Meet Josh! We sit down together over bubble tea at DuPont Circle’s Teaism to chat about GatherDC’s 2023 Beyond the Tent Retreat, Josh’s experience with Moishe Houses in Atlanta and the DMV, what it takes to sustain communities in the face of constant change, and the enduring appeal of summer camp!
Samuel: What brought you to the DMV?
Josh: I moved here on a whim. I was very active in Atlanta’s Jewish community and felt like I had done everything there was to do. As an over-involved Jewish leader, though, I felt tied down and unable to leave or explore more. With everything shutting down during COVID, I feel like it was a blessing in disguise; I was able to move. At the time, I was in a Moishe House in Atlanta. When I heard that Moishe House was looking for someone to restart the Capitol Hill Moishe House in DC, I connected with Rachael and Elana (who were both in the Moishe House pipeline), found out that we vibed well, and together we started Moishe House NoMa.
Samuel: What’s kept you here?
Josh: I missed the college feel of everything and everyone being so close together. You could go knock on your friend’s door and be like: Hey, what’s up? DC has that accessibility. I like the history, and the fact that something is always happening. It’s mind-boggling to go on a walk and just end up next to the White House.
I also appreciate the community; I think one of the cool features of DC is that it is a transient community. People are always coming and going, but that means people are always looking for new friends and willing to extend their group, because they remember what it was like when they first arrived. It’s a very open community.
Samuel: What inspired you to join us for the Beyond the Tent Retreat? What have you continued to think about post-retreat?
Josh: Beyond the Tent happened at the perfect time. After five years, across two cities, I recently left Moishe House. It had become such a ritual for me, and I saw Beyond the Tent as a framing opportunity to reassess why I want to be a Jewish leader and what I get out of Judaism. I wanted to make sure that my mission, my vision, and my goals are still being met. And, if they’re not, what can I do to better align myself to them? I was and am confident in what my Jewish identity is, and I want to be asked those tough questions and make sure I have the answers. And, if I didn’t [have the answers], I could start the process of exploring what that means.
I appreciated the diversity of the cohort. There were a lot of people coming from drastically different backgrounds than I typically see in the spaces I’m involved with. It reminded me that Judaism is a journey. You’re never set in your ways, and that’s how it is for everyone. People are coming in from different backgrounds, different spaces, and we’re all supporting each other as we move forward, even though we’re not all looking for the same thing. As High School Musical said, we’re all in this together, trying to answer our own questions.
Samuel: What does your personal Judaism look like right now?
Josh: As I’ve grown older, I’ve recognized that it wasn’t the rituals [of Judaism] that drive me, but the community and gathering together for a single purpose. I identify, in my own Judaism, with helping others find their Jewish community. That’s why I connected so well with Moishe House. It’s the opportunity to build communities that are accessible to all different spectrums of Judaism.
Shabbat and Havdalah are the two most powerful, communal Jewish practices that I love. I strive to always be somewhere for Shabbat. Whether it’s with new friends, old friends, or somebody I’ve never seen, my number one goal is just to be celebrating Shabbat with people.
Samuel: Whether you’re thinking about Moishe Houses or the DMV — with the way that people move in and out of the area — how do we sustain community and culture in the face of constant change?
Josh: The first thing that comes to mind is ritual. Not just blessings or prayers, but how we engage with each other. Rituals change over time. As people [join a community], they’re bringing their own traditions that become part of the community. I enjoy change; everyone makes things their own. The community that you had with Aaron and Rebecca before they move to Denver or Chicago will not be the same as the one with Rachel and Daniel as they come next, but that’s cool!
Samuel: You’re a head camp counselor at Camp Nai East. What’s been fulfilling about that experience?
Josh: It’s a weekend away; how often do we get to have a weekend to unwind, relax, and relive our childhood a bit? We do everything: arts and crafts, lake time, pool, Israeli dancing, Shabbat…but it’s also for adults. We have fire-breathing, alcohol-tasting, a Saturday party, a Sunday talent show. It’s a combination of kid-like joy and the choose-your-own adventure fun of being an adult.
Samuel: I’ve noticed a lot of people really value and think highly of summer camp experiences. Why do you think that is?
Josh: I like to think that it’s a time where we – I say “we” even though, ironically, I never went to Jewish sleepaway camp – but, camp was an opportunity to get away and explore ourselves. It’s a time where we were truly on our own for the first time, being asked: Why do you want to be Jewish? I’m not saying that everyone had a good experience, but the people that did were those who found their connection to Judaism, whatever that is, through that independence that they found at Jewish summer camp.
Samuel: You mentioned earlier that you want to be a Jewish leader. Why?
Josh: Building community is [a huge part of] what Judaism means to me. I get [so much] out of helping others find their Jewish connections and community. That’s where I find my community. And, it’s just something different, a different way to apply myself. I’m a cybersecurity consultant by day, Jewish community-builder by night.
Samuel: You can invite any three people to Shabbat dinner. Who are they and why?
Josh: First, Mark Hamill. He was in Star Wars, he voiced the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series, as well as characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender…I just think he’s a fun character. I’d also invite Jennifer Lawrence. When I see her interviews, I just want to be her friend. Then, Tom Holland. I think if you put those three people in a room, it would just be such a fun vibe.
Samuel: Alright, last one. Finish the sentence for me. When Jews of the DMV gather…
Josh: We go to Camp Nai! [Editor’s Note: If you’re interested in spending your Labor Day Weekend with Camp Nai, find more information about Camp East here!]
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