Who are Israel’s 36 heroes?

This new podcast shares the human side of Israel.

 Justin Hayet in an interview with Sivan Rahav Meir. (photo credit: BNAI ZION)
Justin Hayet in an interview with Sivan Rahav Meir.
(photo credit: BNAI ZION)

“Jewish tradition teaches that in every generation there are 36 people upon whose kindness and righteousness the very existence of the world depends, but whose identity no one knows – not even the 36 themselves.”

So reads the description of “Thirty-Six,” a podcast recently launched by Bnai Zion Chief Operating Officer Justin Hayet and produced by “SoulShop Studios.” Hayet scoured Israel to find 36 of the country’s “most wonderful, interesting people doing the most wonderful, interesting things” and brings them to listeners in each episode. 

“These are not the stories that define Israel in mainstream media,” Hayet explained. “These individuals share parts of larger stories and events, and their perspectives humanize our complicated and wonderful country.

“There are a lot of Jewish podcasts about Israel,” he continued. “But I wanted Thirty-Six to focus entirely on the human stories pulsing beneath the headlines.”

Hayet is a new immigrant from Baltimore. He moved to Tel Aviv over the summer. Before joining Bnai Zion, he served as a senior program manager for the Genesis Philanthropy Group, and as a senior advisor to former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon. 

The podcast launched only about six weeks ago and has been listed on Apple’s best Jewish podcast top list in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Australia.

Guests range from Sivan Rahav Meir, the only haredi female newscaster in the country, to Joseph Gitler, the founder of Leket, and Natan Sharansky – a man who needs little introduction. 

Hayet said he challenged himself to sit with his diverse guests and “put aside my personal prejudice” to really “listen and observe.”

“I think I challenged myself to see people as their own unique selves and not some broader label, like a right-wing, left-wing, religious, secular, resident of the periphery of the center,” Hayet said. “We are so much more than the labels that often define us.”

He could have interviewed his subjects via Zoom – and this may have been easier, given the lockdowns and other challenges of the pandemic during the production of Thirty Six last year. Instead, he met them each in-person to give listeners the feeling like they are having a cup of coffee or tea with these individuals. 

“Listeners are longing to feel,” Hayet said, “to be involved in honest, intense emotional connections and conversations with a new Israeli every week- and I think each week we deliver this with Thirty Six.”

Using the name “Thirty-Six,” he said, was to help mainstream this mystical Jewish concept and to use the tale to help bring the miracle of the modern area to life. 

“A lot of people think that olim see the country through rose-colored glasses, that we think that Israel is perfect,” Hayet said. “This place is not perfect. But the stories underneath it are next to perfect. The fact that we can have these stories is in and of itself a miracle.”

The first season of 18 episodes of Thirty-Six is available on the majority of podcast platforms. This season ends at the end of March and the next season of 18 episodes is expected to launch later this year.

Written in cooperation with Bnai Zion. You can listen to Thirty-Six on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.