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What Matters Now to Israel Story’s Mishy Harman: ‘A person is a person is a person’

In three very different slices of Israeli life right now, we hear from parents of a hostage, an evacuee from Gush Katif and a peace activist who is mourning a Gazan friend

Deputy Editor Amanda Borschel-Dan is the host of The Times of Israel's Daily Briefing and What Matters Now podcasts and heads up The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology coverage.

Welcome to What Matters Now, a weekly podcast exploration into one key issue shaping Israel and the Jewish World — right now.

This week on What Matters Now, we’re again handing the mic to Mishy Harman, the co-founder of The Times of Israel’s podcast partner, Israel Story, the premiere English-language podcast from Israel.

Since the October 7 massacre across southern Israel by Hamas of some 1,200 individuals, mostly civilians, Harman and his team at Israel Story have pivoted from their long-form, carefully nurtured episodes to producing almost daily Wartime Diaries.

We at The Times of Israel asked the Israel Story team to compile a few episodes and after much deliberation, they selected three:

Wartime Diaries: Rachel Goldberg and Jon Polin

Rachel Goldberg and Jon Polin. (Courtesy)

Rachel Goldberg and Jon Polin, the parents of 23-year-old Hersh Goldberg-Polin, who was kidnapped from the Supernova Party, have in many ways emerged as the face of the hostage families. They’ve met with US President Joe Biden and the Pope, they were on the cover of Time Magazine, and Rachel has spoken at the UN and at the March for Israel Rally in Washington, DC.

In all those places, as well as in countless other interviews, speeches and meetings, they’ve told the heartbreaking tale of the two text messages Hersh sent on the morning of October 7, one saying, “I love you,” and the other, “I’m sorry.” He wrote those messages from within a shelter where he was hiding with 28 other partygoers. Eighteen of them were killed, and Hersh was badly wounded when his left arm was blown off. Shortly thereafter, Hersh and three others from the shelter were loaded onto Hamas pickup trucks and taken into Gaza. At recording time, it was 55 days since their abduction.

Wartime Diaries: Datya Itzhaki

Datya Itzhaki. (Courtesy)

In the summer of 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza under the leadership of then-premier Ariel Sharon. The roughly 8,000 residents of the 21 Jewish settlements within the Gaza Strip were forced to leave their homes and their communities, which for decades they had actually been encouraged and incentivized to inhabit.

The move brought the country to the brink of a civil war. This was especially palpable in the tense relations between the residents of Gush Katif (as the main block of Gaza settlements was known) and their neighbors from the other side of the fence — the largely left-leaning residents of the same kibbutzim that 18 years later suffered most in the October 7 Hamas atrocities.

Now, many of the former residents of the Gaza settlements who never stopped dreaming of returning to the sand dunes of the Strip feel at least partially vindicated. Had their communities not been dismantled back in 2005, they claim, the army would have still been in Gaza, and none of this calamity would have occurred. One such voice is that of 63-year-old Datya Itzhaki, who used to live in the Gush Katif settlement of Kfar Yam.

Wartime Diaries: Sahar Vardi

Sahar Vardi. (Courtesy)

During this terrible moment, many people can’t make space for anyone else’s pain — and that’s understandable. But for those who are open to it, Israel Story’s motto is that everybody’s story matters. Without pointing fingers or making equivalencies, we’re trying to stay true to our mission of sharing stories from different perspectives to complicate, humanize and insert shades of nuance into what can often feel like a black-and-white, us-versus-them reality. In our 21st diary, we hear from Sahar Vardi, a Jewish-Israeli peace activist who lost a dear friend, Khalil Abu Yahia, in Gaza.

So this week, we ask Mishy Harman, what matters now?

What Matters Now podcasts are available for download on iTunes, TuneIn, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, PlayerFM or wherever you get your podcasts.

Check out the previous What Matters Now episode:

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