Episode 77

Free as a Bird

  • 1:23:27
  • 2023
Today’s episode has three stories that are ostensibly about birds, but are really about the heights to which the human spirit can soar, and the depths to which it can plunge.
Free as a Bird

These are – it goes without saying – tumultuous times here in Israel. But especially now, we believe it is important to double down on our focus on people – ordinary people, living extraordinary lives. Because at the end of the day, once we’re all done fighting, protesting and calling each other names, we will still live together. And, given that, we might as well know who we’re living with.

So during this season of Israel Story we will meet clowns at demonstrations and air force pilots in captivity; we’ll attend a tragic funeral in Beer Sheva and sit in on an incredibly awkward first date in, of all places, our own recording studio; we’ll play therapeutic rounds of Dungeons & Dragons and place mega expensive (and complicated) long distance phone calls. And we’ll also have one giant, and still secret, audio project for Israel’s 75th Independence Day.

This season we’ll cry together, laugh together and get angry together. But whatever the emotion might be, we’ll be together. And that – at least to us – feels very good.

We chose to open our season with a theme that actually isn’t grounded here. A theme that can spread its wings, fly far, far away and provide us with a zoomed out view of ourselves.

Free As A Bird has three stories that are ostensibly about birds, but are really about the heights to which the human spirit can soar, and the depths to which it can plunge.

Prologue: Shmulik’s Letting Go

Mishy Harman

Six years ago, we released a Hebrew episode about the idea of letting go. At the time, we interviewed Shmulik Landau, the Chief Caretaker at the Israeli Wildlife Hospital at the Safari in Ramat Gan, who kindly invited us to tag along as he released a frail common blackbird back into nature.

Shmulik texted us the day the episode came out, and told us that he liked it, that it was very moving.

Two months later, he killed himself. He was thirty-two.

Shmulik was buried in Har HaMenuchot cemetery in Jerusalem. His colleagues from the Wildlife Hospital brought a rehabilitated Eurasian sparrowhawk they had been treating and Shmulik’s mom, Rachel, released the bird back to nature at the grave site.

Six years later, we return to the cemetery with Shmulik’s older brother Eli, his sister-in-law Sarah, and his childhood friend Shmuel to recount one final and truly unusual plot twist in Shmulik’s tragic tale.

Release of the sparrow-hawk at Shmulik Landau’s funeral. (Credit: Limor Katan Friedman)
Eli and Sarah Landau at Shmulik Landau’s grave. (Credit: Mishy Harman)
The eagle-owl that nested near Shmulik Landau’s grave. (Credit: Amir Balaban)

Act I: Honorary Birds

Adina Karpuj

Adina Karpuj tells a story of three best friends – Amir Balaban and brothers Yoav and Gidon Perlman – who, for the last forty years, have been united by their joint love of birds.

In 2015, when 43-year-old Gidon – a leading cardiologist – was diagnosed with ALS, he decided it wasn’t going to slow him down. After all, he still had many birds he wanted to see. And thus started an adventurous journey – equal parts satisfying and irresponsible – to “get” Gidon his birds.

In a tale that begins with a stolen falcon chick and ends with a modern-day version of the miracle of Jesus walking on water, we encounter – up close – the sheer power of human resilience.

Yoav Perlman (15) birding at Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael. (Credit: Private family album)
Gidon Perlman birding in the Uvda Valley in November, 2017. (Credit: Yoav Perlman)
Yoav and Gidon Perlman, Amir Balaban, and Eli Karniel in the Brazilian Pantanal. (Credit: Yoav Perlman)
Gidon and Yoav Perlman, Amir Balaban, and friends in the midst of their search for a fox in the desert. (Credit: Adina Karpuj)
Gidon Perlman and Amir Balaban reviewing ringing data at the Jerusalem Bird Observatory. (Credit: Adina Karpuj)

Act II: Duchifat, The Hoopoe Bird

Doron Nesher

Back in the 1980s and 1990s you couldn’t turn on the radio or switch on the TV in Israel without encountering Doron Nesher. He was everywhere, and everything: a singer, an actor, a poet, a broadcaster, a comedian, a popular TV host.

He was good-looking, eloquent, smart.

Today, following a nearly fatal stroke he suffered a decade ago, 68-year-old Doron is a different man. He is a man on a journey of rebuilding and refinding himself. He is trying to discover who, and what, makes up the person he now is.

Actors Yishai Golan and Gilia Shtern Nechmad read a story Doron wrote about a bird – a hoopoe bird to be precise – that served as the long-lost key to a seemingly impenetrable lock.


Zev Levi scored and sound designed this episode with music from Blue Dot Sessions.

Yishai Golan and Gilia Shtern Nechmad read Doron Nesher’s story, Duchifat, which is part of his memoir HaMoach Sheli Va’ani (“My Brain and I”). Yochai Maital translated this story into English, and also produced and sound-designed the piece. Our dubbers were Dan Gold (“Duchifat”) and Mitch Ginsburg (“Shmulik’s Letting Go”). The original scoring for the piece is Or Matias. Thanks to David Horovitz, Mick Weinstein, Theo Canter, Shlomit Berman, Matt Litman, Shai Doron, Roni Elias and Sasha Foer.