You Should Know: Rachel Yakobashvili

Rachel Yakobashvili. Photo by William Atkins, senior university photographer, George Washington University

Ellen Braunstein

The majority of Soviet emigres “feel” Jewish but are not religious. That can be said of Rachel Yakobashvili, who is involved with several Philadelphia Jewish organizations but not a synagogue.

“I’ve had a really interesting relationship to my Judaism because I’m a first-generation American,” said Yaskobashvili, 26, who lives in Fishtown. Her parents did not go to synagogue because it was prohibited in Moldova and the Republic of Georgia. They did not learn Hebrew or speak Yiddish.

“For me, Judaism was all about family traditions as well as serving the community. That’s just how I was raised,” said Yakobashvili, who grew up in Northeast Philadelphia.

Yakobashvili serves on the board of the local chapter of Jewish Women International Young Women’s Impact Network, which is working to end violence against women and girls and promote economic security.

Her day job is quality control and training manager at Friendship Place, a provider of services to the homeless. In addition, she works part time as the director of programs and partnerships at Dinah, a Jewish domestic violence organization.

She has also volunteered and worked with numerous nonprofits and task forces, including the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Jewish Relief Agency, Jewish Federation of Philadelphia, Jewish Employment and Vocational Services, George Washington Hillel Young Alumni Council and the Jewish Federations of North America Jewish Changemakers.

As a Jew, the role she plays at Dinah is most meaningful.

“It’s a small but mighty nonprofit in Philly that supports Jewish survivors of domestic abuse. It can be a silent killer or a silent struggle for many Jewish women,” she said.

“Obviously, abuse happens to people of any gender and any faith, but there is an assumption in the Jewish community that abuse doesn’t happen in Jewish households. Or, if it does happen, it happens in the ultra-Orthodox community and it’s hidden from sight.

“And that’s just not true. We have had clients who are very well-off Jewish women who’ve been married for decades, and we’ve had ultra-Orthodox young women as well. So, it’s breaking the stigma and breaking the misconceptions in the Jewish community that abuse doesn’t happen in our community. It definitely does and needs to be addressed.”

Yakobashvili is a Tribe 12 fellow, a program for entrepreneurial people in their 20s and 30s in Philadelphia’s Jewish community.

“The part that has been so fruitful and meaningful has been making connections with other Jewish entrepreneurs and bouncing ideas off of one another, supporting one another and giving each other candid advice.”

Yakobashvili serves on the Jewish Relief Agency’s Leadership Academy.

“It all comes back to the central tenet of tikkun olam,” she said. “That’s really how I was raised, and I try to live that every day.”

She said her deepest connection to Judaism is “time spent together with family eating Jewish/Eastern European food, having a conversation and telling family stories.”

Yakobashvili completed her undergraduate and graduate studies at George Washington University. She earned her bachelor’s degree in international affairs with a minor in history and organizational sciences. She received a master’s in public administration with a graduate certificate in nonprofit management. She now serves as a mentor for a senior through the Hillel alumni organization.

While at GWU, she engaged with Hillel though it wasn’t easy.

“They would say prayers in Hebrew during Shabbat and sing certain songs,” she said. “And I just don’t know any of that. I wasn’t raised in that.”

She felt like a religious outsider, but she exercised her Judaism through community service, she said.

“We all have a responsibility in repairing the world,” she said. “That’s why I got so involved in so many Jewish organizations either as a volunteer or professional.”

Her involvement in Jewish organizations has grown more important to her this past year.
“Especially to be able to be in community at a time when there’s a war in Israel and Gaza,” she said. “It’s wonderful to just remember that we can be a thriving Jewish community despite rising antisemitism.”

Yakobashvili is getting married this year to a professional chef, Matthew Saul Pohubka. She enjoys tending her plants, taking her dog on hikes and playing with her nieces.
How is she able to juggle it all?

“I have a very detailed calendar,” she said. “I try as hard as I can to make time for everyone.”

Ellen Braunstein is a freelance writer.


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