Allie: What brought you to DC?
Ben: I grew up in a Suburb of Philly called Moorestown and lived there pretty much my whole life. I moved away to LA for college, and after graduating, lived overseas in Ukraine for a year on on a Fulbright research grant pertaining to Holocaust remembrance, Jewish heritage, and other Jewish community topics. I was fortunate enough to find a job in DC at The National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry, which does similar things to what I was doing in Ukraine. So, I moved here pretty much straight from Ukraine to start working there.
Allie: What spurred your interest in Russia and Eastern Europe?
Ben: In college I had to pick a language, so I signed up for a Russian on a whim. I loved it so much, I made it a second major. I’ve always been interested in that region because my great grandparents are from Eastern Europe, so in some small way it’s a part of who I am. I liked that I could explore that part of myself in an academic setting, and to be able to communicate with people who live there opened up this whole world to me. Also, the language is fun!
Allie: What’s your favorite way to spend your free time outside of the office?
Ben: I like cooking and entertaining for people. I’m like a reincarnated Jewish grandmother. I make a mean roast chicken, stews, soups, you name it. And I made really good hamantaschen during Purim. I’m also trying to become a runner, which I’m really enjoying.
Allie: Well, on top of your job, cooking, running, and entertaining, I also I hear you’re a part of TWO Jewish fellowships, tell me about those!
Ben: I’m in a leadership training with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called the Glass Leadership Institute. We learn about the different programs and issues that ADL works on, and go to ADL events, and volunteer with them. It’s a way to develop the next generation of leaders within ADL.
I’m also a part of GatherDC’s Open Doors Fellowship, which is a way for me to help people grow into and with the Jewish community, and a way for me to grow into a Jewish community in DC too. Before this, I didn’t really know how to meet other Jews, and have been on the search for a community that works for me. This is what I’ve been looking for! I’ve been given access to cool community spaces that I would never have known about before or approached on my own.
Allie: Wow! Where does this passion for the Jewish community come from?
Ben: I grew up with a pretty cookie cutter Jewish childhood – I went to a conservative shul, Hebrew school twice a week, celebrated all the holidays with my family. But, I hated Hebrew school, and I really drew away from Judaism throughout college.
But, when I lived in Ukraine, I started to re-engage with Judaism in a much more personal way. Being there made me realize how fortunate we are to have different Jewish community resources – to have choices. The Jewish community in Eastern Europe was almost completely wiped out by the Nazis, and then the Soviet Occupation made being a Jew a huge liability. The country is still dealing with that history, so there’s much less variety, and a struggle for resources when it comes to Jewish life. When I came back to DC, I decided to make Judaism a priority.
Allie: If you could trade places with any celeb for a day who would it be?
Ben: Jeff Goldblum. I don’t fully understand why people love him so much, but they do, and he’s Jewish so it sounds like a sweet deal to me. Sign me up.
Allie: What’s your favorite Jewish food?
Ben: Three-words. Shelsky’s of Brooklyn. They have the most amazing selection of bagels and smoked fish that I’ve ever had in my life.
Allie: What’s at the top of your travel bucket list?
Ben: Southeast Asia – Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma. I’ve never been to that part of the world before and would love to spend time there.
Allie: Any surprising facts about yourself?
Ben: I played the oboe in orchestra for almost 6 years.
Allie: Complete the sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…
Ben: You always find someone who knows someone else from another time in your life.