Arts and Culture | Religion & Jewish Life

‘Call Your Mother’: A new podcast gets real about parenting while Jewish

Jordana Horn, left, and Shannon Sarna are the hosts of a new podcast about Jewish parenting. (Marissa Roer)

NEW YORK (JTA) — Jewish mothers have been the punch lines of one too many jokes — from the waiter who asks a table of Jewish women if anything is alright, to the one about how many Jewish mothers it takes to change a light bulb (answer: “Don’t bother. I’ll sit in the dark.”).

A new podcast takes a different approach to Jewish parenting.

“Call Your Mother,” which was released last month, aims to celebrate Jewish moms but also to be honest (and funny) about the challenges of 21st-century parenting. The podcast is produced by the Jewish parenting site Kveller and hosted by writer and lawyer Jordana Horn and Shannon Sarna, editor of the Jewish food site The Nosher. Kveller and The Nosher are both published by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s parent company, 70 Faces Media.

Each week, Horn and Sarna invite a notable Jewish parent — guests have included the Israeli expat chef Einat Admony, writer Emily Gould and feminist activist Rachel Sklar — to discuss topics ranging from addiction to anti-Semitism to sex.

JTA asked the co-hosts about the story behind the podcast and their favorite moments thus far.

JTA: How did you come up with the idea for the podcast?

Jordana Horn: Before “Call Your Mother,” I felt there was a real vacancy in podcasts for one like this. I wanted to focus on candid conversation between Jewish parents, getting down to earth and real with their unique joys, struggles, frustrations and thoughts both as parents and as Jews. I’ve written essays for Kveller for years, but a podcast is a particularly fun, engaging and dynamic medium.

Shannon Sarna: While the podcast wasn’t my brainchild, there were two big reasons why I was so excited: 1, podcasts are a form of media parents actually have the time to engage with, and 2, I really want to provide parents forums to have honest conversations about the difficulty and demands of parenting, the realness: the good, bad, ugly, challenging and the wonderful, too. But not a sugar-coated, Instagram version of parenting. We connect with one another when we share our truths. We disconnect and we do a disservice to ourselves and our peers by only sharing the moments that are “perfect.”

What’s the story behind the name? Did you consider any other names?

Horn: Originally we considered “Because I Said So.” Not only was it not really right — while it is funny like we are, it’s a little too bossily prescriptive — but it also actually was already the title of a Christian dad podcast! While we assume we have a different audience, we went back to the proverbial drawing board and asked around for ideas. We got some great ideas, and we got some crummy ones. My friend, journalist Sarah Wildman, proposed “Call Your Mother,” and it really struck the right note.

If you could choose anyone, dead or alive, to be on the podcast, who would it be and why?

Horn: Actually, I got my choice! My mom is on the podcast every week, dispensing solicited unsolicited hilarious advice when we call her. She is a grandmother of 14, has a Ph.D. in Jewish education and is the best human I know. Even when I’m not recording the podcast, I call her about five times a day, so this is very efficient for me.

Sarna: Well not to be Debbie Downer, but it would be amazing to interview my own mother, who is dead. But a close second would be Madeleine Albright for so many reasons, but mostly because she dedicated the years after getting married solely to raising her family. Then she went on to literally change the world. That transition is fascinating to me and really speaks to a lot of challenges I hear from other working moms today — how do we balance these intense years of parenting with our larger professionals goals. We can’t do it all at once. And Madeline’s own family history, including their Jewishness, is also fascinating. And I wouldn’t be too upset if the “Notorious RBG” wanted to grace us with her holy presence. Talk about absolutely inspiring Jewish role models who are parents and who have accomplished so much. Now that I have named Madeleine Albright and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I might retract my answer about my own dead mother. Sorry, mom.

How would each of you describe yourselves as a mother in three words?

Horn: Jewish (with all the connotations that that carries with it). Loving. Empathetic.

Sarna: Loud, loving, feeding.

What’s your favorite moment from the podcast so far?

Horn: I’m going to answer with an episode rather than a moment — although I always enjoy kibitzing with Shannon.

I truly loved having Jen Simon, a mom of two who became addicted to opioids, as a guest. She was extremely open about her struggle, and I left that episode doing a mental fist pump: yes! Because that kind of conversation was exactly why I wanted a podcast. If you do it right, you can give the listener’s empathy and compassion muscles a workout, and that’s just the best.

Sarna: Blurting out to Judy Gold, “My dead mother loved you!” And she responded, “I have a dead mother, too!” I felt like we really connected.