Sarah Fredrick has served the Jewish community for several years as the director of trainings for Gather, Inc., which includes GatherDC, where she plays an important role in building up the Jewish community with a focus on people in their 20s and 30s. A resident of Washington, D.C., Fredrick works with a range of local partners to provide a unique Jewish living experience.
Can you tell me about your role as director of trainings for Gather, Inc.?
I’m the director of trainings for Gather, Inc., which is the national umbrella organization that contains GatherDC – it is an expansion that happened about two years ago. I’ve been with Gather for four years. I started out with the GatherDC team – I was our Northern Virginia community engagement director. We partner with Jewish organizations and institutions, federations, synagogues, partnership networks, individual people – a broad range across the country – and we do trainings and workshops, facilitate conversations and retreats and coaching and other kinds of consultation that at its core is helping folks reimagine Jewish life by kind of recentering relationships and relationship-building at the heart of what it means to grow and deepen Jewish community.
How did you become interested in Jewish community work?
I’m the product of Jewish community building. I’m the product of somebody practicing relationship-based engagement with me, which is the core methodology of Gather. I got to D.C. right after school and I had sort of turned off Jewish identity in school. And I got to D.C., and I was meeting all of these new people and developing new friendships and relationships in which I was telling people that I was Jewish. The ‘secret’ was coming out. And it felt like people had so many questions for me. There was such a healthy curiosity into why do you believe that thing or what’s the story behind that ritual? And I had this unsatisfactory feeling. I didn’t know the answer to any of those questions, and I never actually asked them of myself. And I just didn’t feel good. I had a friend I had made, who was also Jewish, who invited me to join a weekly text study group that was facilitated by Gather. And I began meeting a lot of people through that and developing relationships with a local rabbi and doing that learning that felt like it was giving me some answers … and inspiration and giving me a foundation so that I actually felt like I had direction in my life based off of Judaism. It was like Judaism was an active thing that I could grapple with, a live character in my life … A couple of years go by and suddenly I felt like I actually had people and I had a network and I had more meaning in my life as a Jewish person than I had before … In the early COVID days, like the first summer of 2020, Gather was hiring for the Northern Virginia engagement role and I was interested. I could do this [provide community] for other people. How cool would that be?
You are involved in music outside of work, can you tell me about what you do musically?
I have done music all my life – it’s a huge part of who I am. I’d say I have two main Jewish musical outlets, and I have some other secular outlets, but one is that I have been on the music team at Sixth & I synagogue for maybe five years. I’m a cellist and pianist, classically trained, but now doing other stuff … And then more recently, I have gotten involved with DC Musical Shabbat. It originated from a group of parents in the Takoma Park area who were seeking an opportunity that they didn’t see existed anywhere else, like bringing their families together for a Shabbat that was musical and rooted in music and song. It’s either twice a month now or just once a month on Saturdays up in that part of the city. We get together and it’s a big group of musicians and families and kids running around everywhere and playing instruments. It’s one of my favorite things. It’s so joyous and raucous and chaotic.
How does your Jewish identity impact your daily life?
I love learning and I love text-based learning – I’m in the right religion. But you could fill a lifetime, you could fill 10 lifetimes full of just learning and discussing and absorbing Jewish wisdom. And I think from the learning that I do and continue to do in Judaism, it gives me an ethical framework for living my whole life and making decisions – from anything like how I want to relate to people … how I want to be involved in community, my decisions around philanthropy, what to do if I’m really angry about something. There’s always kind of [a time where], I could see what the body of Jewish wisdom holds and learn from it. That guides me in my whole life. I think the other thing is that there has always been this great connection between music and Judaism, but I think music has brought me into so many beautiful Jewish communities … like Sixth & I and the DC Musical Shabbat and a lot of other ones. It’s like my link to people and peoplehood.