Jewish Person of the Week: GatherDC’s Newest Team Member Rachel!

BIG NEWS GATHER-ERS: Boston native Rachel Nieves has just joined the GatherDC team as our Community Coordinator! This Bostonian turned University of Maryland Terrapin turned DC-ite, is eager to meet each and every one of you! Rachel’s contagious smile, friendly demeanor, zest for life, and self-proclaimed flailing skills on the dance floor — has us more excited than ever for the year ahead.

After you read this exclusive 1:1 interview, send her an email at racheln@gatherdc.org to say hi, welcome her to the team, or arrange a coffee date!

Allie: How did you wind up living in DC?

Rachel: I went to University of Maryland, so I’ve been in the area for a while. A lot of my friends moved to DC after we graduated, and I’ve always loved this city, so I figured it would be a great move for me!

Allie: So, what are you most excited about in your new role as GatherDC’s Community Coordinator?

Rachel: A big part of my job will be meeting people who are new – or new(ish) to DC, and helping them navigate the city, and then hopefully find their people, their place, or their path in Jewish DC. I’m excited about all of it! I really love people. I genuinely love talking to people and learning about their lives, what they like, who they are, their personal story. Everyone has something to say and a story to tell, and I’m so excited to get to know all the wonderful people already in the GatherDC community, and those new to DC. I know how intimidating it can be to be in a new, unfamiliar space so I’m really looking forward to being a resource for anyone who wants it.

Allie: What would be your dream Sunday in DC – if money and logistics were no object?

Rachel: First I would wake up at my leisure, then get ready for brunch at 801 in Shaw (my new favorite bottomless brunch place). The waiter/waitress would really like my friends and I, and would waive the 2-hour limit so we could stay there all day. It would be a really sunny and warm day, so we’d be on the rooftop. After brunch, my friends and I would go bar-hopping along U St/Shaw, and we’d have a ball. It would be pretty late by then, so I’d treat myself to McDonalds for dinner (it is Sunday and I deserve it, after all). I’d go home with my McDonalds, hang out with my roommate/best friend and watch some amazing Bravo TV.

Allie: What’s your favorite Jewish holiday, and how do you like to celebrate it?

Rachel: Call me crazy, but I LOVE Yom Kippur. Every year I legitimately look forward to my fast, because I don’t dread it, but really revel in its meaning. Regardless of fasting, I think the holiday is extraordinary in that it sets aside an entire day to challenge you to think about the past year and how you feel about it – and how it made you feel about yourself. I don’t typically really spend time reflecting like that, and I think however that reflection and atonement manifests itself can be really powerful. Also, Break Fast, obviously.

Allie: Favorite show to binge watch right now?

Rachel: “Game of Thrones” – I know I’m so late on this but WOW. The other night I had a dream I was Khaleesi and it was the best night sleep I’ve gotten in a while.

Allie: What’s your best piece of life advice?

Rachel: Life goes by fast. Enjoy it, calm down, it’s all funny.

Allie: Complete the sentence – When Jews of DC Gather…

Rachel: it’s party time!!!

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Meet Alex: Jewish Comedian of the Week!

Warning: Florida native Alex Barbag is one of the most hilarious humans in the DC stand-up comedy scene, so be prepared to laugh out loud while reading this interview (perhaps head to a non-open office space). Also, this past year he started his own YouTube comedy series, which has potential for international greatness (according to myself) – so, you best get to know him before he makes it big and forgets the little people.

 

Allie: How did you wind up living in DC?

Alex: I graduated from college at the height of the recession, which was the best time to graduate if you have rich parents that you want to abuse by living with them while unemployed. After a while, I decided I needed a job. I graduated with a degree in microbiology from University of Florida, and Rockville is very good for biotech jobs – so I moved here for a job in genetic testing. This was pretty much a dead-end job though, because you need a higher degree to get anywhere in this field. And since I wanted to do comedy more than go get a PhD, I switched over to computer programming which is a lot more flexible.

Alex being grilled by HR in the Safe For Work series​

Allie: I hear you fulfilled every millennial’s dream and started your own YouTube series…tell me about that.

Alex: After switching over to the computer science job, I started doing stand-up comedy, which is what I’ve always wanted to do. One of my comedian friends, who I met while doing standup in the DC-area, had an office we could shoot in at night. We made a bunch of skits in it, and one of them was an office-based skit where I played this lazy character who tries to get away with nefarious workplace antics. That evolved into  the “Safe For Work” series – the best part of which is that I actually shoot it at work.

I’m also working on a new YouTube series called “Broccoli Scientists,” which is a real job where they confirm that we should indeed be eating a food we already know we should be eating.

Alex on his wedding day.

Allie: I hear you recently got married and now work with your wife on the show!

Alex: You heard correctly. I met my wife, Amanda, on JDate, which I am very embarrassed about. I like to pretend JDate is the name of a bar. Amanda is embarrassed by my embarrassment, and so she quickly tells whoever I am talking to that what I am saying is a lie. This does not make for a good comedy duo since one person is undermining the other’s bit.

On “Safe for Work,” she stars as the HR Manager who is constantly yelling at me for mischief I get into. We film those scenes in our apartment. I like working with her since she is always around. However, I do think she regrets agreeing to be in it because now she has to work with such a tyrannical director such as myself.

Allie: How – and why – did you get started in comedy?

Alex: There’s nothing that I’m passionate enough about in this world that justifies me sitting in an office from 9-5. And I’ve always thought I was funny – although many people just thought I was weird – so that led me to want to do standup. Now that I do standup regularly, I realize it’s not a great lifestyle. It’s at night, and takes a lot of travel, it’s a lot of work. Ugh, work.

Performing at the Kennedy Center in the Terrace Theater

Allie: What’s the most challenging part about working in comedy?

Alex: Confidence has been the biggest shell I’ve had to crack in my whole comedy career. It takes a lot of that to be successful. When you’re on stage, you can’t be afraid of how you’ll be viewed. Also, the people who book stand-up rooms are the ones that really need to like you, and you have to network properly with them – which I am not good at.

Allie: Who is your favorite Jewish comedian?

Alex: I’d say Larry David. I’m actually making a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” themed episode of “Safe for Work” – so stay tuned! It’s about the water fountain at work – and those people that spend way too long filling up large water bottles, while those left waiting just want a mere sip.

Allie: What’s your best piece of life advice?

Alex: I’m very relaxed and I go with the flow, and

I think more people should be a leaf trying to float along the water, instead of a leaf trying to cling to a tree. I read that in a Buddhist book recently. I read one passage, that was the passage I read.

But really, I do think going with the flow is important. There’s way too much stress in the world and we’re all going to die one day, we’re just one tiny blip in the earth.

Allie: Favorite joke you tell?

Alex: I tell a lot of stand-up jokes about my balding. Overall I’m more thankful rather than bitter that I’m balding because I get a lot more standup jokes out of it. I think if God offered me a full head of hair – I would reject it knowing that I wouldn’t have as many stand-up jokes.

Allie: Complete the sentence – When Jews of DC Gather…

Alex: They should do it in front of their laptop while watching “Safe for Work.

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Meet Ben: Jewish “Cancer-Slayer” of the Week!

Ben Rubenstein is one of the most fascinating Arlingtonians (that’s a word, right?) I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting in my time in the DMV. To elaborate on that bold statement – he’s a published memoir author, decade-long blogger, beer travelog-er, enthusiast of living life in the present moment, and tattoo aficionado. Plus, he hates hummus. Which is just super interesting in itself. Read on to get to know this really amazing human. 

9.14.17. Ben, his brother, and his sister-in-law’s dog – celebrating 16 years since finishing treatment for Ewing’s sarcoma.

Allie: So, your cancerslayer blog is incredible. How did it get started? 

Ben: In college, I got a literary agent for a book I was writing called “How I Became a Cancer-Slaying Superman Before I Turned 21.” At first, my book didn’t get picked up by publishers, so my agent suggested I start a blog to get noticed. I did, and she was right! My book actually got published in 2010. After that, I continued with the blog, because it was a great outlet for me, and I’ve been blogging for 10 ½ years now.

Allie: Wow. So, after your book got published – did any cool opportunities come your way?

Ben: Children’s National Medical Center invited me to be a part of a book signing, which was a really cool experience. One of the first times I went, I met a boy there who had the same kind of cancer I had (bone cancer). He was so appreciative of meeting me. In his room he had a superman picture he drew on his wall and it said “I am a cancer-slaying superman” that was based on his book.

7.19.17. Ring of Kerry in Ireland, visiting as a part of his MFA program at the University of Southern Maine.

Allie: How did you get into writing in the first place?

Ben: Well, between the ages of 8 and 20 I wrote one story. It was about Scottie Pippen playing basketball against an extraterrestrial. Then, at 20 I had a job at Hollywood Video and decided, out of nowhere, that I wanted to write a book. That night, I got home at 1 am, started writing, and didn’t stop. Now, I’m a writer professionally and am just about to finish a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Southern Maine. I work one-on-one with a faculty member there, and can do that from the comfort of my apartment in Arlington, VA.

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Ben: I grew up in Manassas, Virginia and then went to UVA for college. My only time living out of the state was when I received a bone marrow transplant in Minnesota, which took four months. Then I moved to Arlington, which is the first place, besides the house I grew up in, that ever really felt like a home.

Allie: Besides writing, what are your favorite ways to spend free time?

Ben: I love to rock climb. Once, while at George Washington University for a “Cancer– Slayer” book signing, I learned about a group called First Descents that offers free adventure trips for young adults impacted by cancer. I decided to go with them to Moab, Utah, and rock climbed there for the first time. Since then, I’ve been with First Descents to Colorado, Tanzania, and different places in Virginia to rock climb, hike, and explore. 

I also love movies – a hundred times more than I like to read book. And, I’m a big fan of my do-not disturb button on my phone because I like the idea of single tasking.

Allie: What’s your favorite Jewish food? 

5.21.17. Rock climbing at Seneca Rocks, West Virginia, with friends from his First Descents group.

Ben: I’m on a mega health kick. I think without realizing it, I decided to be as healthy as I possibly could so I could prevent getting cancer ever again. There’s mixed research on if diet can be a cause of cancer, but I like to believe I can do something to protect myself. I’m surprised the Jewish religion hasn’t kick my out yet because I don’t like hummus, gefilte fish, and don’t even eat bread! But, one thing I’m not willing to give up are my IPA’s.

Allie: So, you’re a pretty big beer lover, huh?

Ben: Well, when I started my health kick I was drinking solely whiskey neat because it has the least sugar and calories, but definitely missed beer. Then, my brother showed me an app called “Untappd” where you log different beers each time you drink one. Soon after discovering this app, I went to a brewery-hopping weekend in Boulder, CO and started putting it to good use. The app gave me a sense of accomplishment every time I tried a new beer. The app became a travelog, adventure-log, and beer-log all in one. So far, I’ve tried 1,280 beers.

7.15,17. The Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.

Allie: How does Judaism play a role in your life?  

Ben: Every morning and night, I say the shema, in the morning I thank God for being healthy, and I think about the gratitude of being able to stay healthy given what I’ve been through. At night, I say it again and ask God to look after my family and friends who might need some looking after.

Allie: What your best piece of life advice?

Ben: Well, I have three tattoos with different wisdom. One, is an image of my perception of my tumor when I was 16 years old before treatment, it’s just an ugly big blob. The second is a fig tree, which reminds me of health and cleanliness and that there is always another day to live a clean life. The third is a koi fish which makes me think of the National Institutes of Health, where I got treatment for my first cancer, because they had a lot of these fish in their waiting room. It reminds me of perception.

Beyond the tattoos, I think about time a lot. None of us have unlimited time. It’s up to us how we choose to spend it. We have to make sacrifices to take advantage of that time, even in how we spend our leisure time.

For example, I no longer watch TV shows with story arcs, because in 2 hours I can get a wonderful, complete story in a movie. I log all the movies I watch and books I read with apps like LetterBoxd and GoodReads, because it gives me a sense of accomplishment. I think by tracking things, I feel like the things I do matter.

Allie: Complete the sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Ben: They congregate around the hummus.

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Meet Anna: Jewish Peace-Maker of the Week!

Anna loves sandwiches, rainy Sundays, West Wing, and teaching Peace Corps volunteers how to facilitate transformative workshops worldwide. Get to know this super cool, peace-making lady and how fate and Bullfrog Bagels led her to a life-changing experience!

Allie: I hear you have a pretty cool job with Peace Corps. Tell me a little bit about that.

Anna: I am a training specialist for Peace Corps, with a focus on leadership development, diversity, and inclusion. I write and design and facilitate trainings for Peace Corps staff who then take what they learn to the volunteers.

Before starting at Peace Corps, I was a facilitator for camps and outdoor education spaces, concentrating on how we can learn outside of a traditional classroom. Then, I become a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia and fell in love with the organization. As a volunteer, I did a lot of trainings in cross-cultural communication, gender empowerment, and life skills work with local community members.

Allie: How did you wind up in DC?

Anna: I’m from Arlington, VA originally and love the area. I moved back to DC after I returned from serving as a volunteer in Ethiopia. It’s been a hard transition coming back from the Peace Corps, and I feel like I’m still getting used to the American way of life. I sometimes wish people would slow down, look at each other more, and talk to each other more – but that’s sometimes the reality of DC. But I still love it.

Allie: How did you get involved with Gather?

Anna: A friend of mine was trying to convince me to go on Gather’s Beyond the Tent retreat (EDITOR’S NOTE: Applications are currently open for the next Beyond the Tent retreat taking place February 9-11, okay I’ll stop now). I was hesitant. But one morning I was grabbing a Bullfrog Bagel at The GreenBee, and the Beyond the Tent team was there by total coincidence. They bombarded me and wound up convincing me to go.

I went into Beyond the Tent with pretty much no expectations and it really was mind blowing. It helped me connect to my Judaism more than I ever had by learning that there are no rules to what it means to be Jewish. Rabbi Aaron Potek (GatherDC’s Community Rabbi) and I are now best friends, I’ve joined a Rosh Chodesh group through people I met on that retreat, and have been much more involved Jewishly around the city because of that weekend.

Allie: What’s your favorite way to spend a free Sunday in the city?

Anna: Going to brunch where I have three different kinds of beverages: a seltzer, a coffee, and a Bloody Mary. Then, I’d have a delicious sandwich, because I just really love sandwiches. Then, there’d be a sitting in the park period to digest said brunch. Suddenly, it would start to rain, which gives me a perfect excuse to go to a movie. Then, I go grocery shopping and cook for the week. I love to cook, it fights off my “Sunday scaries.” To finish the day, I’ll go back out for Sunday evening drinks with my friend at a nice wine bar, and then go hang out at home with my roommate or girlfriend.

Allie: Best piece of life advice?

Anna: One saying from the community I lived in in Ethiopia called Shambu, is that when things go wrong, you say “The rain is raining.” Yeah, it’s raining, you can’t change it. You have to manage and accept the realities and be able to move forward.

Allie: Favorite show to binge watch right now.

Anna: I’m currently rewatching “Happy Endings,” which was cut short prematurely. But my go-to is “West Wing.”

Allie: Complete the sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Anna: We unite.

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Meet Melanie: Jewish Marathon Runner of the Week!

Allie: I hear you have a pretty cool DC job. Tell me a little bit about that.

Melanie: I’m on the digital communications team at J Street, which is the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans who are diplomacy-first US foreign policy in the Middle East, a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and policies that reflect our Jewish and democratic values.. I feel really fortunate to wake up everyday knowing that I’m working for an organization that I care about, and is fighting for important causes. It’s a nice combination of working both in the Jewish community, and in the political space.

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Melanie: I grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, and did an internship at Jewish Women International in 2011, where I learned about the RAC (Religious Action Center), and felt like it would be really amazing to work for an organization that advocates for critical issues like homelessness, hunger, minimum wage, children’s issues, and engaging the reform Jewish movement. So, in 2014, I moved down here to be Legislative Assistant at the RAC.

Allie: How did you get involved with Gather?

Melanie: I ran into Rabbi Aaron Potek as a HIAS event, and he told me about the Beyond the Tent retreat. I decided to apply, and went on it this past July. I had a fantastic experience, i met a lot of people I wouldn’t have otherwise have met, I got to think critically about what it means to have a Jewish identity, and how I connect to my Jewish identity in a meaningful, real way. If you go, you have to be able to ask big questions, challenge yourself, and be comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable.

Allie: What do you like about DC?

Melanie: I’ve been fortunate to have wonderful jobs where i get to think critically and work with smart colleagues. I also love a lot of the people I’ve met here, many of whom I’ve through a running group call The November Project – which is a free fitness group where you show up early to work out. I ran track and cross country in college, so this was a really great way for my to get integrated into the DC running community, and meet people outside of the Jewish and political worlds. There’s really nothing better than starting your day while running past the Lincoln Memorial.

Allie: Have you ever run a marathon or have any plans to?

Melanie: Oh yes! Since getting involved in The November Project, I started training for marathons. I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 2015, 2016, and 2017, and the Charles River Marathon in Boston in 2017. I actually ran fast enough in the last two marathons to qualify for The Boston Marathon, which I am planning to run in 2018 and 2019. That’s been a dream of mine forever, I grew up handing out orange slices to Boston Marathon runners during the race, and I can’t wait to be a part of it.

Allie: Who would you say is your Jewish role model who inspires you to stay so determined?

Melanie: My mom and grandma – they are both such incredible people. My parents raised all of my siblings with very strong Jewish identities in terms of striving to be better and do better, advocating for social justice, making the world a better place (tikkun olam), learning, being a part of the Jewish community, and also in terms of family. These are also the core values that I want to ensure I pass on the my kids one day.

Allie: What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?

Melanie: Passover. I love that the root of Passover is about Jews fleeing slavery, and that the core values of Passover can be relevant to so many social justice issues that we’re currently grappling with. It’s a holiday that pushes us to help others suffering from forms of slavery, and is also a holiday I can share with my non-Jewish friends who seem to really enjoy it.

Allie: Complete the sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Melanie: The world better be ready for what’s coming next.

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Meet Ike – Jewish Journalist (and Newbie) of the Week!

Ike Swetlitz is a man of many talents. A contra-dancing aficionado, world traveler, Jewish music guru, medical journalist – just to name a few. Though he is brand new to our nation’s great capital, he seems to be taking full advantage of what DC has to offer. Get to know him, and welcome him to the city!

Allie: I hear you have a pretty cool job as a journalist. Tell me a little bit about that.

Ike: I’m a health and medical journalist for STAT, which is part of The Boston Globe Company. Before this, I was majoring in Physics at Yale and doing a lot of journalism on the side – trying to decide if I wanted to be a Physicist or a Journalist. In the end, I realized I prefered developing relationships with people instead of a computer, so I figured it would be a lot more enjoyable to work as a journalist. I’m still really fascinated by science, so getting to be a health/medical journalist is a wonderful opportunity for me to pursue both of these interests.

Allie:  Where is the coolest place you’ve ever traveled?

Ike: I have two: The Point Reyes National Seashore, on the coast of California, just north of San Francisco. It was such a beautiful place, and has an incredible sea lion reserve. The second is my visit to the the Jewish community in rural Ghana – Sefwi Wiawsoin. While I was spending a few weeks in Ghana working for an agricultural news radio station, I had the opportunity to travel to the Jewish community and spend a Shabbat there.

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Ike: I grew up in a suburb outside of Chicago, and after college was looking for journalism jobs. STAT was just starting up in Boston, and I got a job there as a medical/health journalist, and moved to Boston. I started working on many journalism projects related to DC, and wound up moving down here just a few months ago to pursue these projects at STAT’s DC-office.

Allie: Being new to the city, what is your take on DC so far?

Ike: DC reminds me of when I first moved to Boston, and I’m in this period of meeting a lot people and trying to figure out where I fit into the community. It’s a different kind of city than Boston though. In Boston, every other person works for a university or health company, and in DC every other person works for the government or an organization related to the government.

Allie What are your favorite things to do in the city?

Ike: I really enjoy going to the farmer’s markets in DC, and checking out the many Jewish community programs, and folk dance communities.

Allie: Folk dancing? How did you get involved with that?

Ike: Well, I learned square dancing in ninth grade, because we were told it was was the State Dance of Illinois. Then, when I was at college, I discovered this small, nearby town that had contra dancing – which is sort of like square dancing, but more fun – and every so often, I took part in that. While living in Boston after college, there was a big dancing community, so I started doing contra dancing, and have been happy to see there are lots of those communities in DC too.

Allie: How do you connect to Judaism in your own life?

Ike: I love Jewish music, Jewish ritual, and find that Jewish communities I’ve been a part of are really welcoming. It’s refreshing to spend time with a group of people who can be intently focused on one thing at hand.

Allie: Who is your Jewish role model?

Ike: I’d say the founders of Nava Tehilah – a song-based community in Jerusalem. They’ve created this incredible group that brings people together who normally have different religious practices, and show one another the beauty of each other’s traditions.

Allie: What’s your favorite Jewish food?

Ike: Sweet potato latkes. They’re basically like gigantic sweet potato fries.

Allie: Complete the sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Ike: They’re surprised by who they recognize.

 

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Meet Sarah: Jewish Tech Startup Founder of the Week!

Sarah Hostyk is one of those people who makes you want to deactivate your Netflix account and start doing more productive things with your evenings (but Stranger Things Season 2?!). At age 13, she wrote her first business plan. At 21, she was a finalist in Virginia Tech’s regional business competition. The following year, she was the first US employee at a Tel-Aviv based mobile app. And by age 26, she founded her very own mobile app. …maybe Stranger Things can wait until I’m a super successful app-creator? Ugh, but then I’ll never know what really happened to Barb. Life choices are tough.

Sarah seems to be really good at life. Get to know her!

Allie: So, you founded and just launched a mobile app in DC and on DC college campuses. That’s pretty awesome, tell us a little about that?

Sarah: Thanks! I founded Place Tempo – a free Apple and Android app that matches remote workers, students, and travelers with the top six places nearby to work/study that best fits their selected productivity needs (quiet, great wifi, how busy, open seating, outlets, etc). It’s driven by daily real-time and recent crowd-sourced ratings from fellow users and from your ratings. The app covers cafes, coffee shops, university buildings, restaurants, libraries, transit hubs, hotel lobbies, work spaces, etc. I describe it is as a productivity focused Yelp meets real-time Waze. You can download it from my website, or on the Apple App or Android/Google Play stores! (More info on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram)

Allie: How did you come up with the idea for Place Tempo?

Sarah: When I was in college, I would stay up very late every night, moving from place to place in order to find some place quiet with few distractions so I could productively study. After college, I moved to Boston where I worked as the first US employee of an early-stage mobile app startup based near Tel Aviv, and then I worked on/at other Boston startups. There was a lot of remote work involved, and I encountered the same problems: home was too distracting/comfortable, staying in a location that didn’t have what I needed and that meant I wasn’t as productive, and I’d waste valuable time searching out decent places both in Boston and while traveling to other cities.

I couldn’t find a tech solution to help, and I saw the US workforce moving more and more to remote work… so Place Tempo was born. I moved back home to the DC area to bootstrap it and get it off the ground.

Allie: What are some lessons you’ve learned about running your own tech company from launching this app?

Sarah:

    Be relentlessly determined, keep pushing through closed doors and No’s, and never give up until you get the Yes’s you need.

      Be a Jack-of-All-trades, teach yourself the basics of everything until you can bring on a specialist.

      Serendipity is real, so pitch strangers everywhere: in coffee shops, restaurants, grocery stores, on the metro. I’ve made amazing connections, and gotten great feedback and new users this way.

      Be creative and resourceful. I created a life-size Place Tempo smartphone costume and went to DC campuses in it to get users and attention (see photo).

      Constantly seek user feedback and build a community around your product.

      Ask for help and advice. People in the tech community are always willing to help.

      Always try to help others and pay what you know forward.

Allie: Very great advice! Besides, you know, running your own tech startup, what do you like to do for fun in DC?

Sarah: On Shabbat afternoons, I meet with friends and we walk for miles across the city and explore without any plans, randomly falling into wonderful adventures. Major highlights: coming upon an Army band concert with live cannon fire on the mall, running into hundreds of swing dancers and a swing band at Dupont Circle, a 20 foot tall wooden dragon, all kind of festivals and interesting people, walking through historic hotels and museums, across bridges and monuments, listening to talented buskers, and the list goes on.

Allie: What’s your favorite Jewish holiday and how do you celebrate it?

Sarah: Shabbat (my weekly reset to factory settings)!

Running a startup is an around the clock rollercoaster ride. So to have one day to unplug, not stress about work, go to shul, be introspective and take a measure of the past week, socialize and enjoy the company of friends and family without distraction, smell the roses and see the outside world unfiltered, explore and walk around the city with friends seeing where the day takes us, reading, playing cards… is a gift.

I go to shul at DC Minyan and Rosh Pina, two independent traditional egalitarian partnership minyans that meet in the DCJCC. I also sometimes go to Ohev Sholom/The National Synagogue.

Allie: Complete this sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Sarah: We schmooze and kibitz!

 

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Meet Courtney: Jewish Children’s Book Author of the Week!

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Courtney: I actually grew up in the Maryland area, went away to college, and then moved to New York City to pursue acting. For years, I dreamed of being on Broadway as a musical theater star, like Sally Bowles in Cabaret. But then a few years after giving that a try, I moved back to DC. Although I love living in the city, after getting married – my husband and I moved to Kensington, MD so we could have a bit more space.

Allie: What’s your favorite part about living in DC?

Courtney: I’m a really big foodie and love going out to amazing local restaurants like Rasika, Filomena… and my new favorite is this little pizza place called Frankly Pizza. It’s exceptional gourmet little pizzas. I also love experiencing the culture in DC – going to indie bookstores like Politics and Prose, and seeing local theater (which I actually used to perform in myself).

Allie: I hear you have a pretty cool job at Adas Israel. Can you tell me a little about that?

Courtney: Sure! I’m the Director of Programmatic Engagement, and help with Adas’ robust programming. I do a little bit of everything – from working with the Jewish Mindfulness Center of Washington, to the young professional programs like Shir Delight, to holiday programming like Return Again Shabbat, to social action events, and lots more. It’s rewarding to be a part of a lot of different initiatives, and I love meeting and connecting with community members of all ages.

Allie: What inspired you to work in the Jewish community?

Courtney: While in grad school at George Washington’s Masters of Elementary Education program, I wrote a children’s book called The Number on Her Arm. The book stems from my personal experience of learning about the Holocaust from my grandmother – a survivor – and how honest and open she was about her experiences.

After my grandmother passed away, I felt a need to get her story out, so I went on to self-publish the book. Then, I got so busy promoting the book and discovering this overwhelming passion to teach children about the Holocaust. This experience motivated me to take the job at Adas Israel so I can spend my entire career working to make a positive difference in the Jewish community through education and programming.

Allie: That’s incredible. It sounds like you have a lot of passion for educating the next generation about the Holocaust. Are there other ways you pursue this passion?

Courtney: One of the groups I had an event with when I was promoting the book is called 3GNY (Third Generation Holocaust Survivors) in New York. It was so meaningful to meet a group of other grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, and I really wanted to bring this group to DC. I found out that this group already existed in DC, but had not been very active. My boss allowed me to pursue bringing this group back to life, and now, we have our first event coming up – tonight! We’re going to be sharing pictures of our grandparents, telling stories, and brainstorming ideas this program can make possible.

Allie: Who’s your Jewish role model?

Courtney: My grandparents. They went through so much as Holocaust survivors at a young age, but they were able to move forward, move to Canada after the war, start a family, and provide for their children and grandchildren. Instead of harboring resentment and bitterness, they gave unconditional love, and used their experience to educate us.

Allie: Complete the sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Courtney: Laughter ensues.

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Meet Aaron: Jewish Teacher of the Week!

Aaron Bregman is a history teacher by day, and hardcore Big Lebowski fan by night (White Russian anyone?). He also recently got engaged (thanks JSwipe!) and is super-excited to teach at this year’s ROUTES: A Day of Jewish Learning. We think he’s a pretty objectively awesome guy, so you should most definitely read on to get to know him.

NOTE: GatherDC-ers (that’s you!) can get $20 off the ROUTES registration price with code GATHERDCROUTES2017. The cost is normally $48 including lunch, but for you it would be $28 (not including lunch – you are welcome to BYO).

Allie: Tell us, how did you become a teacher?

Aaron: Well, while growing up in Danvers, Massachusetts (just outside of Boston), I loved learning about history and politics. So, I went on to study history and education at American University. After graduating, I spent several years developing curriculum on the Arab-Israeli conflict at The David Project in Boston. In 2012, I came back to DC to teach American, European, and Middle East Jewish History for 11th and 12th graders at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland – where I’ve been for five years now. And in just a few weeks, I’ll be teaching about the Soviet Jewry and The Jewish American Experience at ROUTES.

Allie: Huh? What’s ROUTES?

Aaron: ROUTES is kind of like going back to college for the day – except just the actual, education part of college ;). It’s an entire day of Jewish learning hosted by The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington at George Mason University on November 5.

You show up, pick four learning sessions, have lunch, meet new people, and leave with at least one new piece of life wisdom. There’s tons of sessions to choose from…across diverse topics like addiction and Jewish spirituality, rebranding Judaism, creating a sustainable kitchen, using media to talk about Israel, Jewish women making an impact, gratitude in Jewish prayer, and more. See a full list here. And if you’re a history buff – you better sign up for my session!

Allie: Wow. That sounds like quite the day! In other news, I hear you have an exciting life update…
Aaron: Yes! I recently got engaged to my fiancé who I met on JSwipe, and am having fun wedding planning with her. We’re planning a wedding in DC at Hotel Monaco.

Allie: Mazel Tov! What do you guys like to do for fun together in DC?

Aaron: It’s fun going to many of the political events and Jewish community events across DC. There’s just so many interesting ways to be involved. Also, my fiancé is a big foodie…so I’ve subsequently become a lot cooler in terms of my restaurant-going behavior over the past few years. We also like going for walks, playing chess, seeing museums, trying new restaurants…pretty much whenever we see something fun going on in DC when we have time off work – we go check it out.

Allie: More importantly, what TV shows do you guys binge watch together?

Aaron: I used to be very anti reality shows, but my fiancé has officially converted me. Now I watch Big Brother and Survivor (no shame). But my personal favorites will always be Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, John Oliver, and The Daily Show. Oh, and fun fact, one of my friends is actually a writer for John Oliver, which is pretty awesome.

Allie: What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?

Aaron: I’m going to have to go with Rosh Hashanah. It really brings the family together and you get to enjoy that great big dinner, without the difficulty of preparing a big seder. And I love a good brisket and matzo ball soup.

Allie: If you had to be stuck on a desert island with a celebrity who would it be and why?

Aaron: Well, there’s two. I would go with Jon Stewart – he is brilliant in everything he’s ever done. His background, his beliefs, his whole shtick. And also Gal Gadot, because in my world, she is the new Jennifer Aniston.

Allie: Any fun facts about yourself that might surprise our readers?
Aaron: I was in the high school marching band and played snare drum, and our band actually performed at the Rose Bowl in 2001 (between University of Washington and Purdue University). Also, I am a huge Big Lebowski fan; when I went to Lebowski Fest in 2004 in Louisville, Kentucky, my buddies and I won the best costume award.

Allie: Hold up. What’s Lebowski Fest?

Aaron: Oh, it’s incredible. It’s just the most ridiculous, fun time complete with White Russians, bowling, a big screening of the movie on the green, and obscure costumes…

Allie: Complete this sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Aaron: a family comes together.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Meet Daniel: Jewish Outdoorsman of the Week!

Michigan-native Daniel Wasserman loves everything fall: pumpkin-y drinks, s’mores around the bonfire, hot apple cider, wool socks, camping, and Curb Your Enthusiasm (but we promise he’s far from basic!). If you’re a self-proclaimed #notbasic fall fan too, we suggest you get to know him.

Allie: What are your favorite outdoor activities in the fall?

Daniel: Few things in my life compare to a fall camping trip. The crisp air, the fall foliage, wearing your favorite flannel or fleece, and most importantly… hiking without sweating too much. Of course I appreciate any chance to sit around a campfire, but there’s something special about cozying up to the warmth from a fire on a cool night. Throw in some close friends, a guitar, and a pot of hot whiskey-cider – and I don’t know if there’s anything else I could ask for.

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Allie: What’s this I hear about a Jewish Camping Weekend in Shenandoah?

Daniel: Yeah! All that fall camping magic I just talked about, I want YOU to experience it with me in Shenandoah National Park, November 3 – 5. I’ve gotten to know GatherDC’s Rabbi Aaron Potek well, and Aaron is also big into camping. One evening, Aaron, Mark Nathanson (maybe a future Jewish Outdoorsman of the Week, wink wink…), and I were talking about going camping ourselves, but that conversation quickly spiraled into, “What if we made this into something more official and invited more people to join us?”

We’re lucky to have a place like Shenandoah in our backyard, so it all came together perfectly. We’ll be doing all the typical camping activities—sleeping in tents, hiking, making a bonfire, drinking, etc.—but we’ll also be having deep meaningful conversations, which might be my favorite part of any camping trip! There’s something about being in nature that just strips us down to our core and brings out the best in us, so channeling that into conversations around Judaism, spirituality, and more should lead to some pretty incredible, intimate dialogue. Along the way, we hope that you’ll meet some new people and come away with friends to go on future camping trips with.

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Allie: What was your first experience with GatherDC?

Daniel: I signed up for the first Beyond the Tent retreat in the summer of 2016 without knowing anyone or anything about GatherDC. I can confidently say it was the best decision I’ve made since moving here. Not only did the experience introduce me to some of my closest friends, but it also challenged—and reshaped—the way I think of myself as a Jew. Since then, I’ve continued learning regularly with Rabbi Aaron and had the chance to facilitate the third iteration of Beyond the Tent this past summer

Allie: What is your favorite fall food?

Daniel: When it comes to fall, I’m about as basic as it gets. I just want to eat something pumpkin-y and drink something pumpkin-y, while wearing wool socks and a Patagonia fleece OR jacket. So far, the DC weather hasn’t been cooperating as much as I’d like, but if you’ve seen me around town lately, you’d know I’m still doing my part to usher in the fall spirit.

Above all, though, I really miss quality apple cider—not the kind you buy in grocery stores around here. You can find some decent cider at Eastern Market, but nothing compares to the stuff they have back in Michigan where I’m from (shout out to the cider slushies at Franklin Cider Mill).

Allie: If you could spend one full day binge watching any show, what would it be?

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Daniel: I started watching Curb Your Enthusiasm at a young age and have seen every episode at least four times. It would be exaggerating to say that I think about the show every single day of my life, but honestly, at least every other day something will inevitably trigger a Curb reference in my mind (and often aloud to whoever will listen). So to all of DC’s pig parkers, stop and chatters, chat and cutters, and ice cream sample abusers: you’re on notice.

Allie: Complete this sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Daniel: they should do it outside, November 3 – 5, in Shenandoah!

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.