Meet Rachel: Jewish Architect of the Week

by Rachel Kriegsman / September 30, 2020

Meet Rachel Jessup: Jewish Architect of the Week. As we welcome Sukkot later this week, we’re talking all things architecture, volunteering, and giving back in this week’s 1:1 interview. Read more about Rachel and her passion for Yachad, art, and travel!

Rachel: What brought you to the DC-area and what made you stay?

Rachel: I was born and raised in Arlington, Virginia. Although I ventured off for college and other opportunities, eventually I found myself back in the DC area. Being close to my parents and brothers was certainly a big reason I ended up back in the area. But there are lots of exciting opportunities in terms of pursuing my architecture career that drew me back here as well. Also, DC is just an awesome place to live. It has the perfect balance between the culture of a city and still having proximity to nature.

Rachel: I know it’s the most “DC” question, but what do you do and how did you get into that? 

Rachel: When I was applying for college, I looked for a balance between my engineering interests that I got from my father and my creative side from my mother. I ended up focusing on architecture schools and luckily it all worked out. I absolutely loved the studio environment of architecture school. Luckily, also am passionate about the problem solving and design process of the professional world. Currently, I am working on a lot of large laboratory projects that give me the opportunity to work directly with the scientists who will eventually occupy the building. Being able to work hand-in-hand to develop a space with their input in mind is the aspect of being an architect I enjoy the most. 

Rachel: Amazing. I hear you’re also an active volunteer with Yachad – a good fit with your architecture background! Tell us more. 

Rachel: I discovered Yachad at a DAC seminar I attended about low income housing. I immediately reached out to Yachad to help their Mitzvah Party program, but as soon as they mentioned their Handymensch program I knew that was what I was suited for. 

The Handymensch program is for semi-skilled volunteers that work on home repair projects as part of a larger effort to preserve homes in affordable communities. I’ve always had a love for working with hand tools and building things. However, since living in apartments is not always the most suited for that hobby, I was so excited to participate in the Handymensch program. I’ve also been putting all of the skills I’ve learned to good use as I renovated a townhouse I recently purchased – from cabinets, to flooring, to electrical, and plumbing. 

Yachad Handymensch Day – Photo credit: Sue Dorfman/Atavia Photography

Rachel: Describe your dream DC day from start to finish.

Rachel: In the pre-pandemic world when I was still living in DC my perfect day would include starting off at a yoga class, possibly at EmbraceDC or Past Tense followed by coffee and snack from Rise Bakery. Then, assuming the weather is a perfect fall sunny day (it is my dream day right?!), I would find my way on wandering either through the Zoo or Dumbarton Oaks Park. I’d probably wrap the evening up by trying out a new taco restaurant and then catching a movie from Suns Cinema.  

Rachel: How have you found purpose?

Rachel: I find real purpose through volunteering and teaching, which allow me to focus on others rather than myself. I struggle with anxiety and stress, tending to get ‘in my head’ too much. By working with others, I am able to re-ground myself and re-frame my thoughts in relation to the world as a whole. After college, I did Teach For America in the Mississippi Delta where I taught K-12 music for 2 years. This experience really solidified my love of working with others to hopefully make an impact in a students life and the community as a whole. After finishing that program I continued to find ways to work with architectural students and volunteer; since being back in DC I’ve continued to find these opportunities through programs like Yachad, Architecture in the Schools, and DC Central Kitchen

A community meeting from when I was teaching in the Mississippi Delta

Rachel: What do you do to relax or for fun at the end of a long week?

Rachel: I love to throw myself into making art to relax after a long week. In undergrad and graduate school, I studied sculpture and printmaking which I still have kept up with through classes at Glen Echo and the Smithsonian, but these days I dabble in anything and everything I can get my hands on. Lately, I’ve been torturing myself with very elaborate large paint by number paintings by famous artists, but I also like to make a lot of free-form sculptures using found objects, wood-cut hand printed blocks, and paper mache structures.

Rachel: What’s at the top of your list of places you’d love to travel? Why?

Rachel: The country that is currently on the top of my list is Thailand. I LOVE Thai food and, as a vegetarian, being able to find options to taste local cuisine makes traveling that much more fun. I like to travel places that offer a lot of opportunities to explore. Especially the outdoors and architectural wonders, while still having the ability to relax on a hammock somewhere. 

Me on a trip to Peru from a few years ago – I love to travel! 

Rachel: Complete this sentence – “When Jews of DC Gather…

Rachel: …you can count on feeling welcomed with open arms, seeing smiles on everyone’s faces, and hear the joyous sounds of boisterous laughter. 


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