Stories and Voices that Must Be Heard

Finding meaning in Israeli stories after the U.S. election

Stories and Voices that Must Be Heard photo
The cast of ‘Israel Story: Live.’

I love politics. I am passionate about ideas and have a deep need to express my opinions. This is great except that I am also terribly sensitive. I am the sort of person who takes elections personally. 

I've always been this way. In elementary school when my class would vote to play kickball instead of hide-and-seek it felt like a direct assault. Later, when I successfully worked to convince my high school class to vote in favor of having our graduation ceremony outside on the football field rather than inside our steaming hot gym, I felt like the greatest person alive. There wasn't much at stake way back then, but that didn't make my emotions any less ferocious.

Knowing this, it won't surprise you to learn that I did not leave my house the day after the presidential election. I feel everything very hard, and was genuinely afraid to put my queer and Jewish body in public. Maybe that sounds dramatic, maybe you have a different political viewpoint, but I had spent the last year and half pretending that the aggression and hate I was watching on TV was far away. The election results popped the queer and Jewish bubble I live in and brought that distant negativity right to my doorstep. Was I in danger? How could I go outside? Thank goodness I have the option to work from home.

I was sad for a few days, but slowly started allowing myself to be around people. The first event I attended that didn't involve me eating my feelings was "Israel Story Live" on Nov. 16 at SPACE in Evanston, organized by JCC Chicago.

For those not familiar, Israel Story is an Israeli radio show and audio podcast. It began production in 2013 on Galey Tzahal, Israel's national Army Radio station. The show was originally inspired by This American Life, and episodes are structured similarly with each having a theme and several stories that connect to that theme. The stories are long-form non-fiction and showcase a diverse Israel, offering a more personal and true-to-life alternative to the way Israel is often portrayed.

When I say that Israel Story was inspired by This American Life, what I really mean is that it is basically the Israeli version of the show complete with a charming Jewish host who is sometimes referred to as "Israel's Ira Glass" and kooky musical interludes provided by The Hazelnuts. The show has actually received the blessing of Ira Glass and has been rebroadcast on NPR.

This particular show featured stories about strong, funny and pioneering Israeli women. It featured everything from a man's relationship and love for his grandmother that continued while he was far away in America to a family's Holocaust secret and a young boy's obsession with the female members of Israel's Knesset.

This theme was chosen, host Mishy Harman said, "before we realized that Nate Silver could not be trusted."

It was a heartbreaking and true joke that united the room; it helped me to not feel so alone. It was good to be in that room. Maybe I wasn't the only person finally venturing out into the world, feeling a little delicate -- interesting, because that is also the magic of non-fiction storytelling. 

Maybe I am not the only one. It's hard to listen to someone tell you a story from their life and not feel some sort of connection or empathy. Israel Story reminded me how important it is to not only tell our own stories, but to listen and engage with those around us, to see and be seen. This might be the most important lesson, especially now and possibly of all time. We as Jews, as queer people -- as whatever you identify -- have to be seen, must be heard.

Adulting (as the kids say) can be hard. We don't always get what we want, or even what we believe at our core to be right and true. Sometimes you might get your graduation ceremony where you want it, but there are the times where you're going to have to play kickball even if it's not what you're in the mood to do. It's important to show up and have your voice heard. Chances are someone needs to see you, needs to know that they are not the only one.

Jeremy Owens photo 375
Jeremy Owens is the creator, producer and host of the live-lit/storytelling show ... Read More

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