Meet Elan and Natalya: Jewish Couple of the Week

by Rachel Kriegsman / December 9, 2020

Elan Bar and Natalya Lyoda met in Italy during their first year of grad school. They moved to DC the following year, where they found job opportunities and a welcoming community. Read this week’s interview to get their take on life in Jewish DC as an interfaith couple, how they navigate (and celebrate!) the holidays this time of year, and, of course, plenty of awesome DC food recommendations.

Elan and Natalya on a Honeymoon Israel trip last year

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

Natalya: I moved to DC for an internship turned full-time job in international democracy development in 2008. After a couple years, I decided to go to grad school, where Elan and I met. The first year of grad school was in Italy and the second year brought us back to DC.

Elan: I had been living in Italy for a few years. I decided to enroll in a two-year grad school program at Johns Hopkins SAIS (spoiler: the world’s most expensive matchmaking service!). Natalya and I met there and started dating shortly thereafter. We weren’t initially planning on staying in DC after grad school, but we both found good professional opportunities and have grown to really love the city.

Elan and Natalya in Bologna, where they met


Rachel: I know this is the most DC question, but what do you do now? 

Natalya: I work for Hannon Armstrong, a renewable energy finance company. We are dedicated to investments in climate change solutions, providing capital to leading companies in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other sustainable infrastructure markets. We’re based in Annapolis, but I’ve been working from home since the start of the pandemic. My focus in grad school was in energy, and I feel fortunate that my work actively contributes to addressing climate change.

Elan: I’m an advisor to a small restaurant group in Forest Hills. We have three restaurants: Muchas Gracias, Buck’s Fishing & Camping, and Comet Ping Pong. I had previously worked for a food-related start-up here in DC and eventually ran my own pop-up restaurant space for a few years (RIP, District Space!). I’ve long had a passion for supporting small businesses, specifically in the hospitality space, and have been fortunate enough to do so in a variety of different capacities over the years.

Rachel: Describe your dream day in the DMV from start to finish.

Elan and Natalya: There would certainly be a lot of food involved! 

In a perfect world, we’d sleep in. In reality, our two cats would wake us up at the crack of dawn to get fed. We’d start the day with breakfast sandwiches at Big Bear Cafe in Bloomingdale. Our close friend, Robbie, is the chef there and he makes the best English muffins we’ve ever had. We’d then likely head into VA to spend some time outside. Ideally, we’d make it out to Shenandoah for a hike and a swim in a swimming hole. Depending on timing, we’d stop in for either Vietnamese or Korean food in the DC suburbs.

The day would definitely end with a nightcap somewhere. Pre-pandemic, we would’ve gone to Reliable Tavern, a low-key but excellent cocktail bar in Petworth. Nowadays, we’re happy to sit in our cozy backyard or go to St. Vincent, a new wine spot that opened up down the street from us.

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

Elan and Natalya: Like a lot of folks, we’ve taken this time to explore the area around us. That’s meant everything from hiking in our local parks (Seneca Regional Park is a personal favorite) to discovering gems in DC (the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens stand out) to getting to know places like Baltimore a bit better.

If we can do so responsibly, we’ll likely try to get together with another couple of friends and have a meal or drinks together. We love to cook, but are also happy to get takeout from a nearby favorite (we’ve been partial to Makan) and enjoy either a cocktail or wine (we’ve been drinking a lot of the natural wines from Old Westminster recently).

Elan and Natalya’s fuzzy babies – Ragu & Tartufo


Rachel: Do you have a Jewish role model who inspires you?

Elan: In terms of a role model who inspires me with their Jewish-ness, I’d have to say my mom’s best friend, Rivka. Beyond being like a second mom to me, she has been a Jewish educator for 40+ years. We celebrated every holiday with her and her daughters growing up (and continue to do so via Zoom nowadays!). For as long as I can remember, she has worked tirelessly to create an informative, warm, and inclusive environment for everyone around her holiday table no matter their background.

Rachel: What’s at the top of your life bucket list or where are places you’d love to travel? Why?

Elan and Natalya: While we’ve traveled a lot in Europe and in the States, we look forward to exploring more of South America, Southeast Asia, New Zealand, and Japan. One day!

Rachel: If you could live anywhere else in the world for a year, where would you live and why?

Elan and Natalya: Italy has always held a very special place in our hearts since that’s where we first met and fell in love. We’d love to eventually try and live there – maybe a late-career move!

Atop Mt. Etna in Sicily


Rachel: Anything else you’d like to share with the DC Jewish community?

Elan and Natalya: For any Jewish and interfaith couples in the DC area, we would strongly encourage you to learn more about Honeymoon Israel (HMI) for whenever we return to normal. It’s an incredible opportunity to get to develop a community with other Jewish and interfaith couples in the area.

Rachel: That’s so great to hear. As an interfaith couple, how do you navigate the holidays this time of year?

Elan and Natalya: It’s actually a “best of both worlds” situation for us. We typically celebrate Thanksgiving and Passover with Elan’s family in LA and we’ll go celebrate Christmas with Natalya’s family in Miami. Christmas in 75º weather – not bad! Neither of our immediate families are particularly religious, so it makes things a lot easier.

We’ve also started bringing some of those traditions into our home. We’ll host a Hanukkah party and then a month later a BIG dinner for Ukrainian Christmas (traditionally January 6). It’s a great opportunity to learn more about one another’s customs as well as share them with our friends here in DC.

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

Elan: There are n + 1 opinions? Jokes aside, I think there is kinship. The shared Jewish experience is truly transcendent. It never ceases to amaze me how two Jewish people could have otherwise wholly dissimilar backgrounds and yet immediately feel a certain understanding of one another (if not necessarily agreement).


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