Meet Sarah: Irish Jew of the Week

by Allison Friedman / May 11, 2021

Sarah Murphy Abbamonte has dual citizenship in Ireland, but loves living in DC, a city that understands her passion for cultural heritage. She also happens to have a super cute dog, is a fan of Netflix baking shows, and has been working on both cooking and self-acceptance this year.

Learn more about Sarah’s diva-like dog, her journey to Judaism as an adult, and her thoughts on Irish food.

Ferry in the Aran Islands

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

Sarah: In 2016, I was working at the National Susan B Anthony Museum & House in Rochester. I always loved coming to DC – even as a kid, I just loved the city. Once I began working in the museum field, I was down here often and I got to know the city in a different way and began to fall in love with it as a resident, rather than a visitor. For me, early 2017 seemed like a good time to make a change. I already had a good group of friends here that I had met through Sixth & I and museum work, so it was a soft landing.

Allie: Where are you from originally? 

Sarah: I’m from Rochester, New York. And, as much as I love DC, I would have loved it if circumstances allowed me to stay in Rochester, but job-wise and for my personal life, DC is where I am happy to be. 

Allie: Do you think you’ll move back to Rochester some day?

Sarah: Before the pandemic, I’d always said I would go back, but I’ve landed back in DC. I left DC for a bit in August 2019 to move overseas for what was supposed to be a one-year postgrad program. And then that got truncated because of the pandemic, so I had to come back to the States.

Allie: Wow, what a journey. Where did you move overseas?

Sarah: I moved to Galway, Ireland. I have dual citizenship, so it was always something that I wanted to do. With my original move to DC, it felt like the right time to do that, but the pandemic definitely shook things up.

Pride 2019, marching with a contingent from the Irish Embassy

Allie: How do you have dual citizenship in Ireland? 

Sarah: My grandfather came over in 1948! So the tie is close enough that I qualify for dual citizenship. I still have lots of family in Ireland, and it was really nice to get to spend extended time with them when I went there in 2019. 

Allie: Do you like Ireland or the U.S. more? 

Sarah: There are pros and cons to both. The pace of life in Ireland is more what I’m looking for. It’s more laidback. Because of the way so many European countries are structured, they worry less about the things that plague us here everyday because the social support is there. You know, your healthcare isn’t tied to your job, etc. So I think it just makes it easier to have work-life balance. Also, coming from my background in the arts, that profession is more supportable in Ireland.

Allie: Do you have any plans to go back to Ireland in the near future? 

Sarah: Oh yeah, when I moved back to the US, I knew I wanted to find the next step that allowed me to travel to Ireland as much as possible. But I will say that the Irish community here in DC is great. There are a lot of expats, and the Embassy of Ireland helps maintain the connection between the Irish community in the US and the Irish-American community. 

Allie: Do you like Irish food?

Sarah: I’d say, the beer is better than the food. It’s not just what they cook, but how it’s prepared. Food over there is so much more local and unprocessed than we are used to here in the States, so it tastes much better when you’re in Ireland. Being in Ireland also gave me the opportunity to expand my palate and try foods that I hadn’t before. For example, I hardly ever have seafood in the U.S., but I ate fish regularly while I was there. The international food scene is much better in DC than Ireland, though! 

Allie: I saw that you are a professional fellow in cultural heritage leadership at ARCUS. Will you tell me about that?

Sarah: Yes! The goal of the program is to train folks that are starting out in the cultural heritage field – which is historical preservation and museums and public history – so it’s focused on new and emerging leaders in the field. 

Allie: What led you to your passion for cultural heritage work? 

Sarah: My dad is a big history buff and in turn, I’ve become a big history buff. Lots of our family trips were to forts and battlefields and museums, so I grew up on it. 

It’s also the change-agent approach, which is what attracted me to the ARCUS program. Their theme for this year was how to be actively anti-racist in your cultural heritage practice. This means how we tell stories and which stories we decide to tell. We see this in schools all the time – if you’re not being taught Black history or Indigenous history or Queer history, then you are not being exposed to that information and that can inform your opinions in adulthood. 

Skating on Christmas Eve atop the Watergate

Allie: What would you say would be your dream job in this field? 

Sarah: I always say the Park Service because I love the hats. 

I want to do something at the intersection of preserving history and economic development. DC is a great example of how to make a city more accessible by making it pedestrian and bike friendly, and giving people outdoor spaces, while also making sure we build in ways that give people easy access to services like groceries. And all of this is tied in with climate change and sustainability. How do we make sure everything is still around in 100 years?

Allie: Wow, it’s incredible hearing about the broad impact this field can have on so many different issues. 

Sarah: Oh, absolutely. This work is an economic driver. 

I ascribe to the philosophy that if you impact a neighborhood for the people that are already living there, then it will bring in tourists and new folks that want to be residents, because you are listening to the community that is already there and responding to their needs. Too often what we’re seeing these days is a form of gentrification spurred by developers and government that does nothing to address the needs of the people in these neighborhoods. That’s not to say that there isn’t a role for developers and government – they’re key players – but the process needs to be community-centered.

Allie: Describe your dream day in DC. 

Sarah: I’m really loving my Sundays right now. They start out early with a Netflix Party and brunch with friends. Maybe we’ll watch Nailed It! Then I’ll take the dog out for a walk in Logan Circle. One of my favorite places to stop is a coffee shop called The Roasted Boon Co. on Rhode Island Ave. One thing I got a taste for in Ireland was a flat white, which is really hard to get here, and they make one of the best ones I’ve had in DC. 

Pre-pandemic, I would work the Sunday matinée at The Keegan Theatre in Dupont. I hope to get back to that eventually. And then, I’d wrap my day up with a bite to eat. Back in the day, I was a big fan of Star and Shamrock Tavern & Deli on H Street. It was an Irish bar crossed with a Jewish deli – it was made for me, basically, but sadly it’s now closed. Since that’s not an option, I’d go to El Sol on 11th NW for tacos and tequilaor Pizza Policy on 14th NW (I’m obsessed with their chicken mumbo sandwich).

Team scavenger hunt through the Smithsonian museums along the Mall

Allie: What is a fun new hobby you’ve gotten into over the course of the pandemic?

Sarah: Learning to cook and, I don’t know if it qualifies as a hobby, but working on self acceptance in a way that I didn’t give myself time to do before the pandemic. I have a good idea of what I want my life to look like and am trying not to be distracted by other things. Of course, you always want to be open to new opportunities, but something that is a shiny object is not always what you want to be chasing. 

Allie: Such sage advice. Also, I would love to hear more about your dog Harper. Tell me all about her! 

Sarah: She is affectionately called ‘The Diva’ because she is very set in her ways. She just turned 10 in January. I’ve had her since she was about 12-weeks old. There has been a lot of change through these last ten years, but she has been my constant through it all. 

She is adopted, so not entirely sure what she is, but best guess is she is a mix between a whippet and a terrier.She’s definitely a weird combination of a cat and a dog. She’s very gregarious outside, but when you’re home, she just wants to snuggle up with you. 

With Harper beside the Washington Monument

Allie: Do you have a favorite Jewish holiday? 

Sarah: Because I came to Judaism as an adult, the holidays can be kind of fraught. Since coming to DC, I’ve been able to celebrate the holidays more because I have a chosen family of folks who are also recreating these traditions for themselves. 

I would say Shabbat is my favorite holiday. I feel like we, as a people, were onto something when we decided that we were going to take that time out every week. A big part of my practice is also social justice work. The Heschel quote about praying with your feet – I really believe in that. So whenever you are marching or protesting, that is a holy act as well. 

Allie: You mentioned that you came to Judaism a little later in life. Can you tell me more about that? 

Sarah: I was raised nominally Catholic. My mom is Irish and my dad is Italian, so both came from Catholic families, but weren’t overly religious. I didn’t feel like Catholicism spoke to me. When I left home and went to college, I started going to Hillel and learning about the religious aspects of Judaism. The more I got involved, the more I felt like this was a spiritual home that I wanted to explore more deeply. 

I came back to Rochester and started studying with a rabbi, and in 2005 I went to the mikvah and the Beit Din. In 2007, I became a Bat Mitzvah. My parents came to celebrate with me and they and my grandparents were extremely supportive. My grandfather, who passed away a couple of years ago, had served in the army in Europe and he had seen things during WWII. In turn, he and I always felt a bond over what he had experienced and how it translated into me choosing Judaism as an adult. It was very special. 

Allie: I love that. It’s always so nice to hear how people discover their own spiritual identity. 

Sarah: Yeah, and I don’t think it’s a journey that ever has a destination. I think even now after 15 or so years of practicing, I am still thinking through the things that do or don’t speak to me and investigating things that do resonate. 

Allie: When the Jews of DC gather… 

Sarah: we get sh** done. 


This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.