Mitzvah Maker – Dreidel Man

Dreidel Man

Dreidel Man poses in front of the National Menorah

Dreidel Man is a perennial favorite at the National Menorah Lighting organized by the American Friends of Lubavitch. In an exclusive interview with GTJ, we get to the root of the question “Who is Dreidel Man?”

What is the Menorah Lighting on the Ellipse?
Probably the largest annual Jewish event in Washington – and the premier celebration of Chanukah in the country. Over 30 million people saw it last year – in the US alone.

How many people usually come, and who will be there?
Anywhere from 2000-3000. This year we gave out over 4000 tickets. WH Budget Chief Jack Lew will light the menorah, and Itzhak Perlman will perform, as well as the Three Cantors.  We also expect the new mayor-elect, Vince Gray, and other officials.

How fast can you spin?
If before some L’chaim, not so fast. If after L’Chaim, not to mention my bubby’s latkes, I really can’t tell…

What is the best part about being a dreidel?
Being apolitical in the city of spin. And falling on gimmel and making people happy. Some people say if I fall on Gimmel at the Fed, I might help Director Lew balance the federal budget. We just need some extra Chanukah Gelt to make it happen.

What is your favorite letter to land on?
See above.

How many dreidels are there in the world?
Dreidels? Millions. “Spinners”? Probably too many.

What is your favorite Channukah food?
Sufganiyot. They taste fantastic, especially if there is moderate jelly inside, as opposed to the explosive, compressed two-pounders they sometimes pack in. When I try to sneak a donut at lunch, I inevitably end up with the wrong one – the one which oozes way too much jelly on my shirt to present at the next meeting, so I just go home and light my menorah.

What is your favorite night of Chanukah?
First one, it reminds us again of the ability to create light where there is darkness. And the last night shows incremental but significant progress, which is encouraging. The story of Chanuakh in the Talmud is way more about the oil than the war, because Chassidic thought explains how oil represents refinement and elevation (it floats above other liquids), inspiring us to become more refined and uplifted, not to mention spiritually elevated, in these days.

This Year’s Top 5 Chanukah Videos

New for 2010, all these videos are definitely worth sharing! Also check out our Chanukah page for a comprehensive list of Chanukah events in the DC area.

Matisyahu’s ‘Miracle’ Chanukah song– Matisyahu in a very psychedelic video.

Candlelight by The Maccabeats– The YU a capella group gets down, Chanukah style.

I Light It – Chanukah Musical Remix 2010– NCSY presents a remix with melodies from Justin Bieber, Kanye West, and Enrique Iglesias.

“Eight Days”– Nefesh B’Nefesh presents an eight day tour of Israel to the beat of Matisyahu.

Double Down Latke Sandwich– Editor-in-CHEF Rob Eshman prepares this tasty variation of the Chanukah classic.

Got a video you like better? Let us know in the comments!

Which Jew is Smarter?

Battle of the Ilyas, Round II. This Time, It’s Personal

For those of you in the D.C. Libertarian community, you know that there are two Ilyas.

Ilya Shapiro, a Senior Fellow of Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute, and Ilya Somin, a Professor at George Mason School of Law. Both are Libertarians. Both are Russian. Both have the same last initial. They often get confused, but they are nothing alike.

To resolve this name-game between these two brains, last year I hosted a trivia battle, dubbed the Battle of the Ilyas. Shapiro was victorious. Ilya Shapiro has dutifully enjoyed his one-year reign as the undisputed Ilya of Washington, D.C. However, his term ended on November 24, 2010. Thus, it is time to fight again–Round Two of the Battle of the Ilyas began a week ago.

Last week both Shapiro and Somin a 25-question quiz, based on the Judicial Clerkship Knowledge Quiz of the Honorable Danny J. Boggs.

After the parties complete the written component, we will record a podcast with several oral questions. Following the oral component, I will announce the winner of the 2nd Annual Battle of the Ilyas competition (and I gather Justice Kagan, and not Justice Scalia, will get the reference in the title of this post.)

May the best Ilya win!

For those of you who wish to play at home, here are the questions.

To vote on which Ilya you think will win, visit the original post.

This post originally appeared at  Josh Blackman is a recent graduate of George Mason University Law School.  He is now president of and The Harlan Institute.  He is still frequently seen at Mesorah DC Shabbat dinners at Sixth & I Synagogue.

Ilya Shapiro and Ilya Somin are also D.C. Jews; their bios are linked in this post.  However, it bears mentioning that Ilya Shapiro is a former Jewish Guy of the Week.

A Deluge of Double Standards

The Jewish Policy Center featured a post today by GTJ’s Stephen Richer.

According to Natan Sharansky, criticisms of Israel can be divided into two camps—reasonable and unreasonable—by using the “three D’s” test: demonization, double standards, and delegitimization.

Judging by the second criterion—double standards—the past few weeks have been rough for Israel. Consider the following double standards.

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan on Israel.

As noted in this blog post by David Frum, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan recently referred to Israel in a less-than-friendly manner: “We will go on to raise our voice against those massacring innocent people and children. We will call a killer a killer when needed.”

Only a little later, CBC News shined new light on Hezbollah’s involvement in the assassination of Rafiq Hariri. Erdogan’s suggested response? Ask the investigating tribunal to delay its official report for another year so as to not upset the Middle East.

So much for calling killers killers…

To read the rest of the article, click here.

Parsing the Parsha: No Rest for the Righteous

Editor’s Note:  Will Gotkin is a recent graduate of The George Washington University and is currently studying at a yeshiva in Israel.

Parshas Vayeishev describes Yaakov as settled, implying permanency.  The Midrash infers from this that after his long exile and struggles, Yaakov wished to finally settle down in tranquility.[1] Yaakov reasonably thought that after siring the progenitors of the twelve tribes, working for Lavan, surviving his confrontation with Esav, and suffering the rape of a daughter and violence in Shechem, he had accomplished his mission of laying down the foundation for the future Jewish nation. However, Hashem saw it differently. We see that Yaakov’s tests were not yet at end, because shortly after this verse Yaakov’s son Yoseph disappears.

On Yaakov’s continued labors, Rashi comments: “[Whenever] the righteous seek to live in tranquility, G-d says ‘Is it not sufficient for the righteous [to have] what has been prepared for them in the World-to-Come that they should also want to live in tranquility in this world?’”[2]

This is not to say that the righteous are not deserving of any comfort in this world. In fact, Yaakov spent the last seventeen years of his life in spiritual bliss.[3] It simply means that Yaakov’s mission was not yet complete. Indeed it is not us, but G-d who determines when we have accomplished what we must do in life.

Tzaddikim (the righteous) are often called on to do more, because they are among a small few who are able to best carry out Hashem’s will. The greater the person, the more challenges they face, precisely because they are able to overcome them.

In the end we are not the ones to decide when our job is finished. Judaism teaches that Hashem has a specific plan for each of us. As long as we are alive, it is up to us to figure out what is our mission in this world, actualize our potential, and fulfill the purpose for which we were created.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Will Gotkin.

[1]Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash, page 198

[2]Metsuda Chumash/Rashi, page 416

[3]Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash, page 198

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

We at Gather the Jews (GTJ) are thankful for the opportunity to interact with so many young professionals who are passionate about Judaism and the Jewish community, and we are thankful to be in a city and country that encourages a rich Jewish life. The first 39 weeks of GTJ’s existence have been a blast, and we hope to do even more with the Jewish community in the coming weeks.

Please let us know which parts of GTJ you like most, and please let us know what needs to be added or improved. Although this is a standing invitation, we’d especially appreciate your advice as we head into the New Year.

We hope that you had a wonderful Thanksgiving—even if you’re a Lions, Cowboys, Bengals, or Longhorns fan and were on the wrong side of the scoreboard today.

Wishing you the best,

GTJ Crew

Y-Love and Shemspeed Perform for Gather the Jews

Y-Love with two GTJ slap bracelets.

Over 125 young professionals met last night at Club Ozio to hear Jewish hip hop artist Y-Love at a Gather the Jews happy hour. See the pictures on our fan page.

Y-Love opened with variations on well-known hip hop songs such as “All I do is Win,” and then treated the audience to some of his own popular songs.  He closed with a few upcoming features that have yet to be released on CD.

For those less-familiar with the Jewish hip hop scene, Y-Love (Yitz Jordon) is one of the latest and most famous orthodox pop music artists.  Others in this category include (most famously) Matisyahu, Pey Dalid, Piamenta, and Soul Farm.  See this Jerusalem Post interview for more about Y- Love:

Supporting Y-Love was Erez Safar, mix artist and proprietor of the popular Jewish music company Shemspeed.  Erez is well-known for his ability to make cool beats for large Jewish audiences.  Forward magazine named him one of the 50 top Jews of 2007.  More info about Shemspeed and its artists can be found here:

But before either of these Jewish musical titans took the stage, the audience heard from GTJ’s very own Joshua Kaller and a few members of his band: Hanukkah Harry and the Guilty Gelt.  Andres Harris ran the evening as MC and DJ.

The bright blue bands that feature prominently in most pictures are the new GTJ slap bracelets that say “You’ve Been Gathered.”

(See additional pictures on our fan page.)

Jewish Guy – Uri

Uri on why he should be Jewish Guy of the Year:
If I could explain why I should be GTJJGOTY in under 50 words, would I deserve such a prestigious title??? Briefly, I’m working with rabbis on a book that reunites science/Torah, I’ve got 5 guitars, great hair, and I can stand on my head. What else could you possibly want???

Have you ever straightened your hair?
I wish you hadn’t asked me that. Yes, I did straighten it once in high school. I was so disappointed that I subsequently shaved it off, but only after dyeing it bleach blonde and surprising my girlfriend at work with it. In retrospect, I don’t understand why she didn’t dump me immediately. But I will point out that she helped me shave my head.

Where do you live and why?
Moishe House Silver Spring!!! WHY?? Because it is the most awesome place any Jew could live and/or hang out this day and age. Duh. We organize and host events for all Jews (and friends of Jews) to attend, i.e. Shabbat dinners, book clubs (I’m currently running a book club on science and G-d), hiking trips to Shenandoah, open-mic nights, etc etc etc.

It seems like you have been in school for a really long time…why?!
Because I don’t want to grow up and work in the “real world”. In all seriousness, one of my favorite things about Jewish culture is our emphasis on education and learning. I hope to be in school forever, but while a biophysicist grad student’s stipend isn’t too terrible (ok ok…yes it is pretty bad), I would much rather get paid a professor’s salary. I’ll keep you posted on my progress towards that goal…

What is the coolest part about being an Israeli in the US?
The fact that I’m so atypical. I thrive on not fitting in and having a unique place and perspective in the world. I also like that someday I can get US research grants but do collaborative research with labs in Israel – US scientists have lots of money to spare compared to Israelis, and I’m really excited about being able to give back to our homeland someday.

Can you count to 10 in Hebrew?
I hope you’re joking.

Who is your favorite living Jew?
My sister. She’s an enigma wrapped in a conundrum, but somehow she’s so lovable.

Where do you spend Friday nights?
Lately I’ve been trying to leave lab early enough to make it home for Shabbat, whereupon I’ll go to services at Ohev Sholom, or just chill at home and read and hang out with my Moisheketeer roommates. As mentioned before, we also often host Shabbat dinners. You should come!

Who is the coolest Jew in DC?
I would say Rahm Emanuel, but apparently he’s heading back to Chicago to run for mayor, so poo on him. Since I’m assuming “myself” isn’t an option, I’m gonna to have to go with Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz. She revolutionized modern biology by using microscopes to image living cells and their moving parts, and her sense of awe with the miraculous world of the biological cell is absolutely contagious and inspiring. The fact that just trying to understand things that “look cool” can help cure disease is why I love being a microscopist, and she epitomizes the potential of our profession.

Celebrating a Birthday Jewishly

Editor’s Note: Will Gotkin is a recent graduate of The George Washington University and is currently studying at a yeshiva in Israel.

This week is a festive one. Tes Kislev (9th of Kislev) marks the birth and death days of the Mitteler Rebbe. The next day, Yud Kislev, is the anniversary of his release from prison, and Yud-aleph Kislev (the 11th) is my Hebrew birthday.

My coming into the world did not have the anywhere near the same amount of impact on Jewish history as did the Mitteler Rebbe. However, every person’s birthday is still very important. The Lubavitcher Rebbe had a few suggestions on how we can celebrate the occasion in a deep, meaningful, and Jewish manner;  they are worth reflecting on here to remind myself and others.

The birthday celebrant should begin the day by increasing tzedekah (charity) before morning prayers and again before afternoon prayers.  If the celebrant’s birthday falls on Shabbat or on a holiday when it is forbidden to handle money, he can give extra charity before and after the Shabbat or holiday. The celebrant should pray with increased sincerity on his birthday and read at least one of the 5 books of Psalms. He should also study the psalm for his new year (the psalm corresponding to your age plus one). For example, a 23 year-old should study psalm 24. This psalm should then be said each day until the next birthday.  The celebrant should add an extra Torah study session (or designate a time to study Torah each day). The Rebbe also suggests that a Jew study (memorize if possible) a Chassidic discourse and deliver its message to friends on the birthday or during the following Sueda Shlishit (third meal of Shabbos). Finally, it is recommended that the celebrant seclude himself in a private area for a period of time during the day in order to reflect on his conduct in the past year and resolve to correct those areas in need of improvement. Oh – and the celebrant shouldn’t forget to party!

A Jew will certainly not be bored on his birthday. This birthday I know I will attempt to perform at least some of these tasks. No matter where we are holding in our knowledge and observance of Judaism, each of us can try to fulfill some of these directives and enhance the significance of our Jewish birthdays. To find out your birth date on the Jewish calendar click here. On your birthday I wish you Yom Huledet Sameach and many more!

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Will Gotkin.