GTJ Competition — Delayed one week

Hi GTJ Friends,

I’m sorry to report that Gather the Jews will delay — by one week — the vote for Jewish Girl and Guy of the Year.

We’re doing this because we’re just not quite ready, and we want to deliver as high-quality and fun a voting event as possible.  There’s still some glitches in the voting, still some links broken, still some profiles waiting to be updated.  As one who gets to take some of the credit for the awesomeness of GTJ, I also deserve the blame, so if you’re upset by this, or have any questions, email me at: stephen@gatherdc.org

In the meantime, here’s a few responses to the question “Why should you be Jewish Guy/Girl of the Year?”  Hopefully it will whet your appetite.  If you’re a JGOTW and you haven’t sent us an answer, please do so ASAP.

Lazar B.  —   Why I should be Jewish Guy of the Year.

Clark H. and Shaina L.Joint video on why we should be Jewish Guy and Jewish Girl of the Year.

Ben W.:

We have one of the greatest cities in the world for young Jewish professionals. I’m that guy who’s always trying to connect people in the Jewish community and helping others out. There’s so much out there in this town and lots of great people to meet and network with and I’m always encouraging others to get involved because… I mean why not? I’m genuinely a good guy and a mensch.

That’s why I’m your Jewish Guy of the Year.

….

And we will be adding more- In the meantime, get acquainted with all our Jewish Girls and Guys of the week and view the photos from our 3/28 Party.

Stay tuned!  Apologies for the delay.

 

Stephen

JUFJ Seder Focuses on Immigration

When Ilir Zherka got to this country as a two-year-old Albanian immigrant, he didn’t speak a word of English. “Documented or undocumented, it’s hard to live somewhere and feel left out,” Zherka said at Jews United for Justice’s (JUFJ) annual Labor Seder – which remembers the ancient Jewish story of liberation from slavery in Egypt while connecting it to modern social justice struggles – on Sunday night.

“Immigrants really provide a lifeblood to this country,” said Zherka, who’s now Executive Director of DC Vote, the leading advocacy organization for voting rights in the nation’s capital. Like many of the over 300 attendees at the 11th annual gathering, Zherka had a powerful personal story that vividly brought to life the seder’s theme of “Immigrant Roots, Immigrant Rights.”  Though they came from all walks of life – from first generation immigrants to Native American descendants, and from young students to longtime DC activists, artists and workers – the seder participants found a common path Sunday night.

JUFJ tweaked the seder format to the theme “Immigrant Roots, Immigrant Rights,” reworking the four questions, the traditional songs, and even the ten plagues to focus on and discuss the plight of local immigrants. Instead of blood, frogs, and pestilence, for example, the attendees contemplated oppression in countries of origin, poor access to education, and unemployment. The haggadah, the traditional Passover text, was reinterpreted to present information about local immigration issues, discussion topics, and personal stories of immigrants’ experiences.

One personal story, by Lizbeth Mateo, a Mexican immigrant who was the first in her family to go to college, offered the advice, “You are safer if you are out because others will step up for you and fight for you if the need arises. Just remember that you are not alone. We are not alone.”

The crowd also heard from speakers Prerna Lal, Co-founder of dreamactivist.org, and from Sarahi Uribe, the National Campaign Coordinator for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network – both of whom have experienced great hardship due to the United States immigration system. Lal bravely fights for immigrants in the public eye, despite the fact that she herself is undocumented. The DREAM Act in her home state of California made it so she could go to state university while paying in-state tuition, and she hasn’t looked back since. She’s now working to get the DREAM Act signed into law in Maryland.

Uribe grew up in Los Angeles, and had her father taken away from her early in her life when he was deported to Mexico. She says the Secure Communities program is making communities less safe because immigrants are now in danger of being deported for even reporting a crime – it has “essentially made every police officer in the country a gateway to deportation,” she said. She has introduced a bill to the DC City Council that would stop this program in DC.

At the end of the seder, participants took action by writing letters to local officials calling for more immigrant-friendly policies. Metro Council President Jos Williams, himself a first-generation immigrant who faced discrimination as a child in Little Rock, thanked JUFJ “for reminding me that I am not free as long as there are others around me who are not free.”

If you are interested in getting involved with Jews United for Justice, or to learn more about their efforts to make our region more equal and just (including for immigrants!), please visit www.jufj.org or email community organizer Monica Kamen at monica@jufj.org. As we enter the month of Nissan, the season of our liberation, may we all be inspired to work for freedom in our own lives!

Passover Events

If you know of something that should be on here, please leave a comment below or email Stephen (stephen@gatherdc.org)

First Night Seders (April 6)

Second Night Seders (April 7)

Other Events:

Sell your Chametz:

Other stuff:

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Save A Child’s Heart Gala A Success!

Pictured: Ambassador Girma Birru Geda speaking at the Save A Child’s Heart Gala

On March 24, the Israeli based non-profit Save A Child’s Heart (SACH) hosted a fundraiser at the Embassy of Ethiopia.  The gala featured networking, traditional Ethiopian food, and comments by Ambassador Girma Birru Geda, Special Envoy, Ambassador Extra Ordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to the United States of America.

The young leadership volunteers of SACH echoed the theme of the night — Tikkun Olam – as they spoke with guests.  Their efforts and all revenue supported one of the largest undertakings in the world that provides urgently needed pediatric heart surgery and follow-up care for indigent children from developing countries. A coffee table book was provided to dignitaries in the room with the photos of all of the children they have saved.

We’ve all heard the mitzvah that saving a single life is like saving an entire world.  While looking at the smiles of these children and their families projected on a large screen, attendees felt the repairing of the world personified.

About 18 months ago, while in Israel, I visited an Ethiopian Absorption Center and a PACT (Parents and Children Together) School in Afula.  There, I had my first experience with Jewish Ethiopians.  A friend joined me last night.  She just spent six months in Gedera, Israel, at one of these Absorption Centers.    We both were moved by the event and would encourage you all to learn more about Save A Child’s Heart.

Online Dating E-mail Etiquette – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (week 33)

In almost every aspect of life, we go after the things we want.  Not happy in a job?  Search for a new one.  Some recent weight gain getting you down?  Up the ante during your workouts.  Why is it, then, that in dating, we think happiness will just find us?  It’s as if we think we have a sign on our foreheads flashing, “Single and ready to mingle.”  Unfortunately, that’s just not how it works.  In online dating, writing a great profile is only half the battle.  To really be successful, you have to be proactive and e-mail people of interest.

First of all, when searching for a potential mate, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:

  1. Try not to be too picky.  In the long run, will it really matter if someone is 5’8 vs. 5’9?
  1. Update your search periodically to include new people.  Maybe Mr. or Ms. Right lives just five miles outside of your search radius.
  1. Change how you sort your matches.  Try sorting by newest members first, people last online, age, people closest to you, etc.

Now that you’ve found some potential matches, it’s time to send an e-mail.  And women, it’s important for you to e-mail potential matches, too.  Many women think that e-mailing a potential mate might make them lose the upper hand at the get-go or seem less feminine.  Not true.  Again, we need to go for what we want in life, and it starts here.  Also, many people don’t take point number 2 above to heart, and their search criteria may not catch you.  So if you don’t send the first e-mail, that perfect match you’ve noticed may never find you.  And remember… I e-mailed Jeremy first, and seeing as how he’s sitting in the other room of our condo eating popcorn as I type this, I’d say I made out pretty well.

As for what to include in the e-mail, it’s actually pretty simple:

  1. Something about his/her profile that caught your attention;
  2. Something about you and how it relates to him/her; and
  3. A question (to end the e-mail).

In terms of length, a few sentences are enough to get the ball rolling.  No one wants to read your novel after a long day of work.  And no form letters!  It’s very clear when people copy and paste the same e-mail from person to person.  That’s a surefire way to get zero responses.

Now that we know the rules, let’s look at a couple of sample e-mails that work:

Welcome to DC!  Where were you before moving here?  I actually moved here from the West Coast myself, so I think I have the best of the two worlds – a taste for both good wine and historical monuments.

I can help you with the difference between a note and a chord if you’ll tell me something about aeronautics and space.  What exactly do you do in the field?

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Suzy

And I thought I had a lot of degrees…  Congratulations on getting your doctoral degree.  What’s next?  A Nobel Prize?  haha  I really appreciate when people value education as much as I do.  I got my PhD in Physics before moving here three months ago.

Now for the fun stuff… it looks like we both love food.  I just went to Graffiato the other day, and I liked it a lot.  Do you have a #1 place that I have to try here? 

Justin

In the end, you can’t win the lottery unless you play, so you might as well try your hand at the lottery of love to see what it has in store.  Now, go forth and e-mail!

Erika Ettin is the Founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps people stand out from the online dating crowd and have a rewarding experience. An archive of all of Erika’s columns is also available.  Want to connect with Erika?  Join her newsletter for updates and tips.

This article was also posted in JMag, the online magazine for JDate.com.

Support a GTJ Staffer — Support Dance in the Circle!

Event Facebook page:  http://www.facebook.com/events/249412261818820/

 

For the past year, GTJ staffer Michael Lipin and his friend Daniel Kramer have been volunteering their time to produce an first-of-its-kind dance festival in Dupont Circle Park – one bringing together 11 local-area dance companies to perform & instruct in a variety of styles on a dance floor next to the Circle’s iconic fountain. “Dance in the Circle” (DITC) is a follow-up to their co-production of June 2010’s “Soccer in the Circle”, which brought thousands of people to the same park for the first World Cup fan festival in the Nation’s Capital, an event that drew international news coverage.

DITC will feature performances of modern, jazz, tap, flamenco, hip hop & house dance and instructional sessions for the public, with an Urban Artistry DJ supplying the music. Planning the festival has been a big challenge for Michael and Daniel, with a long list of tasks to complete, from inviting dance companies to participate, recruiting a talented designer, Alex Emmerman, to put together the official website, winning the support of a local non-profit group (Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets) to provide insurance and a bank account for collecting tax-deductible donations, and working with the National Park Service to obtain a permit for using the park. The last major task is securing money (several thousand dollars) from individuals and local businesses to pay for equipment such as the dance floor, sound system, lights and a generator. You can help them to raise the needed funds by joining them at a happy hour at Mad Hatter DC on Thursday, March 29th from 6pm to 9pm, when you’ll be able to meet some of the dancers and sample some of Mad Hatter’s special drink offers and food. You can also support DITC with a tax-deducible PayPal donation of any mount via the PayPal button our website’s front page. More details about the happy hour on its Facebook page. See you at the Circle – and bring your dancing shoes!

Transcendence through Self-Sacrifice

This post is dedicated to Rabbi Jonathan, Aryeh, and Gavriel Sendler and Miriam Monsonego, z”l, who were brutally murdered in Toulouse earlier this week.

Welcome to Vayikra (Leviticus), the third installment of the Torah, which we began this week. The book of Vayikra is quite a challenging read, prompting the Medieval Talmud commentators known as Tosofot to comment that Vayikra is “the most difficult of the Five Books of Moses.”[1]  This volume of the Torah is chock-full of laws and it begins with those dealing with animal sacrifices in the Sanctuary (the Tabernacle in the wilderness and later the Holy Temple in Jerusalem).

For now let us put aside whatever personal feelings we may have regarding animal sacrifices[2] and try to make sense of how to apply these rituals, which we don’t seem to practice in this day and age (G-d willing we will again soon with the rebuilding of the Holy Temple!), to our daily lives. The classic Torah commentators offer varying opinions speculating as to why G-d commanded animal sacrifices, Ibn Ezra writing: “Heaven forfend to say that G-d actually needs animals to be burned! Rather the significance here is a mystical one.”[3] Indeed an in-depth study of commandments of sacrifices provides many lessons about self-growth and coming closer to G-d.

The opening line of this week’s Torah portion, which bares the same title as the third book in the Torah, begins with G-d commanding Moses (Moshe) concerning the sacrifices saying: “Adam ki-yakriv meekem korban”  – “When any person of you will offer a sacrifice…” However, a more literal translation of the Hebrew reads as follows: “When any person will offer a sacrifice of you.” The famous Chassidic interpretation understands this to be a commentary on the whole nature of sacrifice.[4] The term korban (sacrifice) derives from the word, karov (to approach; to come near). Thus, the verse is teaching us that when any person desires to draw close to G-d, they must make a sacrifice of themselves.[5] They must negate their own ego that keeps them far from attaining closeness with the Creator.

What does it mean to sacrifice oneself in order to come closer to G-d? Chassidic philosophy teaches that every Jew has both a G-dly Soul and an Animal Soul. The Animal Soul prefers physical pleasures and comfort while the G-dly Soul prefers spirituality and doing G-d’s will. The animal inside all of us (our animal nature) can be sacrificed by redirecting its passions and drives in a way that enables us to serve G-d with vitality. We do not do away with physical acts, but we redirect all of them toward a spiritual purpose. Several examples include sanctifying eating and drinking by making the proper blessings before and after eating, using physical wool in tzitzit (ritual fringes) and using physical leather in tefillin (phylacteries).[6] By elevating ourselves and the world around us we reveal the innate G-dliness hidden within it. By engaging our animalistic drives and utilizing them in the service of G-d, we are able to reach a higher level of closeness with G-d than we could by only tapping into the more ‘spiritual’ aspects of ourselves.[7]

Lest one think that one is too flawed to be able to offer him/herself up as a sacrifice to G-d (spiritually speaking of course!), the Rebbe Rayatz points out that the sacrifice is not only of ‘you’; it depends on ‘you.’ It is within the scope of every Jew, whatever his/her present or past…Every Jew has the right to ask themselves: “When will my acts be like the acts of my fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?”[8] Before a sacrifice could be offered upon the altar, the animal had to be checked to make sure it did not have any blemishes. The first step in coming closer to G-d is to do a self-examination, also known as a cheshbon hanefesh (accounting of the soul), and resolve to put right our faults. [9] Once we discover our individual strengths and weaknesses, we will be propelled to work on ourselves, grow, and actualize our spiritual potential. When we reveal the G-dliness within ourselves and our world we make ourselves and the world a dwelling place for G-d.


[1] Chumash. The Gutnick Edition, 619

[2] I will note that many of you have no problem killing an animal for its food. If you will kill an animal in order to satisfy your physical urge for food, certainly there is nothing wrong with killing an animal (which likely would have been eaten anyway) for the holy purpose of fulfilling G-d’s will.

[3] Chumash. The Gutnick Edition, 620

[4] Torah Studies. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, adaptions of talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, 151

[5] Living with Moshiach. Rabbi Immanuel Schochet, 80

[6] Torah Studies. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, adaptions of talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, 155

[7] Ibid., 153

[8] Ibid., 154

[9] Ibid., 153

Good Deeds Day! Register Today!

 

 

 

 

 

On Sunday, March 25 the Jewish community of Greater Washington will join thousands of volunteers from around the world in an international day of community service.

There are dozens of projects to choose from, and projects designated specifically for those in their 20s and 30s:

For a full list of volunteer sites, visit www.GoodDeedsDayGW.org.

Here’s a few we recommend:

 

 

 

 

New American Haggadah: A Review

I’ll confess that when I first picked up my copy of New American Haggadah, edited by Jonathan Safran Foer with translation by Nathan Englander, I was most excited to crack open another book with Jonathan Safran Foer’s name on the cover, and the fact that I was about to read through an actual haggadah was, well, secondary.  Up to this point, actually sitting down and opening up a haggadah outside the familiar parameters of the Passover table was a first for me.

Initially, I was skeptical.  Despite my documented love for Jonathan Safran Foer, as I flipped through the pages of the book, it looked to me like…just a haggadah. From the outside though, the book is not your run-of-the-mill haggadah in that it is large, hardcover, and more resembles a coffee table book than the flimsy pamphet of a Maxwell House haggadah that I grew up with.  This presents the logistical issue of how a copy of the large and in reality slightly cumbersome New American Haggadah could be provided to every attendee at the Passover table, or even every other attendee.  And this is not even considering the $29.99 a pop list price.  I plan to bring a copy home with me when I visit my parents’ house in Pennsylvania for the seders this year.  I can already envision the family using the Maxwell house pamphlets during the actual seder (beloved as they are) while the New American Haggadah takes its esteemed place…on the coffee table in the living room.

Logistical questions aside, as I started to read through the New American Haggadah, it became clear to me why this haggadah was special.  The English translation was simple and beautiful, and the text was laid out on the pages, sometimes more sparsely and sometimes more densely, in a way that was pleasing to the eye and that was almost zen-like.  In reading through the pages, the layout also provided something of a rhythm to the text, a clean and beautiful backdrop to the rituals of the seder embedded within.  I could quickly tell that reading this hagaddah was more of an experience than merely reading the text on the pages, that even went beyond the imagery of the Exodus from Egypt evoked by the text.  The actual layout of the book itself carries you on an independent experience and personal journey.   A high feat for a haggadah, if you think about it.

I went to hear Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander speak about the New American Haggadah project at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue this past Monday (and was probably accompanied by many of you, since the place was packed).  From their descriptions, I actually learned that much of the layout of the book was deliberate.  Something that stands out most when you read through the haggadah is the colorful, abstract, watercolor-looking patterns that are somehow fittingly interspersed throughout the pages.  The images aren’t so overwhelming that they detract from the seriousness of the seder, but are enough provide some backdrop of beauty to the important words on the page.

What I learned at the talk, though, was that what I thought to be abstract art on the pages actually is actually a depiction of Hebrew lettering throughout time.  Additionally, running along the top of each page is a timeline, starting with 1250-1200 BCE and running to the present, that chronicles how the story of the Exodus appears throughout history.  An interesting added dynamic, if you feel like turning the book sideways and reading the fine print.  I also learned that the time period of the colorful artistic text on the pages matches the date on the timeline running along the top.  Kinda cool.

A theme of the talk was that the New American Haggadah was created as an open space for the reader, the seder-goer, to engage in their own individual experience of the story of Passover, which is in effect an experience of the Exodus.  I already mentioned what the structure and layout of the haggadah itself managed to conjure up in the way of an individual journey.  But to me, what makes this haggadah truly different from – you know, all other haggadahs – are the pages of commentary that are sprinkled throughout the book and its seder story experience.  These pages, which highlight different aspects of the Passover story, including elements like “Kiddush,” “Poor Man’s Bread,” and “Ten Plagues,” are where the true meat of the haggadah lies.  Each series of pages of commentary – which are printed horizontally on vertical pages, in relatively digestible bites of wisdom – includes categories, the descriptions of which I learned from the talk: Nation, which addresses political questions; Library, which presents literary/psychological questions; House of Study, which brings the traditional Rabbinical perspective, and finally Playground, which is targeted toward younger readers.

These pages of commentary, for me, took the experience beyond just the book, beyond just the text, beyond the story itself, and even beyond my own personal experience in reading it.  The commentary more broadly raised important questions regarding the rituals that we perform on Passover, spirituality in general, the state of Jews in the world today, and other pressing and political world matters that can be related to the experience of the Jewish people in the story of Passover.  As an example, the first page of commentary describes the importance that Judaism places on laws, but then goes on to say that not all laws are holy, but rather must be tested to assess whether or not they conform to moral law.   In reading this, my mind immediately jumped to abhorrent laws that have existed over time – anti-miscegenation laws, for example, that in the (disturbingly recent) past in our country criminalized marriage between spouses of different races, and the current laws, or lack of laws, that prohibit gays and lesbians from legally marrying in most places in the US.  After my mind went on this civil rights tangent, I saw that, sure enough, the commentary included a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. (another moment when I realized that this haggadah was not your ordinary haggadah, and was actually pretty cool).  Part of the MLK quote, written from the Birmingham city jail, was “an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.  Any law that uplifts human personality is just.”

The point is, within its first 12 pages, the New American Haggadah had me looking and thinking outside the haggadah-box.  It had me contemplating basic questions about law and morality that both directly related to the Passover experience and also more broadly to my own personal experience and the world around me.  So, if you are someone who does not like to merely take the information that is fed to you at face value – in this case, the story of Passover and the seder rituals – but would rather put that information in context — personally, historically, and globally — then you should pick up a copy of the New American Haggadah.  Or, at the least, bring a copy to whoever hosts you for seder, understanding that it may or may not end up on their coffee table.  Then, when you are lounging after the large seder meal, flip through to the commentary and ask yourself the difficult questions about why we do what we do as Jews, as well as why that night is truly different from all other nights.