Jewish Guy of the Week – Seth

This is a picture of seth

Want to recommend an outstanding leader to be featured on GTJ? Nominate him/her at info@gatherdc.org.

Aaron: What brought you to DC?
Seth: I was brought to DC on the back of a giraffe named Jessica.  We trekked from the suburbs of Baltimore to DC in the summer of 2006.  Jessica and I walked to the doorstep of the George Washington University admissions office and she made the case for my acceptance to the school.  Jessica and I were roommates through all 4 years of college while I was earning a degree in religion and minoring in jazz studies and guitar performance.

Aaron: We heard you work with Jewish teenagers. What’s that like?
Seth: I do work with teenagers.  I am the professional staff for BBYO’s Northern Virginia Council.  I work with six BBYO chapters in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties.  It’s a lot of fun and very rewarding.  I love that a typical day at the office for me doesn’t involve putting on a tie or even socks and there is no such thing as the daily grind.  Every day is different and it’s a privilege to be able to work with teenagers who are inspired and excited by being Jewish.

223465_903190007874_3710423_nAaron: What is your favorite Jewish holiday?
Seth: My favorite Jewish holiday is Purim.  Any time we’re commanded to party in observance of a holiday, I’m on board.  I always have a great time celebrating Purim.  Ask me about the time I did Purim in Tel Aviv and couldn’t move my legs the next day sometime.  That’s a good story.

Aaron: Who is the coolest Jew?
Seth: The coolest Jew is Seth Gordon-Lipkin, but if I have to pick an alternate, I would say it’s Mel Brooks.  I’m a comedy fan and aspiring stand-up comic, so Mel has always been a major role model for me.  Mel Brooks has made some of the smartest and funniest movies of all time, so I sort of idolize the guy.

Aaron: Finish the sentence: When the Jews gather…
Seth: When the Jews gather… they’re all in the same place.  It makes playing hide and seek really difficult.

Jewish Girl of the Week – Shaina

IMG_0440Want to recommend an outstanding leader to be featured on GTJ? Nominate him/her at info@gatherdc.org.

Aaron: What brought you to DC?
Shaina: You mean how does a girl from LA end up here?  I still ask myself that…I actually came to DC last Fall for a job.  I was in Philly for my masters and then basically landed my dream job here.  You don’t say no to that.  DC it is!

Aaron: So you work for HIAS.  What kinds of things do they do?
Shaina
HIAS is a special organization in that it not only is a Jewish organization, but it is also the oldest migration aid agency in the world at more than 130 years old.  It has a super rich history of helping Jews fleeing persecution around the world find safety.  Over the last several years, as the population of Jewish refugees has thankfully decreased, HIAS has been able to continue to utilize its expertise by working with other non-Jewish refugees.  We do refugee resettlement in the United States as well as refugee protection internationally.  Our DC office does policy and advocacy work around things like the United States Refugee Admissions Program, immigration reform, and refugee integration.  Much of the Jewish community knows about HIAS, but often we are only associated with the resettlement of Jewish refugees, so one of our goals is to make sure people learn more about the work we’re doing on 5 continents with some of the most vulnerable populations in the world!  
You can learn more at www.hias.org/.

IMG_0798Aaron: I heard you like to travel.  Where have you been?
Shaina: Liking to travel is an understatement.  There is nothing like the thrill of adventure and immersion in another country, language, culture, etc. and seeing things you have learned about, and could only previously imagine, with your own eyes.  I’ve been really lucky in that I’ve been able to experience a lot of longer term travel including studying abroad in Ghana, backpacking through Latin America, volunteering in Israel, and doing research in India.

Aaron: What was your favorite experience abroad?
Shaina: That’s like asking what is my favorite thing to eat.  It’s basically impossible to say.  My most recent experience abroad was great, so I’ll just go with that for now…I did a research project in Kolkata, India for an international social work class.  The research was really fascinating and involved the collective identity of the members of a microbanking cooperative started by a union of sex workers.  Taking the class was also a great way to eat some of the most delicious food I’ve ever had and travel through a very colorful and culturally rich country.

Aaron: What is your favorite Jewish food?
Shaina: Round raisin Challah!  I love it so much that when I’m away for Rosh Hashana my wonderful mother will buy an extra and freeze for me to enjoy when I come home.

Aaron: Finish the sentence: When the Jews gather…
Shaina: When the Jews gather, I’m glad there’s good food!

Are You Destined to be an International Singing Sensation?

singingSo you can think you can sing (and you’re Jewish and between the ages of 18 and 30)?  Then prove it.  The Hallelujah-Global Jewish singing contest is now open, so submit your entry today.

Hallelujah is much more than a singing contest.  It is a 19 days program that takes young Jewish adults through a musical journey in Israel.  It’s like an American Idol with a twist of Birthright!  Hallelujah aims to reach Jewish populations spread around the world and unite them to Israel through one simple thing: Israeli music.

The Hallelujah 2012 Contest was a great success and the winner, Evan Malach from Canada, recorded a duet with a known Israeli singer, Dudu Fisher.  Take a quick look into the 2012 program in Israel watching the “Hallelu Hallujah” clip, featuring the 2012 participants, Evan Malach and Dudu Fisher.

To learn more, visit Hallelujah’s website, Facebook, or Youtube.

What in the World is That Noise? – Rabbi B. on this Week’s Torah Portion

EPSON scanner imageAn unassuming villager, who had never before seen or even heard of a train, once wandered out of town all the way to the edge of a large city.  In the village, people traveled on donkeys, and farmers used cows to plow their fields.  The very idea of large machines for transport or work was absolutely foreign.

As the villager came close to the city, he came across long rows of steel rods.  He couldn’t see the beginning nor the end of the rows.  Even more strange,  every couple of fee, there were these boards laying across the steel rods with these hug nails stuck into them.

The fellow stood for a moment to ponder his discovery, then, being tired from his journey, he decided to take a brief rest on these boards before returning home.  The man fell asleep.

After a short while a train was coming down the tracks.  As the train approached, the conductor noticed a person resting on the tracks and began to send warning signals.  He blew his whistle, rang his bell, and sounded any alarm he could possibly reach.  Finally, all the noise awoke the poor villager who was now perplexed as to where all of these sounds were coming from.  “Bells, whistles” he thought, “it sounds like a band.”  Then the man looked up and saw lots of lights coming at him from a distance.  The whole scene reminded the fellow of the village band and the special carriage used to escort a bride and groom on their wedding day.  “There must be a wedding coming my way” and our villager friend stood up and began to dance in the middle of the tracks.
Imagine the thoughts of a bystander watching the scene: Is this guy deaf?  Maybe he can’t hear the train coming his way?  The truth, is that he heard very well, he just didn’t know what he was listening too!

This week’s Torah portion tells us that Yitro heard all that happened to the Jews as they were leaving Egypt.  He was so inspired that he came to join the nation.  Why do we have to be told that Yitro heard?  He was not the only one that heard, in fact the whole world heard.  Yitro was just the only one who reacted.  Why?

The Torah is teaching us that even though the whole world heard about the miracles that had occurred, Yitro was the only person who was impacted because he was the only one listening and open to what he was hearing.  Yitro was a seeker of truth and when he heard it, he internalized the message and responded accordingly.

What a powerful message.  Every day of our lives we encounter “messages.”  God is constantly involved in our lives, and sometimes makes it loud and clear.  Sometimes the bells and whistles are even sounded.  Often though, we don’t even realize.  We go on with our lives as if nothing had happened at all.

The messages are loud and clear.  The question is: are we listening?

Chosen Ones: The Dinner Club

maniFor more info on the Craigslist post, check out this article on the Huffington Post.

A friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend showed me an ad they had seen on Craigslist titled “Seven Single White Jewish Males Looking to Host Seven Single Females for Shabbat Dinner.”  Now, I’m not one to actively seek out internet friends, but the contents of this particular ad were too funny/good to pass up.  So, duh I responded, duh I got picked, and duh I went. Only after the fact did I learn that the ad had gone viral, and the boys had received responses from all over the world.

I arrived at the designated meeting place to find confused looking girls who could only have also been respondents.  We look at each other, thinking we are about to meet our future husbands, make a friend or two, have dinner, or wind up dead and chopped up in a closet.  Either way, it will be a good story.

It was then that one of the seven single white Jewish males comes out with a ‘How to Talk to Girls’ book, and we know it’s going to be a memorable night.  He leads us to a room, where we find a beautifully set Shabbat dinner table, and I imagine the synchronized voices of Jewish mothers everywhere cooing, “Ooooh what menches!”  The boys take our coats to hang and one girl comments on mine.  “Thanks, it’s my Nana’s,” I say.  She smiles because she’s wearing her Nana’s too.  We sit boy girl boy girl.

Two boys are missing because one is sick and one has to work.  One girl doesn’t show.  I guess the prospect of getting chopped up into little (Jewish) pieces isn’t appealing to everyone?  We all have our differences.  But five boys and six girls is enough to dance the Hora.

I look around at the other ladies.  The “Chosen” of the “Chosen Ones.”  The “Sensational Six.”  The “Dinner Club.”  I am more excited to meet them than the boys.  They must have been handpicked for a reason, and I want to find out why.  Surrounded by strangers, but everyone is oddly familiar and I feel like I’m with family.  Awkwardness offset by flowing Manischewitz, and stomachs filled with challah, salmon, and guacamole (not in that order), the night goes swimmingly.

We talk about our backgrounds, how we found the ad (none of us had originally seen it on Craigslist), best case scenario for the night (this), worst case scenario (chopped up in a closet), and laugh and laugh.  Pass the Manischewitz please.  We share family stories and find that some of us know each other, some know family members of others, and some have mutual friends.  I’m not surprised: The Jewish community is small, and it makes me feel at home in a city I am new to.

The dinner continues with stories, games and even a dreidel, and the theme of the night is: Weird that this is so normal.  TOO normal.  Waiting for someone to break out the strip twister while blasting klezmer, but it never happens.  Pass the Manischewitz please.  We bond in the unique experience, but it is clear no one is actually seeking a date.  We stay past 1am and wonder why the ad got the reception it did.  Was it a Jewish thing?  Was it a DC thing?  Was it a DC Jewish thing?  Whatever it was, it feels like a double mitzvah.  The night winds down.  One more glass of Manischewitz please.

So while I did not meet my Jewish husband, friends were still made and information was exchanged.  This is a night we will always have and remember and it made me grateful to be Jewish, but even more grateful for Craigslist.

PS. The “Sensational Six” women have since been invited to a SECOND dinner by an entirely different group of six men that will happen sometime in February.  Updates to come.

The story continues! Read Part II here.

The Shabbat Service Game Changer @ Adas Israel

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAReturn Again to Shabbat.  Nearly four hundred spiritual seekers descended on Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, DC this past Friday night for a new kind of Jewish experience.  It was a Shabbat service – with a twist.  The ritual team at Adas Israel called the service Return Again to Shabbat.  It was modeled on Adas Israel’s highly successful outdoor Yom Kippur evening service, which hosted over 600 people this past year on the front plaza of the 143 year-old synagogue.  It was a reflective, musical High Holy Day “journey,” which the community has been demanding more of ever since.  Using this inventive new model and a combination of reflective music, eastern sounds, and an enormous Israeli tapas-style feast, Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt and Elie Greenberg of Adas Israel have left their mark on what it means to create a community Shabbat experience within a conventional synagogue setting.

Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, is historically marked by the treasured traditions of singing a series of psalms, the lighting of candles, and the eating of Challah bread.  This service took all of the successful ingredients of a standard Jewish Shabbat experience and added a new spice: just a touch of “soul.”  Rabbi Holtzblatt and Elie Greenberg of Adas Israel led the service with seating in-the-round and featured a group of seasoned musicians.  They employed reflective music, eastern sounds, and meditative remarks to infuse the service with modern meaning and spirituality.  The goal was to bring the DC Jewish community together for a profound and moving experience, while providing something easily accessible for Jewish beginners.

“We want to use the experience of Shabbat to make deep meaningful connections to each other as a community,” says Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt.  “We seek to provide an engaging environment in which our 4,000 year old traditions can come alive and the community can use them to find personal significance within a modern context.”

This innovative new Shabbat experience was the first of its kind for a large, conventional synagogue like Adas Israel.  The clergy, staff, and board of directors embraced it with open arms and see it as the first of many new and engaging programs of the Adas Israel Vision of Renewal – a multi-million dollar building and programming renovation aimed at changing the experience of synagogue life in the 21st century.

“I am so proud of the creative team behind the Return Again Shabbat service,” says Adas Israel Senior Rabbi Gil Steinlauf.  “There was a profound feeling of warmth and unity in the room.  I looked out at almost 400 hundred individuals who had all braved a cold and snowy DC night to come and rejoice with us in the power of Shabbat.  It felt like a congregation should; there were representatives from every community within our community: Hundreds of Young Professionals singing and feasting side-by-side with senior members, parents with young children, and everyone and anyone in between.”

On an average Friday night, most Young Professionals in Washington, DC can be found making their way to a bar or a club.  However, the buzz around this Shabbat service began weeks before it debuted.  It was the conversation of all the local community calendars and Social Media waves.  And the results were plain: More than half of the attendees of this unique Shabbat experience were in their twenties and thirties.  Partnering with the Jewish Mindfulness Center of Washington and Shabbat Hoppin’ – a Jewish Federation sponsored program for Birthright Alumni, Adas Israel continued to demonstrate leadership in the area of young people’s engagement by creating something new, rather than repeating something stale.

The implication is that rather than seeking to water down Jewish tradition in order to reach an under-served demographic, the staff of Adas Israel have put their creative minds together to build a series of authentic bridges into the community, so that each person can carve for themselves their own unique place within the synagogue and with Jewish practice itself.

“Engaging this next generation of Jewish Young Professionals is no easy task, and yet Adas Israel has risen to the challenge beautifully,” says synagogue President Johanna Chanin. “DC Young Professionals take leadership positions on building musical experiences, community-led holiday services, happy hours, and personal connections to the clergy and staff at Adas Israel. They have even developed a $99 full membership plan for people under the age of thirty – a first for any large conventional Jewish institution.”

Despite declining numbers in religious affiliation in America, general research indicates that cohorts of all generations are indeed seeking a deeper level of connection to their Jewish identity, and even their sense of Jewish spirituality. Adas Israel’s Jewish meditation sessions and yoga, new learning experiences, re-renovated worship spaces, and spiritually elevating Shabbat services like Return Again are all key components in the process of providing something just a touch off-center, new, and engaging for an emerging generation of Jews.

Adas Israel, a historic Jewish landmark for the nation’s capital, with its acceptance of musical holiday services, interfaith families, LGBT marriages, and mindful spiritual practices, is amongst the first prominent, American, Conservative synagogues to take these important initiatives to rebuild a currently dwindling population of affiliated Jews.

Return Again is a service that will likely go down in modern Jewish history as a game-changer for the Conservative movement’s understanding of what a congregational experience is. All signs point to it as step one on a path towards the renewal of the American Jewish community in the 21st century.

GTJ Satirist Brian F. – Were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Jewish?

turtlesSociologists and Rabbis around the world are beginning to question whether the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were Jewish.  The jury is still out, but draw your own conclusions from the evidence below:

Evidence that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were Jewish:
They lived in New York.
They all wore headwear.
They all had weapons, yet none owned a gun.
They took wisdom from an elder who told long drawn-out stories and was covered in facial hair.
They ordered pizza but never seemed to order pepperoni.
They did pro-bono work for the good of their neighbors.
They had the hots for a redheaded shicksa from the local news.
With names like Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo—they were all named after a person from antiquity who lived on the shores of the Mediterranean.
They’re already showing signs of balding.
One of them was vilified throughout the film for making bad jokes.
The purple one was into science, the blue one was a born leader, the orange one was a goofy jokester that laughed at his own jokes, and the red one was a nebbish complainer.

Evidence that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were NOT Jewish:
They never talked about their Mom.
They always were getting into physical fights—and encouraged to do so by their caretaker.
They didn’t live in the Upper West Side, rather a low-rent shithole in the sewer.
They still ate pizza on passover.
Have you ever met a Jew that says “cowabunga”?
They were in their teens and never mentioned their Bar Mitzvahs.
They’re boys and they can dance.
None of their names are Dovid, Moshe, Yoni, or Judah.
They did most of their work after sundown.
None of em ever got laid.
They never used profanity.
There is indisputable video evidence of them doing Buddhist meditation.
No evidence of excessive chest hair.
They never ventured into the Bergen County New Jersey suburbs, Long Island, or Brooklyn.
They never mentioned summer camp in the Poconos.
They’re turtles.

What do you think?  Tell us in the comments!

Brian Fishbach is a comedian, writer, political satirist, former GTJ JGOTW, and musician specializing in social and political commentary.  You can read Brian’s weekly satire news articles at www.TheComedyNews.com, and enjoy his late-night jokes at www.BrianFishbach.com.  Join The Comedy News’ Facebook page for updates.

GTJ’s Satirist Brian F.- 13-year-old 21st Century Celebrates Bar Mitzvah Last Weekend

barmCHARLOTTE, NC – (@The Comedy News) – Shortly after turning 13-years-old on January 1st, the 21st Century was called to the Torah as a Bar Mitzvah on Saturday.

Sporting a blue Yamaka, his father’s Talit, and the most adorable case of teenage acne, 21st Century led a beautiful service and gave a heartfelt Bar Mitzvah torah portion sermon.

“This was a huge thrill for me”, said the 21st Century after the ceremony.  “I always dreaded turning 13, ya know, because I have stage fright.  And learning Hebrew was no cake walk either, especially having to go to Hebrew school two days a week with all of my rambunctious pals.”

The theme for the 21st Century’s Bar Mitzvah was “Time Flies”.  The tables for the luncheon were themed with time travel-based films and books.  21st Century sat at the “Back to the Future” table, while his parents and grandparents sat at the HG Wells “The Time Machine” table.

A rumor went around that the Bar Mitzvah boy’s ‘obligated invites table’ (commonly known as the “reject table”) was the “Groundhog Day” table.  This came as a surprise since 21st Century’s sister and her atheist fiance sat at the “Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure” table.  Apparently, the atheist fiance complained about the perils of organized religion the entire time, alienating everyone within shouting distance.

21st Century’s obnoxious Aunt and Uncle were seen complaining about how the food was not served fast enough, and then spent the remainder of the luncheon estimating how much money the entire Bar Mitzvah likely cost 21st Century’s family.  Estimates were as low as $24.53 and as high as $34,000.

At the dance party later that evening, 21st Century and all of his friends rocked out to some of the following songs:

“1999” — Prince
“Time After Time” — Cyndi Lauper
“Back in Time” — Huey Lewis and the News
*****”I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” — Aerosmith
“Back in Time” — Pitbull
“Dick in a Box” — Justin Timberlake
“Gangnam Style” — Psy
“Some Nights” — fun.

Nobody slow danced except for 21st Century’s older sister and her atheist fiance.

Brian Fishbach is a comedian, writer, political satirist, former GTJ JGOTW, and musician specializing in social and political commentary.  You can read Brian’s weekly satire news articles at www.TheComedyNews.com, and enjoy his late-night jokes at www.BrianFishbach.com.  Join The Comedy News’ Facebook page for updates.

Aaron W. to Become GTJ’s New President

AaronOn January 28th, Aaron Wolff will become GTJ’s new President.

Gather the Jews would not be where it is today without the hard work, dedication, and entrepreneurial savvy of Stephen Richer.  As many of you know, Stephen left DC in August to begin law school at the University of Chicago (read his goodbye here).  Law school, coupled with some exciting new projects in Chicago, made devoting time to GTJ difficult for Stephen.

Stephen- thank you for your tireless support for the DC Jewish community and Gather the Jews.  We wish you all the best.

If you have any questions concerning the future of GTJ, please contact Aaron (aaron@gatherdc.org) or Rachel G. (rachelg@gatherdc.org).

Gather on!

Jewish Guy of the Week – Mike

photo 4Want to recommend an outstanding leader to be featured on GTJ? Nominate him/her at info@gatherdc.org.

Aaron: What brought you to DC?
Mike: I came to DC in 1997 from Long Island to attend The George Washington University where I studied information systems.  I got sucked into DC life and have been here ever since!

Aaron: What is your favorite thing about the DC Jewish community?
Mike: I appreciate the sheer number of young adults who are involved in various programs.  The DC Jewish community has so much to offer – there is programming out there for everyone – whether it’s my involvement with GLOE or Federation – we’ve really created an inclusive environment where everyone is welcome.   I really enjoy meeting new people and building long-lasting relationships.  I have been surrounded by Jews my entire life and living in DC enables me to continue this trend.

Aaron: What Jewish organizations are you involved in?
Mike: I have really enjoyed my involvement with The Jewish Federation.  As a child, I attended Young Judaea, a Zionist youth movement and summer camp.  From that, I built a strong connection to Israel.  I am able to use that to power my work at The Federation by participating on various boards: I am currently the Chair of Israel Engagement and served as the Campaign Chair for Young Leadership last year.

Mike and Eva

Mike and Eva

Aaron: Who is the coolest Jew?
Mike: I’m going to have to say Eva Davis.  Eva has been a lifelong friend of mine from the days of summer camp.  In 2008, she invited me to go to Super Sunday with her.  It was my first Federation event, and I had a great time.  We made phone calls to potential donors and I learned about a Young Leadership trip to Moscow that was coming up.  Within the week I had signed up to join Federation on the mission to Moscow.  When I got back from the trip, I decided to get involved with Federation.  This year, I am a co-chair of Super Sunday, which is on February 3 at the DCJCC from 12-3.  I am really excited that I can help make the day a huge success by encouraging everyone (including YOU!) to join us!

Aaron: Where can we find you on a Friday night?
Mike: I usually work pretty long hours during the week. Come Friday night, I like to sneak in a game of fetch with my dog Effie before hosting some friends for a Shabbat dinner or headed out to one of their homes for the same.

Aaron: Finish this sentence: When the Jews gather…
Mike: When the Jews gather on Super Sunday, we are able to reach thousands of community members who can make a difference locally, in Israel and around the world.  Be sure to join me on Sunday, February 3 at the DCJCC.  Register now at shalomdc.org/supersunday to help us get a TOUCHDOWN for The Federation!