Meet Elyssa: Jewish Leslie Knope of the Week!

by Allison Friedman / February 26, 2020

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elyssa clauson

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Elyssa: I went to GW for undergrad. I was very into service and I thought I wanted to do something in the health sector, and fell in love with the Public Health School at GW. I will probably go to grad school at GW because I really don’t want to leave DC. I love the passion and scene of this city. 

Allie: What made you interested in the health sector?

Elyssa: I really wanted to be a doctor when I was growing up and like many people, I took a chemistry class and said no way I am ever doing that again. I got really into service and volunteering, and public health was a really great combination of the science that I liked and the service element. As I got through the program I started to focus on what I wanted to do with public health. I also had a minor in theater and I was able to include that in my senior thesis.

Allie: What do you want to do in the public health field? 

Elyssa:  I want to get a PhD and go into academia. I’d like to focus on people with HIV and domestic violence survivors. Before that, I’d love to work for a local health department because I think that’s one of the best ways to reach people. I really want to be the Leslie Knope of a local health department. Everyone says that I’m like Leslie Knope.

Allie: Why do people say you’re like Leslie Knope?

Elyssa: I love local government and hope to work in it someday. I also love being super excited about things and leading events. I get very excited about my Shabbat Cluster and like making it as big of a deal as I can. I also love giving gifts. My boyfriend’s half birthday is tomorrow, I got him a gift and he didn’t even realize it was happening – I am really excited about it. I love making a big deal of people. Oh, and I’m obsessed with paninis how Leslie Knope is obsessed with waffles. 

elyssa and friends

Allie: Do you love Galentine’s Day as much as Leslie?

Elyssa: Yes, it’s so fun! My mom actually makes valentines for all of my friends. I always tell my boyfriend that my mom is my biggest Valentine and he has to get another one. 

Allie: Tell me more about your involvement with Shabbat Clusters.

Elyssa: There are different Shabbat Clusters depending on your age or interest. I’m in a young 20’s Shabbat Cluster and it’s such a great excuse to do Shabbat once a month and also get free food (thank you OneTable). I’ve made really lasting friends from it. And once a year, all the clusters meet up at the EDCJCC for dinner! (Editor’s note: Registration for spring Shabbat Clusters is now open!)

Allie: What made you seek out Shabbat Clusters? 

Elyssa: Even though I went to school locally at GW and knew some people in the city, I really wanted to make new friends. So I just browsed on the internet and found Shabbat Clusters on the EntryPoint website

Allie: Walk me through you dream day in DC.

Elyssa: The first thing I would do is volunteer with the Whitman Walker Clinic. It’s a sexual health clinic. When I volunteer there, I do HIV outreach and education and pass out condoms to people getting tested for HIV. It’s nerdy, but I really love it. Then, I’d go kayaking at The Wharf. After that, we would go back to Columbia Heights and get paninis at my favorite place – The Coffy Cafe. I always get the pesto caprese. After the panini, I would probably lie down for a bit. I really like movies, so we might go see one. And then we’d end with a show at The Kennedy Center

Allie: What are you planning now?

Elyssa: It was actually a few weeks ago, but I planned a baked ziti pajama party. My favorite food is baked ziti and my favorite clothing is pajamas. I’m not a big drinker, so I figured let’s just have this big dinner party where people can come eat. 

Allie: What do you like more – celebrating Shabbat or planning it?

Elyssa: I like both. I have come into my own in terms of what Judaism and Shabbat mean to me. Shabbat draws me closer to my Jewish identity and helps me make Jewish friends through this bond of culture. I’m not super religious, I don’t keep kosher, but I like that Shabbat helps me feel close to a Jewish community. 

Allie: What is your dream Shabbat dinner?

Elyssa: I have already lived out my dream. I planned an “Off the Kids Menu” themed Shabbat dinner recently. I made mac and cheese, vegetarian chicken nuggets, pizza bagels, fish sticks. People brought Gushers, Capri Suns and some wine. It was so fun!

elyssa in pjs

Allie: What are you looking forward to this year? 

Elyssa: I am going to take a training to do HIV testing, so I can do that in addition to the outreach and education. It involves doing the finger prick but also counseling. I am really excited to apply to grad school too.

Allie: Is there something people would be surprised to know about you?

Elyssa: I love adults with braces, I think they are adorable. It’s never too late to work on your teeth.

Allie: Do you have a Jewish role model?

Elyssa: I love my mom, my mom is great. I also love Rabbi Aaron Miller, he gave a sermon last fall at 2239’s Rosh Hashanah’s service that made me rethink my whole life. 

Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…

Elyssa: Everyone’s just excited about being there. 

elyssa and boyfriend

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