Are you a Birthright alumni? Birthright NEXT will help you host a Passover seder!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABirthright NEXT is providing some great resources to help you host your own seder!

Been on a Birthright Israel trip?  Celebrate Passover by hosting a NEXT Passover Seder for your friends.  NEXT will give you everything you need, including delicious recipes, up to $10 per person to help cover the cost of food, and a guide to customizing your own traditions.  Sign up today: Passover Your Way.

Even if you’re not a Birthright alumni, there are still great resources on the NEXT website that you can take advantage of.  Check them out here.

GTJ interviewed one of the organizers of the World’s Largest Shabbat Dinner!

The Most Interesting Jew in the World - Screenshot of fundraising clip for White City Shabbat's Guinness World's Largest Shabbat Dinner in theme of Dos Equis beer commercial. Photo credit: courtesy of White City Shabbat

The Most Interesting Jew in the World – Screenshot of fundraising clip for White City Shabbat’s Guinness World’s Largest Shabbat Dinner in theme of Dos Equis beer commercial. Photo credit: courtesy of White City Shabbat

 

As part of White City Shabbat, Victoria is one of the organizers of the World’s Largest Shabbat Dinner!  Learn more about the Shabbat dinner here.

Rachel: We heard that before you lived in Israel, you were living in DC.  What brought you to DC?

Victoria: I moved to DC in 2011 to get my masters in public administration at George Washington University.

Rachel: Why did you decide to move to Israel?

Victoria: I had come to Israel a few times since I graduated high school, once on a family mission trip in 2005 & once with my mom on a women’s mission in 2011, and both experiences were great but very centered on site seeing and learning about the history of Israel.  When I came to Israel on Taglit in 2012 on a DC community Shorashim bus, the trip had an element of self-reflection that I had never experienced on a previous trip to Israel.  I was forced to confront questions like “What does Israel mean to you?” and “What do you want your relationship with Israel to be?” and when I thought about those and other topics I realized that 10 days was not enough for me to answer those questions satisfactorily.  On the last day of Birthright we were given a presentation about coming back to Israel on Masa and I filled out a card saying that I was interested in possibly returning for a longer Israel experience.

A few months passed and as I was entering my last semester of my master’s degree and trying to decide what I was going to do when I graduated I received a phone call from a Masa representative asking if I was still interested in coming back to Israel.  The call couldn’t have come at a better time and I made the decision that if I was ever going to explore my relationship with Judaism and Israel by living in the Jewish homeland, now was the time. 

Rachel: What is White City Shabbat?

Victoria: White City Shabbat is the portal for Jewish Life in Tel Aviv.  Bringing the concept of Shabbat dinner parties to a wider community, the organization hosts its own private, warm, welcoming, all-inclusive Shabbat meals every month.  White City Shabbat also hosts holiday celebrations and meals, Jewish learning series, beginners learning minyan, and inter-community programming.  To learn more about White City Shabbat visit www.WhiteCityShabbat.com.

Rachel: How did you get involved in White City Shabbat?

WCS logo (1)Victoria: White City Shabbat is one of many programs operated by a nonprofit organization called the Am Yisrael Foundation, which is where I worked as an intern during my Masa program.

While I was doing research on different Masa programs I reached out to a friend of mine, Natalie Solomon, who had made Aliyah recently and was volunteering with a passionate team of young professionals to form new nonprofit organization, the Am Yisrael Foundation, that actually had an intern at the time from one of the programs I was looking into.  After talking with Natalie and learning more about the great group of people she works with and the work they do to build community for the young-professional international community in Tel Aviv, I knew that going on Career Israel and interning with AYF was the right fit for me.

I feel so lucky that I was recruited for this position because it’s given me a chance to see Tel Aviv through the lens of passionate, highly motivated young pioneers who are working tirelessly to improve the city and the community that we’ve chosen to call home.  Even though my internship ended almost 2 months ago, I decided to continue volunteering with the Am Yisrael Foundation and helping them attempt the world record for the World’s Largest Shabbat Dinner.

Rachel: What motivated WCS to host the largest Shabbat dinner ever?

Victoria: It’s actually a funny story, no one really knows who exactly came up with the idea.  People within our organization had been playing around for a while with different ideas to inspire Jewish unity with some type of global Jewish communal effort and that is where the idea to attempt a Guinness World Record came from.  White City Shabbat and Am Yisrael Foundation are led by passionate young professionals who devote their free time to run these programs & we wanted a way to involve Jews from around the world in the incredible work that we’re doing.

Rachel: Who are you expecting to attend the dinner?

Victoria: We expect a lot of diversity in the event’s attendees.  At White City Shabbat we believe that Shabbat is the cornerstone of the Jewish faith and as such has the power to bring people together.  Furthermore, because of its unique demographics of so many young professionals, its mix of immigrants and natives who are both religious and secular, and its overarching atmosphere of openness and inclusivity, Tel Aviv is the perfect city to host an event of this magnitude.

Rachel: When you’re not at the world’s largest Shabbat, where can you be found on a typical Friday night?

Victoria: Since I’ve been living in Israel for the last 6 months, I feel so fortunate that I’m able to celebrate Shabbat with my friends every week.  In the Olim (new immigrant) community here in Tel Aviv we have a saying that your friends are your family, since many of us do not have family living in Israel or if we do they’re far away, and I’ve definitely been living by that statement since I got here.  Every week I either go to a friend’s apartment or to a White City Shabbat event for dinner, and, wherever I am, I know that Shabbat dinner will be filled with people that I love expressing their gratitude and happiness that we are together in Tel Aviv, in the homeland of the Jewish people, being able to share in the beauty of Shabbat.

Rachel: Who is the coolest Jew?

Victoria: I’d have to say my mom.  She converted after she married my dad & even though she wasn’t raised Jewish she embodies Jewish values, like Tikkun Olam & Tzedakah, more than anyone else I know & has inspired me to try and do the same.

Rachel: Finish the sentence: When the Jews gather…

Victoria: we can change the world!

Catch a Date with “Email Bait” – – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (No. 86)

heartbaitDo you ever come across a profile that you like, you want to send a message, and then you have a strong bout of writer’s block?  It turns out you’re not alone.

Many people have no idea what to say in an initial online dating email (or text, if we’re talking about apps) to show someone that they have an interest in communicating and potentially meeting.  For this reason, it’s best to give these potential suitors (or suitoresses?) one more thing to comment about.  In other words, provide them with some “email bait.”

In my old JDate profile (LovesLifeDC), I had a photo of myself singing the National Anthem.  I got almost daily emails asking where I was singing and how I got the gig.  (Answers: A Washington Nationals game.  A good demo and a lot of persistence.  It was one of the best nights of my life… until I almost ran out of gas on the way home.  I’ll save that story for a rainy day.)  This picture alone gave men the “in” they needed to strike up a conversation with me.

Other examples of some of my clients’ interesting pictures have been:

  • A woman playing ice hockey in full gear
  • A guy dressed as a clown since he performs for children every Sunday
  • A woman climbing a tree at a winery
  • A guy singing with a mariachi band
  • A woman posing next to a sign saying “Completely Nuts” (Oh wait – that was me again!)

As a side note, I think I can speak for most of my fair gender when I say that we don’t care how big the fish you caught was.  Compensating for something, perhaps? 🙂

To show a real-life example, I’m going to use a photo of yours truly:

erika1

This picture, while fine, is not really showing anything special.

Now, let’s look at this one:

erika2

This picture instead shows me performing with Story League, something I like to do to get my creative juices flowing.  (I’m actually performing tomorrow night in the “Sticky” contest.)  It could easily generate questions like:

  • Where are you speaking? (Busboys & Poets)
  • Do you do that often? (Every month or two)
  • What was that particular story about? (A text message gone awfully wrong)
  • Do you always wear glasses? (If you want me to see you from far away!)

These two pictures were taken the exact same night, but one would do much better online.

The moral: Many people have no idea what to say in the initial email, so give them something easy to comment about, or “email bait.”

erika ettin-49381 Cropped (1)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.

 

 

 

Jewish Guy of the Week – Max

max1Want to recommend an outstanding leader to be featured on GTJ? Nominate him/her at info@gatherdc.org.

Rachel: Aren’t you the pickle guy?
Max: You know what?  I’m sick of everyone saying, “you’re the pickle guy, you’re the pickle guy”.  I’m so much more as a person than the stupid pickle contests I win.  I’m also the yogurt guy.

Rachel: What brought you to DC, Yogurt Guy?
Max: I was living in Atlanta and thinking: this town could use more healthcare policy debates at happy hour, 400 lb. matching t-shirt tourists on segways, defunct escalators, and snowpocalypses (sp?).  So I moved for those reasons and for a job.  But mostly for those reasons.

 

max2Rachel: You look familiar…have we seen your face on the metro?  What was that about?
Max: That was indeed my big Hebrew shnauze poking into your morning metro commute courtesy of Masa Israel.  Masa is one of the Jewish organizations I volunteer with in DC helping to bring people to Israel for work, study, and internships.  And for some reason, they decided to put my face in your faces as an ad and a video (with a slow walk!).  I don’t know how effective the ad was for Masa, but it definitely increased Metro’s revenue from myself alone after I started riding the train 13 times more often.  And now, at least some people call me “the poster guy”.

Rachel: Ok, Poster Guy, what do you do and what else do you do in the community?
Max: Professionally, I’m a research director for a small national security focused think tank.  Community-wise, in addition to the DC Masa Board, I’m a founding member of HaLev Israel and a HaLev scholar, an Alumni Leadership Mission trip participant to Israel, an RJC Young Leader, an Impact 2013 Committee member, a Charter Member of DC Federal City Rotary, have held DC fundraisers for the Rett Syndrome Foundation and Michael J. Fox Foundation (Team Fox), and will soon launch a Jewish young professionals brunch series.  I don’t have any net worth yet beyond my 1996 Nissan so I volunteer my time for pretty much any good cause whenever I’m not traveling (which is often).

max3Rachel: What is your favorite Jewish food?
Max: Meat’s a food right?  All of those – all of the Jewish meats.  Corned beef, pastrami, brisket, shwarma… Shwarma’s Jewish, right?  Or did I just get a fatwa?

Rachel: Who is the coolest Jew?
Max: Mike Katz.  If I were stranded on a desert island and could only bring one thing with me, without even blinking an eye, it would be Mike Katz.

Rachel: Finish the sentence: When the Jews gather…
Max: Mike Katz must be signing autographs.

 

 

 

Masa Israel Featured Internship: International Middle East Journalist, The Media Line

Intern will work with The Media Line staff in establishing story-lines and topics as well as researching and writing news and feature stories.

The Media Line promotes accuracy among regional journalists. This is a unique non-profit news organization established to enhance and balance media coverage in the Middle East, promote independent reporting in the region, and break down barriers to understanding in the Arab and Israeli journalism communities. The mission is to provide credible, unbiased content, background and context to local media outlets throughout the Middle East and around the world, including the United States, Canada, Europe and Australasia.

In addition to its own reporting, which reaches millions of news consumers daily, TML promotes accuracy and fairness among other regional journalists by designing and implementing ongoing educational, training and dialogue-building projects.

http://www.interninisrael.org/international-middle-east-journalist-media-line/

Mitzvah Maker – Josh

josh1Want to recommend an outstanding leader to be featured on GTJ? Nominate him/her at info@gatherdc.org.

Rachel: What brought you to DC?
Josh: Work brought me here, but having previously lived on the beaches of South Florida, Tel Aviv, and Sydney I didn’t expect to stay long.  Almost three years later I’m still here and loving everything about this city: the young vibrant community, rooftop bars on U St, running by the monuments on the Mall, instagraming everything through pretentious filters with mildly clever captions, and gathering with the Jews.

Rachel: You work on the Hill.  Can you tell us more about that?
Josh: I do Foreign Policy for Congresswoman Lois Frankel who represents the Southeast Florida coast from Palm Beach down to Ft. Lauderdale.  She sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and its Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa so I’ve been keeping busy lately: Iran, Syria, Egypt, Ukraine…and Kings Landing.

josh2Rachel: What’s your favorite thing about DC?
Josh: The mild and consistent weather patterns.

Rachel: What’s your favorite way to spend Shabbat?
Josh: Shabbat dinner with friends and family, Saturday afternoon football at Meridian Hill Park, capped off with picklebacks at American Ice Co. and a show at 9:30 Club.

Rachel: What is your favorite Jewish food?
Josh: Kosher chicken nuggets from the kids table at Bar Mitzvahs you’re too old to be at.

Rachel: Who is the coolest Jew?
Josh: It’s a tie between Tim Cohen, the Senior VP of Hillel who cares more about the Jewish world than anyone I know, and Mila Kunis… because come on.  Honorable mention goes to the rest of my family and to Drake… because HYFR.

Rachel: You’re the Events Chair for JNFuture. What is JNFuture. Can you tell us more about that?
Josh: Come to Local 16 Thursday, April 3rd and you’ll find out for yourself!!  (Facebook page / Register here).  In a nutshell, JNFuture is a young professionals group in DC that engages the next generation of leaders committed to supporting Israel.  Whether its building rocket-proof playgrounds for kids in Israel’s south, developing water infrastructure in the desert, supporting centers for the region’s mentally ill, or planting trees, we can have a tangible impact on Israel’s future through JNFuture.

Jewish Guy of the Week – Ethan

Ethan Merlin 2Want to recommend an outstanding leader to be featured on GTJ? Nominate him/her at info@gatherdc.org.

Rachel: What brought you to DC?
Ethan: Let x = the reason I came to DC. I’ll spare you the algebra, but in short, x equals “to teach kids math,” which has always been my dream job. I’ve been teaching for 12 years now.

Rachel: We heard you founded two independent minyanim in DC- that’s so cool!. Can you tell us more?
Ethan: I didn’t set out to become a “minyantrepreneur,” but my wife and I have twice had the opportunity to help create Jewish communities we wanted to be a part of. You may want to be part of them, too: Tikkun Leil Shabbat is a fully egalitarian Friday night community which gathers in the Dupont area for a songful, soulful Shabbat service followed by a teaching about a social justice issue and an awesome veggie potluck. Minyan Segulah is a traditional egalitarian community in the Shepherd Park neighborhood that meets many Saturday mornings for songful services and veggie potluck lunch. Both are meeting for Purim this week. Click here and here for details!

Ethan Merlin & Herry Monster -- I'm the one on the left (1)Rachel: We heard you’re a muppets appreciator…what does that mean?
Ethan: The rumor is true. The Muppets are like the ultimate havurah: lots of crazy personalities but they look out for each other, make bad puns, and channel life’s chaos into some great song and dance numbers.

Rachel: What is your favorite Jewish food?
Ethan: I’m from New England and love maple syrup, so for the first year after our wedding, my wife and I dipped our challah in maple cream (whipped maple syrup) instead of the traditional honey.

Rachel: Who is the coolest Jew?
Ethan: My favorite Jew changes all the time. It’s whoever most recently did something to help sustain our grassroots Jewish communities, whether it was arriving on time, leading services, bringing a tasty potluck dish, or washing dishes.

Rachel: Finish the sentence: When the Jews gather…
Ethan: …the babka disappears.

#PurimNotPrejudice: It’s about you, me, and every single Jew in our diverse community

purimnotprejudice6Hi, I’m MaNishtana.

You might know me from my blogs, book (Thoughts From A Unicorn), videos, website or any other newspaper or magazine appearance I’ve made over the past five years.  I don’t say this to portray myself as a big deal.  I say this to in fact to prove the opposite: Despite all the above you probably DON’T know who I am.  Because I’m not particularly a big deal. I’m just a guy who sees something and says something.

It is with this approach on social issues in Judaism that I recently founded The Shivtei Jeshurun Society for the Advancement of Jewish Racial & Ethnic Diversity, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting awareness of and equality for Jews of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.  The organization’s first public project was the #PurimNotPrejudice campaign, a pledge to consider the costume choices we made this Purim and every Purim from this  year forward, and to not cross the line into offending other cultures, such as dressing in stereotypical or derogatory garb representing a people.  Or—as is most personally resonant with me—dressing in blackface.

Jews tend to forget, or not even consider the fact, that Judaism is not a “Whites Only” sort of boys’ club, and that some costume choices run the risk not only of offending other cultures, but also of offending other Jews.  Which is ironic, as the Purim story is telling of the salvation of the Jewish communities which existed in Ahaseurus’ provinces from India to Ethiopia, not, for example, from Germany to Poland.  We found our campaign to be a noble goal to stem the corruption of religious observance with racially offensive themes.

However, apparently some people saw #PurimNotPrejudice not as the educational awareness tool it was meant to be, but instead as a campaign to point the finger, shame, and embarrass those who may have dressed in offensive ways in the past.  Let’s be clear: That’s not what this campaign was about.

There was an incident last year involving a leaked picture of a politician and a sensitive costume choice, and subsequent statements of racial insensitivity by Jewish public figures actually sparked the conversations and discussions that led to the eventual creation of the Shivtei Jeshurun Society, with the purpose to educate not only Jewish communities, but non-Jewish ethnic communities as well, to the racial and ethnic diversity which exists in Judaism.  This mission was at the heart of the #PurimNotPrejudice campaign.

This past Wednesday, the SJS received a voicemail questioning whether the #PurimNotPrejudice campaign was “a Purim spiel or a real organization”.  Since the SJS is always open to respectful dialogue, I myself returned the call, and was greeted with a barrage of questions and comments regarding the nature of blackface, instances when blackface is offensive, if there are specific ways that make-up has to be applied in order for it to count as blackface, and so on.

This is it.  This is what our organization has been created to do—take an opportunity to unravel an interaction like this and get to the bottom of the issue, to take this interaction from one-on-one settings to a national conversation.

#PurimNotPrejudice was not about any one person or any one event, or any one Purim costume or any one community.  #PurimNotPrejudice was about Purim, and about the Jewish community as a whole, in its entirety, with all its diverse faces and experiences.

This campaign was about using sensitivity to observe a holiday which largely exists because of the results of a lack of sensitivity.

After all, the Jews went to Ahaseurus’ party where the serving vessels were ransacked from the destroyed First Temple, yet couldn’t understand why G-d might take offense that they partook of the feast.  Ahaseurus ordered his wife Vashti to appear naked before his guests, but didn’t get why she might be offended.  Haman wore an idol around his neck and got furious when Mordechai didn’t bow to him, instead of seeing how his choice of clothing might be religiously insensitive to someone who doesn’t bow to idols.

So to celebrate such a holiday through the use of costumes that disregard the feelings of others—and especially to shrug criticism off with careless “It’s just fun” kind of statements—is counter-intuitive.

Now, the SJS understands that some people might genuinely be unaware of how their costume might offend or impact people.  And so #PurimNotPrejudice was here not to shame them or embarrass them, but to take the opportunity to inform them.  After all, a Shylock costume wouldn’t fly and a Nazi costume would be absolutely out of the question at a Halloween party, right?

We hope you enjoyed the Chag, and that you continue to support our future campaigns!

MaNishtana is the Executive Director of The Shivtei Jeshurun Society for the Advancement of Jewish Racial & Ethnic Diversity.

You can see the pledge here and view the campaign FAQs here.

Masa Israel Featured Internship: News Content Analyst, Wibbitz

You will take part in the revolution of news consumption and will join the Wibbitz content team. You should be passionate about the news industry and have wide area of interests in news, politics, finance, sports and entertainment.

Responsibilities include finding trends in world news researching for specific events, analysis of Wibbitz clips, collaborating on content for Wibbitz platform, assisting in quality assurance when needed, and being an active participant in Wibbitz Happy Hour.

Wibbitz is a technology startup aiming to change the way we consume information on mobile devices. Wibbitz automatically re-packages textual content into rich and informative video summaries that can be watched conveniently on mobile screens, at home or on the go. Wibbitz is very cool and young company located in the heart of Tel Aviv.

Jewish Girl of the Week – Molly

OKT_2013 234 (2)Want to recommend an outstanding leader to be featured on GTJ? Nominate him/her at info@gatherdc.org.

Rachel: What brought you to DC?
Molly: DC is where the action is. Oh and the monuments: I get very patriotic and giddy when I see them.

Rachel: You spent the past two years in Budapest. What was that like?
Molly: Amazing. Budapest is incredibly beautiful and underrated. It’s stunning but is also a little rough around the edges which I like. On one hand Starbucks and McDonald’s have popped up everywhere but on the other hand you still see buildings with bullet holes from the 1950s.

Rachel: You also lived in Buenos Aires. Can you tell us about the Jewish community there?
Molly: From what I experienced, the Jewish community in Buenos Aires is thriving. After terrorist attacks on a Jewish community center and the Israeli Embassy there in the early 90s, security is strict and they don’t take anything for granted.

Summer 2013 in America 525 (2)Rachel: Where can we find you on a Friday night?
Molly: Having a low-key Shabbat dinner at a friend’s house or hitting up what I call the DC Shabbat Circuit: Shabbat dinner and services geared towards young professionals at different synagogues, or in the case of my favorite “Metro Minyan” services are held in a church. I’ve met some of my closest friends here through The Circuit.

Rachel: What is your favorite Jewish holiday?
Molly: After Shabbat I’d say Passover. Going through those plagues is the best.

Rachel: Who is the coolest Jew?
Molly: Jon Stewart. But my brother is a close second.

Rachel: Finish the sentence: When the Jews gather…
Molly: They kvetch and kibitz