Estelle Deutsch Abraham might not look like your typical podcast host, but don’t let her demographics fool you.
“I wake up in the morning with work to do, and go to sleep with something to do tomorrow morning,” says the 94-year-old Bethesda resident. “I never turned down an opportunity. My life is full of Shehecheyanu moments!”
One of her great loves in life is Jewish music. She brims with an encyclopedic knowledge of Jewish music — across Hebrew, Yiddish and Ladino — and loves all things Jewish arts and culture.
She’s a singer, pianist, teacher, radio host…and now can add podcaster to the list. For 36 years, Abraham hosted a Jewish music-based radio show, where she featured everything from theater music to Ladino songs.
“It started for three months and it went for 36 years,” she says. “I used to say, ‘I don’t know whether I kept the radio show going or it kept me going.’ Either way, it was symbiotic. I loved doing it.”
In early 2023, her longtime radio show’s station was sold. In response, her son, Cantor Ahron Abraham, said to her, “‘Well, there’s always a podcast, Mom.’ I didn’t even know what a podcast was,” she says.
But here she is today, hosting the podcast with the same name as her radio show, “Jewish Community Radio,” a weekly offering, exploring the cultural, religious and historical heritage of the Jewish People.
Each episode has a theme, largely based around the calendar, such as the recent “Am Echad — Celebrating Tu B’Shvat,” with each episode close to an hour of curated music from her radio show and some commentary and translation throughout.
“Music is the centerpiece of the program,” she says. “I hope that the songs will familiarize listeners with our history and our life, whether it’s Israel today, Israel when it was a pioneer state, or their grandparents from Poland to Morocco. I don’t care what language the music is in, where it comes from, whether it’s highbrow or lowbrow — it’s all valid. It’s the music that I want people to hear.”
What does she love so much about Jewish music? “It’s my whole being,” she says. “I love being a Jew. And as a result, I like everything and anything that’s Jewish. And I got that from my parents.”
It all started when she was a savvy young child. “The radio was my entertainment as a child,” she says. “Our radio was on the whole time. And there were several of Jewish radio stations in New York.”
It was the years of the Great Depression, she didn’t have any toys but instead enjoyed the freedom and independence that children were granted in those days.
“Nobody made playdates for me — you went out and played with other kids,” she recalls. “I have no memory of being deprived at all, when in reality I had one pair of shoes.”
Her parents loved Jewish music, which heavily influenced her and her sister, Dolores. “My parents’ common love was music, especially Jewish music,” she says. “Neither one of my parents were educated in music but they were great singers. I loved what my mother and father loved.”
As a young child, she sang on the “Jewish Children’s Hour.” “At 5 years old, I was singing on the radio. It was exciting. That was very formative.”
And then at age 9, her family moved from Brooklyn to the Washington, D.C., area. “We were the singing family in Washington, and Washington had a limited amount of Jewish life. People knew us because my sister and I were singing [and performing] all the time.”
Even before she went to college, she was teaching music. And so teaching was a natural profession for her. “I guess I was born a teacher,” she says.
She went on to become the first music teacher and physical education teacher at Solomon Schechter School (now Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School) and taught at various institutions in the area through her decades-long career.
In the 1960s, she and her family spent nine weeks in Israel when her husband, David, worked at the Weizmann Institute. She considers herself a Labor Zionist, and feels pride in Israel. “Israel is my homeland, I feel that way about it.”
But it was her radio show that was truly her calling. Her hope for her podcast listeners? “I want people to learn, to enjoy the music and to feel about being Jewish the way I do.” ■
Anna Lippe is a freelance writer.
See also: Queen Bee of Jewish Music