Lawrence, Kan. – David Greenbaum likes to start his week off with what he calls “a chai note” by tuning in to The Schmooze, the newest addition to the Sunday morning line-up on KLWN, the popular local news talk radio station.

Co-hosted by Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel, director of Chabad-Lubavitch serving the University of Kansas in Lawrence, and student Michael Lebovitz, The Schmooze is the area’s only locally produced Jewish radio show, and gives Greenbaum and others in the small northeast Kansas Jewish community a sense of pride in their Judaism.

“Some people in a community where you're a minority don't always feel comfortable expressing their Jewishness," said Greenbaum, "but the rabbi is very upfront about it. This show gives people a venue for learning about Judaism, and gives us a lot of community pride.” Tiechtel started hosting the weekly half-hour radio show in August on KLWN News Talk 1320 AM.

Lebovitz, a junior, has been involved with Chabad since he arrived on campus three years ago, and grabbed the opportunity when the rabbi asked him to join the show.

The show has had a widespread, positive impact, said Lebovitz. “We're reaching a lot of people and showing them that we're just out there trying to follow Torah and do good deeds. The radio is a great way to express that.”

That attitude is exactly what Tiechtel was looking for when he chose the linguistics major as his co-host. “It’s great to have a youthful co-host, somebody who represents the future,” the rabbi said. “Having a youthful voice can only inspire listeners, and show them that Judaism is vibrant and alive.”

Tiechtel has been a frequent guest on the station’s other shows, and is a “fabulous resource” for explaining Jewish traditions and holidays, said KLWN general manager Jay Wachs. The rabbi’s addition into the Sunday morning line-up now means that more religions are represented during what Wachs called the station’s ‘ecumenical’ time slot. The show has received a warm response, he added. “The rabbi's got students and members of the community involved, and he put out a nice Jewish calendar to go with the program,” said Wachs. “He’s taken a very proactive stance in the community.”

The rabbi first met Wachs when he welcomed him town as station manager for Great Plains Media, KLWN’s parent company. After learning that Wachs was Jewish, they developed a relationship that has grown not only professionally, but personally.

Wachs said Tiechtel was there to help him say the traditional mourner’s prayer known as kaddish when his father died earlier this year. “Chabad has been a nice place to have in town because we don’t have a formal temple,” said Wachs. “We have a Jewish community center here, which sort of serves as a temple, and we have Chabad. It’s nice to have a choice.”

Michael Lebovitz, a junior at the University of Kansas, co-hosting The Schmooze.
Michael Lebovitz, a junior at the University of Kansas, co-hosting The Schmooze.

Guests on the show have included a man who has been baking challah for 35 years, talking about different techniques and how he perfected his recipe, and a Holocaust survivor talking about what it means to be a Jew today. Tiechtel also incorporates lessons about upcoming holidays, the weekly Torah reading and a joke of the week.

Being in a small town in the Midwest where the majority of the Jewish community is unaffiliated, the rabbi was looking for a way to reach wider audience. “The radio is a useful tool to impact people's lives and share with them the joys of Judaism,” he said. “Considering the fact that it's a small Jewish community and so many are unaffiliated, we thought it would be a great medium to reach out to every single Jew in the region.”

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, in addition to the expected KU students and community members attending services, the rabbi was pleased to see some new faces who had never been to Chabad before. They had heard about the Rosh Hashanah services on The Schmooze.

“We’ve learned something remarkable,” Tiechtel said. “Once we started this radio show we were able to reach the living rooms of so many homes. People who had never been contact with Chabad, once they heard the show, it lit the candle.”

Tiechtel and his wife Nechama moved to Lawrence in 2006 and have served as co-directors of Chabad-Lubavitch not only for Jewish students and faculty at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, but for the broader Jewish community as well, hosting Friday night Shabbat dinners, teaching weekly classes, and offering many other programs for the whole community.

“I'm excited about the way the rabbi is constantly thinking of ways to reach out to the community,” Greenbaum said. “The radio show is just an extension of that. When new technology comes out he's going to take advantage of it.”

Tiechtel has made a one-year commitment to the show, according to the station manager, who is hopeful that the rabbi will continue beyond that and that the show can expand to a full hour. Wachs would also like to add a Jewish music component to the program.

“It's a very, very powerful tool,” said Tiechtel. “The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, spoke about utilizing technology for holiness. It was all created to make the world a better place.”

“Words carry a lot of meaning,” Lebovitz added, noting that the first Torah portion in Genesis tells of how G‑d created the world with ten utterances. “That's what radio is – a lot of meaning and power.”