Zach Moskowitz, 26, is youth director of Congregation Beth Emeth in Herndon, the same synagogue he grew up in. A lifelong Herndon resident, his job description includes teaching at the religious school and planning programming. He recently founded Jewish Young Professionals, a group to help Jewish young adults network and become more involved with the Jewish community.
How did you get into synagogue work?
When I went off to college at George Mason in 2015, I was contacted by our then-religious school director. She asked me to meet with the brand new youth director to tell them about my time at the Beth Emeth youth program Kadima/USY.
The religious school director told the new youth director that I was interviewing for a youth position as an adviser. This resulted in me interviewing for a job I never even knew existed.
At the end of my meeting with the youth director, he asked if I would take the job, and as I wanted some income while in college I accepted a job I never applied for. Within a year, I was asked to take over as the interim youth director. It’s all been history from there.
What kind of person do you think it takes to be a Jewish professional?
You need a lot of passion, and you need a lot of patience. I’m finding that there have been a lot of gaps in some of my knowledge, especially as someone that teaches and works with kids. And really, you have to understand that every person comes from a different background and a different level of practice, but you still want to make sure that everyone can get a meaningful relationship out of their Judaism.
What do you think that the young adult Jews of Northern Virginia need?
We need connection. I myself am a young Jewish adult. And part of the issue with Northern Virginia is we’re very spread out. You see, a lot of the time young professional groups are mostly centralized in Alexandria and D.C.. And it makes sense because everything is relatively walkable, so it’s really easy to get together. We don’t necessarily have that same opportunity.
I have members in my young Jewish professional group that live 45 minutes away from the synagogue. So when we’re looking at these more remote communities, these more spread out areas, we want to make sure that they still have the same opportunities, even if they don’t live in Alexandria or D.C. So we’re offering an alternative, and we want to make sure that they can find a Jewish community that they feel comfortable calling home as well.
Does Jewish Young Professionals have any innovations that other young adult Jewish groups don’t have?
The way I have approached our group has been that we’re not trying to hunt people to join our membership. We’re not trying to necessarily force anyone to join us as a synagogue. Our goal is to be able to connect the community, and through that connection, they could reach that point where they’re ready to join a synagogue.
We’re going to be the first on their list and I would say it’s different, because my personal experience with Jewish professional groups outside of this is Moishe House. Moishe Houses are typically aimed for people a lot younger than 30, but once they’ve exceeded that age range, it’s expected that they have their community and they go off into the wilderness.
Part of my mission here isn’t to force people into it, but to make people feel like they have a connection to a community that will stay with them for as long as they’re in the area, and potentially even longer beyond that. So we don’t want to just drop our members off in the real world. We’re setting them up where they’ll have a community by the time they have exceeded our target demographic for professional groups.
What’s something that people would be surprised to know about you?
A lot of people find it very interesting and very unique that I’ve become the one of the most senior directors at an institution that I actually grew up in.