Programmer-in-chief

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Heather Moran, National Geographic’s executive vice president of of global programming will begin as executive director at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in September. Photo by Jared Feldschreiber
Heather Moran, National Geographic’s executive vice president of global programming will begin as executive director at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in September. Photo by Jared Feldschreiber

Heather Moran has spent the last 11 years at National Geographic Channel as a global programmer.  In September, she’ll bring her entertainment background to Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in Washington, where she’s just been hired as executive director.

“I can’t believe there’s a place that naturally combines entertainment with all of the things that I love about being Jewish,” she says. “I get to work there.”


It’s a week since Esther Safran Foer announced her retirement as executive director of the nondenominational synagogue with an emphasis on cultural programming. It’s less than a week before Moran, 43, leaves National Geographic, her home for over a decade. Sitting in her office, Moran offers a glimpse into what her new job will entail.

“My first order when I get there is to get to know the staff,” she says. “I am not there as a change agent. I’m there to figure out where Sixth and I goes next.”

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She says she’s attended “a lot” of the synagogue’s cultural programs and will use her professional connections “to help bring more talent” to Sixth and I’s roster, which has included Salman Rushdie, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Elvis Costello. The synagogue is banking on Moran’s approach to serve its brand, all the while maintaining its Jewish aura.

Synagogue President Shelton Zuckerman said that Moran “popped up early when we were seeking a candidate to be Esther’s
successor.”


Zuckerman said that Moran’s outreach to media and entertainment personalities will make programming more exciting. That will help bring millennials, who are Sixth and I’s target audience, through the doors.

“We can’t get them in the second time without getting them in the first time. Heather will help us give [Jewish millennials] the chance to be in the [Jewish] community. It’s like a fast running train — we need to stay relevant,” he said.

Every synagogue runs on cash. Will Moran be called upon to raise funds?

“It’s my understanding that fundraising hasn’t been an issue for them,” she says. “I’m sure there’s an opportunity to broaden the base, but again, I’ll have a much better sense when I actually start. I grew up as a television programmer — that’s what I do for a living. As a programmer, looking at Sixth and I, they’ve got the goods.”

Moran grew up in Philadelphia. Her father is a trombonist and her mother a teacher. She graduated from George Washington University. She studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem her junior year.

“I worked at Discovery Channel as soon as I graduated from school,” she says. “I started as a local ad sales assistant since I couldn’t get a programming job to save my life. By the time I left, I was the director of programming.”

After eight years at the Discovery Channel, she and her husband, Sean, moved to New York, where she worked in programming at E! Entertainment. They moved back to Washington, where she has served in senior roles in programming and strategy at National Geographic Channel.

They are the parents of two boys, Benjamin, 14, and Jonah, 7, and are members of Temple Micah, a Reform congregation in Washington. The family lives in Kensington.

“I have a fairly broad background in Judaism, in that I grew up Conservative and I had a spate of Modern Orthodoxy, and then settled in life as a Reform Jew,” she says. “My husband is Catholic and we raised a Jewish family at Temple Micah. I’ve had a lot of different Jewish experiences, but what I came out of it all was the importance of inclusivity.”

She points to her soon-to-be former National Geographic colleagues sitting in their cubicles.

“It’s so refreshing to start something new, but it’ll be difficult to leave here,” she says. For Moran, it’s nearly time to begin her next programming job.

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