Meet Elissa: Jewish Economist of the Week

She may seek balance, but this thoughtful PhD candidate can already perform a headstand with ease! Read all about Elissa Cohen and her secret past life as a saber fencer!

Allie: What brought you to DC? 

Elissa: I originally moved from Philly to DC in 2012 to work as a welfare policy researcher at the Urban Institute. At the time, I totally thought I was going to be a member of the transient DC community, and leave after a couple years for grad school. Yet here I am, seven years later; a legit DC resident with a DC driver’s license and all! So, in case you were wondering about DC Statehood – vote yes! 

Allie: Tell me about the PhD you are currently pursuing? 

Elissa: I’m pursuing my PhD in Economics. I had been on the fence about whether a doctoral degree was the right path for me. Ultimately, I decided a research path would allow me to make the impact I wanted on society. Being able to rigorously evaluate the policies and programs we have in place is extremely important to me. So, one day, you know, post dissertation, I hope to use my skills and knowledge to improve the quality and structure of our safety-net and financial systems.

Allie:  What led you to your interest in economics?

Elissa: I was in college during the Great Recession and wanted to understand why socioeconomic systems broke down and led to widespread turmoil. I also observed how the burdens of these system failures were unevenly distributed across the income and wealth distributions. I felt compelled to understand which policies could best help those most vulnerable. 

Allie: What was this awesome program you participated in this past summer in Santa Fe?

Elissa: The Santa Fe Institute’s Complex Systems Summer School! It was basically a nerdy adult summer camp. It brings together an interdisciplinary group of people from around the world come to learn about complexity science, including chaos theory, network theory, and information theory. I was able to start – and am now continuing – to collaborate on projects with some of the incredible people I met from this program.

In addition to all the learning, I managed to find some free time to explore the area! I attended my first rodeo, hiked amazing trails, and got to view inspiring local Native American art. The only thing I wish I could’ve done was go to the Santa Fe Opera, of which RBG is a regular patron! Everyone should find time to go to Santa Fe.

Allie: I hear you’re also a certified yoga instructor, tell me about that!

Elissa: I did my teacher training in 2013 at Studio DC up in AdMo, and it was one of the best investments I’ve ever made in myself. Having practiced yoga for eight years already, I had a strong desire to deepen my physical and meditative practices, and to be able to share the passion I had cultivated for yoga with others.

I love that yoga is a forever practice; there’s always something fun and new to discover within it. There’s this intrinsic recognition that our bodies differ every day, so when we’re flowing through the same sequence again, our experience changes. We inevitably learn – and it’s definitely a learning process – to appreciate the experience in the present, letting go of expectations.

I also love being able to empower my students to have fun and feel comfortable in their own skin. I often hear new students say, “I’m not flexible, so that means I’m bad at yoga”. Having been at that stage myself, I get from where they’re coming; but I also know where they’re going! Yoga is a process…and, you gotta trust the process.

elissa yoga

Allie: It seems like you’re someone who stays pretty busy. What is your favorite thing to do to relax at the end of a long work/school week?

Elissa: Honestly, I really enjoy going to Kabbalat Shabbat services and then having a chill Shabbat dinner with friends to catch up.

Allie: What are some of your favorite Jewish dishes to cook?

Elissa: I’m going to have to say shakshuka. I make my own harissa paste, and there’s something incredibly satisfying about being able to develop layers of flavor in a shakshuka. I’m also of the camp that one should cook the egg in the shakshuka and not separately.

Allie: With the Jewish New Year quickly approaching, what is something you want to achieve in the coming year?

Elissa: I’m seeking balance. The past two years of grad school were quite rough, and so it’s my intention to do a better job this year of making time for friends and family. 

Allie: What is something people might be surprised to know about you?

Elissa: In an earlier life, I used to be a saber fencer, and got to go to Junior Olympics! Perhaps if, and when I have time, I’ll find a fencing club in the area to join. At this point I’m definitely rustier than my sabers.

Allie: Complete the sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Elissa: …let the Jewish geography games begin. 

elissa c

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 Jana: Jewish Doctor of the Week

Jana Bregman recently moved to DC for her fellowship and is looking to make some awesome new friends – preferably those who enjoy early morning runs, cross-country bike rides, and handmade knitted sweaters as gifts. Read on!

Want to nominate someone to be featured as Jewish Person of the Week? Click here!

janaAllie: What brought you to DC?

Jana: I’m originally from Nashville and went to Vanderbilt for both undergrad and medical school. I recently moved to DC after my residency in Baltimore for my fellowship at Children’s National in pediatric ophthalmology, aka medical and surgical eye-care for little kids. 

Allie: What did you like about pediatric ophthalmology? 

Jana: What’s cuter than a tiny kid in glasses?! I chose pediatrics because within ophthalmology it’s an underserved field, and one that provides opportunity to make a lifelong impact on people by helping to preserve their eyesight from a young age.

Allie: What are the biggest differences between living in Nashville versus DC?

Jana: When I was growing up in Nashville, there were way more differences than there are today. Back then, Nashville was still quintessential south with a slower pace of life. Now it’s more of a sprawling, cosmopolitan city. I think that the Jewish community in DC is better and it seems like there are more young people walking around here.

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

Jana: I would get up early before it gets too hot and go for a run or bike ride in Rock Creek Park. After that, I’d host brunch for some friends, and then take a nap. Later in the afternoon, I’d let out the nerd in me by knitting while watching a movie. Then, I’d go to the pool for a while before heading to a local brewery. After some beers, I’d go out to dinner with friends, followed by some live music. I’d go to sleep by 10 o’clock.

Allie: Is knitting one of your favorite pastimes?

Jana: Yeah, I’ve been knitting since I was in high school. I knit sweaters, socks, pretty much anything. I most recently knit a sweater vest for my brother. I find it really relaxing, especially because I’m not very good at just sitting still. I also like the idea of taking a ball of nothing and turning it into something really pretty. It makes great presents for people!

Allie: What’s your go-to ways to relax at the end of a long work day?

Jana: Running or swimming. I love just reading a book and drinking a beer outside, preferably while sitting by a pool. Banneker Pool is probably one of my favorite places in DC so far. 

jana

Allie: Do you have a favorite Jewish holiday?

Jana: Shabbat. I have so many fond memories around it – Shabbat was always a priority for my family when I was growing up. My mom is a really good cook and would make delicious vegetarian meals. 

Allie: What’s at the top of your bucket list at the moment?

Jana: I’d love to go to Acadia National Park in Maine, and break 20 minutes in a 5K.

Allie: What is something people might be surprised to know about you?

Jana: I’ve biked across the country. When I graduated from high school, I took a year off before college. I spent the first part of that year with an organization called Bike and Build – we biked and built houses with Habitat for Humanity. It was a two month long trip – we started in Jacksonville, Florida and ended in San Francisco, California. We would bike between 80-100 miles everyday. I sported the proudest farmers tan of my life 🙂 

Allie: Do you have a Jewish role model?

Jana: My cantor growing up. He is someone who truly acts out what it means to be Jewish. He connects with people on a very personal level, he’s there when you need him during both happy and sad times, and always has the right reference to Jewish teachings for the moment.

Allie: Complete the sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Jana: Friendships are made!

jana

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 Shira: Jewish Travel Lover of the Week

shira

Allie: Tell me how you ended up in DC.

Shira: I like to base my life choices on the show I’m binge watching at the time. During finals my senior year of college, I was watching “The West Wing. I thought every day in DC would have an invigorating Toby-Sam argument. Spoiler alert: After working as a policy fellow in DC for a few years, I got into “Mad Men” and moved on to an ad agency.

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

Shira: I’d embrace my inner “basic-ness” for a day: I’d start with an early morning hike, drink just the right amount of coffee to feel cool with my friends but not enough to start up my Ashkenazi stomach, skip brunch (that’s my one non-basic move), and get free samples at the farmer’s market. After such a stressful morning, I’d need to take a load off at a local beer garden. Dacha, anyone?

Allie: What outdoor adventures have you loved the most?

Shira: Hiking Old Rag is a classic, and Old Town Alexandria is fun when I’m not there for work. Outside of the DC-area, I try to go on two big trips every year. One of last year’s trips was the Grand Canyon. Next week, I’ll be traipsing my way through Sweden and England with my high school frienemy Laurie Hunt (shout out). Boys – don’t worry if you see me disappear from the JSwipe scene. My distance filter is only 1,000 miles, but I’ll be back in two weeks.

shira

Allie: What has been your favorite trip?

Shira: Peru. I’m a history nerd, so I loved going to Machu Picchu and learning about the earliest religions. I also loved hiking Lake 22 outside of Seattle.

Allie: What do you love most about traveling?

Shira: The fact that I am traveling. But really, I just love learning about history and language, and I love seeing how others live and exploring the beautiful views while hiking. I especially love visiting the Jewish communities for a Friday night dinner when I’m abroad.

Allie: Where do you most want to travel to next?

Shira: My new client project might be taking me to Bethesda, and I hear it’s hopping there. Other than that, I’m hoping to plan a trip to Spain and Portugal soon, as well as go hiking in Switzerland one day.

Allie: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

Shira: I got an A+ in my hip hop dance class in college. And I’m really good at Super Smash Bros.

Allie: What is at the top of your DC bucket list? 

Shira: Take an improv class. I’ve read Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Mindy Kaling’s books, so I think I’m ready.

Allie: What is your favorite Jewish holiday?

Shira: Sukkot; specifically in the Atlanta weather with my mom’s butternut squash pie. October 2019: You’re all invited.

Allie: Complete the sentence: when Jews of DC gather…

Shira: They refuse to acknowledge their previous conversations on JSwipe.

shira

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 Jessica: Jewish Nurse of the Week!

When she’s not slaying it as a pediatric oncology research nurse, this outdoor lover might be found reading on a kayak, playing volleyball, or planning her dream trip to Iceland. Get to know Jessica Nooriel!

 

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Jessica: I’m pretty extroverted, so I wanted to live in a big city where there are lots of people and things happening. I’m also from Atlanta and am a southern girl at heart, so I didn’t want to go too far north. I decided to apply to jobs in DC, and got a great offer as a clinical, pediatric oncology research nurse at NIH. It worked out well! 

Allie: What are the biggest differences between DC and Atlanta? 

Jessica: Weather! It gets cold here (maybe not this week…). There is also a lot more going on in DC. In Atlanta, I lived in a nice, quiet, suburb which I loved. But here, it’s very happening, and political, and people all seem so smart and passionate.

Allie: What led you to a career in nursing?

Jessica: Science has always been a big topic of interest for me. I am fascinated by the science of healing, and love how nurses look at patients holistically. Seeing patients from a biological, sociological, and psychological perspective can give us a lot of insight. 

In the future, I’d like to go back to school to become a nurse practitioner so I can be involved in making the big decisions.

Allie: Describe your dream DC day.

Jessica: I’m an outdoorsy person, so my day would start with a morning hike. Then, I’d get lunch somewhere outside – maybe go to a brewery. After that, I would go kayaking or paddle-boarding. I’ve never lived near a body of water, so that is still new and exciting for me. I have a kayaking season pass for the summer at the Potomac. Then, I would go on a private tour of the White House and the monuments.

Allie: What is at the top of your bucket list? 

Jessica: Skydiving, but in a different country. I’d also love to go to Iceland, I’ve heard it’s the type of country you can just camp the entire time, and that the food and sights are amazing. 

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

Jessica: Boating and reading. I read a lot. I’m about to finish Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I’m also interested in Holocaust books. Two of my favorites are Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl and The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult.

Allie: What is your favorite Jewish holiday?

Jessica: Passover, because my family always gets together as a big group. I love long meals and being around people. And I also love matzah, especially matzah pizza! And I enjoy anticipating that the holiday is coming with all of the cleaning and the preparation. 

Allie: Is there something that people would be surprised to know about you?

Jessica: Yes! Even though I’m super short, I play volleyball. I played competitively in high school and intramural in college. My position is setter. I can’t join a DC league because of my schedule, but I would love to get a pick-up game started. 

Allie: Complete the sentence: when Jews of DC gather…

Jessica: …They have a good time.

jessica

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 Allen: Jewish Real Estate Guru of the Week!

 

Temporary Matt Corrado Mural at the Carnegie Library

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Allen: I went to school at The University of Maryland and was offered a job with a real estate developer doing an enormous mixed-use, multi-phase development project in Montgomery County. It was exciting, so I stuck around.

Allie: Do you still work in real estate?

Allen:  Yes! I had spent years working with restaurants on their design, construction and real estate expansions all over the east coast and have since started a company, Concept Lab CRE, which focuses on real estate, design and analytics consulting, primarily for restaurants, retail businesses and small multi-family projects.  

There are a lot of businesses that have great concepts, but need help developing processes to grow and evolve efficiently. I am always excited to talk to business owners interested in growth or addressing issues affecting their businesses.

Allie: Outside of work, I hear you’re also involved with Bridge To Health. Tell me about that.

Allen: Bridge To Health USA is a charity that provides sustainable healthcare to underprivileged communities in the US and around the world. I really wanted to be involved with a non-denominational, results-focused organization, and I’m a founding board member of BTH USA and serve as our Director of Fundraising and Development. We are setting up programs in Peru and Ohio and having worked in countries like Kenya and Uganda in the past.

We’re actually holding an event on September 26th at Prather’s on the Alley and we still looking for corporate partnerships, so if our mission resonates with you – reach out to me.

Rosenthal Vineyard, Malibu, CA

Allie: Wow! You must stay pretty busy.  What is the number one superpower you wish you could have?

Allen: I definitely try to stay active. If I could have a superpower it would be the ability to slow down time.  By the time the week starts it’s so packed with work and activities I always feel like I need more time in my day! I feel like you can never spend too much time with the people that you love and sometimes you just want time to stand still so you can really savor those moments.

Allie: If you could have a totally free day in DC, what would you do?

Allen:  I’d start out grabbing an espresso at Kafe Leopold in Cady’s Alley. They have a courtyard terrace where you can sit outside and relax listening to their fountain, you might as well be in Europe. From there I’d go to The Phillips Collection and sit in the Rothko Room for 15 minutes before biking the Mount Vernon trail – I try to do a 40 mile ride every other day. Then, I’d pick up lunch and go to The Graham Rooftop in the afternoon, which has one of my favorite views in the city and is probably my favorite place to throw parties during the day.  

After that, it’s dinnertime. Making dinner plans is one of my favorite things to do so I’d probably have made a reservation somewhere; favorites include Spoken English, Maydan and Kinship. Anyone who’s been out to dinner with me knows I’m also a big fan of the legendary tea menu and apple pie at Blue Duck Tavern for afterwards, and then drinks would continue after that.

Dinner and drinks with Friends at Bourbon, best fries in town included

Allie: What is something that people might be surprised to know about you?

Allen: I’m a huge post-war modern art fan, particularly hard edge pairings and minimal art from artists like Flavin, Kelly, Stella, Serra, Yves Kline, and Rothko. I’ve always been fascinated by beautiful architecture, design, and art, and it’s amazing showing up to the Hirshhorn or National Gallery of Art and seeing some of the most impressive works in the world. Big fan of The Whitney in NYC and The Broad In LA as well.  

Allie: Do you do art yourself?

Allen: I used to work on mixed-media pieces. I did some painting, worked with paper, and cut-out work. I also collect DC street art, but I really should be doing more of it. It’s funny you ask that actually, I was just speaking with a friend and DC street artist this weekend, we are going to work on a piece together.  

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

Allen: I really love the water, especially shallow reefs, so most of the travel items on my list involve the ocean. I’ve always wanted to dive the Maldives or the Great Blue Hole in Belize. They are supposedly some of the most beautiful reefs in the world, and great beaches to relax on afterwards. Also, I’m a huge fan of Japanese culture, architecture, and food, so I’d love to spend time there as well.

allen

Swimming at Caneel Bay, St. John

Allie: Which 3 people would you invite to Shabbat?

Allen: I’m not much of a small group person, so let’s call it a party and invite a bunch of people: I’d invite Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn, Hilton Founder Conrad Hilton, Actress and Honest Company Founder Jessica Alba, Real Estate Developer Donald Bren, Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat, Danish Architect Bjarke Ingels, and have Off-While Founder Virgil Abloh spinning records. 

Definitely a fun night.

Allie: What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?

Allen: A tie between Passover and Hanukkah. Passover because I love drinking around the table with my cousins and friends we invite over. And Hanukkah because I enjoy thinking of very personal, specific gifts to give to people.

Allie: Complete the sentence: when Jews of DC gather…

Allen: We make fun of everything and everyone.

 

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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 Ilana: GatherDC’s New Rabbi!

Hailing from Brooklyn, this recently ordained rabbi is ready and eager to take GatherDC by storm. Get to know the remarkable, soulful, passionate Ilana Zietman and welcome her to the Gather team!

NOTE: If this interview piques your interest, tune into our Instagram this Friday at 12pm for our first ever AMA (Ask Me Anything): Rabbi Edition. You’ll be able to ask Rabbi Ilana your most pressing Jewish or Jew-ish questions via our Insta-story, and get her honest answers.

Allie: How did you wind up living in DC?

Ilana: I grew up in the greatest borough in the greatest city in the world – Brooklyn, New York. I stayed in NYC through college and then decided to be adventurous and try living somewhere else. I applied to Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps in DC, and ended up staying for a couple more years. I left five years ago to go to rabbinical school at Hebrew College in Boston, but I always had it in my mind that I would be back. 

Allie: When did you know you wanted to become a rabbi and why?

Ilana: Around the time of my bat mitzvah. I was really excited to read from the Torah and lead prayer services at my synagogue, but the rabbi of my community didn’t play much of a role in the process, nor was there any space to talk about what becoming a bat mitzvah was supposed to mean. I started thinking that if I became a rabbi, I could do things differently. 

After that, I sought out opportunities to keep growing in my Jewish identity and began to see that Jewish tradition is not simply about observing ancient customs, but is about learning how to live a more mindful, loving, and meaningful life with ourselves, others, and the world around us. Jewish tradition became something I wanted to share and bring into conversation with people from all walks of life, and I thought that I could do that most deeply as a rabbi.

Allie: What are you most looking forward to in your new role with GatherDC?

Ilana: Building relationships with young professionals across the city and seeing how we can continue to make Jewish life in DC appealing and substantial. At the end of the day, Jewish tradition and communal life must embrace who we are, even as it challenges us to think about how we might want to change and grow. 

I hope to create opportunities for honest conversations about our Judaism and Jewish lives. I’m also excited to facilitate learning opportunities for us to ask what being Jewish means and how it can add value to our lives. Also, getting to lead an alternative Yom Kippur experience (and maybe other holidays) at a beer garden or other non-traditional space…how can I not be excited about that?!

Allie: What do you hope to achieve in your rabbinate career?

Ilana: I’m not exactly sure where my rabbinate will take me, but what I do know is that as the world changes, so will my rabbinate. No matter what, I hope to be part of people’s lives in meaningful ways and to foster communities where people feel like they can show up as themselves. 

Allie: What is something that people might be surprised to know about you?

Ilana: I love our national parks! I will probably always choose to go camping in a national park for vacation than go on any other kind of trip. Last summer, my husband and I rented an RV and camped all around Alaska. It was so fun and beautiful. We also got to eat the halibut we caught ourselves for almost a year afterward!

Allie: If you had a totally free day in DC, how would you spend it from start to finish?

Ilana: I would start the day walking around Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown. It’s one of the most beautiful garden spaces I have ever been to. I would next visit the foodie haven of Union Market for lunch and then visit one of DC’s many (gloriously air-conditioned) museums. I especially like the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of American History. To relax at night, I’d binge-watch some great television like Parks & Rec, Great British Bakeoff, Broad City, and most recently, Big Little Lies.

Allie: I hear you recently discovered a love of making pottery! Tell us about that.

Ilana: I started taking pottery classes last summer, and have found a great studio in Georgetown where I’m continuing to learn. I love feeling like a kid again by playing with clay and getting messy at the wheel, and there’s nothing more satisfying than mastering new techniques that lead to making functional pieces. I hope to get good enough to make all kinds of things, maybe even Shabbat candlesticks or a seder plate for Passover. For now, I’m still figuring out how bowls work. 

Allie: What is your favorite Jewish holiday and why?

Ilana: In my opinion, Sukkot brings together some of the best parts of Judaism – wacky rituals and important life-affirming themes. 

Sukkot, meaning booths or temporary shelters, gives us the opportunity to connect to food and land and to find a sense of gratitude for the world that sustains us, and at the same time asks us to face the fact that no matter who we are, we are vulnerable to nature and the vast unknown. 

During Sukkot, there’s really nothing like sitting in a decorated sukkah at night, looking up at the stars while sharing good food and conversation. Plus, while eating or sleeping in these unconventional dwellings, we get to shake the lulav and etrog. So, I guess at the end of the day, I’m proud that Jews kind of invented the original shake shack!

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

Ilana: They ask big questions and get a thousand different thoughtful and creative answers.


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 Harry: Jewish Hill Staffer of the Week!

harry

Allie: How did you wind up living in DC?

Harry: I’m from New York. I originally moved here for college at GW, and bounced around for a few years before coming back for law and policy school.

Allie: What are the biggest differences between New York and DC?

Harry: I miss New York pizza. But I’m very happy in DC, it’s a very livable city with a lot of hidden gems. You meet people from all over the world who speak about issues that matter.

Allie: I hear you work for the U.S. House of Representatives. What triggered your passion for politics?

Harry: I don’t like politics. I like policy. I don’t like the process of duking it out to make some ideological point. I like it when we can use our collective resources to make people’s lives better. This is very much about doing what’s right and helping people.

harry

Harry’s dreamed of being the Jewish Hill Staffer of the Week for quite some time now.

Allie: What is your dream day in DC from start to finish?

Harry: I would get out of DC and hike Old Rag.

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

Harry: I really enjoy spending time with friends – hiking, traveling, going on road trips, doing yoga.

Allie: What is one place you really want to travel to?

Harry: The next two trips I’m thinking of doing are to Guatemala and Thailand. I’m very much looking forward to those. Traveling is probably my favorite thing to do. I like the sense of freedom, the adventure of pushing myself, and rediscovering the humanity in others.

Allie: Who is your role model?

Harry: Without a doubt, it’s John Lewis. He is a civil rights icon who was nearly murdered while fighting for the right to vote. It was partially through his advocacy that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed and he’s now been a member of Congress for quite some time. He is a strong moral voice, that unfortunately we need a lot of right now.

Allie: What is a skill you want to learn this year?

Harry: My goal for the year is to learn how to use chopsticks.

Allie: Complete the sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Harry: Things get interesting.

harry

 

 

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 Ben, Ben, Ben, AND Ben! (yes, you read that right)

GatherDC’s winter 2018 Beyond the Tent retreat was an amazing experience for young adults to get outside of DC for a weekend, unpack 21st century Judaism, and explore their Jewish identity over deep, meaningful conversations. Among the 30 participants, zero were named Rachel…but FOUR were named Ben! This week, the Bens of Beyond the Tent share their unique perspectives on Jewish DC and life in general – proving, once and for all, that not all Bens are the same. Get to know them…

 

Ben D. – Former Jewish Guy of the Week!

Allie: Where does your unique name come from? Do any of you have a cool story behind why you were named Ben?

Ben D.: I was going to be named after my grandfather, Sidney, which is now my middle name. As a result, my hebrew name is Simcha.

Ben F.: It was passed down from my great-grandfather.

Ben R.: I don’t know. Does that make me a bad Jew? Fake Jew? Typical Jew?

Ben L.: No, but my family and I grew a bit tired of our names last year (we’ve been using them for decades…) and so we used nicknames for a few good months. I went by Josh.

Ben F.

 

Allie: What do you love most about living in DC?

Ben D.: DC brings the best and the brightest young people from around the country, who come here specifically to make a difference in the world. DC is a springboard for young leaders.

Ben F.: Great collection of educated citizens that aren’t afraid to challenge the establishment. Ask questions, drive for change, and push forward.

Ben R.: All within a few miles and by way of a mass-public transportation train, there’s movies, comedy, craft beer, rock climbing, pour-over coffee shops, and challenging hikes. What else is there in life?

Ben L.: The monuments at night.

 

Allie: If you could pick a new name for yourself right now, what would it be and why?

Ben D.: I usually go by my full name “Ben Droz”, (rhymes with “Ben Rose”).  I like it just the way it is.

Ben F.: Staying with Ben. Simple name but yet plenty of clever nicknames.

Ben R.: When I was 26 years old, my first book was published. I had unlimited options for the name that was published on the cover: I could have chosen Ben, Benjy, Ben-jammin, Ben-jammmmmmmmmin, Benjamin, or an alias. I chose Benjamin, the name by which my loving parents chose to call me. And, I’m sticking with it.

Ben L.: Josh. Worked before. Could work again.

Allie: I hear you all recently went on GatherDC’s Beyond the Tent retreat with Rabbi Aaron! First, how was it? Second, was it weird, awesome, or both meeting 3 other Bens?

Ben D.: Beyond the Tent was a great experience, to get out of the DC bubble and make time for deep reflection. It helped to highlight that any person can define Judaism for themselves. I am used to there being other Bens around throughout my life, which is one reason why I usually go by my full name. But this time, we made up more than 10% of the whole group, so yes, that was both weird and awesome.

Ben F.: Beyond the Tent was a mind-changing experience. Rabbi Aaron encouraged us to ask difficult questions and not to be afraid to stand behind our beliefs. In terms of meeting all the Bens, I think we embraced it – it was like our own little breakout group in itself.

Ben R.: Beyond the Tent impacted my life positively, partly because I was one of four individuals named Ben. Never again in my life, I’m certain of this, will I be in the same place with three other friends named Ben. That’s “Beyond the Awesome”.

Ben L.: It was a thought provoking weekend. I’m a regular attendee of the weekly secret underground gatherings of the Bens, so nothing too new.

 

Allie: Favorite thing to do on a free Sunday in the city?

Ben D.: There are always so many events in DC that I like to see what is going on and base my decision on that.  Last weekend I randomly went to the Zoo, which was fun.

Ben F.: Go for a run along the National Mall.

Ben R.: Watch professional football. Oh wait, I live and die by the Washington Redskins and football season is over? Dang it!

Ben L.: Park. I really enjoy not having to use the meter.

 

Allie: Favorite Jewish food? Ben R., we already know you hate hummus

Ben D.: Chicken Soup.

Ben F.: Might be a classic choice, but Apples and Honey.

Ben R.: [haha. Yep]. Not hummus.

Ben L.: My mom’s challah. All of her’s are good, but I’d say that 1 out of 4 is truly something divine, especially when my two year-old niece helps. Shout out to Maya, Talia, and Andrew, my favorite Jews in DC!

 

Allie: Any surprising facts about yourself?

Ben D.: I had a spiritual experience at Burning Man and now want to incorporate spirituality into my life in new ways.

Ben F.: I was born without two normal teeth and with all 4 wisdom teeth. Call me strange I guess!

Ben R.: Every morning, I touch my three tattoos and say aloud a blessing of gratitude about having my third chance in life and about accepting myself and others as we are. Thanks to Beyond the Tent, I realize now that, for me, this is a deeply Jewish and spiritual ritual.

Ben L.: I used to tear it up at table tennis tournaments as a kid.

 

Allie: Favorite Jewish holiday and how do you celebrate it?

Ben D.: Passover, because there is so much relating to the holiday (I follow sephardic food rules so that I can still enjoy rice and lentils). I like to celebrate by re-interpreting the Haggadah from a post-modern perspective.

Ben F.: Rosh Hashanah. And I try to spend time back home to reminisce on the year prior and look at new ways to seize the future.

Ben R.: Purim because my friend is baking me hamentashen. Ask me again in April, and I may say a different holiday if a friend bakes me something else.

Ben L.: Havdalah. I like to hear the candle’s flame slowly go out in the wine. Judaism places a lot of emphasis on transitions throughout one’s day, week, or year and when in crisis, and I think that’s smart.

 

Allie: Complete the sentence: When the Jews of DC Gather…

Ben D.: They will always find connection and meaning.

Ben F.: If meeting for the first time, you’ll probably get a first question like what you do for a living or where are you from.

Ben R.: They still congregate around the hummus.

Ben L.: You’ll never be the one with the best question or the best answer. That means it’ll be pretty exciting.

 

 

 

 

 

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 Maxim: Russian Jew of the Week!

When he’s not running the amazing Jewish community group for Druzya DC: Jews of the FSU, hiking across Shenandoah, or working as an engineer, Maxim is…eating hamantaschen?! Get to know the founder of Druzya DC with our exclusive 1:1 interview!

Allie: I hear you helped start the group Druzya DC, tell me a little bit about this group and what motivated you to start it?

Maxim: Druzya DC was organized by two of my friends. We wanted to unite the Russian-Jewish community. I come from the NY/NJ area where the sense of the Russian-Jewish community is very strong. Growing up, if I wanted to find a Russian store, doctor, lawyer, or plumber – all I had to do was ask and the community would take care of the rest. When I came to DC, this sense of community for Russian Jews did not exist yet, and I wanted to create it. Two of my friends that founded Druzya DC with me eventually left to follow other life ambitions, but I continue to run it in my spare time. I love bringing people together. You can check out our Facebook page with events and details.

Allie: In what ways do you think Russian Jews differ from American Jews?

Maxim: If you know American Jews and Israeli Jews, Russian Jews would fit somewhere in the middle. American Jews grew up with the safety and freedom inherent in their country. Russian Jews grew up with anti-Semitism, government oppression, and The Gulag. Although many American Jews have not been tempered by these same experiences, they serve as great examples about how much you can achieve, while being Jewish. In politics and religion, I think many Russian and American Jews can be polar opposites. Many Russian Jews grew up after the monarchies fell and were replaced by a variety of socialist systems. They saw what these kinds of governments can do to people– and because of this – tend to lean right. They also differ on religion. Many American Jews believe in God and are religiously observant. In my experience, I notice that Russian Jews, who grew up in a country with no or little religion, are not as observant. Many see being Jewish as less of a religion and more of a culture with certain beliefs, spirituality, and traditions.

Allie: What do you love about the Jewish community in DC?

Maxim: Coming from a very large Jewish community in NY/NJ, it has been wonderful to be a part of a Jewish community in DC that is slightly smaller. This smaller size allows the people in it to integrate and become closer to one another. It’s nice to have a place where everyone knows each other, hangs out at events, and if they ever need something, I know someone who can help.

Allie: What do you like to do for fun outside of work?

Maxim: Nature is my thing. I love getting lost in Shenandoah National Park; it is my home away from home. Nothing beats heading out into the deep woods, roasting something on a fire, and letting the sound of forest and nature engulf you.

Allie: What are you most excited about in 2018?

Maxim: New opportunities, new friends and new adventures! Life continues to move along, and we should enjoy every moment of it.

Allie: What’s your favorite Jewish food?

Maxim: I can eat Hamentashen all day!

Allie: What is your best piece of life advice?

Maxim: Never let life bring you down. Things happen, and you can’t control that. You should never spend your energy trying to control things. Instead, take the good with the bad and continue marching on. Sometimes, life events are like buses – if one comes that you don’t want or like, wait a little, and there will be another one in 15 minutes.  

Allie: What’s your favorite way to spend Shabbat?

Maxim: With close friends

Allie: Complete the sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Maxim: …fun and music don’t stop until the light of dawn.

 

 

 

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 the Newest GatherDC Staff Member – Allie!

Get ready, DC – you’re going to start seeing a lot more of our newest team member, Allie! She’s just come on board as our Communications Director, and she’s SO excited about her new role. From her background in marketing with The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, to her unparalleled passion for the DC Jewish community, Allie is the perfect addition to our Gather team. Learn more about her path to Gather (and her obsession with all things Halloween).

P.S. Read more from the last time we checked in with her as the Jewish Girl of the Week 3 years ago! #WayBackWednesday

Shaina: Tell us about yourself!

Allie: My name is Allie of House Cossman, Friend of Bubbies Everywhere, Queen of Young Jewish Professional Events, Breaker of Fasts. My lifelong passion for Jewish culture, tradition, community, and spirituality have followed me from the faraway land of Potomac, Maryland, to Ann Arbor, Michigan (go blue!), and now to our nation’s capital. When I’m not enthusiastically promoting or attending Jewish community events, I love hiking, whipping up new vegan recipes, unwinding in Bethany Beach, practicing my downward dog, and spending time with friends and family. I also proudly maintain a ferocious obsession with (the not so Jewish holiday of) Halloween, and anything spooky, mystical, or related to the best season in the world – fall. This autumn in particularly will be a wee bit extra special because my wedding “falls” in 53 days, but who’s counting?

Shaina: What most excites you about working for GatherDC?

Allie: Well, my very favorite things in the world are meeting awesome new people, being a part of our incredible Jewish community, and letting my creative brain soar. So, being able to meld these passions as the GatherDC Communications Director is one of the most extraordinary opportunities I’ve encountered in my life thus far. I can’t wait to get to know the phenomenal Jewish young adults across DC, and help each and every one find their niche and discover a deep sense of belonging. Moreover, I hold a profound admiration for all GatherDC has done – and continues to do – to strengthen our local Jewish community and cannot wait to be a part of this remarkable mission.

Shaina: I heard you met your fiancee in a pretty cool way. Do you want to tell us about that?

Allie: Many, many years ago (3 to be exact), on a Wednesday evening in our great District of Columbia, the sun was shining, the drinks were flowing, and the Jews – were Gathering. Gather the Jews (AKA GatherDC) was hosting its May happy hour on The Brixton rooftop. Allie thought (why yes, I am telling this story in the third person. I think it gives the drama a little boost), this would just be like any other happy hour – she’d schmooze, nosh, gather, and head on her merry way. That all changed the moment she spotted one Mr. Andrew, house of Friedman, Lord of the Avocadbros, across the bar. His blue eyes glistened in the sunshine, his dimples made her swoon, and the moment he said “hey, what’s up?” she knew….she knew that one day he would become her lifelong Bachelor in Paradise viewing buddy, and also her husband. So, it’s safe to say GatherDC holds a pretty special place in my heart (back to first person now) and my Jewish journey, and I can’t wait to share this “Gather” love with others.

Shaina: What’s your favorite Jewish holiday or event?

Allie: Shabbat! I mean, yes, Chanukah latkes are quite delicious and it’s always fun hanging out with Elijah come Passover, but let’s be real…you can’t beat a holiday that happens EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK. You just can’t! Plus, challah. No phones. It’s Friday – meaning the best excuse to jam out to Rebecca Black. Most of all, it is a sacred responsibility to set aside our stresses, worries, and anxieties; to power off our devices; to sit back, eat, sing, be present, and RELAX. I’m truly grateful to have this miraculous opportunity, every week, to be free from the frenzy of daily life and present with the beauty of life’s simpler things.

Shaina: What is something not a lot of people know about you that you’d like to now share publicly with thousands of our readers?  

Allie: I am very much into practicing – and learning about – mindfulness. I love listening to Tara Brach podcasts, meditating, taking yoga classes, and doing what I can to live each day as presently, fully, and wholeheartedly as I can. It’s a tall order, but I may as well give it my best shot!

Shaina: Complete the sentence: When the Jews of DC Gather…

Allie: they have lox of fun.

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.