Aimee Teplinsky makes her home in Chevy Chase, Md., with Bugsy, a rescue chihuahua mix she adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Punctuating her tasteful décor are handmade goods from where she’s lived and worked overseas. She’s got more rugs from Afghanistan and neighboring lands than floor space for them all, so about a dozen stand rolled up, leaning into each other like best friends in conversation.
“From 2006 to ’18, I was living overseas on and off, mostly on,” she said in a recent interview, working on projects in countries that include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Liberia, Rwanda, Syria and Sierra Leone, though sometimes offices were elsewhere.
Throughout, Teplinsky, who is president of Kol Shalom in Rockville, carried a bag of items for practicing Judaism, often with non-Jews joining celebrations. Among the bag’s contents is a small chanukiah that burns birthday candles.
Teplinsky’s career is in international development, helping overseas communities and local governments in areas of conflict, or that are post-conflict, gain stability and improve their residents’ lives.
“We are supporting civil society,” she said.
She returned to the United States in 2018, and now the 50-year-old is the director of finance and operations for the Communities in Transition Division of Creative Associates International, a Washington-based contractor in international development that she joined in 2019.
Her role at headquarters is to support the financial and operational management of a group of diverse efforts. Most of the projects are for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
A current project in her portfolio helps communities in non-regime held northeast Syria that is run by local councils. The project is managed remotely from Germany.
“We’re working [with them] on community policing, making sure there are streetlights so people are safe, making sure that within the local councils there is a woman police officer for women’s issues,” she said, noting they are working with the councils to strengthen their capability to provide water and electricity to their communities.
All undertakings, not only in Syria, must be done in compliance with U.S. government regulations, and all have multiple parts. The overseas locations have to comply with their local laws.
“For all these projects, they all have offices and they have staffs, they are in different countries, and we need to know the labor laws in all of those countries, [how to obtain] visas for the Americans who live there …” The list is long.
Teplinsky said she finds her work in global development meaningful: “I want to make a positive change in people’s lives.”
Beyond that, she said: “It’s in everybody’s best interest to support USAID projects, and I am fortunate enough to work on them.”
The work meshes with her strong Conservative Jewish upbringing.
“It’s tikkun olam. At the end of the day, it’s about doing things for people,” she said.
She said of her position as president of Kol Shalom: “It’s like my job, it’s a leadership-slash-support function.” Kol Shalom is about to begin the search for a new rabbi and open Neshama, a Jewish education program for children. She’s been a member of the Conservative synagogue in Rockville since 2002 when she was a graduate student.
Teplinsky’s career blends advanced degrees from American University: an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution, and an M.B.A. in international finance. She worked in event planning and public relations, unrelated fields, before returning to school.
Prior to joining Creative Associates International, individual projects kept her overseas. Only in Bangladesh was Teplinsky unable to find a seder. Even in Afghanistan in 2011 she took part in a seder, on an Army base, where kosher for Passover MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) that included gefilte fish were served.
In 2015, when she remotely managed projects in Syria from Turkey, she began a tradition of hosting a Chanukah party for colleagues, most of whom weren’t Jewish.
“It’s very easy to have. You make potato pancakes. I brought dreidels from home,” she said.
“We talked a little bit about the Festival of Lights. It’s much less political than Passover,” she said. “I showed them how to play dreidel.” She bought chocolate coins.
More seriously, “I spoke about this is what we focus on in our jobs. We bring light to darkness.”
She later added: “We attempt to, at least.”