You Should Know… Naomi Jacobs

Photo courtesy of Naomi Jacobs

Some people say they have no time to maintain friendships or attend events. For Naomi Jacobs, 31, it’s not just something she has time for — it’s truly a priority.

Concerts, plays, classes, museums, book talks, new restaurants, volunteering — Jacobs attends and does it all, and builds community at the same time.

Jacobs, a Washington resident, is a researcher at American Institutes for Research, a behavioral and social science research and evaluation organization, where she works in the education space.

This interview was conducted before the coronavirus shut down nearly every activity. “As an extrovert who cares deeply about those around me,” she said Monday, “I have been practicing extreme social distancing, which has been a challenge but also seems to be, in many ways, the easiest and most moral choice.”

What type of events do you attend?

I go to everything! I attend concerts — from DIY concerts in people’s homes to concerts at huge venues, plays, book talks, storytelling events, movies, performance art, museums. I love trying new restaurants. I take Hebrew classes. I was in a dance troupe. I volunteer with Free Minds, an organization that uses books, creative writing, and peer support to awaken D.C. youth incarcerated as adults to their own potential.

How did you develop your love for cultural events?

I love learning. The best way that I learn is through others. I have a drive to search outside of myself, make connections with other people, and intake more information. That has grown into my interest in creating bonds with other people, as well as attending cultural and artistic events. It is also what makes me a successful researcher.

Our lives are limited by our own experiences. The only way to expand our own experience is to try and understand or get some exposure to other people’s experiences. I think that’s how you stay empathetic.

Many people say it’s hard to make friends and build community in their 20s and 30s. How do you do it?

I take my relationships very seriously, and that includes friendships. I invest a lot of time in friends, and people really feel that. When I meet new people and establish rapport, I am really excited about that potential. I invest time and energy to make it flourish, like growing a plant.

Each friendship I have is unique to me. I never feel like there’s an upper limit to how many I would want to have.

Can you share an example of a time you made new friends?

My friend is involved in a Unitarian Universalist church. They were having a social gathering, and at the last minute he asked if I wanted to join. And I said, “Sure,” because I always love meeting new people.

I went and for whatever reason, he had to leave, but I had met two women at the party and right away, I just felt a connection with them. Their jobs, past lives, and hobbies were so interesting and I was enjoying talking to them. And I decided to stay by myself at this party where I knew no one else and continued talking to these women. I’m still friends with them to this day.

How do you connect people with events and each other?

I’m always looking at events. And I’m always thinking about people and what events they would like, and I invite people to events that I think they would enjoy. They’re almost like customized or tailored events or activities that they might like, and I also try and connect people through them.

It takes my research mind, which is all about taking large amounts of data, synthesizing, thinking about best practices, and taking information and making it useful. And that’s exactly what I’m doing here, right? I’m thinking about all these different factors, people in my life, events, and ways of learning, and trying to match them all together.

I host salons in my apartment, where I’ll invite different people who don’t know each other. It’s a more intimate way for people to meet, often around an activity. I just had a Purim party and we made hamantashen. I’ve also hosted Shabbat dinners and a card making activity for Tu B’Av.

How does Judaism influence this passion of yours?

I went to Jewish day school, where a central theme was tikkun olam, which is repairing the world. The whole concept was we are one community and we are connected to each other.

And it is our responsibility to have that mindset and help each other. That always stayed with me.

My grandparents are Holocaust survivors. My aunts run a nonprofit called The Memory Project Productions, whose mission is to promote social justice through art and remembrance.

Another big tenet of Judaism is learning. My family always fostered the idea that learning is how you are going to succeed in this life.

And, my family is just really social. A running family joke is that the Jacobs’ are the last to leave a party.

Anna Lippe is a Washington-area writer.

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