Meet Ben: Jewish Writer of the Week

by Allison Friedman / July 1, 2020

Ben Berliner is a deep thinker, old movie buff, and writing lover. Get some insight into this insightful human, and learn what restaurant he suggests offers the best Mexican food in DC.


Allie: What brought you to the DC area?

Ben:  I’m from  DC originally, I grew up in the District, went away to Ohio for college but then came back to DC for work, and to be near friends and family.

Allie: What do you do here for work?

Ben: I work at a non-profit think tank that’s involved in a ton of different policy issues and various initiatives all sort of aimed at fostering a more just society and a better world for people to live in. This work has grown in importance as people have been driven into isolation and there’s more people worried about their jobs, their future, and their families. I do communications for them, which gives me the chance to do a lot of writing, which allows us to share ideas and strengthen community,  an area where I hope to make a useful contribution. 

Allie: How did you get into that?

Ben: I’ve been interested in writing since I was young. You know, writing my own books as a child, I didn’t have any siblings growing up so I kind of saw writing as a way to stay connected and as a way to entertain myself. It’s something that mattered to me in school and now matters in my work.

Also, I feel the job I am in gives me the chance to make a difference. It is important to me to work for a more just world, and my hope is that I can begin to make that contribution through editorial work and communications.

Allie: Do you have a favorite author that has influenced or inspired you?

Ben: Questions of justice have always mattered to me. F. Scott Fitzgerald resonates because of his writing acknowledged some of the great inequalities in American life. James Baldwin inspires me because his work is intensely human, but also prophetic.

I also appreciate writing that shares something about the state of the world, and why that is.  For that I turn to journalism.

Allie: Is writing your own book on your life bucket list?

Ben: Sharing stories and building community speaks to me more keenly than writing my own book. In some ways the most effective kinds of writing now live outside of the covers of books. They live in the larger narrative of where we go as a nation after the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. They are the words written on June 5th in yellow paint on the the corner of 16th Street across from Lafayette Square in front of the White House to remind America: Black Lives Matter.

Maybe there will be a time in my life when I will try to write the Great American Novel, but right now my hope is to participate as a citizen in writing the next chapter in our nation’s long journey toward justice.

Allie: What are some things that are on your bucket list?

Ben: In a time of pandemic, it is perhaps only natural to yearn to travel freely once more. An even deeper yearning is to participate in shared human experience. It could also take the form of going to synagogue for once for the first time in a long time, or it could mean having friends over for a Shabbat. Really, any chance I can get to strengthen communal ties between people is something I feel very passionate about and committed to. 


Allie: What’s your perfect day in DC in a post Covid-19 world?

Ben: It would be a spring day, because spring is unquestionably the nicest time of year in Washington. A post-Covid day would include a visit to the Lincoln Memorial to remind myself that it still shines as a beacon of the best ideals of the nation and a pilgrimage to the Martin Luther King Jr memorial, where his iconic statue is a comfort and his words remain a moral challenge. As a life-long Washington person I have always loved twilight on the mall itself, when the city is quiet, and the landmarks shine. There is something quietly inspiring about it. Then, I would go to a concert at DC9, which is a small venue for less mainstream bands. A perfect day would close with sharing conversation and companionship with friends at Taqueria Habanero in Columbia Heights.  I’d order the huaraches, a masa tortilla with refried beans and sauteed jalapenos. 

Allie: What is one coping tip that you’d want to share with the community for getting through this pandemic?

Ben: Reach out to people you haven’t talked to in a really long time. If you ever thought about reconnecting with somebody, but you thought too much time might have passed and it would be too weird to say hi, now is the time to connect. You never know what they’re thinking, how they’re doing, or how far a simple “hello” can go.

Allie: I hear you were a participant on a recent Birthright Israel trip that GatherDC’s Rabbi Ilana helped staff. Tell me about that experience.

Ben: Birthright was something that I knew about and wanted to experience for a while, but hadn’t yet had the chance to go. I saw there was a DC community trip through The Jewish Federation coming up, and realized that it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I’m so glad I joined that group because I had a great leader and mentor in Rabbi Ilana and our other trip staffer Joel Cohen. 


Allie: What was your favorite part of the trip?

Ben: Going to Masada. It gave me such a good perspective on how far back this history extends and the story of it is remarkable. A true story of endurance and persistence that I think is very admirable.  Beyond that, the natural beauty of the hike creates an emotional bond to the landscape itself. It is spiritual geography: both a nature hike, and a moment of learning about the historical and cultural significance of Israel and the Jewish people. 

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

Ben: I really enjoy old movies. I’m talking like black and white films from the ‘30s and ‘40s. My passion for these old classics is kind of a solo experience, something that I enjoy and others might be surprised that I do because nobody else is interested in sitting down and watching Maltese Falcon.

Allie: When Jews of DC gather…

Ben: They talk about big ideas and have real conversations with intellectual rigor. I know that sounds like a lot, but I will tell you, going to some of these GatherDC events and on Birthright, I’ve had some of the most eye-opening, mind-expanding discussions. There is usually a lot of disagreement and debate, but we all learn from each other and take away different values and ideas.

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