My first thought when I was accepted into the Gather the Jews Open Doors Fellowship was ‘I don’t really know what I’ll be doing.’ My closing thought after I presented my capstone project at the culmination of the Fellowship was ‘I don’t know where I’d be in DC if I hadn’t become a fellow.’ And in between, I thought ‘I can’t wait for our Tuesday night meetings’, ‘which Shabbat should I go to this week’, and ‘I’ve never peeled so many potatoes before!’
In the past six months, I feel like I’ve found my place in the District, met some of my best friends, hosted a Passover Seder (hence the potatoes), and got more in tune with my own Jewish identity. Who would have thought that simple conversations, group meetings with the other fellows, cheesy team bonding exercises, and, of course, inspiration from our two leaders Rachel and Jackie, could have done all that?
The goals of the Fellowship were clear: make the DC Jewish community smaller and act as a resource for people wanting to get more involved and connected. Our personal goal and capstone project – address a need or something missing in the Jewish community – was an evolutionary process that took a lot of thought and reflection. We had direct guidance and all the resources at our fingertips, but were free to explore and research on our own terms, through our individual relationships and meaningful conversations we had with other members of the Jewish community.
What I found: gaps within our community among those with different levels of observance, especially between those who identify as orthodox and those who identify as non-orthodox. My capstone project: a conversation event between those two groups facilitated by meaningful and contentious questions about Judaism. My hope was for people to gain perspective on why someone with a different level of observance thinks the way they do and practices the way they do. I worried that the participants would get frustrated or offended because, well, let’s be honest, no one likes being told that what he/she does is wrong or, on the other side, extreme. Luckily that wasn’t the case. Most of the participants became a bit more educated on different aspects of Judaism and left a bit more open minded. There were even requests for a follow-up event to gain more perspectives and talk about even more heated topics. Success!
So what’s next for me? I will be participating in much more discussion about Jewish thought and identity that seems to be erupting in our community right now. As a newly initiated Moishe House Without Walls host, I want to create more educational events like my capstone project. So keep an eye out for them, DC!
Most importantly, being an Open Doors Fellow, I learned to be that “awkward person” who talks to everyone without being awkward. I’ll sit next to a stranger at a bar and introduce myself, I’ll ask the person in line behind me in Starbucks what song they’re listening to on their iPhone, and I’ll run up to a person on the street wearing a kippah to invite them to an event I’m planning. Nine times out of 10, that encounter will turn into a new friend, a coffee date, or just a great conversation. That one time can turn into, well, a really awkward metro ride…
It may sound small, but I’ve developed a worthy skill that I will carry with me the rest of my life. Put me in front of my friends and family and I’ll be flustered. But put me in a room filled with random Jewish strangers, and I’ll never feel more comfortable.
Learn More about Applying to be a 2015 Open Doors Fellow HERE!