Growing up, Jonathan “Chezky” Frieden enjoyed hearing about and from Jewish leaders. As he got older, however, Frieden recognized something missing in these conversations. Frieden thought: “How great would it be if there was a way for people to connect to people in top positions; a real way to relate to them as humans, understand their struggles and how they interact with emotion?” Frieden wanted to understand more about these leaders on a human level—to “delve not only into their minds, but into their hearts.” This led Frieden to create a podcast exploring the experience of different Jewish leaders. The podcast, Anatomy of a Jewish Leader, was born in early February.
Frieden has listened to podcasts for years, but one that stood out to him was NPR’s “How I Built This,” a show focused on innovators and their journeys in finding the movements they “built.” Frieden’s podcast draws from the NPR show’s structure, with a larger focus on the human aspect of leaders. “The idea is to not only hear what they’ve worked on but to really understand them as a person,” explained Frieden. He accomplishes this by thoroughly researching each leader he speaks with and asking questions that evoke a natural progression in understanding the interviewee.
Frieden’s interest in Judaism and leadership is evident through his current ambitions. Before attending Harvard Law School next year, Frieden is taking this year for other pursuits—he is currently a Beit Midrash Fellow at SAR High School and a master’s degree student at Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies. Despite the busy schedule, Frieden found the time to pursue his long-time interest in podcasting.
Frieden was pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to get in touch with Jewish leaders. He initially prepared for rejection, but the majority of people respond with enthusiasm about the project. “I was impressed with how willing people are to share their stories and experiences,” Frieden said. So far, he’s only gotten one rejection, and even then, the person provided names of other leaders Frieden might consider interviewing for the podcast.
On top of researching and interviewing leaders, Frieden also edits the audio. Although this is a time consuming process, Frieden strives to put out a new episode every week—and he’s been successful in this goal since his first episode with Richard Joel in early February. Since then, he’s interviewed Arna Poupko Fisher; ORA CEO Keshet Starr; OU President Mark (Moishe) Bane; and former Knesset member Rabbi Dov Lipman.
From his conversations with influential leaders, Frieden noted some themes. “Almost everyone I interviewed is incredibly open-minded and focused on unity,” said Frieden. He also acknowledged the leaders’ tremendous care for others. “There was a noticeable and distinct humility in that their focus was aimed outside of themselves. They all want others’ lives to be improved in some way.” Despite the commonality, Frieden pointed out, “Almost every single person did not expect at all to be in the role that they’re in.”
Anatomy of a Jewish Leader is meant for anyone looking to learn from and connect more with leaders. Frieden believes that through being vulnerable and discussing their challenges and imperfections, Jewish leaders become easier to humanize. Ultimately, while the show focuses on the experience of different leaders, “It’s also about what it means to be a person, member of community, family member and friend,” said Frieden.
The podcast can be found on Apple, Spotify and other platforms. To follow all updates, follow its Instagram page @anatomyofajewishleader.
By Ayelet Ehrenkranz