Meet Melanie, GatherDC’s new NoVA Community Coordinator! Drawing on her classroom experience and time with Jewish nonprofits in DC, Melanie has firsthand knowledge of the power of relationships and connection. Whether you catch her in Arlington or Alexandria, Clarendon or Tyson’s Corner, Melanie knows the importance of a good first impression…and an even better last impression. Read on to learn more about her plan for Jewish life in NoVA!
Samuel: Hi, Melanie! It’s so good to chat – welcome to GatherDC! How’d you end up in the DMV?
Melanie: I grew up in the Gaithersburg area, then went to University of Delaware. It has a great education program. I wanted to teach in the county I grew up in and got a job right out of college at a low income school. It was a rough year; I had a lot to learn and we didn’t have a lot of support. The next year, I ended up at a private, Jewish school. I loved it, loved the kids, but teaching during Covid was super difficult and I realized that, while I loved aspects of it, teaching wasn’t what I wanted to be doing.
Knowing I was interested in people-facing roles, I pivoted and took a job at Jewish Women International. I loved their mission and learned so much in my year there, before hearing about this role opening up. I live in Arlington and it seemed like a good fit!
Samuel: What about GatherDC drew you in?
Melanie: I love the mission. Gather is a hub, a connector to all these other organizations within Jewish life. I also really like the approach of relationship-based engagement. The focal point of my role is building relationships, and then planning experiences based on people’s input, instead of the other way around.
Samuel: You’ve lived in Arlington for about a year. What’s been your impression so far?
Melanie: I love Arlington – it’s really underrated! It’s a great community with lots of young people and fun things to do. I love being able to have my car and be in close proximity to DC, yeah, but also able to visit my family and friends. I’m still learning and constantly finding new people and places. With Jewish life in NoVA, I see a lot of strong ties. People are loyal to their Jewish spaces, their temples, their organizations. With my Gather work, one goal I have is to figure out ways to make connections across those spaces, rather than treating them as bubbles.
Samuel: What does a dream day in Arlington look like for you?
Melanie: I would get coffee at Northside Social. I’d go to the library and get a book, then to Quincy Park and read. My sister lives about ten minutes away from me, so I’d go for a walk with her in Clarendon, shop a little, and maybe even go to Tyson’s Corner. Window shop and bop around a little bit. I need new sunglasses.
Samuel: Sometimes what I really want to do when I have free time is just…go do those little things you have on your to-do list. Getting sunglasses, or putting together furniture, or whatever.
Melanie: I like having a relaxed day where I can get things done and do what I want to do. I’d end by grabbing dinner in Clarendon or Alexandria – I’ve been wanting to go to Circa.
Samuel: How does Judaism show up in your life right now?
Melanie: My real connection to Judaism is through culture and family. With the holidays – Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, even Hanukkah, I get to see my family. We have rituals and everybody has their holiday that they’re responsible for. We always go to those same people’s houses every year. I enjoy the tradition behind it all.
Samuel: I’m thinking about your education background and the importance of routines, rituals, regular practice in that field. What part do traditions and routines play in your life?
Melanie: Generally being an anxious person, I like to have structure and control. I like the familiar – the unknown is a little bit scary for me. The consistency and constancy that Judaism provides for my overall life, the way it connects me to people, and the comfort I feel in it…when you’re teaching, you have a lesson plan. You have structure. I feel like Judaism fits into my life plan in that same way.
Samuel: As you meet new people and seek out new places in NoVA, how do you approach “the unknown” of it all?
Melanie: Over time, I’ve learned to just throw myself in. That’s the best way, the only way, to move past whatever initial anxiety I might feel. Once I get into a new social situation, I feel immersed in it. I dive in and, once I’m there, I settle.
Samuel: What makes a community worth revisiting, worth investing time in?
Melanie: A well-cultivated community makes you feel safe and happy. If you have an initial meeting that you leave feeling uncomfortable or put down, you’re not going to want to return to that community. But if you leave that first conversation feeling good, forming bonds with people, wanting to learn more, that’s the reason you return.
Samuel: If you could learn one new skill this year, what would it be?
Melanie: Pickleball. I just think it would be fun.
Samuel: What’s a fictional family you’d like to be a part of?
Melanie: I love a Lorelai and Rory Gilmore mother-daughter dynamic.
Samuel: What’s a piece of art you’ve been affected by recently?
Melanie: I’ve been really into Noah Kahan’s album Stick Season. I think his lyrics could be considered art – my favorite line is “If I was empty space and you were a formless shape, we’d fit.”
Samuel: Wow, that’s good stuff. If you could invite any three people to Shabbat dinner, who’s coming and why?
Melanie: Michelle Obama. She’s such an advocate for women and for health. I was thinking Ruth Bader Ginsburg for similar reasons. But also, watching the two of them interact with each other would be so interesting. Like, RBG grew up in more of an old school time, but broke barriers. Michelle Obama was also breaking barriers, though in a more recent time. And the last one? Taylor Swift. I just love her and I just want to go to dinner with her. I want to go to her concert. Like I just think her lyrics are great also. Maybe basic, but…
Samuel: The Gather townhouse on the pre-sale day for this upcoming tour was a bit hectic. Lots of nerves. Lots of anger at Ticketmaster.
Melanie: I got into the queue and then bumped out. It was crazy.
Samuel: Alright, last one. Finish this sentence for us: When Jews of NoVA gather…
Melanie: We create change.
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