Thanks in Advance

Episode 158: Iranian political refugee Shay Khatiri on raising $1.2 million for Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, and A.J. Jacobs on his new book about gratitude

November 15, 2018

This week on Unorthodox, boy are we grateful.

We’re grateful for our gentile of the week, Shay Khatiri, the Iranian-born political refugee who raised more than $1 million for the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh following the Oct. 27 massacre. The Johns Hopkins graduate student describes waking up (hungover) in Washington, D.C., and learning about the attack, and thinking that he might be able to donate a little money to help the congregation. He set up a GoFundMe page, which quickly went viral, and the campaign has so far raised $1.2 million, which will go directly into the synagogue’s bank account. He also tells us about being blacklisted by the Iranian government after signing a 2016 letter urging President Trump to impose sanctions on the country, disappointing his mother by not becoming a doctor, and the asylum trial that awaits him in order for him to stay in the U.S.

And we are triply grateful for our Jewish guest, bestselling author A.J. Jacobs, who returns to the show for the third time! (Don’t miss his first and second visits.) He tells us about his new book, Thanks a Thousand: a Gratitude Journey, in which he finds and thanks every single person responsible for his morning cup of coffee—from the barista at his local coffee shop to the to-go cup lidmakers to the pest control company that services the warehouse where the coffee beans are stored and the coffee farmers in South America. He tells us why gratitude is a deeply Jewish value, and offers some advice on how we can all embrace our Mr. Rogers side instead of our Larry David side.

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This episode is sponsored by:

Little Passports, the perfect holiday gift for the curious kid in your life. Each month they’ll get a fun-filled package with hands-on activities and interactive projects designed to spark their curiosity about geography, world cultures or science. Order today at

Belvedere Vodka, certified kosher by the Orthodox Union and produced in accordance with the legal requirements of Polish Vodka. Learn more here.

Jewish National Fund, making an impact on Israel with a vision that encompasses planting trees, building water reservoirs, helping those with special needs, preserving heritage sites, and transforming the North and South with new housing, job creation, and infrastructure development. As you plan your year-end giving, go to to take part in fulfilling that vision.

Rabbi Eitan Tours, a unique way to experience Israel. Go to for a free consultation and itinerary planning. Unorthodox listeners also get $50 off a tour of at least one day with Rabbi Eitan.

Unorthodox is a smart, fresh, fun weekly take on Jewish news and culture hosted by Mark Oppenheimer, Stephanie Butnick, and Liel Leibovitz. You can listen to individual episodes here or subscribe on iTunes.

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