I believe that religion is not the sole source of morality. However, working with policy makers in Washington, DC, I have a newfound respect for moral compass. I have found that my education and growth at TRT helped me to understand how mitzvot and Jewish law interact with modern life. As a Reform congregation [and through a traditional approach to prayer], TRT allowed me to understand the rules and traditions of Jewish life, and decide for myself what actions are appropriate and compatible with participation. Tzedakah has become a significant part of my adult life and I credit TRT’s tremendous work in social action, including their TRT Cares program, with influencing me to give back in bigger ways than I ever thought I could.
I have been a student of TRT since it was operating out of Asher Holmes Elementary School, before the congregation on Mohawk Drive was built. One of my earliest and fondest memories was being allowed to join Mrs. Coleman to make the announcement over the loud-speaker that classes were done for the night!
My family has always loaded up the car with food around Passover to help TRT fill as many trucks with food for needy families as possible. However, tzedakah is more than just Passover food donations. It comes from the Hebrew word (צדק, tzedek) meaning righteousness, fairness or justice. Judaism emphasizes charitable and philanthropic acts as important parts of living a spiritual life. Rabbi Weber’s work with first aid had always inspired me to get more engaged, and in high school I was a member of the Marlboro First Aid Cadet Corps and a volunteer at CentraState Medical Center.
For nearly a decade I have worked with community health centers all around the country, who serve uninsured and underinsured, any patient regardless of their ability to pay. Today I work for the DC Primary Care Association as Director of Policy, coordinating Federal health reform implementation efforts locally on behalf of the District’s historic safety-net primary care providers. In 2009 I also began blogging about rare or orphan disease issues. In the United States, a rare disease is defined as affecting less than 200,000 Americans. Roughly 7,000 rare diseases affect nearly 30 million people, about 75% of which (or 22.5 million) are children. Thirty percent of those children will not reach their fifth birthday. So in 2010 I founded a non-profit, MarbleRoad, to provide support services and financial assistance for people with complex illnesses.
I have always been a huge fan of music. Classes at TRT were always more interesting to me when we were able to learn through song, and occasionally somebody would come in with a keyboard to teach us Jewish music. At TRT our cantor usually sings a cappella, but sometimes brings in a 4-person klezmer band to spice things up a bit on special occasions. I have always also been fascinated with the sound of the shofar (while not an instrument per se it has a certain musical aesthetic to it). I play a little guitar myself, and have dabbled with other instruments. With MarbleRoad I am working on a concept called IndieMatch, finding ways to connect independent artists and musicians with philanthropic opportunities (i.e. donating a painting to be auctioned off for a non-profit, a band playing at a charity ball, sharing promotional opportunities through social networks, etc.).
Rabbi Weber always offered a spirited sense of adventure and encouragement to get out there and see and travel the world. He always emboldened his students to look at the world differently, through stories as a pilot flying from Marlboro to New York, or encouraging us to take advantage of trips to Israel. Traveling has become a large part of my life, and I have traveled to Brazil, France, Italy, etc. It never ceased to amaze me that wherever I went, I was able to find Jews nearby! I will never forget being with my family on the streets of Florence, Italy on Passover, being welcomed in by a family singing the same songs I sang growing up at my Seder. In early 2007 I went to Israel on a 10-day Birthright trip, which was an incredibly humbling and moving experience. I do intend to return to Israel soon.
While I attend services in the greater DC area whenever I can, I do attend most of the High Holiday services in NJ at TRT with my family. The Liebers Family is has been a part of the TRT community for a long time, and feels like home. My brother and sister both attended TRT as well, and Rabbi Weber was also the Officiant at my sister and brother-in-law’s wedding in May of 2009.