Tamar Gasko wears many hats. The 28-year-old is training to be a speech pathologist. She’s a religious school teacher at Kol Shalom in Rockville. And she’s on the leadership team for Capital Qvellers, a group of young, Washington-area LGBTQIA+ Jews.
How did you get involved with Kol Shalom?
My parents were some of the original members, so I’ve grown up in Kol Shalom. I had my bat mitzvah there. I helped operate Zoom during the services. I’ve been a member since I was born.
You are also a religious school teacher at Kol Shalom. What grade and subject do you teach?
I teach the sixth and seventh grade and our focus this year is “Highlights of Jewish History.”
According to a recent study by the Jewish Education Project, supplementary school enrollment in the U.S. decreased by over 40% from 2006 to 2019. How big a part does religious school play in fostering children’s Jewish knowledge and identity?
I’m not going to prescribe one thing or another. I didn’t go to Hebrew school because I had a day school Jewish education. But I’ve spoken to so many people and none of them have had a really positive Hebrew school education. And I found that the things that really impact people to connect with their Judaism are things like Jewish summer camp or having a very involved Jewish family life at home or Jewish day school, things that are more day to day.
How did your Jewish upbringing influence you?
So I lived in a very Jewish home. We celebrated the holidays and we had Friday night dinners about every week. And that was very important. That was a touchstone of my upbringing. But I also went to Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville from kindergarten through 12th grade. So, I had an everyday Jewish education. And that was really, really important to who I am now.
And I also grew up going to Israel every four or so years, because I have family there. So we would play Israeli music in the house all the time. So there are like lots of different ways that Judaism and Hebrew and Jewish culture were infused into my daily life. I would say I grew up in a Jewish bubble. A really wonderful Jewish bubble.
What Jewish principles do you live by?
The big one is tikkun olam. Making the world a better place, giving tzedakah, always looking through the lens of how am I impacting the world and how can I impact it for the better. And knowing about the history of oppression of the Jewish people has helped me to look at oppression in the world and see how can I help alleviate that. And also from the flip side — am I an oppressor? Just because Jews historically didn’t have power, I don’t want to hold on to that narrative for the rest of my life, and I want to have a more flexible view.
You are also on the leadership team for Capital Qvellers. What do you want people to take away from being a member? How does it build Jewish community?
We are a space to make sure that queer Jews feel like they can have a place to belong. And we’re a space for Jews who grew up Jewish, who converted to Judaism, who are in interfaith partnerships. And more than that, we’re a very friendly group of people. There’s one person who just moved to D.C. and had never met another queer Jew in her life. From where she was in the States, that was not part of her lived experience. And so just being out and open, that we exist, I think is a really important way to resist people feeling like they don’t belong.
What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?
Sukkot. I love sitting and eating outside during that season, and the warm food and hosting people in a cozy space brings me a lot of joy. ■