Q&A: The co-host of a Jewish podcast

Name: Alyssa Kapnik
Age: 28
City: Berkeley
Occupation: Broadcast journalist, professional photographer, co-host of “Come & Listen”


Alyssa Kapnik

J.: Where did you and your sister [co-founder Hannah Kapnik] get the idea to start the “Come & Listen” podcast?

Alyssa Kapnik: It was actually kind of a bizarre thing. We were raised Jewish [in Denver], and we went to synagogue every week, but it was a bit unorthodox — we didn’t have a rabbi, so that means everybody in the congregation was sort of equally responsible for learning Torah and leading discussions, and that makes for a really smart, dedicated group of people. My dad has been tutoring kids for their bar and bat mitzvahs since he was 13, and I think he instilled a love of [Jewish texts] in my sister. My brother and I were a little less engaged.

So that’s what the podcast grew out of: I’m a bit of a cynic about Judaism, and I don’t do very much that’s Jewish, and now [my sister] is actually trying to become a rabbi. We kind of thought, no one’s doing anything [in podcasts] about Judaism that we’d be interested in listening to.

J.: What’s an example of a topic?

AK: [In one episode] Hannah and this rabbi and I ended up having this long conversation about what it means for God to love us. My knee-jerk reaction was to be very cynical about it, and challenge her, because I assumed she took those things literally. And it opened up a whole new conversation about: “If these things aren’t literal, what are they?”

We’re really honest with each other about what we actually believe when we’re making each episode, and that’s created a wonderful ongoing dialogue with my sister. I think I had expectations about what she believed and I had sort of cornered her in my mind … when you see [someone] as more religious, you can start to think that they’re really different from you.

J.: What are the reactions from listeners?

AK: You know, it’s hard to tell. Sometimes it feels like you’re not talking to anyone! But we do hear an interesting mix [of reactions]. In our episode about sexuality, we interviewed a transgender person, and we also had the father of the Jewish Renewal movement, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, on. He’s almost 90, and he talked about masturbation, how young Jewish men should masturbate so they’ll be better partners when they get married, and how orgasms are like the last sacrifice from the days of the temple. We got a response from a 25-year-old guy who found the whole thing really disrespectful, that we would have the rabbi on saying things like that.

Then, on the other hand, you hear from a woman who says that we’re living in a world where everybody is separated, and Judaism feels like a much more lonely effort since not as many people go to synagogue anymore, and [the podcast] was the main way she felt connected to other people who wanted to talk about Judaism. So there’s a range.

J.: All six “Come & Listen” episodes are on iTunes. Why have you made only one episode in the last 20 months?

AK: We’re working with UpStart Bay Area [the incubator for Jewish startups] and we’re working on some new episodes that we’re hoping to have out by June, including an episode on food and one about Jewish identity. We’re working hard, getting out episodes as fast as we can.

J.: Who is the podcast for?

AK: I hope it appeals to a wide audience, including people who aren’t already really deeply involved with Judaism, and to people like me who have the potential to be a little cynical about religion. We want everybody to feel included in discussions about Jewish thought, and we want to deliver that without barriers to access. You don’t need a Jewish education to find these topics interesting, I don’t think. And we’d love to hear from people who are interested in participating, whether they’re experts on something in their own way, or they have ideas for us. Get in touch!

J.: You also work at KALW, a public radio station in San Francisco?

AK: Yes, an internship at KALW is what first brought me to the Bay Area a few years ago. Now I work on [radio shows] “Crosscurrents” and “Voicebox” as an arts reporter. I just had a feature on about the history of San Francisco Jews, actually. I also met my fiancé, a nice Jewish boy, at KALW. We’re currently working together on a story about Pixar.

Emma Silvers

Emma Silvers is a former J. staff writer.