No Place Like Home
Sukkot is, really, the holiday of temporary homes. And in our episode today we hear two very different stories: one about one of Israel’s most popular children’s books and the other about a South Sudanese asylum seeker. But both of them are, deep down, about the same thing—making a home.
In different ways, we are all constantly searching for a place to call home. For some that home is physical, for others it’s spiritual, or intellectual, or communal. And no time of year spotlights that search more than the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, when we are literally commanded to leave our permanent homes and build a new, temporary dwelling. So at a moment in history when so many people around the world—from Syria to Afghanistan to South Sudan—are leaving their homes and trying to grow new roots, we set out to explore the idea of making a home.
In the prologue, “Schach,” host Mishy Harman follows palm tree branches all the way from a Jordan Valley date farm to Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Me’a Shearim and Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park. Along the way, he talks to a rabbi, a farmer, and a gardener about what it means to build a sukkah.
Act I: “Room for Rent.” Leah Goldberg is one of the most celebrated women in Israeli history. Heck, she’s even on the new 100-shekel bill. She was born 110 years ago, in the Prussian city of Königsberg (nowadays Kaliningrad, Russia), and died in Jerusalem at the age of 58. She was an author, a poet, a playwright, a critic, an editor, a columnist, a translator, a teacher, and a beloved professor of comparative literature. Even though she’s been dead for more than half a century, she manages to be rediscovered anew by each subsequent generation of Israelis. And that is due, in large part, to what is perhaps her most enduring legacy: the children’s book Dira LeHaskir, or Room for Rent. The book is a classic, one of the most popular Israeli children’s books of all time. Producers Naomi Schneider and Skyler Inman joined Yoni Yahav as he read Goldberg’s masterpiece—in its new English translation—to his two daughters, 6-year-old Maayan and 4-year-old Yasmin. We also hear from one of Goldberg’s students, the book’s publisher, and its translator.
Act II: “A Land of Promises.” As is the case with many other refugees, it’s hard to know where to start Christina Bazia’s story. It could—presumably—begin in 1998, when her parents fled their native Sudan in search of a safer future. It could, alternatively, begin three years later—in Beirut—where Christina herself was born. Or else it could start in June 2007, in the back of a rickety pickup truck speeding through the Sinai desert, with a group of frightened asylum seekers crammed together underneath a bedsheet. And just as the story has many beginnings, it has many possible end points, too: Arad, Juba, Kampala, and Yehud. Marie Röder tells the haunting tale of one woman’s quest to find a place to call home.
Zev Levi scored and sound-designed the episode with music from Blue Dot Sessions. Tal Blecharovitz composed the original scoring for “Room for Rent.” Sela Waisblum created the mix. Thanks to our dubbers, David Satran and Karni Arkin, and to Lea Millel-Forshtat, Douglas H. Johnson, Nan Galuak, Thomas Kon, Federica Sasso, Rotem Ariav, Sheila Lambert, Erica Frederick, Jeff Feig, and Joy Levitt.
The end song, “Slichot,” was written by Leah Goldberg, arranged by Oded Lerer, and performed by Yehudit Ravitz.
Listen to the episode here, or download it from Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or Spotify. You can hear all of Israel Story’s episodes in English here and in Hebrew here.
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