Rabbis in the Greater Phoenix area are taking to the airwaves to reach congregants, students and anyone else who is interested in learning more about the weekly Torah portion.
With three local podcasts — Temple Solel of Paradise Valley’s eponymous podcast, Rabbi Yisroel Isaacs’ weekly “10 Parsha Points,” and Rabbi Yakov Bronsteyn’s biweekly podcast “Parsha Classes” — the community has joined the boom in podcasting that’s taken place over the last decade.
“It just started as a way to document the sermons that are given in our Erev Shabbat services by our clergy,” said Temple Solel executive director Peter Pishko. “Every once in a while, you get a call saying, ‘Hey, can I get a copy of the sermon that was delivered last night,’ or ‘I’d like to share the sermon with somebody.’”
Bronsteyn, who has over 400 recorded hours of classes since he arrived in Arizona in 2000 and began lecturing at the Phoenix Community Kollel, said his podcast is a way to share the unedited experience of a live class, complete with questions from students.
“I do like for listeners to listen to what people are asking, because it could be that that’s what the listeners are thinking to ask themselves,” Bronsteyn said.
Bronsteyn uploaded the first episode of “Parsha Classes” in November 2019. His episodes cover topics ranging from humility and inspiration to medical procedures and alternative futures.
Isaacs of Beth Joseph Congregation has been publishing a weekly podcast, “10 Parsha Points,” since August 2019. In each 20-30 minute episode, Isaacs offers insights on that week’s Torah portion from a Modern Orthodox perspective.
“The idea is to discuss meaningful aspects of the weekly parsha with a contemporary relevance, that relate to issues that address what it means to be a human being, what it means to be a Jew in America in 2020,” Isaacs said.
While the editing process is a bit intensive, Isaacs said the process is worth it.
“It’s very time consuming to produce the podcast, each stage is a significant investment of time,” Isaacs said. “But the feedback that I’ve gotten from people who listen to it, whether it’s people locally or people in other cities or even some people in other countries, mainly Israel, the feedback that I’ve gotten has been so encouraging and gratifying that it makes all the effort worth it.”
At Temple Solel, podcast editing is simply a matter of cutting out the sermon from the livestream of Erev Shabbat services.
“Really what we’re doing is nothing spectacular,” Pishko said. “It is just the sermons, we’re not doing any added music, we’re not selling ads, we’re not using it as a fundraising tool, but there’s potential to do all of those things.”
Pishko hopes that Solel will be able to take advantage of that potential and expand its podcast offerings in the future.
“I think there’s potential for more, I just think that so far, we have not taken it to the next step,” Pishko said. “As we continue down this new reality, I think there’s potential for more messaging from the clergy via podcast. I see that there’s potential with youth group using the podcast. Hopefully it will continue and grow.”
One reason that podcasts are a good way to reach people, Bronsteyn said, is that they’re available to those who might otherwise not have the time to listen, learn or attend a class. And with many people practicing social distancing, it also offers them an alternative to attending in person.
“It’s a very good tool given the current environment,” Bronsteyn said. “People want to come and participate in a class, but they feel apprehensive about being with other people.”
And for someone looking for the right podcast, Isaacs said, there’s a near-infinite variety of podcasts for different interests and communities.
“Practically speaking, they’re nearly endless,” Isaacs said. “There are topics where there’s not enough people interested in them to get a local audience, but if you add all the English speakers in the world, it is enough of an audience to build a community around.” JN