Aaron: What brought you to DC?
Rachel: I am from Baltimore and went to college at University of Maryland. During my stint at UMD, I was a student teacher in Montgomery County Public Schools and I decided I wanted to work there. For my first year of teaching, I lived in downtown Silver Spring, but that was not the right community for me. DC has a huge community with so many Jewish young professionals and options for social outlets. Even though it is a longer commute, I love living nearby all of my friends and knowing that I really have a family here in DC.
Aaron: You are a teacher, do you have a favorite student?
Rachel: Everyone knows we don’t play favorites! But yes, I do have a favorite student. I have been teaching for five years now, and my second class was a particularly challenging group. There was one boy in that class who made me want to go to work every day. He arrived from El Salvador only months before kindergarten began. In the beginning, all he wanted to do was hold my hand, but as the year went on, school became increasingly more difficult for him as he did not speak any English. His family had next to no money and he had never even been to a dentist. After the first two weeks of school he stopped responding and would just cry. Once we found someone who could speak to him in Spanish, we found out that he thought we did not know his name! We had been calling him by his first name, but he had always gone by his middle name! After this little issue was fixed, he began to thrive. English came quickly and he began to understand the academics. By the end of kindergarten, he was speaking English and even reading. As he went through first and second grade, he would come back to visit me every day and tell me about his day and what book he was currently reading. At the end of second grade, he was chosen out of the entire school to win an academic achievement award! Now, he is about to start fourth grade. I can’t to see what he does in the future. He is going to go so far!
Aaron: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Rachel: I have always loved to read and as a child I always wanted to be a writer. However, I never really did much to pursue this. Even though I thought I wanted to be a writer, I had always worked with kids, beginning with my Bat Mitzvah project of volunteering in a preschool. I was a camp counselor, I did a lot of babysitting and ran Shabbat groups at my shul in Baltimore. In my junior year of high school, during the college application process, a friend said, “You’ve always loved working with kids, why don’t you be a teacher?” And from then on, my mind was made up, and the rest is history!
Aaron: What is the coolest thing one of your students wants to be when he/she grows up?
Rachel: I did have a student once who told me that when she grew up, she wanted to be a “teacher-ballerina-skater.”.
Aaron: Where can we find you on a Friday night?
Rachel: Whether or not I actually make it to Kesher, I am always cooking for or attending a Shabbat Dinner with my friends! I look forward to Shabbat all week, because it really is a great time to rest from the week, but most of all to see my friends! Teaching makes for a really busy week, but on Friday nights, being able to relax with my Statehouse family is the best! I also love to cook and bake, (I make the best pie around!) so Friday night is a great excuse to show off my skills!
Aaron: Tell us about Jewish Summer Camp?
Rachel: My Jewish Summer Camp experience is a bit different from most other people. I find that when my contemporaries talk about their summer camp, they mean sleepaway camp. Regrettably, I never attended a residential camp, but I did spend every summer from the time I was four until last summer (that’s twenty-two years, minus two random summers in between) at a Jewish day camp in Baltimore. I made so many lifelong friends there and learned so many things. As a camper, I learned to canoe, build fires, swim, shoot arrows and make all sorts of jewelry. Camp is where I learned to play soccer, and ended up playing in high school. We got into all sorts of antics that even included running giant underwear up the flagpole! Over time, when various friends made decisions to differ their summer activities, I stayed. I went through the leadership program and became a junior counselor, head counselor and then unit head. I also served as Programming Director and the past two summers I piloted a Travel Camp program for middle school students. In total, I spent about ten years as a counselor of some sort. My first campers are now turning 21! I still keep in touch with many of them and they have turned out to be such cool people!
What’s amazing to me is how people from all different backgrounds and life experiences, with the only common factor being some sort of connection to Judaism can have a place like this to come together to learn, experience and enjoy. My friends were from day school, public school, or out of state. Both parents might be Jewish, or just one. For some kids, this was just in addition to the lessons in Judaism they received at school or synagogue, but for others this was their only Jewish experience of the year. Yet, it was as if all of those factors disappeared and we were all together regardless. Come to think of it, sounds familiar. In shorter spurts, but GTJ = Young Professional Jewish Summer Camp?