The Book of Life In the News

Podcasting Connects Synagogue with Community 

By Bryan Blessy, Journal Staff Writer
Jewish Journal, Palm Beach South edition, April 18, 2006

Congregation B’nai Isarel has entered the cutting edge of the digital age.

Since December, Heidi Estrin, the librarian at Feldman Children’s Library at the congregation, has been using a new technology known as podcasting to inform people about the materials offered at the library and to showcase authors, musicians and others who promote Jewish books and music. The podcast Estrin hosts is a monthly Internet radio show called “The Book of Life,” which she describes as “mostly interviews with authors, musicians and performers.”

The show, which generally runs 20 minutes, also features reviews of books and music with Jewish themes.

Estrin says the show began as a way to help showcase and market library materials so that listeners would be able to borrow items from the library.

“It was actually part of a lager project,” she says. “I wanted to build up our audio-visual, so I’ve been buying CD’s and videos … So, I decided to go with the podcast because I had just been learning about it. I thought this would be a really fun way to showcase some of the materials we have in the library.”

Estrin records the material for the show by using a digital voice recorder to conduct the interviews. She then transfers the recording into her computer and edits it before uploading it onto the Web site. Anyone who has access to the Internet can listen to the podcast using speakers, an iPod or a CD on which to burn it.

Estrin first approached the congregation’s head Rabbi Richard Agler with the idea of doing the podcast. Agler was happy that someone at Congregation B’nai Israel wanted to “test the waters” with the idea.

Estrin says that the podcasts have also received an enthusiastic response from many members of the congregation as well as people in other countries, including Canada and Israel. Subjects presented on the show have given listeners a chance to learn about a variety of content that Estrin herself has enjoyed and learned from while podcasting.

“[In] these interviews, people have such interesting things to say,” she says. “It’s been such a treat for me to have an excuse to go out and interview all these people because they’re so interesting. It’s also allowed me to find out a lot more about Jewish music. Being a librarian, my strong suit is books. I’m just starting to build a music collection [at the library] and I’m not as familiar with that. So, it’s given me a reason to find out a lot and it has been wonderful. I try to make sure, if people hear about something that they are interested in, they can go ahead and find out more about it through the Web site and through the links.”

Estrin says each month’s show has a different theme. “I spoke with a couple of authors,” Estrin says of April’s theme. “One had a story that took place during Passover; the other was an author of a series of Bible stories. Also, in this episode there is a book report by a third-grade student [at the Barry Ira Graff School for Living Judaism] because the third-graders needed to do book reports on Jewish books. One of their options to get credit was to come to me and let me record it for the podcast.”

Rabbi Richard Agler says the podcast has been a positive addition to Congregation B’nai Israel, helping members make connections with the community.

“It’s a way to reach a wider group, both within the congregation and in the wider community with our message,” he says. “People can simply click on and get a message from the synagogue or the library, educationally or spiritually. It’s a great tool for us.”

Congregation B’nai Israel is located at 2200 Yamato Road in Boca Raton. For information, call 561-241-8118. For information about the podcast call 561-241-1484 or visit