everyone from right-wing Jerusalem Post columnist Ruthie Blum to Zehava Galon, who is one of Israel’s most well-known former leaders of Israel’s political left. The first 16 episodes had 10 women and 6 men, with an even split between Jews and non-Jews featured.
For Heaven’s Sake
Launched in summer 2020, For Heaven’s Sake is a bi-weekly podcast from the Shalom Hartman Institute’s iEngage Project that seeks to “revive the lost art of Jewish debate for the sake of illuminating a topic, not sowing division.”
The podcast draws its name from the concept of Machloket l’shem shamayim, “Disagreeing for the sake of heaven.”
One episode explores the question “What Makes a Politician “Pro-Israel?” Given how often the term “Pro-Israel” is used in diaspora Jewish circles without defining what this phrase means, the conversation here makes a valuable contribution to public debate.
A recent episode called ‘The Two Israels” explores how the Jewish State is on track to become one of the first immunized countries, and its public health system is among the best in the world, yet has also entered its third lockdown amidst skyrocketing COVID rates. In their conversation, Donniel Hartman, Yossi Klein Halevi, and Elana Stein Hain explore how the pandemic is bringing out the best and worst of Israel and discuss the cultural shifts required to establish a sustainable social contract.
Understanding the Causes of War and Peace
Created by Israel Story Producer Skyler Inman, Intractable combines history, news, personal narratives, expert interviews, and audio artifacts to tell one of the most complex narratives of our time.
Jumping between historical and present-day stories, Intractable explains the complex realities of today, tackles difficult topics with empathy and tact, and in the process, weaves a tale that speaks to the human capacity for triumph, betrayal, cooperation, transformation, pride, self-preservation, and resilience.
Featuring interviews with Dr. Sara Yael Hirschhorn, Ohad Hemo, Yuval Benziman, Dr. Khalil Shikaki, Hillel Cohen, Dr. Ronit Levine-Schnur, Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger, Issa Amro, and more, the effort Inman goes to tell the story of this place without bias and so much empathy makes listening to this podcast both a tragic and hopeful experience.
Israeli Settlements 360
In recent years, Dahlia Scheindlin has become one of Israel’s most prolific English-language podcasters. In her latest project, created in partnership with the Israel Office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Scheindlin brings her knowledge and experience from years of reporting about the conflict to the topic of Settlements.
The seven-part series begins with Gershom Gorenberg, author of The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977, who discusses the historic ideology of Israeli settlements, and the role of the state – led by Labor – in settling the land conquered in 1967.
Some of the more insightful episodes include topics such as, ‘Palestinian life in the shadow of settlements’ with Abir Joubran-Dakwar,’ Why are we here? A Jewish Israeli settler makes the case’ with Yishai Fleischer and ‘The future – are settlements an obstacle to peace?’ with Lara Friedman.
Journalist Dina Kraft has been writing and reporting, interviewing and capturing stories from Israel for more than 20 years. In The Branch podcast, Kraft offers a glimpse into the everyday lives of Jews and Arabs forging meaningful relationships, because of, and despite, their different national identities. In one episode, Kraft takes us into the lives of Mohammed and Yael.
For three years, Yael has been driving Mohammed and his son, Dia — who live in Hebron — to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem for the 5-year-old’s cancer treatments. Over many rides, arranged by Humans without Borders, the two have formed a “very human connection.”
Another episode tells the stories of tour guides Yuval Ben-Ami, son of an Israeli army spokesman, and Husam Jubran, who spent a year as a teen in a wheelchair after being shot by Israeli soldiers. The podcast shares how the two friends give tourists a powerful experience – learning Israeli and Palestinian perspectives by crisscrossing the conflict by land and history.
If you no longer believe Israelis and Palestinians can live together in their ancestral homeland, this podcast will give you hope that peace is indeed possible.
Israeli Identities and Struggles
Also known as the “This American Life” of Israel, this exceptionally well-produced and intimate podcast will take you to corners of Israel that even the best tour guides could never discover.
Hosted by Mishy Harman, Israel Story delves into different facets of life in Israel. Previous episodes have introduced listeners to the man who made buying weed as easy as ordering pizza, Losing my Religion about those who discover atheism, and my personal favourite that crisscrossed the country knocking on doors at every Herzl 48 they could reach and collecting stories from whomever they encountered.
There are also two four-part series that are magnificent. The first called ‘Mix-Tape’ shares the stories behind the songs that are the soundtrack of modern Israel, with the second called “The Wall” telling the story of four walls that divide and unite Israel like no others.
2020 has also seen the creation of several intimate portraits of how Israelis have married, fallen in love, died, and drifted apart in response to the coronavirus.
Very surprisingly, emerging from the largely Haredi city of Beit Shemesh, is a podcast that speaks publicly about some of the most taboo topics in the Orthodox world.
Intimate Judaism, which aims to demystify the racy yet often unspoken topic of “intimacy and healthy sexuality in the context of Jewish family life” – hosted by an Orthodox rabbi and a sex therapist no less – is attracting a growing number of listeners online.
It began as a one-off episode of Rabbi Scott Kahn’s Orthodox Conundrum podcast, which examines issues affecting the Orthodox world “without exaggeration, whitewashing or pretending they don’t exist..” Kahn had invited Beit Shemesh-based sex therapist Talli Rosenbaum to come on his show to discuss male masturbation. The idea was to talk about the subject from the perspective of both Halacha (Jewish law) and psychology.
Intimate Judaism now has more than 30 episodes, including one called, “Modesty, Female Masturbation and the Media,” with Rabbanit Oriya Mevorach, a Midreshet Lindenbaum educator and doctoral student of Gender and Philosophy. It’s worth listening to for the conversation about Mariah Carey alone.
Makom Teachers Lounge
The Makom Israel Teachers Lounge is a weekly podcast with veteran Israel Educators Mike Unterberg and Alan Goldman, taking you behind the headlines to let you know what’s really going on in Israeli politics, news, and culture.
Recent episodes about the attack on the US Capitol, normalization deals, and Israel’s fourth elections have raised the tough questions educators need to ask themselves before entering the classroom.
Listening to this podcast series will help those who teach controversial subjects to gain skills to do so in a more nuanced, sensitive, and accurate manner.
Chochmat Nashim (Wisdom of Women) was founded to fight injustice in the Orthodox Jewish world and bring about positive change. The podcast invites the listener to join Rachel Stomel, Anne Gordon, and Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll as they speak from within the community out of love for Judaism, respect for tradition, and the need for justice.
Every episode begins with a segment called “This happened” where the hosts share their responses to the events of the past week in relation to the status of women, religion, and the State in Israel.
Frequent topics that are raised include the campaigns to challenge Haredi activists who seek to erase women’s faces from busses and billboards in public places, aliyah stories, tzniut (modesty), the Malka Leifer case, sexuality, halachic prenups, and activism.
Tel Aviv Review
This podcast features in-depth, long-form interviews with scholars, writers, and thinkers about their work, and about ideas being debated in and about Israel.
For those who think they already know everything about Israel, this one is for you, as each episode always uncovers new insights about the trajectory of the Zionist enterprise.
In a very topical episode entitled “In God We Trust,” Dr. Gilad Malach from the Israel Democracy Institute discusses how the Covid pandemic has affected internal dynamics within the Haredi community in Israel.
Exploring Israel’s History
Miriam and Youseff
Imagine what would happen if the film Exodus that heroises the Zionist narrative and the TV series The Promise which sympathetically tells the Palestinian narrative were combined into one as a podcast?
In 2020, one of Britain’s most successful playwrights, Steve Waters, took on the task of this parallel history project with an ambitious 10-part drama about the birth of the State of Israel for the BBC World Service.
“Miriam and Youssef” is about two young and idealistic people — one a Jew from Eastern Europe, the other a Palestinian Arab.
Reflecting its British narrator’s worldview, rather than starting in 1881 with the First Aliyah, the narrative arc begins in 1917 with Youssef explaining the Balfour Declaration for his parents who can’t read English during a family meal as they ask, “does this mean the British are our friends or our enemies?”
Listeners are then transported to Eastern Europe where we are introduced to Miriam, a Jewish child who reads the works of AD Gordon and dreams about Zion as she convinces her family they must leave their home to escape the fast-approaching Cossacks. Together with her mother, she makes the long journey to Palestine by boat, seeking to find her long lost cousin David Gruen from Plonsk, only to later discover that he is none other than David Ben Gurion.
By the last episode in 1948, Miriam and Yousseff bear the scars of Dir Yassin, the Hadassah Convoy Massacre, and many other tragedies and the listener contemplates how the birth of Israel unalterably impacted their lives forever for worse and for better.
The Jewish Story
In describing the purpose of this podcast, Pardes Educator Rabbi Mike Feuer explains: “We are a people focused on telling the story of our past, but our frame isn’t history – it’s memory. This podcast is more than a string of facts and dates, it is the story of the Jewish people told from inside and out. It is Jewish history from the perspective of Jewish memory.”
The podcast travels through the Jewish story beginning at the time of the prophet Daniel, between the first and second Temples. Now in its fourth series, this enormously popular podcast aims to teach events of the past in a manner that builds Jewish identity and inspires Jewish nationalism.
One of the many thought-provoking recent episodes was about the debate over reparations for the Holocaust. After giving very detailed arguments for and against the agreement with Germany that Israel eventually signed in 1952, Rabbi Feuer poses a number of moral questions that still resonate today regarding the purpose of modern Israel, and whether survival is more important than honour.
Tying this to the issue of Israel’s weapons sales to countries with questionable human rights records today, Feuer asks, what happens when we sell our arms to the highest bidder? Providing no answer, he lets the listener ponder the meaning and responsibility of having a Jewish State.
Unpacking Israeli History
This podcast invites the listener to go behind the scenes of Israeli history with self-confessed history nerd Noam Weissman. Each week, he offers a fresh perspective on some of the most controversial and interesting events in the country’s history. If you’ve ever wanted to know more about what Israel is all about –from multiple angles and viewpoints — this is the podcast for you.
Recent episodes have explored the complicated histories around the expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif, Dir Yassin, how the Altalena became Israel’s (almost) first civil war, the Rabin Assassination, Baruch Goldstein, Eichmann Trial, and an intriguing episode about how Israel national anthem Hatikvah came to be written.
Sof Shavua Zugi – A Couple’s Weekend (Hebrew)
This enjoyable podcast invites the listener as a guest to a personal fireside chat between a married couple who have become two of Israel’s most prominent Orthodox media personalities. Featuring Sivan Rahav-Meir, who covers religion and US Jewry for Channel Two television news, and Yedidia Meir, who is the former editor of the Haaretz newspaper satire page and now a weekly columnist for the Arutz Sheva news site BaSheva.
Each episode is a wonderful gift for those looking to get a sense of the conversation Jewish Israelis who observe Shabbat have around their tables each Friday night.
Recent episodes since they returned from a year of shlichut in the US with World Mizrachi amidst the corona pandemic have included fascinating insights about the challenges and opportunities of raising children with proud Jewish identities in Israel and the diaspora.
Of the many anecdotes they share, I found the one about how American Jewish families make play dates for their children (a concept totally foreign to most Israeli parents whose children arrange their own social lives) and the ways schools operate so differently in Israel and the US to be particularly amusing and heartwarming.
Haifa-born Eran Zinger is one of Israel’s leading Arabic-speaking Jewish journalists. In each episode of the magazine-style Marhabeit podcast he produces for the Kan Network, Zinger takes Jewish Israeli listeners into Arab communities in both Israel and around the world to inform and explain the political tensions, challenges, and agendas that are animating conversation over the past week
Zinger also has an incredibly active Twitter account that is well worth following for those who want to know the latest trends in Arab Israeli society on everything from LGBT issues to their complicated relationship with Netanyahu as he seeks to court their vote as Israel approaches its fourth elections in two years.
Osim Politika – Doing Politics
Channel 12 journalist Daphna Liel hosts one of Israel’s most popular political podcasts. Not only does Osim Politika give one insider knowledge about the machinations that happen inside the Knesset, it also asks big questions in order to enlighten confused Israelis about why our political system appears as it does.
Recent episodes explore “Why is Israel’s system so messed up?”, “Who are you Gidon Saar?” “To be a fly on the wall in Netynayahu’s corruption investigations,” as well as the lack of women in the Knesset and the social and religious issues that are liable to tear apart the Joint List.
HaKeter – Yoman Tzifya
The publicly-funded Kan network produces podcasts discussing the plotlines of many English TV Shows, but none has been more interesting than the one about The Crown.
This series about the British Royal family has constantly appeared as one of the top ten shows on Netflix in Israel over the past few years. In the 10-part series about Season 4, the hosts take the listeners through each episode explaining everything from the rise of Thatcherism, Michael Fagan’s break in to the Palace and why everyone loves Diana.
There’s also a whole episode devoted to the Commonwealth which explains why Israel never came part of this union of nations despite the British Mandate being present here for over 40 years.
What do Israelis mean when they say in Hebrew קפה מחוזק (roughly translated as strengthened coffee), and is it legitimate to drink it at 1:30 PM? Or when we say הוא מתחזק (he’s getting stronger) about someone, what do we mean? It’s not what you might think.
To answer these questions and more, check out this bite-sized podcast showcasing modern Hebrew and its slang. Host Guy Sharett explains what we can learn about Israeli psyche, society, and culture through the Hebrew language.
Wrapping up this list on a lighter note, for those who are fans of Israeli Music, this sweet podcast that goes behind the lyrics, music, personal and national events that inspire the sounds Israelis hear on the radio is wonderful.
Recent episodes feature interviews with Ehud Banai, Daniella Spector, Dudu Tasa, and Ivri Lider. My favourite episode is about Kaveret , also known as Poogy, which operated originally from 1973 to 1976. The band is notable for representing Israel in the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest and for its often humorous songs and unique style of music including Yo Ya and HaGalshan Sheli.
All podcasts are available for free on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, and the Kan website.
By Ittay Flescher. Ittay has been working in formal and informal Jewish education for the past 20 years. Since making Aliyah from Australia in 2018, he has been working as the Jerusalem Correspondent for Plus61J Media, teaching on various gap year programs and trying to make sense of his new home through daily posts that evoke fascinating conversations on Facebook.