It’s not uncommon for Jews to speculate about someone’s Jewish identity or affiliation — especially if that person is famous. In fact, it’s kind of a pastime.
So when three women from Solano County joined together to create a Jewish music radio show to explore those connections, it wasn’t such a stretch of the imagination. But because the show was available to anyone who wanted to tune in online — or who could reach the Vallejo-based Ozcat Radio at 89.5 on the FM dial — the exploration and identification of Jewish or Jewish-linked music became a rich cultural learning experience for general listeners.
For co-founder Rachel Raskin-Zrihen, the last four years of broadcasting “Kol D’var” have served to illuminate Jewish contributions to the music world and ultimately break down cultural barriers that could lead to anti-Semitism.
“My original idea was to illustrate in a direct way the Jewish connection to American culture that many people may not be aware of. The concept was that we would pick a theme and then we would find music that has that theme and then find a Jewish connection,” said Raskin-Zrihen, who goes by Ray-Z on the air.
But “Kol D’var,” which in Hebrew means “all things,” is looking to pass the mic to new leaders who can take over production and hosting of the show, which airs the first and third Thursdays of every month from 6 to 9 p.m.
Ray-Z and her partners, Geri Kahn and Rachel Lessem, are stepping aside and hoping the show will continue with new blood and possibly a new format, but with the same intention to spread Jewish culture into the world.
“What we hope is that people keep learning about the Jewish presence here and embrace it,” said Lessem, also known as Rachel Rae, who lives in Fairfield.
They have spoken to a Chabad rabbi from Sacramento and a Benicia businessman who are interested in taking over the show. They are hoping to find others, even someone willing to work remotely, who might be interested in sharing the responsibility as volunteers.
“I hope it continues running, and I hope people will put their own ideas into it. It doesn’t have to be music,” said Kahn, who is Tovah on the air and an immigration attorney in non-radio life.
While it waits for new hosts to take over the show, the station is holding the slot and filling it with alternative programming.
Katie Martinelli, founder of the nonprofit Ozcat Radio, said the show has been a valuable addition to the station’s lineup. “One of the planks of our mission is to demonstrate the cultural history of Vallejo,” she said. “It makes the station one of the jewels in our crown because they really get into the history and culture.”
Part of what Martinelli loves about the show is its benefit to local Jewish artists who are interviewed and play music live.
“It’s been a godsend for them to showcase their work in an environment that’s encouraging for them to talk about it a little bit deeper,” she said.
The show not only has exposed listeners to new material, information and ideas, it also has helped bring a sense of Jewish community to the airwaves. Each show, Lessem would collect names to read during the Mishebeirach prayer, to send healing thoughts out to those who needed it within the community. During the holidays, they would theme the shows to include rituals, music and even food for the occasion. The hosts also interviewed rabbis, scholars and local Jews doing interesting things in the Bay Area.
“It was a cause. That was our legacy that we were able to bring in knowledge and anybody could tune in,” said Lessem.
The hosts hope they will find a replacement by January and the show can go back on the air. None of them want to see “Kol D’var” disappear.
“I hope it doesn’t ever stop,” Lessem said. “I hope it continues bringing knowledge and Jewish values to the community of listeners. We hope people keep learning about the Jewish presence here and embrace it.”