SEPTEMBER 7, 2017 – On a recent Sunday morning, the sun splashed through the WERS studio window across from the Boston Common and reached Hal Slifer, who stood inches from his microphone and chatted with a caller on “Chagigah.”
Chagigah, which means party or celebration in Hebrew, is the longest-running Jewish-themed radio show in Boston. It began 37 years ago when Jewish students at Emerson College asked for a radio slot. They were given Sunday mornings, from 8 to 11, and since then the show has been a staple for thousands of Jews who like Klezmer and Israeli music.
Earlier this summer, WERS decided to widen the format to include more segments that would reach a more diverse audience. The station tapped Slifer to restructure and host the show.
Slifer, a Newton video producer, grew up in Union, N.J. He went to Curry College and Boston University, and got hooked on radio, spinning records as a disc jockey. After college, Slifer worked as a DJ for several years in New Hampshire and Vermont, before shifting over to producing videos.
“It’s more personality, it’s more talking, it’s more of getting a pulse on the Jewish community,” said Slifer, describing the revamped show.
These days, the phone rings often during “Chagigah,” and he now plays mostly requests from listeners. “The demographics were a much older and religious audience and it wasn’t really reaching the whole Jewish population of interfaith families and young contemporary families,” he said. “What we’re going for now is the mom and dad who drive their kids to Hebrew school.”
According to WERS, “Chagigah” reaches its peak audience between 10 and 11 a.m., with as many as 10,000 listeners tuning in. Under the new format, Slifer introduces a stream of different guests each week who talk about almost all things Jewish, save for politics and religion. At 8:30, he does a “Jewish Memories” segment where people call up and discuss their “Jewish Journey.” Recent guests have included Brookline Rabbi Moshe Waldoks, Jim Guttmann of the Klezmer Conservatory Band, and Rabbi Darby Leigh, who is deaf, and leads Concord’s Congregation Kerem Shalom.
At 9:30, there’s more talk with locals during the “Jewish Schmooze.” Other segments are personality-driven, like “The Kvetcher” – an unnamed local Jewish comedian who calls in to discuss his complaints of the week. At 10:30, Slifer hosts Dr. Alan Kaplan, a Brookline psychologist who answers Jewish lifestyle issues such as intermarriage, or if people are worried that Hebrew School interferes with public school activities.
He’s also adding a “Temple Celebrations” segment, where he plans to speak with rabbis and congregants who will discuss the latest events at their synagogues.
While the show still features mostly Klezmer and Israeli music – such as the late Arik Einstein – Slifer has started to play a few songs each Sunday by Jewish American artists such as Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, and Simon and Garfunkel.
Over the summer, there was some pushback from longtime listeners over the format change, but Slifer now believes people like what they’re hearing.
“At first it was a shock to some people but now that’s kind of dissipated. We have emails coming in saying they love the new format.”