Iced tea, a smoothie or coffee — Rabbi Ilana Zietman is open to any beverage as long as it comes as an opportunity to connect with Washington’s young Jews, part of her outreach as GatherDC’s newest team member.
Zietman, 29, who joined GatherDC in July, is taking time to get to know individuals in the community while crafting programming for Jews in their 20s and 30s.
“Gather’s approach to the work that we do is really about people over programs,” Zietman says. The organization provides activities and programming for young Jews throughout the city. Zietman’s bio on Gather’s website provides a link to her email encouraging people to get to know her over coffee.
Morning meetings, after work, throughout the city, even at Gather offices, Zietman wants people to know she’s available to meet them where they are, both physically and emotionally.
“The pastoral care piece is also really important to me. People have lots of stuff that they want a rabbi to talk to about,” she said. “Already I have had deep conversations with people about things related to relationships, being in transition between jobs, moving here and not knowing what the hell is going on, having other life stuff, as well as figuring out how one wants to live Jewishly in D.C.”
Zietman is from Brooklyn, N.Y., but no stranger to D.C. After college, she spent three years in the city, participating in Avodah, the Jewish Service Corps, and then working with other faith-based organizations focused on social justice. These experiences influenced her decision to attend rabbinical school, enrolling in the Hebrew College in Boston.
“I always knew I wanted to come back to D.C., I was really sad to leave in the first place. I had a really great community here. I loved being a young Jewish professional in the city.”
Her Jewish upbringing was a mix of Conservative and Reform practice, but when she enrolled in Hebrew College, she reveled in the school’s emphasis to explore all facets of Jewish life, not a particular denomination.
“I take that same approach to the work at Gather, because Gather is also non-denominational, pluralistic,” she said. “We’re really trying to reach out to young Jews, in many different ways. Showing there are different paths to being Jewish, and it’s worth exploring different paths, exploring it deeply, not just staying at the surface level. But there isn’t really one right way to do it.”