Jewish Public Historian of the Week – Jason

Jackie: What first brought you to D.C.?

Jason: I went to college here, spending fours years at The George Washington University. I then moved back to New York, where I’m from, and worked for seven years in the museum field, as a curator, archivist and consultant. In 2009 I gave a lecture at the Library of Congress and learned about the Library’s Veterans History Project (VHP). I applied for a job, and in October of that year I was hired. I moved here on December 1, 2009, and have worked at the Library of Congress ever since.

Jackie: Can you tell us about your work with Library of Congress?

Jason: When I began at VHP, my job was to help collect and preserve the stories of America’s war veterans. I worked with organizations and volunteers nationwide to record the stories of veterans and donate them to the Library. After two and a half years, I moved into the Library’s John W. Kluge Center, where I am today. The Kluge Center brings scholars from around the world to the Library to conduct research and shares their research with policymakers and the public. I manage the public-facing side of the Center: our web content, our blog, our social media, our public programming, media relations, Congressional relations, and strategy. It’s a fun challenge, as I get to absorb all the research done by top scholars in multiple disciplines and distill it into digestible forms for the public. It’s a great job, and I think one of the best in Washington. But I’m biased.

Jackie: Tell us about your concept of History Communicators? How are you implementing this idea?

Jason: Just as science has Science Communicators, I’ve argued that history needs History Communicators. History, like science, can often come across to those outside the field as impenetrable, full of jargon, perhaps even boring. It is anything but. Over the past three years I’ve worked with many historians at the Kluge Center to make their research more accessible and show its relevance to a wider audience. History Communicators is the next step in that work, a new way to communicate history to non-experts in the digital age. I’m working with leaders in the history profession and beyond to train future historians for this work. As a historian by training, specifically a Public Historian—a historian whose work is targeted toward a general audience—the concept of History Communicators is one I am very passionate about seeing come to fruition. More news about it will be coming soon!

Jackie: Where is your favorite place to spend time in D.C.?

Jason: Indoors, it’s probably the National Gallery. I love wandering the different rooms, and I’m a sucker for landscape paintings—Turner, Constable, the old Dutch masters. Outdoors, it’d be Meridian Hill Park. I love to play football, Frisbee, or just sit under a tree and read.

Jackie: Can you tell us about your passion for music? Can we see you play anywhere in D.C.?

Jason: Music has alwaySB1s been a big part of my life. My dad played guitar, and growing up we always had instruments in the house. My parents also had an impressive record collection. I began playing guitar in high school and have been in several different bands over the years. The most recent was a two-person blues rock band called The Grey Area. We were fortunate to make two music videos, one of which is on, to tour the west coast and play at SxSW. At this point, though, we are not actively performing.

Jackie: What is your favorite Jewish Food?

Jason: Nothing beats Jewish deli: corned beef, turkey breast, rye bread, and cole slaw, washed down by Dr. Brown’s. 

Jackie: Who is your favorite Jew?

Jason: Probably a tie between George Gershwin and Jerry Seinfeld. Gershwin is something of an icon in my family: a Jewish kid from New York who was arguably the most gifted composer of the 20th century. My grandma still knows all the lyrics to his songs. Jerry Seinfeld is, for me, the funniest comedian alive today. His sensibility and humor are exactly to my taste: random observations, analyzing and debating the minutiae of life. Years ago I wrote a parody of Seinfeld using some of my best friends as the main characters. His fictional life on the show almost exactly resembled my real life in New York as a young adult.

JackieWhat is your favorite way to spend Shabbat?

Jason: Either reading a book or catching up on The New Yorker.

Finish the sentence: When the Jews gather…

Jason: we play Balderdash! I just got back from a family reunion, and it’s a tradition in our family to play Balderdash when we get together. We play for hours and at the end of the night we save the best answers for our Balderdash Hall of Fame. Nerdy? Yes. Fun? Absolutely.



Jewish Foodie of the Week Dave!

Untitled design (14)Jackie: We heard you have a job by day and another passion on the weekend, can you tell us about the two hats you wear?

Dave: Over the last two years, I worked at an IT government contracting company by day and ran my culinary walking tour business, Mangia DC Food Tours, in the evenings and on weekends. I haven’t had much downtime, but I’m pursuing my dream of building my own business, so that has kept me motivated.

However, I recently made the transition to working on the tour as my full time hobby. I say hobby because it’s impossible to call this a job…I’m having way too much fun!

Jackie: What’s a culinary walking tour and what inspired you to start it?

Dave: A culinary walking tour is similar to a historic sightseeing tour, except that in addition to learning about history and architecture, you’re also stopping at some of the best and most unique local restaurants for tastings. The guide weaves the story of the food and the restaurants into the larger history of the city.

Indonesia Embassy Pic 9-7-2014I’ve always wanted to run my own business and I love food and travel and cultural experiences. About five years ago I went on a food tour in Barcelona and enjoyed every minute of it. Plus, I’ve worked as a tour guide and have a marketing background – so it seemed like the perfect way to combine all of my passions into a business. When the idea hit me, it felt a light bulb pop up over my head like in cartoons. It took me two years of thinking about it before taking the leap to make it happen, but finally did it! The rest is history.

Jackie: What makes your food tour so unique?

Dave: Mangia DC takes its name from the Italian interjection Mangia! which translates to both “Eat!” and “Enjoy!” This Italian Food Tour pays tribute to DC’s original Italian population that resided here in DC in the late 1800s. We explore the historic Dupont and Logan Circle neighborhoods by foot and stop along the way to sample dishes from local family-owned eateries and learn about the city’s unique cultural heritage. There is no other Italian food tour like it in the city.

pepper funny momentJackie: What are your favorite types of groups to lead? Any funny moments from food tours you can share?  

Dave: I love working with both tourists and locals who are interested in trying something different and experiencing the city in a new way. We have a great time. A funny moment happened on one of our tours. A server offered the group pepper and then came out with a 4-foot-long pepper mill! It was quite the ice breaker as we all could not stop laughing.

Jackie: I hear you are a new home owner for all the renters out there can you tell us what are some of the joys and challenges of a new place?

Dave: It’s great because I don’t have to worry about my rent going up like I did when I lived in an apartment! However, there’s a lot of work involved in maintaining the home and yard. We’ll see how that goes.


Jackie: What is your favorite Jewish Food?

Dave: Kugel – so good!

Jackie: Who is your favorite Jew?

Dave: My dad. My dad instilled the values of honesty, integrity, and an entrepreneurial mind set in me, which I believe is why I’ve had success as a small business owner.  He’s taught me that hard work pays off.

Finish the sentence: When the Jews gather…

Dave: we eat oh so well!


Monthly Mussar: Cultivating Patience One Parked Car at a Time

Joelle Photo - CroppedI could see my destination ahead of me, but I was thwarted. So close, and yet, nothing more than a car with a mediocre and/or distracted driver looking for parking, coasting at 5MPH through the bike lane, was preventing me being on my way. I was hot and sweaty on a typical DC summer day, and I was getting more frustrated and angry by the second.

I was ready to at least mutter if not yell some obscenities and make some hand gestures reflecting just how appalled I was at this person’s inability to follow traffic laws, but then I thought better of it. This was, after all, the first month of my 13-month-long endeavor in Mussar, this month focused on patience.

The concepts of Mussar, as I understand them, promote finding a middle ground, in this case, between too much and not enough patience. As I might have alluded earlier in the year, I have struggled with the latter, so cultivating more patience was my challenge for the month. Even though I had previously specifically worked on increasing my capacity for patience, and I thought that I’d come a long way, as I sat, stuck, on my bike, blockaded by this car, I realized that I still had a way to go.

Throughout this month, as I looked back on each day, I was surprised to find how many problematic instances could have been less cumbersome if I only could have mustered more patience. Some conflicts were small, like waiting for the car to get out of the bike lane or having to wait on a co-worker to move forward on a project. The result of these encounters was feeling frustrated, but at least with no longer term consequences than raising my blood pressure in the moment. But, at least on an intellectual level, I could see how cultivating more patience could save me from feeling the frustration in the first place.

But some instances were bigger and more problematic. This mostly came when I happened to receive some exceptionally good news that I had been waiting on for several months. Now that I had finally heard back, I felt ecstatic and wanted more than anything to be able to celebrate this news with friends. But to my dismay, the people I most wanted to share my excitement with were all out of town or otherwise pre-disposed. I knew that I did have people I could celebrate with and that I’d be able to celebrate this news eventually. But the prospect of having to wait even longer than I already had to find out about the news in the first place left me feeling overwhelmingly sad.

Reflecting on these experiences, I think what they have in common is a discomfort with a world that falls short of what I might have hoped for. We live in an imperfect world filled with imperfect people. And despite being able to envision a world of always unencumbered bike lanes and always supportive and always available friends, it is not the one that we inhabit.

My take on the Mussar take-away from this situation is to see the divine (or humanity, if that’s what you’re more comfortable with) in this imperfection. Expecting everyone to act with complete competence and consideration is ultimately unrealistic, and as a result, frustrating most of the time. So I thought it was worth a try to channel the opposite, acknowledging the world as it is rather than the way I think it should be. If people are going to drive cars, they should be good drivers, but that doesn’t mean that they are. And even if they are, they could have just gotten broken up with or lost their job, and attentive driving might not be their first priority in that moment. Likewise, even though I would like my friends to plan their lives around when I may or may not hear back about my achievements, and I would like them to be just as excited about my achievements as I am, that is obviously not how the world works. And so, while I may still believe that my vision of the world as it should be would be better, embracing the world as it is has the potential to be a lot less frustrating.

In my first attempts, I have found this to be extremely difficult. Imagining the humanity of the person driving the car that just cut me off is certainly not my natural response. But as I practice each time an opportunity arises – when I have a trying experience when riding my bike (of which there are many), or rushing for the next metro or elevator or while food shopping – I do find that it becomes a little easier each time. And as it gets easier, I become less exasperated, and actually, in a better mood and a little bit more hopeful about humanity in general.

This past month, I had envisioned taking drastic measures to become a more patient person. Instead, I spent a lot of time thinking about the opportunities for patience in my life, and took some small steps that I hope to continue in the future. While it sounds less exciting, I think it has the potential to get me going in the right direction. This coming month, I will explore gratitude, a topic on which both The New York Times and The Atlantic have recently provided some food for thought. While I’ve been less challenged in feeling gratitude than I have with patience, expressing gratitude to others has never been a strong suit of mine, so that is what I will focus on. I invite you to join me on this journey.

How do you express gratitude? Please share in the comments below…


Drinking in the Moment

IMG_7809I should have anticipated it, but I’ve been doing a good amount of drinking since I started this job a week ago. I started off strong with the Gather the Jews Happy Hour last Thursday. Followed by Shabbat dinner with friends the following night. And then a bottle of wine with the Gather Team to celebrate the move into our new office.

Jews mark important moments of time – both in the Jewish calendar (like Shabbat) and in one’s personal life (like a wedding) – with wine. Of course, one can and should provide a non-alcoholic option, but there does seem to be something important about using wine. Why?

As with many practices in Judaism, a clear answer is not given. So, as with many practices in Judaism, it’s up to each of us to provide a reason that is relevant and meaningful.

I’d like to suggest two ideas. First, making wine is a long process. I learned all about that process at a private winery tour in Zichron Yaakov, Israel a couple of weeks ago (by “private” I mean that no one else came to it). Perhaps by blessing wine at important moments we sensitize ourselves to the journey that inevitably precedes any such occasion. Through this, we allow ourselves to sanctify and celebrate not just the exciting moment but also the hard work that led to it.

Second, transitions can be an emotional time. We can feel nervous, excited or overwhelmed about the unknown future; we can feel nostalgic, resentful or confused about the past we’re leaving behind. By marking those transitions with wine, we affirm the joyousness of the moment. Not to sweep away the hard parts, but to ensure that we remember to embrace life in all its up and downs. That’s why we call it a “L’chayim” – to life.

As I conclude my first week in a new city and at a new job, those “l’chayims” have helped me appreciate those moments and connect them to my larger journey.



Jewish Community Builder of the Week – Tiffany

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It has been a while but we are back with Gather’s weekly feature. We will continue to highlight the diverse and accomplished members of our community, only with a new name! Check out our post on the change and meet Tiffany -a community builder locally and abroad!

Jackie: Before moving to DC you lived in Israel, what was your favorite place to spend time in Israel?

Tiffany: Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, swimming without a wetsuit was always a traumatic. The ocean water was always dark, freezing, and full of seaweed. When I lived in Tel Aviv, I took full advantage of the 8.7 mile stretch of beautiful beaches. I lived in the city center, just two blocks away from Bograshov beach, so I would surf or swim in the mornings before class or work.


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Jackie: Where were you stationed for the Peace Corps and what do you do for them now?

Tiffany: I spent 27 months as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco. I lived in a tiny village of about 200 people on the Anti-Atlas Mountains near the border of the Western Sahara. I learned to speak Berber (Tashleheet) and Moroccan Arabic. As a Rural Community Health Volunteer, I started out teaching handwashing lessons. I worked on a few different projects, but my proudest moments were during my midwife training programs, a mobile vaccination campaign, HIV/AIDS prevention and education, and building latrines in my village. I am currently working as the Placement Specialist for Peace Corps’ Senegal and Sierra Leone Programs, so now I work with applicants and invitees as they embark on the same journey I took 5 years ago. It’s incredibly meaningful and rewarding.


10295690_10100118121231225_8119365895849560506_n (1)Jackie: I know you live in Moishe House, any great Moishe House events we need to have on our calendar?

Tiffany: They should all be on the calendar, since they’re all amazing (biased) 😉 On 8/9/2015 we have our August Picnic at Malcolm X/Meridian Hill Park. The picnics are one of my favorite events that we do. We buy a bunch of food, bring tons of sheets/blankets, and games, and basically vege out with our community members. There’s always a great turn out, and we meet a lot of new people throughout the event. I am also excited for the 8/15/2015Havdallah Ride with Lisa Kaneff, another Open Doors Fellow. These rides are so fun. It’s a critical mass style ride, open to all levels. Even people who don’t bike come for Havdallah and the post ride happy hour.

Jackie: As part on the Open Doors Fellowship you created the Website You Don’t Look can you talk about what motivated you to create that website and what you hope people will get from it?

Tiffany: I was so honored to be a member of the first cohort of10526130_10100115532588885_252124763551598016_n Fellows in Gather the Jews Open Doors Fellowship. Getting to know Jackie, Rachel and the other Fellows was a real treat. The experience of the fellowship helped me discover not just the special nuances in our community, but also some of the needs and shortcomings. I felt very disturbed by the recent coverage of the various Police Shootings and Brutality. I thought about the ways in which African Americans and other out groups are disenfranchised and although, I had never really addressed racial macroaggressions publically, or the way they affect me personally, I wanted to address the subconscious attitudes that our community (the Jewish Community) sometimes holds toward out-groups, specifically diverse Jews. For instance, when one imagines a Jewish person, we think of someone akin to Woody Alan; and a religious Jew? Black hat, beard, and, most importantly: white as a sheet. Simply put: Jews are stereotyped. But we all know that Jews come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and orientations. So I wanted to create a space where people can see and interact with Jews of color, or people of color in general. I want our community to be able see diverse Jews and to attend our events because when you see and know Jews of color you can begin building the kinds of relationships that cause you to see the whole person that goes against the stereotypes.

Jackie: Who is your favorite Jew?

Tiffany: I have too many to choose just one. Honorable mentions to David Cygielman and Jordan Fruchtman, the visionary masterminds behind Moishe House and my mom, of course! Ambassador Uri Savir, is my dear friend and mentor. He was the Chief Negotiator of the Oslo Accords. He served in the Knesset, he founded the Glocal Forum, he is the president of the Peres Center for Peace, and he is the founder of Yala Young Leaders. I have an incredible amount of respect for Uri because he driven, incredibly intelligent, and a rebel. He spent his professional life on the frontline of development and peacemaking in Israel.

530864_706544921475_1490047053_nJackie: What is your favorite way to spend Shabbat?

Tiffany: I love hosting Shabbat Dinners at Moishe House. After the time spent planning, shopping, cooking, and preparing, our community members arrive excited for the weekend, ready to let loose and stay late. Our dinners go well into the early morning hours. I love the company and the conversations people bring.

Jackie: Finish the sentence: When the Jews Gather…

Tiffany: the Mesiba (Party) begins!


Your Jewish People of the Week Are Back!

GATHER'S (1)The Jewish Guy and Girl of the Week feature has been a staple of Gather the Jews since its inception in 2010. It has been an important and fun way to showcase exemplary community members who are doing amazing things in and across the DC area – 312 of you to be exact! As we enter the next stage of Gather, we wish to continue that mission…just with a different name.

With thanks to the hundreds of you who provided valuable feedback in our Community Survey, we are excited to share the new name and expand the brilliant idea that goes back to almost the beginning of Gather. We will continue to honor diverse and impressive faces of our community with our new, inclusive, gender-neutral and dynamic title: Jewish ____of the Week – J_OTW. This feature will look a little different each week based on why that individual is highlighted. For example, we will have Jewish Innovators of the Week who might be creating their own business or dynamic programming, or Jewish Foodies of the Week for the Jew who cooks up a storm or who leads culinary tours, etc. And we will continue to celebrate all of our Jews of the Week at the end of the year in a special way.

At this moment of transition, we would like to honor all previous Jewish Guys and Girls of the Weeks by naming a t-shirt just for you! FOR A LIMITED TIME, anyone can purchase a Jewish Guy or Girl of the Year T-shirt for only $10!

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We would also like to specifically remember our “Adam and Eve” of the Jewish Guy and Girl of Week feature who kicked it all off. Our first ever Gather Jewish Girl of the Week was Aliyah, and first ever Jewish Guy of the Week was Eddy! We’ll try to do a “where are they now” in the year ahead! Gather has changed a lot since 2010 and we hope to always be improving to better serve our community. But one thing we don’t ever want to change is our commitment to recognizing and sharing the amazing stories and individual members of this Tribe.

To keep identifying these incredible Jews within our midst, we need your help! Nominate your awesome, friends, colleagues, (selves!), who are cool people doing cool things in our community. You can read here about our first ever Jewish Connector of the Week, Tiffany!

Keep on Gathering On…



Top 5 Things Not to Ask Your Single Friends

Hello I am singleDo you remember that, right before Passover this year, I discussed some of the awkward questions Aunt Mildred might ask you at the Seder table? (If not, feel free to take a peek here. I’ll wait…)

It’s funny how things can change so quickly. We all have that friend who is perpetually single, and then one day he or she meets the new love of his or her life, and the next thing you know—boom—they become a “we” rather than an “I” plus “I.” And so many times, these newly coupled friends forget what it’s like to be on the other end—single and looking.

Wherever you are in your relationship, it’s important to remember that everyone is on his or her own journey, and some people spend more time in certain stages of their lives than others. In addition, there isn’t one “right path to choose. I’m here to remind the happy couples that there are certain things you can say or ask your single friends that will likely rub them the wrong way. I want to share the top five things that you should not ask your single friends:

  1. You're a Catch!You’re such a catch! How hasn’t anyone snatched you up yet?

As I walked into the restaurant of a party my company recently sponsored, this older gentleman who knew absolutely nothing about me said, “You’re too beautiful to be single.” While on the surface this may seem like a compliment (I said a polite “thanks”), the actual implication is, “Why are you single? What’s wrong with you?” No one likes being put on the defensive. If you want to give a real compliment, instead say, “I feel lucky to have you in my life” or simply, “You’re beautiful.”

  1. Do you think you’re too picky or you don’t give people a chance?

Everyone has standards. It’s up to your friend to decide what his or her non-negotiables are. There are nicer ways to ask this question, like “What are you looking for in a partner?”

Still Single3. Why are you still single?

It’s the word “still” here that bothers me the most. Adding the word “still” makes this question sound like there is only one thing in life that people aspire to—not being single. There are so many singles out there who want nothing more than to be independent, and a relationship is the furthest thing from their mind. That’s a choice that I truly respect, and no one should make you feel guilty or sub-par for making it. Let’s remove the word “still” from single. Always. Period.


  1. Do you think you’re afraid of commitment?

If the answer is “yes,” then what do you say next? Do you have a solution? And if it’s “no,” then it just makes the person feel worse. Plus, the question may bring up painful issues from the past.

  1. Maybe love will come when you least expect it?

I have to refute this one. Dating isn’t easy, which many people don’t realize. For example, when it comes to online dating, many people think they can just throw a profile up there and wait. That’s like signing up for a gym but never setting your tuchus down on a bike. It’s just not going to work. Most things that matter in life—jobs, fitness, and even the pursuit of love—take work. It’s always worth it to give something the old college try.

So, if you’re in coupled bliss, enjoy it! Heck, revel in it! But when it comes to your friends and loved ones, remember that everyone moves at a different pace, and everyone makes different decisions about how to spend their lives. There’s no one “right” choice. You simply make the choice that’s best for you. Respect that in others, and hopefully they’ll do the same for you.



Meet Gather’s Newest Team Member Aaron Potek!

c3cc58e5-222e-4db9-92e3-191101e4cb49Jackie: Tell us about yourself and what you’ve been up to until now…

Aaron: I’m from Saint Louis Park, MN, and I loved growing up there. I was a fat baby. Too much detail? It feels important. Jewishly I grew up confused – my family wasn’t all that observant but they sent us (me and my younger brother and sister) to an Orthodox day school called Torah Academy. I then went to public high school and started to explore what being Jewish and engaged in the world might look like. At the University of Michigan I majored in Industrial and Operations Engineering. No, it has nothing to do with being a rabbi, and yes, it was boring. I moved to Israel for a couple of years and studied Jewish texts there on the road to becoming a rabbi. I was ordained from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in Riverdale, NY, and for the past two years I served as the Campus Rabbi at Northwestern University’s Hillel. I loved being on campus and am excited to start working with people in the next stage of life. In some ways I’m what you’d expect a rabbi to be – I like connecting to people, talking about meaningful things and trying to do some good. But I also don’t like boxes very much and hope I won’t be defined by expectations of what a rabbi is or should be. Outside of work I like to hike, watch movies, do all things comedy, and play tennis, to name a few.

aaron 3Jackie: What are you most excited about as you start with Gather the Jews?

Aaron: I’m excited to discover and help create a Judaism that is meaningful for Jews in their 20s and 30s. And I’m excited for that to be a collaborative process. I believe there is something of value in this rich tradition for everybody, or at the least I believe it’s worth exploring whether or not that’s true.

Jackie: If your primary role won’t be programming, what will you spend most of your time doing as Gather Rabbi?

Aaron: Hopefully having lots of conversations with people about Jewish identity, the meaning of life, core values… that sort of stuff. And hopefully facilitating learning communities for people to grow personally while connecting to others.

Jackie: We heard you gave an awesome Moth story. What was that experience like? Would you do it again?

Aaron: It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. It’s a feeling I’ve only experienced a few times – this feeling that all these different and random parts of your life have been leading you to this very moment. It was honestly a transcendent experience. I’ve told the story again to other audiences, and I hope I can keep telling it, but I don’t think I’ll ever feel the rush that I did that night at the Williamsburg Music Hall.

Jackie: What do you love about being a Rabbi?

Aaron: I have the best job ever. I literally get paid to talk to people about their values, their passions, their dreams… and then I get to help them explore how Judaism might inform, challenge and shape those things. I love being able to be there for people in whatever way I can in order to help them grow as human beings.

Jackie: You are originally from the Midwest, what are you going to miss the most? What are you most excited about living in DC?

Aaron: I love the Midwest. I’m really going to miss how everyone is so nice and friendly, the down-to-earthness (is that a noun?), and the chill pace of life. But after living in NYC I am much more comfortable on the east coast, and I’ve heard from everyone that DC is an incredible place to live. I’m probably most excited for all the free museums!

Jackie: You are brand new to the city, how do you plan to get a lay of the land?

Aaron: Oh gosh, transitions are hard. No one warned me about how hard it is to settle into a new city. I like running around neighborhoods. I like going to random things. And I’ll probably try to get involved in random groups, like improv. And I have a few friends in DC that I hope will show me the ropes. Or at least explain to me the public transportation situation.

Jackie: What’s your favorite part about being Jewish?

Aaron: The non-conformity. The being different. The questioning everything. It’s allowed me to see the world and myself in a complex way.

Jackie: Funniest hebrew word?

Aaron: Floats. Once in Israel I tried to order root beer floats and guessed that the word in Hebrew was the same as in English. It’s not.

aaronJackie: What’s keeps you up at night?

Aaron: Honestly, I have trouble sleeping – so a lot. Why Judaism matters. How to live a meaningful life. How to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. How to make America more just. How to stop thinking so much. It’s a miracle I fall asleep at all.

Jackie: How do you re-energize?

Aaron: Journaling is my way of being present with my thoughts and feelings. That usually re-energizes me. Otherwise, youtube clips of the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

Jackie: When the Jews gather…

Aaron: … there’s serious potential for connection, inspiration, and growth. If nothing else there will probably be food and some arguing.

E-mail Aaron to grab a coffee and share what you’re looking to explore in DC!  



10 Things That I Worry About Literally Every Single Time I Am Forced To Socialize

I have an uncanny ability to seem like I can handle social situations, until you put me in a room with a lot of new people, and I start to breathe like I forgot how to close my mouth, my shoulders fold in on themselves, and my torso gets all scrunchy. If I begin to get wide-eyed and blink a lot, it’s over. You might as well give me a beer to hold, stick me in the corner and hope that no one tries to talk to me. The following are some things that go through my head when I’m out being forced to socialize.

  1. Is literally everyone looking at me?
  1. Why is that guy looking at me and is it because there is something weird on my face, no I mean on my shirt, no I mean in my hair, no it must be my actual face – he hates my face, crap crap crap I’M STARING AT HIM.


  1. This conversation is not turning out the same way it did when I acted it out in the shower.
  1. I wonder how many emotions I can feel at the same time.
    1. Happiness
    2. Fear
    3. Confusion
    4. Delight
    5. Trepidation
    6. Hmm, maybe I should leave this corner and try talking to people.
  1. I’m really hungry, but I don’t want to go to the buffet because I’m pretty sure that I will drop my plate. Even if I don’t drop my plate, what if I get too much and look like a glutton? What if I don’t get enough and look like I’m trying to look like I’m not taking too much? What if I sneeze and then someone hears me sneeze, but doesn’t see me cover my face, and then thinks that I’m the kind of person who will sneeze right into a buffet? I should have packed a granola bar.
  1. ARE THERE GOING TO BE BALLONS AT THIS PARTY? I hate balloons – they pop.Untitled5
  1. Oh, you went to the same school as me? I’m sure we didn’t see each other, or know any of the same people. Mostly because my friend were all named West Grace. Yes that’s a weird name. Yes, that’s the name my dorm building. Yes, I just stayed in my room. Okay, bye!
  1. Are there too many people in this room? I think the floors might give. I’m just going to go outside for like five to 190 minutes.
  1. Did I tell the girl who is throwing this party that I’m allergic to cats? What if she has a cat and I show up and I have to leave right away? She is going to think that I hate her and then she will never invite me to do anything aga- I hope she has a cat.
  1. Hi, my name is Michdsfjer… Michele. I’m… words. I can words.



What Does an Open Doors Fellow Actually Do?

Sasha“So, what does an Open Doors Fellow actually do?”

That was a question that I was frequently asked, but could rarely come up with an answer that could adequately portray what it did for me and for others in the DC Jewish community. “We are nice to people and take them to coffee!” was my most typical answer. However, now that the fellowship is complete, I have a real answer for you: An Open Doors Fellow is a social individual who is not only interested in being a connector for Jews in the community, but also consistently interested in learning more about how to better the community. Open Doors Fellows explore the needs and interests of Jews in their 20’s and 30’s and strategize how to make life as a young Jewish professional more enriching and rewarding.

The Open Doors Fellowship was a successful and necessary next step for Gather the Jews. They have the events that cater to the interests of the community, but what was missing was connectors, people who would go with interested members of community to events that they were too nervous to attend alone; people who were trained to feel comfortable openly engaging in conversation at any size event. Gather needed individuals to help community members feel special, unique, and welcomed to an event. It is such a different experience to show up to a large event when you see a familiar face. If you have that, your comfort level can be immediately changed.

11391708_10205534827584549_6810332930038366459_nMy Capstone project was an active way to engage a small group of young Jews and allow for meaningful conversation while exploring Washington D.C. Most of my coffee conversations were with Jews who had recently moved to D.C. and were looking for a group of people to do fun activities with. That’s exactly what my Capstone was all about; participants were able to do something fun with a great group of individuals. Attendees were split into teams and asked to take a picture doing ridiculous tasks. The tasks included: making a Jewish star with your bodies in front of the Capitol building, making a pyramid with strangers, doing the Beatles walk across the street, taking a ride on the carousel, and more. They also got to know a bit about each other by finding their home states in the WWII memorial. Following the scavenger hunt, I hosted a picnic in Meridian Hill Park so that people could continue their conversations, as well as meet members of the other team. I received wonderful feedback from participants who all felt like this was a great way to get to know the city more, as well as make some great connections.11407172_10205534801183889_3892936613167266185_n

If there is one thing I would take away from this Capstone, I would say, “don’t wait, just do.” You want to go up and talk to someone, but you are scared; you want to go to this event, but maybe it’s too far. JUST GO. I always leave events, dinners, happy hours and more, feeling happy that I did it. Whether I made a new friend, tried a new food, or just felt happy to be surrounded by peers, I’ve always made the most of every experience. Stop worrying, have fun, and you never know how much a simple smile or hello could make someone’s day.

Learn more about applying to be a 2015 Open Doors Fellow HERE!


My Soul Story: Building Community one Bike Ride at a Time

lisaI learned a new term during the Open Doors Fellowship: “Soul Story.”

The way I understand it, a soul story is the one that’s a level deeper than the narrative that one would tell at a happy hour amongst acquaintances. It’s a bit less polished. It’s the one that isn’t influenced by the expectations of others. It’s the one that makes you more vulnerable. For me, it’s the one a step closer to the truth.

This is mine.

I missed the deadline to apply for the Open Doors Fellowship. I had the application written, but I didn’t know if it was the right time, or if it was right for me at all. What I did know was that after years of being frustrated and ostensibly powerless to make any impact on the Jewish Community – my Community – I had the chance to do something. To make a difference. To stop sitting on the sidelines.

So I hit send and hoped it wasn’t too late.

I determined that my goal for the Fellowship was to find disconnected, apathetic, and/or unengaged Jews and inspire them to connect, care, and engage. I wanted to “bubble up the Jews.” If it was easy as standing on the corner of 14th and U St. and singing, “Come out, come out wherever you are,” I would have done it. But, what I found instead through conversations and observations was that one or two bad experiences at a Jewish event was all someone needed to write off Jewish life for good. And, it’d be pretty hard to get ‘em back.

I called this my challenge.

A Jewish event full of Jews wasn’t going to be good enough to attract the disenfranchised. My hypothesis was that a Jewish event full of likeminded Jews with similar interests is what they wanted – a micro-community.

This resonated with me and was pretty validating, actually. My mom would send me articles all the time about this Jewish event or that happy hour. “Mom,” I’d say, “being Jewish isn’t a hobby of mine. I don’t want to just stand around with other Jews being Jewish together.”

So when it was time to think about my Fellowship capstone project, I held that micro-community concept tightly. I’m a Jew. I love Jewish rituals. And I like to ride bikes. I wonder if anyone else would be into riding bikes around the city with me, stopping for Havdallah, and then grabbing a drink? Surely there would be a few people.

As it turns out, there are many.

With the confidence, connections, and community building skills I received through my Fellowship, and supported by Gather the Jews and Sixth & I, I organized a Community Havdallah Bike Ride. And then another. Nearly 70 Jewish Young Professionals attended each of our first two rides, and we’re not slowing down. Now, we a have a planning committee full of dedicated lay leaders. We have people coming to ride that haven’t done Havdallah in years. We have committed Jews riding who haven’t been on their bike in years. I’m literally kvelling.

Out of a desire for connection, a community was born: DC Jews on Bikes. On August 15th, 2015 we’ll ride again, and I hope you’ll join us.

The biggest thing I’ve learned is that Jewish Community isn’t something that you join, it’s something that you build. My community is comprised of seekers, pray-ers, and, now, riders. I learned we are each empowered to build the community that we want, where we fit in. And we do it by walking through open doors.

Learn more about applying to be a 2015 Open Doors Fellow HERE!


Diverse Experiences bring Diverse Rewards

tiffanyI was honored to be a member of the first cohort of Fellows in Gather The Jews Open Doors Fellowship. Getting to know the other Fellows was rewarding and it was clear that Gather put an incredible amount of time and effort into finding a diverse body of driven young professionals. I feel very active and connected within DC’s Jewish community, so I was surprised that all of the other Fellows were new faces whom would become new friends!

Going on coffee dates also exposed me to new community members. I felt very special to be among the first people that a person first arriving in DC would meet. The coffee dates also helped me discover not just the special nuances in our community, but also some of the needs and shortcomings. I was able to plan and implement a unique project that will have a positive effect on the lives of Jewish community members in DC and around the U.S.

I gained a number of skills through this experience, but if I had to pinpoint one skill, it would be the experience I gained planning a large Jewish event for a diverse audience. As part of my capstone project I brought an Asian Jewish scholar to speak at an event at a federal agency. The event was a success, but took months of planning and coordination. Gather provided support from start to finish and I feel confident that I can plan other similar informative events in the future remembering the leadership training, guidance, and advice given to me from Gather the Jews!

Learn more about applying to be a 2015 Open Doors Fellow HERE!


Open Doors Fellowship 2016 – Cohort II


Impact the landscape of DC’s Jewish life. • Connect and build relationships with young Jews across the DC area. • Build inclusive and welcoming community that is meaningful to you. • Explore Jewish DC + further your own Jewish connections. • Create innovative Jewish experiences. • Receive financial support for your initiatives, personal and professional development, mentorship, skill-building, and more. •

APPLY NOW. Applications close July 24th. 

Here’s what Fellows from Cohort I had to say about their experience

RetreatPic“The Fellowship allowed me to affect the Jewish Community by encouraging me to listen to the community’s needs, and providing me resources to create positive change.”

“Everyone is looking for the same thing you are, be the person to deliver it.” 

“The Open Doors Fellowship helped me remember what I love about my Judaism, as well as learn how to work with others to create a Jewish community that speaks more deeply to more of us.” 

“Open Doors Fellowship: Creating the type of Jewish community you’d like to see.”

“As fellows, we are hubs of the networks of relationships in the DC jewish community. It was amazing to see how the connections we help facilitate between individuals in the community could quickly multiply into so many new connections.” 

Read full reflections from former Fellows here: LisaKelleyRachel K., Tiffany

What is the Open Doors Fellowship? 

Join a selective volunteer cohort of 10 – 12 Fellows to serve in a 8 month Fellowship from October 2015 – May 2016.Fellows in Circle  This Fellowship is an innovative project to deepen social connections and provide concierge services for Jewish life in DC to those in their 20s & 30s. Fellows will learn and utilize a relationship-based and concierge-model approach to building Jewish community.

Fellows will build 1:1 relationships, create community, and help connect those individuals to the Jewish opportunities and meaning they are looking for, creating your own innovative project where none exist.  These projects can include social justice, learning, outdoors, politics, or any other topic all depending on the needs and interests of those you’re meeting.

We are looking for social connectors from diverse backgrounds and experiences who care about Jewish life in DC and want to help others connect to Jewish experiences that matter to them.

Fellows will receive:

  • All-paid immersive professional training in a retreat setting outside of the city – skill training, team building, resource mapping, and more
  • Access to human and financial resources to support your relationship and community building
  • Jewish learning opportunities and resources (all backgrounds encouraged to apply!)
  • A capstone experience at the conclusion of the Fellowship
  • Follow-through after the Fellowship has concluded

Expectations of Fellowship:

  • One all-paid weekend of immersive training – Friday, October 9th – Monday, October 12th, 2015 (includes the Friday and Monday before and after) – commitment to these dates is mandatory for participation
  • Approximately 5 – 6 hours per week including:
    • Fellows cohort meetings 2x per month
    • Relationship building with diverse range of young Jewish adults in DC and Relationship Management
    • Serve as Greeters for new arrivals to DC
    • Create personally relevant Jewish initiatives around a topic or issue that matters to your community
    • Help design and launch DC’s only online DIY (Do It Yourself) Jewish Experience Portal


Applications close July 24th. 



Join us for our July Happy Hour!


Why Open Doors is What I’m Bringing with Me When I Move

kelleyI am currently preparing to move to the other side of the country. The people close to me, including those with whom I shared my Open Doors Fellowship experience, have been hearing a lot about this recently. It comes with a good deal of stressors, and an even greater deal of reflection about my 6 years in DC. I’ve been particularly grappling with my most recent year, which has been tumultuous and full of change and confusion in a lot of areas in my life and my relationship to DC. However, as I was talking with my housemate about the things I experienced in DC over the last year, I was able to speak with unmatched gratitude and appreciation for my experience in the Open Doors Fellowship.

Being an Open Doors fellow provided me with an impressive array of resources, information, and skills. As the Communications and Engagement Fellow at Temple Micah, I found myself in many ways struggling know how to make the most of my time and do the best I could for the community I served in my work. The Fellowship taught me what engagement could mean—I learned how to leverage my networks in order to reach people who might not be Jewishly connected, how to have meaningful and connecting conversations that let me better connect people to resources, and how to derive enormous meaning from those connections. As the Fellowship progressed, I came to look forward to my coffee dates and drinks with the people I met, and I made enormous strides in my work.

However, to focus primarily on the professional and logistical benefits of the Open Doors Fellowship would be to do it a disservice. Those benefits were enormous and innumerable, but they were also secondary. The real beauty of the Open Doors Fellowship was that as I built a community around me, I also found myself woven into it. My cohort was a group of people I always looked forward to spending time with, and having a diverse, supportive team of people in pursuit of a mission alongside me was endlessly inspiring. The Fellowship gave me a space to deeply explore my Judaism and explore Judaism with the people I met in DC, and I made incredible connections with fascinating people through those conversations. The Fellowship left me with a network of genuine friends who were entirely new to me, and I hope that it brought new friends to the people I met as well.

As I move forward to a new place, the way I felt in the Open Doors Fellowship shapes the decisions I am making about how to build my new life. Having the conversations this fellowship empowered me to have demonstrated how powerful they can be in my life and in the lives of others. Being supported by the Gather team led me to realize that powerful, beautiful Jewish experiences can be created by anyone, including me. This experience left me with new thoughts that can be gained only from learning with others, and showed me that I can participate in building a Jewish community that allows me to do that, even if I don’t do so professionally. I am endlessly grateful to Rachel and Jackie for giving me this opportunity, and to my cohort for laughing, thinking, and creating with me. As I pack my bag and say my good-byes, I know this experience will come across the country with me.

Learn more about applying to be a 2015 Open Doors Fellow HERE!

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