Valley Beit Midrash (VBM), the collaborative organization that offers a wide array of Jewish programming to the Greater Phoenix Jewish community, continues to beef up its library of podcasts to help foster Jewish learning.
VBM’s efforts to offer podcasts of its popular spring and fall lecture series started in late 2014. That was when VBM Operations Director AJ Frost kept hearing the same refrain from local residents: They wanted to attend a specific lecture in the series, but couldn’t — so they asked VBM to record the lectures for future listening. In March 2015, VBM recorded its first podcast, a lecture with Rabbi Art Green. Now, as VBM prepares for its fall speaker series that starts Oct. 22, there are 80 podcasts in VBM’s collection — and Valley residents aren’t the only ones listening.
Take Lea Haravon Collins from Iowa City, Iowa, who was searching online for Jewish learning podcasts about mussar when she found VBM’s podcasts. Now Collins listens in her car while driving her four children to various activities. In an email to VBM, she wrote, “I am driving across flatlands toward a 3 p.m. swim lesson learning to see the face of G-d in every human face. I am hurtling toward gymnastics practice hearing about the Chofetz Chaim getting punched in the face for being too humble. I am off to play rehearsal laughing at off-the-cuff jokes riffed by eminent Jewish scholars. … I emerge from my minivan smarter, calmer and more educated.”
Collins’ children, she added, are listening and learning as well.
In addition to emails from fans, VBM can determine where podcast listeners are located through SoundCloud tracking. VBM has audience members as far away as South Korea, Australia, Brazil and South Africa.
“Our podcasts have around 20,000 streams, which is pretty healthy for Jewish learning,” Frost said.
The average number of streams for each podcast is around 150, but the Yishai Fleisher lecture “If Two-State Is Dead, What’s the Alternative?” has more than 1,000 streams due to Fleisher’s large Israeli following.
The VBM website also offers several videos that feature podcast speakers being interviewed by VBM’s president and dean, Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz.
“We have an enormous multimedia learning library with hours and hours of learning,” Frost said. Though podcasts become available the day after a lecture, Frost doesn’t think that online availability dissuades people from attending the lectures in person.
“Most of the people listening don’t live in Arizona,” he said, adding that for those who do live here, “most people would rather experience it in person.”