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Live From West Orange: It’s the Unorthodox Podcast

Tablet Magazine’s Unorthodox podcast graced West Orange with a special live recording at B’nai Shalom on Thursday, November 3. The popular podcast, which calls itself “the universe’s leading Jewish podcast,” is hosted by Tablet’s senior editor, Mark Oppenheimer; Tablet’s deputy editor, Stephanie Butnick; and Liel Leibovitz, editor at large for Tablet Magazine.

Earlier in the day, the FBI had issued a warning of a credible threat towards New Jersey synagogues. Nonetheless, Unorthodox and B’nai Shalom made the decision to proceed with the recording. Naturally, the topics of the podcast included talk of this threat, as well as recent antisemitism from Kanye West and Kyrie Irving, incidentally a West Orange native.

“I don’t know why everyone always sends these people to Holocaust museums,” Leibovitz said. “The best thing to do is send him to a shul board meeting. ‘You think we control things? Come sit!’” The joke landed, the room erupted in laughter, and one got the impression that many people in the audience had spent some time at a shul board meeting.

Shannon Sarna, author of “The Modern Jewish Baker,” and editor of the 70FacesMedia Jewish food site, The Nosher, was invited on the bima as the Jew of the Week. Sarna, a South Orange resident, calls herself a “pizza bagel,” due to her combined Jewish-Italian heritage. Her new book, “Modern Jewish Comfort Food,” is now available for purchase.

The longstanding podcast routine also includes a Gentile of the Week. This week, to much applause, the GOTW was announced as West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi. After 12 years as mayor, Parisi is passing the torch to the winner of this week’s election.

Leibovitz showed a great interest in the politics of local government, asking if there is a group for mayors to ask about the best methods of garbage collection. “Sell Us on West Orange,” Oppenheimer said to Parisi. Among other things, Parisi said that West Orange is the home of Thomas Edison, who invented the motion picture here and employed 10,000 people.

“As a world-renowned panel of certified experts in Judaism, do you have a question for us?” Oppenheimer asked Parisi.

“‘How is it that as a community you are able to stand up and persevere—always resilient?” Parisi asked, referring to the constant antisemitism and the current threat New Jersey synagogues were facing. What choice do we have? the podcasters joked. Oppenheimer noted that most of the threats that Jews have faced throughout history were from the state—whether the Roman Legion or Spanish Inquisition or state-sanctioned pogroms in the Pale of Settlement or Nazi Germany. But today, we live in a country in which the state comes and protects us. Leibovitz responded that the Zionist movement taught us that when threats come after us, we must stand up for ourselves.

Rabbi Tobin of B’nai Shalom presented Mayor Parisi with a plaque in his honor, thanking him for his years of service as mayor of West Orange, and saying that the mayor’s heart and soul is always in the right place. “Any time I ever called, you answered the call,” Tobin said. “This synagogue has always seen you as a friend, as an ally.”

At the end of the podcast, the audience was asked to line up to give their mazal tovs of the week. West Orange resident Miriam Gardin gave a “mazal tov to my parents and my in-laws, all celebrating their 50th anniversaries this week.” Leibovitz said, “Mazal tov to the police standing outside, putting themselves in the line of duty to protect us and this community.”

To catch up on old episodes of Unorthodox, and to start listening to new ones, visit their website at www.tabletmag.com/podcasts/unorthodox.

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