Jews at work

On Sunday, June 26, Jewish philanthropy group Yachad repaired houses in northeast DC.   The effort — as advertised in this previous GTJ post — was part of Yachad’s Mitzvah Day for young Jewish professionals.

Below are pictures from Sunday’s event.  Contact Kendra (kendra@yachad-dc.org) if you’re interested in other Jewish volunteer opportunities in the DC area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is HuffPo Bad on Israel?

In light of the recent refusal of the Huffington Post to publish AJC Executive Director, David Harris’ article on the upcoming Gaza flotilla, I found myself concerned with the way Huffington Post chooses to report its news and with what sort of reporting it was deciding to conspire.  I had always been aware of the website’s leftist backbone (which unfortunately often carries along with it misguided anti-Israel sentiment), but then again, Harris has been a blogger there for nearly two years, and so I had concluded that HuffPo encourages a variety of opinions (both anti- and pro-Israel) to be expressed.

I was foolishly naive.  Upon further investigation following the Harris incident, I discovered that this was, in fact, not the case.

Let me first make something clear.  I am not attacking the Huffington Post’s broader political agenda, biases, or tendencies, and if I were, it would be done in a separate article.  Israel policies, issues, and concerns should not be a Democrat vs. Republican matter, and I am increasingly irked that Israel’s case has become such.  It seems as if a prescribed understanding of “facts” about the Israeli-Palestinian situation has become merely a given for many credulous liberals, including self-proclaimed “progressives” and “human rights activists,” who instead of learning the real facts simply comply with their party’s supposed “beliefs.”  Thus, my critique of the Huffington Post now is not that it is a liberal outpost, but rather that it is a hotbed of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic susceptibilities.

So The Huffington Post rejects a blog.  Fine.  I’m sure they decline many blogs – can’t take them all.  But why is a blog of unarguable facts, logic, and reason deemed “not for us” by the website?  My first inclination is that the blog is presumably contradictory to HuffPo’s agenda.  Consequently, my next discovery is that their agenda must not be one of wholesome truth and fact.  Furthermore, the rejection of the article must also derive from fear of losing a certain type of (large and influential) audience upon its posting. And what audience might that be?  Hamas supporters and cyber-jihadis disguised as Pro-Palestinian human rights activists?  Anti-Semites and ill-informed radicals hiding behind nice masks like “Americans for Peace”?  It seems that cowardice dominates the editors who decided that an intelligent and compelling rebuttal to the ignorant supporters of the flotilla – according to the Red Cross, there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza – is not fitting for their website. That in itself reveals an agenda of its own.

Coincidentally, the Huffington Post has had no problem posting articles of anti-Semitic, anti-Israel sentiment, which you can follow in detail on the Huff Watch blog.  As a quick example, two weeks ago an article is posted about the clash between Palestinians and Israeli police when Palestinian rioters began pelting Israel police with rocks at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. What’s wrong with the way HuffPo plays out the story?

  1. The story depicts Israel as the aggressor and Israel’s attackers as victims by choosing a photo of an Israeli soldier overlooking Palestinians innocently praying behind an iron fence  (that apparently is not even from this event).
  2. No picture of Palestinians hurling rocks at Israelis is posted.
  3. The original headline actually read, “Israeli Police Quell Palestinian Protests At Jerusalem Holy Site,” playing these Palestinians as mere “protesters” and not instigators of violence.  It was only later changed to its current standing headline.

And while HuffPo supposedly has a strict “zero tolerance policy” for hate speech and offensive content, this comment on the article (among many other inciting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic comments) was reviewed, approved, and published: “In Israel…Palestinians are not allowed to protest, even on their own land.  Jews however have the right to not only protest, but to steal, commit arson, and generally brutalize the indigenous population.”  If this isn’t offensive, erroneous, anti-Semitic speech, then I don’t know what is.

The Huffington Post has experienced an accelerated rise in traffic in the past year (it’s ranked more popular than Amazon.com!) and is currently the #1 blog in the world, as well as a top 10 U.S. news site.  HuffPo is especially attractive to people like me: young, free-spirited, college-aged, open-minded, peace-loving, and eager to find a voice in the political activism scene.  That is why the growing anti-Israel sentiment on the website is frightening.  The Huffington Post is respected by my generation, and people (particularly young, vulnerable minds) want to trust and believe what they read.  If more than one opinion isn’t presented, (in other words, if HuffPo doesn’t allow both pro- and anti-flotilla opinion articles to be posted), then that defeats the purpose of letting the reader discern fact from fiction.

Arianna Huffington said, “Too many reporters have forgotten that the highest calling of journalists is to ferret out the truth, consequences be damned.”  No Huffington, you are the one who has forgotten what it means to uncover the truth.

Candace Mittel is a summer associate at Gather the Jews.  The opinions express in this piece belong solely to Candace.

Why a Bris? Rabbi Moss Responds

Rabbi Aron Moss contributes regular Q&A commentaries to Gather the Jews.  Rabbi Moss is the proprietor of Nefesh and can be reached at rabbimoss@nefesh.com.au.  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rabbi Moss.

Baby boy
Question of the Week:

Dear Rabbi,
A friend asked the other day why we have a Bris (circumcision). I rambled on about health, tradition, old people, 8 days, pain and a whole lot of other nonsense before leaving this one to you.

-help-

Answer:

The Bris is a physical symbol of the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people. It is a constant reminder of what the Jewish mission entails (a reminder which men need more than women).  Let’s look at its details: 

 

 

 

If circumcision is what G-d wants, why aren’t we born circumcised? G-d created the world imperfect, and gave us the mission to perfect it. G-d created wheat, humans make bread. G-d created a jungle, humans create civilization. The raw materials are given to us, and we are to use our ingenuity to improve on the world that we were born into.
This is symbolized by the Bris – we are born uncircumcised, and it is up to us to “finish the job”. This is also true metaphorically. We each have instincts and natural tendencies that are inborn, but need to be refined. “I was born that way” does not excuse immoral behaviour – we are to cut away any negative traits, no matter how innate they may seem. 

 

 

 

Why on earth would G-d choose circumcision to represent something sacred?! Jewish spirituality is about making the physical world holy. The way we eat, sleep, work and procreate should be imbued with the same holiness as the way we pray; our homes should be as sanctified as our synagogues. We find G-d on earth just as much (and perhaps more) than in the heavens. So we put a sign on the most physical and potentially lowly organ, to say that it can and should be used in a holy way. In fact, it is in sexuality that we can touch the deepest part of our soul, when we approach it with holiness. 

 

 

 

Why circumcise a baby? Wouldn’t the statement be more powerful if it were made by a mature adult? The circumcision is performed when a child is still not aware of what is happening. This is because the Jewish connection to G-d is intrinsic – whether our minds believe in G-d or not, whether our hearts love G-d or not, our souls know G-d. We can join the covenant with G-d even without being consciously aware of Him, because subconsciously we already know Him. 

 

 

 

Why specifically on the eighth day? The number seven represents nature – seven days of the week, seven colours of the rainbow, seven musical notes (doh re mi etc); the number eight is the number that surpasses seven, and thus represents the miraculous, what is beyond nature. We do the Bris on the eighth day because the Jewish people survive on miracles. Our history defies the laws of nature. We welcome a new Jewish child into this miraculous existence on the eighth day of his life, as if to say, “Expect miracles!” 

 

 

 

All the best,
Rabbi Moss

Have a question of your own? Submit it to Rabbi Moss.

My discomfort with circumcision

Anti-circumcision activist

At the beginning of the month, we posted on the San Francisco ballot-initiative to outlaw circumcision of male babies.  The bill – called the Male Genital Mutilation bill – received significant national attention due to its alleged roots in anti-Semitism.

Now it’s making news again.  The Wall Street Journal Law Blog reports that a group of Muslims and Jews[1] have filed a suit arguing that the bill is unconstitutional because it infringes on the right to freely practice religion and the “rights as a parent to choose what’s good for [the] child.”

Viscerally, I’m of course on the side of those filing the suit – I stand by my fellow Jews, and I support our right to carry on traditions.

And intellectually, as a fairly principled libertarian, I’m a strong believer that a family can raise its children how it wants, without interference from the government.  Home schooling?  I’m really glad I wasn’t home schooled, but I definitely support the right of the family to make that choice.

But how far does this freedom extend?  To take the point to its extreme, I certainly wouldn’t support the clitoridectomy practices of some in Kenya and Tanzania, even if the perpetrators claimed it as a religious practice and as a right to raise children privately without state influence.  Similarly, I don’t think parents should be able to bind the feet of their children at an early age, even if it’s a cultural practice.

Obviously these examples aren’t analogous; unlike circumcision, clitoridectomy and foot-binding have physical effects that materially change the child’s life.  The examples do, however, serve to show that there is a limitation to what parents can do to their children, even if in the private domain and part of a religious practice.

So where to draw the line?  I’m not sure, and this makes me uneasy about the circumcision debate.  I’d like to think that circumcision is somehow “grandfathered” in because we’ve been doing it for so long and because so few circumcised men have actually complained about it.

But what if we take a more comparable analogy – say tattooing a big Star of David on the baby’s back, or removing one of the baby’s kidneys?  In both cases, the child’s life will not be physically altered (you can survive just fine with one kidney), and the majority of people will never notice the tattoo or the absent kidney (just as most people never notice the absent foreskin).  Would I support these measures?  The kidney one seems especially offensive to me, but the tattoo one strikes me as wrong too.

So though my first reaction is to jump on the side of the Jews litigants, I’m not entirely comfortable with the logical defense of circumcision as distinguished from tattooing and kidney removing.  Can somebody clear this up for me?  Thanks!

And many thanks to Cory Andrews for keeping the GTJ staff current on this subject.

Stephen Richer is a co-founder and director of Gather the Jews.

Want to write a response to this piece?  Or have an idea for another story?  Email GTJ’s blog editor, Noa, at noa@gatherdc.org

[1] Shame there aren’t legal disputes over circumcision in the Middle East… might similarly bring Muslims and Jews together…

 

Jewish Guy of the Week – Ben

1.) You recently led Jew at the Zoo. Explain.
Jew at the Zoo might have been the best event in the history of the world. I led a tour of about 30 young professional Jews through the National Zoo. I provided lots of important facts like that the sloth bear at the top of the Asia Trail is the same type of bear as Ballou from Jungle Book. Also, the Hyrax is the only animal at the zoo that is found in Israel. I also provided animal crackers for everyone so no one would get hungry and cranky.

2.) You’ve had a fascinating career path. Tell us about it.
My very first job was washing dishes at Kenny Rogers Roasters. After that I had stops at Best Buy, Kohr Brothers/Twist Again (frozen custard and pretzels), Trader Joe’s, and I moonlighted as a DJ. In college, I started doing security for concerts and sporting events and worked backstage for almost every big concert that came through D.C. for a couple of years. I once took Mick Jagger to the bathroom.  Britney Spears also said hi to me once and before Coldplay was really famous, I was stationed outside their dressing room and Chris Martin kept on trying to get me to have a beer with him. I still regret saying no. I have also worked for various local newspapers and I blog for Examiner.com about D.C. Tourism and Travel. For the past four years and eight months I have written about associations for USAE News. And finally, I just accepted a new job, joining the campaign staff of Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

3.) You’re a Marylander. What’s your favorite part?
Although I was born in Israel I have lived in Maryland, Rockville specifically, my entire life. I think my favorite part is really getting to know the area and have my favorite places that I go to year after year after year. In general I don’t like restaurants or even the idea of them but there are two Rockville restaurants I’ve been going to for more than 20 years: China Taste and Ambrosia. Those in the know call them CT and Amby.

4.) Your music tastes are comparable to a teenage girl. Confirm or deny.
I cannot be any more adamant in my confirmation. I only listened to oldies until middle school when I got caught up in the East Coast/West Coast rap wars and I chose Biggie (Big ups to B.I. up above). Bar/Bat Mitzvah time must be when I first got into “girl” music with the likes of Ace of Base and stuff like that. Now, I have come down with a severe case of Bieber fever and I don’t think I’ll ever be cured. In a 9 day stretch this month I saw NKOTBSB, Glee, and Katy Perry. I think I’ve answered your question sufficiently.

5.) What Jewish events will we see you at this summer?
To be honest, I am not even sure what Jewish events are going on this summer. I will be at the Gather the Jews happy hour on Thursday at Dirty Martini and beyond that, I am open to invitations for future events. If anyone is interested in having a 30-year-old with Bieber fever attend an event, get in touch with Gather the Jews. They’ll know how to reach me.

Jewish Girl of the Week – Hannah

New Question:  Why do you deserve to be Jewish Girl of the Year?

Because I’m finally becoming a Bat Mitzvah this summer!

 

1.) You volunteer at an animal shelter. Tell us about that.

 

I have volunteered with the Washington Humane Society (WHS) for the past five years. I started volunteering there because I love animals and I couldn’t keep a dog of my own in my apartment. Volunteering at WHS is one of my favorite things to do. I’m a volunteer trainer on staff, so I get to teach the dogs good manners, tricks, and help show them off to potential adopters. Through my involvement with WHS, I was able to help start a group at the State Department—Foreign Affairs Friends of Animals. Through that group, I have been involved in helping evacuate and resettle animals belonging to U.S. government personnel who were evacuated from Egypt, Libya, and Yemen this spring.

2.) You work at the State Department. What do you do there?

 

I work in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, supporting youth exchange programs. In my work, I bring high school students and teachers from abroad to the United States, and send Americans abroad to other countries for intensive leadership workshops. I get to work with some of the best teenagers across the globe, and they always keep me busy. I’m particularly excited about this summer because we are sending our first group of American Youth Leadership Program participants to Kenya, and I am joining them for the end of their exchange! I have had a lot of fun jobs (U.S. Senate Page, Junior Zookeeper, intern at The Daily Show), but this is the most interesting, challenging, and exciting one.

 

3.) You’ve been spotted at the Dupont Farmer’s Market. What’s your favorite thing to get?

 

Sugar snap peas, cherries, and adventure.

 

4.) Your birthday is coming up. How will you be celebrating?

 

I’m having a little happy hour with some friends at Tortilla Coast on Capitol Hill on Friday—it should be fun. Everyone is welcome!

5.) Write a Jewish-related Haiku for us.

Benjamin Franklin

Was not a Jew, although he

Was still pretty great.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured DC Entertainer: Adam Ruben

Adam Ruben – molecular biologist, stand up comedian, and author of Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision To Go To Grad School – speaks with Gather the Jews about getting into comedy and his upcoming one-man show at the Capital Fringe Festival.

First of all, thanks for generating exclusive video content for GTJ!

Remind me, did you do stand up back in college?

I did a little bit of stand up in undergrad. My freshman year, the minority affairs advisers were having a stand up contest.  It was the first time I’d ever tried stand up and it was a lot of fun.  Next year, a different group hosted it and I participated again. So I basically did stand up at Princeton at a contest once a year, every year, and a few more times at small shows senior year. I got a little bit spoiled performing at Princeton.  It was a large audience, a smart audience, and it was primarily comprised of all my friends.  So it’s a supportive environment.  Then you go out and try it in the real world and it’s completely different.

So what was your grad school stand up experience?

Grad school was the first time I tried to do stand up in the ‘real world’.  The summer before I started grad school, I performed in a club in New York called the ‘Comic Strip’ that had an open mic night.  It’s a great club and I thought I’d be able to get to NYC and perform at open mic nights during grad school.  But the show was on a weeknight, so I planned to leave at four in the afternoon, perform, and drive back at four in the morning.  I did that once and was so tired driving back that I decided I needed to find some place closer to Baltimore to perform. There were a few fairly crappy open mic nights at Baltimore. I tried to expand to DC but, at the time, it was not that easy to find places to perform.

And you also worked on your book at that time?

I really didn’t work on the book until the end of my grad school career, in my fifth or sixth year. I was writing little articles for the National Lampoon website.  At a certain point, the Lampoon wanted to write some humorous books and asked if anyone had a pitch. I pitched my idea for a book on grad school and it was rejected right away because they said it wasn’t appropriate for their target demographic (frat boys).  Shortly afterward, the book division of National Lampoon went under so it wasn’t relevant anyway.  But I still had this completed book proposal so I tried to see if I could get someone else to accept it.

What was one of your favorite things about writing the book?

One of my favorite things about this book experience is hearing someone say, “I was on the subway and someone sitting across from me was reading your book.” I love that people are reading it who don’t have to (i.e. not my friends who feel obligated to read it).  It’s very flattering.  I’ll go into bookstore sometimes and offer to sign some books, because apparently that’s something that authors do.  Then, when I go back a few months later, all the books on display are not signed, which means that the original stock of books was sold.  It’s very gratifying.

Where do you get most of your material?

I use all kinds of different themes.  I have some stuff about grad school, some stuff about Judaism.  I use topics lots of comedians do: driving, living in Baltimore, living in DC.  My upcoming show is not quite stand up. In recent years, I started getting into story-telling, which is a step beyond stand up.  For some reason, this type of thing has started getting very popular lately. People get up and tell stories on a particular theme.  For example, there’s a group called Speakeasy DC that put up a show called ‘My So-Called Jewish Life.’  They found people to tell ten minute stories with Judaism in the theme.  As I was developing my stand up routines, I discovered that a lot of horrible social things that had happened to me – for example, getting picked on or not having a lot of friends in school – really resonated with people when I framed them in an amusing way, so I ended up turning that stuff into a one hour show.

I also perform with a group called ‘Mortified’.  The idea is that you look through old diaries or journals from your youth or adolescence and then you get on stage and read from it and you turn it into a performance piece.  I have a lot of relevant stuff for that, such as a fifth grade diary, an audio diary from seventh grade, and some poems from high school, so I’ve done a lot of things using those experiences. And I put some of that into the longer show, which I’m excited to perform at the Capital Fringe Festival in July.

Can you tell us a bit more about the Capital Fringe Festival?

This is actually my first time doing anything with it and I’ve never actually seen it before. As far as I can tell, it’s like the Fringe Festivals in a lot of different cities.  NYC has a Fringe Festival.  Edinburgh also has a big one, for some reason.  The way it works it that you send in an application to perform and you actually have to pay them to participate. You have to buy insurance and then produce your show entirely yourself, so there’s some fear that you won’t recoup your costs from this type of thing.  You’re performing more for performance’s sake than for profit.

The festival is spread out around ten or eleven different venues around the city, from July 7 to 24.  There are different shows and performers of all types: musicals, dance, some performance with social media that I don’t really understand, a lot of experimental low budget stuff, a lot of one person shows. Each show is performed about five times throughout the festival, all in the same location but at different times of day. My venue is the Wonderbox at 629 New York Ave, NW.  I will be there at 5 specific times and the place seats around 80 people. I don’t really know what I’m getting myself into but I’m excited.  The next step, if this is successful, is another Fringe Festival.

Performance Times:

  • Thu. 7/7 @ 8:00 PM
  • Sat. 7/9 @ 3:15 PM
  • Sun. 7/17 @ 6:30 PM
  • Tue. 7/19 @ 9:45 PM
  • Thu. 7/21 @ 6:00 PM

Other fun links featuring Adam Ruben:

Sorry AIPAC!

Image from Graphics Hunt

As noted in a recent post to this blog, AIPAC host its first Summer Seminar this Thursday, June 30.

Unfortunately, the GTJ Giant Summer Happy Hour is also this Thursday.

How did this happen?  Didn’t we recently complain about too little summer Jewish programming?  Now there are two awesome events on one night?!

It’s our (GTJ) fault.  When we first learned of the AIPAC event, we understood it to be only for interns, so we thought we were free to schedule a happy hour on the same day.  We were wrong.  The AIPAC event is for both interns and young professionals.

We assure you we did this with the best intentions, but sometimes the best intentions pave the road to hell…   Also, despite the fact that I studied in the department of John Mearsheimer, rest assured that this the GTJ happy hour is not a secret plot to sabotage AIPAC – we certainly don’t have that type of power, and we definitely respect AIPAC as a valuable contributor to Jewish programming.

Fortunately for you the Jewish audience, this only represents an increase in consumer choice.  Think iPhone and Droid – two phenomenal brands that offer fairly similar products.  At both events you will get to meet fellow young Jewish professionals, and at both events you can probably strike up an informed conversation about Israel.

So which one should you go to?  GTJ obviously, but if I had a time machine, I would definitely go to both!

Sorry AIPAC!

Stephen is a co-founder and director of Gather the Jews.

 

Israeli Outdoor Concert: FREE Tomorrow, 6/29

Come hear Israeli trombonist Rafi Malkiel and his quintet in a free, outdoor concert on the lawn at Strathmore.  Bring your friends and a picnic blanket.  Israeli food and refreshments will be served.

WHEN: June 29, 7:00 p.m.

WHERE: 5301 Tuckerman Lane, Bethesda, MD

 

Upcoming Jewish Workshops

Sixth and I has a few spots left in two great workshops. Sign up today!

Israeli Culture through Hebrew Conversation

Description: This 8-week course will enrich and enhance your Hebrew conversational skills so you can chat about many topics, from food and music to current events. This class is intended for those with a basic knowledge of Hebrew vocabulary and at least beginner-level conversational skills. It is taught by a native-born Israeli, second-year Hebrew Master’s student who currently teaches beginning, intermediate, and advanced Hebrew at the University of Maryland.

Meeting Time: Wednesdays at 6:30 pm , June 28- August 17

Jewish Welcome Workshop: An In-Depth Introduction to Judaism

Description: This 30-week introductory course, taught by Rabbi Shira Stutman, is for those interested in converting or learning more about Judaism. Participants will learn about Judaism both in the classroom and through the larger Sixth & I community. At the end of the program, participants will be prepared to convert to Judaism or live as a Ger Toshav (“fellow traveler”) with the Jewish people. This class also welcomes those who are Jewish and are looking to learn more about their own heritage.

Time: Begins Thursday, September 8, 2011. Yes, this is a few months away, but there are only three spots left, so sign up soon!

To sign up for or ask questions about either of these workshops, please contact Allison at aadges@sixthandi.org.