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Vox Populi

P&P’s new semi-regular mini interview series, in which we ask a variety of customers, authors, politicians, community leaders, teachers, neighbors, and any one else willing to talk to us, a selection of questions—from the serious to the possibly inane—related to books.

 
 

Esther Safran Foer
is the executive director of Sixth & I, which is celebrating ten years of exceptional Jewish and secular cultural programming in DC. She was named an honoree of the Forward 50 Jewish leaders and has written for Congressional Quarterly, worked as a state press secretary, and worked on a major presidential campaign.

 
 

Photo credit: Pablo Sartor

 

In a very short time, you have made Sixth & I a cultural landmark in Washington, DC. What’s the connection between a synagogue and great programming?

A Jewish mother asks her children, “What questions did you ask today?”

Sixth & I is a cultural convergence point. We are the unexpected intersection where Jewish and secular culture meet, and where the entire community can come together. A Jewish mother asks her children, “What questions did you ask today?” Not, “What did you learn today?" The most successful programming is about provoking questions, it is about process rather than outcome, journey rather than destination. Hopefully, through our programming with community partners like P&P, we are opening people’s minds and building community for the entire city.

If you had to recommend one book to Benjamin Netanyahu, what would it be? Or Mahmoud Abbas? Or John Kerry?

They are obviously extremely intelligent, well-informed people. They don’t need to read another book. They need to open their photo albums—my favorite kind of book—and look at the generations that came before, and the pictures of their own children and grandchildren, and think about the world they want to leave them. 

You have raised three extraordinarily talented, successful, and famous sons (Frank, Jonathan, and Joshua). What’s the secret?

Family was always the center of our lives. Dinner was our convergence point—in fact, my hopes for Sixth & I are in many ways based on that dining table. There were no holds barred in those conversations, which got a little tough for me as the only woman in the household. We were very ordinary—ate junk food and watched TV. We went to Politics & Prose a lot, and our sons, who got no allowances growing up, were allowed to buy anything they wanted there. While our sons are very similar in many ways, they also have different strengths. We tried to emphasize each of their individual strengths and to not focus on their weakness. Today they are all three very close and get together frequently as brothers, even though they live in three different cities. Bert likes to say that the best a parent can do is not screw up a child. It sounds simple, maybe even like a joke, but there are so very many ways to make kids insecure, self-conscious, or otherwise diminished versions of their natural selves. I'm proud of not having screwed them up.  

Who is your favorite character in a Jewish work of literature?

She told him (and through him, the world): “If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.”

Easy: my mother. She is our family hero. The quote I like most comes from Jonathan’s book Eating Animals. He talks about a conversation with her about surviving during World War II. At the end of the war, even though she was starving, she would not eat the pork that a farmer offered her. She told him (and through him, the world): “If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.”

What is the most memorable event you have hosted at the synagogue?

The most memorable event is always the one that happened last night. And, then, there is another amazing event the following night. Not only is there a line-up for thought provoking and memorable talent, but the space is so magnificent and creates a sense of intimacy that it brings out unique insights from the people who speak and perform at Sixth & I.