Rabbi Richard Address - Seekers of Meaning (EP.14)

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On Causepods today, we welcome Rabbi Richard F. Address from the Jewish Sacred Aging community and the host of the Seekers of Meaning Podcast. As an older member of his community, one that continues to grow and evolve in the modern age, Rabbi Richard found the medium of podcasting a potentially life changing limb that he could extend to those in need. Approaching an assortment of topics that concern the older generation including the obvious ideas of caregiving and death, the podcast aims to offer information and solace from the scripture and tradition of Judaism, for the modern condition.

The Rabbi believes that the audio and preparation of conversation is a great way to connect with a generation who grew up next to a radio and might now be entering the final stages of their lives. In our conversation we cover some background on Sacred Aging and Seekers of Meaning before getting down to questions around audience, audio and technology. We also chat about the doors that starting a podcast has opened and the strategies that have been used to get the word out about the show. For all this and much more inspiring content, be sure to join us!

Key Topics:

• The aims of the organization in which the Rabbi is involved. (01:19). • The unique set of challenges that face the work of Sacred Aging. (02:39) • How the audio format suits Rabbi Richard’s older audience. (07:44) • Keeping the podcast accessible for the less tech savvy. (09:35) • The opportunities that have arisen from starting the podcast. (10:43) • The strategies useful in helping to grow a new podcast. (12:00) • Live podcast recording at conventions and events. (15:08) • Rabbi Richard’s advice to others thinking about starting a podcast. (17:01) • Why the audience should tune into Seekers of Meaning. (20:49)

And much more!

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[0:00:02.6] MP: Hi and welcome to Causepods. I’m your host, Mathew Passy. Here at Causepods, we have one simple mission: to highlight the amazing folks who are using podcast as a way to raise awareness for good causes. Whether it’s a non-profit they work with, a charity they support, a social justice campaign they are championing, a medical condition they are battling or someone who is just looking to make a positive impact on their local community, state, country or the world.

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[0:00:47.1] MP: Welcome back to another episode of Causepods here today, we are speaking with Rabbi Richard Address of Jewish Sacred Aging. He has a podcast, Seekers of Meaning and very excited to be doing this in studio, not my studio, we’re lucky to be working in the studio of Steve Lubekin, a great podcaster and wonderful friend here in the community of South Jersey but Rabbi Richard, thank you so much for joining me here on cause pods.

[0:01:10.1] RA: Hi Matthew, how are you doing?

[0:01:10.9] MP: I am doing well. Tell us a little bit about not just Seekers of Meaning but Jewish Sacred Aging, what it is you do, what you’re trying to accomplish?

[0:01:19.8] RA: Jewish Sacred Aging is a project that really had its birth many years ago when I worked for the North American Reform Jewish Movement, directed a program on having to do with family issues. We’re examining the trends and demographic trends of the American Jewish community. It really came up that we’re an aging community, started to take a look at the growth of the baby boomer generation and long story, very short, this morphed into me taking the work of older adults and baby boomers on my own when I left the URJ, the Reform Movement, they get rid of, they downsized all the – got rid of all the departments.

I took this on and it has grown exponentially in the last four or five years became an LLC I think in 2014. The goal of Jewish Sacred Aging is really work with synagogues, Jewish organizations, in really alerting them to the challenges concerns of aging, the spirituality of aging, the impact of the baby boom generation on family systems. I’m on the road a lot, traveling to these organizations with the website, Jewishsacredaging.com, the Facebook page. That eventually morphed into the Seekers of Meaning podcast.

[0:02:32.1] MP: Just take us through as an example. You know, what’s some of the unique challenges that you are facing through Sacred Aging and that you address through Seekers of Meaning?

[0:02:39.7] RA: Well, I guess the easiest way to answer that is to sort of overview what congregations are asking us to talk about when we go in to congregations. In looking at the next couple of months, where I’m going to be on the road a lot in not necessarily any order but the package, the care giving issue is always number one because the caregiving is a family systems issue, so many people are doing it and as I tell groups of people, if you aren’t already or have not been involved as a caregiver, you’re going to be, the odds are.

It’s a multigenerational issue. I mean, the so-called sandwich generation, boomers taking care of their aging parents, we never used that being from Jersey we know diners so I always call it the club sandwich generation because there are various levels. For example, the AARP National Alliance and the National Alliance of Family Caregiving, in their surveys, have told us that right now, about 20% of caregivers are millennials. People from 18 to 30.

A lot of the boomers are still working. So everybody’s juggling - caregiving is definitely major issue, the stresses, the strains the concerns and now as baby boomers move into their 70s, we are starting to – I was just literally on the phone last night with a friend of mine, literally my age, early 70s who is having some issues in working with his family, trying to figure out the caregiving concerns of the family and children are long distance.

This is not an unfamiliar story to many families. The end of life issues, how do you make a decision as life begins to change as life begins to end. Always an issue. The issue of the creation of new rituals, one of the things we have found and begun to collect in the last couple of years is this surge in the amount of baby boomers who want rituals and create rituals to speak to new life situations.

For example, the removal of a wedding ring after a year of mourning. The older adult cohabitation without benefit of marriage. Moving into an assisted living retirement, moving out of a family home, signing an advanced directive. All these are spiritual moments that people have written rituals that people have written rituals and prayers and meditations, on getting a diagnosis of Alzheimer's on removal of life support systems and a hospital or a hospice situation entering a hospice.

All these we have and they’re part of what we do as well as the redefinition of adultery in light of Alzheimer's and dementia because that’s also happening in every community that I have visited. Those are some of the more interesting topics that we deal with, then, the issues around economics. Everything we do is based upon Jewish tradition and text. It’s a lot of teaching, saying look, here is the way the tradition looks at this particular issue and you should know then that the tradition has something to say into the life moment that you’re leading now. It’s not just some ancient fossilized series of opinions.

[0:05:52.7] MP: Right, there’s still a lot that we can apply from then to today. How did that then lead you to the podcast? How did that then lead you to working with audio.

[0:05:52.7] RA: It’s real simple. I’ve been working with Steve Lubetkin for a long time many years and a conversation, I guess about a year ago, we decided that he’s a professional podcaster as you know and a very lovely podcaster as well.

We sat down and said, how can we change some of the media that we had been doing, there’s something more regular and subsitive that will allow us to get a voice around all these issues. So many of my colleagues and other people have been writing about this, books, articles, et cetera. We decided to create a specialized podcast out of Jewish Sacred Aging which we call Seekers of Meaning.

That’s been up and running for about a year now and slowly but surely getting some traction and Steve produces it and we publicize it on the website and the Facebook page, LinkedIn and varieties of other social media that he as the producer take care of.

[0:06:58.7] MP: I imagine, you know, when we talk about podcasting today, it’s heavily skewed towards younger audiences, millennials and Gen X, Gen Y, whatever you want to say because we’re used to being multitaskers and so podcasting is a great way to absorb information while we’re working, working out, driving, commuting, playing with the kids, whatever that might be.

I have to imagine that with your target audience, it’s also a great way to share information for a variety of reasons. One, the generation probably used to live and die by their radio. You know, that was their main source of entertainment but also I imagine that at a certain age, reading digital text just becomes a challenge and so this is probably a really easy way for folks to connect with you and to absorb the information that you’re sharing.

[0:07:44.2] RA: As I travel, Steve and I were talking about this earlier, as I travel, a lot of people will come up and say, you know, I listened to that podcast around this or whatever and I say, where do you listen to it? How do you listen to it? It’s fascinating to me. Some people will say, we listen to it in the car, I listen to it on the treadmill, no joke, you know, or there’s this specific interest.

For example, we recently posted a podcast about the colleague who wrote this very interesting book about an aspect of Jewish tradition, stories from the [inaudible] which is a collection, it’s a long involved – it’s part of the tradition from the fifth and sixth century and he wrote this very interesting book, really taking a heft on those stories and bringing them up to date.

A colleague literally emailed me yesterday saying listen to the podcast, really got something out of it and some of these congregational rabbis will listen to it and then order the book and create a class, which is exactly what we want to have happen.

Then you’re right. Others are much more practical, there’s somebody coming up very soon who is dealing with a new company that they created that deals with moving older adults out of their – when they downsize. It’s very daunting for an adult child to do this, especially if they’re long distance, there’s a growth in these business now. You know, I call you up, here’s the address, here’s what we want to have happen, we move in, we take care of everything, we send you a bill.

[0:09:12.1] MP: Wow. I imagine though, even though this is a convenient medium for a lot of people and it’s growing that there is a challenge as it is – it is not a difficult medium to absorb but it’s new to a lot of people and so when you say you have a podcast, they go, I don’t know how to listen to that. How do you overcome that challenge, how do you make your show accessible to people, make it easy for them to find you, subscribe and you know, keep tuning in.

[0:09:35.5] RA: Well, if I had the answer to that question, I’d be very happy. It’s a struggle, I tell you, I’m not from – I’m not that media savvy, I usually rely on my children or grandchildren to – after they get done laughing at me and you know, how do I do this and – but it is a struggle because there’s now from what I gather, being – coming from this in the outside, a plethora of platforms which is easy for me to say, plethora of platforms, where you can access.

We’re on iTunes and the usual type of stuff and that’s where I think a lot of the people I talk to get - everybody’s familiar with Apple and iTunes but there are other platforms now evidently that podcasts get on and every day I see somebody else announcing the video started a new podcast. There is a lot out there and it’s niche oriented, everybody knows that. It’s a challenge. I mean, I don’t have an exact answer to that, I wish I did.

[0:10:31.0] MP: What have you found that from doing the podcast, has it opened up any new doors, new avenues, are there stories or people that you’re connecting with through the podcast that you might not have had an opportunity to work with otherwise?

[0:10:43.7] RA: It’s very interesting you said that, you asked, we didn’t rehearse this at all. In the last, I’d say, two months, I’ve gotten some calls and some inquiries about speaking things or articles or questions because somebody has heard about the podcast or has listened to one of them and one or two times in the last couple of months, some people have – you know, said I have this new book, I heard that you do this, can we make an arrangement. It’s slow.

At least, that’s what I found in my and your experience but in my experience, look, first of all, the Jewish community is small, we’re not talking about a huge audience there anyway. Only a segment of that really participates in podcast around this particular area, dealing with aging and family issues around aging.

There is a ton of Jewish podcast but from my understanding and my research very few that deal with this issue. I think Seekers of Meaning is the only podcast that actually talks about these issues from a spiritual text based basis.

[0:11:52.3] MP: What have been some of your strategies to help get the word out there or what are some things that you’re thinking about implementing to further grow the show?

[0:12:00.0] RA: Well we advertise it a lot on the website, through social media. Every week we post a new one every Friday. So every Friday when something comes - we will advertise it on the website, on Facebook page, one or two other platforms.

[0:12:15.2] MP: Hoping people listen before the Sabbath, I assume.

[0:12:17.3] RA: Yeah and if they automatically listen on the Sabbath that is fine with me and it stays up for a whole week. So people have a lot and then it’s archived. So when I go out and speak, we always mention the podcast and then actually a lot of times when somebody has said and asked a particular question, a specific question and I said, “You know we just did a podcast on that two months ago. If you go to the website it is archived.” And that has worked.

One of the questions that Steve and I always go back on and maybe you can help me and that is how to publicize it. In the old days, you put an ad in the paper. In the new days, there are so few people reading print papers and so I have experimented a couple of times with online ads on various Jewish social media platforms but the problem is it is hard to figure out whether they generate anything.

[0:13:11.5] MP: It is true. It is tough to track that I suppose. There is two schools of thought there. One is you want to be where your audience is and so it sounds like a lot of your audience is still reading papers. It is not a growing media necessarily but the generation that you are speaking to and that you offer advice to probably still picks up the paper. So ads in those communities might be useful. The other school of thought is you want to be where podcast listeners are.

And so, you know that as you said is a very small demographic that you are targeting and so it’s tricky to find this demographic, podcast listeners. And that is a struggle that I am facing constantly as well trying to find the right places to advertise.

[0:13:53.2] RA: So my feeling right now is just to try to spread the word as much as possible in a variety of different venues hoping that a percentage of that will hit and what we’ve watched this over the last year has grown. So a lot of it is word of mouth, I mean I am not going to lie to you. A lot of it is word of mouth and the colleague and we’ll pick targeted advertisements in a variety of venues like there’s a coming convention about Jewish educators.

And they want us to put a little thing, so we may do that. One of the local Jewish newspapers here in Philadelphia area. They have a specialized publication, I think once or twice a year just targeting this demographic. We put something in there, you never know.

[0:14:36.3] MP: Oh that’s a good idea. I imagine too that you do a lot of public speaking on this topic as well.

[0:14:41.0] RA: Yeah, a lot.

[0:14:41.8] MP: I imagine and I wonder if whether basically instead of just standing up in front of a crowd if basically hosting a live podcast interview in front of a crowd would be useful. You agreed to talk with this group, you bring in a guest, you sit down on stage, you record the conversation, you say, “Hey folks, thank you for listening and joining us today. If you want to hear this again, it’s all in the podcast.” And now people have been part of that experience. It emboldens them to want to check it out.

[0:15:08.5] RA: Actually we’ve done that a couple of times at conventions, at the last URJ North American biannual which was a year ago last weekend, they invited me to host a podcast in front of an audience, live, most of them we’re still awake. And I transferred it over to Steve and Steve put it on the website and then the movement itself put it on there. I don’t know how many people to be blunt about it listened to it or really understood what was happening even though they were told.

They thought it was a nice program. It actually was a good program, it was an hour long. I don’t know when how many people walked out there saying, “Well I missed part of that, but it will be on this website. I can listen to it.” And I never heard back if there was any traffic with that.

[0:15:56.8] MP: Well I wonder too if like you said the podcast is about a little over a year old or just a year old now. If you did it now, now you have a little bit of traction, a little bit more product behind you an archive that people could check out if it wouldn’t be more successful trying it out.

[0:16:09.5] RA: That is a good idea and maybe some venues I have to look at. I’ll talk to my producer in there and see what happens.

[0:16:16.5] MP: Yeah, you could probably make it happen.

[0:16:18.2] RA: Probably and the reality is we did do a conference a year ago, March, a year and a half ago now brought together the very small amount of people who are actually doing work in Judaism and aging and aging in spirituality, brought them together here in Philadelphia and we did video that. Steve videoed it and live streamed it and put those videos on the website and that was very, very successful and it worked out well.

[0:16:44.7] MP: So for someone who has been using new media podcasting specifically to spread the word to network with other people in your space to connect with your potential audience, what advice would you give to others who are exploring podcasting as a way to tell their story and to get the word out there?

[0:17:01.2] RA: Well exactly what I’ve talked to a couple of colleagues about who asked me about this. You know we will sit around the diner having lunch and literary, this was last week again, “You know what do you think?” And I said, “Look, it sounds and it is very, very easy.” The key is you have somebody like Steve and here at Lubetkin Media, who can do the technical stuff, who can really walk you through the ability to sit down and find the guest and to read - you know there’s a couple of them that I am recording today, three of the four that I am recording have written books.

So I said you know, you have to read the books. You have to find time to read the books, make the notes, prepare the questions, alert and walk with the guests so they are not surprised because that as you know not everybody when you ask a question, the worst is that single word answer and then you have to tap dance here.

[0:17:52.2] MP: You are pulling teeth to get the conversation out.

[0:17:53.2] RA: You have to get your greatest hits album, you know? And I have encouraged people to think about that. I said you want to reach people and I know there’s somebody that we worked with who’s now doing a podcast through Steve and a couple of people that we’ve been in touch have worked with him to create websites and stuff like that. So it is an interesting media and the flip side of that also is as you know, not everybody wants to take the time because it does take time and you have to invest - you just can’t walk in and – well I guess you can walk in and wing it but –

[0:18:25.5] MP: You’re not going to see a high level success by the way.

[0:18:27.9] RA: You know, the preparation and the ability to think, the reason why I like it is when I go out and why I like Q & A because I like the immediacy of the moment and so as I tell people who are coming on Seekers of Meaning, I’m going to send you a list of preposed questions. “Here’s the one we’re going to start with but you need to know that we might go off on a tangent and that’s okay, so just be prepared.”

[0:18:51.4] MP: That is an interesting way to prepare that you do have some sets of questions that you are thinking about but you do a good job of warning the guests saying, “This is where we’re starting. I don’t know where we’re going to finish.” And so I guess one thing that you are highlighting there is that even though you’re talking, really to be a good podcaster it is all about listening.

[0:19:10.6] RA: Well very few people like surprises and so that’s why I give them a little prep but the listening thing as you know, sometimes somebody will say something and you hear even if they are not there. I mean we do a lot of remotes because people are scattered literarally all over the world because we have done podcasts with people from Israel and many other places but you will hear somebody, their tone of voice will change or if they are sitting next to you, the body language will change and they will give you subtle little opening and that’s the fun thing, you just go there.

[0:19:39.3] MP: So what other advice would you give to anybody who is contemplating digital media is a way to spread their message especially in the cause based world?

[0:19:49.2] RA: Well I would say first of all, don’t be afraid to do it. Do some homework. Do the homework, get yourself somebody like Steve Lubetkin who knows the business, who knows the electronics. Unless you are techno savvy and most of my colleagues and people I hang out with are – we’ll still call our grandchildren to figure out how to turn off the iPhone. Get somebody like that who can really walk you through and then understand that it’s an investment in time that you're not going to make a fortune if anything. But it’s a – when people ask me what are one of the things that you glean from doing this podcast. I said, “Every podcast I do, I learn something.”

I think for somebody like clergy who are constantly reading and trying to constantly stay abreast of things, the idea that you can read a book and talk to another human being who has done the research and learned something from that. That’s exciting.

[0:20:41.9] MP: You know, one last time, give everyone, if someone’s listening and might have interest, give us you know, a good picture of why they should be checking out Seekers of Meaning.

[0:20:49.8] RA: Well, Seekers of Meaning, part of the Jewish Sacred Aging family, Seekers of Meaning Podcast are designed really to explore issues, talking about the challenges, opportunities, our own aging, the impact of that aging on our families and it’s done from the perspective of Jewish text and tradition. It’s part of the website, jewishsacredaging.com, which as I mentioned before, not only the podcast but I think the website is still right now the only comprehensive website that talks about all this from an organizational, congregational, as well as familial personal basis.

[0:21:25.5] MP: There you go. Well, we’ve been chatting with Rabbi Richard Address of jewishsacredaging.com. You can check that out, get a link to his website to his podcast and we will setup a donation page for Jewish Sacred Aging, all at Causepods.org. Rabbi Richard, thank you so much for joining me.

[0:21:41.5] RA: Thank you very much sir, thank you for the opportunity.

[0:21:43.7] MP: Of course Steve, thank you so much for the opportunity to use this wonderful facility here.


[0:21:47.8] MP: Thanks for listening to this episode of Causepods. Again, if you’ve been inspired by the work of our guest, please check out the show notes in your podcast app or causepods.org. There you will find links to their work and a special donation link set up to support their favorite efforts.

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Thanks again and see you next time on Causepods.