Meet Leah: Jewish NPR Podcaster of the Week

by Rachel Kriegsman / September 15, 2020

Leah Donnella has a passion for writing and storytelling. It’s what brought her to DC for an internship-turned-job with NPR’s Code Switch. When she’s not working on the well-known podcast, she loves exploring the farmers’ market and daydreaming about hot air balloon rides. Read on to find out Leah’s Jewish role model and how she’s prepping for the High Holidays.

Rachel: What brought you to the DC-area and what made you stay?

Leah: I moved to DC from Philadelphia in 2015 for an internship. That internship turned into a temp job, which turned into a permanent job. The next thing I knew, it had been 5 years.

Rachel: Tell us more about that internship-turned-job!

Leah: I’m an editor at NPR. Specifically, I work on NPR’s Code Switch team, which tells stories (in podcast and digital form) about race and identity. It’s a dream job for me, because I’m fascinated with how race informs all of our lives. I also love writing and storytelling and research, and I get to do all those things on a daily basis. 

Rachel: Amazing! What are some of the things you’re working on that you’re most excited about?

Leah: This summer has been a busy time for Code Switch, to say the least. With everything that’s going on in the world – protests against police brutality, the disparate effects of COVID, the election – it seems like people are hungrier than ever for some context about what role race plays. What’s exciting for me is using that curiosity and openness to have conversations that go beyond the immediate moment. To understand what might happen with the election, for example, you have to understand things like gerrymandering. And to understand gerrymandering, you have to understand redlining and housing segregation. And to understand that, you can get even deeper into property rights and capital, and settler colonialism, and all sorts of stuff. So, I’m excited about telling stories about those things in a way that still feels really present and immediate for people who might not otherwise see certain connections.

Rachel: Describe your dream DC day from start to finish. 

Leah: I’m both a loner and kind of a nature-girl, so my ideal day works pretty well both pre- and mid-pandemic. On Saturdays, I like to wake up early, make a cup of tea, and read for a little while. Then I usually head to the farmers’ market with my roommate – we buy some focaccia and pickles (shout out to Rustiq Bakery and No. 1 Sons!) Afterwards I try to cook or bake something. Lately I’ve been making a lot of tortilla espanola and stews and cakes and infused oils, like a confused friendly witch. Then I like to do something outdoors: a long walk or hike. At night, I sit on my stoop and drink a glass of wine and have an existential crisis. Early to bed.

Rachel: The High Holidays are just around the corner. I’m curious what this season of reflection means to you?

Leah: My two main hobbies are starting over and feeling guilty about things, so the High Holidays are really my time to shine. Honestly, I do love this time of year. I love thinking about what really matters to me in life, and what it would take to actually work towards those things. I love the reminder that we are all in community, and that we are all responsible for one another. And I love reflecting on what it means to be open about the ways we have failed to live up to our expectations, and to try to do better. 

Rachel: Do you have a Jewish role model who inspires you?

Leah: Nadine Gordimer. She was a South African atheist Jewish writer who won the Nobel prize in literature and was active in the anti-apartheid movement. She also pushed for recognition of HIV/AIDS as a crisis. She’s famous for saying, “A truly living human being cannot remain neutral.”

Rachel: What’s at the top of your life bucket list or where are places you’d love to travel? Why?

Leah: I’m obsessed with hot air balloons. I’ve never been on one, but I will do it someday by hook or by crook. The absolute coolest thing, I think, would be going to Cappadocia to do it there. But there are some places near DC that would probably be just as beautiful and mesmerizing.

Rachel: Complete this sentence – “When Jews of DC Gather…

Leah: …anything can happen.


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