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

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

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

Allie: How did you wind up living in DC?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allie: Favorite show to binge watch right now?

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

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

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

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

Rachel: it’s party time!!!

 

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

Meet Alex: Jewish Comedian of the Week!

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

 

Allie: How did you wind up living in DC?

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

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

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

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

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

Alex on his wedding day.

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

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

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

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

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

Performing at the Kennedy Center in the Terrace Theater

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

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

Allie: Who is your favorite Jewish comedian?

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

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

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

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

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

Allie: Favorite joke you tell?

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

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

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

 

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

Meet Anna: Jewish Peace-Maker of the Week!

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

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

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

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

Allie: How did you wind up in DC?

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

Allie: How did you get involved with Gather?

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

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

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

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

Allie: Best piece of life advice?

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

Allie: Favorite show to binge watch right now.

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

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

Anna: We unite.

 

 

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