Months before Israel’s Declaration of Independence became one of the key symbols of the anti-government protest movement in Israel, Israel Story podcast founder Mishy Harman started thinking about how his group, launched in 2011, could celebrate the country’s 75th anniversary.
Along with childhood friends, Yochai Maital, Shai Satran and Ro’ee Gilron, Harman had founded an apolitical way to explore the diversity of Israel by telling stories about its people. The idea of focusing on the descendants of the 37 signers of the Israeli Declaration of Independence popped into his head a month before the last elections which brought to power the most religious and right-wing government in Israel’s history.
The result is “Signed, Sealed, Delivered?” series, which brings alive both the signatories of the Declaration of Independence and their closest relatives.
As Israel Story, supported by Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Foundation, notes in its introduction to “Signed, Sealed, Delivered?,” those who signed the Declaration, known as Megillat Ha’Atzmaut, included a vast array of representatives of the Jewish population. Among them were revisionists and Labor Party idealogues; capitalists and communists and socialists; members of kibbutzim and moshavim as well as city residents; ultra-Orthodox rabbis and atheists.
However, there were no Arabs or any non-Jews who signed the Declaration.
Among the Israel Story staff that participated in this project is former Atlantan Adina Karpuj, daughter of former Atlanta Rabbis Analia Bortz and Mario Karpuj, who were the founding rabbis at Congregation Or Hadash.
Karpuj told the AJT that Mishy Harman, who hosts the podcast, pointed out that this was the “last time 37 Jews agreed on something.” Israel Story worked on the podcast for months. But meanwhile, the protest against the government’s proposed overhaul of the country’s judicial system suddenly took the Declaration as its symbol. “Suddenly it became so relevant,” Karpuj said. “There are copies of the Declaration on street corners during the protests.”
The project itself took time to put together. The staff had to research to find the closest living relative to each signatory, then schedule the interview which included 25 questions asked of each, plus occasional follow-up questions. Each segment includes archival tape and background.
According to Israel Story, the staff talked to the descendants “about the promise of the Declaration, the places in which we delivered on that promise, the places in which we exceeded our wildest dreams, and also about the places where we fell short.” The result is a sociological study of Israel in 2023, they said. “But it’s also an immensely intimate document. People remembering their parents, their grandparents, their uncles.”
In some cases, the podcasts are also controversial. Israel Story interviewed Yariv Ben-Eliezer, the grandson of founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. In his interview, Ben-Eliezer said the Declaration was “a vision that went down the drain.” He said Israel turned out to be not a dream, but a nightmare. “I’m so proud for my grandfather,” but he also said he was sad. If his grandfather could have seen the country it became, it would have killed him, Ben-Eliezer said. He also called Israel an apartheid state, which brought condemnation from some fellow Israelis. However, according to Karpuj, Ben-Eliezer, now in his 80s, said he would never leave Israel.
Not all of the podcasts, which are still being released, are as controversial as Ben-Gurion’s grandson. Of the 37 descendants, 34 still live in Israel, Karpuj said. As a producer, she interviewed Ben-Eliezer but also edited and helped market the project.
One of those she narrated was the son of Zorach Warhaftig, once leader of the National Religious Party and Minister of Religious Affairs for 12 years. He died in 2002 at the age of 96. [Full disclosure: This writer interviewed him just a few years before he died.] Emanuel Warhaftig spoke warmly about his father and indicated how his father would have supported some aspects of the current government’s plans, but not all.
Karpuj said she learned a lot from being involved in this project. A Weber High School graduate, Karpuj made Aliyah in 2015 and served in the Israel Defense Forces from 2016 to 2018.
“What was most meaningful for me was turning these historical figures into real people,” she said, hearing the stories of who these people were when they got home from work. “It brings the story alive and gives me hope. These people lived in difficult times, under siege and they still could make their dream come alive.”
What was most meaningful for me was turning these historical figures into real people…It brings the story alive and gives me hope. These people lived in difficult times, under siege and they still could make their dream come alive.
According to Karpuj, at the beginning of the project, they were unsure of which descendants they would find. “We’ve been surprised at what we found. Most span the center to center-left and extreme left,” politically.
As the Israel Story staff began their research, they also learned that the word G-d was never mentioned in the Declaration of Independence. Neither was democracy.
“It was so obvious that it would be democratic that they didn’t need to add it,” she said.
In terms of the timing, with the podcasts coming out during the ongoing, at least weekly protests, Karpuj finds it interesting that the people are reclaiming the national symbols.
“You go to the protests and see [Israeli] flags and the Declaration of Independence everywhere.”
To listen to the podcasts, go to www.israelstory.org/episodes/
- Israel news
- Jan Jaben-Eilon
- Declaration of Independence
- Israel Story
- Mishy Harman
- Yochai Maital
- Shai Satran Ro’ee Gilron
- Times of Israel
- The Jerusalem Foundation
- Megillat Ha’Atzmaut
- Adina Karpuj
- Analia Bortz
- Mario Karpuj
- Yariv Ben-Eliezer
- Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion
- Zorach Warhaftig
- National Religious Party and Minister of Religious Affairs
- Weber High School