Dealing With Death: New ‘Kaddish’ Podcast Explores How We Cope

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Reconstructionist Rabbinical College student Ariana Katz started a new podcast, Kaddish, to explore the themes of death, dying and Judaism.

Death can be a touchy subject.

But Reconstructionist Rabbinical College student Ariana Katz doesn’t think it has to be.

So Katz started a new podcast, Kaddish, to explore the themes of death, dying and Judaism.

The 26-year-old was awarded a $20,000 grant from RRC to start it this past July.

The tagline: “Death, mourning and who we are while we do it.”

Katz discusses different themes of death and dying on the podcast — about once a month — because she said there is often a lot of stigma and shame around it.

“My objective with this project is to both increase conservation, resource and community around thinking about death and dying because it’s something that has touched all of our lives in such profound ways,” she said.

The idea for the podcast started as a class project, and she wanted to do something she’s passionate about.

“Death education that’s death positive that says that we can have fear but not be fearful and we can give each other resources, we can lean on those sources Judaism has for us — that’s something that I care very deeply about,” she added.

The first season will run through June 2017, exploring topics such as the ritual cleansing of the body, burial, shiva, or how to cope with loss, while also giving real-life examples in the news and pop culture alongside a Jewish connection.

“There’s a lot of ways we experience life, and they’re not all happy. There’s a lot of ways we experience death, and they’re not all sad. The bouncing between the two is actually what makes life meaningful,” she said in her introductory episode. 

The final episode will analyze the yahrzeit, following the arc of a year, though Katz hopes the podcast will continue after that. She’s raising $10,000 to continue producing another season.

The $20,000 grant mostly goes toward Katz’s salary so she’s “able to spend a majority of my working time on Kaddish.

“I’ve been listening to podcasts for a decade,” she continued. “They come in and out of vogue, and I think they’re having a moment right now. A podcast does exactly what we do on Yom Kippur, which is recite aloud what are our stories, what are our truths. And so for people who are traveling or commuting so much, podcasts become someone who accompanies you on the journey. I know for me, I develop emotional relationships with the people who I listen to week after week because they’re in your ears. It’s a really intimate thing.”

Katz believes this will be a whole new way to tell stories and connect with people, and she’s already developed a following.

“I can write a sermon, I can teach a class, I can write a blog, I can storytell in that way, but using audio to convey meaning opens up all of these other formats and venues. So it’s a really delightful challenge.”

Many people have already emailed her, and her introductory episode has more than 700 listens so far.

“My hope is that as this keeps going, I’ll be able to share stories from people who are listeners so it’s not just professionals talking about their work, it’s not just rabbis and chevra kadisha or-ganizers. … My hope is that this will form a community of people who are talking and listening to each other,” she said. “It’s such a holy thing that I’m able to spend time [listening] and being another voice in that sort of ocean of feeling so isolated in grief.

“Hearing people’s voices as they talk about death and mourning is really important, continuing to humanize and locate these stories in the concrete.”

Katz’s grandparents died when she was young, but she experienced a different kind of mourning this past March.

Her mother’s best friend, Lisa, was like a “bonus mom” to Katz. Along with her mother and father, Lisa also helped raise her.

“That has been a formative moment in how I think about death and dying. My grandparents taught me one thing and my mother Lisa — what our life together meant, what losing her has meant — it adds this other dimension.

“This podcast can appeal to a wide audience because even if no one in your life has died, you’re still surrounded by images and messages and your own humanity that grapples with death and dying all the time.”

In light of Yom Kippur, Katz hopes that from Kaddish “we’re speaking aloud truths that haven’t been heard enough.”

“Naming things aloud feels like a huge part of what we do on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when we run through litanies of what we’ve done as a community,” she said. “As we list literally every single way we could possibly die, instead of being rooted to this fear we’re able to root to each other instead and to see that one of the ways out of the fear of death and dying is through connection and kehilah.” 

Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0737

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