LONDON: In a region plagued by conflicts, crises, and disputes, it can at times be hard to see beyond the disheartening news revolving around the Middle East.
But one new show, however, aims to focus on the light that shines through the darkness.
Launched in December, the “Yalla” show was set up by Len Khodorkovsky, marketing executive and former US State Department official, and Hayvi Bouzo, a Syrian American journalist covering the Middle East.
Presented in Arabic, “Yalla” features stories, and conducts interviews with interesting people from the region and outside who have left a footprint in the Middle East.
Khodorkovsky told Arab News: “We wanted to come up with a show that inspired people and that showcased positive stories and developments taking place in the region.
“We both come from different perspectives, I was born in the Soviet Union and came to the United States as a teenager. And Hayvi was born in Damascus, in Syria, and found her way to the United States in a different way.”
Given their extensive work with the US State Department and interest in the region, Khodorkovsky and Bouzo said the idea for the show stemmed from wanting to remain engaged in the Middle East and to relay all the stories that fascinated them about the region.
Bouzo said: “When people see the hope and the positive changes, the potential of where they could be, what they could do to become successful and to have this bright future, then you actually see the change happening.
“Media plays a very important role in inspiring and changing not only perspectives, but also where things are heading. This is what we’re hoping ‘Yalla’ is going to do,” she added.
Yalla, a common word in Arabic and Hebrew meaning let’s go or come on, is frequently used throughout the Middle East — so much so that it has become very familiar to Western audiences.
Khodorkovsky said: “We were looking for a word that reflects what we’re trying to portray. And of course, yalla in Arabic and Hebrew is the same thing. It’s just a very active word, you hear it at the end of practically every sentence, so it made sense to us.”
The co-founders revealed that the show was inspired by the Abraham Accords, the agreements that normalized ties between Israel and the UAE in August 2020, and they wanted to showcase the possibilities arising from this cooperation.
“We want to showcase the people, the success stories, and to open people’s eyes to what the future can be, and what it actually is in the present already,” Khodorkovsky added.
He and Bouzo noted that 10 percent of their audience was in Israel, while the remaining 90 percent came from across the Arab world.
“These are not countries that we initially thought of, but people have made the pivot and are looking for this kind of content, whether they are in Lebanon, Algeria, Kuwait, or Baghdad,” he said.
The show features interviews with notable individuals from within the region and abroad. One of the most prominent discussions has been with former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who played a significant role in making the Abraham Accords a reality.
Other guests have included Israeli Hollywood star Lior Raz, best known for portraying Doron Kabilio in the Netflix political thriller series “Fauda,” and UAE astronaut Hazzaa Al-Mansoori, the first Emirati to venture into space.
Stepping away from the traditional interview style, the show focuses more on intimate personal stories and anecdotes that guests may never have shared with the public.
Bouzo said: “What really connects people is the commonalities, your favorite movie might be my favorite movie, right? And no matter where you’re from, it’s those things that will bring people together.
“Our show wants to create and promote coexistence, love, and tolerance, all these things that we haven’t unfortunately seen so much of in the past, so we’re focusing our questions on these things that bring people and connect them together,” she added.
Khodorkovsky said: “It’s very easy for us to talk to people about those simple things that each of us has experienced. Sometimes you’re surprised as to what comes out of those questions, and frankly it surprises the guests sometimes too.”
The pair pointed out that the show will focus on unheard stories and new ideas that have not been covered in the media before in the hope of inspiring change and collaboration across borders.
Looking to the future, they revealed that they had a list of exciting guests to interview, but what they were most interested in was visiting regional countries and conducting interviews on the ground with people from the Middle East.
“We want to talk to young audiences and to people who are making changes in their countries, creating new things, music, food. So, we want to go to the countries that are from the axis of moderation in the Middle East,” Khodorkovsky added.