If you can’t make it to synagogue one week, try a podcast.
Indeed, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), Judaism’s largest denomination, is tapping into the nationwide podcast fervor to reach potential new members.
“It’s an easy and accessible way to connect with Jewish tradition,” said Rabbi Leora Kaye, host of the new podcast “Stories We Tell.”
The new byte-sized project is meant to engage new listeners in Jewish folklore, she said. The weekly segment on ReformJudaism.org will feature seven-minute inspirational stories, from classic chasidic tales to contemporary stories.
“Judaism starts with narrative,” said Rabbi Kaye, director of the podcast and an avid podcast-listener herself. “The way people truly learn about life is through stories.”
The podcast, recorded onsite at URJ’s headquarters in New York, will feature four alternating narrators sharing a different story each week. “We wanted to allow people to walk into the weekend with something lovely,” said Rabbi Kaye. “Sometimes the most simple things can have the most effectual change.”
It’s currently No. 1 under Jewish podcasts on iTunes.
The podcast taps into a nationwide embrace of spiritual audio programs, with shows like Krista Tippett’s “On Being,” which airs on more than 400 radio stations and had 28 million podcast downloads in 2016. “This medium is speaking to audiences in a special way,” said Rabbi Kaye. “We wanted to tap into that.”
The narrative focus of the new podcast aims to attract children and families, said Cantor Ellen Dreskin, the storyteller featured in the podcast’s first episode. Dreskin tells the story of a monastery in the woods that has fallen on hard times; the tale’s surprise ending teaches listeners about treating others with respect.
“Jewish clergy appreciate the value of a good story,” said Dreskin, a teacher and coordinator at the Hebrew Union College in New York City. “We remember the lessons we learn in the context of a story far better than any list of rules.”
The podcast is also geared towards baby boomers, said Rabbi Kaye. “It’s a beautiful, sweet way to walk into Shabbat, or something to bring on a family trip.”
This is not the denomination’s first dip into the world of podcasts; URJ’s president, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, hosts the podcast, “On the Other Hand: Ten Minutes of Torah,” which offers insights into the weekly Torah portion. The podcast just passed its one-year anniversary.
For those who have not yet dabbled in podcasts, this accessible option could be an entryway, said Dreskin, who herself did not listen to podcasts before she got involved with “Stories We Tell.”
“Something was going to get me into this world,” said Dreskin. “Why not this?”