Meet Renana, Jewish Plant Mom of the Week!

by Samuel Milligan / May 22, 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!

Renana and I meet up one rainy afternoon at Open City in Woodley Park. Over iced coffee, we chat about Renana’s work with JCADA, the journey to “discover what resonates and what doesn’t” in her Jewish life, what couch-shopping and dating have in common, giving directions in the car, and healthy chaos!

Renana and a friend paddle around the tidal basin.

Samuel: You’re from the Gaithersburg area, and now live in Rockville. What’s kept the DMV home all these years?

Renana: It sounds cliche, but my community. I grew up here, and had such a good life growing up and being involved Jewishly. I feel so connected to my community  – not just family and friends, but also the broader community – in such a positive way, so why wouldn’t I want to stay? And, there’s a degree of familiarity, but there’s also always something new going on. I’m not seeking adventure out elsewhere because there’s adventures to keep me here. 

Samuel: You grew up as the child of a rabbi. What was that like?

Renana: Truthfully, it was the worst…for a long time [Editor’s note: Renana is grinning as she says this]. It was deeply annoying to leave the house to just try and have a family dinner and then constantly run into people. I was too young to realize the value in running into people, and they ask you about your life because they care. They care about my wellbeing because they watched me grow up my whole life and are proud to have such a closeness to the rabbi’s family.

Renana on an overlook on a hike.Now, I’ve created such a unique identity for myself, and I feel independent. And, I get to fall back on how proud I am to have been brought up by really strong Jewish professionals, people who serve the community that I now get to serve. I’m continuing this thing my parents imparted to me, without even realizing how valuable it is. 

Samuel: What did the process of creating your own Jewish identity – something independent from your family’s community role – look like? 

Renana: I left Jewish Day School going into my junior year of high school, and transferred to a Quaker Friends School. I needed a new perspective, a new space – and [Quaker school] is actually where I really started exploring my Jewish identity. I look back and realize that every element of my life – my home life, my synagogue, my extracurriculars (like youth group, USY), my education, my job – was Jewish, and I took that for granted. Once I was removed from that, I realized that I kind of missed it. I realized that I had to make a conscious effort to engage with Judaism. 

I’m starting to discover what resonates and what doesn’t. What feels fulfilling and meaningful, and what doesn’t. The things that do – I’m really leaning into them. 

Samuel: Tell me about your work with JCADA, and how that fits into your Jewish life.

Renana: I’m so glad you asked because I love to talk about my job, and I love to talk about JCADA. I do outreach and partnership work, going into communities and talking about the work we’re doing. JCADA is a nonprofit for survivors of domestic abuse. We are committed to making sure that all survivors of domestic violence, dating abuse, and intimate partner violence can get therapy, victim advocacy, and legal assistance. We’re stabilizing [survivors] with basic needs and [doing so] with dignity, confidentiality, and genuine care for their safety, which is a fundamental human right. We all deserve to live safely. 

Renana and a friend.We also do educational programming around healthy relationships, including the warning signs of abuse and how you can help a friend you think might be in an unhealthy or abusive relationship. 

Samuel: How does Judaism manifest in JCADA’s work?

Renana: JCADA was founded by Jews for Jews; a group of Jewish women came together and saw a need in the Jewish community for domestic abuse services. It’s grown into what we have today, serving all survivors – all faiths, identities, etc in the Greater Washington DC area.

Our outreach and education is really focused towards the Jewish community, thinking about domestic abuse through a Jewish lens. We talk about Jewish values and how they resonate. Which values are important to you? And which values are important in your relationship? We also understand the needs of Jewish survivors. When a Jewish survivor comes to us, we consider if they may need Kosher food or Judaica, and have resources to meet that need. We can also [advocate] for Jewish survivors with other service-providing agencies. If you have a client who observes Shabbat living in a shelter, how can we accommodate their needs? There are so many preventative measures to leaving an abusive relationship – children, pets, finances, having someplace to go. We help people in a way that’s both trauma-informed but also culturally-informed. 

Samuel: Thank you for sharing. This is really important work. We have just a few quick questions to close. What’s something you’re feeling proud about right now?

Renana: I’m really proud of my apartment. It was so exciting to move out and create my own space. It’s a real labor of love over the past year creating the vibe that I’d aspired, for years, to create. I did a lot of spreadsheet work with all the options, asking: What is the goal of this piece of furniture, and does this option meet that goal? What goals does it meet that I didn’t know I wanted it to meet?

Renana on a leafy balcony.It’s kind of like meeting a man. You meet a man, and…does he fulfill all the things you aspire to have in a man? Probably not. But he brings other things to the table. Like, my couch is not at all what I imagined it would be. But it did check all the boxes, and then some, so that’s the couch I went with and I love it!.

Everyone else hates it. It’s white. But I’m so clean that I can handle having a white couch. 

Samuel: I couldn’t have a white couch. I love chocolate chips and I think my cats would destroy it.

Renana: I do not have pets, but I have 30+ houseplants. I’m really into finding plants that have interesting colors and textures – I think it’s wild that something can just grow like that, out of the ground. Like, what? I don’t talk to my plants, but I do play favorites. Some are more beautiful than others. Some of them are just easier than others. I’m a very proud plant mom. 

Samuel: What is something you are bad at?

Renana and a friend watching planes take off.Renana: I am very bad at remembering to give directions to people when I am the passenger in their car. I will give them the first two or three directions and then forget that was my responsibility. Four miles past our highway exit I’ll remember, and then blame the driver for not reminding me to keep giving them instructions. I am also terrible at remembering which is which when it comes to fiction and non-fiction…but that’s really embarrassing, and my Mom said I shouldn’t put that out there for all the Jews to read. 

Samuel: You can have Shabbat dinner with any three people. Who are you inviting?

Renana: Kris Jenner – who doesn’t want to have dinner with Kris Jenner? But she has to bring all of her Hermes china. I’d also invite Kathy Hilton. I love a good reality TV moment. Then, a different reality star: Jeff Probst. He’s bringing the fire, but he’s also really good at conflict management. He could be a great counselor or social worker for sure. 

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

Renana: A little bit of chaos – in the best way – ensues. Healthy chaos.

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