Meet Maddy, Jewish Gardener of the Week!

by Samuel Milligan / September 6, 2023

Maddy and I meet one August afternoon at one of the DMV’s many Tatte locations. Weathering the sun and a particularly rambunctious cloud of starlings and sparrows, we chat all about the High Holidays, fasting, cherry tomatoes, lifelong friendships, and more!

Maddy holds a cat.

Samuel: Hi, Maddy! Thanks so much for joining me today. To start: tell me about how you ended up in the DMV!

Maddy: I’m from Charlottesville, Virginia. I know GatherDC because of Sarah Fredrick; we grew up together. One big part of my Jewish story is coming from a very non-Jewish place. I was probably one of two practicing Jews at my high school. 

Samuel: How did that impact your relationship with Judaism? 

Maddy: I actually think it was amazing being part of a small community. It could feel alienating, but at the same time, it was a really close-knit community where you felt very needed. I was part of our really small youth choir that was basically me, Sarah, and a couple of other kids. I was on the board of our temple’s youth group. It made me feel very needed, and that’s what kept me coming back. 

Now, living in a city, it can be difficult if you’re not already in a community where there are these rituals – Sunday school, Hebrew school, Shabbat, holidays – that get you in the habit of getting out the door.

Samuel: What are the things that feel most meaningful to you right now? What’s getting you out the door? 

Maddy: Growing up, music was synonymous with Judaism; that’s the stuff that [excites me] now. I was in an interfaith gospel choir [when I lived] in the Bay Area, and that was where I was getting my musical and spiritual needs met. I think I’m still finding my replacement for that.

Samuel: With the High Holidays coming up, what do you find yourself thinking about or looking forward to?

Maddy performs at Alt YK in 2022. Maddy: With Yom Kippur, the fasting tradition is meaningful as something to do, at least for me, once a year. It helps remind me of people around us who regularly aren’t able to eat or eat very little for days on end; I work for DC Child and Family Services, so I think a lot about poverty and homelessness in DC. It is hard when you’re hungry to not just think about yourself, and instead spiritually wrestle with the awareness of other people who have less to eat a lot of the time. For me, fasting is spiritually helpful in connecting with others, connecting with Judaism, and thinking about those systems of inequality. 

One thing I really respect about Judaism, too, is that I was told growing up that there are people who are not supposed to fast when it’s going to be harmful, physically or psychologically. And to me, setting a psychological boundary if fasting is going to be triggering or counter-productive for you is just as valid as a physical reason not to fast. Gather services are a great place for people who are looking for something different than a totally traditional Yom Kippur experience

Maybe it’s an unpopular opinion, but Yom Kippur is actually my favorite Jewish holiday.

Samuel: I’ve heard that from a bunch of people! Maybe it’s one of those “unpopular” opinions–

Maddy: That actually is popular. Exactly. 

Samuel: I know you’ll be singing at our Alternative Yom Kippur for the third time this year. What’s kept you coming back? 

Maddy: You keep asking me back, for one! But, I feel like Gather’s services have more chances for people to do self-reflection that they then share with each other. I really like it. It allows the message to permeate deeper. It’s similar to an educational setting, where you can listen to a lecture or watch something and then realize that you were not really processing. The self-reflection and sharing help you apply it to yourself and stay engaged.

Samuel: I keep thinking about you still being friends with Sarah, and how those relationships from childhood can feel so different from the friends we make as adults. 

Maddy: A huge part of the equation is just time spent together accidentally. Riding the school bus together, or whatever. You learn a lot about how people function, and it’s harder in your 20s and 30s. Like, I’m on a softball team right now (we’re going to the semi-finals because two other teams forfeited by not showing up). If you want to make friends with people you don’t work with, which I think is healthy, you really have to opt into [those types of] situations where you’re going to spend a lot of time [together]. 

Samuel: Alright, a few quick ones. What is something you’re bad at?

Maddy: I’m terrible with spatial stuff.  In DC, in my hometown, getting myself from point A to point B…if you turn me 90 degrees I will walk off in the complete wrong direction. I’m hopeless. 

Maddy's peppers and tomatoes. Samuel: What are you feeling proud about right now? 

Maddy: I’ve been trying to build up my garden beds’ soil quality and, honestly, I had very little success last year. Gardening is a real experiment. I tried to grow tomatoes and instead grew a bunch of foliage with, like, one tomato on one plant. But this summer, I tried again, and had a bunch of cherry tomatoes and Serrano peppers. 

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

Maddy: An exhibition of paintings by Salman Toor. I was interested by the juxtaposition of the painting style, which [is] “reminiscent of 19th century history painting,” and the subjects, who are mostly queer men of color. 

Samuel: You can invite any three people to Shabbat dinner. Who are they, and why?

Maddy: Kurt Vonnegut, Jorge Luis Borges, and Toni Morrison. I would just sit back and listen to them talk about literature and life!

Samuel: Okay, last one. Finish the sentence: When Jews of the DMV gather…

Maddy: Don’t worry if you hear yelling. We’re debating Bagels Etc. versus Call Your Mother.

An interfaith gospel choir featuring Maddy.

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