Malka Phillips has been the Young Professional Coordinator at The Shul (Chabad) for the last two years.
Join Malka at TheSHUL’s Young Professional dinner for her last Shabbat in DC http://www.afldc.org/shabbaton/
Aaron: What brought you to DC?
Malka: Actually, it was the M Street bridge over Rock Creek Park. When I was teaching in Austin in 2009, I received an award from the Grinspoon-Steinhardt foundation, and as a result I was invited to participate in that year’s GA… which happened to be in DC. At the time I was looking to move further east to be closer to my family, and during the taxi ride from the airport to my hotel, I became completely enamored with the fall colors and beautiful stone bridges in Rock Creek Park. So I decided to move to DC. True story.
Aaron: What is your favorite thing to do in DC?
Malka: That’s actually a hard question to answer, because I’m forever stumbling across cool things and saying to myself/friends/random passers-by, “This is awesome/gorgeous/fascinating! I’m totally going to come back here a dozen/hundred/thousand times and spend hours/days/the rest of my life exploring/sitting/doing tai chi here!” And then I never go back. Oops.
But my favorite place in DC is the World War II memorial at night. Absolutely mesmerizing.
Seriously speaking, though, when people ask me if I was raised religious or chose to be religious, I always answer, “both”. My upbringing and therefore de facto lifestyle was Chabad, but when I was nineteen I sat down and very seriously thought about what type of life I wanted to lead, and how much, if any, religious observance it would include. Have you ever seen those toy balls that have a string attached to a wrist band? You throw them as far as you can, and they always bounce right back to you. Well, I envisioned dozens of different paths that my life could take, but every single one eventually led back to a Torah lifestyle. I realized then that my Judaism is the most integral and precious part of my life, and moving away from it would be trying to run from myself. I also realized then that Judaism and my relationship with G-d imbues my life with an irreplaceable purpose and meaning that I’d be a fool to throw away. So yes, I’ve always been religious – but I also chose to be so.
Aaron: What is the best part about being Jewish?
Malka: Everything has meaning. Judaism teaches that nothing is random, nothing “just is”. If the world came to be through a bang, then maybe it’s all one cosmic accident. But if G-d created the world, there’s a significance to every leaf on the tree and a purpose for every ant on the sidewalk. And then there’s our part in it – the words we choose to say, the food we choose to eat, the places we choose to go, the lives we choose to live – we’re given the ability to literally change the world by imbuing it with goodness and holiness.
Aaron: What was your favorite DC Shabbat?
Malka: Sophie’s Choice?!
Aaron: What is your favorite quote?
Malka: “I don’t say we all ought to misbehave. But we ought to look as if we could.” – Oscar Wilde
I get a kick out of shattering people’s preconceptions of what my Chassidic life is like – the inevitable “Wait, you do that?!” moment when I mention NHL games, the firing range, or backpacking Ireland. Yes, it’s possible to live a fun and adventurous life while following all the rules! And no, we don’t have arranged marriages.
Aaron: If you could spend the day anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Malka: I’ve always wanted to visit the northernmost edge of Scotland. It must be stunning up there, all rugged natural formations, desolate hamlets, and blustery wind… and according to the O2 map, excellent cell phone service.
Aaron: Where can we find you on a Friday night?
Malka: I’ve actually only got one more Friday night left in DC… but it’s going to be an amazing one! Chabad is having a Young Professional Shabbat Dinner on August 3rd – whether you’re a regular or if you’ve never been, it’s a great week to go! Think four courses of delicious home-cooked food, dozens of fascinating young Jews (like yourself!), a warm and inviting environment, inspiring words by Rabbi Shemtov… you definitely want to be there. Seriously, go sign up now. www.afldc.org/shabbaton/
Aaron: Where are you headed to now?
Malka: Well, I spun a globe, and it landed on London! I’m going to spend a few months there drinking tea, minding the gap, and starting queues in random places. If I have any time left over, I may also visit the various Chabad institutions and Jewish communities and decide whether I’d like to settle there.
Aaron: Finish this sentence. The Jews of DC…
Malka: …are awesome. It was amazing to be a part of such a warm, welcoming, and involved community of young Jews. Stay wonderful, and remember – there’s a full Kiddush lunch at Chabad every Shabbos after davening! You know you want to be there!