At 39, Hannah Gaber has already won a Pulitzer Prize for her work in journalism. Now, the District resident is entering a new frontier of reporting with her upcoming Jewish-focused podcast, “Jew-Ish.”
Gaber grew up with a love of history and culture, thanks to her mother’s work as an archaeologist in Cyprus. Now, she’s focusing more on her local community, and “Jew-ish” will include interviews with members of Washington’s Jewish community, including from Washington Hebrew Congregation, where she affiliates.
How did you win a Pulitzer Prize?
When I was just out of grad school, I was working in Phoenix at the Arizona Republic, and my wonderful, crazy then-executive editor, who is now the editor-in-chief of USA Today, had this idea. That we should, since we were there, near the actual border — we should ask the basic questions of, what would happen if Donald Trump, who was then running for president, was actually able to build his wall? Who would that affect, what would that look like?
So I got into a car with a bilingual reporter. And we drove to the border while a helicopter flew above us. We interviewed people, and I took photographs, video and recorded audio. When we got back, I contributed to editing some of the mini-documentaries filmed at various points along the border, as well as primarily creating, recording and editing the podcast that we made as a limited series to go along with that multimedia piece. So I was primarily responsible for the podcast as well as locating a ton of assets, helping with editing for both the feature piece and the mini-documentaries. And then that project overall won the Pulitzer for explanatory reporting for 2018.
How did you get the idea for “Jew-ish”?
This idea had been popping into my head for like a long time. And I just really had this feeling like, I think it’s really strange that in this day and age where everything is so available to people, to know that there’s still this weird sense of mystery and these misconceptions around Jewish people.
And I think it’s also really interesting that people are like, “Oh, you’re Jewish. I’ve never met a Jewish person.” And I’m like, “You probably have, you just couldn’t tell.” Because on the outside, we present and live very much like anyone else in the United States.
But looking at the world through a Jewish lens is very, very different. And it changes everything from your relationship to sex to how you raise your kids to the way you talk to people. And I just thought it would be doing a service both to those who don’t know us and to us to explore that Jewish life, that worldview, and just sort of share it in all of its subtleties and complexities.
What kinds of people have you interviewed in your podcast?
I’ve recorded quite a few episodes. I haven’t published any yet. So they’re all still in the editing phase. But I have spoken to quite a few people who are converts, including a really good friend of mine from Savannah, who is one of the inspirations for the show. And who told me that like I was among — not the, but among — the reasons that she really got curious about Judaism and ended up converting, which she did through Washington Hebrew Congregation during the pandemic.
And it just made me really curious. I spoke to Rabbi Eliana Fischel at Washington Hebrew and she put me in touch with quite a few people who had taken confirmation classes with her, and in particular are very active in the LGBTQ and BIPOC Jewish communities. And I was like, “See, now I’m learning things about my community, too,” which is the point of this.
I have a conversation coming up with Rabbi [Susan] Shankman [of Washington Hebrew Congregation]. And I’ve also spoken with my mother, a Jewish educator, and my little brother, who writes and implements curriculums for gap year programs in Israel.
Where can people find “Jew-ish” once it premieres?
I would like to start releasing episodes by the spring. People will be able to subscribe on Apple podcasts and Spotify and wherever they get their podcasts.
What are your favorite podcasts?
I’m a big fan of the “Deep Dive” podcast, and I have devoured “You’re Wrong About.” Highly recommend that one. And “Revisionist History,” the first seasons were fantastic. If you’re a history nerd like me, “Throughline” is amazing and “Rough Transition” is incredible. If you really love narrative, audio documentary-style podcasts, you can’t go wrong with “Radiolab” or “This American Life.” And if you like true crime, like a lot of people do, I’m a big fan of “Crimes of the Centuries.” ■