Listening To A New Twist On The Storytelling Tradition

We're still the People of the Book, but "People of the Podcast" has a nice ring, too

What’s more Jewish than storytelling? I can’t think of anything; after all, we are the People of the Book. As a kid, I took this value to heart and absorbed books, both Jewish and secular, like a sponge. In the continuing thread of the Jewish people, any form of storytelling spoke to me. I read everything I could get my hands on, and I watched documentaries, another form of visual storytelling.

When I graduated college in 2016 and moved to Jackson, Mississippi, to work for the Institute of Southern Jewish Life, I loved the fact that “no more homework” meant that I could read for fun again. However, as an ISJL Education Fellow, one of the other things I have been blessed with is a lot of time in the car or on a plane when I visit my partner communities. And that’s where my new favorite modern spin on storytelling comes in: Podcasts!

While driving over our 13 state region the past year, I dove right into the never-ending hole of podcasts, exploring so many new topics. Podcasts like This American Life, which tells the stories of people all over our complex country, have given me new perspectives on so many issues. Listening to Up First and The Daily keeps me aware of what’s going on politically and nationally every day. While I keep abreast of things going nationally, I also love using podcasts as a way to learn more about the South. Listening to Gravy has thrown me into the world of southern food, and it also highlights some of the Southern Jewish communities we work with (like Greenville and Natchez, Mississippi)!

Podcasts have also taught me about tough subjects that I can later incorporate into programs that I write for our partner religious schools. Ear Hustle has taught me about the prison system and Hearts & Minds about the public school system. When I start a road trip, I am excited and raring to go and can listen to whatever pops up next on my phone. However, around hour five, I sometimes need something super energetic to keep me pumped up. That’s where shows like Theater People and The West Wing Weekly come in. Hearing about my favorite Broadway shows or The West Wing actors (with some great musical interludes) is just what I need to get my second wind. At hour seven of a long travel day, all I need is Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! This NPR news-based game show allows me to jump in as a virtual contestant, and that keeps me energetic, even if a driver passing me by might think that I am yelling excitingly to myself.

All of these shows have shown just how wide the world of storytelling can be. Jewish or non-Jewish, podcasts are an amazing form of oral tradition and a way to share stories from all over the globe. One of my favorite ways to hear about a new podcast is through former fellow Arielle’s project EarBuds, a podcast collective! A different member submits five podcast episode recommendations a week (all centered on a theme), and they get sent out to everyone on the list-serv. Whenever I hear an episode I love, I am able to share the episode with friends around the country, or my coworkers at the ISJL, and they do the same back for me.

Through listening to all of these stories, I am able to become more appreciative of the Jewish tradition of storytelling and the richness that it can bring to all of our lives. What’s your favorite podcast? Feel free to leave recommendations in the comments below!

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