New Method of Outreach Takes Him to the World
When some of his congregants at the Marlboro Jewish Center broached the subject of a podcast to Rabbi Michael Pont, he said he was initially intimidated.
“I mean, what did I know about podcasting?” he asked. “But they assured me that they would take care of the technology. All I would have to do is have a conversation, which is something I really enjoy.”
However, he said, “While I love talking with people, I really was not sure who would want to talk with me. But every time I’ve reached out to someone I thought would be interesting to speak with, they’ve said sure.”
Two years and more than 60 podcast episodes later, the rabbi’s weekly podcast, “For the Love of Judaism,” is now heard on six continents and has more than 7,000 unique listeners. His interviewees have run the gamut from the writers of the musical “Come From Away” to Jewish student athletes, to a man who built a scale model of the second Holy Temple in Jerusalem using LEGO bricks.
Rabbi Pont says he is enjoying doing the podcasts because he learns so much. He does research on the topic before each interview, and sends his podcast guest a series of questions in advance. “I really do that so we both have a sort of road map. It gives us some structure, but allows for freedom, too.”
Rabbi Pont has been the spiritual leader of Marlboro Jewish Center for 12 years. A native Michigander, both he and his wife, Natalie, are proud graduates of the University of Michigan (Go Blue). Their three children include a son who works for the Shalom Hartman Institute, a daughter studying nursing at their alma mater, and a daughter about to graduate from high school.
“I’ve been a Conservative Rabbi for 24 years now,” he said. ”I think it’s a great way to live your life. I love to bring Torah to people. At the same time, I try to keep growing myself, to learn from others, and to find different ways to observe Judaism. The podcast helps me grow while I bring Judaism and Jewish concepts to people I might not otherwise reach. It allows me to get the message out to a broader audience.”
Ari Teplitz was among those who initially encouraged Rabbi Pont to try this new method of communication. He literally grew up in Marlboro Jewish Center. His father was the synagogue’s first rabbi. Now married to the current Cantor, he serves on the synagogue Board as Membership Vice President, is a certified financial planner with a Master’s in Fine Arts from the Yale School of Drama, and he moonlights as the producer of “For the Love of Judaism.” He thinks the podcast is an important new tool for rabbis.
“It’s no secret,” Ari said, “that fewer people are entering houses of worship. That is why it has become even more important than ever to literally get the word out, to reach people where they are.”
He says one of the goals of the podcast is, “to help people understand how to be a Conservative Jew in a changing Jewish world.”
When pressed to point to one of his favorite interviews, Rabbi Pont mentioned his conversation with the Fisher family–parents Debra and Doug; Jay, now 19, who has autism; and his younger sister Shoshana—who spoke about what it is like to live with autism.
Debra, who describes herself as her son’s No. 1 PR person, said, ”Jay is very open, and is eager to share what living with Autism is like. He is active on social media and has his own podcast called Honestly Autistic. He is very creative, and proud of himself and what he has accomplished.
“But,” she added, “it’s been a long road. Rabbi Pont has always been very understanding, always thinking of ways to be more inclusive while being sensitive to Jay’s needs. That’s why we all were honored when he asked us to be on his podcast. The Rabbi is so approachable and respectful that he made us all very comfortable.“
Ari Teplitz concurs. He thinks Rabbi Pont’s podcast is popular because the Rabbi is a warm, relaxed and generous interviewer. Ari describes Rabbi Pont as authentic. “People love speaking with him because he is truly engaged in the stories they tell him. That’s just his personality, and it comes across on each of the episodes.”
The podcast has had one unexpected result. Rabbi Pont, who was not sure about podcasting, now fields requests from other Rabbis looking for innovative ways to engage their own congregations. “This whole experience has been enlightening,” he says. “The podcast has become a nice feature of my rabbinate, one I did not seek out, but that I now thoroughly enjoy.”
“For the Love of Judaism” may be found on every major streaming channel.
“Honestly Autistic” may be found at (https://www.youtube.com/@honestlyautistic2635).