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Aaron: We heard you just got back from staffing a Birthright trip to Israel, what was your favorite part?
Joe: It’s hard to pick any one time from such a crazy trip (and an amazing group!), but one day does stick out. On the second Friday of our trip, we spent the morning biking from Lebanese border to the Jordan river and then going rafting on the Jordan. In the afternoon we visited an outlook over the Golan Heights then went to this incredbile olive farm called Capernum Vista. We then went back for Shabbat and after a short service and great dinner we had an incredible talent show that night on the roof of the hotel, overlooking the Kinneret, under the moonlight. It’s hard to explain how awesome this day was, but you get the idea :-).
Aaron: Who was the coolest person on your trip?
Joe: That’s actually an impossible question to answer. Of the 39 participants, there were so many amazing people that it was hard to not float around between everyone just to try to get to know them all. I’ve led other trips before to Israel, as well as domestic and international service trips, and this group was among the best in every possible regard.
Aaron: Which organization led your trip?
Joe: This trip was “Israel by Bike” – one of three Birthright trips offered by Israel Outdoors. They run phenomenal programs and attract amazing people, so I strongly recommend anyone who hasn’t been to Israel before to sign up to go on a trip! (And if you have been to Israel a bunch, apply to staff a trip!)
Aaron: After being in Israel, what three things do you want to see more of in DC?
Joe: 1. More connection between the Jewish young adult community and the Israeli / Israel-related activism community. DC is blessed with an extremely vibrant Jewish community, especially for young adults, but also has an Israeli community – not to mention the major offices of organizations such as JStreet, AIPAC, and numerous other organizations involved with Israel. Creating a space in our community to further educate and inspire Jewish young adults about Israel and allow people with differing opinions a space to constructively and safely air them would better prepare our demographic to be the next generation of American Jewish leaders.
2. More relaxed educational opportunities for young adults. Having participants on my Birthright trip that knew that they were Jewish but didn’t know the Shema until I went over it with them reminded me how vitally important accessible, empowering, and non-judgmental Jewish education is for all ages (and especially young adults).
3. Schwalafel – a combination schwarma and falafel. True story, this exists over there!
Aaron: What is your favorite part of DC Jewish life?
Joe: The fact that my e-mail inbox is constantly full of Jewish opportunities. Though the volume of mail is at times overwhelming and even a bit annoying, this is certainly the best of all possible problems to have.
Aaron: Tell us about Avodah…
Joe: What’s to tell? I spent a year working at an amazing after-school non-profit (shout-out to DC SCORES!) and living in a 6-bedroom house with nine other people, all while doing weekly programming around Judaism and social justice. What’s out of the ordinary about that? Honestly though, for all the struggles that I had throughout the year of living in a group house and on an Americorps stipend , it was an incredible experience that was incredibly formative both in my professional development as well as in forming my personal identity as a Jewish social justice advocate. My fellow (former) corps members are incredible people whose support, enthusiasm, and passion for social change really made the last year of my life one of great personal growth. I fell in love with DC, discovered amazing organizations fighting major societal problems, and had some great times and Spring and Girard [the names of the Avodah houses] that I doubt I’ll ever forget. Good times.
Aaron: We heard you host big Shabbat dinners, tell us more.
Joe: As I mentioned above, living in a group house with lots of space has its perks. Several times in the last few months I would send out a mass e-mail and text on Wednesday or Thursday and then have 15-30 people over for a giant potluck dinner Friday night. I think that this is exactly how Shabbat is meant to be – a mellow and fun dinner, shared with good people, and with tons of food and drink! A few times I made it a pizza shabbat dinner and I would make 5-10 pizzas myself – and while those were also awesome, crowdsourcing is a little easier logistically. Everyone should try it – each week someone else hosts, no one ever spends more than $10/15 on their dish/drink, and you have an awesome evening with awesome people! It’s sort of like Feastly, but cheaper 😀 (caveat: I love Feastly and you should too!).