When Julie Zauzmer is not investigating local religious news stories for The Washington Post (heard of it?) or creating life-size, wearable adult dresses out of…balloons (for real!), she’s crushing it on Jeopardy in front of the one-and-only Mr. Trebek. So yes, you should most definitely get to know this incredible human and then watch her kill it *fingers crossed* on Jeopardy next Thursday, January 11th at 7:30pm on WJLA. Life goals: Be the cool person shouting “I know her!!!” to the television while your French Bulldog woofs along with enthusiasm.
[PS – Julie’s not the only trivia genius residing in Jewish DC…check out fellow-Jeopardy contestant David Griesman’s interview from 2014 here.]
Allie: How did wind up living in DC?
Julie: I grew up in Philly and then went to college in Cambridge at Harvard. After graduating, I moved back home and worked at The Philadelphia Inquirer as a reporter. I moved to DC soon after when I landed a job at The Washington Post as a reporter!
Allie: Um…that’s incredible. What do you report on for The Post?
Julie: I used to mostly cover crime, and now I cover religion. It’s been so fascinating to go to all sorts of houses of worship and talk to people about how faith affects all facets of their lives. This beat has also pushed me to think a lot more deeply about my own Judaism, and what faith means to my life.
Allie: So, I hear you met the one and only Alex Trebek. How did that happen?
Julie: Yes! I applied for Jeopardy, starting with the online test, and then went in person to take another test and play practice Jeopardy. Shortly after passing those, I got a call from a Jeopardy producer – on Rosh Hashanah. The producer called after I had left services and was interviewing a priest – because that’s what you do as a religion reporter. When I got the call (finding out that I made it on the show), I told the priest I was with, and he said, “I’ll make sure all the seminarians are praying for you the night of the show.”
The show taped a month later. My month of preparation happened to fall over Sukkot. But, that worked out to my advantage! I had my own Sukkah, and friends would come over for outdoor potluck dinners every night and quiz me on Jeopardy questions.
The taping was in October in LA, and it was a lot of fun. During commercial breaks, Alex Trebek took questions from the audience so we got to know him a bit. The biggest thing that surprised me was how huge the board was in person, It’s enormous. I only got nervous at the very end of filming, when I had to come up with my wager for final Jeopardy! While I was writing my answer, three producers loomed over my shoulder watching me write it. I just put down a random number.
Allie: How does Judaism play a role in your DC life?
Julie: I used to live in Moishe House Bethesda. Now, the biggest part of my Jewish life, and social life in general, is being a part of TLS (Tikkun Leil Shabbat), which is a wonderful independent minyan of 20s and 30s who meet for Shabbat every 3 weeks in a church basement. TLS is very committed to social action, so almost every Shabbat we have someone come and speak from a local nonprofit who talks about ways we make a difference. The past several weeks, we’ve being focused on the theme of immigration.
I’d encourage people to check us out on Facebook and come to a Shabbat if you haven’t been yet. January 5th is our big, very silly New Year’s celebration with festive beverages, lots of fun, and an awesome surprise that I can’t give away (sorry, it’s not a guest appearance by Alex Trebek).
Allie: What fun hobbies do you do that might surprise people?
Julie: I’ve been making balloons since I was 8 years old, and in the past few years have learned from other balloon twisters. It had always been a fun hobby, but this year it expanded to a part time job – I did 99 events in 2017! If you want super cool balloons for your event, visit my website!
I also knit a lot, which goes hand in hand with another one of my hobbies, which is hosting a movie series. My friends come over on Sunday nights and we watch a movie that’s part of a theme, and I knit during the movies! One year, we watched every best picture nominee from 1939. Then, we watched a movie for every letter of the alphabet – starting with “American Pie” and going all the way to “Zootopia”. Now, we’re watching a movie that takes place in every state in the US. My hope is that by the time we finish the movie series, DC will be a state, and we’ll get to watch 51 movies!
Allie: Who is your Jewish life role model? Julie: One would be Joelle Novey, who is one of the founders of TLS. She continues to be a source of wisdom for our community. I admire her a whole lot. She set in motion this community which was exactly what so many of us needed, and is exceptionally good at figuring out the right answers to uncomfortable questions that come up. There’s a lot of Jewish organizers who work for social justice that I admire, like the staff at HIAS.
Allie: What’s a quote you are inspired by?
Julie: There’s a quote I pinned up on my desk at work from a nun, Sister Janet, who I wrote a story about this past summer. She helped build a chapel where a natural gas pipeline was supposed to go as a way to protest it. Regarding this, she told me, “To stand up and speak for the health of the Earth and of human beings and all of creation, I think that’s a win. And helping to bring about that beautiful order of things – I think that’s a win also. There’s lots of ways to win.”
Allie: Complete the sentence – When Jews of DC Gather…
Julie: I hope there is singing.