Symi Rom-Rymer, a member of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington D.C., has spent a large chunk of her professional career working for interfaith and minority causes in D.C. and Europe, with a focus on Jewish stories and outreach. The Outreach Director for the Interfaith Council of Metropolitan Washington (IFC), she’s creative and passionate about her work, having previously written articles as a freelance journalist, engaged in film-based storytelling abroad and even singing opera in her free time.
What do you do as Outreach Director for the IFC?
I do a range of things for them. But among the big responsibilities that I have is that I run the annual Unity Walk, which, if you’re not familiar with it, it’s an afternoon of visiting different houses of worship along Massachusetts Avenue in Upper Northwest D.C., and happens every year, usually the Sunday after Labor Day weekend. It’s really a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the religious and cultural diversity that exists in the D.C. region. I also work on other year-round initiatives. Right now, we’re very focused on religious and cultural literacy work. So we have created a series of modules that we go and present when invited to different organizations and some congregations, and we’re hoping to get into educational spaces as well, K-12, and into colleges. I am also very involved in other aspects of our organization. I’m just trying to build relationships with congregations and faith leaders and other organizations that are also engaged in interfaith work.
How did you become involved with the IFC?
I was hired by IFC in 2016 to run the Unity Walk. That’s why I was initially brought in. And I had been engaged prior to that in interfaith work in various ways. I was involved in some grassroots projects in the D.C. area … I had also, prior even [to grassroots work] been involved with interfaith work for a long time and prior to my moving to D.C. I found out about a project that was happening called Clergy Beyond Borders. And this was something that the previous executive director of IFC was running … At the time, I was doing freelance journalism. I went and I wrote an article about them, which was later published. So when this job came up at IFC, the executive director, Gerry Serotta, had actually read the article and had really liked it. So when I applied, there was already a relationship there between us so that was nice as well.
You’ve done a lot of creative projects to tell Jewish and other minority stories. What made you interested in that?
I’ve long been interested in Jewish contemporary issues … in Europe and contemporary Jewish communities in Europe … I also became interested in telling other stories about other minority faith traditions in Europe and in the U.S. I wrote for Moment Magazine and I wrote a piece for them about the Roma in Europe. Then I worked for a newspaper or media outlet that I think still exists in New York called Long Island Wins, which focuses just on minority stories. I’ve long been interested in exploring these lesser-told, lesser-known stories, often about minorities, whether it’s minority cultures, minority faith traditions and what have you. My interfaith work before IFC really was around the Muslim and Jewish communities. And I spent time with interfaith initiatives, not only in the U.S., but also in Europe. When I had the opportunity, I would hear stories from European Jews talking about their lives, and the richness and the diversity and their own stories, I became really interested in learning more about what those stories are and I just had this desire to kind of share what those stories are with American Jewish audiences.
How does your Jewish identity fit in with your personal and professional lives?
My identity as a Jewish person is very important to me. I would say particularly, my family’s history. I knew my great-grandmother very, very well, and she immigrated from Russia. She would tell me her stories, and my family is very close-knit, and we have these massive Passover celebrations that have been going on for over 100 years now in the U.S. I just loved hearing those stories, knowing the history of my family, that immediate connection to the immigration story, to the story of being a minority, to the story of resilience and of success. My grandparents, my mom, were both engaged in the civil rights movement locally and did so in part because of their connection to Judaism and social justice. I feel like I take a lot of inspiration from that and from their actions … I feel like the work that I’m doing, I hope is kind of continuing in that tradition. I would say that probably is what informs a lot of my work and my drive to do the kinds of things that I’m working on.