All things Jewish considered: Three Hadassah ladies hosting a new radio show in Vallejo

Geri Kahn, Rachel Lessem and Rachel Raskin-Zrihen are all fixtures of the tight-knit Jewish community of Solano County. All in their 50s and 60s, the three women attend Congregation B’nai Israel in Vallejo; all three belong to the Solano-Napa chapter of Hadassah.

In their regular lives, Kahn is an immigration attorney, Lessem is a semi-retired schoolteacher and Raskin-Zrihen is a professional journalist.

But the first and third Thursdays of every month, from 6 to 9 p.m., they’re something else entirely: They’re the voices of “Kol D’var,” a radio program chock-full of Jewish discussion, songs, guest interviews and more.

The show is produced in a studio at Ozcat Radio — an all-volunteer, non-commercial radio station in Vallejo that local residents can find at 89.5 FM on the dial, and others can hear streaming at www.ozcatradio.com. The station offers an array of programming, including the “Kol D’var” show for the past five months.

“Each show has a kind of theme, so you could say we’re going for a ‘This American Life’ feel — on a much more amateur scale,” Kahn said with a laugh.

Kahn, who goes by “Tovah” on the show, is the only member of the trio with radio experience. Three decades ago, she hosted a Jewish-themed program on her college radio station as a student at U.C. Santa Cruz.

That show was called “Kol D’var” (Hebrew for “all things”), and after considering the new show’s format, Kahn said it made sense to resurrect the old name.

“I had such good memories of that time,” the Benicia resident said. “So I jumped at the chance to do it again.”

The genesis of the new “Kol D’var” came a year ago, when David Martin, founder and owner of Ozcat Radio, which showcases independent artists and community news, approached Raskin-Zrihen at Vallejo’s annual Unity Day celebration.

“He had a spot to fill, and he asked if I knew anyone who might want to do a show for and about the Jewish community,” recalled Raskin-Zrihen, an occasional freelance writer for J. who goes by the name “Rae Z” on the air. “I said ‘Wow, yes. Let me figure out how that will happen.’ ”

Soon after, she brought the idea to her Hadassah group, telling herself, “I’m going to do this if no one else will.”

Fortunately, the Vallejo resident didn’t have to do it all by herself — which is a good thing, she said, because as a print journalist she was initially pretty intimidated by the equipment in the radio studio. At first glance, she said, it “looked like the Starship Enterprise.”

“But it’s been fun,” she added. “My idea is to illustrate through music that people have more of a connection to Jewish Americans than they might think. There’s a Jewish connection to almost everything … and besides enjoying some good music, I hope we can show people the impact that Jews have had on American pop culture.”

One recent episode featured Christmas music, which might seem like an odd choice for a Jewish radio show, acknowledged Kahn, until you realize “just how many [Christmas] songs were written and performed by Jewish people.”

For example, Kahn said, “When Eydie Gormé passed away [last month] I found out she had done a Christmas album in Spanish,” says Kahn. “I’m personally learning so much just putting each show together.”

On another show, the women interviewed the director of the Benicia Relay for Life — a benefit for cancer research — about the impetus for the fundraiser and how the money would be used. The Solano-Napa Hadassah chapter had a team participating in the relay, and one of the guests on the show was a member of the chapter speaking about her own personal experience with cancer.

And on a recent show, the guest was Rabbi Chaim Zaklos of Chabad of Solano County, who discussed the meaning of the High Holy Days.

Lessem, a Fairfield resident, said she didn’t think twice before joining the radio team. “It’s something that’s always been on my bucket list,” she said. “I’m a very talkative, social person, and on the radio I get to entertain in a way that’s more than just in the classroom.”

For now, the show doesn’t quite have a “This American Life”–sized audience, but the women say they’ve gotten a good deal of positive feedback. For example, when Lessem was attending a Yiddish class at the JCC of the East Bay in Berkeley recently, a classmate asked her out of nowhere if she’d heard of this new radio program “Kol D’var.”

“As far as I know, we’re the only show of this kind,” said Kahn, adding that she’d like to get some young people (perhaps local college DJs) involved so the show can highlight more local musicians that are popular with those in their 20s and 30s, or Jewish artists coming through the area.

“When I was doing this in college, I felt like it made a difference in terms of helping people connect Judaism with their everyday lives. That’s my dream — that’s what I hope we can be.”

“Kol D’var” airs 6-9 p.m. the first and third Thursday of every month on Ozcat Radio, 89.5 FM in Solano County or streaming live at www.ozcatradio.com. To get involved, contact koldvar@gmail.com.

Emma Silvers

Emma Silvers is a former J. staff writer.