Meet Hannah and Jess, Jewish Dancers of the Week!

by Samuel Milligan / March 6, 2024

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!

Meet Hannah and Jess, the Director and Manager of DMV-based Israeli dance group Rikudei Yachad! They sit down with GatherDC ahead of Rikudei Yachad’s performance at the DC Israeli Dance Festival to chat about the group’s inception, building a community that is both niche and inclusive, dating while dancing, low-res college-era dance group recruitment memes, and their dream dance partners.

Jess and Hannah!

Samuel: Thanks so much for joining me! Tell me about Rikudei Yachad, and how you both got involved.

Hannah: Rikudei Yachad is a young adult, gender-inclusive, no experience – or minimal experience – necessary, Israeli dance performance troupe. That was a lot of modifiers; basically, it’s a group of young adults, 18 to 30-something, who get together a couple times a month and rehearse choreographed Israeli dance pieces, which we perform throughout the year, including at the DC Festival [Editor’s note: See them Sunday, March 10th at 3:00 p.m.!]. It’s social. It’s artistic expression. It’s good exercise. But more than anything, it’s fun. 

Jess: Hannah and I actually met in University of Maryland’s Israeli dance troupe, Avirah. After leaving, there wasn’t exactly a natural next step for young adults in the [Israeli dance] community who want to perform. 

Jess: So, Hannah and I, in collaboration with a number of our other friends, got together and started Rikudei Yachad. We were still sort of in the pandemic, and a lot of us had been at home without making connections or friends outside people we knew in college, and we had just really missed it. 

Samuel: Missed the community, or missed the dancing? 

Jess: Both!

Samuel: What had to happen for it to really be something you wanted to commit to? And what has sustained you for nearly three years now? 

Jess: We initially did not plan on this being an ongoing group. We just wanted to get something together. Hannah was choreographing and recording videos for people to learn in their living rooms. We needed a minimum of eight people to perform at DC Festival, and really were just trying to get the piece on stage that year. We weren’t thinking past that. 

Hannah: What’s kept us going is the community that’s been built. From our initial group of 15, we have nine dancers still with us. The community-building that we’ve done has been really important. I graduated [college] in 2020, into Covid. It’s hard to be emerging adults in a world that’s not designed for socialization, right? How do you make friends when you’re living in your parents’ house? How do you meet people? That was something a lot of us were really struggling with, and this was an outlet for us to be able to experience what it feels like to thrive. 

Rikudei Yachad retreat.Then, from the greater Israeli dance community, we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback for creating this welcoming, inclusive space for young adults. The community has been really supportive of us.

Editor’s note: At this point in the conversation, Hannah tells me her history of involvement with Israeli dance, starting during her time in Jewish Day School. She is the only person who has danced in every DC Israeli Dance Festival since its revival in 2010, and says that, performing in the first post-revival festival as a sixth grader, she was “hooked.” Then, Hannah and Jess argue for two full minutes about whether another festival did or didn’t happen in 2020, or whether the festival they’re talking about was in 2021, or if perhaps it was virtual, and whether either of them was involved.

Hannah: So, from 2020 into 2021…I’ve played myself. She was right. And this is how it usually goes. I don’t know if this is clear or has been stated already, but Jess and I are a couple.

RY at the 2023 festival.

Samuel: I did know that, and I think it’s fascinating – how has running Rikudei Yachad together factored into that personal relationship? 

Hannah: We joke that we fell in love together Israeli dancing. She was President of Avirah and I was the Artistic Director of Avirah. It wasn’t until after leaving Avirah that we formally began dating, but we clearly were very good at working together, and figured that out in college, running Avirah, being up at all hours of the night figuring out stupid memes for recruitment and doing the dumb stuff that college kids do to try and get people to join their group. We realized that we were really good at that! Not the memes – they were stupid, and all mine. But, we did some extraordinary things.

A recruitment meme.Running a group can be stressful, it can be frustrating, it can test your patience, and it can be one of the most wonderful things you can do with somebody. We literally did a whole deep dive last night – it wasn’t in preparation for this, we were just going to bed and were like: Let’s watch our entire history of Avirah and Rikudei Yachad up until today! And we were up until one in the morning. Why? I don’t know. 

Jess: I think also that Israeli dance gives us a place to channel a lot of our energy. When you get into the workforce, you’re like: Who am I, outside of being a teacher? Who am I outside of my profession? This has given us a really diverse group of friends that we were missing after graduation. There are so many things out there to join, but somehow what we were looking for wasn’t there, and we decided to take the initiative and do it ourselves. It’s been wonderful to be like: Wow, I have 15 friends! I’m going to go have Shabbat dinner with my 15 friends! Our relationships with these people, and with each other, have really only deepened. It’s one of our favorite things to do together.

RY and friends out in the snow.

Samuel: That’s really beautiful. Regarding Rikudei Yachad, what is your elevator pitch to people who might want to get involved, but aren’t sure?

Hannah: I will let Jess take this; I am not short. [Jessica’s note: Hannah is actually very short; she is 5’2’’] 

Jess: Do you like to dance? Do you like to perform? Do you want an awesome group of friends? If any of those are true, you should give us a try. You have experience, or no experience, or different experience? Doesn’t matter. Give it a try, and come be part of our community. 

Jess and Hannah dancing together. Samuel: We usually end interviews asking people who they would invite to Shabbat, but considering the topic at hand…if you could invite any three people – living, dead, real, fictional, et cetera – to dance with you, who would they be?

Hannah: Debbie Friedman must get a spot. I love her, and one of my biggest regrets in life is that I never got to meet her. Second, I want you, the reader

Jess: Ooh, got you. Uno Reverse. 

Hannah: Really, who I want is the person who wants to be there. That’s what it comes down to. We make this group as accessible as possible, and if someone wants to be there, then they can take that seat. 

Jess: There’s too many people to name. I’m very grateful to all the people who brought me into this community, and I would want to bring them back: my role models. Hannah is looking forward, and I’m maybe looking back. 

Hannah: And that’s why we make such a great team!

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