Southern and Jewish Podcasts

My top 5 picks for auditory Southern & Jewish experiences

I was not always a podcast person. Especially in school, I couldn’t listen to podcasts because they got in the way of my work. I would end up typing what I heard instead of what I was thinking, making proofreading a weird and extremely necessary exercise.

As I think many people can relate to, over the past year my attention span has changed a lot. Thanks, COVID. My one-time one-track mind suddenly needed a whole lot more to occupy it in order to keep me going. So, I said so long to my usual coffeehouse-type music playlists, and welcomed myself into a whole new world: podcasts.

Pretty much every podcast I listen to has some sort of Jewish link (surprise, surprise!) and many of them also have southern connections… which made it feel pretty appropriate for this blog. I wanted to share a few of my favorites, so here is my Official Unofficial Southern & Jewish Podcast Countdown:

5) Gravy is a podcast produced by the Southern Foodways Alliance. They tell cultural histories of the American South through food with a focus on all kinds of diversity and the various stories that complicate the narrative of what it means to be Southern. One of my favorite episodes is called “Corned Beef Sandwiches in the Delta.” I loved this episode for a few reasons. First, it helped me to better understand my new home state of Mississippi. Second, in a year when travel to our communities was impossible, this podcast episode helped me get to know one of the ISJL communities I serve: Greenville, Mississippi. Third, it reminded me of how long it had been since I ate a corned beef sandwich, and I fixed that stat.

4) Another episode of Gravy, this one called “The Deli Diaspora.” This episode talks about Jackson, Mississippi, and the Old Tyme Deli, opened and owned by the family of Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) CEO Michele Schipper until it closed in 2000. This episode of Gravy features Michele and Nora Katz, our Director of Heritage and Interpretation. The Old Thyme Deli opens the door to so much of the 20th century in Mississippi, especially Civil Rights and race relations and Jewish inclusion in secular/Christian society. Well worth the listen!

3) Schmaltzy is a podcast produced by the Jewish Food Society where people tell the stories of their Jewish identities through an experience with Jewish food. The first episode is called “A Very Texan Rosh Hashanah with Zoe Kanan,” and in it, Kanan tells the story of her interfaith, Southern family through a particularly poignant Rosh Hashanah dinner. Their jalapeño gefilte fish and Topo Chico matzah balls make for a heartwarming, and interesting look into Southern Jewish food and holiday culture.

2) A music-meets-podcast selection: For the past few years I’ve been on a big indie folk kick. So I’m sure you can imagine that when I discovered the band Nefesh Mountain (and I’ll admit I was a little late to the game), I was THRILLED. To learn more about them, I listened to the Americana Music Profiles podcast episode featuring Nefesh Mountain. Plus, there’s a great ISJL Virtual Vacation interview with them for some bonus listening.

1) Wow, look at that we’re back to Gravy. My favorite Southern & Jewish podcast episode is “The Last Jews of Natchez,” which explores generations of Mississippi Jewish history through one family’s experiences and recipes.

My first year as a Program Associate at the ISJL didn’t look as I imagined it would – full of travel, immersing myself in the Jewish South. I didn’t get to visit communities in person or break bread with people. I couldn’t be a part of anything close to an immersive Southern Jewish experience. But these podcasts have helped this New Englander feel a little more knowledgeable about, and a little more connected to, Southern Jewish life… especially now, as travel cautiously, carefully, hopefully resumes.

But for anyone unable to travel the Jewish South – maybe these podcasts will give you the same delightful taste they gave me!

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