Meet Izzy, Jewish Changemaker of the Week!

by Samuel Milligan / September 13, 2023

Meet Izzy! We sit down at Kaldi’s Social House in Arlington to chat about her new role as VP of Rodef 2100, what has kept her grounded in her DMV life, musicality in Judaism, and more!

Izzy smiles with a canal and townhouses in the background.

Samuel: Hi Izzy! Thanks so much for joining me today. What brought you to the DMV?

Izzy: I’ve always wanted to move to DC. I was on the board of the student council in high school and loved doing anything related to nonprofits and social action growing up and throughout college. I knew I wanted my career to be in the public sector. When I was in college, I did an internship program through Miami University (OH) out here [in DC]. We were running around the city like chickens with our heads cut off all summer, meeting alumni and professionals in the public sector and working in internships. We were all 18 years old and living in Woodley Park. I had the time of my life and just loved it here. I felt this sense of belonging; everybody I met was here to serve a purpose. 

Izzy leans against a railing ahead of a body of water. So, my job is what brought me here, but my reason for staying is the Jewish community. I’ll always be grateful for having Rodef 2100 and Temple Rodef Shalom (TRS) in my life. I moved here after college not knowing anyone. TRS helped me establish roots in this new chapter of life and feel like I have a home here. It’s really hard moving somewhere and not knowing anyone. Whenever I’ve been new somewhere, I always seek out the Jewish community because that’s what is going to ground me. 

Samuel: How’d you get involved with Rodef 2100 and Temple Rodef Shalom? 

Izzy: The cantor at my family’s synagogue in Chicago is friends with one of the previous cantors at Temple Rodef Shalom, Rachel Rhodes. I spoke with Rachel and she told me about Rodef 2100 and all of the other Jewish organizations in the DMV for people in their 20s and 30s. After talking to her, I did all the Googling – like, I knew about GatherDC before I moved. My first weekend in DC, I did a Yoga Shabbat at Sixth & I and the very next day I went to S’mores in the Sukkah at TRS.

When I showed up, I didn’t know what to expect; I’d never been to a “young professionals” event before. But it didn’t matter because I hadn’t been there for more than 60 seconds before I was asked to play Kol Nidre for Yom Kippur and was talking to people who I had a lot in common with. I was like: Okay, I’ve found my people.

Izzy at sunset in an arid environment. Samuel: You’re stepping into a leadership position with Rodef 2100 soon. What inspired you to pursue that opportunity? 

Izzy: It pursued me! Everyone is so genuine and made me feel so welcomed when I moved here – I wanted to become more involved. It was a no-brainer [to join the board]. I love bringing people together, building community, and creating spaces where people feel a sense of belonging. Rodef 2100 does a really great job of providing an environment where it doesn’t matter if it’s your first event or 10th event; everyone belongs and everyone is there to build community and develop meaningful relationships. 

Samuel: What do you think people in their early 20s are looking for? 

Izzy: Speaking from my own experience, I think – especially people who are new to the area – they are looking for connection. Not surface level friendships but genuine friendships, because that’s what grounds you when you start a new chapter in life. Leaving home, leaving college, it’s a hard transition. You have 22 years of structure in your life where you always knew what was next, and now it’s up to you to create that structure and pave your own path. That’s really scary, so it’s important to find people who share that experience and can support each other. It’s all about finding people to navigate the newness together. 

Samuel: What’s your, like, moonshot, crazy idea that you’d love to bring to life at Rodef 2100? Hot air balloon rides, or whatever. 

Izzy at her college graduation. Izzy: I’m scared of heights, so probably not that. It would be awesome to better create space at TRS and Rodef 2100 for people to have Shabbat services led by “young professionals,” something non-traditional that focuses on the experiences of people in their 20s and 30s. I want people to see that there are young Jewish leaders, young Jewish clergy, and that it is possible for us to lead change and bring our new ideas into older traditions and prayer. 

Samuel: What is especially fulfilling to you in your Judaism right now? 

Izzy: Music is a really big part of my Jewish identity. I feel like it’s cheesy to say that your b’nai mitzvah was a formative experience but, for me, it really was. The cantor who helped me prepare for my bat mitzvah embraced my musical abilities. It was a little overwhelming at first, but I loved it; it was the first time I had gotten up in front of people and done something.I felt so accomplished. I’ll never forget my grandfather crying in the front row. This whole experience encouraged me to seek out Jewish music and singing opportunities with Jewish ensembles. It brought me to where I am today, singing in Koleinu at TRS. I love the feeling you get singing Jewish songs with Jewish people. 

I also connect through community service. I’m doing a program with a cohort of TRS members called SEA Change, which is a racial equity and community organizing initiative. We spend time participating in a series of trainings focused on issues of systemic racism here in Northern Virginia and deepening a racial equity and inclusive culture at TRS. After the trainings, our cohort breaks into internal and external engagement task forces. I was asked to co-lead the internal engagement task force. 

I’m really proud of our work so far and am hopeful for an impactful and positive outcome. It’s a little intimidating; I’m 24, leading a group of people of various ages, ranging from people in their 20s and 30s to retirees. But, I’ve also really enjoyed building intergenerational relationships and just getting to know people and understand their perspectives. 

Izzy at the ocean.

Samuel: Okay, a few quick ones to close us out. What would you want people reading this to reach out to you about? 

Izzy: Well, obviously, Rodef 2100. But, also, reach out to me if you moved here recently and are looking to find Jewish community, or just want to have a jam session. The Jewish community in the DMV is so robust, but it can be overwhelming to find what you’re looking for. I’ve gone through that experience and I know how difficult it is. 

Izzy holds a handful of tomatoes. Samuel: What does your ideal day in the DMV look like?

Izzy: I would start the day at a farmer’s market, probably the one in Courthouse because they have the best breakfast burritos. I’d then head towards the National Mall and wander through the museums and mall. Then, I would head to dinner at Zaytinya and find a fun spot for dessert or live music afterwards.

Samuel: What is something you’re bad at?

Izzy: Saying no. 

Samuel: You can invite any three people to Shabbat dinner – who would they be and why? 

Izzy: The first would definitely be Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I really respect how she remained true to herself and fought for what was right even when people pushed back or things became challenging. I strive to live my life like that.

I’d also invite Marcy Miller, the director of the Miami University Hillel when I was in college. I learned so much working with her. She was also someone who remained true to herself in her leadership style, advocated for students, and always created an environment where no one was a stranger and everyone felt like they belonged. It’d be interesting to hear her and RBG have a conversation.

The third person I’d invite is Debbie Friedman, a well-known Jewish song leader in the Reform movement. I grew up learning her music at camp and synagogue. I’d love to just sing with her or even write a song together about being Jewish and creating meaningful change. In my perfect world, I’d want to be a song leader, too. I want to learn how to play guitar. I taught myself ukulele; I’m trying to build my musical vocabulary. When it comes to singing, I think that the instrument that accompanies you really impacts the way your words come out.

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

Izzy: There’s always food.

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