By Ellen Braunstein
Abby Newburger is always looking for ways to deepen her connection, and that of others, to the Jewish community. At 26, she works as a development associate for Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and was previously a Young Leadership associate at Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
These days, you can find her online teaching fifth-grade Sunday school for Adas Israel Congregation and tutoring students in Hebrew and bar/bat mitzvah preparation. She also moderates a weekday Zoom call for Jews seeking conversation and answers to their questions about Judaism.
What is most influential so far in shaping your Jewish consciousness and identity?
Well, I guess it’s the upbringing my parents gave me and my siblings in Potomac. They created an environment — Conservative and kosher — where we did not feel forced into our Judaism, just supported. They gave us the opportunity to go to Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School through the eighth grade, which helped us create a foundation of Jewish knowledge and stay active in our Jewish identities.
I think the pivotal point was the third time I went to Israel on my Birthright trip after my freshman year in college. It opened my eyes as to how important Israel is to me personally. It really sparked my passion to study Judaism and work in the nonprofit Jewish community field.
Tell us about your college experience.
I went to Ohio State University and majored in Judaic studies. I made it a point to really be connected to my Jewish community and help in any way that I could and learn as much as I could. I decided my major after coming back from a Birthright trip. I really threw myself into internships, community development projects and Israel-related activities on campus. It was a very fun and amazing time for me as a student there.
What is rewarding about your job with Friends of the IDF?
What’s really important to me about Friends of the IDF is that the IDF is protecting the State of Israel and it’s our job to take care of them.
How have you made the most of your time during the COVID-19 shutdown?
During the pandemic, in quarantine, I found that a lot of people were looking for space to have meaningful conversations and connect with one another. So, I started a half-hour virtual coffee break on Zoom Monday through Friday for young professionals, where we talk about a topic of Judaism. It has been a really nice space where they feel supported and can unapologetically ask questions about their Judaism and see what makes it relevant to them today. I’m here to support someone on their Jewish journey. I’m not a rabbi or the Google of Jewish knowledge. I’m just another young person figuring out my way in the world. We can do it together and feel supported by one another.
What are your pastimes?
I have a scratch map of the world and I’m trying to get to all 50 states and continents in my lifetime. One of my travel highlights was a month-long tour in high school of ancient Western civilizations. In my free time, I enjoy music and like to do salsa and bachata dancing. I also started a Jewish woman’s book club.
What is most exciting for you about living in the Washington-area Jewish community?
There is my residence. I live in the Moishe House of Northern Virginia. It’s an organization where post-college and pre-family young professionals can bond and support the community locally in their area by providing programming for other young Jewish professionals in the area. The Washington, D.C., Jewish community is a very diverse community of religious and cultural denominations, Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrachi, Israeli. It provides a lot of opportunities to be involved in ways that are meaningful to each person, social or religious.