Care and kavanah
By Deb Silverthorn
Intention is everything for Nisa Harris, voice of Shomeah v’Oneh, an online podcast. In 153 episodes so far, she reads Tehillim (Psalms) and other Hebrew texts, followed by lessons and insight.
While Harris previously appreciated Tehillim as a text of important prayer, it wasn’t until her father was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2019 that the kavanah, her intention, kicked into overdrive. Every word started to matter, every syllable. She recognized, with the desire to recite more often, that she needed a better avenue to recite on the go.
“Our family split up the Tehillim chapters. While all I wanted was for my father to recover, in times of haste I worried that the YouTube recording I followed was too fast and my words not effective enough. I wanted to help others hear it and recite it, shomeah v’oneh,” said Harris, a graduate of The Frisch School, Midreshet Moriah Seminary, Stern College and Rutgers School of Nursing. In that way, she reasoned, it would provide more connection and meaning.
“It helps in life to realize we’re not alone, that G-d is there and that there are many aspects of our lives in which to plug the lessons and words of Tehillim,” said Harris. She had never listened to a podcast but felt she needed to create one for herself and others. She used the Anchor app to do so.
With the more intensive study, Harris has connected on a new level with her husband, Rabbi Mordechai Harris, having long respected his skills as a rabbi, speaker and teacher. Rabbi Harris is the interim chief operations officer and rabbi in residence of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas. He sings his wife’s praises, saying:
“Nisa is our family’s bedrock, the foundation. She’s found a way to be an amazing wife and mother, hostess, meaningful professional and now, as a teacher through her podcast. She balances it all and it’s wonderful to watch her commitment to this project, to see her growth and the example of how important learning is for our daughters, myself and everyone she touches. The output of depth, meaning and care is consistent without fail. I couldn’t do my job without her support and it’s an honor to support what she does as well.”
Following the lead of her grandmother, who was a nurse, Harris also wanted a career that could help her care for her family and enable her to comfort others. She works at the Fort Worth VA Clinic and has always loved how science helps her see the hand of Hashem in everything.
“When everything goes right, it’s a miracle,” she said. “That is an overwhelming theme I have gleaned through this process. I’ve also learned that when we learn Tehillim intellectually, we can begin to understand how to relate to and perceive G-d. When we learn Tehillim emotionally, we begin to understand how to connect with ourselves — which is critical, but not taught enough.”
The only daughter of Judy and Rabbi Dr. Shmuel Davidovics, Harris has five brothers — four of whom, like her parents, have made aliyah.
“Nisa has always had a sense of purpose. I’m inspired and in awe of how she finds the drive and determination. It’s very hard living on the other side of the ocean but when I listen to her, we’re together,” said her mother. Judy taught Israeli dancing at camps and Pesach programs, which allowed her family to share in the experiences.
The Harrises and their daughters Pliyah Tanya, Aura Hodaya and Emunah Penimah live in Plano and are part of the community of DATA of Plano, where Rabbi Nesanya Zakon is the director.
“The Harrises are great people — thoughtful and spiritual — and Nisa brings that to her podcast. Listeners hear and feel the text. She is passionate about Torah study and growth for herself and her community,” said Rabbi Zakon.
Ilana Panush has found inner peace through the podcast. “She speaks calmly and slowly, and it’s easy to follow and to have it be meaningful. I find myself turning it on if I’m having ‘a moment’ and it is very soothing,” she said.
For Ruven McKenna, the Shomeah v’Oneh podcast is a peaceful end-of-day routine. As his sons Heshel Yitchok and Yaakov Binyomin lie in bed at night, the trio listen together.
“During the pandemic especially, saying Tehillim became an integral part of our routine. There was someone in our community who was deathly ill, and we’d gather or say it ourselves. Baruch Hashem, he survived, and the practice continues.
“It’s amazing and we each take away so much,” said McKenna. “The first parts provide Tehillim, and my boys now recite along with Nisa. The second part — by which they’ve often fallen asleep thanks to her calm tone — gives me insights into the mizmor, the psalm, I might never have considered.”
Harris closes each episode with a blessing and a dedication directed back to the subject.
“Tehillim was meant to be sung, hence the tunes I added to the background,” she says. “My intention is to help others understand, feel and connect.”
Find Shomeah V’Oneh at
tinyurl.com/Nisa-Harris-Shomeah-VOneh or on Facebook at “Shomeah V’Oneh: Tehillim and Other Hebrew Texts Podcast.”