Job: Private events and operations manager, Sixth and I Historic Synagogue, Washington, D.C.
Hebrew name: Rivka Devorah
Currently living in: Washington, D.C.
Alma maters: Swampscott High School ’05, Brandeis University ’09
Favorite foods: Macaroni and (vegan) cheese
Favorite music: Mostly Top 40 and pop – I love listening to the “Pitch Perfect” Pandora station whenever I need a little bit of a mood lift.
Favorite movies: “Clueless,” “Empire Records,” “Mean Girls,” “Pirates of the Caribbean”
Favorite TV shows: “Dawson’s Creek,” “Schitt’s Creek”
Favorite books: “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” (novel by Muriel Barbery), crime fiction, anything by Kate Morton.
Favorite travel destination: Alaska, American national parks
Somewhere you’d like to go next: Glacier National Park, Croatia, Scotland
Favorite North Shore spot: Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester
Favorite Jewish person: Rabbi Shira Stutman, Senior Rabbi at Sixth & I
Favorite Jewish holiday: Passover
What was your Jewish background growing up?
I grew up in a Conservative family. We didn’t go to synagogue every week, but we celebrated Shabbat with dinner every week and kept kosher. From kindergarten through eighth grade I went to what was then Cohen Hillel, now Epstein Hillel. Then I went to Swampscott High and simultaneously to Chabad Hebrew School for a couple of years, and then Prozdor. I also went to Jewish summer camp for eight years, Camp Pembroke. I was pretty much surrounded by it – my whole life was Jewish. There was really nothing about my life that wasn’t Jewish. And then I went to Brandeis, where I think it’s sort of similar to how a lot of Israeli Jews are secular – I didn’t necessarily feel the need to practice a lot while at Brandeis because it was just part of the culture there. I tried out Hillel, didn’t love it – I fell more into the Chabad group, but didn’t go every week and wasn’t super involved in any Jewish clubs or anything. Luckily I was close enough to home that I went home for all the High Holidays and Passover.
Can you tell me about Sixth & I where you work?
Sixth & I is a nonprofit center for arts, entertainment, and ideas and a synagogue that reimagines how religion and community can enhance people’s everyday lives. We are non-membership and multi-denominational. Our Jewish programming is geared mostly to those in their 20s and 30s and that includes Shabbat services and dinner, classes, holiday celebrations, social events, etc. For the high holidays, we have five different services happening simultaneously,each for a different audience, serving over 4,000 people. Our secular programming includes concerts, comedy, authors and speakers, screenings, and podcast recordings. For these, we operate like any other venue in the city; we even have a bar at most events.
What do you do there?
I manage all the private rentals. We rent out the space for things like b’nai mitzvah, weddings, and corporate and nonprofit events, of all different sizes. An organization might have a board meeting here, or a staff retreat or an alumni group might have a panel of speakers or a cocktail party. So I handle all of that from inquiry to execution. I also work on the operations team, so a lot of different projects to make sure everything is running the way it’s supposed to and is consistent across departments. I do a few other things as well – my job is very multi-faceted.
How has working at this pluralistic synagogue affected your Jewish identity?
Growing up, I was shown a very one-sided, closed-box type of Judaism. Even though I went to school with kids who were not necessarily Conservative, I felt like I was of the opinion that Conservative Judaism was the best kind. So coming to Sixth & I, where we serve people who are Jewish in a multitude of different ways, from people who were born Jewish but kind of lost a sense of that identity, to people who were not born Jewish and found Judaism as a young adult and want to explore and possibly convert – it’s all different types, and we’re super open and welcoming. Having spent so much time here and soaked that all in has really taught me that there is no right way to be Jewish– however you “do Jewish” is the right way. And it’s a journey for everybody. It’s not just “this is how you were raised, so this is what you are.” I learned that firsthand because my identity has really changed since I was a kid. When I started working here I would identify as a Conservative Jew, because I didn’t know what else to say, because that’s how I was raised, because my parents belong to a Conservative shul. Now, I just identify as Jewish – I don’t feel the need to tack on that extra qualifier.