Of all the places in the world to have a discussion about religion, a small radio station in Takoma Park wouldn’t be anyone’s first guess. But that’s where Jack Gordon leads his guests in “bold conversations about what we believe, why we believe and how we navigate the common ground and differences between our traditions.”
Gordon, 36, uses his biweekly show, “Interfaith-ish,” to explore the different and unifying themes of world religions. In each hour-long show, broadcast on WOWD-FM 94.3, Gordon interviews a pair of religious experts about a topic or idea, and then allows them to interview each other. Past episodes are available as a podcast.
No matter what the subject is, Gordon introduces it as if the listener is unfamiliar, explaining that Christians celebrate Easter, and Jews celebrate Passover. He also always begins by giving the listeners an idea of that episode’s focus, like explaining how his family celebrates holidays.
A cheery host, he’ll always introduce the guests like they’re his old friends, even if he hasn’t known them very long.
On Dec. 26, he hosted Toussaint Tingling-Clemmons, who celebrates the African-American cultural holiday Kwanzaa, and Alex Zach, who leads the pagan group Turning Circle. He had them each explain a little bit about their traditions before turning to questions about what it’s like for them to celebrate holidays many people might not be familiar with.
“Kwanzaa — the last night is about faith, so depending on your religion, faith, spirituality, I’ve seen people [celebrate] it differently,” Tingling-Clemmons said about the holiday, where each night focuses on a different principle.
“My family, we celebrated Kwanzaa as a larger collective over the past 20 years and we’ve handled faith differently in the way our family has grown. We make sure we celebrate the ancestors,” he said.
Since the show’s premiere last March, Gordon has paired Methodists and Buddhists, Sikhs and Baha’is, and
Muslims and Catholics.
Holidays are an easy way to bring new ideas to the show.
“Frankly, there’s a lot we do when thinking about the calendar, since [holidays] are times when people are interested in learning about the subject,” he said. One of the first topics was what it was like growing up in a family that celebrated Easter
Gordon strives for balance. He doesn’t want to cover some religions at the expense of others.
In 2018, he did several episodes about Judaism, so he’ll wait until later in 2019 before returning to the religion of a part of his family.
“We try to bring in as much diversity as possible and have it really feel in every episode that you’ve learned something,” said Gordon, who said he’s culturally Jewish and religiously Baha’i.
“Usually, [the show] has to do with people from different faith traditions that may be on the same path. They talk about the ways they’ve engaged in interfaith work,” Gordon said. “It’s an opportunity to take two people you might not think of as being in the same space and learn a bit about who they are.”
He met many of his guests through his own work in the interfaith community. After college, he began to make friends with people of different religious backgrounds, some of whom were raised in one religion-households and others who, like Gordon, grew up with multiple religious traditions
Gordon grew up in New Jersey with a non-practicing Christian mother and a strong Jewish upbringing on his father’s side; his father’s side runs the gamut from yeshivah students to pig farmers. Then there’s his maternal grandmother; she converted to Baha’i in the 1960’s. Gordon followed suite and became involved in the religion when he was 20.
After college he relocated to Washington, where he was a board member of the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington for seven years and helped to spearhead the annual DC Interfaith Leadership Summit.
“Interfaith-ish” is a sideline for Gordon, whose main gig is as a documentary filmmaker. He came up with the idea for “Interfaith-ish” during the divisive 2016 presidential campaign. “It is good to be able to model constructive dialogue,”
So when he heard that a time slot had opened on WOWD, he jumped at the opportunity to broadcast from the small, noncommercial station that focuses on topics not usually
covered by the mainstream media.
“Everything just kind of lined up perfectly to have this show,” he said.
Eventually, he would also like to explore how world religions are represented in comics. A fan of comics, he said he can envision doing a podcast series on them.
For now, he simply enjoys hosting “Interfaith-ish,” learning about other people’s religion and sharing that knowledge.