Rachel Gildiner joins GTJ on September 8th as the new Director! Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
GTJ: What are you most excited for with GTJ?
Rachel: I love meeting new people and hearing their stories. I can’t wait to meet the thousands of Jewish young adults in DC and hear from them who they are, where they are from, what they love to do in DC – Jewish or not – and better understand what they feel is missing. I envision a Jewish DC where inclusive and dynamic communities are created by better knowing people’s stories and what they’re looking for. I think GTJ can do that and I can’t wait to be a part of it.
GTJ: Wow! Another Rachel G.! Are you worried that people will confuse you with the outgoing Rachel G.?
Rachel: Well, that would be cool because I think the out-going Rachel G. is awesome! Plus I’ve always wanted my own doppelganger. But really, I’m sure in time people will get to know the new Rachel G. on the block. My camp name growing up was just “Gildiner” or “Big G” so maybe I’ll starting signing my e-mails that way to avoid any confusion. And if there is any confusion, I hope I’ll have the chance to clear it up with any one over coffee and some good conversation, or at one of our Happy Hours.
GTJ: What is going to change about GTJ?
GTJ has built incredible Jewish life in DC. It is the clear, one-stop shop for all things Jewish in DC so you don’t need to go to 20 different places to find out what’s happening. It is known for it’s welcoming and well-attended happy hours as well as the Jewish Guy and Girl of the Week. ALL OF THESE GREAT THINGS WILL CONTINUE!
The changes to come will focus Gather the Jews as an engagement platform – one where relationships are at the forefront of our work. In this spirit, Gather will focus on the networks of people and circles of friends that happen in between the great programs and events. Gather will play the role of individual concierge for young adults looking to connect to Jewish life, Jewish friends, or meaningful Jewish opportunities. We will focus on innovative approaches to Jewish learning and living by playing convener and collaborator with the incredible Jewish organizations in DC and NOVA already providing and constantly thinking about new Jewish experiences to offer. And one of the most exciting things for me, is that we will be piloting a Young Adult Fellowship where selected individuals will be part of engaging their own circles of friends in Jewish life in personally exciting ways. More to come on all of this soon!
GTJ: How did you first get involved with the Jewish community?
Rachel: Well, what I love most about the DC Jewish community in particular, is that it is actually a community of communities. People have different friends and social circles, different ways of connecting Jewishly, and different geographic preferences for where we hang out. Yet there is a greater connection that we all share by the fact that we all find Jewish life meaningful to help us live lives of value. This idea of multiple communities is how I think about my own Jewish connection as well.
After working for Hillel International for 7 years, I have a Jewish community of colleagues across the country. Having a desire to study Judaism academically after high school, I have an incredible Jewish community from the Jewish Theological Seminary and more broadly, the Upper West Side of New York. But probably my most pivotal connection to Jewish community was when I started attending Camp Ramah in the Poconos as a child. It made Judaism fun, social, and experiential. It made Jewish life come, well, to life. Some of my Ramah friends are still my closest and dearest friends. I actually met my husband there although we didn’t start dating until we reconnected in college.
GTJ: What’s your favorite part about being Jewish?
Rachel: This is such a hard question because there’s not one easy answer for me. I really love being Jewish for so many reasons. And as a total cop-out, I could say that’s part of what I love about it – that there are so many ways for someone to connect – through tzedek / justice or tikkun olam, through prayer and spirituality, through holiday and ritual observance, through Jewish song and music, through Israel.
For me though, I suppose my favorite part is that I find the holiday and life cycle rituals, traditions, prayers, liturgy, and practices so meaningful – and so human. Now, I don’t pray regularly, and I certainly don’t observe every law and ritual in Judaism. But those I do observe, the times I do pray, and even the ones I don’t observe but understand the reasons for, I am so grateful for their existence. For example, I love that there is a time to atone for our sins and seek forgiveness on Yom Kippur through Rosh Hashanah, and directly following that for Sukkot, there is a designated time where we are actually obligated to be happy and celebrate and show gratitude for the abundance in our lives. These experiences are so human and natural, yet when Judaism provides the structure and even the right words to help offer both forgiveness and joy, it connects the Jewish people with each other and with our broader human experiences.
GTJ: Do you have a favorite Jew?
Rachel: Oy, I have many. One is my Mom who went back to have her Bat Mitzvah when she was 30. A second is my dad who became a Mohel when he was 55. And one Jew that I wish I had had the chance to meet is Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. While probably one of the most quoted Jewish philosophers and theologians of all time, he was a man who put his Jewish values of equality and justice into action. Not only did he march with Reverend Martin Luther King during the civil rights era, but he wrote prolifically and gave a strong voice to the necessary role of Jews in the battle for civil rights for all people. He worked with conviction and with faith in God and left a mark on the world, as a Jew.
GTJ: What’s your favorite Jewish holiday and/or food?
Rachel: I love Sukkot. It’s not a holiday I celebrated growing up, but in college we would have sukkot up on the main lawn, and leaves from the skach (the roof covering) would always fall into our soup. It always smelled like fall and it was such a joyous and festive time. Since then it’s been my favorite Jewish holiday. Plus, you get to eat delicious fall foods like butternut squash soup!
GTJ: When you aren’t gathering, what do you like to do?
Rachel: I love to dance, any type but mostly ballet. It makes me feel alive and centered. I also love hiking and spending time in the mountains of Colorado. But most often you can find me playing with my two children, Samuel and Vera. They can always make me laugh and they remind me to cherish that childhood sense of awe and excitement in life.
GTJ: Finish the sentence: When the Jews gather…
Rachel: …all will feel welcomed and honored. They will connect with new faces and old friends and find a holiness in being together. Community will be created and celebrated.