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Monday, March 8, 2021

Israeli Radio Editor Yasmin Ishbi is the Music Maven

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Ever since she was a child, Yasmin Ishbi knew she wanted to work in media. She would read the daily newspapers cover to cover, devouring the news, culture and sport pages. She even read the maman, Israel’s consumer price index for vehicles. “I could tell the boys in my class how much any car cost,” Ishbi said, laughing.  

At 9, Ishbi began sending articles to her local paper and was accepted as a young writer. Her timidity as a child was almost paralyzing, she said, and she points to the kibbutz environment she was raised in as stifling her individuality. She kept her writing “job” a secret from everyone. “For some reason, it was a source of shame,” she said. 

At 15 and in the throes of an angst-filled quest for self-determination, Ishbi turned to music. “I felt unique, tempestuous, complicated — you know, an adolescent. I wanted the music I listened to define me.” 

In that heady, pre-YouTube era, Ishbi knew that when she was done with high school, there was only one place in Israel for her. Together with thousands of other young hopefuls, she tried out for Army Radio, Israel’s iconic military radio station run almost exclusively by soldiers. She passed a grueling five-stage selection process and was drafted into the radio’s unit.

Sixteen years later, her thirst for musical exploration hasn’t waned. She’s now chief music editor of Galgalatz, Army Radio’s sister station, which broadcasts international and Israeli music 24/7. The station captures about one-third of the Israeli listening public, and Ishbi gets a thrill knowing she’s shaping Israel’s cultural landscape. “I love love love Israeli music,” she said. “Listening to new tracks still moves me like nothing else.”

Two years ago, the station was approached by two civilians who had an idea to release a song that would, according to Ishbi, “unite the people.” Galgalatz ran with it. Ishbi picked up the phone and called Israeli pop star Idan Raichel, who agreed to be involved. “Getting Raichel was like winning the lottery,” she said. 

“I love love love Israeli music. Listening to new tracks still moves me like nothing else.”

Raichel composed the melody and Doron Medalie, the songwriter behind Netta’s Eurovision smash hit, “Toy,” composed the lyrics. It took two years to release the song. Some 35 top Israeli singers feature on it, filming themselves singing their parts selfie-style on smartphones. The feel-good “Shevet Achim Ve’Achayot” became the 2019 Yom Ha’atzmaut anthem, garnering 20 million views on YouTube.

Although Ishbi’s passion for music never abated, starting a family led to other things jostling for first place in her heart. She never imagined herself getting married, but her husband, Omer Ben Rubi, the soldier other girls swooned over, swept her off her feet. “He is the love of my life. Absolutely,” Ishbi said. “It sounds so cliche.” While Ben Rubi became more observant and Ishbi remained secular, their union solidified her belief in divine providence. 

“Omer is my proof that there is a God. It has to be, he is so clearly my soul mate from heaven,” she said.

And motherhood has also filled her life, both practically and spiritually. “It is the thing that most interests me in life. Raising children is the optimal therapy to begin unraveling my own past.”

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