By Josh Marks
Rachel Gildiner directs Gather the Jews, an organization that connects young Jewish adults to social, religious and learning opportunities in the Washington area.
The certified experiential Jewish educator was hired last September. Prior to that the 32-year-old Philadelphia native worked at Hillel International for seven years on student initiatives and integrating Hillel’s national engagement and educational strategy.
Gildiner holds a B.A. in sociology from Columbia University, a B.A. in modern Jewish studies from the Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.A. in higher education administration from George Washington University and a certificate in experiential Jewish education from Yeshiva University.
She lives in Silver Spring with her husband, Adam, and two children, Samuel, 4, and Vera, 2.
Gildiner recently invited us into her home to talk about her efforts to bring together Jewish young adults, what makes D.C.’s Jewish community so vibrant and her love of western landscapes.
What is it about Gather the Jews that has made it such a success?
Gather the Jews is a success for many reasons, but I would say the greatest is that it’s a project of the community. It was started by a group of young adults who identified a need and they made it happen. It was all volunteer. They had full-time jobs. They were devoted to creating this new organization and they mobilized their friends.
What have you been able to accomplish since taking over as director?
I feel lucky to be at the reins of this incredible organization. What we’ve tried to do mostly since my time at Gather is enhance what already exists. We’re working on building a new website with increased functionality and [creating] a mobile app. We are trying to listen to the young Jewish adults who are part of this great community — what they want, what they’re looking for. One of the other things that we’ve accomplished is that we’re building a staff team. We’re going to be having a rabbi joining us in August. Building Gather the Jews 2.0 is what we’ve laid the groundwork for so far.
What achievement are you most proud of at GTJ?
This year we piloted an Open Doors fellowship. We wanted to put together a cohort of fellows, of young adults who want to be personal liaisons to their peers and help make those personal connections in the Jewish community. We started it in February. We have 11 incredible fellows, some of whom have been highlighted in this feature. And they’re doing amazing work reaching people and creating Jewish community all over the city.
To what do you attribute the vibrancy of the Jewish community in the Washington area?
So many of the young Jewish adults who are here, they’re brilliant, they’re motivated, they’re passionate and they really care about issues that affect the world and so they apply that same energy to creating their Jewish lives.
What attracts you to the Colorado mountains?
I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors. At my summer camp, Camp Ramah, I started hiking. They had a hiking program and I became in awe of the mountains. It wasn’t until I was in college that I went out to Colorado, and I laughed that the mountains I had been looking at were in Pennsylvania. I was in the Rockies, and it was like mountains I’d never seen before. I really love it out there because I feel both humbled, as in tiny, and I also feel empowered.