Meet Rachel, Jewish Seder Guest of the Week!

by Samuel Milligan / April 10, 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!

Rachel and I met at Panera for coffee one recent afternoon. A second-generation member at Tifereth Israel Congregation, Rachel chats about the community at TI, brunch on U Street, onions, ping pong balls, and sustaining Passover traditions!

Rachel at brunch.

Samuel: Hi, Rachel! I’ve been looking forward to chatting with someone involved at Tifereth Israel Congregation for a while now – tell me about the community at TI!

Rachel: Tifereth Israel is a really unique community. I grew up there. My parents joined when they were in their 30s. I took a break for a while in and around college – trying to find myself, and all that – but I came back. We mesh together so well, and it feels like everybody is friends with everyone. You feel comfortable and welcomed. I wish I could bottle that feeling. 

Rachel with an ice cream cone.Samuel: What did that “trying to find myself” time look like?

Rachel: If I’m being honest, I thought I was too cool for religion – I had my friends, I had my community. I didn’t think I needed it. I was in Baltimore, Silver Spring, and Fairfax, and even when my mom would invite me to Friday night dinners, I’d be like: I’m busy! Even after I got married – my husband was not Jewish, but later converted – I still didn’t think [religion] was all that important. 

But then, after I had my daughter, I was like: Wait, no, I need something here. There was this foundation I had from going to Jewish Day School, from being able to relate to your [Jewish] friends a little better…there are these things that, growing up in a Jewish household, you think everybody has. But they don’t – being Jewish is such a unique experience in that way. I realized I wanted that again. 

Samuel: What is the “that” you were looking for?

Rachel: The connection and community. That’s what I was searching for: a community I could relate to without even trying. When you know someone’s Jewish, there’s something shared. So, I came back strong – all of a sudden, it was so important to me again. 

Rachel and her family. Samuel: I think that’s really interesting, especially as we approach Passover, and the way that holiday uses storytelling and ritual to connect across generations. How does Passover fit into your personal Jewish practice?

Rachel: I don’t know what it is about Passover, but I’ve always loved it. My mom always calls Passover Jewish Christmas – it’s like our big holiday…even if Party City and all these other corporations think that’s Hanukkah. Whatever. I love happy holidays, even when there are sad points to it. 

Passover is amazing because my mom makes it fun. She’s an incredible cook, and always hosts First Night Seders. She integrates all these different traditions; we picked up an Afghan tradition where, in the middle of the meal, we all hit each other with onions. It’s ridiculous, and it gets everyone from every generation on the floor. We do a play for the ten plagues – it used to be me and my brother, and now it’s me and my kids. Throwing ping pong balls for hail, putting stickers on everyone for the boils. We throw frogs everywhere [Editor’s note: The interviewer regrets not following up and clarifying…plastic frogs, presumably?]. We make this huge mess, we sing, my uncle brings his instruments. The adults drink somewhere between four cups and four bottles of wine. It’s just so fun. 

We’ll usually take the next day off of work.

Rachel and her husband.

Basically, we’re dressing up and having food – the “they tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!” type of thing. And, we get to see people we wouldn’t normally see. Growing up, my dad would let us invite friends; even now, my friend Patrick still comes to Seder. My dad grew up in Montgomery County and has friends he made in sixth grade who still come, and now my kids invite friends. It gets bigger and bigger every year, which is great. Though, it means my mom puts in so much work. I can’t imagine how she gets all the food ready and hot at the same time. 

Samuel: Thinking about the intergenerational aspects of this…are you looking to someday take that role over?

Rachel: I can’t cook. My husband is excellent, but not me. I have this community at Tifereth Israel and the Jewish Day School where I can be the kind of person who gets invited out. But I hope my daughter will take over one day, and I can just go there.

I think that hope is something foundational to Judaism. It’s important that it doesn’t die – I thought I lost it for a while but, at the end of the day, the things you learn as a child, the things you experience with your family…I think about those happy times, and it’s all these holidays.

Rachel and friends.

Samuel: Okay, a few quick ones to close. What does your perfect DMV day look like?

Rachel: I love a brunch spot – I love U Street and Arlington because you can walk everywhere. Then, if I’m out with friends, we’d migrate to a bar. That’s what I love about U Street, or Adams Morgan, that you can just walk around going: Does this look good? Is it crowded? Okay, let’s go here. And then we’re just walking around! Sometimes, we even make it to the National Mall to walk around and take ridiculous pictures. I love the DC Kite Festival. That’s my favorite kind of day. 

Samuel: Are you wandering around the museums near the National Mall, on a day like that? 

Rachel: I’m not a museum person…I can’t keep it together. I like to talk a lot and I feel like people don’t love talking in museums.

Rachel and her friend Patrick.

Samuel: What is something you’re bad at?

Rachel: Oh my gosh, math. 

Samuel: What are you feeling proud about right now?

Rachel: I just organized my entire house – I have no clutter right now, which is bizarre. 

Samuel: You can invite any three people to Shabbat dinner. Who are they and why?

Rachel: I’d pick my brother and our parents. I’m imagining this is back when we were kids, in like 2002. Family is very important to me. It would just be regular and happy, and I’d love that.

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

Rachel: It’s at Shabbat.

Rachel with a glass of wine and yellow sunglasses on a farm.

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