Meet Jack: Jewish Mensch of the Week

by Rachel Kriegsman / December 16, 2020

Meet Jack: Jewish Mensch of the Week! If Jack seems familiar, that’s because he’s married to GatherDC’s wonderful Rabbi Ilana. But he’s also an accomplished baker, environmental attorney, and aspiring shochet (kosher butcher). Read this week’s 1:1 interview to learn more about Jack and what he loves about DC.

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

Jack: I first came to DC after college to intern on Capitol Hill and later work in political campaign media. Three years of that was plenty, but I loved the community I’d built here. Even though I moved away for grad school, I always thought I’d be back. Also – except for the sushi – the food is much better here than in Boston.

Rachel: I know this is the most DC question, but what do you do and how did you get into that? 

Jack: I’m an environmental attorney. I went to law school with a particular interest in food and environmental law, and now I get to represent clients in the agriculture, food, drug, and chemicals sectors. Because disinfectants and other antimicrobial products are technically pesticides under federal law, and hand sanitizers are drugs, the pandemic has made for a very interesting time! 

Rachel: Beyond being a lawyer, I hear you have a few other fascinating hobbies. Tell me about your studies to become a shochet.

Jack: My family started raising poultry (mostly chickens, but also ducks, geese, turkeys, guinea hens, and pheasants), and the occasional goat, when I was in fourth grade, largely in conjunction with our Italian neighbors. At some point in there, the neighbors taught my sister and me how to raise and prepare the animals for food, and that became a normal way for us to source meat. My sister and her family now even live on a farm and get all of their meat from their own animals.

However, since meeting and marrying my wife (GatherDC’s Rabbi Ilana!), I now only eat kosher meat. There are some great options for getting high-quality, well-raised kosher meat, but it’s expensive. I wanted to bring these two family practices together. It’s also somewhat of a return to family tradition, since my great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were both butchers in London, and their families might also have been butchers back in Eastern Europe.

This year, I’m studying with my teacher in Israel each week over Zoom. The other students come from all over the United States and Israel and represent a range of Jewish backgrounds and practices. Hopefully my teacher will be able to come to the States at some point in 2021 so we can do the practical learning. Then, if I pass the test (performing kosher slaughter perfectly three times in a row), I can provide my family with kosher meat from animals we raised ourselves. 

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

Jack: Well, a visit to the Dupont Circle Farmers Market is a must, so this perfect day has to be a Sunday. I’d then get a bagel from Call Your Mother for lunch, go for a walk in Rock Creek Park, and then cook something fun for dinner!  Oh, and this would of course be happening in September. DC is too hot to go outside in the summer. 

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

Jack: The kitchen is my happy place. Basically any time I need to relax, I should probably cook or bake something, or even just daydream about what I could make. I’ve put a lot of time into sourdough bread this year, but have most enjoyed learning to make croissants and pain au chocolat. 

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

Jack: One of the many wonderful things about being married to Rabbi Ilana is that I get to live with and learn from my Jewish role model every day! She has introduced me to a rich Jewish life full of learning, conversation, friends, and intentional action, whether that involves ritual practice or taking care of our community. She has a beautiful way of being in the world, and I’m honored and inspired to be a part of it.  

My other great Jewish teachers led the Adamah farming fellowship at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut. I lived there for several months after I first left DC politics, and they introduced me to Jewish approaches to agriculture and the environment, intentional community building, and (very important!) how to make pickles. 

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

Jack: I think the National Parks are generally underrated destinations (even the ones that are already hyped). I’d love to go to as many as I can. 

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

Jack: Someone should bring snacks.


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