Meet Rachel, Jewish Community Advocate of the Week!

by Samuel Milligan / November 15, 2023

The GatherDC blog strives to present a holistic portrait of the DMV’s Jewish community, sharing a wide variety of Jewish voices and perspectives. If you have a 20- or 30-something to nominate as our Jewish Person of the Week or for a Spotted in Jewish DMV feature, please email us!

Rachel and I meet one late October afternoon to chat all about her new(ish) job at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, being a “professional Jew,” the process of finding a spiritual home in DC, and doomscrolling. Hop into our conversation — minus the very bold sparrows that hang out on the patio at Radici — and get to know Rachel!

Rachel in front of a mural that says "Mighty Fine Virginia Wine"

Samuel: To start us off: What brought you here to the DMV?

Rachel: Like a lot of people, work brought me here. I had just finished undergrad at the University of Pittsburgh, majoring in political science, so the most logical path at the time was to come to DC. My family jokes all the time that I packed my Subaru and drove to DC with a hope and a prayer, but it worked out. 

Samuel: What’s kept you here? 

Rachel: I’ve been here since May 2011. I really built a great community here, and I find that everyone I meet is motivated by some kind of mission. They’re trying to make the world a better place…generally. Most people are! That’s why I’ve stayed: the people, the community. I’m part of a group called Women In Government Relations. They’re really great women, and we all support each other; without that support network, it would have been a lot harder to come up in DC. 

Samuel: What does your perfect DMV day look like? 

Rachel: The perfect day is being able to get up at 6:30 a.m., do some kind of workout. District Yoga, maybe. Then, I come home and sit on my patio with coffee and one of my cats – he likes to go outside on a leash. I love working from home, so I’d want it to be a WFH day. As part of my role with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC), I’ve been able to meet people for coffee and lunch as a way to get to know people. Somewhere in the day, I’d love to have one or two of those meetings. Ending the day, ideally I’m meeting with a friend or two for drinks – I like Bullfeathers or The Hamilton. Then, to wind down at home, I’d end the day reading or playing Assassin’s Creed

Samuel: What’s your work with JCRC like? 

Rachel: [My work] really is a blending of my personal passions and professional skills. I’ve [enjoyed] being able to apply what I’ve learned over the years about federal and state advocacy to DC and specifically the Jewish community. I was inspired to get involved in politics and lobbying in order to give a voice to people who didn’t have the tools to be a voice for themselves. This job lets me work for two things I care a lot about: the Jewish community and DC community. 

Samuel: You started with JCRC in late July. I’m sure the past few weeks [Editor’s note: We spoke on October 24th!] have been tumultuous, but what have you learned about Jewish community in the DMV? What do you think you’ll be bringing forward after this? 

Rachel: When I first started – not even in this [current] time period – with JCRC, something I noticed immediately was how important social justice and social action are to the Jewish community. Nearly every synagogue in DC has a Social Action Committee and is doing some kind of tikkun olam work to repair and heal the world. That’s something we weren’t able to do in South Jersey, where I grew up. Our synagogue was very small, in a rural area, so we were just trying to survive and maintain membership. But in DC, and I think in most cities with large Jewish communities, people are able to do this type of work: being of service to refugees, connecting people with apartments, food drives, reproductive justice.

I’ve been struck by the level of engagement from the Jewish community and how it embodies what we – not just religiously, but as a community – value. It’s been nice to see how so many people have come together and united, regardless of their feelings about the Israeli government or other sociopolitical dynamics, to support each other and recognize that we’re all feeling some level of pain. We have each others’ backs. It’s a nice feeling. A lot of us feel very isolated right now, especially if you’re like me and doomscrolling on TikTok. It can be difficult to remember that that’s the virtual world; in the in-person world, here in DC, we do have a lot of support, and that comes from our community.

Samuel: What has your personal DMV Jewish community looked like over the years? How has it changed since you first arrived? 

Rachel: When I first got here, for me, it was almost nonexistent. Coming from undergrad, I was familiar with Aish, and Hillel, and Chabad…but I wasn’t in college anymore! I needed a different playbook to find my community. When GatherDC was founded, I started going to those [events], but I think I got really caught up in politics stuff. I just accepted it, like…I’m never going to find my spiritual home in DC. I just need to make do with what I have in my own home.

Then, during the pandemic, I was in Lincoln Park and came across Chabad of Hill East. I started talking with the rabbi, and got involved with them. Our rebbetzin started a monthly women’s discussion group and I helped with community outreach as a volunteer. I found Jewish community and really good friends through that group. That’s where my Jewish community is focused now. I also recently became a member of Hill Havurah. Rabbi Hannah is awesome. In an ideal world, I’d like to be more involved, especially with Hill Havurah, but things get busy. The world changes. And, it’s interesting being a professional Jew. 

Samuel: I was going to ask – do you feel like your personal Judaism has changed at all, now that you’re working at JCRC?

Rachel: It’s definitely one of the reasons I joined Hill Havurah. I’ve been realizing how meaningful it can be to be connected more solidly to a congregation. Visiting synagogues in DC and seeing other people enjoying their congregations made me revisit my yearning to find a congregation. But coming into the Jewish nonprofit world has been interesting. It’s a journey, and I feel like I’m learning new things about my own background and comparing notes with people in a way that I hadn’t been before.

The transition to working in the Jewish world felt very freeing. I don’t have to worry about emails on Shabbos. The last two Shabbats, I’ve turned off my phone because I just needed a break from the awfulness of the world; I didn’t feel able to do that at previous jobs. After just that first day with JCRC, I felt like I’d been working there for years. I didn’t have to explain myself. We all were speaking the same language. It’s given me some peace. 

Samuel: Okay, a few quick ones to close. What’s something you’re feeling proud about right now? 

Rachel: I’m really proud of the new connections I’ve been able to make in my current role. As Jewish people, we all have commonality; we can relate to each other. Being in this job, and being able to meet with a lot of different people in our community, I’m proud of the strategic, deliberate work I did in my first two months, because it helped us better prepare to answer the call to action right now.

Samuel: What’s something you’re bad at?

Rachel: Stopping. Doomscrolling. 

Samuel: What’s something people in your life should ask you more about?

Rachel: If anyone wants to talk about the Sarah J Maas Multiverse Theory, come on down. 

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

Rachel: We find peace in each other. We find community and solidarity with one another.

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