From K Street to the Knesset – Pt 1:  Zionism Today and Into Tomorrow

[Editor’s Note] Jason Langsner, one of our community members and bloggers, shares his perspective on Zionism today, and his experience at the American Zionist Movement Conference this past November. The views and opinions expressed in his blog post are not necessarily representative of GatherDC, and we welcome readers to share their thoughts in the comments section, or to reach out to Jason to dialogue further at jason.langsner@gmail.com.

It is the year of chai (18) – of life – so let us all hope that 2018 is the year that a just and lasting peace is found between the Israeli people and the Palestinian people.

Some signs point to optimism, such as the recent behind-the-scene actions of Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in how they’re approaching a new peace plan with the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership.  Other signs point to continued pessimism, such as how the PA and United Nations reacted to President Donald Trump recognizing Jerusalem as the capitol at the end of 2017, that such a peace will not be found this year.

GatherDC readership, the broader Washington Jewish community, the American Jewish community, and the Jewish diaspora as a whole are not a monolith.  We each have different opinions on whether a just and lasting peace can be met between the Israeli people and the Palestinian people this year (or at all).

We are all individuals, who may be tall or short.  Our hair and eyes are different colors.  Our faith in Judaism may be self-identified as Conservative, Traditional, Reform, Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Secular, non-practicing, or other.  We may be Sephardic.  We may be Mizrahi.  We may be Ashkenazi.  We may not be Jewish, by birth, but we identify with aspects of Judaism or Jewish culture.  We may not be Jewish, by birth, but a spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend/partner may be and we want to be supportive.  Or we may have converted…

We are all individuals.

Some of us will be attending the AIPAC Policy Conference in March.

Others will be avoiding it and attending the J Street National Convention in April.

Some may be at both.  Others at neither.  And some reading this blog may not know what AIPAC or J Street stand for as organizations.  If you’ve gotten this far in the blog, I can tell you now, that I’m not going to be telling you about either advocacy group or how they are perceived to be different within their organizations or from outside of them.

What I am happily willing to talk about is about my feelings about Zionism, what Zionism means to me today, and some points addressed at the American Zionist Movement (AZM) conference, about how Zionism may be defined into tomorrow.

It isn’t my place as a person or as a Jew to question another Jewish man, woman, or non-binary individual’s motivations in how they express their Judaism; how that may relate to Israel; how they feel about the word, “Zionism;” and how or if that may relate their Judaism to how they look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  It certainly isn’t my place to state any of this in my first blog post for GatherDC in this series – although I’ve happily shared many an opinion in Gather’s blog since it was launched years ago. And, I’ll gladly grab a coffee, beer, or scotch with anyone reading this that wants to chat about Jewish identity, Zionism, or Israel (no matter your perspective).

I’m always happy to talk and to learn from others.  And I know when thinking about Israel, I should sometimes consider the advice taught in “Hamilton” to “Talk less.  Smile more.”  Because active listening and engaging with others from different viewpoints is the best way that I personally learn.

Unfortunately, though discussions of Israel are sometimes, if not often, contentious within our Jewish community.  Some synagogues have chosen to avoid discussing the topic as to not create friction between congregants who hold different positions.  But my feeling is different.  The hard talks are the important ones that we need to have as a community.

It seems so recently that the Jewish people celebrated a milestone year, 2017, which was what brought AZM to DC commemorate and hold conversations around two important moments in Jewish history over the last 100 years.  

Last year represented the Centennial anniversary of the British government’s Balfour Declaration on November 2, 1917, which was the first time in modern history that a major world power declared support for the creation of a Jewish State and the 70th anniversary of the UN Partition Plan of the British Palestinian Mandate, which was adopted on November 29, 1947. Certainly, a great deal of history has occurred over these 100 years and I think I may need more than a single blog post to go through those years.  

At the AZM conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in written remarks read by AZM President Richard Heideman, qualified the 30 years between the Balfour Declaration and the UN Partition Plan as “long” and “tragic” to turn “international support for Herzl’s dream into reality.”  Israel Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, while hosting a reception at the Embassy of Israel in DC, said that this 30-year span that began in 1917 and ended with David Ben-Gurion’s declaration of statehood, “is probably the most significant period of Jewish history since the days of the bible.”

In future blog posts, I’ll discuss the next 70 years including current events related to the U.S.-Israeli affairs.

Ron Dermer, Israeli Ambassador to the US, speaking at the AZM National Conference

In hopes of sharing some of the messages about what Zionism means today and what it may mean tomorrow, based on the AZM speakers, I’ve compiled a short video montage from the conference so you – as the GatherDC reader – can infer your opinions as if you were in the room with us.  While watching, think to yourself – what does Zionism mean to you?  And if you could reframe the narrative about Zionism and supporting a Jewish State into tomorrow, how would you do it?

To me, I understand Zionism as the national movement of the Jewish people that supports a re-establishment of a Jewish homeland in the territory defined as the historic Land of Israel; and that Zionism comes from the root word of Zion.   As a noun, Zion is the hill in Jerusalem where the City of David was built and a synonym for both Jerusalem and the Jewish people.  I support a two-state solution, but I don’t know what the future borders of the State of Israel will look like – although I have great faith in the Israeli people and all Israeli elected officials who have been elected to represent different views of the diverse Israeli population that they are the best shepherds of their own future.

I recognize to some, the term Zionism is a pejorative.  To me, it isn’t.  I’m very proud to be a second generation Jewish American and a proud Zionist.

 If the modern State of Israel existed when my grandparents and great-grandparents emigrated from Eastern Europe, perhaps I would be an Israeli rather than American.  Who knows?  I’ll gladly plant trees in Israel with JNF, purchase Israel bonds to support the development of Israel, give to other Jewish/Israeli causes that are meaningful to me, and write about my appreciation for Israel and allow whoever who chooses to read it (thank you for reading this far!) hear my voice.

If you have a difference of opinion to me, I’ll gladly hear you out and I pledge to respect your opinions we search for common ground – such as with finding a path to bring about a just and lasting peace for all people affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  If you’re interested in dialoguing further, share your thoughts on the blog’s comment section or to my directly/privately at jason.langsner@gmail.com.

—–

About the Author: Jason Langsner is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you. Jason has been an active lay leader of the Washington Jewish community since moving to the city in 2004.  He is a small business owner and formerly served as the head of digital strategy for the oldest Jewish human rights and humanitarian organization in the world.  When not blogging, he can often by found walking around his Eastern Market neighborhood with his Jewish dog, Shekels, or riding around DC area bike trails.

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Meet Rachel: Jewish Bicyclist of the Week!

Finishing the RAGBRAI at the Mississippi River

She rode her bike across Iowa. She hosts themed Shabbats. She volunteers for her temple. She writes for Petworth News. Is there anything the marvelous Ms. (Rachel) Maisler doesn’t do?! Find out with our exclusive 1:1 interview!

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Rachel: I’m originally from Jupiter, Florida, and came to DC after college because there were jobs. It was during a recession so those were hard to come by. And I wound up staying because I started to get involved with aging policy at the Department of Health and Human Services right before the Affordable Care Act was passed. I got to get both a front row seat of history, and got to actually help write history.

Allie: How did you become a DC bicyclist?

Rachel: I’ve always liked riding, and I eventually realized it was much quicker to get to work for me via bicycle than metro, so I started bike-commuting. I actually started a social media account called “View from the Handlebars” with pics from my commute. Then, I wound up getting involved with a group called “DC Jews on Bikes” that was created by past Jewish Girl of the Week Lisa Kaneff [Editor’s Note: Lisa started this group as part of her Open Doors Fellowship capstone project]. Lisa was so friendly and had so much energy that motivated me to get involved in the group. I loved it – we would ride bikes on Saturday at sunset, and then celebrate havdalah together.

Allie: What’s the coolest bike ride you’ve ever done?

Rachel: Last summer, I rode my bike across Iowa (411 miles) as a part of RAGBRAI.

Allie: I hear you do some pretty cool advocacy work in DC on behalf of cyclists, tell me a little bit about that. 

Getting sworn into the BAC with Council member Brandon Todd

Rachel: I was politically appointed to work on the DC Bicycle Advisory Council (BAC) as a representative of Ward 4. The BAC is tasked with advising the city council with bicycle transportation matters, and I’m very passionate about finding ways for bicyclists to share the street. 

Allie: What are your goals on the Bicycle Advisory Council?

Rachel: To make sure that we’re aware of the barriers facing cyclists, and how we can continue to integrate cycling into our neighborhoods as a viable means of transportation and recreation. And to make sure we educate people about cyclists and safety.

Ball themed Shabbat during the World Cup

Allie: Tell me a little bit about how you stay connected Jewishly in DC?

Rachel: I’m part of a monthly Shabbat club, which is an amazing group of friends who get together one Friday a month. It’s been going on for 6-7 years now! Every Shabbat we have a theme, from using special ingredients like beer to making foods that are different colors of the rainbow. We always pick a “best dish winner” and said winner gets an amazing prize –  like a jar of gefilte fish.

I’m also a member of Ohev Sholom synagogue, which I love. There are a lot of incredible people there, like the Maharat – Ruth Friedman, who is an amazing ordained female rabbi. I’m part of the synagogue’s Tzedek Committee, which helps our friends and neighbors who need it.

Allie: What do you do as a part of the Tzedek Committee at Ohev Shalom?

Rachel: We do what we can to help those who most need it. Right now, we’re helping to resettle a family who immigrated here from Afghanistan. We recently helped a wounded warrior family for Christmas through the Operation Ward 57 program, and we coordinate our shul’s Good Deeds Day efforts – like making sandwiches, doing a coat drive, collecting school supplies, etc.

Allie: Who is your Jewish role model?

Rachel: My grandmother. She’s a Holocaust survivor and has been through more than anything I could ever imagine. But she wakes up with a smile on her face every day. She continues to be an inspiration, and is never afraid to tell her story.

Allie: What’s your favorite way to relax and destress?

Rachel: It’s always nice to go on a long bike ride with good friends on a great trail. Also, hiking in Shenandoah, or kayaking on the Potomac or Anacostia rivers. I also enjoy writing, and am a contributor to Petworth News!

Allie: Complete the sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Rachel: Anything is possible.

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Meet Truman: Jewish Matzah Ball Lover of the Week!

From WWOOFing on an organic farm in Texas, to working on Hillary Clinton’s campaign, to meeting his girlfriend on GatherDC’s Beyond the Tent retreat – Truman Braslaw has some fascinating life stories to share. Also, he really likes matzah balls. So if you know epic recipes for matzah ball soup – please share in the comment section 🙂

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Truman: I’m from California originally. After living there for a while, I had an itch for adventure. I wanted to move to a  new city, have new experiences, and reinvent myself. So, I moved to Texas and lived on my aunt’s couch for a while, and spent a few months WWOOF-ing on an organic farm. After that, I decided to move down to DC because I’d always been interested in politics. Since moving here, I’ve had amazing opportunities in politics – from working on the Hillary Clinton campaign, to interning at a local Think Tank, to now, becoming a staffer for Virginia’s House of Delegates member Wendy Gooditis.

Allie: What is the most challenging part of working in politics?

Truman: The path to winning can be pretty demanding – it takes a lot of administrative, non-glamorous work. But, when you have legislative success and make policy changes that will impact people’s lives – it’s totally worth it.

Allie: How did you get involved in DC’s Jewish community?

Truman: When I moved to DC, I went to a couple of the Moishe Houses – Columbia Heights and Capitol Hill. From there, I went to coffee with someone from GatherDC, which is how I wound up getting involved in the local Jewish community.

Then, I heard about GatherDC’s Beyond the Tent retreat through a friend, and applied because I was interested in connecting to other young Jewish people. I didn’t know many other people who were going, but I wound up meeting a few amazing people who I’m still really close with — including my girlfriend of over a year now, Molly Cram.

Allie: What would be your dream day of fun in DC if money and logistics were no object?

Truman: I’d start at Open City for brunch and order everything on the menu – since I can never decide what to get. I’d take a few bites of each, and take the rest home as leftovers. Then, I’ll fulfill one of my long-standing dreams to take an open air bus tour of DC on a nice, sunny afternoon. Finally, I’d go somewhere relaxing, like Tryst, and reminisce on the wonderful memories of those experiences.

Allie: What is your Jewish food?

Truman: I’d have to go with matzah balls. Especially the kind when you pack them in so they’re really dense – that’s probably like one half of what I need in life. My dad makes really great matzah ball soup. My girlfriend Molly also makes some matzah balls that are pretty good – for vegetarian ones.

Allie: Any resolutions for the New Year?

Truman: One, learn to make my own matzah ball soup. Two, do what I can to contribute to finding justice in our society with all the racism and intolerance going on.

Allie: What’s your favorite way to de-stress?

Truman: Sometimes, I’ll read statistics textbooks because it’s nice to focus on something completely different for a little, and it helps me figure out answers to so many types of questions. I also like doing ink drawings of weird, abstract shapes. And I love listening to Podcasts, like “Rationally Speaking,” “Freakonomics,” and “Rabiolab.”

Allie: Complete the sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Truman: People can find a place where they belong.

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Nomadica Mesmerizes at Music Festival Finale

If you are wondering what five Canadians were doing at the Edlavitch DCJCC, the answer is…they were getting ready to perform for the closing night of the Washington Jewish Music Festival (WJMF) on November 12, 2017. Led by Juno-award winning trumpeter and composer David Buchbinder, the incredible musical group Nomadica brought together the music and the world of the Arabs, Roma, and Jews for a fantastic closing show.

The audience was as diverse as the cultures that influenced the music of Nomadica: American Jews (and non-Jews), Southern and Eastern Europeans, Arabs. For music, we all come together to listen to a genre that sounds reminds each of us of our homelands in different ways.

Vocalist Ms. Roula Said danced, and her voice hypnotized the audience by deeply connecting with each beat of the music. She sang in English, Yiddish, Hebrew, Arabic, and Turkish. I truly felt the authentic connection between Ms. Said and the other musicians. This rich connection was strengthened by the fact that Ms. Said is the long-time wife of Mr. Buchbinder, as she explained before performing a song from their wedding ceremony.

Every song was an amalgam of rhythm and vocals, improvisation, and perfect coordination between sound, voice, and dance. The public was enthusiastic and moved on their chairs to the beat of the songs.

We were transported to different countries and became a part of different stories: stories of love, travel, religion, abandon, and friendship. Jazz, klezmer, funk, and middle-eastern music infused the track list – sometimes even in the same song, thanks to Nomadica’s musical talent and eclectic abilities.  

The end of the show was bitter-sweet, as nobody wanted to say goodbye to this wonderful band and their music, or to the 2017 edition of the WJMF.

The only flaw of the evening? Despite the several attempts of Ms. Said to push the public to stand up and dance, only a few people accepted her invitation.

But, if I can offer any advice for future Washingtonian concert goers – if you ever feel the urge to dance, just get out of your chair and dance!

The WJMF has ongoing concerts throughout the year. You can find upcoming concerts here.

—–

About the Author: Daniela is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you! She is a “retired philosopher” who works as an executive assistant and loves to write about Italian and Jewish events happening in DC. She was born and raised in Sicily (Italy) in an interfaith family and moved to D.C. with her husband after studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where they met. They have a wonderful Siberian cat named Rambam! Daniela loves going to work while listening to Leonard Cohen’s songs and sometimes performs in a West African Dance group

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Expectations vs. Reality: Reflections on the First Six Months After Graduation

I learned one lesson from the college graduation day that I did not attend: expectations hardly ever become reality.

I graduated from college in May 2017, but unfortunately was not able to attend the day I had spent the past four years working so hard for. Less than a week before the big day, I was diagnosed with strep throat and pneumonia, and given about four different prescriptions.

When the reality sunk in that I wouldn’t be able to walk across the stage with my cap and gown and have the graduation day I had dreamt of for so many years, I cried. A lot.  Although my friends and family were very understanding, it somehow did not ease the sadness and disappointment I felt.

I write about the expectations and the reality of my college graduation day because, the more I think about it, the more I realize it illustrates the journey of a college senior entering adulthood and, most importantly, the journey one faces in his/her first post-grad year.

The expectations for adulthood started way before graduation. There was a lot of pressure, from both myself and the people around me, to have my ducks in a row in time for college graduation. The questions from my friends and family were all the same: What are your plans after graduation? Do you have a job? What will your salary be? Where will you live? They never seemed to stop. It made me think that getting a job immediately, moving into my first apartment and living the “perfect” adult life were the only options I had.

This was all exponentially heightened when my friends and I actually earned our diplomas. I felt as if all of my friends were moving through life at warp-speed, checking things they needed to accomplish in order to become a “real” adult. On Facebook, I would see posts of friends getting new jobs or moving to new cities, and found myself immediately hitting the red ‘X’ in the corner of my screen due to pangs of envy, pressure, and failure filling my chest.

I desired that “perfect” life more than anything. I thought that all of my newfound freedom would give me time to start crossing books off my ‘to read’ list. I thought that earning money would allow me to not feel guilty about eating my way through every brunch place in the city. I thought that it would finally be time to have a social life perfectly curated for Instagramcomplete with close friends from college and many fun nights out in our nation’s capital. I thought that maybe, just maybe, I would even finally meet a nice Jewish boy who would be parent-approved.

However, none of this happened.

Instead, my reality was spending all of my free time looking for a job instead of reading for fun. My reality was saving my money to spend on things I needed for my new apartment instead of spending it on brunch. My reality was saying goodbye to some of my closest friends from college as they started their new chapters away from DC (where we all went to college).

Now that I have been out of school for six months, I find myself reflecting a lot on my experiences since that day I missed my graduation in May. While it might not be exactly what I expected, the reality I currently live is still pretty great. I have found a great support system in DC (shoutout to GatherDC’s Mini-Gatherings for helping with that). I have continued to explore and experience all that this city has to offer. I have continued to learn about myself, and what I want out of life.

In the past six months, I’ve learned that it’s okay if the path I end up paving for myself differs from the one I expected to follow, as there is no right way to go about things.

Your priorities might be different than the priorities of those around you, but that doesn’t mean they are wrong. Decide what is important for you to focus on, and commit to it. For me, that has been spending time with friends, and finding ways to live a Jewish life that is authentic to me.

I also learned that the choices you make are not permanent. It’s not the end of the world if you realize a decision you made turns out to not be the right one for you. It is important to be comfortable with change, and be able to go with the flow.

As I ponder what the coming six months have in store, I feel ready to greet them, even if my reality is different from my ideal.

 

 

 

 

About the Author: Bryna Kramer is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you. She is originally from the small, southern town of Danville, Virginia. She’s been in D.C. for just over four years, as she moved here in 2013 to attend American University. When she is not busy covering the Wizards on a nightly basis or hosting her own podcast, Meet Us At Molly’s, you can find her binging television or brunching her way through the city. Follow her on Twitter.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Your Jewish Wedding Registry Guide!

MAZEL TOV! You’re engaged. Or, you know someone who recently got engaged over the winter holidays, one of the most popular times of the year for proposals.

The next step for couples, post engagement and social media posting, is usually building a registry. (Followed by the much more arduous process of figuring out how to actually fit all of the amazing presents into your tiny DC apartment.) But, if you want to include a few Judaica items on your registry and have no idea where to start, I’m here to help!

After getting engaged last summer, I found it impossible to find a good resource for Judaica registry items. Everything I found seemed kitschy, cheap, or just plain ugly. So I did the work for you, and found some of the best Jewish registry ideas for you and your spouse-to-be. So, without further ado, I present to you, Your Jewish Registry Guide!

Bloomingdales: for the couple who wants everything in one place

Bloomingdales carries literally everything your household could ever dream of. Plus, they display most of their Judaica items in-store. This means, you can go in person to check them out, feel them, and imagine them in your home before you register for them — a huge plus. Bloomingdales carries a large variety of beautiful menorahs, seder plates, mezuzahs, and kiddush cups – sometimes, even in matching sets. #RegistryWin

Jonathan Adler: for the funky and modern couple

Lucky for us DC-ites, Jonathan Adler has storefront in the middle of Georgetown. So, you and your fiance can experience a more fun, intimate registry-creation afternoon than you can get at any department store. This awesome store carries funky furnishings and unique Jewish pieces that you can check out, before rewarding yourself with a Georgetown Cupcake.

Target: for the no-frills couple

Con – the only Jewish items that Target carries are menorahs. Pro – they are seriously the most affordable, and adorable, menorahs around. If you’re registering at Target anyway (which, you definitely should), this could be the perfect add-on item to complete your home decor.

Etsy: for the artsy and creative couple

Rejoice! You can now add handmade items to your wedding registry thanks to the wonderment that is Etsy. Try Etsy’s StudioArmadillo shop to find modern kiddush cups and beautiful shabbat candlesticks, or check out the EnnyMosaic shop, where you can make a mezuzah out of your wedding glass shards.

Etsy has two options for engaged couples seeking unique, homemade items for their registry: 1) Create an Etsy-specific registry or 2) Pick an item or two from Etsy, and add it to your wedding registry with companies like Zola, MyRegistry, and Amazon.

The Jewish Museum: for the couple who wants ALL the best Judaica

If you’re looking to go beyond the Jewish basics, think honey dipper, challah board, or tzedakah box, look no further than The Jewish Museum. This online museum shop has an extraordinary collection of tasteful, modern items for your Jewish home. Bonus: they also have their own registry option and an actual brick and mortar shop in New York City.

Bed Bath and Beyond: for the couple who values simplicity

Bed Bath and Beyond is everyone’s go-to place for wedding registries because of its seemingly endless selection of household items, reasonable prices, and amazing return policies. While it’s hard to find their Judaica stocked in-store, they do have a wide selection of Jewish items online that you may not find elsewhere. Check out this Nambe challah board or this modern Reed & Barton seder plate.

Wishing you lots of luck on your registry-hunting, or wedding-gift buying, adventures ahead! May the sales be ever in your favor.

 

 

About the Author: Daniela Murch is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you. Daniela grew up between the DC suburbs and Leeds, England, before landing in the District permanently in 2009, where she has lived ever since. As a “tourist of Judaism” she loves exploring different Jewish practices and cultures, both locally and abroad. She works as a lawyer by day, sings in a semi-professional a cappella group by night, and enjoys traveling and exploring the local music and food scenes with her new husband, Jeremy.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Jewish, Under 40, and Love Theater? Join the Club.

In the movie “Mean Girls, new kid Cady Heron has to navigate the complex, fragmented society that is her high school cafeteria. Each table is filled with new faces, representative of different clubs and cliques. None of them invites her to sit. Rejected and lost, she eats lunch alone in a bathroom stall—which we can all agree is both disgusting and sad.

Spoiler alert: Cady soon finds her people, or rather, they find her. Which, happens to be exactly what GatherDC and its Open Doors Fellowship aims to do.

I was a member of the spring 2017 Open Doors Fellowship cohort, a group of self proclaimed “people persons” who love building connections and community, especially in a Jewish context. We spent months reaching out to newcomers and not-so-newcomers to DC, buying coffees, and schmoozing our way through GatherDC happy hours. [Editor’s note: applications are NOW open for the 2018 Open Doors Fellowship.]

At the end of the program, each fellow organized a capstone project. The goal was to create a space for Jewish community, though the events didn’t have to be explicitly Jewish or religiously oriented. For example, a previous Open Doors Fellow started the popular Jews on Bikes group. A member of my cohort hosted a “Vodka, Babka, and Board Games” Shabbat dinner.

As a theater lover, I often find myself interested in watching local productions, without any idea who to see them with. I’ve been to a few shows solo, but the experience isn’t quite the same as seeing it with friends. Surely, I thought, I can’t be alone here.

For my capstone project, I elected to create a club for Jewish young professionals to attend plays together. I called it Oy The World’s A Stage, and immediately began organizing our first outing. In July, nine of us saw Arthur Miller’s “Broken Glass, a psychological drama set in Brooklyn during 1938. As horrors unfolded in Europe, a Jewish couple struggled with morality, health, and marital issues – as well as their own Jewish identity.

The event was a huge success, helped in part by funding from Moishe House Without Walls. Theater is an expensive hobby, which may be why the average audience has more white hairs in it than a home with a Persian cat. Thankfully, numerous DC-area theaters offer discounts for people under 35. Between this option and the beloved “Pay What You Can” nights, theater can be as affordable as your weekend brunch habit.

By creating a space for people to talk about current and upcoming productions, plan outings, and share information on ticket discount programs, I hope to build an accessible and welcoming community for local Jews in their 20’s and 30s to bond over a shared love of theater.

Members don’t need to be new to town—I’ve been in DC for nearly a decade. They also don’t have to be Jewish or under 40, though the club was created with that population in mind. For Hanukkah, female “Oy” members went to see “Pajama Game at Arena Stage alongside women over 50. It was our first intergenerational event, evidence that this club need not be an exclusionary venture.

Half a year after creating the “Oy” Facebook group, I found myself at Char Bar with a group of ten “Oy” members, ready and eager to finish dinner and head to The National Theatre for the world premiere of “Mean Girls: The Musical.

It was a sold out performance, and we laughed along with the packed audience as actors threw out classic lines like “She doesn’t even go here!” and cast members turned favorite scenes into songs. We watched as Cady navigated the cafeteria on her first day. From my seat, I imagined “Oy The World’s A Stage” as a table where local Jewish theater lovers can find their people.

We’re already busy planning our next outing, a joint event with Moishe House Bethesda. We’ll be seeing “Everything Is Illuminated at the Edlavtich DCJCC on Thursday, January 11. Oh, and you can totally sit with us! You just have to buy a ticket.

—–

Editor’s Note: Roundup of upcoming chances to see live theater with new friends.

—–

About the Author: Lauren Landau (@laurenmlandau) lives in Silver Spring, MD with her roommate and a more-or-less alive houseplant. She is a producer for NPR, where she works on fundraising projects. She was a regular contributor to DCist’s Arts & Entertainment Desk until the publication’s recent demise. When she isn’t thinking about raising money for public radio, she is planning her next weekend getaway or theater outing. Following her participation in Cohort 3 of GatherDC’s Open Doors Fellowship, Lauren founded Oy The World’s A Stage, a club for D.C. area Jewish theater lovers in their 20s and 30s.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Meet Julie: Jewish Jeopardy Contestant of the Week!

When Julie Zauzmer is not investigating local religious news stories for The Washington Post (heard of it?) or creating life-size, wearable adult dresses out of…balloons (for real!), she’s crushing it on Jeopardy in front of the one-and-only Mr. Trebek. So yes, you should most definitely get to know this incredible human and then watch her kill it *fingers crossed* on Jeopardy next Thursday, January 11th at 7:30pm on WJLA. Life goals: Be the cool person shouting “I know her!!!” to the television while your French Bulldog woofs along with enthusiasm.

[PS – Julie’s not the only trivia genius residing in Jewish DC…check out fellow-Jeopardy contestant David Griesman’s interview from 2014 here.]

Allie: How did wind up living in DC?

Julie: I grew up in Philly and then went to college in Cambridge at Harvard. After graduating, I moved back home and worked at The Philadelphia Inquirer as a reporter. I moved to DC soon after when I landed a job at The Washington Post as a reporter!

Allie: Um…that’s incredible. What do you report on for The Post?
Julie: I used to mostly cover crime, and now I cover religion. It’s been so fascinating to go to all sorts of houses of worship and talk to people about how faith affects all facets of their lives. This beat has also pushed me to think a lot more deeply about my own Judaism, and what faith means to my life.

Allie: So, I hear you met the one and only Alex Trebek. How did that happen?
Julie: Yes! I applied for Jeopardy, starting with the online test, and then went in person to take another test and play practice Jeopardy. Shortly after passing those, I got a call from a Jeopardy producer – on Rosh Hashanah. The producer called after I had left services and was interviewing a priest – because that’s what you do as a religion reporter. When I got the call (finding out that I made it on the show), I told the priest I was with, and he said, “I’ll make sure all the seminarians are praying for you the night of the show.”

The show taped a month later. My month of preparation happened to fall over Sukkot. But, that worked out to my advantage! I had my own Sukkah, and friends would come over for outdoor potluck dinners every night and quiz me on Jeopardy questions.

Watch Julie on Jeopardy on January 11th at 7:30pm on WJLA.

The taping was in October in LA, and it was a lot of fun. During commercial breaks, Alex Trebek took questions from the audience so we got to know him a bit. The biggest thing that surprised me was how huge the board was in person, It’s enormous. I only got nervous at the very end of filming, when I had to come up with my wager for final Jeopardy! While I was writing my answer, three producers loomed over my shoulder watching me write it. I just put down a random number.

Allie: How does Judaism play a role in your DC life?
Julie: I used to live in Moishe House Bethesda. Now, the biggest part of my Jewish life, and social life in general, is being a part of TLS (Tikkun Leil Shabbat), which is a wonderful independent minyan of 20s and 30s who meet for Shabbat every 3 weeks in a church basement. TLS is very committed to social action, so almost every Shabbat we have someone come and speak from a local nonprofit who talks about ways we make a difference. The past several weeks, we’ve being focused on the theme of immigration.

I’d encourage people to check us out on Facebook and come to a Shabbat if you haven’t been yet. January 5th is our big, very silly New Year’s celebration with festive beverages, lots of fun, and an awesome surprise that I can’t give away (sorry, it’s not a guest appearance by Alex Trebek).

Lifesize bride and groom balloon sculpture for a former Moishe House Bethesda housemate at her wedding.

Allie: What fun hobbies do you do that might surprise people?
Julie: I’ve been making balloons since I was 8 years old, and in the past few years have learned from other balloon twisters. It had always been a fun hobby, but this year it expanded to a part time job – I did 99 events in 2017! If you want super cool balloons for your event, visit my website!

I also knit a lot, which goes hand in hand with another one of my hobbies, which is hosting a movie series. My friends come over on Sunday nights and we watch a movie that’s part of a theme, and I knit during the movies! One year, we watched every best picture nominee from 1939. Then, we watched a movie for every letter of the alphabet – starting with “American Pie” and going all the way to “Zootopia”. Now, we’re watching a movie that takes place in every state in the US. My hope is that by the time we finish the movie series, DC will be a state, and we’ll get to watch 51 movies!

Allie: Who is your Jewish life role model? Julie: One would be Joelle Novey, who is one of the founders of TLS. She continues to be a source of wisdom for our community. I admire her a whole lot. She set in motion this community which was exactly what so many of us needed, and is exceptionally good at figuring out the right answers to uncomfortable questions that come up. There’s a lot of Jewish organizers who work for social justice that I admire, like the staff at HIAS.

Allie: What’s a quote you are inspired by?
Julie: There’s a quote I pinned up on my desk at work from a nun, Sister Janet, who I wrote a story about this past summer. She helped build a chapel where a natural gas pipeline was supposed to go as a way to protest it. Regarding this, she told me, “To stand up and speak for the health of the Earth and of human beings and all of creation, I think that’s a win. And helping to bring about that beautiful order of things – I think that’s a win also. There’s lots of ways to win.”

Allie: Complete the sentence – When Jews of DC Gather…
Julie: I hope there is singing.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Life Changes: How to Know When It’s Time to Move?

After living in Chicago for four years, I moved to DC on May 31, 2017. Since moving, many people have asked what brought me here.

The common answers to this question people traditionally give are: moved for a job, grad school, to be closer to family, or for a partner. My answer was none of those.

I decided it was time for a change and wanted to fulfill my five-year dream of living in DC. I get two responses to this: people tell me I am brave and they could never do this, or people share that they are thinking of moving, but are afraid of uprooting their current life. Their life is good enough, so why move just because?

I understand that people don’t want to rock the boat. The saying that the known is better than the unknown exists for a reason. Why leave a life where you have a good job, great community, and a city you consider “home?” Why relocate for no reason besides you want to? Shouldn’t there be a good reason to make such a big change?

Yet, I did just that. For the past four years, I considered Chicago my home. I had a great apartment in the heart of Lakeview. I knew the best place to get deep dish pizza (Lou Malnati’s, trust me). I was working at an organization that not only cared about my professional development, but also my personal life. Lastly, I had made some amazing friends that had helped me navigate my post-grad years. I had built a great life for myself.

Let me just say for the record that I am not brave. I moved out of necessity. While from the outside (and social media) my life seemed great, I felt like I was living in Chicago with a permanent grey cloud hovering above me at all times.

Millennials are so concerned about how our lives are seen by our peers. I would look at people’s Facebook and Instagram profiles thinking how happy they looked and wondering how I could become that happy.

I am in my twenties, the decade society says is the most fun. Why was I not enjoying my life? Why was I not going out enough, or involved in enough activities? I tried everything to get rid of my grey cloud. I switched jobs, got involved with different Jewish organizations, and made new friends. I did not want to leave Chicago because I assumed that was giving up and people would think I failed.

I spent years bringing up the idea of moving to DC with my friends and family, going back and forth in my head about whether I should stay or move, and agonizing over what people I barely knew would think. Finally, the moment came where I knew it was time to give up trying to make Chicago happen, and just start over somewhere new. I started picturing my life six months or one year out, and knew I would be disappointed if I was still in Chicago. While I could not guarantee that DC would work out, it was better to try than not move at all.  

The ten months after making the decision to move were the hardest. I spent months applying to jobs, pricing out moving companies, and only making plans two months out so – that when I finally landed a job – I could pack up and go. But, I actually ended up giving notice to my last position before having an apartment or job lined up.

Making this big of a life change was not easy. For me, this decision was years in the making. To this day, I miss my Chicago friends and all the things we used to do together.

Life is not perfect, but I needed to be happy.

When I landed in DC, the grey cloud instantly disappeared. I knew it would be challenging to transition to a new home with little to fall back on. I knew it would take time to find new friends and create a new Jewish community. But in that moment I knew, regardless of what lay ahead, I had absolutely made the right choice.

I am now six months into my new life in DC. I frequently am asked if I have any regrets, and my answer is always no. I still regularly check in with my friends and family. I am still building my new Jewish community and making new friends. But I knew myself enough to know that I needed to shake up my life.

And if I can’t shake things up when I am in my twenties, then when can I? This was the perfect time.

 

About the Author: Marisa Briefman is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you. She is a recent DC transplant who was born and raised in Sarasota, Florida – likely where your grandparents live. Her love of all things Jewish began at overnight camp and continues to thrive in her role at JSSA. She is coffee addict, lover of Mexican food, and on a permanent mission pet all the adorable dogs in DC (if someone is in need of a dog-sitter, email me).

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

At Home with Valerie: Dating vs. Home Buying

After what seemed like an endless search, you met the one. It’s most definitely love. Your heart goes pitter-patter when you’re nearby. You’re ready to stop the hunt and make a big commitment. Although you don’t admit it to many people since it’s still early, you’ve been daydreaming about your future together. Celebrating milestones. Starting a family. Growing old together. Sure, there are flaws, but they’re overshadowed by all the amazing qualities and the way you feel when you’re with each other.

But is it reciprocal? It’s almost too perfect and you’d be utterly devastated if this one doesn’t work out. So, what do you do?

Leave it to your real estate agent.

Buying a home is just like dating.

Thinking short term vs long term: Buying a home is a long-term commitment. Relationships can be, too. Are you ready to move on from your former apartment… or ex? If you’re not sure you can stay in one place for the next five or more years, you’re probably better off renting.

It’s a numbers game: Be patient. Most people don’t buy the first house they see, or marry the first person they date. According to the National Association of Realtors®, home buyers typically look at 10 homes before purchasing. With that comes the same heartbreak of the dating world, like when you submit an offer and get rejected or someone else (maybe someone with more money) swoops in. You may go on 1,000 dates before you find your match, but you learn and grow from each one and you never settle until you find your perfect partner.

First impressions matter, but don’t be superficial: We’ve all gone on an online date with someone who looks nothing like his or her photos. I once had to leave the table to double check a JDate profile to make sure there wasn’t a mix-up. Well, the same thing can be true with real estate. Staging and camera angles can make a home look much better online than in person, and there can be a lot more shingles on the roof if the picture was taken five years ago. However, this person or home may possess all of the other qualities you’re looking for, so don’t get too caught up with appearances.

Everything changes when you meet face to face: Tinder, Jswipe, Bumble, Match.com, eHarmony. Zillow, Realtor.com, Padmapper, HotPads. You can swipe through single men and women as well as single family homes all from the comfort of your couch. The internet is an incredible tool that can bring a world of options narrowed down to your exact specifications with the click of a button. But, just like you wouldn’t begin a relationship with someone without meeting in person, you shouldn’t fall in love with a home sight unseen. Once you’ve narrowed down the pool, get off the internet and go in person! It’s the best way to see if you’ve found your true match.

Talk to your friends: Friends are invaluable while you’re dating. They’re your wingmen, your confidants, and your shoulder to cry on. Think of your real estate agent as your trusted friend during the home-buying process. Real estate agents will get to know you, set you up with prospects that match, listen to you, and be there for you through the highs and lows of the experience.

Some people like fixer-uppers, but there’s only so much you can change: You can make small fixes to both a home and a significant other relatively easily. A coat of paint here. A new sweater there. New blinds here. A stern lecture there. If you put in enough time and effort, you may even be able to tear down walls, both metaphorically in relationships, and literally in home remodeling. However, if you find an issue in the foundation, it’s best to walk away before getting too emotionally invested.

Perfection doesn’t exist: Everyone has a list of qualities they desire in a partner, as well as in a home. Some are non-negotiable, like being okay with dogs. Some should be negotiable, like being walkable to work. These qualities may take a gentle nudge from a friend or real estate agent: Maybe you should actually consider crossing the Potomac at some point, for a date or a dream house.

It’s a never-ending project: Both relationships and homes require upkeep throughout the years. Both can be improved every day, every month, and every year. You’ll no doubt face unexpected challenges, but will also find stability, joy, and fulfillment with many wonderful memories together.

P.S. I know this might seem like a LOT to remember. That’s why I’ve created this handy-dandy infographic that you can take with you on your next first, second, or third date with your potential home-to-be. Good luck on your home “dating” journey ahead!

—–

About the Author: Valerie Hillman Bluestein is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you. She is a Washington, D.C. native, and knows the area inside and out. She was born in Georgetown, grew up in Bethesda, received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland, and currently resides in Dupont Circle. Valerie spent a decade marketing and event planning for communities in the metropolitan area, before translating those skills into real estate. As a realtor, Valerie makes the home buying process as smooth as possible through her attention to detail, perseverance and ability to communicate efficiently. She also has a passion and eye for design, which helps her clients envision the greatest aesthetic potential for their homes.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.