Ranking The Plagues

Stephen Richer
Ranking The Plagues

Almost everything has a ranking.  Al Franken ranked religions in his book Oh, The Things I Know (reform Judaism placed first); US News & World Report ranks colleges; Newsweek ranks rabbis, The Economist ranks countries, and Maxim ranks women.  But nobody ranks the Ten Plagues of Egypt.

For the next week, Gather The Jews will be posting plague rankings contributed by our staff and community.  If you would like to see your rankings posted and counted toward our final ranking, please email Stephen@gatherdc.org.

Please feel free to provide comments to your rankings.

The final rankings will be based on total number of votes and on strength of argument.

Note:  Although only the first plagues affected the Israelites, for the sake of an objective ranking, assess all ten plagues as if they were universal.

Stephen Richer’s Rankings (Worst to least worst).

Rank    Plague
1             Boils — Chickenpox was bad enough.
2             Flies —  Spiders would probably accompany.  Eww…
3             Lice
4             Locusts
5             Frogs
6             Firstborn — Infant mortality rates were super high anyway. And more children would likely be lost through
lice, locusts, or boils.
7             Hail  — Can you say snow day?
8             Water into blood — The Nile is disgusting anyway.  Plus we’re supposed to drink wine on Passover.
9             Livestock — Vegans manage, right?
10           Darkness — “Cause it’s eleven thirty (A.M) and the club is jumpin’, jumpin'”

Sheryl Burstein’s Rankings (Worst to least worst).

1             Firstborn
2             Lice — eww, I don’t like things crawling on me … (except for cute Jewish boys)
3             Boils
4             Flies
5             Locusts
6             Water into blood
7             Frogs — eww, I don’t like things jumping on me … (except for cute Jewish boys)
8             Hail
9             Darkness
10           Livestock — matzo ball soup, anyone?

Michael Lipin’s Rankings (Worst to least worst).

1             Darkness — Was always, and remain, freaked out by pitch-black situations.
2             Firstborn — Am one of them.
3             Locusts — Not an insect fan.
4             Flies — Ditto.
5             Livestock — Not a vegetarian, so need my meat/poultry fix.
6             Boils — With universal health care, should be easier to seek treatment.
7             Hail — Depends on the diameter.
8             Water into Blood — Brita manual says filter prevents this.
9             Lice — Head & Shoulders does the trick every time.
10           Frogs — Just think of them as multiple Kermits.

Jewish Girl – Yael and Jane

Jane and Yael(Jewish Girl of the Year Voting Page)

Jane and Yael on why they should be Jewish Girl(s) of the Year?
“You should vote for the Frozen Chosen because it’s about time Alaska was known for something else in the DC area. We’re committed to spreading our Jewish spirit all across the U.S., from the far west to the east. Besides, how do you pass up a 2 for 1 deal?”

How did you convince GTJ to have 2 Girls of the Week at once?!
Jane: I think they were trying to prove to the D.C. Community that there is more than 1 Jew in the State of Alaska.
Yael: I think it was a couple of convincing shayna punims.

I thought that the only things in Alaska were Eskimos and Sarah Palin, there are Jews too?!
Yael: And a great view of Russia! Actually, there is a strong Jewish community in Anchorage, I’ve heard us called Jewskimos.
Jane: I prefer the term ”Frozen Chosen”… and yes we sell t-shirts that say that too. They are available for purchase online.

What do you miss most from Alaska?
Yael: Mountains, Midnight sun, Moose’s tooth pizza
Jane: Being able to drink water from the tap, Bar scene, Skiing, My family, and Fishing!!!
Yael: I’m glad you like to fish because I like to eat fish. Nothing beats wild Alaskan salmon, other than wild Alaskan salmon that Jane caught and smoked herself.
Jane: I can’t take all the credit for that salmon… it’s my dad’s recipe!

What is the best part of DC, besides Gather the Jews?
Jane: Having Jewish friends other than Yael
Yael: I grew up 3,000 miles from my nearest relative so its nice having extended family nearby.

Jane and YaelWhat is your favorite snowcone flavor?
Yael: Anything but yellow.
Jane: I feel like when you grow up in Alaska you learn not to eat snow of any kind… but you might not know that Alaska has the highest consumption of ice cream per capita out of any other state in the U.S., Matanuska Maid Dairy is the best!
Yael: Mmm, ice cream…who eats snowcones?

Since you guys are best friends and attached at the hip, in order to take one of you out for dinner does the other have to approve/join/or doesn’t matter?
Yael: I always approve of Jane’s choices.
Jane: Yael, I know that’s a lie, I don’t even approve of my own choices. And for anyone trying to take Yael out…. You do have to go through me.

What will you do now that this prestigious crowns have been bestowed upon you?
Yael: Go to Disneyworld.
Jane: I might just go get coffee or something….Yael? Want to come?
Yael: Of course 🙂

BTW in the first photo, their hands are the maps of Alaska.

Jewish Guy – Ilya Shapiro

Jewish Guy - Ilya shapiro

Ilya on why he should you be Jewish Guy of the Year:
Vote for me because I was one of the first Guys-of-the-Week (when there was more competition for these slots) and the year only got better.  Whether arguing for liberty at the Supreme Court, reciting the Braveheart speech in full makeup, or going mano-a-mano with Stepehen Colbert, there’s never a dull moment!

Who is your favorite historical Jew and why?
Barry Goldwater, because extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.  Sandy Koufax is a close second, but he’s still alive so might not count.
Who is your favorite biblical Jew and why?
I’m not much of an expert on the bible but I’ll go with Moses, the first lawyer (also, I really liked Charlton Heston).

What is your profession and how does it rank on a scale of 1-10 in terms of Jewishness?
Lawyer and writer… that would be a 10!  (Unless 10’s reserved for the rabbinate, in which case a strong 9.)
What is the best part about being Jewish?
Being part of a group that totally outkicks its coverage in terms of impact on history and culture relative to numbers.

Passover or Purim?
I’ll go with Passover because I’ve celebrated it more often, don’t much like hamentashen, and most importantly can (and do) drink any time of the year but only lean while eating once.
Favorite DC activity?
Attending oral argument at the Supreme Court.

Newsletter 4

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Team Jewish,

Welcome to week four of Gather The Jews!

The health care bill passed.  Kansas lost.  Israel and the United States disagreed.  Sandra Bullock is now single according to Facebook.

Celebrate or bemoan these events with some of your fellow Jews at an upcoming Passover Seder, Shabbat dinner, or other Jewish opportunity.

As always, full event details and other events can be found on our website www.GatherTheJews.com

Passover Seders:

If you don’t have plans for Passover yet, be sure to check out our new webpage dedicated to Passover events in Washington, D.C.

Click here.

Shabbat Options (3/26/2010)

1) What: Downtown Shabbat with Larry Paul & Robyn Helzner
Where: Sixth & I Synagogue
When: 6:00 pm – Drinks and appetizers.  6:45 – Services.  8:00 – Dinner.
Theme: “Join musician Robyn Helzner, one of the leading interpreters of world Jewish music, and Cantor Larry Paul for this spirited, musical, Carlebach-inspired service.”

Link: http://www.sixthandi.org/EventDetails.aspx?evntID=73&dispDt=3/26/2010

2) What: DC Minyan Shabbat Services

Where: DC  JCC

When: 6:45 pm – 8:15 pm.

Theme: DC Minyan is a traditional egalitarian Jewish community. Seating is separate for men and women without a mechitzah.

Featured Events:

1) What: Chocolate and Wine with Gather The Jews

Where: Biagio Chocolate – 1904 18th Street Northwest DC
When: Thursday, March 25, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm.
Theme: Open only to GTJ newsletter subscribers.  Come enjoy chocolate and kosher wine with GTJ people.

Link: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=111481442202727#!/event.php?eid=111481442202727&ref=mf

2) What: How to Cook a Passover Seder Dinner with a Spanish Twist – Jewish Professional Network
Where: Contact event administrator
When: Sunday, March 28, 1:00 pm – 4:30 pm.
Theme: “Why not add a different twist to your Passover Seder this year and impress your friends and family with a meal they will never forget?  This evening, we each learn and take on the basics – from A to Z – of making a special Passover Seder Dinner with a unique Spanish Twist!”  Register at www.jewishpro.com

Uncle Samuel Needs You!

Help make Gather The Jews even better.  There are plenty of fun ways to get involved (writing, updating the calendar, organizing events, speaking to Jewish organizations, etc).  If you have free time, talk to us about helping the Jewish community. Write to info@gatherdc.org if you are interested.

Questions, problems, concerns?  info@gatherdc.org

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Vayikra – Apologize

Last week’s portion.  Sorry, I fell a bit behind… March Madness…

Stephen Richer
Leviticus 1:1 — 5:26

“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

This week’s Torah Portion teaches us that all actions have consequences, especially sinful actions.  Every time we offend, or break rules, there are subsequent occurrences–the offense can be followed with an apology in which case the harm is mitigated, or, if the apology is foregone, pain and grievance are the results.

Parshas Vayikra focuses on apologies–how to atone for our sins.  The method (animal sacrifice) and primary focus (God) of these apologies are different from today’s apologies, but the need for repentance is firmly established in the portion.

“And he shall lean his hand [forcefully] upon the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted for him to atone for him.” (Leviticus 1:4).

“And it shall be, when someone incurs guilt in any one of these cases, that he shall confess the sin which he had committed.” (Lev. 4:5)

The portion spends only limited time detailing the nature of the offenses, choosing instead to concentrate on the details of atonement.  For example, “And the kohen shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger, and place [it] on the horns of the altar [used] for burnt offerings.” (Lev. 4:25)  Previous commentaries offer a number of explanations for this emphasis.

One explanation observes that “to err is to be human.”  Or, more seriously, to sin is to be human.  Most of us, and here I certainly include myself, occasionally sin.  Whether it is yelling at a parent, lying to a friend, or something more serious, sins are an almost inevitable part of life.  This universality is substantiated by the array of potential sinners in the portion.  People sin unintentionally (Lev. 4:1); the entire community can sin (Lev. 4:13); people of the land can sin (Lev. 4:27); and leaders can sin (Lev. 4:22).

Fortunately, given the ubiquitous nature of sin, an individual can still be a mensch even if an occasional sinner.  In summary, sin happens, what is important is the response.  That is why so much emphasis is placed on the apology in the portion.

A second interpretation of why the portion is almost entirely devoted to atonement as opposed to particular offense, is that it demonstrates the relationship of effort between sin and apology.  Sins are quick; they are often the result thoughtlessness, impatience, or lack of discipline.  To fully atone for sins, the opposite characteristics must be exhibited: patience, discipline, and time.  If offense is given; the offender must work doubly or triply hard to atone.

In the final verses, the parsha suggests that these measurements of atonement are relative.  Yes, Kobe Bryant bought his wife a $4 million ring after committing adultery, but such a sum is not necessarily sufficient–according the above discussion of proportionality–nor is it necessary.  “But if he cannot afford a sheep, he shall bring as his guilt offering for that [sin] that he had committed, two turtle doves or two young doves before the Lord.” (Lev. 5:7).  This is a progressive sin tax.  The more you can afford; the more you give.

Sins have consequences–they can either prompt apology or hurt, or a combination of the two.  This portion teaches the importance of the apology.

AIPAC’s Eliot Brandt at Mesorah D.C.

Stephen Richer
AIPAC’s Eliot Brandt at Mesorah D.C.

“Name an issue–just one issue–that receives the same type of bipartisanship Congressional support that Israel receives.”
Despite working for a political institute and reading the newspaper with some regularity, I struggled to name more than two issues: steroid use in baseball and farm subsidies–and I’m not even so sure about the second of these.
But that, of course, was exactly the point.
Speaking before a large crowd at Mesorah D.C., AIPAC’s Eliot Brandt argued that despite the recent tension between Israel and the United States, few things are as unwavering as America’s support for Israel.  Since 1948, the two countries have worked closely together to advance similar aims and values.
And these values extend far beyond the global war on terrorism.  Israel not only represents a country that is America’s frontline of defense, but a country that has more scientific patents and Nobel prizes per square mile than any other country; a country that values women’s rights, civil rights, and economic rights; a country that, unlike many of its Middle Eastern neighbors, does not persecute homosexuals or people of minority religions, and a country that has the second most listings on the NASDAQ, trailing only the United States.
Mr. Brandt enumerated these facts and others during a 25 minute speech that informed and amused the Mesorah D.C. Friday night crowd.  The popularity of his speech was evidenced by the fact that following dessert, nearly the entire Mesorah crowd of more than 140 people stayed for Mr. Brandt’s question and answer session.
Questions were broad in scope–ranging from the recent Israel fiasco at University of California Irvine to whether Congressional lobbying is the most effective method for promoting Israel.  Mr. Brandt offered direct answers for each question, but he also developed several general themes, the first of which was that Congressional support of Israel cannot be taken for granted.  At least fifty new members will join Congress in January 2011–these members need to be convinced of Israel’s importance and friendship.  Moreover, Congress operates on a “what have you done for me lately?” mentality.
For this reason, pro-Israel forces in America cannot rest.  If America ceases being pro-Israel, Israel will stand alone in the world.  The chorus of world voices stands almost unanimously against Israel–the recently renamed UN Commission on Human Rights has issued more condemnations of Israel than the rest of the world put together (this includes places like China, Darfur, and Iran).
Mr. Brandt encouraged the audience to speak up on behalf of Israel, to learn more about Israel, and to get more involved.  Yes, there are those who will never listen and never like Israel, but if the world could be divided between sinners, saints, and salvageables, then the majority of the world would be salvageables–those who don’t yet have a confirmed position on Israel and are seeking more information.  It is these people that pro-Israel activists must target.
After this call-to-arms, Mr. Brandt concluded his question and answer session.  The audience continued to schmooze and eat dessert well into the night, taking full advantage of yet another bi-weekly Mesorah D.C. Shabbat Service and Dinner.
**Any minor inaccuracies in the above statistics should not be attributed to Mr. Brandt.  Owing to the restrictions of Shabbat, I did not take notes–I am simply relying on my memory.

Mitzvah Maker – Rabbi Yudi Steiner

Mitzvah Maker - Rabbi Yudi Steiner

Why is Chabad the place to be?
It’s all about the people. You’ve been to the Young Professionals Shabbatons, have you ever seen a more exciting mixture of young Jews anywhere? No, right? Chabad is world famous for one thing; Ahavat Yisrael, love of a fellow Jew, this is palpable in everything we do here in DC. It’s the warmth and the feeling you immediately get of coming home again. That’s the concept, but if you really want to feel what I’m saying, bring someone new to Chabad and just watch his or her body language as they experience Chabad for the first time.

If Chabad were a cookie, what type would it be?
If Chabad were a cookie they’d have to invent a cookie in its honor. One that is not too heavy to make you feel guilty but not too brittle to make a real impact and it can be savored long after it’s gone. You know speaking of cookies reminds me that Passover’s just around the corner, which in turn reminds me that all your readers have a phenomenal chance to check out Chabad for the first time or the tenth, we’re having both Seders and you’re all invited, just email afl@alfdc.org for more info and to RSVP. Who needs cookies? we guarantee the best tasting maror you’ve ever had.

What’s the difference between Chabad at GW and The Shul?
Aha. Your best question yet. Chabad doesn’t wait for you to come to them we come to you. A wise man once said, “Just as Hitler once hunted down every Jews in hate, Chabad seeks to include every Jew with Love.”
Chabad GW takes Judaism to the Jews of GW that may not even know that Saturday is Shabbat. Where during a Shabbos dinner one can find a first time, very skeptical student txting on his Blackberry – probably something like, “wtvr this plc is sooo not cool” but then, slowly, as the night wears on and the spirit takes over she tucks the phone away, joins a familiar song and is hooked.
The Shul, actually it’s TheShul, is where all the up and coming, busy, ambitious, young Jews come out to share meaningful Jewish experiences. From our now famed monthly Young Professional Shabbat Dinners to Sushi Nights and other social mixers and Wednesday night’s lecture with yours truly. I’d say its more Washingtonian.

What’s your favorite holiday?
Favorite holiday is going to have to be Purim. Yes its Cliché but this year it took on a whole new meaning; hundreds of students who otherwise wouldn’t be caught dead in a synagogue celebrated Purim at our “Purim in China” party. So ya, in this line of work an opportunity to do something so fun and so Jewish at the same time is what we’re all about.

Is it true that black is the new fashion craze?
I’m still the only one living in Foggy Bottom who goes out in the dead of summer with a black suit and Fedora. But I must say it definitely get heads turning. What kind of hat do you wear? Think about it, it’s a deep question [:)].

What if I don’t know much about Judaism, is Chabad still a good place to go?
No, if you don’t know much about Judaism Chabad’s not a good place to go, it’s the best place to go. Chabad doesn’t just teach Judaism it celebrates it, if you want to understand and experience the joy that Jewish involvement can bring to your life you must spend some quality time at Chabad, and please don’t make your first appearance on Yom Kipur, there are many more, shall we say exciting days than that (think Seders!).
What do you think of the term “Mitzvah Maker”? 
I love it but i would suggest amending it to “Mitzvah Macher” because that denotes not only a person who does many good things but one who aggressively searches for opportunities to do mitzvahs, more passion, you know? That being said as a Rabbi I leave you with a blessing; may you, your website, you readers and Jews all over the World Wide Web and beyond (are there any Jews beyond?) merit to make many mitzvahs!

Jewish Girl – Sheryl

What’s your favorite nickname?
My favorite nickname: Soju (pronounced: so-jew). It’s the name of the most potent alcohol in South Korea. When I lived there, I got a fish as a pet, and I named him Soju without thinking about the implications of his namesake. My American and Canadian friends thought it was funny and nicknamed me that since I was only 1 of 100 Jews living in South Korea. On another note, I hope my life ends better than Soju’s. It’s surprisingly hard to get a coy fish down a Korean toilet…

Don’t ever buy me…
Don’t ever buy me a cat or an avocado, as I’m allergic to both. Or anything gold lame’ (are you reading this, Mom!? 🙂 )

If you could hang out with one cool Jew all the time (besides GTJ staff)?
If I could hang out with one cool Jew all the time, I would hang out with my awesome 7 year old niece Rebecca. She’s just one of my favorite people on Earth. She’s cute and thoughtful and endless amounts of fun. Rebecca’s also one of the proudest Jews I know. When she was just 3 years old, a waitress asked her, “How are you?” to which Rebecca replied, “I’m Jewish, how are you?”

The one song you would love to hear before you go to bed?
The one song I love to hear before going to bed is “By Your Side” by Sade. I love the words and the rhythm.   

Make a haiku about living in DC.
Snow, where can I go?
Lend me a shovel, Barack
I am your neighbor

Jewish Guy – Andrew Penn-Giannettino

Jewish Guy - Andrew Penn-Giannettino

Latke or Hamentashen?

On Friday night you can find me at:
Mesorah DC

Mel Brooks or Woody Allen?
Mel Brooks–can anyone argue the genius of Spaceballs?

Is there a Jewish look?
If there is, I don’t have it.

Jewish superhero by night, what by day?
Excel jockey.

Favorite living Jew (besides the GTJ staff):
Favorite is a tough one, but I will say that my grandmother is the most important to me.

American Jew: A Dilemma?

Article originally appeared at the Daily Caller (here)

Stephen Richer

“American Jew: A Dilemma?”


During her time as Prime Minister, Golda Meir appealed to Henry Kissinger for increased American support. The Prime Minister marshaled many reasons for assisting Israel—the country’s geo-strategic importance, its promotion of democracy, its attitude toward the Soviet Union, etc.—but she also appealed to Kissinger’s identity as a Jew. Unimpressed, Kissinger responded, “I would like to inform you that I’m first an American citizen, second Secretary of State, and third a Jew.” To which Meir replied, “In Israel, we read from right to left.”

Meir won the exchange, but the dilemma of the American Jew (and here I include myself), as referenced by Kissinger, remains unsolved. Where do our allegiances lie when Jewish interests conflict with American interests?

Before I jump into the politics of Israel, let me first recognize that American Jewish interests cannot simply be summarized as concern for the well being of Israel. Our interests are multi-faceted. We are, as a group, passionate about women’s rights, gay rights, meritocracy, economic liberties, racial discrimination, etc. But these issues have never made Jews stand out. Debates about abortion are never announced with headlines that read, “Strong Jewish Group Signals Approbation/Disapproval of Government Policy.” On the topic of Israel, American Jews stand out.

And Israel is important to American Jews. Most polls find that approximately 70 percent of American Jews agree with the statement that, “Caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew.” True, not all Jews support Israel or support it to the same degree—as is evidenced by J-Street—but most studies, including those cited in Norman Podhoretz’s new book, show that the majority of American Jews are still strong advocates of Israel in the classic AIPAC sense.

So what happens when America and Israel disagree? How do we reconcile our status as citizens of America with our status as Jews?

The answer will of course differ from Jew to Jew, and it does not have to black and white; the circumstances would undoubtedly matter. If Israel launched an unprovoked nuclear strike on New York City, I’m guessing that most American Jews would side with the United States.

But in less extreme situations, such as the present dispute between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu administration, it becomes more difficult. My knee-jerk reaction is to stand on the side of the United States. But at the same time, I am a staunch supporter and admirer of Israel and, coupled with that, I agree more with Netanyahu’s foreign policy than with President Obama’s.

I don’t have the answer, but there’s an old Texas expression of loyalty that “you dance with them that brung ya.” And considering that the United States has given me the opportunity to eat, read fantasy books, play basketball, and type essays of small-significance on nice Dell computers, I’ll be proudly siding with United States foreign policy in almost every instance.

All the same, it was a lot nicer when we had an American administration that marched side-by-side with Israel. Which of course makes me continue to wonder: why are American Jews almost monolithically liberal?