Group Chat: Open Doors Fellows + GatherDC

by Samuel Milligan / December 7, 2022

This week, I sat down with Noa Nir (GatherDC’s Engagement Director), Sarah Fredrick (GatherDC’s NoVA Community Director), and the 2022 Open Doors Fellows. Over Zoom on a chilly Tuesday night, we talked about what motivated the fellows to join the Open Doors Fellowship (ODF), what they’ve gained from their experience, and what’s next for their involvement in the Jewish DMV.

Samuel Milligan, GatherDC Communications Coordinator: So…why are we all here? What inspired you to join ODF?

Hilary, NoVA Fellow: I love community-building: gathering people together and encouraging folks to be involved in the community. This was a perfect avenue to do that. 

Francis, DC Fellow: When I learned about this fellowship, I thought it would be a great way to learn more about how to create community while also learning communication and leadership skills. 

Alex, NoVA Fellow: I had a friend who had done the fellowship previously and he said: “Hey, here’s this program. I think you would be really interested in it.” And then I applied and now here I am! 

Noam, NoVA Fellow: I moved to the DMV about a year and a half ago. It took a little while to make friends, to get acquainted, and to build a community. But suddenly, I started connecting with people, in part because a few clergy members connected me with other people living in the DMV. I thought that was really effective. I wanted to see if I could do something similar by participating in this fellowship, to follow that model and try to expand the network that was already rapidly growing. And it’s worked.

Samuel Milligan: What has it been like meeting with this consistent cohort of people?The entire 2022 ODF cohort sits, smiling, on the townhouse steps.

Michelle, NoVA Fellow: I have really enjoyed getting to know the Northern Virginia cohort. We are all so different and involved [in Jewish life] on different levels, but we’ve learned so much from each other and built friendships, which is amazing. Not only are we growing individually, but we’re all growing together and building those long-lasting relationships.

Francis: For the DC cohort, it has been nice to have a small group. We’ve really gotten to know each other in the past couple of weeks. Even if we all have different experiences, there are things we have in common in terms of our Jewish experience. 

Noam: We are our best resources. Because we have such different interests and experiences, there are things other members of the cohort know about that I’ve never heard of and can’t wait to try. I hadn’t participated in Moishe House until it was so highly recommended by several members of my NoVA cohort. ODF is like an aggregator of all our resources; it’s really cool to pool all of our knowledge together. 

Madison, DC Fellow: The ODF retreat was definitely a highlight for me. We talked specifically about reasons why someone might be put off from Judaism, and diving into that made me reconnect to my Judaism more. I feel like I can talk to other people in a better way about why they might want to be involved in Jewish community.

Samuel Milligan: What has changed about how you view community and building community? How has ODF impacted you? 

Ilana, DC Fellow: It was nice to meet other people who were trying to organize and make the Jewish community in the DMV a friendlier place – it’s already a close-knit community with a lot of social opportunities, but it’s nice to be around people doing the same thing as you. Organizing people and creating a sense of belonging is really hard, so it is helpful to be around people who can share their knowledge with you and understand the difficulty of making a better community happen. 

Michelle: Before the fellowship, I thought of community as something where you go to a place or you go to events and that’s your community. Through this fellowship, I’ve come to understand that community is so much more about relationship-building. It’s about asking: Are you welcomed in a space? Are you missed when you’re not there? Going forward, we can all use our new perspectives to foster community beyond this fellowship and continue to grow the Northern Virginia and DC Jewish communities. 

ODF fellows talk around the townhouse dining room table. Samuel Milligan: There are roadblocks to creating strong, healthy communities, and you’re all people looking for solutions – so what are those solutions? What’s going to help us continue building community? 

Jodie, DC Fellow: Community-building is very intentional – it’s not just going to happen. At least one person has to decide to make it happen, to put in the work to do it. Community-building takes time and takes commitment, but it’s worth it in the end. 

Alex: There are so many Jewish things to do in the DMV area – that’s great. But in a way, it’s also intimidating. There’s so many options that you start asking: Where do I start? How do I start? Community is also different for everybody.  Some people are looking to try everything, others are looking for just one niche thing. I want to help people filter through all the options to find what would be a good starting point for them.

Madison: After having a Jewish community or synagogue that you go to in childhood, it can be really hard to then be an adult in a different city and have to rebuild that all over again, particularly if you’re not married or don’t have children. I like the idea of finding a way to help others filter through the available options and make it all a bit simpler. 

Noam: One of the concepts we’ve focused on in this fellowship is listening to understand. For me, ODF has been an opportunity to listen hard to the needs of the community, to hear what people are missing and what they want. There’s the idea “If you build it, they will come” – but not if people don’t want what you’re building. So you need to listen, and then build what people want. 

This year’s ODF cohorts will have their final meeting in January – but their work is just starting. Through their Capstone Projects, fellows will design experiences that create, support, and deepen Jewish communities in the DMV. Their projects range from creating Jewish affinity groups in their workplaces to publishing resources for queer and trans Jews, from producing a guide for Jewish singles to hosting a Shabbat for Jewish artists – all in service of strengthening their personal connections with other Jewish young adults and forging new opportunities for community-building in Jewish DMV.

Want to know even more about the fellows? Come back soon for GatherDC interviews with 2022 Open Doors Fellows Ilana and Francis. 

Interested in the next round of ODF? Subscribe to GatherDC’s newsletter to get the inside scoop on applying (plus, all the other fun stuff we feature year round!). 

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