Rachel Giattino is a millennial leader, and a productive one at that. At 25, she has international and private-sector experience, and believes that building and bridging generational relationships makes for better professional and personal understanding.
As an undergraduate at the University of Delaware, Giattino received a scholarship from the State Department to study Arabic in Jordan, which included both formal and dialect instruction. While there, she tutored Iraqi refugees in English. She also studied in Morocco and Egypt.
Giattino was hired in August 2012 as the first paid employee of Gather the Jews, a Washington organization that gives people in their 20s and 30s information about local events. Through her contacts there, she landed her current position as program officer at the Emanuel J. Friedman Philanthropies in Washington.
How did you get involved with Gather the Jews?
Aaron Wolf, the founder, encouraged me to apply to the first-ever director position after it had been a grassroots, all-volunteer organization. I applied and wound up getting the job. As it turned out, the first grant came from the Emanuel J. Friedman Philanthropies. Simone Friedman was overseeing the grant. I got to know her and she became a mentor to me. She soon offered me a job.
What was your experience in Jordan like?
In the summer of 2012, I received a Critical Language Scholarship from the U.S. State Department to study Arabic in Jordan, which was an incredible experience. The U.S. State Department sees a need for people to be fluent in certain emerging languages, Arabic being one. So as part of this scholarship, the State Department pays for you to go to a host site, and study intensively for eight weeks, and you receive a stipend. I got to meet a lot of Jordanians and Palestinians because Jordan has a large Palestinian population.
What is the point of the Critical Language Scholarship?
People diplomacy. You build personal relationships, and you build peace through those relationships. If you know each other, you can’t hate each other. You start building those ties.
What did you do when you came back?
I did the scholarship before my senior year, and then as a senior, three days a week, I did a six-month fellowship with the Delaware General Assembly.
On the subject of building relationships, what is your opinion about the potential schism between millennials and older generations?
There really seems to be a fear by older generations of what would happen with the Jewish community [because of the millennials’ disaffection from Judaism]. I think that it’s just changing. There shouldn’t be this fear of Judaism disappearing. We just can’t be using the same structures in trying to engage with the community.
What should they use?
Relationships. I feel that’s the way we are most connected. We can walk into a synagogue and feel unengaged, but building relationships is the way to go.
What are your plans this summer?
I’m participating in JDC Entwine’s Rwanda trip, and I’m excited for that.
In Rwanda, there’s the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. It was created by a South African Jewish woman, and modeled after youth villages in Israel that were set up for Holocaust orphans who were arriving there. So this youth village was set up for the orphans of the Rwandan genocide, and now it’s for those who are at risk. It’s a school and just a safe place for them to grow up. We’ll be spending most of our 10-day trip in the youth village.
What sort of wisdom can you impart to young Jews?
I think I’m still a bit young to impart wisdom. I’ll be 26 next month — I have a few more years to answer that. I am at a point of my life where I have to do these kinds of travels. I know that I’m capable to go on these trips off the beaten path, and I always had a thirst to see new cultures.