The famous Twelfth Century Spanish Jewish poet, philosopher, and statesman Judah Halevi once wrote, “My heart is in the East, but I am in the West.”
Though I’ve only been west of DC for four days, Halevi’s words have already come to my mind. No city has been better to me than DC, and the excellence of these past four years is due in no small part to the city’s young adult Jewish community.
Four years ago I was a bit lost. I had just deferred the continuation of my political science studies, and I chose almost carelessly between two destinations that could provide one year for me to collect my thoughts: Washington, DC or Bogota, Colombia. The scale eventually tipped in favor of DC, not because of any visit that proved the city’s merit, but simply because an attractive girl who routinely kicked my butt in Scrabble, and who was my superior in policy debates, had told me she would spend the summer in DC.
The courtship amounted to very little (not surprising for those of you who know my ideas of appropriate dress and what constitutes an ideal date). So within three weeks of moving to DC, I was friendless.
George Washington University had lots of Jews. I knew that because my Dad routinely informed me about Jewish populations of different campuses. So seeing as how I was Jewish and 22, I didn’t think it would be too outlandish to hang out on the campus and attend undergraduate events (including debate club!) Oddly enough, this strategy worked, and it especially worked with the Jewish community. GWU’s Jew world eventually led me to Mesorah DC, which led me to Sixth & I, which soon opened my eyes to the enormous tapestry of Jewish life in Washington, DC.
And – atheist though I was (and remain) – the Jewish community, more than any other community, made me immediately and routinely feel like I was valued, that my company was wanted, and that I had a place where I could make good friends who would grow in DC with me.
Before I knew it, I was a Jewish Jockey or “Super Jew.” On a bad week, I hit three Jewish events. Good weeks had upper limits of seven or eight.
I developed a reputation among my friends as the person who knew the Jewish scene, so I – without too much prompting from my friends (you guys know I love writing emails) – started sending a weekly email to friends that listed the week’s best Jewish events. So was born my version of Gather the Jews.
Fast forward to two weeks ago: I’d just sent out the 130th Gather the Jews newsletter, and I’d logged what was probably my 2,000th hour on the Gather the Jews project. Total dollars earned = $0.
So why’d I do it? Because the Jewish community of Washington, DC, never lost the feel it had during my first months in DC. It still was my home; it still was the place where I could be with tons of my friends; it still was the place where I could learn; it still was the place where I could laugh and be goofy; it still was the place I could go for support; it still was the place where I knew that I could out-dance almost every male (maybe not Josh Stevens!).
That’s why I did it, and that’s why, even after the time spent on GTJ, I owe the DC Jewish community so much.
I promise to continue making this payment from afar, and to the greatest extent that I can, while in law school. But the day-to-day show will no longer be the Stephen Richer show. This is my last newsletter (hopefully!); I’ll appear on the blog less frequently; and you won’t see me at Jewish events until winter and summer breaks.
But GTJ is in good hands: co-founder and vice president Aaron Wolff will still be in town; Rachel G. is starting as our first true staff member next week; and volunteer stalwarts such as Mike W., Jodi T., Noa L., and Sara S. are still putting in hours on the website late at night.
As confident as I am in their abilities, if I could make one request of you the Jewish young adult community of DC, it’s this: Help us keep making GTJ better. It’s a true labor of love, but the project is supposed to be an awesome resource for the community, so if we ever cease be this, kindly let us know, and we’ll try to fix it.
It’s been a real pleasure. See you over Winter Break (and Summer Break… and once I’ve graduated…)
P.S. Starships were meant to fly.
P.P.S. If you’re bizarrely saddened by the fact that you’ll be hearing less from me on this blog and you want to subscribe to my non-GTJ writings listserve, let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org)