Excuse me while I unabashedly pay tribute to one of my best friends in the world and at the same time and without excuses shill for something that I volunteer for and which plays a totally meaningful role in my life.
“JM in the AM,” hosted by the indefatigable Nachum Segal, has to be one of the most precious assets belonging to this community. Actually, “this community” is a severe misnomer now that the show is carried lived on the Internet—people from San Antonio to Beit Shemesh to Sydney, Australia are known to listen.
Nachum celebrated his 30th anniversary on air this past Labor Day. In September 1983, there were about 12 Jewish singers who were household names. (No, Bob Dylan does not count. ) No one heard of the Miami Boys Choir except those living in Miami. The Maccabeats weren’t even born yet, and I imagine that the now-famous singer’s parents weren’t chasing him around the house screaming “Shuki, you get over here right now!” Want to count how many average nice Jewish boys with good voices who were simply singing zemirot at their Shabbos table with their kids cut a first CD and then went on to perform in front of hundreds and thousands of people because Nachum was happy to play a version of their recorded dreams?
We turn on our radio and he’s there. God bless him, he has played that darn Modeh Ani song every day for 30 years. The erev Shabbat staple, It’s Time to Say Good Shabbos is part of our lexicon only because of him. And hearing Hatikva every weekday morning at 8:58 a. m. is the stuff of legend.
Along came Rabbis Goldwasser and Yudin to add their Divrei Torah to the mix. And of course, Malcolm Hoenlein live on-air every Friday, an attraction that many people (yours truly included) consider the best half hour of Jewish radio, or any radio for that matter, extant today.
As Nachum’s brother, Rabbi Nate Segal, once proclaimed many years ago, “Nachum talks to more Jews in one day than any person in the world other than the Prime Minister of Israel.” He’s right. And he does it with humor, with modesty and with an unabashed love for the Jewish people and for Israel. From the music of Safam and Debbie Friedman to the niggunim of the Munkacser hasidim and Chasidei Belz, Nachum manages to cover it all with grace and style. And he wakes up every morning at 4 a. m. without a complaint. At least not to his friends. Ever.
Surf your minds up and down the dial of AM and FM radio, and multiple options abound for us all. I’m a WFAN Boomer and Carton guy myself. But it’s not lasting. Morning drive-time radio in a major market is meant to shock and to appall. It is often meant to appeal to the lowest common denominator in our minds, to give our children entertainment we may not want them to have. Not so JM in the AM. “Lehavdil,” Nachum Segal and “JM in the AM” give true meaning to the old rabbinic wisdom, “Anu Mashkimim Ve-heim Mashkimim”—we wake up for one purpose, and the rest of the world wakes up and, well, does other things.
One quick recent story to explain what I mean, if there is any explanation still necessary:
It’s a Friday in March, and Nachum’s in the middle of his annual radiothon-fundraiser with a group of Kushner Yeshiva High School students in the phone room taking pledges, while Mark Zomick leads a Siyyum, on air, to commemorate the yahrzeit of Nachum’s father.
When Mark finishes reading the Gemara, in the middle of the radio program, Nachum stands up to recite Kaddish. I was there. I watched the eyes of the Kushner students, clearly seeing Jewish tradition come to life in full vivid 3-D. We all stood up to answer Amen and Yehei Shmei. We then sat back down and continued with the radio show. The next day in shul, someone told me they were driving in the car and didn’t know whether to pull over to the side of the road and stand up or to continue driving and just answer Amen.
Imus doesn’t ever give you that….
We were college classmates at YU way back in 1981, where we were both d-jays on WYUR. He took the reins of “JM in the AM” back in 1983, in an old run down ex-frat house on the campus of the now defunct Upsala College. The station then moved from Upsala College to Montgomery Street in Jersey City, from whence its simcha-filled waves radiate until today. The studios are not 30 Rock, or even a closet in the CBS building. They’re not even on a par with “Kol Yisrael” out of Yerushalayim. You see, that’s because they are better. Ruach beats materialism hands down in Nachum’s world—by a knockout.
I have filled in for him for many times over the years, as have Mark, Mattes, Meir, Mayer, Randi and now Miriam. And I think we all share the same innermost feelings. Good for you Nachum Segal! We are proud of you and wish you another 30 years behind the mic, by which time one of your six beautiful children will surely be ready to take over.
Until then, Nachum, please heed your own words of wisdom that you have taught us all: Remember the past, live the present, and trust the future. Happy 30th!
By Robert Katz