Meet Maddy, Jewish Fulbright Scholar of the Week!

by Samuel Milligan / August 16, 2023

Meet Maddy! We sat down at Zeleno early one evening so I could get the inside scoop on her upcoming Fulbright Research Grant, how Maddy finds her people in a new place, thriving in interfaith spaces, and much more!

Maddy at her McGill graduation.

Samuel: What brought you to the DMV?

Maddy: I’m from Connecticut but spent the last four years at McGill University in Montreal, Canada for my undergraduate degree, studying international relations and political science. I’m interested in foreign policy, and wanted some DC experience before working abroad. I moved for my job, an NGO called InterAction that does humanitarian aid and international development work. 

Maddy behind a lectern, in front of a USAID banner. Samuel: You’re going on a Fulbright Research Grant soon. Tell me about that!

Maddy: I received a Fulbright Award to conduct research in Quito, Ecuador for ten months. I’m going to be researching the challenges to Venezuelan refugee and migrant integration and protection in Quito, and then also looking at the socioeconomic and cultural effects on both the refugee population and the host community in Quito. 

Samuel: That sounds awesome! Is there anything you’re especially excited or scared about, as you embark on this project?

Maddy: I’ve been speaking and studying Spanish for 17 years. I feel prepared with my experience and knowledge, but I am a bit nervous as I’ll be conducting all my research and interviews in Spanish. I am very excited to immerse myself in a new culture, but I think it’ll take a little bit of time to get into the swing of things.

Samuel: How do you approach finding a community and support network as you move to a completely new place?

Maddy poses with friends!Maddy: I lived in Madrid for a semester during my last year at university, and something I found is that my first step in making a community is finding Jewish community. Quito has two synagogues and a very small but strong Jewish community – it’s one of the first things I looked into about Quito. [Engaging with Jewish community] is a really nice way to meet people. One of my closest friends is someone I met in a synagogue during the High Holidays, right after I moved to Madrid. I’m hoping I can find those kinds of connections; almost wherever you are, there’s always going to be a Jewish community and they’re always going to open the doors to you. 

Samuel: What are some things you absolutely have to do (or do again) before you leave the DMV?

Maddy: I will preface this: I definitely could see myself moving back to the DMV. I’ll be…I think I’ll be back. You never know. 

I want to do a tour of the White House, though that takes time to set up. I have also not gone to the National Portrait Gallery. I’ve heard it’s pretty to pop over the bridge into Rosslyn and go to Roosevelt Island

And then, there’s things I’ve been doing that I need to make sure I do one final time. I want to go to the DuPont Farmers Market on my last Sunday here. I like the Georgetown Flea Market. I like Jazz in the Garden

Maddy poses with a camel. Samuel: You’ve been able to get tickets?

Maddy: I have them for tomorrow. I’ve been kind of lucky! 

Samuel: How does Judaism show up in your life on a day to day basis? 

Maddy: I grew up in Connecticut going to a Reform synagogue. It was pivotal in my upbringing. My rabbi was a huge advocate for social justice and I adapted that – Judaism has always been a guide in my work with refugees. 

Judaism has always been consistently important to me; I’m definitely one of the most involved in the community out of my family. If I can, I love the opportunity to do holidays with my family, but if I don’t have the ability to go home, I’ll do my own thing. During the pandemic, when the USA and Canada border was closed, I hosted a Passover Seder for myself and my non-Jewish roommates. It forced me to be the initiator. 

Samuel: You mentioned [Editor’s note: before we started recording!] an interest in DC’s Abrahamic House. What drew you in there?

Maddy and a friend on the National Mall. Maddy: I’ve always been someone who loves sharing culture and the idea of interfaith [spaces]. It’s so great to share your holidays and traditions. Oftentimes, there’s so many more similarities than you’d expect. When I was 13, my family and I were in Istanbul for a wedding during Ramadan. It was my first time learning about Islam and Ramadan, which was interesting because of all the shared values and other similarities, like fasting, between that and Judaism. It’s very easy to “other” a different group of people in an “us vs. them” mentality, or to have hate for other people over the internet without ever having a conversation face to face. So, I love those types of gatherings that bring people together in a shared space. 

Samuel: Speaking of which…you were in Gather’s most recent 20s Mini Gatherings cohort. What was that experience like?

Maddy: I really liked the experience – I honestly wish it had been longer! Our Shabbat was so nice. It was cool having your mind opened to the diversity of Jewish perspectives and upbringings. It was a great group of people, very wholesome, nice vibes. We have a group chat and we’re planning a Shabbat on the National Mall sometime this summer. 

Samuel: What is the lightbulb moment for you when you realize that you have or want to have a connection with someone?

Maddy: It was the side conversations, during breaks or over snacks. You realize you have similarities and then I’m like: Oh my gosh, you’re so cool! 

Maddy speaking at a conference.

Samuel: What are you feeling proud about right now?

Maddy: I ran a hybrid conference on shelter and settlements for humanitarian practitioners in the Middle East and North Africa. It was a very stressful, overwhelming process but it was a culmination of the work I’ve done for this job. It was kind of crazy, because I was by far the youngest person in the entire room, and I was the one running it, but it was really exciting to have all that come to fruition.

Samuel: What’s the greatest piece of art you’ve encountered recently? 

Maddy: I am a big fan of the Renwick Gallery. I love Janet Echelman’s 1.8 Renwick. I’ve been back a few times with friends just to lay on the carpet, listen to music, and just be there. 

Maddy out with friends!Samuel: If you could invite any three people to Shabbat dinner, who would they be?

Maddy: This would be a very weird combination, but my first person would be Daniel Radcliffe. I met him when I was 14 and he was so sweet. I’m a big Harry Potter fan and would love to chat about it – he’s like the one child actor that didn’t go bad. The next person would be J.R.R Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings series are some of my favorite novels of all time. I’d be very curious about what he’d think about the Rings of Power series.

Samuel: I thought it was, like, a solid six out of ten. 

Maddy: I’d love to hear his thoughts. And then, on an entirely different note, the third person would be Yitzhak Rabin. His assassination is a tragic moment in time for the peace process, and it’d be amazing to have a conversation with him. 

Samuel: Last one. Finish the sentence: When Jews of the DMV gather…

Maddy: It’s the DC question. We ask what you do for work.

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.