Morgan and I connect at Origin Coffee for an incredible conversation about big cats, talking to strangers, and the “appendicitis ratio.” Morgan is the only person I’ve ever heard say good things about the final season of Game of Thrones (praise I will not in good conscience include in this blog post). Read on and meet her!
Samuel: Hi Morgan! How’d you find your way to the DMV?
Morgan: I came for college. I wanted to get far from home in Connecticut, but I had to be in my mom’s “appendicitis ratio” – she had to be able to fly to me in time for the operation in case I got appendicitis.
Samuel: I’ve never heard that. I love that.
Morgan: Then, I stayed for grad school at GW, studying Special Education and Applied Behavioral Analysis. I knew I wanted to move [to NoVA], but I was scared because I didn’t know anybody; I’d been in grad school, and you can’t really have a life. I was like: I need to make a change. So, I went out to a bar in Arlington and just lucked out. I’m still friends with the people I met there.
Samuel: What does your personal Judaism look like right now?
Morgan: I was really uncomfortable with Judaism for a while. Growing up, my family was involved at our temple, but some not-so-great things happened and that was what I was reminded of – I pretty much started avoiding everything religious. But, I connected with Melanie from GatherDC, and I’ve been working to reintroduce myself [to Judaism]. Morally, I feel like anybody who I meet who is Jewish is a lot more likely to understand me. I’ve done Moishe House events, Shabbat Clusters, and events on the side – I just got dinner for my birthday with people from my Shabbat Cluster. I like who I am in Judaism.
Samuel: What does it mean to like who you are in Judaism?
Morgan: Growing up, I learned a lot of values that, when I detached [from Judaism], I didn’t stand firm on. A lot of the things that I see as doing the right thing or being a good person come from Jewish stories. When I’m around people who understand those, and I don’t have to explain it, I find myself to be a better person. I don’t have to try and fit into this area where other people don’t understand what I’m doing or what my motives are.
For the first time in a non-religious setting, I have spent time in a group where I’m not the minority. There’s a feeling of comfort and understanding that I hadn’t experienced before. For example, I didn’t wear my natural curly hair for years and, spending time with my Jewish peers, I’ve gained a lot more confidence in it. Even though it’s just hair, that acceptance, and being around similar people, has made me a lot more confident with who I really am.
Samuel: I talk to a lot of people who feel like they’re rebuilding their religious identities as young adults. How are you approaching that journey?
Morgan: I just have to advocate for myself a lot, doing what I’m comfortable with. I don’t know if there’s a framework for it that I have. I know eventually I might want to be more religious, but right now I’m starting with building an understanding community.
Samuel: You were in the DC JCC’s Shabbat Clusters. What was that experience like?
Morgan: Many of my positive Jewish experiences have involved food. I’ve found that food serves as a great way to bring people together. My cluster was potluck-style. Seeing what other people bring and providing handmade food for others helped us bond and get to know each other, and my cluster leaders, Danya and Elizabeth, are incredible and created an environment that made it easy to feel comfortable and welcome.
Samuel: When we first talked, the High Holidays were still a little while away, but I wanted to ask: What’s been meaningful this new year as you remake your relationship with Jewishness?
Morgan: The community’s acceptance of where I’m at and what I’m comfortable with has been impactful. Every single person I’ve met has been understanding and has honored my boundaries.
Samuel: Switching gears: what does your ideal DMV day look like?
Morgan: I love the zoo. I’d want to get brunch at 1799 Prime or 9292 Korean BBQ. I don’t know how to make a perfect day; there’s so much little stuff to do.
Samuel: What’s your favorite part of the zoo?
Morgan: Cats. Big cats. I like the idea that something cute can kill you.
Samuel: How has your work and studies as a behavior analyst affected your perspective outside of your professional life?
Morgan: I’ve always been comfortable talking to anybody. But, the people I choose to interact with have totally changed. Thinking about what the motivation might be behind why people are saying or doing things makes me either more or less inclined to hang out with somebody. I notice a lot of little things that I don’t think other people notice, which helps me recognize patterns. Pattern recognition is my best and worst asset.
Samuel: There’s a perception, living in NoVA, that it’s more difficult to meet people. How have you approached building up your personal DMV community?
Morgan: It was my sister who made it possible. She’s part of NowGen in Nashville and connected me with GatherDC [when I moved]. She just talks to everybody and is so friendly and outgoing. I used to have an extreme fear of rejection. I couldn’t talk to strangers or put myself out there. My sister coached me. If people reject you, they reject you. Now, I talk to every stranger that I can because you never know what could happen. I guess my answer is: get your numbers up. Be annoying, talk to strangers, be ready to be rejected. If one in a hundred people connect with you, then you may have just found a best friend. I even have this mantra for when I’m interacting with new people…but it’s lame, and I’m not going to share it.
Samuel: I feel like you have to share it.
Morgan: Okay, but I’m going to close my eyes. It is: I am joy. I am free. I am happy that I’m me. I am sunshine. I am wild. I unleash my inner child.
Samuel: Incredible. Okay, a few quick ones to close. I hear you’re a cutthroat Settlers of Catan player. What’s the secret?
Morgan: I just never do anything that helps another person unless it helps me. Which is rude, I know. I’m not like that anywhere except games.
Samuel: What are you feeling proud about right now?
Morgan: I’ve been a people pleaser for a long time, but I spent the last year focusing on myself. It doesn’t seem like a huge accomplishment, but the people around me actually like me and I actually like the people around me. Not everyone has that.
Samuel: Anything you have to promote? Your upcoming album, poetry chapbook, something like that?
Morgan: Not for me, but I want to shout out my friend Carly Epstein for her photography.
Samuel: Last one. Finish the sentence: When Jews of the DMV gather…
Morgan: It’ll be loud.
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