Joey Eisman, 28, works at BBYO, where he manages the organization’s global network. He participated in the 2016 ConnectGens Fellowship from The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington for his project Evan Initiatives, which connects individuals to Jewish history. For the project, he designed a bracelet inspired by the tzitzit, or fringes, of the tallit. He also received a grant from the Schusterman Initiative to write a children’s book with his friend Seth Shapiro.
What makes you so interested in reclaiming different areas of Jewish tradition?
Part of it is that there’s a very, very expansive tradition. Judaism is a lot of things. It’s not just a religion, it’s not just a people, it’s not just a lifestyle, it’s not just a set of values. It’s all of those things. I believe that so often we try to find something new, but what I believe is really cool is the opportunity to find something that already exists within this sphere and make it relevant to the modern day, to the modern Jew. So in this way you’re able to reclaim this thing that ties us back. It reminds us of these 3,000 years of history. It ties you to something larger than yourself.
Tell us a little about where you grew up and how you came to D.C.
I’m from metro Detroit, where I was very involved in Jewish life. I went to the University of Michigan, and by the time I graduated from university, I wanted to do something different and go abroad. So I took a fellowship with the JDC Entwine Global Jewish Service Corps Fellowship. I found myself in Latvia and I got really involved in Jewish life internationally.
I fell in love in Jewish education, but in a novel way. Before, I thought Judaism had a very narrow scope of its definition of what it meant to be a Jew. It was only until I lived in Europe that that was challenged. I was in this space where I saw that even the people who may not have been identifiable as Jewish based on my previous definitions, now were the ones I came to for advice on Jewish education and Jewish knowledge. They too were just as engaged in making sure that the old traditions were meaningful.
After I left the Baltic states I took a job with BBYO here in Washington and now I manage the organization’s global networks. We work with thousands of Jewish teens all over the world.
What do you like to do for fun?
Most of my time is spent working, which is a very D.C. answer. When I’m not working, I’m a musician — I like to play drums and I like to be outdoors a lot. I’m also an avid museum-goer. I’m a huge, huge nerd, so all the free museums — it’s the best thing about living in this city.
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