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The Bluegrass Schmooze

When Shani Abramowitz and Ben Freed took their first jobs as rabbis in Lexington and Louisville, they got one question from their classmates and friends: There are Jews in Kentucky? The short answer is yes! The long answer is right here, in your podcast feed. Every month, you'll hear a deep dive into upcoming holidays and their meanings, and kibitz with a Jewish Kentuckian who has a great story. And each episode wraps up with a L'Chaim of the Month — a toast to a person or group making our world a better place (bourbon in a kosher dill jar optional... but strongly encouraged). Zei gezunt, y'all!

Ways To Subscribe
  • Tamuz: Women repairing the world
    Tikkun olam. It's a Hebrew phrase that means "repairing the world." And our guests on this episode say it's the principle that compelled them to sue the Commonwealth of Kentucky over its near-total abortion ban. We'll talk about that lawsuit, and how the law affects people trying to become parents through IVF. And we'll learn about the month of Tamuz, a rather sleepy month that hits just when the summer heat has us feeling ready for a nap.
  • Sivan: The many roads to revelation
    We’ve been counting up to it for seven weeks, and it’s finally here: Shavuot, in the month of Sivan! On Shavuot, we celebrate receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai after a long journey through the desert. We’ll learn all about it this episode. And we’ll meet some Kentuckians who had revelations of their own. Hal Forbess and Ken Shuck are both Jews by choice, and they share their journeys with us, and with you.
  • Bonus: How Ira Glass learned to tell stories from Broadway and the bimah
    When Ira Glass created "This American Life" in 1995, he wanted to expand on traditional news reporting and tell stories in new ways. Same thing in 2014, when he and members of his production team brought "Serial" to life and changed the podcasting world. But while he's known for innovation, he traces his own storytelling roots to older influences he experienced growing up in a Jewish community in the 1960s and '70s. Ira joined us for a conversation ahead of his appearance in Louisville on June 1. Find show details at LPM.org/ira
  • Iyyar: Our story is ancient, but still unfolding
    We talk a lot on our show about old times. Like, reeeally old times, from many thousands of years ago. But this month, Iyyar, we explore three holidays that commemorate more recent moments in Jewish history: Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, Yom Ha’atzma’ut, Israel’s Independence Day, and Yom HaShoa, Holocaust Remembrance Day. And we kibitz with three Kentuckians who help educators teach about the Holocaust in ways that are ethical and engaging: —Janice Fernheimer is Zantker Charitable Foundation Professor of Jewish Studies, Professor of Writing, Rhetoric, and Digital Studies, and James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits Faculty Fellow at the University of Kentucky, and co-director of the University of Kentucky Jewish Heritage Fund Holocaust Education Initiative. —Karen Petrone is Professor of History and co-director of the UK-JHF Holocaust Initiative and a specialist in Russian and Soviet History. —Alice Goldstein has published widely on demographic studies focusing on population mobility in reaction to modernization, and on contemporary American Jewry. Alice is the author of Ordinary People, Turbulent Times, in which she tells the story of her own family’s resilience and escape from Nazi Germany. If you’re a middle or high school teacher in Kentucky, you can learn more about the University of Kentucky Jewish Heritage Fund Holocaust Education Initiative and sign up to participate at holocausteducation.uky.edu.
  • Nisan: Passover, and a new understanding of God
    It’s Nisan, and that means time for Pesach! You might know it as Passover. With a nod to Charlton Heston and "Prince of Egypt," we'll explore the real story and why it's one of our favorite holidays. Then we'll kibitz with animator and theatre artist Yehuda Jai Husband, who converted to Judaism as an adult. "I didn't really understand God when I was growing up, and I was given a version of God that didn't quite gel with me," he says. His journey to Judaism started at a Jewish funeral, the first time he heard a cantor's voice. "It was life changing." He talks about what it’s like to be a Black queer Jewish dad in Kentucky — and though he's often the only Black person in Jewish spaces and the only Jewish person in Black spaces, he finally feels like he's where he belongs.
  • Adar II: Toasting for Purim with The Bourbon Rabbi, Chaim Litvin
    It's Adar! Wait, didn't we already have Adar? We sure did, but since this is a leap year, we're making it a double. Adar II contains the holiday Purim, which is the perfect time to raise a glass. So on this episode, we're kibitzing with Rabbi Chaim Litvin, also known as The Bourbon Rabbi. He has his own line of spirits and is an expert in kosher law, particularly as it pertains to creating Kentucky's favorite beverage.
  • Adar Rishon: Ariel Elias and comedy's power to make us feel seen
    Two rabbis and a comedian walk into a bar... ok, we're still workshopping the punchline. But this month we're kibitzing with Jewish comedian Ariel Elias! Ariel lives in New York City, she’s been on Jimmy Kimmel Live and featured in Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, and Good Morning America… and she grew up right here in Kentucky. And we’ll talk about the month of Adar Rishon, or, Adar One. This year there are two of 'em, because it's a leap year — a phenomenon that happens seven out of every 19 years. We'll explain it all in This Month in Judaism, and we won't make you do any math.
  • Sh'vat: On being an American Jew and a Jewish American
    This month in Judaism, Tu BiShvat reminds us to be thankful for the natural world, and hold onto hope for springtime. And we meet Leon Wahba and Captain Promotable Jordan Disney. Both served at Ft. Knox — Leon in the 1960s and Jordan, currently. They kibitz about Army life, whether the kosher meals are edible, and how being Jewish impacts military service... and we ask them where the gold is.
  • Tevet: A delicious dialogue about food and resilience
    This month, we’re breaking down kashrut, or kosher — the dietary laws governing what Jewish people do and don’t eat. They cover both the food itself, how it can be combined, and how meat should be prepared (animals must be slaughtered a certain way to minimize their pain). And we’ll kibitz with Top Chef Sara Bradley, who’s running a restaurant and raising a family in Paducah, KY, where the Jewish community is much smaller there than it used to be. We’ll learn what changed, and also how to make the perfect brisket. Grab a snack before pushing play; this episode will make you hungry!
  • Kislev: Hanukkah, Teddy Abrams and music, oh my!
    It’s Kislev! That means time for Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. We’ll tell you the story, and the history of why the story itself is told the way it is. And we kibitz with Louisville Orchestra Music Director Teddy Abrams about Jewish composers’ place in the American music tradition. Teddy tries to trick us into some free therapy [disclaimer: we are rabbis, not therapists!] and we commiserate over his hit Christmas single that never was. “I think seven people have heard it,” he says. Listen to our Kislev episode and join their numbers!
  • Cheshvan: The value of rest and reconnection
    On today’s episode we’ll kibitz with University of Kentucky President Dr. Eli Capiluto. Capiluto shares his experiences of growing up as a Sephardic Jew in Montgomery, Alabama, during the Civil Rights Era. Sephardic Jews are Jews who were expelled from Spain after 1492, and that identity can make them feel out of place, even among other Jews. And this month in Judaism, it’s Cheshvan — also known as the rabbi’s favorite month, because there are NO HOLIDAYS! So we’ll talk about shabbat, that one beautiful day of the week where we rest, reconnect, and reset for the week to come.
  • Tishrei: The one with all the holidays (and two mayors)
    Shalom, y’all, and welcome to the first episode of The Bluegrass Schmooze! This one’s a doozy, because we decided to launch a new podcast during Tishrei, or the Jewish Holiday Super Bowl. Deep dive with us into all the events happening This Month in Judaism… from the first lit candle of Erev Rosh Hashanah, all the way through until that long Torah scroll is unfurled on Simchat Torah. (For our non-Jewish listeners, this segment will also explain why your Jewish friends are so hard to book happy hour with this time of year.) Then we’ll welcome special guests Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg and “mayor for life” Jerry Abramson, who reflect on how their Judaism influences their leadership, and share their hopes for the city in the new year. ---------- "The Bluegrass Schmooze" gets support from the Jewish Heritage Fund, the Eye Care Institute's Butchertown Clinical Trials and the members of Louisville Public Media. Learn more about the show and subscribe for free at bluegrassschmooze.org.