A Conversation with the Students Behind the Podcast - Drinking and Drashing: Torah with a Twist

Drinking and Drashing: Torah with a Twist is a podcast hosted by fourth-year rabbinical student Amanda K. Weiss and fourth-year cantorial student Gabe Snyder, and produced by Edon Valdman. We had an opportunity to learn all about them and the project. We are thrilled to share their answers to our questions with you. You can learn more about the podcast on FacebookInstagram, or www.drinkinganddrashing.com and listen wherever you get your podcasts.

1. Who is involved in this project and how did it come about?

During the summer of our Year-In-Israel (2018-2019), the newest class of rabbinical, cantorial, and educational students were spread throughout Jerusalem, looking for ways to connect to school, the city, and each other. With a push towards creating connections between students, faculty, and text in an informal setting, Drinking and Drashing was born, with fourth-year rabbinical student Amanda K. Weiss and School of Education student Julia Bennett ‘21 hosting dozens of students and faculty members weekly as we gathered around the table (or the living room) and found ways to connect to the weekly parasha.

Gabe Snyder and Amanda Weiss

Gabe Snyder and Amanda Weiss

During the summer of 2019 on a trip with URJ Kutz Camp, Amanda was talking with Rabbi Andrew Goodman ‘08, Director of Student Support, on a school bus about this experience, when he suggested she should turn this weekly meeting into a weekly podcast. An idea was born, but didn’t come to fruition until a year later, when Amanda reached out to two of her closest friends, Gabe Snyder and Edon Valdman, to see what it would take to transform this idea into implementation. During the early fall of 2020, the trio decided that this was an excellent idea and began planning out the process, including the writing of a grant to the Be Wise Fellowship which would allow the project to be financed. The Be Wise Fellowship in Jewish Entrepreneurialism challenges students to design a project that would promote entrepreneurialism and bring a spirit of innovation and creativity to campus by exploring and experimenting with community-building and outreach techniques.

Edon Valdman

Edon Valdman

Amanda, Gabe, and Edon are equal partners in the project, with Amanda and Gabe taking on the heavy lifting of researching and hosting the podcast and with Edon taking on the even heavier lifting of editing and producing each episode! While Edon is not an HUC student, he is an integral part of the HUC community as a video and audio editor for the 2020 ordination and subsequent practica, an app developer for the Tzedek Box app (a project founded by fourth-year rabbinical student Andrew Mandel) and, most significantly, as partner to fourth-year cantorial student Agnes Barroll.

2. Please describe the project and your goals.

Drinking and Drashing: Torah with a Twist is a weekly podcast, following the set outline of Parashat HaShavuah. Using the weekly Torah portion as a jumping off point, we invite guests to share their stories, lessons, and own personal Torah with our audience. Our listenership – a diverse group from 48 states, Washington DC, and 32 countries – is empowered to translate Torah into tangible tactics both in their own time and on their own terms. Our goal is to encourage and give a platform to diverse new takes on the traditional d’var Torah while lifting up all voices, incorporating leadership, entrepreneurship, innovation, and social justice with a splash of midrashic mixology. By inviting Jewish leaders, professionals, influencers, and innovators to share the Torah that drives them, the podcast speaks to a range of levels of experience, knowledge, and comfort with the text.

Each episode follows a segmented format that includes an introduction, a quick (p’shat  – surface-level) rundown of the Torah portion, a conversation between Amanda, Gabe, and the guest, questions from a guest interviewer, and, a general favorite, midrashic mixology, wherein a recipe (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) based on the Torah portion is presented, followed by a quick conclusion and wrap-up.

3. How is the Be Wise Fellowship supporting this effort? Are faculty mentoring you in this work?

The Be Wise Fellowship has been instrumental in our podcast, both as the major funding source of the project, and as a monthly meeting where we are able to workshop issues with fellow student grantees and problem-solve under the guidance of experts in the field. Under the guidance of Rabbi Peter Rubinstein ’69, we connected with the Bronfman Center at 92Y which recently shared our podcast with over 3,000 participants in its Shalom @ Home Facebook group. We are honored to have been accepted to the second round of this fellowship and to be working under Rabbi Matt Green ‘18’s direction as we begin our second year of the podcast.

We are lucky to have additional faculty support through the mentorship and coaching of Rabbi Andrew Goodman ‘08, Director of Student Support (and all-around excellent advisor in general). Rabbi Goodman has not only been an excellent coach and mentor, meeting with us to give feedback and support throughout the process, but also just happens to have been the featured guest on our second episode (Vayera). We have also had wonderful insights, suggestions, and mentorship come from Rabbi David Adelson ’99 ’16, Dean of the New York Campus.

4. What has the response been? What impact are you having?

The response has been overwhelmingly positive, both from the guests on our show and from our listenership. Within a year, we have had close to 6,500 downloads spreading across 48 states, Washington DC, and 32 countries—all without any major marketing efforts on our part. We have found that the people who are looking to engage on their own terms seem to be listening in…and then sharing it with their own (non-synagogue-based) communities! We also have received excellent support in the form of a grant from Men of Reform Judaism, aiming to spread the word of our podcast to campuses all over the country and from JDC-Entwine who encouraged and supported us to reach out to more internationally-based guests.

While we have a proof-of-concept (so we have just slightly made it past the bare-bones start-up stage), we are still learning the impact that we’re having—though being shared with The Forward’s subscribers has certainly been a pleasant surprise!— but we can say what the impact we wish to have would be: we want to break down the image of “this is what Judaism looks like” or even “Judaism says that…” so that people who are listening to the program will realize that there’s truly no one way to “do Jewish.” For our intended audience, many of whom might have thought at one point “I’m not Jewish enough to…”—we hope that we’re able to challenge those inner monologues with an external focus on a larger Jewish community. One of the benefits of the podcast is that we are in fact going beyond the Reform movement—not only inviting in students from other rabbinical and cantorial programs, but also featuring guests from a broad spectrum of religious life, experience, and practice. It’s our hope that those who listen and engage with this podcast, be it aurally or via our social media pages, will be able to relate to our listeners, finding at least one person that resonates with their own experience.

One Year of Drinking & Drashing Photo

One year of Drinking and Drashing podcast episode!

5. How does this project relate to your studies?

We have found this project to be largely complementary to our studies. While between us, we have had multiple opportunities to engage in both text (Tanakh, rabbinic literature, and education) and performance (Amanda in homiletics, Gabe with his practica), this new medium poses both challenges and learning opportunities as to how we can teach, preach, and lead through the podcast format.

We have also noticed an often troubling pattern of the general public (incorrectly) assuming that cantors have no knowledge nor real interaction with the text on a regular basis. One of the most rewarding parts of this podcast for all of us is Gabe’s ability to, on a weekly basis, create the “parasha rundown,” a way to not only deeply engage with the text but to make it accessible for others in a fun way. Negating the erasure of cantorial ability in a textual arena (Gabe has some experience with this due to his past undergraduate education and work as a CCAR intern) helps set a precedent for future cantorial students (and even for current cantors in the field).

Finally, in the world of the rabbinate, the rabbinic figure may often be seen as preaching from above, both lofty and inaccessible. With a wealth of experience both as an educator and Hillel professional, Amanda works from both a place of understanding and engagement, aiming to bring a mindset of relevance, resonance, and accessibility to all her rabbinic endeavors.

6. How does this project experience inform your career aspirations?

For Gabe, this podcast allows him to explore text study in an innovative and exciting way. Gabe always viewed his future cantorate as being “scholarly,” with an interest in and deep passion for Jewish textual tradition. He hopes that this project will both give new insight into leading text-based learning and show that he, as a cantor, is not only able to do “serious text study,” but also to shape that study through a cantorial lens.

For Amanda, this podcast has allowed her to really implement her dream goal of being a super connector not only among the different denominations but also in partnership with multiple institutions and a diverse group of interesting people. Connecting and strengthening others’ relationship with Judaism allows her to feel that she has a hand in helping raise Judaism to a higher level of excellence while assisting others in finding their spotlight, something she truly loves to do.

For Edon, this podcast allows the ability to get closer to his goal of being a full-time freelance worker. Additionally, he is gaining more experience in audio editing that he hadn’t had the chance to work on before. (It also allows him to work with some pretty amazing people!).

7. Inspired by the midrashic mixology segment of the podcast, what is your favorite drink of choice?Drinking and Drashing podcast Logo

Amanda: Bourbon (generally Four Roses) or Bulleit Rye

Gabe: Scotch (generally Bowmore or Laphroaig)

Edon: Amber ale (generally New Belgium’s Fat Tire)

Rabbi Andrew Goodman: when I’m feeling fancy: sapphire martini, little dirty, extra olives; in the winter: bourbon; in the summer: gin gimlet (with fresh lime juice)