Rachel and I meet at Baker’s Daughter on K Street one afternoon in early October, chatting off-the-record about Joe Jonas’ public relations strategy [Editor’s note: it stinks!] and on-the-record about working as an economics reporter for the Washington Post, Rachel’s love for the National Arboretum, the “subconscious” pull of Jewish social connection, and what it means to have a “crowded table.”
Samuel: What brought you to the DMV?
Rachel: I was a summer intern at The Washington Post for ten weeks, a process that comes with no guarantee of a job afterwards. But I got lucky, and got to stick around, and now that was more than six years ago.
Samuel: What’s your beat been?
Rachel: For a little over three years, I’ve been on the Economics team, mainly covering the Federal Reserve. It sounds boring, but it’s really not. I write about the job market, interest rates, inflation, but I try to write about people as much as I can. I didn’t have an economics background when I started this job. I found that it helped me break down stories if I could attach people and feelings to them, to make things more tangible and less wonky or theoretical.
Right now, the way people feel about the economy is really interesting. I could rattle off different metrics that the Fed pays attention to, but that is often out of step with the feeling people are left with…and sometimes even that feeling doesn’t match their behavior, or the way they spend money and seek jobs. That disconnect is really interesting.
Samuel: How do you take stories about these large economic, political systems and find the people-forward angle on them?
Rachel: I got a C- on my Econ midterm freshman year [of college]. The theories and models made no sense to me. If I can see the [theory] playing out, that helps me write a better story. Fed officials really stick to pretty tight scripts, so they don’t talk with all that much specificity and color [on the record]. But, there was a period in 2021 when the Fed chair was talking about a huge homeless encampment right outside of Fed headquarters that he saw growing every time he passed by on his way to work. He would look out the window and it was a reminder that there was so much work to do on the economy.
It really stood out to me for two reasons: [firstly], housing is my passion subject. I’m fascinated by housing stories. Also, it was stunning that he gave this example because he just doesn’t normally talk like that. I spent a couple of days at the encampment, and the people living there had no idea that the economy’s most powerful person was not only talking about them, but also using their example to inform his outlook on the economy. I wrote about what had brought people to that camp and this strange gulf between what was happening at the Fed and what was happening in this park. It’s been my favorite story I’ve written on the beat.
Samuel: Switching gears. What did your Jewish community look like when you got to DC, and what does it look like now?
Rachel: I went to Orthodox Jewish Day School growing up. My family wasn’t Orthodox, but it was the kind of school I went to. Then, I went to a very Jewish college and, when I moved to DC, was with a lot of college friends. I attended a lot of Gather events, was in a Shabbat Cluster, and definitely participated in more of those “young people of DC”-type gatherings for the first couple of years that I lived here.
It’s a little different now; it was probably interrupted by the pandemic a bit. But, I have a lot of Jewish friends, and I don’t know if that’s by happenstance or if I subconsciously tend to gravitate towards people who have some kind of [similar] upbringing to me. I put a lot of value in that.
I like to have Shabbat dinners. I have a Latke Party every year. So, [my community] is not as religious, I don’t attend as many events as I used to. But I feel really grateful to have a friend group that is of the same mind.
Samuel: I talk to a lot of people who feel that “subconscious” social pull. Why do you think that is?
Rachel: What I’ve really held onto in my own life with Judaism is the importance of shared tradition, shared background, shared culture. With that [comes] a shared understanding of who some of us are; that obviously looks very different in a lot of different ways, but there’s a sort of inner “I know you a little bit” when I meet someone and learn they’re Jewish.
I was at a conference recently, talking with this official who I’ve known forever. All of a sudden I was like: “Wait, you’re Jewish?” For some reason, the conversation just took off from there. We’re talking about our family immigration stories, and…it opened up a whole new bucket of things we could talk about.
Editor’s note: Now, for about five minutes, we talk about a Zack-with-a-K that we both know, though there is some confusion because it turns out that we also both know a Zach-with-an-H. Initially, Rachel believes we’re talking about Zack when I’m talking about Zach, and I believe Rachel is talking about Zach when she’s talking about Zack.
Samuel: You talked about goal-setting, and how that’s part of your birthday every year. Why?
Rachel: I like to cross things off of lists. This is separate from my big hopes and dreams, but I’m a pretty diligent to-do list person. The feeling of crossing something off is really wonderful. I made a list when I turned 28 last year. It was actually really gratifying to look at it a couple of days ago and see how either I literally did that thing – a place I wanted to go, something I wanted to work on – or there was something I wanted to focus on, to put more intention on, and to realize, you know, I actually did!
This year, I did it a little differently. On Yom Kippur, I took my dog to the Arboretum and made a slightly different list. It was stuff that I had completed in the last year, things I’m still working on, and new things to work on.
Samuel: Where or when do you feel your relationship with Judaism most strongly?
Rachel: There’s often overlap with Rosh Hashanah and my birthday, and it tends to be when I feel most self-reflective…hopefully not too critical, but I’m tapped into what I want to be working on, what I can do better or do differently. I went to Adas Israel for Kol Nidre, and the sermon was very much about leaning into or confronting the abyss. It was something I related to, and felt like it was well-timed for when I’m trying to put my best foot forward for a new year and lean into things that are more uncomfortable, or hard, or didn’t turn out the way I thought they would.
Samuel: What is your abyss?
Samuel: That’s maybe a crazy question. You don’t have to answer that.
Rachel: No, I will. There’s a song called “Crowded Table” by The Highwomen that I first heard during the pandemic. It used to bring me to tears; I couldn’t listen to it back when we were all quarantined from each other. The whole song is about the importance of building a crowded table, building a home that people feel welcome in. It’s a metaphor that I feel very deeply and very seriously, and a thing that I’m working towards building in my life. The abyss is some version of figuring out how to make that happen, with a lot of pieces that I’m lucky to already have. It’s a really beautiful image that I hold in my mind, in a lot of ways, but there’s also this element of…how will I get there?
Samuel: What’s something you’re feeling proud of right now?
Rachel: One of the resolutions I had for the past year was that I wanted to celebrate more. I was coming out of a rough period and felt very weighed down, and I wanted to celebrate big and small. And I think I followed through on that.
Samuel: What is something you want people to ask you about?
Rachel: Mental health policies at their workplace, or finding a favorite bench at the Arboretum.
Samuel: You can have Shabbat dinner with any three people. Who are you inviting?
Rachel: My mom, my best friend’s mom, and Hilary Duff.
Samuel: Last one, finish the sentence: When Jews of the DMV gather…
Rachel: At least three of us will be named Rachel.
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