Ariana Katz, RRC ’18, is in her 20s, an age when many avoid thinking about their mortality. But in her work as a student rabbi, Ariana has promoted honest and open discussion of death, believing that confronting mortality can help people live more meaningful lives. She is a member of Philadelphia Reconstructionist Hevreh Kaddishah, and she recently organized a series of community teachings in West Philadelphia about pre-burial rituals.
Now, Ariana is taking her work to a whole new, potentially much larger, audience with the debut of “Kaddish: A Podcast on Death and Mourning.” Its tagline is “Sometimes Your Shiva Minyan is Digital.” The first episode became available on iTunes today.
Katz was recently awarded $20,000 – with the expectation that she will raise an additional $10,000 – to develop the podcast as part of RRC’s Auerbach Grant Program. Under the auspices of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford, the program aims to fund innovative pilot projects for Jewish living and engagement in the 21st century that have the potential to grow and be replicated.
She also received a $1,000 mini Auerbach grant to bring a groundbreaking performance of a one-woman play to a West Philadelphia synagogue. The aim was to spark discussion about the issue of sexual assault on campus.
Podcasts have existed for more than a decade, but in recent years – thanks, in part, to the proliferation of smartphones and Bluetooth technology – podcasting has come into its own as a medium. Some of her favorite podcasts include: “2 Dope Queens,” “Another Round,” and “Call Your Girlfriend.”
Katz originally developed the podcast idea in an RRC course on entrepreneurship taught by Cyd Weissman. She was initially reticent to try for the $20,000 grant, worried her idea wasn’t fine-tuned enough. “But I decided to just go for it. Now, thanks to this amazing grant, I am going to be able to dedicate almost all of my professional energy toward it.
Ariana explains that podcasting allows her to reach people where they are. She also believes that American society generally tends to avoid discussions of death and that Judaism offers a healthy and holistic approach to these issues, an approach that can benefit listeners, Jewish or not. Ariana likes to talk about Judaism’s use of the “technologies of mourning.”
The show will deal with issues of how identity plays out in death and mourning. "How do our identities in life impact our access to the resources needed in death and dying and the stories that are told about our deaths?"
In addition to the podcast itself, she plans to interact with her audience via periodic Twitter chats. (@kaddishpodcast, and facebook.com/kaddishpodcast)
Check out this interview Ariana did with Jewschool.com.