Rachel was nominated to be the Jewish feature by Ben, former Jewish Guy of the Week. They went on a Birthright Alumni trip together that inspired Rachel to come back and start her own service project in DC. When not watching baseball or cooking, Rachel is doing communications for the Pew Research Center. Learn more about her in our interview below!
Jackie: You are from St. Louis originally. What do you miss most about it?
Rachel: I have a ton of St. Louis pride. The number one thing I miss about it is my family. The second thing is my favorite baseball team, the St. Louis Cardinals. The third is just how nice people are in the Midwest – it really is true. For all of these reasons, I try to go back to St. Louis as often as I can.
Jackie: Ben mentioned you went on an alumni mission to Israel last year together. What was that like?
Rachel: I had the privilege of participating in the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s Alumni Leadership Mission through NEXT DC in late 2015, with 25 young adults from D.C. who had been on Birthright trips. It was my second time being in Israel. I hadn’t been back since 2007 when I went on Birthright. This trip was about seeing Israel through the eyes of people who live there and experiencing day-to-day life and culture, beyond seeing tourist sites that we visited on Birthright. We learned all about the work that the Federation does in Israel, visited several Israeli businesses, volunteered, and spent time with Israelis who staffed Birthright trips from D.C. Along the way, we participated in leadership workshops and learned the art and importance of storytelling. The best part about the trip was that we came back to D.C. with a new group of Jewish friends, and we’ve inspired each other to become even more involved in Jewish life here.
Jackie: You are currently working on a project interviewing Jews with disabilities. Can you tell me more about that?
Rachel: Yes, after our trip, each of us began working on a project to impact the D.C. Jewish community. I’m working with two other people on a project to help tell the stories of young Jews in D.C. who have disabilities, with the goal of fostering a dialogue that will ultimately help the community become more inclusive. We’ve begun interviewing people and are in the process of turning the interviews into blog posts that will eventually be shared.
Jackie: What inspired you to start such a meaningful project?
Rachel: One of the main themes of our Israel trip was inclusion, which tied into much of our itinerary. For example, our first dinner in Israel was at Café Kapish, a restaurant where all of the staff are hearing-impaired. We found ways to order or ask for things using body language, rather than spoken words. We also visited a military base where we spent time with young soldiers participating in the Special in Uniform program – a program that provides work opportunities in the military for Israelis with special needs, who would otherwise not be able to serve. We talked to them and helped them disassemble computers into parts that the military could use. When I think about the trip, these are some of the experiences that stood out to me most. We’ve all felt excluded at times, and the Jewish community is one that should be welcoming to everyone. Telling the stories of young Jews with disabilities and sharing their ideas for how to make our community more inclusive is something that would benefit all of us.
Jackie: What is one thing you can’t get through your day without?
Rachel: Baseball. I’m a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan and am literally counting down the days until Spring Training starts! Also, chocolate chip cookies. I’m on a quest to find the best one in D.C. So far, my favorite is the Captain Cookie and the Milkman food truck.
Jackie: Speaking of cookies, I hear you love to bake. What are some of your favorite things to bake?
Rachel: I especially love to make my mom’s kugel on Jewish holidays. Without fail, I always have to call her when I’m making it because I can never remember the exact recipe. My mom knows it by heart and can always figure out the ingredient I’m forgetting. I also love making cookies, whether classic chocolate chip, hamantaschen on Purim or Chanukkah cookies in December. Lately, I’ve also been trying new recipes from Dorie Greenspan’s new cookie book, Dorie’s Cookies.
Jackie: Can you tell us more about your job – what’s it like to work at the Pew Research Center?
Rachel: Our mission at Pew Research Center is to inform the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world, which is something that I feel good about doing, every day. I work on the communications team, so my job is to help our research reach the right audiences. Pew Research Center is nonpartisan and non-advocacy, which are qualities that can be hard to find in Washington. I feel lucky to work with such smart colleagues at a place that produces research that is so relevant to what’s happening in the world.
Jackie: What is your favorite Jewish holiday?
Rachel: Passover. Seder has always been one of my favorite family traditions, and I love the themes of freedom and Spring.
Finish the sentence: When the Jews Gather…there is loud conversation, laughter and way too much delicious food… and I wouldn’t have it any other way!