Meet Lisa, Jewish Seder Host of the Week!

by Samuel Milligan / March 20, 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!

We’ve been so excited to sit down with Lisa Del Sesto, the Education Manager for Programs at the Lillian and Albert Small Capital Jewish Museum — with our Nights at the Seder Table experience coming up soon, now seemed like the perfect time! Lisa and I meet at the Judiciary Square Tatte to chat about her insider perspective on the true nature of museums, hosting as a Jewish practice, how no two people ever experience the exact same piece of art, boxing, poetry, and creating “third places!”

Lisa takes a selfie on a canal boat.

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

Lisa: Grad school! I went to a program at GW for Jewish Cultural Arts and did my concentration in Museum Studies. But, I’d always wanted to live in DC – I came here on a school trip in high school and fell in love with the museums, monuments, history, and stories. I was looking for a reason to move here. 

Lisa in a museum. Samuel: What’s kept you here?

Lisa: Probably the same things that brought me here. I love living in a city of museums, and I also love all the very stereotypical things that people love, like the Capitol, White House, and – my absolute fave – the monuments. DC is walkable, with so many different neighborhoods, and a food scene that’s coming into its own

Samuel: You’ve both studied and worked in museums. What’s something that really fascinates you about museums that you wouldn’t know without that extensive experience?

Lisa: Museums are so much more than objects. A museum is a conversation, an exchange; the visitor brings as much to the museum as the museum does to the visitor. Museums are there to make you feel inspired, and ask questions, and reflect on what connections are being made. Why are visitors moved, or not, by something? What did they learn? What questions do they still have? It should be an exchange of knowledge, emotion, and reflection; the museum isn’t there as an arbiter of knowledge, it’s there to be interacted with. 

I’m the Education Manager for Programs at the Lillian and Albert Small Capital Jewish Museum, and what I love about my job is that it provides another way into the content beyond just seeing what’s on the wall.

Lisa at dinner.Samuel: I love the idea of art as a conversation. Like, you can see a Rothko and dismiss it as just a blue square…or you can think about how you’re affected. 

Lisa: No two readers ever read the same book. I think no two museum-goers ever have the same experience, because it’s as much about what you’re bringing to it as what you’re seeing or reading. 

Samuel: Did you always intend to work in a specifically Jewish museum context?

Lisa: I don’t know that it was necessarily intentional. I started out working in the Jewish community – at my religious school during high school – and then during college there was a Federation program through which I worked with the education director at a local synagogue. I’ve always loved museums, which I attribute to my mom. Growing up, she took us to museums, and it became ingrained that these are special places. These are places for learning. I’m a huge history nerd; if I could spend my life in a classroom, just learning history, I would be the happiest person. 

Also, I love to think about our museum as a “third place” – not work, not home, but a place you can find belonging, connection, reflection, and presence. Museums served that purpose for me, and I want to provide that for other people. At some point, working in the Jewish community and my love of museums merged, and I eventually found my way to the Capital Jewish Museum. 

Samuel: You’ve been working with GatherDC and a host of other organizations to put Nights at the Seder Table together. Where did that idea begin?

Lisa at a restaurant.Lisa: I love Passover seders. I don’t know why, but I suspect it has something to do with the storytelling and asking of questions. 

Samuel: It’s an exercise in history!

Lisa: And food. Delicious, delicious food. I love cooking and hosting – so all of that comes together, and I wanted to do a seder with the museum. It comes back to the idea of a third place – I’m always thinking about how I can create that, and seder felt like a wonderful way to create that community. We decided to invite all different organizations – some focused on social justice, or community, or history – and bring them all together in the museum for a creative, non-traditional way of experiencing a seder. We’re really, really excited, and I think people will enjoy this kind of wonderfully intentional, engaging, different kind of seder. I’m also a firm believer that all of these organizations have so many intersections. We’re involved in our own work, which is great and important, but we can do even better work when we’re working together. 

Samuel: Switching gears – what’s resonating for you in your personal Jewish life right now?

Lisa drinks from a ceramic mug.Lisa: I come to my Jewishness through food and family. I always host dinners during Hanukkah, and for Rosh Hashanah, and during Passover.

Samuel: Why is hosting so appealing to you?

Lisa [laughing]: Because I’m very controlling! I love the details – setting the table, matching the napkins, and the china. It’s something my mom always did, so I’m reminded of cooking with her. I enjoy creating a welcoming space for people to gather, and Jewish holidays really lend themselves to that. 

Another thing that’s resonating for me is the idea that debate, disagreement, asking questions, and not having all the answers is okay. Within Judaism, we don’t agree all the time. At the museum, we had the Notorious RBG exhibit, and so something I think a lot about is the idea that we can disagree without being disagreeable. There is room for debate and we should cherish and take advantage of that. 

Samuel: A few quick ones to end. What does your dream DMV day look like?

Lisa: I wake up and go to my boxing gym – on a bag, not with other people. Then, I have brunch. I just went to Petite Cerise for brunch and it was very good. Then, I go to a museum – I love the Phillips Collection and the Portrait Gallery – they have really beautiful artwork, temporary exhibits, and great programs. Then, I sit outside somewhere – maybe the roof of my building – and read my book for a while before going to dinner. I’d try a new restaurant. Places are opening all the time and I love trying new food. 

Lisa on a bench outside near a body of water.Samuel: In the spirit of CJM’s upcoming event…you’re organizing a seder, and can invite anyone you want. Who’s coming? 

Lisa: I have to say my family: my mom, my sister. I love cooking with them, so they’d definitely come. When I host seder, I write my own haggadah, and I always have Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” in there, so I would also need to invite Mary Oliver so she can read her own poem from the haggadah. Then, keeping with the theme of writers, I would invite Toni Morrison. She’s my favorite author, and an incredible storyteller – when I think about seder, I think about stories. 

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

Lisa: I’ll be shameless. I hope they visit the museum!

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.