A native of Tennessee, Kelley Kidd has been a D.C. resident for more than five years and currently lives in the Petworth neighborhood. She received her degree in International Relations at Georgetown University, then became involved with Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps. Through her connection with Avodah, she worked as a case manager at Miriam’s Kitchen, which aims to end chronic homelessness. She’s now part of the team at Reform synagogue Temple Micah, where she serves as the communications and engagement fellow and does a lot of the organizational and outreach work behind Next Dor, the synagogue’s program for Jewish adults in their 20s and 30s.
How would you describe Judaism’s role in your upbringing?
I was actually raised Episcopalian. I converted when I was 13 with my mom, so we joined a temple. It was Reform. It very quickly became a very important part of my life, because making an active choice in that way made it something I was really actively participating in. I also found it kind of challenging, because when I wasn’t brought up in that sort of traditional space, I had to make the effort to find my own way into traditions.
How does that compare to your relationship with Judaism now?
I really didn’t identify a ton with my Judaism in college, and then after I graduated I did Avodah, the Jewish service corp. in D.C., and I was surrounded by Jewish life, Jewish tradition, Jewish practice in a very new way, and it became a much more pervasive part of my life, and actually a really exciting part of my life. It directly engaged with the social justice aspect of Judaism, but not necessarily from just a Reform perspective, because it was a very pluralistic household that I lived in. So I would say that currently I am definitely in the midst of exploring, because I’ve suddenly been exposed to a lot more Judaism and versions of it. I’m figuring out what’s the best fit for me and simultaneously trying to cultivate a Jewish community based on what I feel like I’m looking for and what I think the people around me in my life are also looking for.
What does Next Dor do?
We are a 20s, 30s organization that cares about each other, cares about people, cares about relationships, cares about social justice and cares about learning. So we do Shabbat dinners every month. We do a drink and drash every month. We get drinks and do a learning, usually of a social justice-Judaism blend, and then we do at least one volunteering type thing a month and then kind of exploring other stuff. We’ve been to yoga. We’re getting involved with JUFJ (Jews United For Justice), working on their affordable housing campaign…It’s really responsive to what its members are interested in, so if someone wants to do something, we try to make it happen.
Why are homelessness, affordable housing and hunger topics that young Jews should care about?
There are commandments in Judaism that instruct you to make sure that those in your community are taken care of and upheld, and when I worked with the homeless population, every single person I met became someone I had a relationship with…For me, the act of making sure those people are taken care of is part of being a responsible human and a responsible Jew.
What do you think is missing in D.C.’s Jewish community?
It’s hard to find spaces where really intensive, intellectual Jewish learning is happening and open to people who don’t already have a pretty extensive background. Like you can get some Judaism 101, and that’s pretty easy to access, but the spaces where delving deeper than that is happening aren’t spaces that I at least personally feel like I could show up with my level of knowledge and feel comfortable.
I also think that a group that no one quite knows what to do with are the kids who were Jewish growing up, had a bar mitzvah and then never really found a way into Judaism that related to them personally…and there are a lot of those people, like a lot of those people.
If the goal is quantitative growth, finding a way to appeal to that crowd and have some kind of draw that makes Judaism something that people are organically kind of personally interested in, in a way that they hadn’t been before, is what needs to happen.