Jewish Journalist of the Week – Michael

by Jackie Zais / April 5, 2017


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I met Michael early on in my job at GatherDC (at the time it was Gather the Jews). He’s a constant presence in the DC Jewish community. In our interview, I found out about his life living in Hong Kong, his past helping out during the early days of GatherDC, and why he loves journalism. Find out more about the Jewish Journalist of the Week in this week’s interview.

Jackie: You lived in Hong Kong for many years. Can you tell me a little more about this experience?

Michael: My notion of being “abroad” is not what it was 10 years ago. It radically changed when I returned to the U.S., my native land, after 23 years on the other side of the globe. When I made the leap from Hong Kong to Dupont Circle for a job in 2007, it felt very much like going on an overseas adventure. I had just wrapped up a 23-year-stint in a Chinese city that was a British colony. (Side note: I still clearly remember the day that Britain staged a peaceful “handover” of Hong Kong to China on July 1st, 1997. It was a truly historic day that I remember well, because I lived it!) Living in Hong Kong was a gift, since I got to experience a unique blend of Asian and Western cultures. Now, after 10 years in DC, working in a journalism gig that I love, having met incredible people and immersed myself in extraordinary communities, DC feels like home. I still do consider Hong Kong my home town, though.

Jackie: What was your role in the early years of GatherDC?

Michael: When I learned that Aaron Wolf, Stephen Richer and Joshua Kaller were launching an email list and a website to help folks like myself better connect to the DC Jewish scene, I jumped at the chance to participate. For the first few years, I helped to populate the Gather calendar with events, wrote occasional blog posts and attended/photographed the regular happy hours!

Jackie: What are your favorite places to spend your time Jewishly in DC?

Michael: My favorite spot must be Sixth & I, where you may find me one, two – or even three! – times a week, typically for a Mesorah DC Shabbat service, meal & Cafe (study) Nite. I’d like to give a shout-out to Rabbi Teitelbaum and his Mesorah DC crew for their tireless work of the last 10 years, organizing a rich variety of programming through which I’ve made some dear friends. You can also find me at Chabad’s Dupont Circle Shul, where Rabbi Shemtov and his family have made similarly enormous efforts to enrich the lives of young Jewish adults for a decade. And there’s the Edlavitch DCJCC, where I’m a longtime fitness member and attend the occasional play (or Israeli dance session – kudos, Mona and Noah, for keeping it going for 10 years, too!).

Jackie: Do you have any plans for Passover?

Michael: First night Seder at my place! Parents will be visiting from “abroad”. Very excited.

Jackie: What first sparked your interested in journalism?

Michael: In 1990, a certain Arab nation invaded another, sparking a regional war early the next year. I’m not ashamed to say that I was old enough to remember this! I’m talking about Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent Persian Gulf War — the first to be televised extensively in real time. As a kid in Hong Kong, I was transfixed by images of a conflict that was directly affecting my relatives in Israel. I watched as reporters explained the dramatic events that were unfolding and thought (as a 13-year-old), I want to do that!

Jackie: Where are you currently working?

Michael: I’m a news editor at the Voice of America (VOA), which is an international broadcaster that produces audio, video and web content in more than 40 languages. Plus, it’s a U.S. federal agency! I joined VOA in late 2005 in Hong Kong — where I also worked for CNN International, a Hong Kong TV station, and a Hong Kong newspaper. This was all before relocating to the VOA HQ in DC in 2007!

Jackie: After 18 years as a journalist what keeps you interested in the work?

Michael: A few things, actually. Being a journalist allows me to originate stories that many people may not know about, to use all kinds of creative mediums to convey the reports, and then to see that content making an impact and building an audience!

Jackie: I believe you are involved in the Dupont Circle snowball fights. Can you tell me more about that?
Michael: For the last seven years, I’ve been running the Washington DC Snowball Fight Association (it’s a thing!) with several awesome co-conspirators: Ami Greener, Denis Baranov, Paige Marcus and Josh Neirman. We were let down this past winter with the appalling lack snow (which meant no snowball fights). But rest assured, we’ll be back next winter if enough of the white stuff graces DC! Like us on Facebook!

Jackie: Finish the sentence: When the Jews Gather…

Michael: We have fun in snow, tear up the dance floor, learn about our heritage, give back to our communities, and make life-long friends.