Jewish Girl/Guy of the Year competition.

Each week, Gather the Jews features an outstanding Jewish Girl and Guy.  These community members are distinguished by their accomplishments in the secular world and their commitment to improving Jewish life in Washington, DC.   The feature is one of our most popular, often drawing more than 2,000 visitors to our website in one week.

But now it’s time to select the best of the best; it’s time to select the Jewish Girl and Guy of the Year.

All non-staff members who have earned the title Jewish Girl/Guy of the Week in the calendar year 2010 will be automatically entered into a World Cup-like competition.  Although we cannot yet reveal the exact details of this competition, it will involve Jewish trivia and a popular vote from our users.

At the end of the competition, we will crown 1 guy and 1 girl as Jews of the Year, presenting them with eternal glory and a great prize.

The competition will start in the middle of January, so get ready to vote.

Jewish Guy – Gaby

GabbyYou are the last Jewish Guy of the Week for 2010, Mazel Tov!  We know why we picked you, but tell us in your own words why you are receiving this momentous honor.
The rumors I’ve heard are that Tila and Abby are plotting a last-ditch effort to make me Jew Guy of the Year so that way the devious and conniving Stephen Richer doesn’t self-impose that glorious title onto himself. But if that’s not the case… maybe you were just desperate? Ha, well I did just get back after spending a year working in Jerusalem, so I have at least some Jew street cred.

As the (secular) year comes to a close, tell us your top 5 favorite moments about 2010.
Okay here goes:

5) Drinking entire bottles of Arak and “orange drink” (a.k.a NOT orange juice) at night on the beaches of Tel Aviv with my Israel roommate (this was a perennial event….wash, rinse, repeat).

4) Finally convincing my parents to stop feeding my now 20-pound chihuahua fatty slabs of pork, buckets of shellfish, and other not-so-kosher-friendly food products.

3) Smoking more hookah than normal people breath air in the Old City of Jerusalem.

2) Learning to be a gourmet chef extraordinaire – I’m talking curries, stuffed peppers, shakshuka, risottos, and a really mean matzah pizza. This aint yo average matzah ball, son.

1) Booz cruise to Cyrpus. ‘Nuff said.

If you could make a toast to the Jews of DC, what would you say?
L’CHAIM! L’CHAIM! L’CHAIM! – NEEEXXXXT YEAAAARRRR….IN YERUSHALAYIM!

Word on the street is that you have a blog. What’s it about and who are your biggest fans?
Wellllll…. not to get political, but I write about Middle Eastern affairs when time allows. Check it out and follow my blog: NearEastPeace.com.

Where is your favorite place in the world that you have traveled to?
Hmm… that’s a good one. I’ve been to Israel, Egypt, Argentina, and some parts of Eastern Europe… but I guess when it comes down to it there’s no place that serves crisp golden-brown falafel like Yerushalayim. Not even at Falafel Frenzy (where, to my dismay, had no falafel).

Everyone has a theme song–that song that gets them really pumped up. What’s yours?
Timbaland’s The Way I Are. Oh yeah.

Heading home to North Hollywood to escape the cold this Winter?
Good question. In fact, I’m not. I’m actually going to Vegas for New Years….with my mom. Yeup. Just me and my mom. In Vegas. Woot.

We know your lifelong goal is to be Jewish Guy of the Year for Gather the Jews. Finish this sentence: “As Jewish Guy of The Year, I solemnly swear to….”
I will solemnly decree in the land of GTJ that all us GTJ peasants shall receive an infinite amount of matzah balls, vats of hummus, and Jew gold. No one, really NO ONE, can top that.

Friends with Non Jews

Allison is a guest blogger who runs the site www.JewintheCity.com

Dear Jew in the City,

I live across the street from an Orthodox Jewish for family for 32 years.  We have always gotten along and helped one another out.  Can they be friends to anyone other than their religion?

We also are getting a lot of Syrian Jewish in our town (by the Jersey Shore) and they seem different. They seem not to look or acknowledge any of us. There seems to be a lack of respect and rudeness about them. Can you explain.

Thanks,
Hellen

PS – I love the U tube videos

Hi Hellen-

That’s nice to hear that you have a friendly relationship with your Orthodox neighbors. There’s no problem with an observant Jew being friends with people of other religions, but for practical reasons, because Jewish life is centered around kosher food, Sabbath and holiday observance, it might make it a bit more difficult for friendships between observant Jews and non-Jews to happen as often.

Since I grew up as a non-observant Jew and there were very few Jews in my town, most of my friends growing up were not Jewish and we were very close. As I got older and started becoming more observant, my social events started revolving around the synagogue and Sabbath meals. Now that I have a family, we spend most Sabbaths hanging out with our Orthodox friends who have kids for our kids to play with. My kids go to Jewish schools also, so if I become friends with the parents of their classmates, they also end up being observant Jews.

The whole kosher thing also makes friendships harder to form as an Orthodox Jew can never eat in a non-kosher home and can only go to kosher restaurants.

My non-Jewish friends from my childhood are still dear to my heart even though our lives have moved in different directions. But honestly, people usually end up moving away from childhood friends as they grow up even if they haven’t made such a drastic changes in lifestyles. Whenever I see these friends either at class reunions or on Facebook I still feel that I can relate to them.

And honestly, at the end of high school, as I was starting to take my religion more seriously, I found myself having more in common with my Christian friends who were spiritual people that believed in God than some of my Jewish friends, who although culturally similar to me, had no interest in such concepts. We also have a babysitter for our girls who is a sweet Catholic girl and has similar values, and I can talk on and on with her about ideas that we both believe in that a secular Jew might totally disagree with.

So in short – there’s no prohibition against friendship with non-Jews and Judaism teaches that Jews should be good to all people as everyone, Jew and gentile alike, is made in the image of God. However due to practical observances, it is a bit harder for these friendships to develop.

Also, another important thing to understand is that observant Jews, although we feel very American, still remain different than our non-Jewish neighbors. When a group of people is a minority in a larger culture, it’s very, very easy to assimilate, blend in and just be like everyone else. (That’s what has happened to most Jews in the world today.) So some of these laws of kosher and the Sabbath are there in part to help keep a certain separateness so that the Jewishness can be maintained. Not because there is any ill will towards other people but rather because it’s a matter of survival when a small group is living amongst a larger group.

In terms of the Syrian thing – I’m sorry that they’ve seemed rude and disrespectful. I think this actually comes down to more of a cultural thing than a religious thing. The Syrian Jewish community is extremely closed off, even to other Jews, sometimes even to other Orthodox Jews who are not Syrian!

Now, in their defense, I think we have to look at where they come from. They were poor Jews living in a Muslim country where their non-Jewish neighbors did not treat them very well and I think this rough exterior that they’ve developed is somewhat of a protection mechanism as the people they used to live amongst made their lives very difficult. (If you keep beating and beating a dog, even the sweetest, friendliest dog will get vicious – not that these people are vicious, but I think the analogy is clear.)

Because I’ve experienced very little anti-semitism in my life, I have a much more open, positive view of people who are different than me. I still know that there are people in the world who wish I were dead just because I’m Jewish, which is a disturbing thought, but also a very intangible one.

I’ll leave you with a story that is told about a great rabbi (one of the greatest in his generation) named Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky who lived in New York and died around 20 years ago. After his funeral, when his family was sitting shiva (the Jewish week of mourning), a prominent nun from the community came to the house of mourning to pay her respects. She said that this rabbi would pass her by on the street every day with a big smile and a friendly “hello” and it really meant so much to her. So although these rough exteriors unfortunately get created, this story about the rabbi and the nun is repeated because being a kind, decent person is how Jews should actually be conducting themselves.

I hope I’ve cleared some things up. Thanks for watching!

Sincerely Yours,
Allison (aka Jew in the City)

For more posts, please visit Allison’s site and watch her videos. For the original post, click here.

Gather the News — Jewish News of the Week (3rd)

Nittel Nacht is fast approaching, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still Gather the News…

  • Fox News mistakenly calls the Holocaust for Elie Wiesel.  Stupid hanging chads.
  • Another flotilla makes it way towards Gaza, passing through the human rights bastions of Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon along the way.
  • A senior Greek priest gives us way too much credit.
  • A former Guantanamo Bay detainee REALLY gives us too much credit.
  • According to WikiLeaks, the Arab League’s Central Boycott Office (yes, a whole office) once blacklisted Steven Spielberg, among others.  The Justice League, however, has no problem sending Wonder Woman to a Tel Aviv beach.
  • The Atlantic features what is surely a pressing and potentially far-reaching problem: the use of e-readers on Shabbat.
  • Either the last National Jewish Population Survey was seriously flawed, or the US gained 1 million Jews in 10 years.  You can decide which one is more plausible.

A very merry Nittel Nacht to all!

Contested Parsing the Parsha: Identity, the Midwives, and the Burning Bush

Anna Batler blogs about faith and feminism at  http://sotah.net/.  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Anna Batler.

A short meditation on identity in Parshat Shemot.

First, there are the midwives. The text tells us their names – Shifra and Puah, but the problem is that we do not know what to make of those names. They never appear again – their lineage is unknown. Pharaoh tells the midwives to kill Jewish boys as they are born. Heroically, they resist Pharaoh, protect their clients, and lie to the ruler. There is a debate as to their identity – the text refers to them as hameyaldot ha’ivriyot – a phrase that can be translated as either Jewish midwives or midwives to the Jews. According to Rashi, Shifra and Puah are Yochebad and Miriam, the mother and sister of Moshe – Jewish midwives. According to the Abarbenel, a contemporary of Rashi, Shifra and Puah are righteous Egyptian women – midwives to the Jews. Shamot 1:15

The subject of identity is also addressed when Moshe asks God at the burning bush, “And they [Jews] say to me what is his name, what shall I say to them?” God famously answers “I shall be what I shall be.” Ehyeh asher ehyeh. Exodus 3:14.

There are two main schools of thought on how this can be interpreted.

1) The Septuagint and Philo, influenced by Greek thought, interpreted this Hebrew phrase to mean “I am the BEING” or more simply “I am” God is existence.

2) Medieval Scholars, Rashi among them, understand this phrase not as a statement of God’s essential “being-ness” – but of God’s essential “doing-ness.” “I shall be with them during their troubles.” Buber captures a sense of doing-ness when he translates the phrase to mean “As the one who will always be there, so shall I be present in every-time.”

Moshe, as evidenced in his question to God, is constantly concerned with identity. On his first encounter with the outside world, he immediately places all his allegiances with the Jews and kills an Egyptian overseer. He divides the world into who is his brother and who is not his brother – even though he has a foot in both cultures. One would expect him to have a more complicated view of Egyptians and Jews. Moshe wants to place God in that same paradigm – he wants to learn God’s name. God resists.

In contrast, the narrative gives the midwives specific names, but their names stand alone. They are ordinary women – it is their heroic actions that form their identity. They exceed their subject positions, moving beyond their names, to their actions, risking personal and national safety for justices.

I cannot help but wonder how the exodus story would have been different, if instead of Moshe, it was Shifra and Pauh who lead the Jews out of Egypt.

Twas the night before Hanukkah

Twas the night before Hanukkah, when in GTJ’s house.
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The menorah was placed on the mantel with care.
In the hopes that Mr. Dreidelman would soon be there.

The Gatherers were nestled all snug in their beds.
While many a Jew danced the hora in their heads.
And Aaron with his kippah, and Scott with his cap,
Had just settled down for a much-needed nap.

When out on 17th street there arose such a clatter,
The Gatherers sprang from their beds to inquire the matter.
So down the stairs they flew in a dash,
Kissing the mezuzah, they did in a flash.

The moon shone brightly on the quarter-inch snow,
Giving candle-like light to the objects below.
When what to their wondering eyes should it be
But a rather large Dreidel, and team Maccabe(ats).

With a spin and a twist as quick as you can
I knew him to be the esteemed Dreidelman.
And more rapid than eagles, his handlers they came,
The singers of Candlelight and much recent fame.

“Now Michael (Greenberg)! Now Ari (Lewis)! Now Asher (Morris) and Julian (Horowitz)!!
On Yona (Saperstein)! On Meir (Shapiro)! On Dani (Landman) and Yonatan (Shefa)!
To the top of the porch! To the Top of the wall!
Now dash to the Jew house ahead must we all!

And so they did go, yes, “on and on”
And still they did push, so the Greeks could be gone.
Latkes they did flip, way high in the air,
Dispelling the myth (that they were LDS missionaries) born from their wear.

And so in a twinkling, the Gatherers heard on the roof,
The singing and laughing of the chorus aloof.
But as they drew in together, and looked right around
Inward came Mr. Dreidelman with a leap and a bound.

He was dressed all in blue, from his toe to his top
And odd though it looked, his spin never did stop.
A bundle of gelt, watches, and textbooks he had in sack.
And a large white gimmel was painted on back.

His eyes how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
And from the gleam of the light of the chai round his head
The Gatherers, as Jews, had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
Teaching Torah, history, and culture often forsook.
But out of his eye, he then did glean
A completely awed and shocked GTJ team

“Ho ho my Gatherers,” he said them to all.
“You’ve made quite an improvement since I saw in the fall.
A new website and blog makes you more complete
But your calendar remains just as replete.”

He sprang to his taxi, and the Maccabeats whistled
And away flem them all, like the down of a thistle
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Hanukkah to all, and to all a good-night!”

Written by GTJ co-founder Stephen Richer. Apologies to Clement Clarke Moore, author of the original “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

Gather the News — Jewish News of the Week (2nd)

Do people still care about the Maccabeats?  I certainly don’t.  Let’s Gather the News…

  • Ok, maybe just a little.
  • Time Magazine names a Jewish 20-something its Person of the Year.  Meanwhile, I’m writing Gather the News.
  • A mysterious Stuxnet virus has apparently set back Iran’s nuclear program two years.  Israel is assumed to be responsible, but we can never rule out Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith.
  • Don’t know what “phylacteries” are?  Apparently, neither do New Zealander ferry passengers.
  • According to Winona Ryder Mel Gibson is not a fan of the Jews.  In other news, pigs remain grounded and Hell is enjoying a hot season.
  • Richard Nixon too.  Seriously though, Hell is still sweltering.
  • The House of Representatives unanimously opposes recognizing a “state” with two central governments and undefined borders.  Lame duck session?  Please.
  • Lauren Pierce Bush, granddaughter of George H.W, will wed the son of Jewish designer Ralph Lauren.  Now comes the choice of whether to be Lauren Lauren, or Lauren Lifshitz.  Lucky her.
  • The IDF shoots down a freakin’ UFO!  It was likely just a party balloon, but that’s not nearly as interesting.

Rochel’s Self-Sacrifice and the Woman’s Role in Judaism

Editor’s Note:  This article is the first in a series of commentaries that GTJ will publish on this week’s Torah portion.  Stay tuned for the others.  Will Gotkin is a recent graduate graduated of The George Washington University and now studies at a yeshiva in Jerusalem.  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Will.

If you travel to Israel and visit Machpela (the gravesite of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of Judaism) in Hebron, you would notice that Rochel’s grave is conspicuously missing.  Her gravesite is actually located in BeisLechem.  It might trouble you that she is not buried alongside Avraham, Sarah, Rivkah, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, but Rochel wanted it this way.

Early in Parshas Vayechi, Yaakov asks his son, Yosef to take his body back to the land of Canaan to be buried alongside his forefathers in Machpela.  But Rochel was buried where she was so that she could help her descendants who in later times would pass by her grave on their way into Babylonian imposed exile.  She would then emerge from her grave, pray, and shed tears for the Jewish nation.   The Jewish people would experience redemption in the merit of her actions.[1]

By choosing to be there for her troubled descendants over the spiritual contentment and blissful reward of being buried alongside the founders of Judaism, she demonstrated an extremely high level of self-sacrifice.  The Babylonian exile was Divine punishment to the Jewish nation for going away from the path of Torah and yet she still gave up her own reward to give them comfort in their time of need.[2] Rochel embodies the qualities the Torah ascribes to the ideal Jewish woman and her exemplary conduct enables her to serve as a role model for all Jewish women in their service of Hashem.

Men and women have different roles to play in how they each serve the Creator. Yaakov’s burial in Machpela is symbolic of the very external and public way by which men serve G-d.  Men are expected to daven three times a day, study Torah, and do many other mitzvahs from which women are exempt.  Women on the other hand serve Hashem by not only giving physical life to the Jewish nation and being in charge of the house (often in addition to having a career outside the home), but by being the spiritual bedrock of the home and instilling a faith in Hashem and Torah in children.  It is for this reason that the Jewish soul and Judaism passes through the mother, while tribal affiliation i.e. Levi, Yehuda etc. (a more publicly recognizable quality) passes through the man.  While her role may not seem on the outside to be as glamorous or worthwhile, the woman’s service is in many ways higher than that of the man, because her actions do not usually get the praise they deserve.  Rochel eschewed the kavod (honor) of being buried at Machpela so that she could be there for her children. In the same way, a good mother sacrifices much there for her children. Rochel’s ability to sacrifice some of her own spiritual reward is a lesson for all of us that we must take some time out from our own divine service in order to bring others closer to Hashem.


[1]Rashi on Bereishis 48:7

[2]LikkuteiSichos: Lamed

Gather the News — Jewish News of the Week (1st)

Chanukah wraps up (get it!), and I didn’t flip my latkes in the air once, much less sometimes.  Let’s Gather the News…

  • Everyone’s favorite modern orthodox college a capella group inspires a cute parody of its parody of the parody of the real thing.  And I don’t even know what to call this, except absolutely adorable.
  • Meanwhile, Matisyahu’s stellar new single gets only a fraction of the love.
  • An Egyptian official speculates that Israel is behind recent shark attacks in Sharm e-Sheikh.  This is ridiculous; everyone knows that Israeli sharks would at least have frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads.
  • A, um, friend, told me that Israel got a shout out on Glee.
  • Note to self: always carpool with Chabad yeshiva guys.
  • Leo may possibly become the best looking Jewish guy not on the GTJ staff.  Sadly, however, Bar Rafaeli may soon be off the market for good.
  • The only time you will ever see the following words together: kippah giveaway fail.
  • In what was surely a well-thought out and researched decision, three Latin American countries recognized a “state” with two central governments and undefined borders.
  • Peace talks breakdown.  The EU and UN blame Israel.  The sun also rose today.

Gather the News is a weekly feature by Scott Weinberg that showcases some of the best stories pertaining to Judaism and Israel.

Girl of the Week – Ricki

(Jewish Girl of the Year Voting Page)

Ricki on why she should be Jewish Girl of the Year:
Friends all over the US – and abroad, too – now know about and are intrigued by Gather the Jews.  By sharing the mission of the site, many have been inspired to become more involved in their own communities, and above all else, to keep on gathering.

Much like the plot of a current animated movie, Zach and Ricki, two Jewish superheroes, spent the first years of their lives in the same area before being scattered for college.  Only recently did they reunite in Washington, D.C. at a Shabbat meal.

Note: Although they look incredibly adorable sitting side-by-side in the photograph below, Ricki and Zach are actually not dating.  But many thanks nonetheless to the friends from Massachusetts who have already congratulated them on finding each other.

GTJ: Did you know Zach was Jewish Guy of the Week material when you first re-met him?  Or did it take a little while to discover?
R: Jewish Guy of the Week at first sight – that’s a bold statement right there.  But in all seriousness, Zach was definitely a Jewish Guy of the Week at first sight since everyone I meet seems to know him, including my home and camp friends, as well as several college friends who are now in DC.

GTJ:  And Zach, you must have met a bunch of other Jewish girls at the Shabbat dinner where you two reunited… What set Ricki apart from the other ladies?
Z: There’s not a single person that I know that she doesn’t already know.

GTJ: You two grew up in the same area, have a ton of the same friends, and went to Jewish camps in the same foundation.  How did you manage to miss her during the first 18 years of your life?
Z: I think our paths actually did cross a couple times in Marblehead, MA – but I was 2 or 3 and don’t remember much from those years.  Other than that, I think it can be largely attributed to Ricki’s broken ankle and our mean camp director.

GTJ: Was Zach as dashing at 2.5 years old as he is now?
R:  Oh, absolutely.  When 2.5 year old Ricki met 2.5 year old Zach, dashing was definitely the first word that came to mind.

GTJ: He stayed in Massachusetts for school; you went to Chicago.  Who made the right decision?
R: This might be a biased answer – but although his winters were slightly better than mine, I’d have to say I made the right decision because it made me realize I want to ultimately end up close to home.  It was also great to spend 4 years in a completely new city and pick up some Midwestern habits, like learning to not always be in a rush (which is always a challenge for us east-coasters).

Ricki and ZachGTJ: But Zach, wouldn’t you say this gives you a slightly higher claim to being the better Patriots fan?
Z:  Of course I would say that.  I think my Tom Brady desktop, the picture of him I carry in my wallet, my attempt at the Tom Brady hairdo, and my overall die-hardness give me this edge, too.  I also think that Ricki’s decision to study in the city of the Bears, the team that handed the Patriots a crushing Super Bowl loss in the 1985 season, raises some questions about her allegiance.

GTJ:  Wow, quite the accusation…  Ricki?
R:  Hey, I have my Brady jersey!  B
ut no, I don’t carry a picture of him in my wallet so Zach gets a couple extra points right there.

GTJ:  If you had to marry Zach off to a female biblical character, which would it be? Why?
R: I’m no biblical expert, but after a little research I think I’d go with Esther.  Aside from being the best person to dress up as for Purim, Esther had a strong spirit, was strikingly clever, and seemed to embody the Jewish values that govern our
lives.  Esther obeyed the orders of King Ahasverus but always stood her ground and knew the ‘right thing to do’; she seemed to epitomize what we would call a true mensch.  Above all, she proudly identified herself as a Jew (once Haman was out of the picture, of course) and led Ahasverus to give Jews the right to defend themselves against their enemies.  These seem like pretty admirable qualities, but if nothing else, I can totally see Esther as a Patriots fan…

GTJ:  Zach, do you accept?
Z: Esther? How could I say no? Age difference might be tough though.

GTJ:  You recently invited Ricki to a group Shabbat dinner at your place.  What dish did she bring?  What do you think this says about her?
Z: Ricki brought a bottle of wine.  Ricki has been quoted as calling this a “cop out.”  In some books this may be true.  But in the book o
f Friday night dinners, this must mean that Ricki loves the Shabbos.

RickiGTJ:  If you’re together chosen as Jewish Guy and Girl of the Year, and win the $1 million prize that had to be used together, what would you want to do?
Joint response after some discussion:  Of course we would invest one quarter of the winnings back into Gather the Jews. We would put a $250,000 down payment on the project to fund Fenway Park renovations.  We’ll send Sam Zuber through med-school in exchange for free medical care for life.  The rest will b
e used to take all of our friends on a wicked trip to Israel.

GTJ: Oxford American Dictionary recently named Sarah Palin’s “refudiate” to be the invented word of the year.  If you could add one word to the English Dictionary to better describe Ricki or a thing she does, what would it be, and what would it mean?
Z:  Jwoww – Jewish Woman of the Week. Wooo.

GTJ: What do you want to say to the Jewish community on the last day of Hanukkah?
Z: Since Hanukka
h fell so close to Thanksgiving this year, I’d like to mention 8 of the many things that we can be thankful for as Jews: 1) Latkes 2) “bubbe, bubkes, chutzpah, feh, klutz, nosh, etc…” 3) GTJ 4) Shabbat 5) Amare Stoudemireand Shyne 6) Rabbis 7)Israel 8)Jdate
R: When you lig
ht candles tonight, think about Jews all over the world who are doing the exact same thing, reciting the exact same prayers – it’s pretty neat.   And, of course, I hope you found some time to get together with friends to eat latkes and play some dreidel.