Meet Rachel: Jewish Bicyclist of the Week!

Finishing the RAGBRAI at the Mississippi River

She rode her bike across Iowa. She hosts themed Shabbats. She volunteers for her temple. She writes for Petworth News. Is there anything the marvelous Ms. (Rachel) Maisler doesn’t do?! Find out with our exclusive 1:1 interview!

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Rachel: I’m originally from Jupiter, Florida, and came to DC after college because there were jobs. It was during a recession so those were hard to come by. And I wound up staying because I started to get involved with aging policy at the Department of Health and Human Services right before the Affordable Care Act was passed. I got to get both a front row seat of history, and got to actually help write history.

Allie: How did you become a DC bicyclist?

Rachel: I’ve always liked riding, and I eventually realized it was much quicker to get to work for me via bicycle than metro, so I started bike-commuting. I actually started a social media account called “View from the Handlebars” with pics from my commute. Then, I wound up getting involved with a group called “DC Jews on Bikes” that was created by past Jewish Girl of the Week Lisa Kaneff [Editor’s Note: Lisa started this group as part of her Open Doors Fellowship capstone project]. Lisa was so friendly and had so much energy that motivated me to get involved in the group. I loved it – we would ride bikes on Saturday at sunset, and then celebrate havdalah together.

Allie: What’s the coolest bike ride you’ve ever done?

Rachel: Last summer, I rode my bike across Iowa (411 miles) as a part of RAGBRAI.

Allie: I hear you do some pretty cool advocacy work in DC on behalf of cyclists, tell me a little bit about that. 

Getting sworn into the BAC with Council member Brandon Todd

Rachel: I was politically appointed to work on the DC Bicycle Advisory Council (BAC) as a representative of Ward 4. The BAC is tasked with advising the city council with bicycle transportation matters, and I’m very passionate about finding ways for bicyclists to share the street. 

Allie: What are your goals on the Bicycle Advisory Council?

Rachel: To make sure that we’re aware of the barriers facing cyclists, and how we can continue to integrate cycling into our neighborhoods as a viable means of transportation and recreation. And to make sure we educate people about cyclists and safety.

Ball themed Shabbat during the World Cup

Allie: Tell me a little bit about how you stay connected Jewishly in DC?

Rachel: I’m part of a monthly Shabbat club, which is an amazing group of friends who get together one Friday a month. It’s been going on for 6-7 years now! Every Shabbat we have a theme, from using special ingredients like beer to making foods that are different colors of the rainbow. We always pick a “best dish winner” and said winner gets an amazing prize –  like a jar of gefilte fish.

I’m also a member of Ohev Sholom synagogue, which I love. There are a lot of incredible people there, like the Maharat – Ruth Friedman, who is an amazing ordained female rabbi. I’m part of the synagogue’s Tzedek Committee, which helps our friends and neighbors who need it.

Allie: What do you do as a part of the Tzedek Committee at Ohev Shalom?

Rachel: We do what we can to help those who most need it. Right now, we’re helping to resettle a family who immigrated here from Afghanistan. We recently helped a wounded warrior family for Christmas through the Operation Ward 57 program, and we coordinate our shul’s Good Deeds Day efforts – like making sandwiches, doing a coat drive, collecting school supplies, etc.

Allie: Who is your Jewish role model?

Rachel: My grandmother. She’s a Holocaust survivor and has been through more than anything I could ever imagine. But she wakes up with a smile on her face every day. She continues to be an inspiration, and is never afraid to tell her story.

Allie: What’s your favorite way to relax and destress?

Rachel: It’s always nice to go on a long bike ride with good friends on a great trail. Also, hiking in Shenandoah, or kayaking on the Potomac or Anacostia rivers. I also enjoy writing, and am a contributor to Petworth News!

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

Rachel: Anything is possible.

 

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 Truman: Jewish Matzah Ball Lover of the Week!

From WWOOFing on an organic farm in Texas, to working on Hillary Clinton’s campaign, to meeting his girlfriend on GatherDC’s Beyond the Tent retreat – Truman Braslaw has some fascinating life stories to share. Also, he really likes matzah balls. So if you know epic recipes for matzah ball soup – please share in the comment section 🙂

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Truman: I’m from California originally. After living there for a while, I had an itch for adventure. I wanted to move to a  new city, have new experiences, and reinvent myself. So, I moved to Texas and lived on my aunt’s couch for a while, and spent a few months WWOOF-ing on an organic farm. After that, I decided to move down to DC because I’d always been interested in politics. Since moving here, I’ve had amazing opportunities in politics – from working on the Hillary Clinton campaign, to interning at a local Think Tank, to now, becoming a staffer for Virginia’s House of Delegates member Wendy Gooditis.

Allie: What is the most challenging part of working in politics?

Truman: The path to winning can be pretty demanding – it takes a lot of administrative, non-glamorous work. But, when you have legislative success and make policy changes that will impact people’s lives – it’s totally worth it.

Allie: How did you get involved in DC’s Jewish community?

Truman: When I moved to DC, I went to a couple of the Moishe Houses – Columbia Heights and Capitol Hill. From there, I went to coffee with someone from GatherDC, which is how I wound up getting involved in the local Jewish community.

Then, I heard about GatherDC’s Beyond the Tent retreat through a friend, and applied because I was interested in connecting to other young Jewish people. I didn’t know many other people who were going, but I wound up meeting a few amazing people who I’m still really close with — including my girlfriend of over a year now, Molly Cram.

Allie: What would be your dream day of fun in DC if money and logistics were no object?

Truman: I’d start at Open City for brunch and order everything on the menu – since I can never decide what to get. I’d take a few bites of each, and take the rest home as leftovers. Then, I’ll fulfill one of my long-standing dreams to take an open air bus tour of DC on a nice, sunny afternoon. Finally, I’d go somewhere relaxing, like Tryst, and reminisce on the wonderful memories of those experiences.

Allie: What is your Jewish food?

Truman: I’d have to go with matzah balls. Especially the kind when you pack them in so they’re really dense – that’s probably like one half of what I need in life. My dad makes really great matzah ball soup. My girlfriend Molly also makes some matzah balls that are pretty good – for vegetarian ones.

Allie: Any resolutions for the New Year?

Truman: One, learn to make my own matzah ball soup. Two, do what I can to contribute to finding justice in our society with all the racism and intolerance going on.

Allie: What’s your favorite way to de-stress?

Truman: Sometimes, I’ll read statistics textbooks because it’s nice to focus on something completely different for a little, and it helps me figure out answers to so many types of questions. I also like doing ink drawings of weird, abstract shapes. And I love listening to Podcasts, like “Rationally Speaking,” “Freakonomics,” and “Rabiolab.”

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

Truman: People can find a place where they belong.

 

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 Julie: Jewish Jeopardy Contestant of the Week!

When Julie Zauzmer is not investigating local religious news stories for The Washington Post (heard of it?) or creating life-size, wearable adult dresses out of…balloons (for real!), she’s crushing it on Jeopardy in front of the one-and-only Mr. Trebek. So yes, you should most definitely get to know this incredible human and then watch her kill it *fingers crossed* on Jeopardy next Thursday, January 11th at 7:30pm on WJLA. Life goals: Be the cool person shouting “I know her!!!” to the television while your French Bulldog woofs along with enthusiasm.

[PS – Julie’s not the only trivia genius residing in Jewish DC…check out fellow-Jeopardy contestant David Griesman’s interview from 2014 here.]

Allie: How did wind up living in DC?

Julie: I grew up in Philly and then went to college in Cambridge at Harvard. After graduating, I moved back home and worked at The Philadelphia Inquirer as a reporter. I moved to DC soon after when I landed a job at The Washington Post as a reporter!

Allie: Um…that’s incredible. What do you report on for The Post?
Julie: I used to mostly cover crime, and now I cover religion. It’s been so fascinating to go to all sorts of houses of worship and talk to people about how faith affects all facets of their lives. This beat has also pushed me to think a lot more deeply about my own Judaism, and what faith means to my life.

Allie: So, I hear you met the one and only Alex Trebek. How did that happen?
Julie: Yes! I applied for Jeopardy, starting with the online test, and then went in person to take another test and play practice Jeopardy. Shortly after passing those, I got a call from a Jeopardy producer – on Rosh Hashanah. The producer called after I had left services and was interviewing a priest – because that’s what you do as a religion reporter. When I got the call (finding out that I made it on the show), I told the priest I was with, and he said, “I’ll make sure all the seminarians are praying for you the night of the show.”

The show taped a month later. My month of preparation happened to fall over Sukkot. But, that worked out to my advantage! I had my own Sukkah, and friends would come over for outdoor potluck dinners every night and quiz me on Jeopardy questions.

Watch Julie on Jeopardy on January 11th at 7:30pm on WJLA.

The taping was in October in LA, and it was a lot of fun. During commercial breaks, Alex Trebek took questions from the audience so we got to know him a bit. The biggest thing that surprised me was how huge the board was in person, It’s enormous. I only got nervous at the very end of filming, when I had to come up with my wager for final Jeopardy! While I was writing my answer, three producers loomed over my shoulder watching me write it. I just put down a random number.

Allie: How does Judaism play a role in your DC life?
Julie: I used to live in Moishe House Bethesda. Now, the biggest part of my Jewish life, and social life in general, is being a part of TLS (Tikkun Leil Shabbat), which is a wonderful independent minyan of 20s and 30s who meet for Shabbat every 3 weeks in a church basement. TLS is very committed to social action, so almost every Shabbat we have someone come and speak from a local nonprofit who talks about ways we make a difference. The past several weeks, we’ve being focused on the theme of immigration.

I’d encourage people to check us out on Facebook and come to a Shabbat if you haven’t been yet. January 5th is our big, very silly New Year’s celebration with festive beverages, lots of fun, and an awesome surprise that I can’t give away (sorry, it’s not a guest appearance by Alex Trebek).

Lifesize bride and groom balloon sculpture for a former Moishe House Bethesda housemate at her wedding.

Allie: What fun hobbies do you do that might surprise people?
Julie: I’ve been making balloons since I was 8 years old, and in the past few years have learned from other balloon twisters. It had always been a fun hobby, but this year it expanded to a part time job – I did 99 events in 2017! If you want super cool balloons for your event, visit my website!

I also knit a lot, which goes hand in hand with another one of my hobbies, which is hosting a movie series. My friends come over on Sunday nights and we watch a movie that’s part of a theme, and I knit during the movies! One year, we watched every best picture nominee from 1939. Then, we watched a movie for every letter of the alphabet – starting with “American Pie” and going all the way to “Zootopia”. Now, we’re watching a movie that takes place in every state in the US. My hope is that by the time we finish the movie series, DC will be a state, and we’ll get to watch 51 movies!

Allie: Who is your Jewish life role model? Julie: One would be Joelle Novey, who is one of the founders of TLS. She continues to be a source of wisdom for our community. I admire her a whole lot. She set in motion this community which was exactly what so many of us needed, and is exceptionally good at figuring out the right answers to uncomfortable questions that come up. There’s a lot of Jewish organizers who work for social justice that I admire, like the staff at HIAS.

Allie: What’s a quote you are inspired by?
Julie: There’s a quote I pinned up on my desk at work from a nun, Sister Janet, who I wrote a story about this past summer. She helped build a chapel where a natural gas pipeline was supposed to go as a way to protest it. Regarding this, she told me, “To stand up and speak for the health of the Earth and of human beings and all of creation, I think that’s a win. And helping to bring about that beautiful order of things – I think that’s a win also. There’s lots of ways to win.”

Allie: Complete the sentence – When Jews of DC Gather…
Julie: I hope there is singing.

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 Ally: Jewish Party Planner of the Week

In addition to having the best first name, Ally Sherman is one of those amazing women who seems to have kinda figured out this whole “how do I live a productive life?” thing. In addition to being a spin teacher, FlyWheel coordinator, and marketing associate, she spends “free” time volunteering for the local Jewish community and is currently helping plan the annual Falafel Frenzy Christmas Eve party! Get to know this hard working, challah-baking, spin instructing mensch in our exclusive interview.

Allie: How did you wind up living in DC?

Ally: I was born in Chicago, and then moved to Orange County, California until I graduated high school. I wound up going to college at University of Michigan – and LOVED it. While in college, I spent a summer interning in DC and had the best time. Before I graduated, I landed a job in DC at a trade association for affordable housing development, so I moved here. Now, it’s been almost five years and I just love it. I love being able to see the capitol building and the White House – it’s nice living in a city with so much history, and so much happening.

Sometimes, it’s hard being far away from my parents, but also gives me a good excuse to warm up in California. I also have two sisters, one lives in New York and one is in Chicago, so we spend weekends visiting each other.

Allie: So, I hear you’re juggling not one, not two, but THREE jobs at the moment. Girl. How do you do it?

Ally: I’ve always loved indoor cycling, and FlyWheel was one of my favorite places. And for the past year, I’ve been working as a coordinator for the studio, which is a great community – AND I get free classes…not a bad perk (job #1). Working here inspired me to start teaching my own spin classes at other studios (job #2), which has been a lot of fun. I love music, and one of my favorite things to do is to be on Spotify, discovering new music, and making playlists for my classes. I also started a new job in September at a marketing agency (job #3).

In terms of how I juggle it – caffeine is very important. Although I don’t have as many free days as I wish and spend very little time in my apartment, I’m just one of those people who enjoys staying busy.

Allie: On top of having THREE jobs, you’re also the chair of the Falafel Frenzy host committee. What’s all this buzz I hear about Falafel Frenzy?

Ally: Falafel Frenzy started in 2013 by Eva Malka Davis and Steph Heller as a way to fundraise for local causes and give Jewish young adults a place to party together on Christmas Eve. This year, Eva and Steph wanted the event to continue, but felt it was time to pass the torch on to new planners. So, they put together a host committee of young adults who are spearheading it. This year, it’ll be at Hawthorne on U Street with a DJ, dance floor, rooftop bar, speciality cocktails (Fire-y Falafel Ball Shot, Miracle Mule), and 100% of the proceeds goes to The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. It should be a really fun time, and is for a great cause.

Allie: With all of these jobs, how do you relax and de-stress?

Ally: This past year, I got really into baking artisanal challah (i.e. nutella, fig + goat cheese, everything) and love sharing these homemade challot with my friends at dinner parties and Jewish holidays. Also, I’m all for self care. If I have a day off, I make sure that I take full advantage of it – sleeping in, catching up with friends, getting a massage or a mani-pedi, or watching something amazing like “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

Allie: Who is your role model?

Ally: My mom. She has always worked really, really hard throughout her life, and all the while has been an active part of whatever community she’s a part of. She spends a lot of time and energy making the world a better place. So, if I can continue in her footsteps just a little, that would be an awesome way to live my life.

Allie: What’s your favorite way to celebrate Hanukkah?

Ally: This year, I had a bunch of people over my apartment for a little Hanukkah shindig. Some of the people there had had never celebrated a Jewish holiday in their life. It’s really fun for me to share Jewish traditions with my friends from different religions. We played dreidel, we lit the candles, I made latkes – and now my apartment will forever smell like latkes.

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

Ally: A lot of fun happens!

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.

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.