If anyone lives and breathes downtown Bethesda, it’s Valerie Hillman. The 29-year-old was born and raised in the urban area right outside of D.C.—and living just a five-minute walk away from her job as marketing and communications manager for Bethesda Urban Partnership, she helps the nonprofit promote the downtown area and all it has to offer through various campaigns and events. Also the coordinator for social outlet 2239 for young Jewish professionals, Hillman talked to WJW about exciting projects she’s worked on with both organizations, her relationship with her father and self-creating her Jewish identity.
You’re the coordinator for 2239, which gives Jewish young professionals in the area a place to mingle and network.
Exactly. We have a lot of different events. We have social events, we have religious events like Shabbat, we have community service events. So really, whatever you want, we have for you.
How did you land this job?
I had just come out of being co-chair for Impact DC, which is a Jewish Federation initiative. I loved it so much and enjoyed having that be a part of my life, that I wanted something else Jewish in my life. It just so happened that there was an opening for this position, and I thought this would be a great supplement to fill that space.
Are there any exciting 2239 being planned right now?
Yes, there are. Coming up Nov. 14 we have a co-sponsored Shabbat with Sixth & I, which is the first partnership for a Shabbat, so that’s really exciting. We usually do Metro Minyan the fourth Friday of the month. This time we’re partnering together, so that will be a really nice experience. Coming up sometime in December, we are doing a laser tag event, partnering with NOVA Tribe.
You’re also the marketing and communications manager for Bethesda Urban Partnership. What goes into managing an organization that oversees the thriving area of downtown Bethesda?
Well there are four of us in the marketing team, so there’s the director of marketing and then three marketing managers. We also have an intern, so we split things up. The way that the organization is run is like a well-oiled machine. We have events down to a science. We have new ones coming through, which spice things up a little bit. You have to have a lot of discipline, you have to be organized, but it’s a lot of fun.
Since you’ve been at Bethesda Urban Partnership, what has been one of the most exciting projects you’ve worked on?
There are so many. I am currently working on the Bethesda Literary Festival, which brings in well-known authors regionally and not-so-regionally, to downtown Bethesda to give author talks, discussions, readings and also to sign books. We have a few really great authors coming this April, which I can’t quite mention yet. It’s exciting to work with them and plan this really big event for the community. I also manage an art gallery called Gallery B. I coordinate the exhibitions and work with the artists and curate the work sometimes. So that’s a fun process as well.
Can you tell us about how you self-created your Jewish identity?
Growing up I wasn’t involved in Hebrew school. My family joined Washington Hebrew Congregation when I was 15. That was a bit too late to really get into that scene. Then I went to college at University of Maryland. I went through the whole sorority recruitment thing, and I ended up in a Jewish sorority. That was really exciting to be around fellow Jews and learn about how they celebrate Judaism, for lack of a better term. I really enjoyed being around them. Post-college, I continued to go to various Jewish happy hours and events, but it wasn’t until my Birthright trip in January 2011 that I got very involved in the community and really embraced being Jewish.
Your dad went blind before you were born. What was your relationship with him like growing up, and how has it evolved?
It’s my normal. I didn’t know anything different. Perhaps I’m a more meticulous, neat person. I couldn’t leave toys on the ground so he would step on them. Cabinets had to be closed so he wouldn’t walk into them. That’s just what I did, and perhaps I can describe things better. When we watched TV together I would describe what was going on. But again, I don’t know how different I would be if he weren’t [blind]. We’re incredibly close. I go visit my parents at least once a week and talk to them on the phone every day.
What do you enjoy most about living in downtown Bethesda?
It’s such a thriving community, as you said. There are so many restaurants and things to do. It’s almost more urban than some neighborhoods in D.C. It’s like an extension of Washington, D.C. I love being able to walk out my front door and be able to walk to theaters, restaurants, my grocery store, my dry cleaners. Everything is right there, footsteps away.