Allie: How did you wind up in DC?
Joe: I’m originally from Connecticut, and then my family moved to North Carolina. I was most recently living in Baltimore and working for Hillel, but saw my social life continually shift more and more towards DC, and sometimes I found myself here 5-7 times a week. Eventually, I decided I might as well move here.
Allie: What’s your favorite part about living in the District?
Joe: I really like the hustle and bustle of DC. It’s not quite NYC hectic-ness, but there are a lot of things going on, and so many different types of people and diverse international cultures. I have a hard time staying focused on one thing. I like to have lots of different passions, and feel like I’ve been able to pursue those in DC.
I lived in Moishe House Columbia Heights when I first moved here which was a huge passion of mine. I also love to perform and see shows and there are just so many wonderful theaters here. I also sing in the Gay Men’s Chorus here which is massive and has so much going on. Not to mention the DC food scene – I’ve become such a foodie, especially when it comes to brunch and ramen.
Allie: Describe your dream day in DC from start to finish.
Joe: It would start at 801 DC for their bottomless brunch, they give you entire bottles of champagne and carafes of strawberry puree, grapefruit, orange, and peach or apricot juices, and you can make your own mimosas. The food is great, and there is a rooftop you can sit on so you can get a fresh breeze. After a couple of hours there, I’d see what kind of festivals are going on. I love people watching. Then, I’d go to a wine bar where I can sit outside with friends. I’d definitely get ramen at Haikan for dinner. Their ramen melts in your mouth, it’s delicious. After that, I’d go see a couple of drag shows and almost certainly end the night doing karaoke at Dupont Italian Kitchen.
Allie: I heard you started Capital Qvellers. Tell me about this group and what inspired you to create it.
Joe: Capital Qvellers is an open group for anyone who identifies at LGBTQ+ and Jewish and is a young adult. It started because we were a group of people who got grouped together for Shabbat dinners because we were all queer-identifying. We realized there wasn’t really a space that we felt encompassed an open, inclusive community for LGBTQ+ young Jewish adults in DC where they could feel celebrated, reaffirmed, and be able to reconnect with their Jewish identity.
We started just doing Shabbat dinners once a month with support from Moishe House and OneTable. Then, Moishe House gave us a grant to do our first leadership retreat last year for young adults who were all really interested in building and creating a strong LGBTQ+ Jewish community. It became apparent that there was a large number of people who needed and wanted a space like this. If you want to get involved, email DCLGBTQJews@gmail.com, friend me on Facebook, or check out our Facebook page.
Allie: Has Judaism always been such a central part of your identity?
Joe: Being Jewish is very much a core part of who I am today, but no, it has not always been that way. I was adopted by distant, non-Jewish relatives and was raised in a Christian home. I didn’t even find out about my Jewish heritage until I was in high school. At that point, I already felt like Christianity didn’t vibe with me, but wasn’t sure what I believed.
When I went to college, I had a Jewish suite mate my freshman year who used a little electric menorah to do the Hanukkah blessings, which was my first time lighting a menorah. I went to a Hanukkah party at Hillel, and then wound up dating a Jewish guy, singing with the Jewish acapella group, and it just sort of snowballed from there.
The Jewish community was so affirming and accepting of my queer identity, and I was very appreciative of that. I also lost my biological mom when I was in college and the Jewish community was so there for me during that time. I did an alternative spring break trip with AJWS through my Hillel and it really opened my eyes to Judaism’s focus on charity, dignity, and ultimately led to my decision to commit to my Judaism and have a bar mitzvah.
So, I went to the Brandeis Collegiate Institute (BCI) that summer, and in the span of two and half weeks I learned to read Hebrew, studied my Torah portion, and had my bar mitzvah at BCI.
Allie: With the start of the Jewish New Year, what are you excited about or hoping for this coming year?
Joe: I’m excited to see Capital Qvellers go into year two and see the growth this organization has. We want to start doing more Jewish learning, and trying out new events.
Personally, I’m hoping to pause a little more this coming year. I’m always on the go and love being busy, but am excited to take moments to reflect on the beauty of the world and recognizing how much good can come from those pauses. When you pause, it creates an opportunity for someone else to do.
Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…
Joe: The earth begins to quake!