From K Street to the Knesset – Pt 1:  Zionism Today and Into Tomorrow

[Editor’s Note] Jason Langsner, one of our community members and bloggers, shares his perspective on Zionism today, and his experience at the American Zionist Movement Conference this past November. The views and opinions expressed in his blog post are not necessarily representative of GatherDC, and we welcome readers to share their thoughts in the comments section, or to reach out to Jason to dialogue further at

It is the year of chai (18) – of life – so let us all hope that 2018 is the year that a just and lasting peace is found between the Israeli people and the Palestinian people.

Some signs point to optimism, such as the recent behind-the-scene actions of Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in how they’re approaching a new peace plan with the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership.  Other signs point to continued pessimism, such as how the PA and United Nations reacted to President Donald Trump recognizing Jerusalem as the capitol at the end of 2017, that such a peace will not be found this year.

GatherDC readership, the broader Washington Jewish community, the American Jewish community, and the Jewish diaspora as a whole are not a monolith.  We each have different opinions on whether a just and lasting peace can be met between the Israeli people and the Palestinian people this year (or at all).

We are all individuals, who may be tall or short.  Our hair and eyes are different colors.  Our faith in Judaism may be self-identified as Conservative, Traditional, Reform, Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Secular, non-practicing, or other.  We may be Sephardic.  We may be Mizrahi.  We may be Ashkenazi.  We may not be Jewish, by birth, but we identify with aspects of Judaism or Jewish culture.  We may not be Jewish, by birth, but a spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend/partner may be and we want to be supportive.  Or we may have converted…

We are all individuals.

Some of us will be attending the AIPAC Policy Conference in March.

Others will be avoiding it and attending the J Street National Convention in April.

Some may be at both.  Others at neither.  And some reading this blog may not know what AIPAC or J Street stand for as organizations.  If you’ve gotten this far in the blog, I can tell you now, that I’m not going to be telling you about either advocacy group or how they are perceived to be different within their organizations or from outside of them.

What I am happily willing to talk about is about my feelings about Zionism, what Zionism means to me today, and some points addressed at the American Zionist Movement (AZM) conference, about how Zionism may be defined into tomorrow.

It isn’t my place as a person or as a Jew to question another Jewish man, woman, or non-binary individual’s motivations in how they express their Judaism; how that may relate to Israel; how they feel about the word, “Zionism;” and how or if that may relate their Judaism to how they look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  It certainly isn’t my place to state any of this in my first blog post for GatherDC in this series – although I’ve happily shared many an opinion in Gather’s blog since it was launched years ago. And, I’ll gladly grab a coffee, beer, or scotch with anyone reading this that wants to chat about Jewish identity, Zionism, or Israel (no matter your perspective).

I’m always happy to talk and to learn from others.  And I know when thinking about Israel, I should sometimes consider the advice taught in “Hamilton” to “Talk less.  Smile more.”  Because active listening and engaging with others from different viewpoints is the best way that I personally learn.

Unfortunately, though discussions of Israel are sometimes, if not often, contentious within our Jewish community.  Some synagogues have chosen to avoid discussing the topic as to not create friction between congregants who hold different positions.  But my feeling is different.  The hard talks are the important ones that we need to have as a community.

It seems so recently that the Jewish people celebrated a milestone year, 2017, which was what brought AZM to DC commemorate and hold conversations around two important moments in Jewish history over the last 100 years.  

Last year represented the Centennial anniversary of the British government’s Balfour Declaration on November 2, 1917, which was the first time in modern history that a major world power declared support for the creation of a Jewish State and the 70th anniversary of the UN Partition Plan of the British Palestinian Mandate, which was adopted on November 29, 1947. Certainly, a great deal of history has occurred over these 100 years and I think I may need more than a single blog post to go through those years.  

At the AZM conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in written remarks read by AZM President Richard Heideman, qualified the 30 years between the Balfour Declaration and the UN Partition Plan as “long” and “tragic” to turn “international support for Herzl’s dream into reality.”  Israel Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, while hosting a reception at the Embassy of Israel in DC, said that this 30-year span that began in 1917 and ended with David Ben-Gurion’s declaration of statehood, “is probably the most significant period of Jewish history since the days of the bible.”

In future blog posts, I’ll discuss the next 70 years including current events related to the U.S.-Israeli affairs.

Ron Dermer, Israeli Ambassador to the US, speaking at the AZM National Conference

In hopes of sharing some of the messages about what Zionism means today and what it may mean tomorrow, based on the AZM speakers, I’ve compiled a short video montage from the conference so you – as the GatherDC reader – can infer your opinions as if you were in the room with us.  While watching, think to yourself – what does Zionism mean to you?  And if you could reframe the narrative about Zionism and supporting a Jewish State into tomorrow, how would you do it?

To me, I understand Zionism as the national movement of the Jewish people that supports a re-establishment of a Jewish homeland in the territory defined as the historic Land of Israel; and that Zionism comes from the root word of Zion.   As a noun, Zion is the hill in Jerusalem where the City of David was built and a synonym for both Jerusalem and the Jewish people.  I support a two-state solution, but I don’t know what the future borders of the State of Israel will look like – although I have great faith in the Israeli people and all Israeli elected officials who have been elected to represent different views of the diverse Israeli population that they are the best shepherds of their own future.

I recognize to some, the term Zionism is a pejorative.  To me, it isn’t.  I’m very proud to be a second generation Jewish American and a proud Zionist.

 If the modern State of Israel existed when my grandparents and great-grandparents emigrated from Eastern Europe, perhaps I would be an Israeli rather than American.  Who knows?  I’ll gladly plant trees in Israel with JNF, purchase Israel bonds to support the development of Israel, give to other Jewish/Israeli causes that are meaningful to me, and write about my appreciation for Israel and allow whoever who chooses to read it (thank you for reading this far!) hear my voice.

If you have a difference of opinion to me, I’ll gladly hear you out and I pledge to respect your opinions we search for common ground – such as with finding a path to bring about a just and lasting peace for all people affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  If you’re interested in dialoguing further, share your thoughts on the blog’s comment section or to my directly/privately at


About the Author: Jason Langsner is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you. Jason has been an active lay leader of the Washington Jewish community since moving to the city in 2004.  He is a small business owner and formerly served as the head of digital strategy for the oldest Jewish human rights and humanitarian organization in the world.  When not blogging, he can often by found walking around his Eastern Market neighborhood with his Jewish dog, Shekels, or riding around DC area bike trails.


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 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.

Life Changes: How to Know When It’s Time to Move?

After living in Chicago for four years, I moved to DC on May 31, 2017. Since moving, many people have asked what brought me here.

The common answers to this question people traditionally give are: moved for a job, grad school, to be closer to family, or for a partner. My answer was none of those.

I decided it was time for a change and wanted to fulfill my five-year dream of living in DC. I get two responses to this: people tell me I am brave and they could never do this, or people share that they are thinking of moving, but are afraid of uprooting their current life. Their life is good enough, so why move just because?

I understand that people don’t want to rock the boat. The saying that the known is better than the unknown exists for a reason. Why leave a life where you have a good job, great community, and a city you consider “home?” Why relocate for no reason besides you want to? Shouldn’t there be a good reason to make such a big change?

Yet, I did just that. For the past four years, I considered Chicago my home. I had a great apartment in the heart of Lakeview. I knew the best place to get deep dish pizza (Lou Malnati’s, trust me). I was working at an organization that not only cared about my professional development, but also my personal life. Lastly, I had made some amazing friends that had helped me navigate my post-grad years. I had built a great life for myself.

Let me just say for the record that I am not brave. I moved out of necessity. While from the outside (and social media) my life seemed great, I felt like I was living in Chicago with a permanent grey cloud hovering above me at all times.

Millennials are so concerned about how our lives are seen by our peers. I would look at people’s Facebook and Instagram profiles thinking how happy they looked and wondering how I could become that happy.

I am in my twenties, the decade society says is the most fun. Why was I not enjoying my life? Why was I not going out enough, or involved in enough activities? I tried everything to get rid of my grey cloud. I switched jobs, got involved with different Jewish organizations, and made new friends. I did not want to leave Chicago because I assumed that was giving up and people would think I failed.

I spent years bringing up the idea of moving to DC with my friends and family, going back and forth in my head about whether I should stay or move, and agonizing over what people I barely knew would think. Finally, the moment came where I knew it was time to give up trying to make Chicago happen, and just start over somewhere new. I started picturing my life six months or one year out, and knew I would be disappointed if I was still in Chicago. While I could not guarantee that DC would work out, it was better to try than not move at all.  

The ten months after making the decision to move were the hardest. I spent months applying to jobs, pricing out moving companies, and only making plans two months out so – that when I finally landed a job – I could pack up and go. But, I actually ended up giving notice to my last position before having an apartment or job lined up.

Making this big of a life change was not easy. For me, this decision was years in the making. To this day, I miss my Chicago friends and all the things we used to do together.

Life is not perfect, but I needed to be happy.

When I landed in DC, the grey cloud instantly disappeared. I knew it would be challenging to transition to a new home with little to fall back on. I knew it would take time to find new friends and create a new Jewish community. But in that moment I knew, regardless of what lay ahead, I had absolutely made the right choice.

I am now six months into my new life in DC. I frequently am asked if I have any regrets, and my answer is always no. I still regularly check in with my friends and family. I am still building my new Jewish community and making new friends. But I knew myself enough to know that I needed to shake up my life.

And if I can’t shake things up when I am in my twenties, then when can I? This was the perfect time.


About the Author: Marisa Briefman is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you. She is a recent DC transplant who was born and raised in Sarasota, Florida – likely where your grandparents live. Her love of all things Jewish began at overnight camp and continues to thrive in her role at JSSA. She is coffee addict, lover of Mexican food, and on a permanent mission pet all the adorable dogs in DC (if someone is in need of a dog-sitter, email me).

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.

5 People to Meet at Falafel Frenzy this Christmas Eve

 That person you lost touch with from a previous Jewish life.


Hebrew school, Jewish summer camp, youth group, an Israel trip; someone from “a lifetime ago” will most likely be there. You’re bound to run into at least one blast from the past—whether you recognize them or not is another question.


The party-goer who is only there for the drink specials.


It seems that every time you look at the bar, this person is getting another drink. But hey, can you blame them for wanting to take advantage of those fabulous drink specials? Whether or not you choose to drink, you can say “L’chaim” and have a ton of fun.


That guy who is totally owning the dance floor.


This person is leaving it all on the dance floor. They came to throw their cares away and party like it’s 5759 (or 1999)! Word of advice: don’t get too close to the line of fire.


The person who genuinely came to support a good cause.


They’re here to do good and they are loving every minute of this mitzvah (good deed)! Say hello to your fellow ‘do gooder” and give them a high-five, because 100% of your ticket proceeds go to The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s continued efforts to build a stronger Jewish future around the world.


The networking guru who’s never without an ample amount of business cards


You can find the networking aficionado by the trail of business cards left on the floor by all of his new “friends”. This person is worth meeting because they have the insider scoop on all the best Jewish gatherings in DC.


In sum, go to Falafel Frenzy because it’ll be an awesome night filled with innumerable next-day brunch stories.

Register today at to get a free drink ticket!


The above is a sponsored blog post. 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.

Spotted in Jewish DC: Solid State Books Holiday Pop-Up

Not to brag or anything, but, this week, we’ve kind of discovered the Hanukkah gift shop mother-load. The Solid State Books pop-up (the evergreen bookstore is slated to open in early 2018) has everything and anything you’ll ever need to impress your best friend, sister, mom, partner, or coworker with your on point gift giving skills. Meet the nice Jewish bookshop owner who started it all (alongside Scott Abel) – cofounder, Jake Cumsky-Whitlock.

After you read our 1:1 interview with Jake, go check out the shop at 600 H St NE in time for the holidays…which means ASAP…because, welp, Hanukkah started yesterday!

GatherDC-ers Rachel and Allie with co-founder, Jake!

How did Solid State Books come into existence?

I’ve always loved books, which led me to get a master’s degree in creative writing, and then go on to work at Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle. Scott Abel (Solid State Books co-founder) and I met while working together at Kramerbooks, where we were for almost a dozen years. We talked about opening a business together, and decided bookselling was our long-term career choice. 

Where did the name come from?

It’s threefold: 1) A throwback to solid state technology – which was a term used to describe modern technology in the ‘50s and ‘60s. 2) It references the physical book that you can hold in your hand. A book that doesn’t exist in the cloud, that you scan hold, put down, and lend to people. 3) It’s a pitch for DC statehood. We think this name is definitely going to push us over the top in terms of DC becoming a state. 😉

Why shop local versus buying books on Amazon?

Well, we can’t compete with Amazon on price. But, we don’t believe books should be discounted, because we think it lessens their inherent value. Also, we offer a curated selection of books, and the ability to talk to someone about those books.

Most of all, we provide a community. We have an actual space people can come to that’s not their home, or their work, but they can connect with other people, whether that’s by meeting new people, discovering new books, hearing authors, or getting intellectual stimulation.

When does Solid State Books actually open?

Sometime in early 2018. We’re very excited about it! We’re going to host so many amazing events at the shop – cookbook events, literary fiction talks, children’s author programs, and events that are not totally book driven, but bring community together to talk about important issues like cannabis legalization, DC school systems, etc.

– – – – –

And now, here are some on-point Hanukkah gift ideas we discovered at the Solid State Books pop-up: 

      Caticorn Greeting Card, and other way too relatable cards


      Maps of DC

      Water-Color Paint Set

      Inspiring Women, and Beer, Coasters


      Books to Learn About Life: e.g. “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor E. Frankl; Thich Nhat Hanh’s “How To” Series; “Brave Enough” by Cheryl Strayed

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.

Rabbi Rant: The Struggle Is-real

As the great poet Kanye West once pondered: “And the weather so breezy; man, why can’t life always be this easy?”

Life is hard, and it seems to get harder the older we get. Like all great minds, Yeezy simply gives expression to our deepest desires.

It’s no wonder, then, that some people have often turned to religion looking for reassurance, the ability to transcend our daily struggles, the comfort of knowing we are doing the right thing, or the guarantee that it will all work out in the end (if not for everyone, then at least for us).

Don’t believe this is how people actually relate to religion? Ask your rabbis (or other clergy) what happened to their attendance in services after the election last year. (Not that numbers matter all that much… they clearly didn’t for the election.) This “religious” drive is why Karl Marx called religion “the opium of the people” – many people relate to it as a calm-inducing drug.

The Torah offers a very different understanding of what it means to be religious, and to be human. In the very first sentence of this week’s Torah reading, we read: “Now Jacob was settled in the land where his father had sojourned, the land of Canaan” (Genesis 37:1). Nothing all that remarkable.

Yet the rabbis read into the word “settled” a deeper longing for tranquility. Jacob has had a difficult life; in his old age, he justifiably wants some peace and quiet. In direct response, God disrupts his life once again through the ensuing drama of his son Joseph (whose brothers sell him into slavery while convincing his father he was killed by wild beasts).

As the biblical commentator Rashi explains: “[When] the righteous seek to dwell in tranquility – God says: ‘Is it not enough for the righteous, what is prepared for them in the world to come, that they seek to settle in tranquility in this world?’”

Life isn’t supposed to be easy – you can rest peacefully when you’re dead.

Instead of encouraging retreat from challenge, Judaism pushes us toward it. The tough moments in life are the moments where we grow the most.

Almost 2000 years before it became a workout slogan, Rabbi Ben Hei Hei said: “According to the pain is the gain.”

It’s ironic that Jacob wanted to settle down, because his name was changed to Israel (which means, “to wrestle with God”) after wrestling with a man/angel just a few chapters earlier. Yet he still retains the name Jacob, which means “heel” and alludes to his tendency to run away, perhaps reminding us that we can never fully overcome our urge to avoid the harder moments.

This is why we need Judaism. Not to provide the easy answers, but to ask the hard questions.

We are called the children of Israel. To live up to our namesake, we must constantly choose to wrestle, instead of escape. It’s the critical first step in improving ourselves and the world around us.

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.

Manny Arciniega: Quartet to the End of Time

When I checked out the program of the 19th Washington Music Jewish Festival (WJMF), I noticed that the Levine Music faculty were/are performing Messiaen’s “Quartet to the End of Time,” a work composed inside a prisoner of war camp in 1940. I wondered what a piece written by a Catholic composer, and inspired by the Book of Revelations and the Apocalypse, had to do with the Jewish festival.

I got very curious and decided to attend the concert and interview one of the members of the band, percussionist Manny Arciniega. Manny explained that while inside the prisoner of war camp, Messiaen met with two other world famous musicians: violinist Jean le Boulaire and cellist Étienne Pasquier. Messiaen loved to listen to natural sounds like birds singing, and added these sounds into his composition.

The other band members presented an innovative version of the piece by re-scoring and playing it with electronic instruments and percussion. What resulted was a mesmerizing performance.

By the end, I had an answer to my question: why was this performance included into the Jewish music festival? Well, in addition to one of the three musicians who played it, Étienne Pasquier, being Jewish, the piece is a work expressing liberation and the possibility of hope — sentiments which are very close to our Jewish history.

Enjoy my interview with Manny Arciniega!


Daniela: I hear you are on faculty at Levine Music. Tell us more about that!

Manny: Levine Music is a community music school that serves the area around DC for students of all ages and abilities. It provides a welcoming community for children and adults to find lifelong inspiration and joy through learning, performing, listening, and participating in music.

Daniela: Why did you decide to commemorate Messiaen’s Quartet to the end of time at this year’s WJMF?

Manny: Each year, Levine Music chooses a theme for its concert series that faculty participate in.  The theme for the 2016-2017 Levine Presents series was “The Power of Music: Protest, Propaganda, Promise” – and I immediately thought of the “Quartet for the End of Time.” The story of the piece’s conception, having been written in a Nazi prisoner of war camp during WWII, perfectly intersected with the proposed theme.  Messiaen drew his inspiration from the Book of Revelation but its message is far from Apocalyptical.  It was an offering from Messiaen to the other prisoners in the camp. The music, composed of birdsong and sounds no one in that camp had ever heard before, allowed each individual to remove themselves from the temporal and into peace.  

The work is a testament to the power of human will to overcome the darkest of circumstances.  It’s message of hope, perseverance, and love.

This seemed appropriate topics for the WJMF.  Recent political events have necessitated a fresh look at Messiaen’s timeless masterpiece.

Daniela: How do electric instruments and percussion add to/change the original piece?

Manny: I loved the “Quartet for the End of Time” since my first encounter with it as a graduate student in the UK. I used to drive around listening to it in my car and imagine what it would sound like with percussion behind it. Messiaen was an avid composer for percussion instruments, and many of his birdsong compositions use a percussion or lesser known instruments such as the Ondes Martenot.

Changing the orchestration provided a variety of challenges from an arranging standpoint.  I tried to find parallels between the original instruments and their modern counterparts. My goal was to find moments where I felt Messiaen was trying to maximize a particular timbre or sound and see if we could dial it up.

My hope was to just strike a chord with the individual. Whether that is one of contemplation over the cacophony of sound, or complete disgust for the destruction of revered music, we just want to invoke an emotional response.

After the premiere of the re-orchestration this past January, one individual just came up to me, gave me a hug and then thanked me with tears in his eyes. It’s a moment I will always remember.

Daniela: Does this piece give you an experience of oppression or liberation while you play it, knowing that it was composed and performed in a Nazi camp?

Manny: As for the history of its composition, knowing its origins strengthens its meaning of hope and liberation. Each time I play that 8th movement, I get goosebumps.

I can’t help but think about how beautiful the world is, despite all of the hatred and lack of empathy around us — music is inspiring — it’s an escape from the ‘now.’

Daniela: How has playing this piece changed the relationship between the musicians? 

Manny: If it weren’t for the other individuals in this performance, it most likely would have never been realized. As a result of this project, we have all found ourselves in vulnerable positions, both musically and emotionally, from the stress that comes with working such a challenging work and that has served to bring us closer together. Everyone has put their heart and soul into learning this music, its story, and the language of Messiaen’s unique composition style. I will admit, there have been moments of doubt that some of the tasks before us might be impossible to pull off, but in the end no one backed down from the challenge.




About the Author: Daniela is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you! She is a “retired philosopher” who works as an executive assistant and loves to write about Italian and Jewish events happening in DC. She was born and raised in Sicily (Italy) in an interfaith family and moved to D.C. with her husband after studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where they met. They have a wonderful Siberian cat named Rambam! Daniela loves going to work while listening to Leonard Cohen’s songs and sometimes performs in a West African Dance group



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.

It’s Who You Know: Rachel Gildiner

November 2017 | Transcript, 0:00:00 to 0:42:27

Listen to the episode here.


[start at 00:00:00]

Michelle W. Malkin:  Welcome to “It’s Who You Know! The Podcast.” This is your host, Michelle W. Malkin, and my guest today is Rachel Gildiner, who is the executive director of GatherDC. With over 15 years of professional experience in non-profit management, emerging adult identity development, and relationship building engagement, Rachel builds community through the power of personal connection.

She holds a B.A. in sociology and modern Jewish studies, an M.A. in higher education administration, as well as a certificate in experiential Jewish education. She has studied at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, and is also trained as an Ayeka Soulful Jewish Education facilitator.

I’ve asked Rachel to come on the program today because I’m hearing a lot about the rise in individualism—how younger people don’t want to be quote unquote members of our institutions, that people don’t have the time any more for community, and that technology is hijacking our relationships.

And I don’t actually know if I believe all of this, so I’m excited to hear about the work of GatherDC and their approach to bringing Jews in their 20s and 30s together in a way that is meaningful, in an attempt to sustain adult Jewish identities. So welcome to the program, Rachel.

Rachel Gildiner:       Thank you so much for having me, Michelle.

Michelle W. Malkin:  So, start as we always do, just with your own story, and how you got into this position, and all of your wonderful formal education backgrounds, and I’m sure informal education as well.

Rachel Gildiner:       Absolutely. I originally hail from Philadelphia, and grew up mostly in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. And a lot of my formative Jewish experiences were outside of the academic setting. So, Jewish summer camp, USY. And then as I got older, I realized I was missing some foundational elements of Judaism, and so I decided to study Jewish studies and go to a Jewish program for college, which I loved. It was great.

And then when I graduated, I pretty much decided I was not going to work in the Jewish world. I had two years working in development for a university. And after two years of just kind of being surrounded by Judaism and having taken everything for granted until then, I realized that I really missed this kind of Jewish part of myself.

And so, the next phase of my personal journey was in the Jewish world, and I had moved to Washington D.C. with my now-husband. Hillel International had a really exciting opportunity open. They were piloting a project at the time that was called CEI, or the Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative. And it was about engaging Jewish students on campus who were just not going to come to Hillel, and that that was OK, but how can we still help them engage Jewishly?

It was so exciting and something totally different and out of the box. And so I started working for Hillel. I was there for seven years. And fast forward to today, I’ve been at GatherDC for three years, since 2014, and it has kind of been a natural evolution of my passion for Jewish life that’s a little bit outside of the box, and really just helping people connect.

Michelle W. Malkin:  And so when you came to GatherDC, were you looking for a new opportunity? Did it come to you? I mean, that’s a lot of years to be at Hillel.

Rachel Gildiner:       I loved my time at Hillel. I learned a lot. I went to Israel. I staffed trips. I had incredible colleagues and mentors. I had an international network of professionals who were colleagues but also friends. And essentially, what I loved about my time there is that it was a legacy institution – it was old and established – but it was innovating from within. And so that journey was really powerful for me.

And I guess I’m a cusp millennial, and so whether the rumor is true that we stay in places for a long time or not, after seven years, I started getting an itch of, “I’ve learned so much. I’ve gained so much. I feel like I’ve given so much. Let’s see what else is out there. Let’s try something new.” It seemed like a very kind of natural time for a next step also.

And this is just—a little funny tale is that my leaving Hillel coincided with the Shmita year. So, every seven years, you let the land lay fallow, and I literally was there for seven years, and it just kind of felt like, you know, we needed some fresh air or something new.

It was very sad to leave, but I had been approached by a friend and colleague who was in the field and said, “There’s this thing happening and it’s really exciting, and you should take a look.” And then with a little goading—it took me a few requests to apply—I put my hat in the ring, and a few months later, I was starting as the director.

Michelle W. Malkin:  Excellent. So give us a little bit of history of the organization, how it came to be, and then you can launch a little bit into the work specifically and the operating philosophy and that good stuff.

Rachel Gildiner:       GatherDC at the time that I started there was actually called Gather the Jews. I’m not the founder but…

Michelle W. Malkin:  [laugh] Sorry!

Rachel Gildiner:       …a good chuckle. Yeah. It was called Gather the Jews. I will say, your question about me starting—when I heard this name, I was actually kind of hesitant to look at this opportunity. And then I did a little bit more research, and I found out that in Washington D.C., Gather the Jews, which was—it was newly professionalized. There was one amazing professional, another Rachel G., actually, who I owe a lot of gratitude to. She was the first and only professional.

Gather the Jews really started as a grassroots movement. It was a project of the community. It was a bunch of friends who came together and said, “We need to organize how our people, how our friends, are connected to Jewish life. There’s no central place to go to find out what’s happening.” So, they started a website and a listserv and happy hours.

It was totally organic and really from the ground up, and so the name was really—there was like a cult following. People who were part of Gather the Jews—it was their people. It was a reclaiming of, “This is our Jewish connection, and we really want to own it.” And it was not something that people were open to changing. Gather the Jews was the name of a brand, and people loved it.

And so what I realized with time is that if we were going to change, it would just take some time, and we’d kind of have to do that from the grassroots. And so now, we’re GatherDC. So over three years, we did make that change. But we were very attuned to [the idea that] change takes time, and you really want to honor the people who got this off the ground and got it started.

And Gather the Jews, that name, it definitely was memorable, and it definitely got attention, and that’s what the organization needed to do as it was starting. So, it was really brilliant. It was so sustainable, because it was the people on the ground who made it exist and who got their friends involved.

And by the time I came on in 2014, people really knew of this brand. We would not be where we are today if it were not for that foundation, those first years of kind of building, and the entrepreneurship and the creativity that came behind creating what Gather the Jews is and was—this incredible network of people, and these online resources, and monthly gatherings.

And then I really had the opportunity to make change when I came to the helm. It was also a lot of pressure. My first thought was, “How do I help this grow and how do I not run this into the ground?”

Michelle W. Malkin:  Right.

Rachel Gildiner:       And that was a real question. It was an opportunity, but also in the back of your head, I was nervous.

Michelle W. Malkin:  So was it intentional to not have a Jewish component in the name?

Rachel Gildiner:       This was something that we were asked when we changed the name. So visually, GatherDC, our logo is still a map pinpoint with a Jewish star cutout in the middle. And so we are absolutely identifiably a Jewish organization. The reason we took out “the Jews” was actually the opposite. We want to engage more Jews, and there was something about identifying Jewish people as “the Jews” that actually was kind of grating to some people…

Michelle W. Malkin:  Right.

Rachel Gildiner:       …who identified as Jewish, and it just felt a little aggressive. They just weren’t interested because we were using that term. And so, we are proudly Jewish. Our goal and our mission is to connect people to Jewish life, and Jews to other Jews, and Jews to Jewish identity. But we want to engage as many people as we can, and when we found that there was a barrier to engaging with us because of our name, it was an important thing for us to consider.

And so that’s why we changed it, but we are just as Jewish, as committed to the Jewish mission. We just know that Jews have different ways that they hear the term “the Jews”…

Michelle W. Malkin:  Right.

Rachel Gildiner:       …and a lot of people we work with are Jewish, and that is great, and wanted to honor that.

Michelle W. Malkin:  Yeah. I know it’s definitely a conversation that’s happening as far as, do we have Hebrew in our institutional names? Do we have something Jewishly identifiable? And I know in the Bay Area there’s, you know, UpStart, and I think it’s The Kitchen? These names that, maybe visually as you’re mentioning, have some Jewish components—the name itself—and what you hear about, how you hear about it, you’re like, “Oh, that sounds interesting. Tell me more.” And it’s not kind of as in your face as a Hebrew word, or as alienating, as you just mentioned.

Rachel Gildiner:       Right.

Michelle W. Malkin:  That’s great. So tell me a little bit about the work. What does the organization do?

Rachel Gildiner:       GatherDC’s mission is to connect Jewish 20s and 30s in D.C. to each other, to Jewish life in D.C., and to sustaining adult Jewish identity. And the subtext to that is an adult Jewish identity that is outside of synagogues, marriage, traditional kind of Jewish established entities that a lot of us don’t experience for a long time, or just are not really into.

And the work that GatherDC does is grounded in a relational methodology. Part of the reason we can be successful is because we connect people to the Jewish offerings that are happening all around the city. We have incredible Jewish institutions here. If you don’t know of Sixth & I, it’s an amazing community center. They have cultural programs and book readings and services, and it’s a very vibrant community.

And if people find their event on our calendar and connect to Sixth & I, that is our success, and we are thrilled that they have found a Jewish community. The DCJCC. We have tons of synagogues that have young adult programs, and the people who connect to those places—we want to be a resource and a concierge to those amazing opportunities. That’s one of our goals.

The other work that we do is when we meet people, for one-on-one coffee dates, which is our primary methodology, and someone says either they’ve gone to something like that, and it just wasn’t their fit, or they’re not even sure where to start, we provide them with some personal resources. We’ll connect them with another person in the community who’s a part of one of those organizations, or who also wants to go to something for the first time. We’ll go with them sometimes.

We also host micro programs. We have small learning communities where people come in groups of 10 and 15. The purpose is for them to meet each other. They do some awesome learning with our rabbi. And it’s like a gateway into the larger community, but it allows them to do it in a more intimate setting. It kind of lowers the barrier to engagement.

It also lowers the pressure. You don’t have to be in a room of 100 people, and feel alone, or try and make everyone your best friend. It just facilitates these social connections that are so important to any community. And so, this kind of relational theme in everything that we do is what really makes us different, and it sets us apart.

Our staff spends the majority of our time meeting people one-on-one, and less of our time planning actual programs. Because as I mentioned, there are amazing programs in the city. We try and leverage those and connect people to what’s happening, and only plan programs where there’s a gap.

Michelle W. Malkin:  Yeah. I was looking on your website and I saw the all-day women’s retreat that you guys are doing, and I’m like, “That sounds amazing!” [laugh]

Rachel Gildiner:       That’s the thing—we’re not doing that. Someone else is doing that. What we get to do is tell our network about it. “If you’re out there and this speaks to you, you should do it, and we want to help you get there. And if this doesn’t speak to you, look at this other thing that’s happening across the Jewish community. Maybe that’s for you. And if none of this looks like it’s for you, come out for coffee with us, and we’ll figure out what your thing is, and we’ll help you connect.”

Michelle W. Malkin:  So, what are the programs that you put on? What are those gaps that you’re seeing?

Rachel Gildiner:       So again, a lot of it is just greasing the wheels. The programs that exist—and from my work at Hillel, this was something we really focused on, which is that the number one reason that people don’t go to something isn’t because the content isn’t amazing, or it sounds like it’s going to be awesome, or you really want to hear that speaker, but it’s because you don’t have anyone to walk in the door with.

What we try and do is give people their people to walk into any Jewish door with. And so, in that vein, we actually started a fellowship that’s based on what was happening on campus, but we wanted to pilot it and see what we could learn in a post-college city setting. It’s called the Open Doors Fellowship. And the purpose is to train young adults who themselves are trying to figure out where their Jewish connection is, to be ambassadors of Jewish life for their peers.

We train them how to approach someone who they don’t know, how to be an active listener, how to really understand what drives someone, not just in Judaism but in life, and then help them find their personal fit. So every year, we’ve trained 11 of these fellows, who now—they’re not tied to any organization. They’re not recruiting. They’re not recruiters. They’re really just out there trying to make any Jewish space more welcoming and more approachable.

And so, that’s one of the things that we offer to the city. It’s a service to the city, for us to train and invest in people who are going to kind of be greeters wherever they go. So that’s one project that we’ve launched, and it’s been very exciting.

Michelle W. Malkin:  Yeah. I was going to say that it seems like another barrier, even if you are someone who’s willing to walk in the door alone, is do you look into the crowd and see people you want to go talk to and hang out with, or not.

Rachel Gildiner:       Exactly. It’s not the fault of any organization or institution. When someone holds a program, and it’s an amazing program, and 300 people come, that’s a huge success for that organization. But what that also means is that you probably have people who come into that space and experience exactly what you described.

They’re in a room with 300 people. They’re here to hear an amazing speaker. But they leave that room not having talked to anyone. Not having seen anyone they know. Not having had anyone to process that amazing speaker’s content with. And it’s just a missed opportunity.

And so knowing that it’s our partner organizations who are putting on these programs and putting so much thought into them, how can we kind of help enrich the relationships and the connections that are happening in those rooms?

Michelle W. Malkin:  So do you help them with the planning of their program and kind of work with them at all? You just let them do it and you do your…?

Rachel Gildiner:       Yeah. Because they’re experts at that. They’re amazing at that. They get the right speakers. They get the right people. They do that really well. And what we do really well is just this personal, individual connecting. And so when those powers combine, the D.C. Jewish community is so vibrant and so amazing, because there’s incredible content, and there’s incredible buildings and rabbis and staff and professionals, and also young adults who are looking for that person standing alone in the room, because they genuinely want to meet them and know who they are.

Michelle W. Malkin:  I mentioned at the top of our conversation, when I introduced you, this is the all-elusive 20s and 30s millennial generation. Other than putting in a new line item for coffee, what kind of advice—what would you suggest to these older institutions that have people walking in their door, but then come to the speaker and leave and don’t really find those connections as easily?

Rachel Gildiner:       It’s such an important question. I think there really is this misconception that this millennial generation, and now the generation following closely after them, is not interested in participating. And what I think is really true of humans is that everyone is looking to connect, and everyone is looking for meaning. It’s just the way that they find that is different.

One of the other criticisms of this generation is this technology piece. And what I think is so exciting is that technology is actually an asset. It’s an asset to help bring meaning and connection to this generation and to our communities. Not replace it, but to help facilitate it.

I think how we use technology, and kind of not poo-pooing it, but just understanding how it’s a tool that millennials are naturally using, and how it can help form connections that need to land in a personal place as well.

So, an example of that is sometimes I think institutions feel like to get young people, they have to do something sexy or have a fancy name, or have free food or free drink. And I think those things help. What people will pay is a big question, and we think about that too.

But at the end of the day, what are young adults who participate in one of your programs going to leave with? Are they going to leave with meaning? Are they going to leave having a new connection, a new friend? Something that actually impacts their lives, that they can kind of take with them?

I have a favorite story. It’s a Yiddish story where there’s a man who goes into the community square, and he’s surrounded by people, and he says, “Anyone in this square who loves jam, I want you to show up at my house tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m.” And then he walks away. And at 10:00 a.m., hundreds of people show up at his house. They show up, and they’re there, and they’re saying, “I love jam, and I’m here because you invited me to come.” And the man opens his door, and he says, “Wow, so many who love jam.” And then he goes back inside his house.

And I just—it’s just a silly story. It just rings so true to me because what we often care about in the Jewish world is getting people to show up and fill our seats and say, “Show that you love being Jewish, and come to this thing”—whatever that thing is—and then we don’t think about what is happening, and how we can facilitate the deepest meaning in that space.

And sometimes that’s not by having 100 people come. Sometimes it’s by having ten people come ten times. Everyone has their angle. For some people, it’s you need—what’s the content that’s going to speak to people? And that’s important. But the work that I do, the lens I see the world, it’s about the “who.” Who is there? Who are they going to talk to? How are they going to process whatever is happening? And how are you facilitating connections?

And I think this work—it takes a lot of time. This one-on-one coffees, listening, connecting—it’s really time-consuming. And so I think that it requires a different infrastructure to support. And so, a lot of institutions, for really good reasons, they fill their calendar with programs, and so it’s hard to figure out where the time for the individual people come.

And so GatherDC wants to be a voice in D.C. and beyond that says, “Let’s start with the who. Let’s start with what is the user experience of a program, and why would someone want to come?” Not just enough that they show up, but what are they going to get when they’re there? And I think that rings just as true for millennials as it does for any other generation.

Michelle W. Malkin:  It sounds like you’re talking a lot about intentionality and planning. So if you’ve got a community of people that are like, “We need to get younger people involved. Let’s do it!” it’s not just magically going to happen because you want it to, or you recognize that your population is getting older. It really takes a lot of, not even just expertise, but like planning and thinking and being intentional about why and how these people are going to connect with your community, and to what end, and what does that look like. And do we need a coffee budget? Right? And who’s the person who’s having those coffees? Is it 65-year-old Larry that has been in the community for 30 years, or is it maybe somebody else that they identify?

And I think sometimes that intentionality and planning isn’t necessarily what people either know to do or really ever focus on doing before jumping into something that might seem flashy or exciting. Or, “Let’s do this thing,” and it doesn’t really seem to be working so well.

Rachel Gildiner:       Or I would say that intentionality is just sometimes like misdirected. So, you can have a lot of intentionality about the logistics of something that doesn’t matter as much. I know in my event planning days, we would spend so much time going over the menu. And of course the menu matters. And of course it’s important. But if we spent as much time and intentionality—exactly what you’re saying—the food or even the decorations—there needs to be quality.

These things are all important, but if you think of the time that staff spends talking about the details and logistics and the door registration—all those things—and you switch the focus to the intentionality around the individual people—like, who’s going to get every single person’s name? Who’s going to talk to every face? What are we going to do when people leave? What’s the first way they’re going to hear from us after? Is it going to be to ask for a donation? Is it going to be to take a survey that helps us? What does that look like? If they spent as much time and intentionality on those pieces—it’s just asking different questions—I genuinely think it would yield a different result.

Michelle W. Malkin:  And it’s even like who’s going to be there early to make sure there is somebody that greets somebody new and…

Rachel Gildiner:       Yeah. Oh my gosh.

Michelle W. Malkin:  …connects that person to somebody else.

Rachel Gildiner:       Oh my gosh. We have—so we have these monthly happy hours at GatherDC, and we do them all over—like real cool bars in the city. I’m not cool, so I don’t know a lot of the bars until I show up, but you always see this thing happen, where it starts at 6:00, and someone shows up at 5:50. And they’re waiting really awkwardly and nervously like right outside of the registration table. And you can tell that they’re waiting for someone, but they are not going to come in. They are not going to talk to us. They are not going to enter the space until that person is there.

And so, we literally—everyone on our staff, if we see that happen, we just go up and we start talking with them. And we say, “Oh, here’s a free drink ticket. Go…” You know, just the awareness of the people in your space. Our backs weren’t turned to them, and we were like frantically making sure that the tables were set. The people. It’s the focus on the people that makes a difference.

Michelle W. Malkin:  So what are some other barriers you can think of that keep people from focusing on that and being successful in—even just starting a 20s and 30s group at their synagogue. I think I also hear a lot of like, “Well, where do you find them? How do you find these people that want to come to your area?” Like do you go and knock on every door in your community and try to find new people? I think that’s something I hear a lot, of like, “Well, where are these people, and how do we find them, and how do we get to them?”

Rachel Gildiner:       GatherDC believes in the networked approach to reaching people. So what that means is that instead of kind of hanging up a shingle and saying, like, “Everyone come to us,” we believe that relationships have value in and of themselves. But relationships also introduce you to their relationships and their friends. And word of mouth is a really big part of how we operate.

Something that is I think hard sometimes for synagogues or organizations or even us sometimes is that to be most successful, you actually have to be OK with success not necessarily benefiting your organization. And what I mean by that…

Michelle W. Malkin:  What, Rachel? Heresy!

Rachel Gildiner:       I know.

Michelle W. Malkin:  I can’t believe this! [laugh]

Rachel Gildiner:       It is. Like this—if we could—my goal…

Michelle W. Malkin:  …say such a thing!

Rachel Gildiner:

My dream in the world is that the entire Jewish community could see that we are a larger ecosystem, and that I don’t have to make sure someone has the best time at my program. If they’re going to have the best time at another Jewish organization, or with another Jewish person, and that’s their right fit, I’m not losing someone. That’s a really positive thing.

And so one of the ways that that happens and what I hear a lot is like, Jewish institutions say, “We need to get people in our space. They need to see how cool our space is. They need to be in our walls. We need to count them as coming here.” And sometimes that works. And there are people who just need that invitation into the space.

But a lot of times, that is the barrier. People are not going to show up to the JCC or to the conservative synagogue, or to—they just want to be with their people in their kind of native state, whether that’s their living room or a bar. Which, you know, this Yom Kippur, we got a lot of interesting attention around doing something in a bar, because that’s where people are.

That’s so foreign that—what are the spaces where people are most comfortable, and just let them do Jewish there. So we definitely think that location can be a barrier. But again, if we look at it differently, it can also be an asset. Like how cool is it to think about doing Jewish things in coffee shops, or letting people do it in their backyard because they have a cool deck?

And that that’s still the success of the synagogue if they’re helping facilitate and make that happen. It doesn’t have to be in their space and in their walls. I think that’s just a different way of thinking, but when physically showing up somewhere is a barrier, let’s take that away.

Michelle W. Malkin:  Or even whether or not the traditions you think are so important are carried through, right? So if you have people on Yom Kippur, during Yom Kippur, having coffee, but talking about and reflecting on their year and how they might have acted incorrectly, and how they can do better next year—that’s what you’re pushing, right? You’re not pushing the, “Well, why aren’t you fasting? Why aren’t you hearing these prayers? Why aren’t you doing it the way that we’re supposed to be doing it?” But you have the same kind of people underlining activities and thought and identity development, that that’s what you want to see.

Rachel Gildiner:       Yeah, that’s our goal. And I really do—I understand that there are institutions who—right? Like it’s—this is also the “who.” There’s segments of the “who.” It’s really nice and romantic to think that there’s this one big Jewish community. We all observe the same way, and we all think the same things, and we all have the same theology, and your Yom Kippur looks like my Yom Kippur, and that unites us. There’s something really beautiful about that.

But there’s also this reality on the ground that that’s not at all the case. And instead of kind of pretending that that doesn’t exist, or pretending like everyone is in shul on Yom Kippur—no. Like, no. Not everyone is in shul or in synagogue. And if they are, they might be bored out of their minds.

And so, to just kind of name and acknowledge that we can all be Jewish, and we can all share this wisdom and heritage and tradition—we just express it differently—is like a first step.

And then how do we actually facilitate experiences that help bring this meaning? We were in a beer garden literally having people write their own eulogies. I mean, it was radical, but also, that’s what Yom Kippur is about.

Michelle W. Malkin:  Right.

Rachel Gildiner:       We had 130 people there, and we had a wait list. This was an experiment, and we were totally prepared for this to fail. Our hypothesis was that there are going to be people who aren’t going to go synagogue on Yom Kippur. Where are they? What if they would come to a beer garden?

In our conversations, we said, “It might be ten people, and then we’ll know, ‘OK, this isn’t the way to reach folks.’” But we hit on something. And so again, I think we really would have been OK if that failed. We would have learned, and we would have tried something new.

And so I think it would just be really cool if every kind of Jewish organization was like, “What’s the most radical thing we could imagine, and let’s just see if it works. And if it doesn’t, we’ll move on with our lives and find the next place where we know the Jews are hanging out.”

But yeah, just making it a priority to try different things and try and reach different segments of this broader Jewish community—that excites me a lot.

Michelle W. Malkin:  Yeah. And it goes back to what you were talking about being people-focused.

Rachel Gildiner:       Yeah.

Michelle W. Malkin:  What do the people need? And to think about this demographic as not wanting that, right? As like, “Oh, well, they don’t go to temple on Yom Kippur.” To be like, “Well, why don’t they want to go to temple on Yom Kippur?” And why are you then assuming that they don’t want anything during this time? Why are you assuming that there’s no connection that they have to their Jewish traditions or wanting to have these conversations?

And maybe they had grown up in NFTY or USY or camps that are completely lacking [laugh] once you become an adult. Like I want to write my own eulogy, but I’m not going to do it sitting in my apartment by myself, because I think that’s interesting, right? And that’s also not something I’m going to do at a Yom Kippur service. As things are evolving and we are kind of trying to think more about the people and not the demographic or the age or their technological savviness or how they interact with the world, to try and figure out what it is that they want out of a Jewish experience.

Rachel Gildiner:       Absolutely.

Michelle W. Malkin:  Wonderful. So what’s the future for the organization? What’s the kind of next step for you guys?

Rachel Gildiner:       The exciting thing about D.C. is that we have new young adults who move here, if not every day, every month, every year. There’s just this constant influx of young adults who come to the city for jobs or relationships or fellowships, and all of those exciting things.

And so, what we really want to do is figure out how we can continue to be the first stop that just kind of helps them navigate everything that’s out there, before they either opt out or kind of get lost or they fall off the map for us.

And so what that looks like is we are going to continue to hone and develop this engagement methodology, this kind of what does it look like to function in a relational way. How do you build infrastructure around that? How do you operationalize in a way that allows you to be lean and meet people where they are, but also continue to provide meaning and Jewish connection in a sustainable and compelling way?

And so we are creating trainings where we can help other organizations think through and apply this methodology to their own work. We are continuing to employ engagers on the ground—people who again spend almost zero of their time planning programs, and more of their time just listening to people. That’s really kind of where we see ourselves growing.

And look, I think we really believe in the ability and the power of organizing. Helping organize communities, where they already have incredible assets and programs, but kind of creating a central hub that helps people find out about those opportunities.

And so if there’s a GatherChicago or a GatherAtlanta, or a GatherDenver, or whatever that looks like, we see this really being a replicable and exciting model for other cities down the road. And yeah, I think there’s a lot of potential for where we are, but we’re just really grateful for the community we’re a part of, for the adults that we meet and get to talk to every day.

I’ll also say, just what you were talking about before—this idea of being able to take yourself outside of your own Jewish experience and actually empathize with the fact that someone else will experience their Judaism differently. A lot of the training we do with our fellows is about, you’re going to meet people who have a very different Jewish experience than you do, and how do you kind of engage with them without judgment? Without making anyone feel badly about where they’re coming from, but actually have empathy for someone else’s Jewish connection and put yourself in their shoes. Like you might love talking about Israel, and this person just might not. So don’t invite them to an Israel program.

And so I think this understanding of empathy in the Jewish community in general is something that we want to be a champion of as well.

Michelle W. Malkin:  And you’re not getting the information by having them fill out a survey.

Rachel Gildiner:       Yeah. Like surveys are important—oh my gosh. If the Jewish world has got anything, it’s data. We love data. It’s amazing. Data drives us forward and it’s great, but there’s also something about a human one-on-one conversation where you can get so much valuable information that’s going to help you help someone else in a way that a survey just doesn’t do.

Michelle W. Malkin:  So what does your funding structure look like at the moment? Do you have foundation funding? Are you individually cultivating funding? How do you keep your feet on the ground? [laugh]

Rachel Gildiner:       Yeah, it’s a great question. Again, as an organization, GatherDC is still really in its infancy. We’ve been funded as an organization, with full-time, senior-level staff, for three years. And so we’re very lucky and fortunate to be funded by three local foundations, who have helped us get our feet off the ground. And we are continuing to engage new donors, both individuals and foundations who believe in this work, who are excited by different aspects of what we’re trying to do.

And so, my role in the coming year will be to increase our fundraising as we also try to increase our staff and our impact in the city. But we are very fortunate we have a board and funders who believe in our mission wholeheartedly. They want to see us try new things. They see the value in us as an asset to the city overall and have been able to really help us kind of become established as this new entity. As GatherDC. And we’ll continue to kind of hit the pavement and try and get more people involved with supporting us financially.

Michelle W. Malkin:  And do you have people in their 20s and 30s on your board?

Rachel Gildiner:       So, we don’t. What we do have—and this is really exciting, and something that has kind of been a dream of mine since I started—is that we have what’s called an Innovator’s Advisory Network. And this is a group of 20s and 30s. They’re not the people who use our calendar every day. They’re a little bit kind of more established in the community, but they are advisors. They provide guidance.

They have been kind of behind the scenes with us in terms of how we are thinking about growing, and how we operate. And this group of 11 20s and 30s kind of works in tandem with our board, which is a governance body, and also provides incredible expertise and insight and support.

And so the two of these bodies together, they are our lay leaders who kind of help pave our direction and who help guide us, again both financially and in terms of the audience that we’re serving. And so it has been a really cool project.

We’re a few months into the advisory network, and we have amazing people who have brought amazing expertise to bear on our work, and we’re really grateful for this kind of robust network that we’ve launched.

Michelle W. Malkin:  Yeah, that’s excellent. Good job! Because [laugh] it’s definitely something I’ve touched upon in this program, just really thinking about the diversity of your board and is it representative of those that you are serving, and having different generational conversations.

Because if you have people in their 50s and 60s, or 60s and 70s, who happen to be big donors, who are making these decisions about how do we engage 20s and 30s, without people in their 20s and 30s kind of around that table or involved in that conversation—and it seems like this also—how much are you developing your future leaders? And so it seems like this is a great way for you guys to do that, and really invest in those that you’re serving. That’s fantastic.

Rachel Gildiner:       And something else I’ll share—again, we think a lot about the user experience, and the experience of the people we’re trying to engage. And something that I’m just very aware of is on one hand—and boards are all different, but in the past. I have heard about experiences trying to get that young voice on the board. And it is really helpful for all of the more established and kind of older individuals who are around that table, but for that young adult, it’s like not a super positive experience. I hope it’s OK to say that.

But again, I think that our hope, and in line with our mission, is that everything that people do with us, we want them to connect with other people, with other young adults through engaging with us. And so the idea of putting together a whole group of young adults that are actually a body, a functioning body themselves, as opposed to kind of taking two representative young adults and saying, “OK, now you’re going to be in a room with these really powerful, impressive, established funders and lawyers, and we want you to speak for the entire young adult community…”

Michelle W. Malkin:  Right, right. Yeah.

Rachel Gildiner:       You know, it’s overwhelming. It’s intimidating. And half the meeting is about governance and things that they might be bored out of their mind about. So again, this idea that we want people to have a positive experience, but we also really want their expertise. And so by putting it in kind of these two separate bodies, and identifying their different needs—it has been more to manage, but the impact has been tenfold.

Michelle W. Malkin:  So I know we talked a little bit about advice. Do you have other advice for Jewish professionals out there? Maybe those that are focused on this cohort, aren’t focused on this cohort, just trying to do the work of Jewish professional-ness? [laugh]

Rachel Gildiner:       Yes. So what I would say to everyone is, always take advice with a grain of salt. Right?

Michelle W. Malkin:  [laugh]

Rachel Gildiner:       You know your authentic self, and sometimes advice hits home, and sometimes you’re like, “Nope, that’s not advice for me.” What I would kind of encourage Jewish professionals to think about in our work is, a lot of times in the Jewish world, I see this model of advocacy. In the adaptive leadership model, there’s two ways—advocacy and inquiry. And a lot of times, in a Jewish world, there are a lot of people who advocate. Like, “We’ve found the right way. This is how you do it. We’re the right cause. We’re the right mission.” And they lead with advocacy.

And I think that there’s something really beautiful and really refreshing about taking a first approach of inquiry. Right? Like if someone isn’t coming to you, it’s an opportunity and an invitation for you to inquire. To genuinely inquire, “What is it that drives you? Where are you looking to find your Jewish connection? What are the ways that you are looking to be Jewish in your own life?”

And I also think that goes across organizations. We all need to learn from one another. We need to be open and asking questions about what is your model, and what can we learn from that, and how does that work? And instead, we often kind of come out of the gates advocating for ourselves or our organization.

I have kind of tried to navigate that in my own professional life, and I think if we can be building an army of people who inquire before they advocate, that we would learn a lot more about the people that we’re trying to reach, and about how to best do that. So that’s something that I just—it’s on my mind right now, and I think it’s just kind of a cool paradigm to think about as we do our work.

Michelle W. Malkin:  Yeah. And those are also really great skills in conflict management, right?

Rachel Gildiner:       Yeah.

Michelle W. Malkin:  And it seems like conflict management doesn’t necessarily just have to be between two people. Obviously we have lots of conflict management between organizations, especially when you’re competing, or seemingly competing.

And you mentioned this before—rising tides lift all boats. That whether they’re going to engage with you in the long terms or they’re going to engage with Sixth and I, or they’re going to engage with some synagogue, that is good for everybody.

And whether you get the $100 donation or they get the $100 donation, right? Maybe you get a $100 donation that they didn’t get, right? So it’s something that’s good. That’s why it’s called the community, right?

Rachel Gildiner:       Yeah.

Michelle W. Malkin:  Things that are good for everybody. But sometimes it’s really hard when you have your laser focus on your organization and your work, to kind of see the bigger picture. Wonderful. So how do you do it, Rachel? I know you have kids, a husband. I see Hungry, Hungry Hippos in the background. [laugh]

Rachel Gildiner:       [laugh] That’s so funny.

Michelle W. Malkin:  So how do you keep it all together? How do you keep some balance and sanity in your life, assuming you do?

Rachel Gildiner:       Oh my gosh. Yeah. It’s a big assumption. That is the million dollar question. I think the first answer is that I’ve just learned to be really patient with myself. There’s this self-love and self-appreciation of like, some days you’re going to have it all together, and some days, you’re just not. And that doesn’t mean you’re a bad professional, and that doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom, and that doesn’t mean you’re a bad friend. It’s just this like cosmic balance of life.

I think I actually have on my desk a postcard that says, like, “Be patient with yourself. You are but a…”—I don’t know—something in the universe. Like we just have to let ourselves be all of these things at once. And on days where you do it all, I feel like superwoman, like I can take on the world. And days where one child is sick, or one deadline is missed, or one team meeting doesn’t go well, it’s really hard. Those days are really hard.

And I think that naming that this is hard, whether you have a family, or other relationships, or all of the commitments in your life, it’s really hard to fit in all of those big rocks. And so, patience with yourself is just kind of the bottom line.

And I think the other thing is you need to surround yourself by cheerleaders. Right? I spend my day at work cheerleading everyone—my staff, the community, the individuals I talk to, our partner organizations. And sometimes you just need to pick up the phone and have someone say, “You’re doing great. You’re killing it. You’ve got this. Keep it up. I’m here. I’m sorry you had a bad day and you need to cry right now.” Whatever that is.

Just finding those cheerleaders in your life—professional, personal—they’ve just got your back—it’s so important. And I am so grateful. All you cheerleaders who are listening right now—I’m here because of them. So yeah, I would say patience and finding the people who really can lift you up and hold you when you’re down.

Michelle W. Malkin:  Wonderful. Any last thoughts or comments that you can think of? Things we didn’t touch upon?

Rachel Gildiner:       Really, I’m grateful for the chance to be on this. I think this is such an awesome idea. I’m so excited about all of the work that’s happening in and across the Jewish world. I’m grateful to be a student of it. I’ve listened to your other podcasts. I’m so grateful for the wisdom that is out there.

And I just really hope that we can continue to share what we’re learning and share the questions that we’re asking. And at the end of the day, we’re all going to be a lot better off because of it. So thank you.

[End of recording]

Spotted in Jewish DC – 1831 Bar & Lounge

This week in #SpottedinJewishDC, we’ve discovered an awesome bar steps away from our favorite soup-spot (what up Soupergirl). Some reasons this bar is worthy of the highly revered “Spotted in Jewish DC” title: 1) Really inexpensive happy hour prices; 2) Steampunk inspired ambiance; 3) The owners are three Jewish brothers who are natives of the DC suburbs. Read this exclusive interview with 1831 Bar & Lounge’s Co-Founder and Owner Sean Chreky – and then go say hi in person!

Allie: How did you wind up opening the bar?

Sean: I come from an entrepreneurial family. My mom had her own dance school, my dad started his own hair salon, and many of my extended family members were hairstylists. I was meant to be a hairstylist (ie: Don’t Mess with the Zohan). Instead of becoming a hairdresser, I got my masters in finance and was going to work in investment banking. But deep down, I wanted to own my own business and be my own boss. And my father always taught me I should follow my own dreams. When my brothers and I saw this amazing space available in DC in 2015, we jumped on this opportunity to buy the space and transform it into a bar. Now, my two brothers and I are owners of 1831 Bar & Lounge! They say doing business with family is never a good idea, and we definitely have our moments, but ultimately we’re happy to be doing it.

Allie: What sets your bar apart from the others?

Sean: Well, we have a really inexpensive happy hour menu. Since we started 1831 on a shoestring budget, we wanted to do whatever we could to create buzz around it, and figured having really cheap drinks and food -$1 beers, $4 glass of wine, $6 Tito’s – would do the trick. We also specialize in hosting events, whether it’s a birthday party, or a corporate or nonprofit event.

Ambiance-wise, we’re trying to be a steampunk-inspired bar – like in the 1800s when there was industrial steam-powered machinery, a little bit like the train time machine in Back to the Future Part 3. We’re looking forward to eventually having our staff wear steampunk outfits.

In the future, we will keep the bar & lounge as is and start a nightclub by taking over three more levels of the building.

Allie: What advice do you have for someone dreaming of opening up their own business?

Sean: Before you do it, know that it’s really what you want. It takes a lot of work, late nights, and the bar industry can be a tough one. Make sure that whatever business you are planning to start is the industry you really want to be in. Try working in that industry before you start your own business, so you get a feel for it. And have a niche. You need to be able to carve out your own unique space and stand out from the competition. Oh, and make sure you have more than enough money saved if things don’t go as planned.

Allie: What do you like to do for fun outside of work?

Sean: Well, because I invested everything in the bar, and it takes time for a bar to become profitable, I had to get another job during the day. So, my fun time is very limited. But, if I did have time to spare, I’d spend it by the water. My brothers and I love going to the beach, scuba diving, and spearfishing. I love watching football – we’re Ravens, Redskins, and Miami Dolphin fans. If you come to 1831 on Sundays, we have Redskins games playing, and are also the official DC bar for the University of Miami Hurricanes and the DC International Film Festival.

Allie: How do you connect with your Jewish identity?

Sean: I have a deep cultural connection, and care a lot about Jewish tradition. I went on Birthright Israel, and we grew up going to Congregation Har Shalom. I also love Jewish foods – Matzo ball soup has a soft spot in my heart. I used to live in New York City, and there were real, authentic Jewish diners where I had some of the best matzo ball soup of my life – like 2nd Ave Deli.



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.