AUGUST 2, 2018 – Rebecca Gay is a graduate of the Epstein Hillel School and UMass Boston ’15 who recently started working as the program officer for young adult engagement at Combined Jewish Philanthropies.
Name: Rebecca Gay Age: 27
Alma Mater: Epstein Hillel School ’05, Swampscott High School ’09, UMass Boston ’15
Favorite Food: My mom is the greatest cook in the world, so anything she makes is going to be my favorite. But beyond my mom’s food, I really like Korean food.
Favorite Music: I like more mellow stuff. I don’t really listen to, like, hip-hop or pop music that much … I like folk music, I like calmer, quieter acoustic.
Favorite Movies: So many. “Clue,” is, I think, the greatest movie ever made … Madeline Kahn is a dream, and Tim Curry, and Martin Mull. I love “Young Frankenstein,” “Airplane,” slapstick comedy stuff.
Favorite TV Shows: My favorite TV show of all time is the “United States of Tara.” I’ve been just watching and re-watching the “Great British Baking Show,” just on repeat.
Favorite Travel Destination: South Africa was hands-down the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I really want to go to East Africa now. I really want to go and see chimps and go to Tanzania and go on safari there.
Tell me about your Jewish background.
I’m from Swampscott, born and raised. I went to Cohen Hillel, kindergarten through eighth grade. I went to Camp Tevya, Camp Simchah – I did the whole thing. I was very involved in my synagogue – originally Temple Israel, and Congregation Shirat Hayam when they merged. My mom worked at the synagogue and she was involved in the merger, so I’ve been involved behind her. Judaism has always been very important to me. My aunt is the kindergarten teacher at Hillel – Mrs. Sidman – so it’s very much a part of us, always has been, so it was always very natural. It was a very nice community to grow up in and be a part of.
Were you observant growing up, or culturally Jewish?
Definitely culturally Jewish – we didn’t keep kosher in our house, but we did go to temple fairly regularly. By the time I got to high school it was less, because when we were at Hillel, it’s all you do, so it was a little different … I also think it was a little important for me to be out of the bubble a little bit. I literally only had Jewish friends until I was 14. I definitely don’t consider myself religious or observant. I don’t keep kosher in any capacity. I don’t keep Shabbat, I don’t go to temple every Saturday. I love the High Holidays, I love the family dinners, I try to do Shabbat dinners with my friends and my family but it’s not because I feel like I have to. I consider myself a very spiritual person – I don’t know about God, but that’s OK, I think that’s kind of encouraged in Judaism, which is really nice, but I do think that I’m very spiritual, I’m very connected to emotions and my history and my family and my ancestry.
What is the current state of Jewish young adult engagement?
We [at CJP] did a community study in 2015 and I don’t remember the exact statistic, but young adults are living much more in the Boston area – in Cambridge and Somerville and the more urban areas – they’re getting married later, if at all, they’re having kids later, if at all. A lot of them are coming from interfaith families, let alone in interfaith relationships, so it’s definitely a different attitude. I think spirituality and meaning are found in different places than they used to be – it’s less in synagogues, and more in community and family – creating your community and family where you are, so that’s what we’re trying to do now, is meet them where they are and bring the community to them.
How do you do that?
I actually just led my first Birthright trip, which was so much fun. I had the best time – it was all Jewish young professionals 22 to 26 in the Boston area and it was the most phenomenal group of people … part of my job beyond that is keeping them engaged, and finding a place for them in the greater Jewish community, not necessarily CJP, but maybe somebody tells me they really love helping adults of all abilities and I connect them to Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters. I’m working on a High Holiday ticket match right now, which we have Temple Sinai, Temple Emanu-El, and Shirat Hayam all participating in, and Ner Tamid in Peabody. Last year we had 400 young adults participate.
Will you raise your kids Jewish?
Oh yeah – for sure. My kids will definitely be Jewish. I’m so intrinsically Jewish, and it’s so much a part of me that I can’t imagine not having that be my kids as well. Again, I love and appreciate and respect other cultures so much that I’m not necessarily opposed to introducing another culture, but my kids are going to be Jewish.
Which causes are you passionate about?
What a question! What political issues do I not feel passionate about right now I think is a better question … being a woman, especially a young woman living in a city there has been a lot for me to worry about, for my health and for my safety. I am concerned every day for people who are not white of any kind. I fear for the racial future of this country, because it seems like we were on an upswing, and now we’re on a really heavy downswing. Racism in this country is a terrifying thing to think about … I just want people to treat each other with a modicum of respect. I want black mothers to not have to fear for their child’s lives when they walk down the street.