Meet Jason: Jewish Abstract Artist of the Week

I met Jason Lessans a few weeks because he was selling paintings at an art event that my mom was also a part of. I was absolutely blown away by the beauty, intricacy, and emotion that was palpable in his artwork. When I met him, I was shocked this was just an after-work hobby and not his full-time job. More than that, I couldn’t believe how humble and down-to-earth he seemed about his insane talents.

Enjoy our 1:1 interview with this gifted Jewish artist, and then check out his Instagram to follow along on his journey.

jason

Allie: How did you wind up living in DC?

Jason: I actually live in Vienna, by Tysons Corner. I moved here from the Baltimore area to be closer to my office after I changed jobs and started work at Alarm.com as a data engineer.

Allie: Outside of work, you create some amazing art. What kind of artwork do you do?

Jason: I primarily focus on abstract painting using different techniques and styles. For some of my paintings, such as cityscapes, I use palette knives, brushes, combs, and various other tools to create different effects. For other paintings, I use fluid art techniques, pouring a paint mixture directly onto the canvas. I also enjoy working with other media like metal, ceramics, and glass.

Allie: What motivated you to become an artist?

Jason: I’ve been interested in art since I was a little kid. I went to art camps growing up and took a few classes in high school and college. Although, I would say most of what I’ve learned was just by practicing in my spare time. I wasn’t actually motivated to sell paintings until recently. I would get very attached to my paintings and didn’t want to part with them. In the past year or so I started painting more frequently and ran out of room to hang them. When they started piling up, I knew I had to start selling them.

jason lessans

Allie: What do you love about painting?

Jason: I find it very relaxing and therapeutic. I listen to music and just kind of zone out and let my subconscious take over as I paint.

Allie: What is your favorite subject to paint?

Jason: A lot of my paintings don’t have a subject. I like how they mean different things to different people. I also found that I like to paint abstract cityscapes after I made one by accident. I’d been playing with a new technique and noticed it resembled a skyline reflected on water. Since then I’ve made more and improved on the technique.

Allie: What painting(s) are you most proud of?

Jason: That’s a tough question to answer. I have a lot of paintings that I’m pretty attached to. I think sometimes I’m the most proud when I do one unlike any that I’ve done before. There is one portrait I did years ago of Arya from Game of Thrones that I really like, mostly because I never do portraits and it came out much better than I expected. I also really like the first geometric painting I did, along with some of my recent black, white, and gold pour paintings where I create a tree-ring effect. [Note: Check out Jason’s artwork on the ‘Gram @lessans_in_abstraction!]

arya

Allie: How do you find time to paint outside of your full time job?

Jason: I try to set aside an hour or two most nights before bed. It relaxes me and has kind of become part of my bedtime routine.

Allie: Who are your artist role models?

Jason: I would say Wassily Kandinsky – his work is incredible and unlike anything before him. He is generally considered the father of abstract art.

Allie: Do you have any other hidden talents?

Jason: I’m a really good whistler. I’ll admit, it’s a pretty useless skill and but I can basically whistle any tune.

Allie: What is your favorite Jewish food?

Jason: Oh man – so many good ones. I’ll go with brisket – I never get sick of it.

Allie: What’s your favorite flavor Hamantaschen and why?

Jason: Maybe strawberry. Anything other than prunes.

Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…

Jason: Bagels don’t stand a chance.

jason great falls

 

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.

Jewish Therapist of the Week: Naomi!

At the risk of sounding incredibly basic and maybe even a little creepy, I have a major friend crush on Naomi LeVine (pronounced Lah-vIne). *Hi Naomi!* I met her on the Jewish Spirituality Camping Trip this past fall (planned by GatherDC’s Jewish Outdoorsman of the Week – Daniel, Jewish Camper of the Week – Mark, and the phenomenal Natalie Birnbaum who has not yet been featured, but not to fret – her day will soon come).

I was immediately drawn to her positive spirit, laid-back energy, and heavenly singing voice. After guiding us through hours of ukulele filled jam sessions around the campfire, I knew she had to become the Jewish Person of the Week. Lucky for me – and now YOU – we have an exclusive 1:1 interview with Naomi right here.

naomi

Allie: How did you wind up living in DC?

Naomi: I moved here in 2016 to start my master’s in Couple and Family Therapy at University of Maryland.

Allie: Why did you decide to become a couple and family therapist?

Naomi: I had been doing a lot of work with kids, and realized that while that work was really incredible, those kids would then go home and see things that would reinforce negative patterns. So, that shifted my interest into working with families and couples. I feel like that’s where I can make the most lasting change.

Allie: What inspired you to become a therapist in the first place?

Naomi: The passion to make changes at the root of the cause coupled with the importance of individualized work and being able to talk about issues in a personal way.

Allie: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

Naomi: When I see or hear about a positive interaction that somebody had that feels different than an interaction that they’ve had before. I get to see that something is different and that the work we’ve been doing is worth it.

Allie: What is one quick tip you would give to help couples who might be reading this interview?

Naomi: Don’t lose sight of why you like each other. You have to be friends first. You’re going to have moments of conflict and moments when you disagree, but try to keep that base level of respect for the other person and understand their perspective – even if you don’t agree with it.

naomi

Allie: Outside of work, I hear that you’re currently a part of GatherDC’s Open Doors Fellowship. Tell me about that!

Naomi: It’s a fellowship where DC Jewish young adults come together to learn how to form intentional, one-on-one relationships with Jewish 20s and 30s across the DC-area. I believe in personal relationship-building being the key way we can make our Jewish community feel smaller and more welcoming. So if anyone wants to grab coffee, let me know! It’s on Gather.

Allie: What would be your dream free day in DC?

Naomi: I would wander around Eastern Market for a bit, and then head over to the American Art Museum. If it’s nice out I would spend time reading outside on the Mall. Then, I’d grab some dairy-free ice cream at Jeni’s on my way home!

Allie: What are your go-to ways to relax?

Naomi: I love playing music. If I have a long day, I pick up a guitar and play or write something. I also love reading, and doing yoga or going to spin class at Zengo. And a good, long shower.

naomi

Allie: Tell me more about your guitar playing/songwriting!

Naomi: I come from a very musical family, both of my parents play a wide variety of instruments. They had me in piano lessons when I was little, but after a few years I quit because I hated it. In eighth grade, I picked up my dad’s guitar and he showed me how to play. That rekindled my interest in playing instruments. So, now I play guitar, ukulele, and tried to pick piano back up. I love to sing.

Allie: What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?

Naomi: Tu B’shvat. My family went all out for Tu B’shvat. We had a huge seder with all different kinds of fruit and vegetarian food. There’s singing, reading, it’s so much fun, and everything is very intentional about it.

Allie: With Purim coming up, do you have a favorite hamantaschen flavor?

Naomi: The only time I ever bake is for Purim. I love baking hamantaschen! Last year I made a cookies & cream hamantaschen and a matcha white chocolate hamantaschen. I also made a samoa one that had the coconut caramel filling and then dipped in chocolate. This year, I’m going to do a fruity pebbles hamantaschen. I love experimenting with different fillings.

Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…

Naomi: We play a wild game of Jewish geography!

purim

Homemade by Naomi

 

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.

Meet Jake: Jewish Dancer of the Week

jake

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Jake: I was born in Los Angeles, and then my family moved to Potomac, Maryland for a few years before we relocated to Boston. I went to college in Minnesota and majored in political science. I knew I wanted to do something around government and politics, so I decided to move to DC when I graduated. I flew out here for a job interview about a week after graduating. I didn’t get that job, but still moved to DC full time. That was almost five years ago.

Allie: Describe your perfect DC day.

Jake: Honestly, I have not had a free weekend in a long time, because outside of my job I’m also in graduate school. But if I had the time, I would start my day with a cup of coffee and then go for a nice bike ride somewhere. Maybe I’d hit Rock Creek Park. Then I’d go for brunch with a few friends at Medium Rare.

After brunch, I’d like to go see something new in DC. When I first moved here and was unemployed, I made a habit out of finding obscure monuments and markers in DC. I’ve seen all sorts of random memorials in the city. So after brunch, I’d like to go to one of those with my friends. After that, I would go to my favorite Chinese restaurant Peter Chang’s out in Rockville and then magically get back to DC in time to go out salsa dancing.

Allie: Tell me more about your salsa dancing!

Jake: I first started dancing in third or fourth grade. I took after school lessons. Then, I took some dance classes in college for credit – they had salsa and swing dancing. I think you can’t spend time in the midwest without learning about agriculture and swing dancing. I tried to go out dancing in DC with mixed success, it wasn’t that fun to go alone. At the advice of a friend, I joined the Georgetown Ballroom Dance Team. Now, I’m learning actual ballroom dances to compete with. Like “Dancing with the Stars”, but less flash. I’ve learned foxtrot, waltz, quickstep, tango, samba, cha-cha, jive, and rumba.

Allie: “Roomba” – like the vacuum cleaning robot?

Jake: Um, I think of it more like rum the drink, which can be good to have before dancing.

Allie: What’s your favorite style of dance?

Jake: My favorite dances are the Latin dances like chacha, rumba, salsa, and jive. They’re fun to do and lighthearted. My instructor said they allegedly originated in brothels as a way to flirt.

Allie: What do you enjoy most about dancing?

Jake: I’ve always enjoyed dancing. I enjoy learning new routines. It’s healthy, a productive use of my time, and I’m learning a skill that I can show off when I go to weddings.

jake

Allie: What are your goals for your future in dancing?

Jake: Getting better. I’ve been competing for a couple of years now and would like to place in a competition.

Allie: Outside of dance, what are your favorite ways to relax?

Jake: Going for a bike ride, cooking, and baking. This past weekend I made brownies with a graham cracker crust and caramel ganache on top!

Allie: Since Purim is coming up, have you thought about baking hamantaschen?

Jake: I have not, but probably should.

Allie: What are your favorite flavors of hamantaschen?

Jake: Raspberry, strawberry and apricot preserves, and chocolate.

Allie: What is on your life bucket list?

Jake: I’d like to go to New Orleans, and explore the U.S. more in general. I’m not a big solo traveler, so I haven’t traveled as much as I would like to. I really want to go back to Yosemite – I tried last year but there was a big wildfire and I had to cancel my plans to go to the park. I have a tent if anyone wants to go with me! [Editor’s note: Seriously, leave a comment below if interested….]

Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…

Jake: They laugh!

jake

 

 

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.

Meet Tali: Jewish Bot-Maker of the Week!

tali

Allie: How did you wind up living in DC?

Tali: I moved to DC last November from New York, but I’m originally from near Cleveland, Ohio. I got an exciting new job here and I was lucky to have friends in the area when I moved (shoutout to Ariella, Joelle, and to former GatherDC Jewish Person of the Week, Monica Arkin)!

Allie: What were you doing in New York?

Tali: In New York, I was focused on designing bots and AI at an incredible startup called Wade & Wendy. My portfolio includes ‘The ShaBot”, a bot you can chat with via Facebook Messenger that provides Shabbat times.

The ShaBot was discovered by the design team that I ended up joining at Capital One. I still can’t believe it, but by building my own things, I was eventually able to connect with designers and creatives that I respect a lot. It’s been an interesting experience working on Eno (Capital One’s intelligent assistant) for over a year now. I’ve loved working with the insanely talented people who challenge me to grow all the time on this team! I’m also excited to challenge the status quo of having female robot assistants (why is that a thing?) and to continue to build technologies that make people feel understood and in control of their finances!

Allie: What is you dream day in DC from start to finish, assuming money is no object?

Tali: Take a jog by the waterfront. Picnic with all the good friends I’ve made in DC by the cherry blossoms. Check out a museum. Taste a bunch of things at the DuPont Circle Farmer’s Market. Surprise someone with a speakeasy they haven’t seen before, and then end the night overlooking the city at the W Hotel’s rooftop.

tali college

Allie: What is a piece of wisdom or quote that inspires you?

Tali: “Be a rainbow in someone’s cloud,” from Maya Angelou. I love Maya Angelou’s writing and wisdom. The idea of being a rainbow in someone’s cloud is that when we take it upon ourselves to make someone else feel awesome, we all benefit. It’s based on the idea that people will forget what you said and what you did, but they won’t forget how you made them feel. So why not bring the light?!

Allie: What are your favorite ways to relax and destress at the end of a long work week?

Tali: White wine, a bubble bath, and some Adele blasting in the background before heading to a Shabbat dinner with friends.

Allie: What three things are at the top of your life bucket list?

Tali: Make Tina Fey laugh, climb at least one more mountain, and learn how to master baking challah.

Allie: Complete this sentence. When Jews of DC Gather…

Tali: We make so many mothers very proud.

tali

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.

 

Meet Evan: Jewish Oklahoman of the Week!

evan

Allison: How did you wind up living in DC?

Evan: I am originally from Oklahoma City. I was born and raised there. Then, I went to school at University of Kansas, and when I graduated I went to New York to work at URJ (Union for Reform Judaism). I was ready and excited to get out of the midwest. I was doing long distance with my girlfriend who was in DC, so when URJ let me start in a new role in DC, I moved down here. I just moved to DC this past summer. In the next couple of years, I want to go to rabbinical school.

Allison: What motivated you to want to work in the Jewish community?

Evan: I grew up in the Jewish community my entire life, but it wasn’t until high school when I went to URJ Greene Family Camp and got involved with NFTY (The Reform Jewish Youth Movement) that I was able to see Judaism as more than just showing up to religious school or synagogue. NFTY was where I found a community I cared about and got to talk about important issues.

Allison: What’s your favorite way to celebrate Shabbat?

Evan: I’m a very musical person, so I’d love to go to a a musical Shabbat service followed by dinner and dessert with friends. On Saturday, I don’t set an alarm so I can sleep in; I like to make Saturday a very chill day.

Allison: If you could invite 3 celebs to join you for Shabbat dinner, who would you choose?

Evan: Number one would be Barack Obama. Beyonce would be really cool. I might also have to say Rep. John Lewis.

evan

Allison: What’s at the top of your travel bucket list?

Evan: Number one is France. I really want to go. I also want to go to Africa, I still need to pinpoint which countries. I’m biracial and my dad’s side of the family is black and descended from slaves. I would love to be able to visit that country and learn more about those roots.

Allison: What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?

Evan: One of my favorite Jewish holidays is Passover because of all the delicious foods that come with it. I love the fact that we have an entire holiday that is celebrated around the dinner table and is educational and fun. I’m big on charoset and gefilte fish – which I realize is a polarizing food.

Allison: Describe your dream DC day.

Evan: I would get up early, make breakfast and journal. I would find friends to go to brunch with at Busboys and Poets. I would spend the afternoon walking around DC and get closer to the mall and the monuments. Maybe pop in to a museum or two. In the evening, I’d find a great dinner place like Little Havana. At night, my girlfriend and I would have friends over to hang out at our apartment.

evan

Allison: What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?

Evan: Growing up, I was in choir from 4th until 12th grade. In junior and senior year I was in show choir, which was just like Glee. We had singing and dancing competitions and wore sparkly vests.

Allison: What are your favorite musicals?

Evan: Hamilton. I saw it on Broadway last year! I also love Aladdin the musical, and Wicked.

Allison: When Jewish of DC Gather…

Evan: It’s exciting, comfortable, and new!

evan

 

 

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.

Lindsey: Jewish Bra-Inventor of the Week

Lindsey Weiss created a bra made of magnets (it’s called BetterBra and hasn’t hit the market yet), is an epic painter, regular yogi, and skin care connoisseur. Oh, and this is all outside of her full-time job with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

Let’s get to know this phenomenal woman.

Lindsey Weiss

Allie: How did you wind up in DC?

Lindsey: I’m originally from Dallas, Texas. I majored in Arabic and International Relations in college, and then spent a while in Dubai. Afterwards, I got a job in DC at AEI doing foreign defense policy. I always knew I wanted to end up in DC, and now I’m fixin’ to leave it so I’m pretty sad.

Allie: What?! Where are you going?

Lindsey: I’m applying to business schools.

Allie: What are you hoping to do with your business school degree?

Lindsey: Well, my day job is with AEI, but my night job is starting a company called BetterBra with my best friend who lives in San Francisco. My friend is now working on a presidential campaign, and I’m going to be taking over operations for the company. I have no business expertise or experience, and am learning as I go, so I knew that I needed to go to business school for this. I’ve started applying – so we’ll see where I end up.

Allie: What’s BetterBra?

Lindsey: It’s a bra that addresses breast asymmetry. 88% of women have some type of breast asymmetry, but there are zero bras on the market that cater to that. It uses magnets as support so it takes the weight off of your shoulder and back. The magnets either attract each other to create cleavage or repel each other to make separation, and you can lift the bra and move it using the magnetic fabric. Our whole supply chain is American made and women-run. It took off faster that we thought – we closed our second round of seed funding a couple of weeks ago, and are waiting for manufacturing to come in. We’re launching in April!

lindesy

Allie: What motivated you to start this?

Lindsey: I was feeling a little lost for a while because I wasn’t working towards a concrete goal. That made me kind of depressed, like I was wandering around with nowhere to go. The idea for BetterBra made me excited in a way that I hadn’t been excited in years. I felt like that was a sign I should be pursuing it. Also, I get bored easily and need to constantly be doing a bunch of things of once.

Allie: How do you have time to launch this company on top of a full time job?

Lindsey: I don’t sleep very often.

Allie: What’s your dream for the future of BetterBra?

Lindsey: For it to get acquired within the next five years. My big dream is to run my own venture capital firm that invests in women-run startups, specifically in developing countries.

Allie: What’s a quote or piece of advice that inspires you?

Lindsey: “I am a great believe in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” – Thomas Jefferson

Allie: What does self-care look like for you?

Lindsey: Waking up early in the morning to do yoga and Pilates. I’m also big on skincare, hair care, and painting. Also, I live right next to the zoo and love going jogging through the zoo and seeing the panda bears.

lindsey

Allie: Describe your dream DC day from start to finish.

Lindsey: I’m a huge fan of Shenandoah. If we left really early, I would drive there and hike Old Rag. Then, I would come back and go on a nighttime monument walk with my friends. Living in DC, we’re so lucky that we can see the Lincoln Memorial whenever we want. That’s crazy! People would kill for that. My parents lived in DC for 20 years and said that if you see the monuments at night and it doesn’t make you shudder a little, it’s probably time to leave. After that, I would then go to Barcelona on 14th Street and grab a few drinks with my friends. Nothing too crazy.

Allie: What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?

Lindsey: Passover. I have a lot of grandparents in Dallas – it’s a tribe. My uncle passed away last year and he was usually the one that led the Passover Seder. He was such a scholar. He taught me how to do the Seder, and last year was the first year that I led it. It was a very lukewarm experience. I still have my grandfather and uncle’s notes about preparing for the Seder. Hopefully I can pass those down to my children and grandchildren one day.

Allie: When Jews of DC Gather….

Lindsey: They make the most welcoming community!

lindsey


 

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.

Meet Rachel: Jewish App Creator of the Week

At the age of 26, Rachel Koretsky is – to put it simply – living the dream.

She is the CEO of her own company, just spent five weeks traveling in Israel with her boyfriend, and recently learned how to make the best matzo ball soup ever. Let’s get to know the #bosslady behind the app transforming fitness communities across the U.S. and Canada – upace.

Allie: How did you wind up living in DC?

Rachel: I went to American University and stayed here ever since. One of the main reasons I stayed is because of the really great startup community in DC, and especially the support of women entrepreneurs. It’s also such a beautiful city filled with history and has a hustle and bustle to it.

Allie: Can you sum up upace?

Upace is a customizable mobile platform for gyms/rec centers to build communities for their members, while improving their operations. [Once gyms/rec centers download the platform], members use the app to make reservations for classes and equipment, personal training, spa services, receive push notifications, and view real-time facility occupancy.

Allie: What inspired you to start this app?

Rachel: I love fitness, but had a lot of frustrations with my university’s recreation center while in college – the long wait times, equipment and facility crowds. I had this idea [for upace] to use mobile technology to help university rec centers and gyms better manage their facilities and classes, and allow members to gain control over their workouts. Two of my professors from the American University Entrepreneurship Incubator program encouraged me to take this idea beyond the classroom and explore making it into a business.

Allie: What’s been the hardest part of launching this app?

Rachel: At the beginning, my knowledge of technical development was very limited. It was a struggle to find the right development team to bring this vision to life.

Allie: What’s the best part?

Rachel: When users tell us how the app has helped them meet fitness goals, feel confident in the gym, and become more engaged with their facility and its member community. Hearing those stories and watching our gyms and centers increase member engagement and retention inspires us every day.

upace rachel

Allie: You must be very busy running your own start-up! What are you go-to ways to relax at the end of a long work day?

Rachel: Playing tennis. I love getting out there on the courts. Also, going to different workout classes across the DC-region, like CorePower and Pulse House of Fitness. I also love some good TV shows, like Grace and Frankie on Netflix.

Allie: What are the top 3 things still on your life bucket list?

Rachel: The top is going to the Galapagos Island. I want to climb Machu Picchu in Peru and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

Allie: Who is your Jewish role model?

Rachel: Ruth Messinger, the president of American Jewish World Service. The work she’s done to make a difference in the world and bring attention to global crises has been really miraculous.

Allie: What’s your favorite Jewish food?

Rachel: I love matzo ball soup. My mom recently taught me how to make it and I’m trying to make it as good as hers. One day I’ll get there.

Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…

Rachel: They make great food!

rachel and bf

———-

 

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.

Meet David: Jewish Gym Owner of the Week!

[WARNING: The following interview may induce feelings of inadequacy.]

Okay GatherDC-ers, this week, we have the utmost pleasure of introducing you to the one-and-only David Magida. If you’re in the fitness scene, you may have seen his name before as the author of the book “The Essentials of Obstacle Race Training”, or on Facebook Live as NBC Sports’ Spartan Race host, or as a founding member of the Reebok Spartan Race Pro Team, or at one of the two locations of Elevate Interval Fitness – which he owns, runs, and coaches at. If you’re not in the fitness scene, maybe this interview will inspire you. If not, well, you can always work out your taste buds at Shake Shack.

david

Allie: What triggered your passion for fitness?

David: I’ve always loved fitness. Being active is me in my most natural state. Competing and testing my limits is a big thing for me. Whenever I’m down or in a funk, I just sign up for a race. It’s like therapy for me. It clears my mind, and mentally resets me. I try to make working out one of the first things that I do each day, and it sets me on a very positive track. Days when I don’t exercise I’m kind of a hot mess.

Allie: Were you this passionate about fitness when you were growing up?

David: I was really small as a kid, but was always athletic and loved sports. I was a soccer player, swimmer, and wrestler. In middle school I discovered running. By sixth grade, I was already training with the varsity cross country team. I would run with them after my middle school soccer practice and travel to meets with them, even though I had to be marked as ineligible until 9th grade. I loved workout out so much that my wrestling coach made me team captain as a freshman so I could lead team conditioning. It wasn’t over until I said it was over. I wasn’t super popular with the guys.

Allie: Wow! What sport did you like the best?

David: Running. [In high school], I made the choice to commit to running. My junior year I had to give up wrestling for a year so I could focus on my running career. I went to run collegiately, but only briefly. I did one season and was so fed up with the way the team was coached and so I fell out of love with running. I didn’t run for several years.

Allie: What did you do to replace running?

David: I got really into strength training and even joined the football team for a season. I ended up getting certified as a personal trainer at 19, and took a break from school to do that. But, I didn’t think there was long-term career viability in fitness so I went back to school to get my undergraduate degree. Then, I went to grad school at University of Miami and got my master’s degree in public relations. While I was in Miami I started running Spartan races.

david spartan

Allie: What’s a Spartan race?

David: It’s a running race with a series of military style obstacles, anywhere from 3 miles to marathon distances. In 2012, I did the Spartan Ultra Beast which is 31 miles of ski slopes, obstacles, and overall just pure torture. I also completed the Death Race, which is well over 100 miles in the wilderness over several days of no sleep.

Allie: The Death Race?! That sounds insane. Tell me more.

David: It’s appropriately named. It’s backpacking through the woods with a map and compass, and there’s no set course. It changes each year and sometimes mid-race, at the whims of the directors. You don’t know what it’s going to be and they do crazy things to mix it up. The race is full of time cutoffs, crazy physical tasks, and mental challenges. One year, they took our shoes from us for 20 hours and we were in the Vermont wilderness running barefoot on a trail known as Bloodroot. It’s crazy. All the while you’re filtering water out of rivers and chopping wood and basically running around in survival mode.

Allie: After you survived the Death Race, how did you wind up in DC?

David: I got a job working at a public affairs firm. Around that time, I was also offered a professional contract to race in 2013 for the Reebok Spartan Race Pro Team, so I was doing 25 or 30 Spartan races a year.

Allie: How did you manage to keep up with your job while also racing professionally?

David: I was run-commuting to and from work every day, about 3.5 miles each way, and skipping happy hours with my co-workers to go to the gym. I had very little semblance of a social life. But the run-commuting barely took longer than riding on the metro. It was about efficiency. I still often run-commute to this day.

Allie: Tell me how Elevate came to be.

David: I basically hated my job and wasn’t happy. But my success racing garnered some interest. People started asking me if I would coach them. I eventually started leading some outdoor classes. I was having more fun with this than anything I had done before. It’s really fulfilling work. So, I found this spot on 14th street, left my job, and just went for it. Elevate (a studio with high intensity circuit and interval workouts) opened in October 2014. We opened a second studio in Southwest this past August.

Allie: What’s the best part of running Elevate?

David: Getting to do the stuff that I love and connect with people on a deep level. And actually having an impact on people’s lives in a positive way. I like to help people change the way they look at fitness. People look at fitness as this thing they dread or do for body image issues, which is completely backwards. My goal is to teach people to embrace the process and find the joy in the workout and their own personal improvement. Community is also such a huge part of it. It’s difficult to meet other people in a big city. You go to work and go home, but you need a third place. For some people, that’s a bar. But going into a gym and sweating together can bring people closer and builds really dynamic communities.

Allie: What’s been the biggest challenge?

David: Time and stress. When you’re a business owner, you’re working 24/7. You’re never really off.  Fitness in particular, because the days start early and end late. The first year I felt like I was at work from 5am to 10pm every single day, and it can wear you down.

david

Allie: What advice would you give to someone hoping to kick-start a fitness routine?

David: Don’t try to do it on your own. Consult an expert and go to a class or get a trainer. You need direction. Don’t worry about what other people think about you in the gym. If you’re working hard, people will respect that. If you focus on frequency (how often you go), intensity (how hard you go), and duration (how long you go for) you will be successful. And then get your eating in line. Try to meal prep if you can.

Allie: Not sure if it ever happens, but if you had a free day in DC. How would you spend it?

David: First thing, coffee. I make a double or triple shot Americano and then go for a run. Then I wouldn’t mind going out on the river and go boating. If I could do some wake-boarding or wake-surfing that would be ideal. As weird as it sounds, I’d probably do an hour or two of work so I could feel productive. I’d want to go out to the rec center and play pickup basketball with some friends. Then, go out to a meal or happy hour with some friends at Grady’s. And then, play some board games.

Allie: Do you have anything still on your life bucket list?

David: I want to climb some of the world’s biggest peaks, like Matterhorn. I’d love to go running through Mont Blanc. I’d like to do some SkyRunning series, or a century which is a hundred miles. There’s a lot of the world I want to see. I’m going to Japan at the end of February with the B’nai B’rith Young Leadership Network. Maybe one day I’ll live in another country or on the West Coast just to do something different. I don’t see myself being limited to just working in fitness. I’d like Elevate to be a self-sufficient thing so I can go on to explore other client-facing business ventures.

Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…

David: They have great conversation.

david and dog

David and his dog Oscar

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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.

Meet Debo: Jewish Violinist of the Week

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Debo: I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio but spent most of my adult life in San Francisco. I moved to Mexico in 2011 and spent almost five years playing in an orchestra in the Yucatan. I met my partner online in Mexico City. Then, we moved to Athens, Greece, and then to DC because my partner works for the State Department and his job brought him here.

Allie: What instruments do you play?

Debo: I play violin, viola, and my mom’s a piano teacher so I grew up playing piano. I’ve also recently started playing the ukulele.

Allie: What instrument do you enjoy most and why?

Debo: Violin. It’s very challenging. I feel like no matter how many years I practice, I can never fully master it. When I do feel good about it, it’s super rewarding. I can play violin with other people, in small ensembles, orchestras, and in the last few years I’ve been playing in operas.

Allie: How did you start playing violin?

Debo: I’ve playing since I was five. My older sister played violin, and I wanted to do everything she did.

Allie: What is your favorite kind of music to play?

Debo: I always love playing Beethoven. It’s meaty and familiar enough that you can just delve right into it without having to overthink it.

Allie: Who is one of your musical role models?

Debo: My friend David. I used to play in a string quartet with him in San Francisco, and he plays violin while he does yoga. He wears a suit jacket and yoga pants. It’s really amazing all the yoga positions he can do while he plays violin. It’s really out of the box.

Allie: How would you spend your dream free day in DC?

Debo: I would wake up, eat some avocado toast, drink coffee, and journal. Then, I would take a long walk. I like to explore and people watch. I would go to the Hirshhorn and see some modern art and talk to strangers. I would bring my tiny sketchbook with me. Then, I would go find something yummy to eat, maybe at Busboys and Poets. After that, I would go to a drag king show at Pretty Boi. It’s such a fun vibe and there’s so much diversity in those kinds of spaces.

Allie: What’s your favorite way to relax at the end of a long week?

Debo: I like to go to the gym to swim. Afterwards, I’ll sit in the hot tub and the sauna, get a massage, and then go home and snuggle with my dog Pippy and share a meal with my partner and niece.

debo and pippy

Allie: What is one thing you want to learn this year?

Debo: I want to take a jazz or tap dance class. I have a hard time with structured dance classes, which is why I sometimes go to ecstatic dances.

Allie: What are ecstatic dances?

Debo: You just go and there’s a DJ, you don’t talk to people, you don’t drink, you just dance it out in a free way. You can get on the floor, be an animal, there’s no questioning anybody’s expression. It’s a safe place to do that.

Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…

Debo: They have a potluck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Meet Alesandra: Most Mindul Jew of the Week!

If slowing down, being more mindful, and starting a yoga/meditation practice are on your list of 2019 goals – Alesandra Zsiba is your woman. This zen yogi fills us in on what it’s like to direct the Jewish Mindfulness Center of Washington (JMCW) at Adas Israel, her dream Shabbat celebration, and tips to live more mindfully. Get to know her!

alesandra

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Alesandra: Well, like many stories, I came to DC to follow love. It was the year after my year of service with AmeriCorps and my partner from college was here, so I made the decision to come to DC. While at AmeriCorps, I started my own course for ELL students (English Language Learners) focused on healing trauma and self-actualizing through the creative process – photography, performance, documentary filmmaking, and poetry. That spring boarded me into this career developing the Identity Project, which I brought to schools and organizations around DC.

Today, I still run the Identity Project in addition to my work with the JMCW.

Allie: What does JMCW do?

Alesandra: JMCW started as a way to bring mindfulness practice into the synagogue space. We host weekly, drop-in Jewish yoga and meditation classes, Rosh Chodesh programs to celebrate the New Moon, and we’re having our first daylong retreat at Pearlstone Retreat Center on President’s Day. I’ll be co-leading it! 

Allie: How did you get into your role at JMCW?

Alesandra: After I did a yoga teacher training in 2013, I was really excited to connect what I learned about yoga to what I know about Judaism. I started going to yoga classes with Roni Zelivinski at JMCW – Roni is wonderful. She’s a doula and a midwife, and used to teach at JMCW. She got me involved. I was soaking up whatever JMCW had to offer, and then started teaching there. As I deepened my relationships with people there, I  stepped into the role of program coordinator for the yoga program and then became Director of Engagement.

Allie: What first drew you to yoga and mindfulness?

Alesandra: I had a really beautiful, deep relationship with my grandfather who was a cantor and a mystic in his own right. Everything that I learned about Jewish mindfulness as an adult I tie back to him.

Alesandra Zsiba

Allie: What is your favorite way to celebrate Shabbat?

Alesandra: Years ago, my partner at the time and I went to Israel with Sixth & I, and found a really beautiful Shabbat on the beach – there was so much music and dancing, and everyone felt so free. The organic and public nature of that was really appealing. I’ve always wanted to go back to that. I also would really love to have a havdalah yoga practice within community.

Allie: What does mindfulness mean to you?

Alesandra: It means creating a path to stillness inside yourself. It’s a practice of healing, self-actualizing, and maturing…it’s about pressing pause on the doing and finding calm in a busy, busy world.

Allie: What is one tip you would give for someone seeking to live more mindfully?

Alesandra: Find community. We’re so conditioned to try and do things on our own, but I really think the answer is to get excited about it through other people. All the good, juicy bits of life happen in the context of relationships. Go make a pact with a friend to be mindfulness buddies, and try out a meditation event together.

Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…

Alesandra: There’s a lot of questioning, talking, and curiosity. It’s beautiful and loud.

Alesandra Zsiba

 

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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.