It’s springtime in Israel and renewal is in the air: Wildflowers are blooming, short pants make their first appearances of the year, and Israel Story, the award-winning podcast, is back for a third season. But, of course, it wouldn’t be Israel Story if there wasn’t a twist, and indeed, the season opener takes us right to the end. This episode brings us three stories that explore how we die, and what comes next.
First, the Prologue takes us back to 2013. When host Mishy Harman’s grandmother Zena passed away three months shy of her 99th birthday, the entire family spent the night huddled around her body, keeping it company. Not only did this macabre pajama party soon turn into a sweet memory, it produced a wedding and an adorable toddler, Shai Zena, who has three things on her mind: vanilla cake, yellow and purple cars, and …chocolate cake.
In Act I: “Over My Dead Body,” we follow Shlomo Avni, a prophet-like, quixotic octogenarian from Givatayim who devoted the last few years of his life to a battle. Forgoing precious time with his children and grandchildren, he decided to take on the State of Israel and what he saw as its absurd burial regulations. His request was seemingly simple: to allow his son to place his corpse in nature, where it would become a meal for wild animals. Yochai Maital brings us the story of an epic crusade that involved irate orthodox members of Knesset, supreme-court rulings, Kafkaesque committee meetings, custom-made iron cages and, ultimately, an unexpected aquatic resolution.
Act II: “The Solitary One” is about TV producer and Israeli author Ruth Efroni, who received a text message asking her to come to the funeral of a woman she didn’t know. She went. After it was done, she went home and wrote a Facebook post about it, which quickly went viral. In a gorgeous first-person narrative, we encounter the tragic solitude of lonely Holocaust survivors in Israel and see how, in their death, they occasionally find what they never had in life: a community.
All the music in this episode was composed specifically for the show by David Peretz of Be’er Sheva, and Collin Oldham of Portland, Oregon. You can find David’s Hebrew version of “Let the Mermaids Flirt with Me” here and Mississippi John Hurt’s original version here. The episode’s closing song is by the Israeli band Jane Bordeaux.