This Week From Israel: The Jew Who Escaped Syria, Israel at the Olympics, and more!

Hosted by IZZY founder Josh Hoffman, This Week From Israel is a podcast that publishes new episodes every Tuesday!

Listen directly below, as well as on SpotifyApple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsRadioPublicBreaker, and Pocket Casts.

Episode Rundown

Topic of the Week: The Jew Who Escaped Syria

Last week, I ordered a cab through the Israeli app, Gett Taxi. When it connected me with the driver, a guy named Baruch, I thought nothing of it, and waited for him to arrive so he could take me to our weekly board meeting.

As I got into the car, Baruch looked like any other cab driver: middle-aged, wearing a yarmulke, and he asked me what every cab driver usually asks right away: Should I use Waze, or do you have a preferred route?

When I told him that Waze was fine, he heard my American accent and asked me where I’m from. From there, the conversation took an extraordinary turn. After I told him I’m from Los Angeles, he said, “Ah, I used to live in New York, but I’m originally from Syria.”

“What do you mean you’re from Syria?” I asked. “You mean, your distant relatives immigrated from Syria to Israel?”

“No, no,” he said. “My family and I are from Syria. My wife, my kids, and I were smuggled from Syria, through Turkey, to Israel about 10 years ago.”

“There are still Jews in Syria?” I asked him.

“Yeah about 5,000 — and there are a few synagogues as well. We used to go, just a few of us at a time, at night to pray in silence, but we would get beat up every once in a while by the locals, so the government had to send security guards to protect us.”

“Now I get to go freely with my yamulke and pray whenever I want, wherever I want. Bar-ooch hah-shem,” he said, Hebrew for “blessed is God.”

These are the stories that I get to experience almost every day in Israel. Some are positive and uplifting like this one, and others are dark and somber.

For example, I recently met a young woman, similar in age to me, via one of the dating apps. When we spoke on the phone for the first time, she said to me, “Listen, I need to tell you something. I’m not Jewish.”

I said, “What do you mean you’re not Jewish? Your name is Yael. You celebrate all the Jewish holidays. You served in the Israel Defense Forces. You were born and live in Israel, and you’re a proud Zionist. I don’t understand.”

She said to me, “No, of course I’m Jewish in my heart and I do all the Jewish things. But my mom isn’t Jewish, so according to the State of Israel, I’m not Jewish. Sometimes for certain guys in Israel, it can be a problem, so I just wanted to let you know.”

“Did you know this your whole life?” I asked her.

“Well, not exactly. My parents didn’t want to tell me when I was young, but then one day I went to school when I was 14 or 15 and all my classmates received a notice from the Israel Defense Forces, except for me. So I went home and asked my parents why I was the only one who didn’t receive the notice, and then they told me. I ended up starting the conversion process so I could serve in the IDF, but that’s how I found out.”

This, my friends, is Israel. Crazy stories based on unique circumstances that we, at IZZY, believe will continue to make for great TV.

Photo of Pupils in the Jewish Maimonides school taken on February 9, 1991 in Damascus, Syria, taken shortly before the exodus of most of the remaining Syrian Jewish community in 1992 (photo courtesy of Diaspora Museum Visual Documentation Archive, Tel Aviv)

A Weekly Hebrew Lesson

We’re smack dab in the middle of the European soccer championship, which is very popular in Israel, so I want to teach you a cool Hebrew saying that comes from the sport of soccer.

As you probably know, soccer is a 90-minute game, and the term “last-minute goal” is used in soccer to describe a goal scored in the 90th minute, usually one that affects the outcome of the match.

So when Israelis want to say something is last-minute, they don’t just say bah-dah-kah hah-ah-chah-roe-nah, which is the direct translation of “at the last minute” from English to Hebrew.

Instead, they say, bah-dah-kah tee-sheem, meaning, “in the 90th minute.”

For example, if you ask me, “When did you manage for IZZY to sponsor a cocktail party at this year’s Cannes Film Festival Israel pavilion?” I would say to you, “bah-dah-kah tee-sheem.”

There’s even a travel agency in Israel called Daka 90, which specializes in last-minute travel deals.

IZZY Updates

Starting this Friday (July 2nd), enjoy a weekly news program (in spoken English!) that takes you deeper, behind the headlines, uncovering the rich tapestry of Israel you don’t normally see. It’s called the ILTV Weekly Review, and you can watch it on-demand on IZZY, with a new episode every Friday.

Also starting this Friday (July 2nd), enjoy another weekly program, this one called “The Evening Show With Shai Stern.” Shai is one of Israel’s top TV hosts, and every week he hosts a panel to discuss the week’s news and current events in Israel.

Someone Special

Micha Biton is one of the early pioneers of the renowned music scene in Sderot, Israel — and was considered a musical child prodigy in Israel.

Check out my interview with Micha on IZZY Magazine.

One Good Thing

Israel’s baseball team heads to Olympics with made-in-America talent, from our friends at the Forward

In 2017, a ragtag bunch of Jewish minor leaguers, retired pros and semi-pros competing as Team Israel made a miracle run at the World Baseball Classic, winning its first six games and ultimately finishing in sixth place. They’ll be in Tokyo next month to prove it wasn’t a fluke.

The team competing for the Blue and White in this summer’s Olympic Games won’t have any household names, and because of the Major League Baseball rule barring active players from competing, the first-ever Israeli draft pick won’t play, either.

Israel’s roster features a handful of Israeli natives but is mostly made up of American-born Jews who gained Israeli citizenship in the last two years while the team barnstormed through the Olympic qualifying rounds.

Baseball in Israel is still in relative infancy, and training and playing facilities are far from ubiquitous — though they’ve certainly increased in number since the team’s Cinderella run in 2017.

Team Israel opens Olympic play on July 29th.

Tune in every Tuesday for a new This Week From Israel episode, and be sure to check out previous episodes as well!

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