An article in the Washington Jewish Week entitled “D.C.-area Jews among ‘New Jewish Leaders to Watch’” discusses two local Washingtonians who attended the recent PLP conference in which I co-led a workshop and helped facilitate two other sessions. I was priveldged to meet one of these new leaders at the conference, Rachel Cohen, and hear her fascinating story, which is also revealed in this article:
The child of a Jewish father and a minister mother, Rachel Cohen grew up singing in her church choir and, until seven years ago, knowing virtually nothing about Judaism. Last week, she was named one of five “New Jewish Leaders to Watch” by the Professional Leaders Project, having started the group Shabbat Hoppin’ to introduce Jews without much Judaic background to Shabbat services. How did she come so far so fast? It was all because, as a student at the University of Pennsylvania, she learned about a free trip…the inaugural Taglit-Birthright Israel mission, and Cohen said that she “fell in love with the people, religion, tradition, country.” …
After her life-changing experience in Israel, Cohen, 29, returned to college, but found that while she immediately wanted to “make myself of service to the Jewish community,” she didn’t have the basic knowledge necessary to attend Shabbat services or study Torah—and no one was offering to teach her. But she kept in contact with Birthright, regularly calling to inquire if the organization had started an alumni program, and three years ago she was directed to the first PLP conference.
There, with so many top Jewish leaders and funders in attendance and many lamenting the issue of intermarriage, she told her story of being a child of intermarriage who couldn’t find a place in the Jewish community. “You didn’t lose me, but you’re going to if you don’t build more bridges to people like me,” she said, and “in that moment I became a Jewish leader.”
Rachel is living proof that the doors to the Jewish community must never be closed, especially to the adult children of intermarriage, and that we as a community must do much more to provided greater opportunities and entryways into Jewish life for those who would join us. At JOI, we’re thrilled to count Rachel among the “new Jewish leaders” and will do whatever we can to support her advocacy for greater inclusion.