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Meet Monica: Jewish DC-Lover of the Week!

Monica Arkin is DC’s biggest cheerleader. Although she currently lives – and works – in Bethesda, Maryland, she never ceases on an opportunity to take full advantage of all that our great nation’s capitol has to offer. From day-dreaming of free afternoons laying on the National Mall to enthusiastically attending Jewish events across the city to taste-testing hamantaschen at local DC bakeries, Monica is here to reinvigorate your love for the District. Read on to get to know this vivacious human!

Allie: How did you wind up living in DC?

Monica: I’m from Cleveland originally and went to University of Michigan (go blue!), where I majored in Psych and minored in Hebrew. After college, I knew that I wanted to go to Israel to learn more about PTSD in kids and adolescents. In Israel there is so much trauma, which is unfortunate, but given the circumstances they do a really good job of producing research about trauma and resiliency.

I went to Israel after graduating, and it was great. After a year in Israel, I decided to come back to the US, I and started looking for jobs online. My cousin sent me an opening for a job in Bethesda – to be  a research assistant for a nonprofit, nonpartisan social science research organization called Child Trends. My first thought of Bethesda is that its where Carmen lived in Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but when I looked it up on GoogleMaps I realized how close it was to DC! The job description was amazing, and I knew I liked DC from the two times I had been here. I got the job, and moved here, and have been pleasantly surprised time and time again with DC.

Allie: What do you love most about living in DC?

Monica: Honestly, I think it’s really special that our Jewish community has GatherDC, and no other city has anything like that [Editor’s Note: Monica received zero compensation for this shoutout — #humblebrag.]. It is really cool that every week I get one email that shows me what’s going on across the spectrum of observance levels, across all these different areas. One weekend, there might be a sephardic dinner and a social action Tikkun Leil Shabbat. If I wanted to, I could go to two Jewish events in DC every night.

Allie: Speaking of your passion for Jewish DC life, what was it like to be a part of GatherDC’s Open Doors Fellowship? [NOTE: The Open Doors Fellowship is a 6-month fellowship that trains a group of 8-12 young adults from across DC to become go-to leaders, conveners, and facilitators of DC Jewish life.]

Monica: It was really fun! We had a really good group of people. It was cool meeting other people in the Jewish community, and we did a lot of community mapping so I was able to learn about every Jewish organization in DC. Now, when I meet someone new, I’m able to be a sort of unofficial ambassador for Jewish life and can connect people with things they might like.

Allie: I hear you volunteer for the Israeli American Council (IAC) – tell me about that!

Monica: I volunteer for a youth group – Eitanim – through the IAC. It’s a biweekly youth group for high schoolers, half of whom are American Jews and half of whom are Israelis. It’s cool because I get to interact with people of different ages, not only those in their 20s and 30s.

Allie: Awesome! Now, let’s get to know some of your favorite things…what’s your favorite show to binge watch right now?

Monica: Blackish. I love it.

Allie: Favorite way to spend a free Sunday in the city?

Monica: I would probably sit outside at Tryst and each lunch. Then, I’d walk all the way from Tryst to the National Mall and just sit on the Mall with friends.

Allie: Favorite Jewish food?

Monica: At the moment, I’m into hamantaschen. Yesterday, I got these amazing hamantaschen from Sunflower Bakery – triple chocolate and cookie dough filled.

Allie: Favorite Jewish holiday and how do you celebrate it?

Monica: Passover! This year, I’m celebrating it in a very special way. we’re doing Pesach in Cleveland for Seder, which we always do. But, the week before we’re doing a huge “Pre-sach” (AKA: pre-Pesach) ski trip in Breckenridge, Colorado. My cousins are all going – family is coming in from California, Cleveland, and London. We’re going to do a Seder the week before Passover when we’re all together.

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

Monica: Jewish geography is played.

 

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, Ben, Ben, AND Ben! (yes, you read that right)

GatherDC’s winter 2018 Beyond the Tent retreat was an amazing experience for young adults to get outside of DC for a weekend, unpack 21st century Judaism, and explore their Jewish identity over deep, meaningful conversations. Among the 30 participants, zero were named Rachel…but FOUR were named Ben! This week, the Bens of Beyond the Tent share their unique perspectives on Jewish DC and life in general – proving, once and for all, that not all Bens are the same. Get to know them…

 

Ben D. – Former Jewish Guy of the Week!

Allie: Where does your unique name come from? Do any of you have a cool story behind why you were named Ben?

Ben D.: I was going to be named after my grandfather, Sidney, which is now my middle name. As a result, my hebrew name is Simcha.

Ben F.: It was passed down from my great-grandfather.

Ben R.: I don’t know. Does that make me a bad Jew? Fake Jew? Typical Jew?

Ben L.: No, but my family and I grew a bit tired of our names last year (we’ve been using them for decades…) and so we used nicknames for a few good months. I went by Josh.

Ben F.

 

Allie: What do you love most about living in DC?

Ben D.: DC brings the best and the brightest young people from around the country, who come here specifically to make a difference in the world. DC is a springboard for young leaders.

Ben F.: Great collection of educated citizens that aren’t afraid to challenge the establishment. Ask questions, drive for change, and push forward.

Ben R.: All within a few miles and by way of a mass-public transportation train, there’s movies, comedy, craft beer, rock climbing, pour-over coffee shops, and challenging hikes. What else is there in life?

Ben L.: The monuments at night.

 

Allie: If you could pick a new name for yourself right now, what would it be and why?

Ben D.: I usually go by my full name “Ben Droz”, (rhymes with “Ben Rose”).  I like it just the way it is.

Ben F.: Staying with Ben. Simple name but yet plenty of clever nicknames.

Ben R.: When I was 26 years old, my first book was published. I had unlimited options for the name that was published on the cover: I could have chosen Ben, Benjy, Ben-jammin, Ben-jammmmmmmmmin, Benjamin, or an alias. I chose Benjamin, the name by which my loving parents chose to call me. And, I’m sticking with it.

Ben L.: Josh. Worked before. Could work again.

Allie: I hear you all recently went on GatherDC’s Beyond the Tent retreat with Rabbi Aaron! First, how was it? Second, was it weird, awesome, or both meeting 3 other Bens?

Ben D.: Beyond the Tent was a great experience, to get out of the DC bubble and make time for deep reflection. It helped to highlight that any person can define Judaism for themselves. I am used to there being other Bens around throughout my life, which is one reason why I usually go by my full name. But this time, we made up more than 10% of the whole group, so yes, that was both weird and awesome.

Ben F.: Beyond the Tent was a mind-changing experience. Rabbi Aaron encouraged us to ask difficult questions and not to be afraid to stand behind our beliefs. In terms of meeting all the Bens, I think we embraced it – it was like our own little breakout group in itself.

Ben R.: Beyond the Tent impacted my life positively, partly because I was one of four individuals named Ben. Never again in my life, I’m certain of this, will I be in the same place with three other friends named Ben. That’s “Beyond the Awesome”.

Ben L.: It was a thought provoking weekend. I’m a regular attendee of the weekly secret underground gatherings of the Bens, so nothing too new.

 

Allie: Favorite thing to do on a free Sunday in the city?

Ben D.: There are always so many events in DC that I like to see what is going on and base my decision on that.  Last weekend I randomly went to the Zoo, which was fun.

Ben F.: Go for a run along the National Mall.

Ben R.: Watch professional football. Oh wait, I live and die by the Washington Redskins and football season is over? Dang it!

Ben L.: Park. I really enjoy not having to use the meter.

 

Allie: Favorite Jewish food? Ben R., we already know you hate hummus

Ben D.: Chicken Soup.

Ben F.: Might be a classic choice, but Apples and Honey.

Ben R.: [haha. Yep]. Not hummus.

Ben L.: My mom’s challah. All of her’s are good, but I’d say that 1 out of 4 is truly something divine, especially when my two year-old niece helps. Shout out to Maya, Talia, and Andrew, my favorite Jews in DC!

 

Allie: Any surprising facts about yourself?

Ben D.: I had a spiritual experience at Burning Man and now want to incorporate spirituality into my life in new ways.

Ben F.: I was born without two normal teeth and with all 4 wisdom teeth. Call me strange I guess!

Ben R.: Every morning, I touch my three tattoos and say aloud a blessing of gratitude about having my third chance in life and about accepting myself and others as we are. Thanks to Beyond the Tent, I realize now that, for me, this is a deeply Jewish and spiritual ritual.

Ben L.: I used to tear it up at table tennis tournaments as a kid.

 

Allie: Favorite Jewish holiday and how do you celebrate it?

Ben D.: Passover, because there is so much relating to the holiday (I follow sephardic food rules so that I can still enjoy rice and lentils). I like to celebrate by re-interpreting the Haggadah from a post-modern perspective.

Ben F.: Rosh Hashanah. And I try to spend time back home to reminisce on the year prior and look at new ways to seize the future.

Ben R.: Purim because my friend is baking me hamentashen. Ask me again in April, and I may say a different holiday if a friend bakes me something else.

Ben L.: Havdalah. I like to hear the candle’s flame slowly go out in the wine. Judaism places a lot of emphasis on transitions throughout one’s day, week, or year and when in crisis, and I think that’s smart.

 

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

Ben D.: They will always find connection and meaning.

Ben F.: If meeting for the first time, you’ll probably get a first question like what you do for a living or where are you from.

Ben R.: They still congregate around the hummus.

Ben L.: You’ll never be the one with the best question or the best answer. That means it’ll be pretty exciting.

 

 

 

 

 

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 Sarah: Jewish Tech Startup Founder of the Week!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah: We schmooze and kibitz!

 

 

 

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

Why Open Doors is What I’m Bringing with Me When I Move

kelleyI am currently preparing to move to the other side of the country. The people close to me, including those with whom I shared my Open Doors Fellowship experience, have been hearing a lot about this recently. It comes with a good deal of stressors, and an even greater deal of reflection about my 6 years in DC. I’ve been particularly grappling with my most recent year, which has been tumultuous and full of change and confusion in a lot of areas in my life and my relationship to DC. However, as I was talking with my housemate about the things I experienced in DC over the last year, I was able to speak with unmatched gratitude and appreciation for my experience in the Open Doors Fellowship.

Being an Open Doors fellow provided me with an impressive array of resources, information, and skills. As the Communications and Engagement Fellow at Temple Micah, I found myself in many ways struggling know how to make the most of my time and do the best I could for the community I served in my work. The Fellowship taught me what engagement could mean—I learned how to leverage my networks in order to reach people who might not be Jewishly connected, how to have meaningful and connecting conversations that let me better connect people to resources, and how to derive enormous meaning from those connections. As the Fellowship progressed, I came to look forward to my coffee dates and drinks with the people I met, and I made enormous strides in my work.

However, to focus primarily on the professional and logistical benefits of the Open Doors Fellowship would be to do it a disservice. Those benefits were enormous and innumerable, but they were also secondary. The real beauty of the Open Doors Fellowship was that as I built a community around me, I also found myself woven into it. My cohort was a group of people I always looked forward to spending time with, and having a diverse, supportive team of people in pursuit of a mission alongside me was endlessly inspiring. The Fellowship gave me a space to deeply explore my Judaism and explore Judaism with the people I met in DC, and I made incredible connections with fascinating people through those conversations. The Fellowship left me with a network of genuine friends who were entirely new to me, and I hope that it brought new friends to the people I met as well.

As I move forward to a new place, the way I felt in the Open Doors Fellowship shapes the decisions I am making about how to build my new life. Having the conversations this fellowship empowered me to have demonstrated how powerful they can be in my life and in the lives of others. Being supported by the Gather team led me to realize that powerful, beautiful Jewish experiences can be created by anyone, including me. This experience left me with new thoughts that can be gained only from learning with others, and showed me that I can participate in building a Jewish community that allows me to do that, even if I don’t do so professionally. I am endlessly grateful to Rachel and Jackie for giving me this opportunity, and to my cohort for laughing, thinking, and creating with me. As I pack my bag and say my good-byes, I know this experience will come across the country with me.

Learn more about applying to be a 2015 Open Doors Fellow HERE!