Spotted in Jewish DC – (Israeli) Woman Power

Israeli women are on my mind. Maybe it’s because of all of the recent hype of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. But regardless of the reason, I seemed to find Israeli women in pop culture wherever I turned this weekend. Here are two specific run-ins…

On my way into the Landmark Bethesda Row Cinema, planning to see another screening of Wonder Woman (yes, twice – it is amazing), a poster with Hebrew writing caught my eye. Fortunately for this non-Hebrew-speaking Jew, it was also translated. It was called The Women’s Balcony, and it’s playing in Bethesda and at Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market only through this Thursday, June 22nd.

This adorable film is about how the women of a small Israeli synagogue lead a resistance against a young new rabbi and his belief that women’s religious needs should come after all others. It’s a commentary on the dangers of religious figures who push an agenda, about how we think about bettering ourselves, and, at the end of the day, what we ultimately decide to stand for. It was super-empowering in an unexpected way, and also provided some nice eye candy of the streets of Jerusalem.

My other run-in with (Israeli) woman power was at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. I was there for non-art reasons (a friend had bought me a change purse from their gift shop that said “Bitches get stuff done,” and I wanted to get one for a friend) but ended up spending a lot of time in their permanent collection. All the way on the back wall of the 3rd floor, in front of the restrooms, I stumbled across a glowing message in neon lights that read “What if Women Ruled the World”. At that moment, I might as well have been wearing those golden wrist cuffs that possess demi-deity powers. Only after walking closer and reading the description did I learn it was an installation piece created by Yael Bartana of Israel.

So, if you’re looking for a little female power or Israeli influence in your life this week (and just can’t bring yourself to go see Wonder Woman for the fifth time), check out The Women’s Balcony and the National Museum of Women in the Arts to get your fix!

Don’t forget to Insta your #SpottedinJewishDC and get some free Gather goodies!

 

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.

Intermarriage Isn’t Good, Or Bad

The conversation in the Jewish community around intermarriage is extremely polarized and seriously lacking nuance.

One side wonders, “How are we still talking about this?” To them, the idea of telling someone to only marry Jewish is antiquated and even racist.

The other side thinks, “Those who are intermarried have rejected Judaism and are actively contributing to its destruction.”

Both are wrong.

For some Jews, Judaism is a central, if not the primary, piece of their identity. For them, wanting to marry someone who shares their values, traditions, worldview, etc. is certainly not racist. In fact, it’s actually a good idea. Data suggests that children of intermarriages are far less likely to raise their children Jewish. If building a Jewish home is extremely important to you, you should probably marry someone Jewish.

For other Jews, Judaism might not be as primary. For them, finding a loving partner is more important than concerns of Jewish continuity. This doesn’t mean they don’t care about Judaism or that they aren’t committed to building a Jewish home. It certainly doesn’t mean that they are rejecting their Judaism. It simply means that they prioritize romantic connection over religious affiliation, and it’s perfectly reasonable for these Jews not to limit themselves to a Jewish partner.

Will any particular interfaith couple successfully raise a Jewish family? That depends on many factors, including: Is the Jewish partner able to share Judaism with the non-Jewish partner? How does the non-Jewish partner relate to Judaism? Does the non-Jewish partner actively practice another faith? Does the couple actively talk about religious differences? Do they have a plan for how they will incorporate Judaism into their home?

These are important factors for those who are in (or looking to be in) a serious relationship to consider. There is no guaranteed formula for successfully building a Jewish home or raising a Jewish family, though depending on the answers to these questions, couples will have an easier or harder time navigating their differences. What’s important is acknowledging that intermarried couples are not a homogenous bunch. It doesn’t make sense to have a blanket view on intermarriage – you cannot draw conclusions about people’s connection to Judaism without knowing their backgrounds or the complexities of their particular relationships.

I’ve become much less interested in the question of whether one should date or marry Jewish. By focusing on the act of intermarriage, we ignore the far more significant questions: what role does Judaism play in your life, and what do you want your Judaism to look like in a romantic relationship? Though our answers may evolve over time, we don’t have to wait for a relationship to address these questions. They are arguably the most important Jewish questions we will ever ask ourselves.

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.

If A Fish Could Talk

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” – Carl Rogers, founder of person-centered psychotherapy

You might be surprised to learn you can have a conversation with a fish that is swimming in a fish tank. I know because I once had one.

During the ages 16 and 17, I walked past a fish tank hundreds of times as I came and went to clinic at the National Institutes of Health, where I received treatment for my bone cancer. The tank stood against a wall in the waiting room, in between the elevators and the bathroom. For a cancer patient, no room is more important than the bathroombesides the infusion room which was down another hall.

One fish in the tank was bigger and, I thought, uglier than the others…. which led me to follow my dad’s logic that the bigger and uglier a creature, the older it is. This one must’ve been the Donald Trump of fish.

“You lucky fish,” I told this big ugly fish one afternoon on my way to the bathroom after I finished getting my chemo drips for the day. “You can just pee right there in your tank, but I must get up to pee in a specific porcelain bowl while groggy, on crutches, nauseous and exhausted.”

The fish didn’t respond. I didn’t think he would, though he did follow me with his eyes by pivoting in his pee water.

The next morning before I got my chemo, I sat in the red cushioned chair that faced the tank and watched this big ugly fish in the waiting room. He recognized me, I’m sure of it, because he started spinning and doing flips. I guess not all big old ugly things lose their charm.

I peered around to see if anyone was nearby, but it was just me and the big ugly fish. I looked right at him. His wrinkly mouth puckered, and I thought maybe this time he might actually respond. “What are you thinking?” I said to him.

No response.

“Do you, too, laugh at the guy who gets so nervous getting his blood drawn that he sweats?”

Nothing. I was getting mad and thinking this fish was mocking me.

“What’s it like to live in your own filth and pee?”

Yes, even cancer patients can be mean.

“Bah! You’re just a big ugly fish living in water.”

With the help of my crutches, I stood up tall on my strong right leg, tucked the crutches under my armpits and started towards the infusion room. That’s when I faintly heard from the direction of the fish, “I don’t know I’m in water. What’s water?”

Shocked, I turned towards the fish tank so quickly that I almost toppled over. I returned to the chair and my attention to the talking fish. “What do you mean? You’re clearly swimming and living in water and you can’t survive without it.”

“Listen to me, I don’t have much time left as I am old.”

I knew it!

“This is my environment, it is all I know, and I can’t change it. Here, I simply am.”

I gasped. The way he said it reminded me of the meaning of that word I’m not supposed to say. “Are you . . . God?” I asked.

The big old ugly fish did a somersault, I think just to keep me waiting for his response. He was such a ham. When he settled again, he looked back at me. “No, I’m not God. I’m just an old fish living in this great big world and looking at you in your strange, even bigger world. Our worlds are different, and we each see each other’s world differently because we’re seeing it through the lens of our own world.

“You say I’m in water. I say I just am. I say you’re in a happy, sociable room where kids get to play with toys like those sticks you’re holding and the pole you push with hanging bags of colorful liquid and stamped with the biohazard symbol.

“Now, tell me about your world. I want to learn.”

And that was the one time in my life I talked to a fish. I told him all about our cancers and how we poisoned them to hopefully make them go away, and how once we were done poisoning them, we went off into a much bigger world he would never see.

Since then, a new National Institutes of Health Clinical Center replaced that one, and I haven’t been a patient at NIH in over 14 years. That fish tank is long gone. So is that big old ugly fish, though I sometimes think about him. The older I have gotten, the more I have thought that fish was trying to teach me a lesson about acceptance. No matter that fish’s faults, like his living space being filled with urea, he wholeheartedly accepted that which he could not change. And for that which he could change—in other words, the things he didn’t have to accept—he kept an open mind about, challenged himself to learn from, put in the work to improve on, and ultimately grew from until he could reach a point of acceptance. Self-acceptance is a path to happiness.

Now, some 16 years later, I want a daily reminder of that unique world I briefly inhabited, that world filled with toys like wooden crutches and IV poles. I want to always remember that big old ugly fish. And, I want to remind myself that I’m ready to radically accept those pieces of myself which I cannot change, and choose the challenging path through life to positively change those pieces of myself I can change.

So—and Mom, this is when you should sit down and brace yourself—five years after getting my first tattoo and two years after getting my second, I got another.

 

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.

Top 4 Jewish Podcasts You Should Download Right Now

We’re big fans of podcasts here at GatherDC. As you may remember, we love Marc Maron of WTF, and Rabbi Aaron has waxed poetic about S-Town. Now, we bring you our list of the top 4 Jewish-themed podcasts that you should download right now.

#4 – Seincast

Think you’re a big Seinfeld fan? “You got nothing, Jerry, nothing!” Compared to Matt Williams and Vinnie Freda from Seincast, that is. Williams and Freda, hosts of this sometimes hilarious, sometimes fascinating, and sometimes painful podcast, analyze the nothingness of a specific Seinfeld episode.

Favorite episode recommendation? Start with the one where they discuss your favorite Seinfeld episode. Need some inspiration? We like The Switch.

#3 – Ronna and Beverly

This one’s a bit hard to explain. It’s a comedy podcast hosted by UCB comedians and longtime friends, Jessica Chaffin and Jamie Denbo. The entire podcast is performed with them as their alter-egos, Ronna Glickman and Beverly Ginsberg– two 50-something best friends and co-authors of You’ll Do Better Next Time: A Guide to Marriage and Re-marriage for Jewish Singles (It Says ‘Jewish’ in the Name but It’s for Everyone). In each episode, they bring a comedian or pop-culture guest in and ask them Jewish-mother-like questions…and then interrupt them constantly with hilarious side stories from their lives.

Best episode to start on? A Beginner’s Guide to Ronna and Beverly, of course!

#2 – Imagine ISRAEL | Podcast

While fairly new, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s Imagine ISRAEL | Podcast is produced locally. Creative Director of Makom, Robbie Gringas, hosts the podcast and features intimate interviews with Israel’s top innovators.

As part of Federation’s continued focus on bringing Israel to DC through programs like Reverse Mifgash and theChangemakers Series, this podcast does a great job at connecting its audience to a modern and relatable Israel. Check out the episode with Kaynan Rabino, creator of Good Deeds Day, an international day of community service.

#1 – The Tablet‘s Unorthodox

Unorthodox is brought to us by the writers of Tablet, a daily, Jewish online magazine you should check out ASAP. As described by the podcast producers themselves, “Jews (& friends) talk news, arts & other stuff.” If you like discussion-style podcasts like Slate Culture Gab Fest or NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, you’ll like this.

Check out Ferris Bueller and the Chamber of Secrets, Episode 70 for a good intro to the show.

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.

Spotted in Jewish DC – Make Your Own Judaica

Did you just move into a new place and need a mezuzah? At All Fired Up, this week’s #SpottedinJewishDC, you can make it yourself. Along with mugs, plates, pitchers and more, this decorate-it-yourself pottery store has all of your Judaica covered. You can use paint, mosaics or fused glass to decorate anything…from menorahs, to kiddush cups, to tzedakah boxes. Most of their Judaic items are in the store at all times, but owner Liz Winchell, recommends calling ahead just to make sure they have what you need.

Until the end of July, they’re offering 10% off for GatherDC readers at their Cleveland Park location, so go in, mention us at checkout and start crafting. Tag #SpottedinJewishDC when you make your masterpiece!

Spot something particularly Jewish in DC? Let us know about it by emailing or snapping a photo and posting it on social with #SpottedinJewishDC. You may see it here!

 

 

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 Artist of the Week – Rose

You may not have met Rose in-person, but you have likely seen her art around the city. This Jewish Artist of the Week sits down with us to talk about the art scene in DC, where you can see her art and how she connects to her Judaism.

How long have you lived in DC?

I am a DC native! Born on Capitol Hill, and raised in NW, Chevy Chase DC to be exact. 

What are some ways in which you connect with your Judaism?

My father was (and still is) my most significant connection to Judaism. He would cook Shabbat feasts every Friday growing up, and we would host a myriad of friends and family around our dining room table. Those experiences, along with attending Sunday School, services, and of course my Bat Mitzvah, have had an influential effect on how I live my life today. I love hosting small gatherings, having critical dialogues, questioning the status quo and brainstorming action are things I feel grounded in from my Jewish education and experience. I have engaged with the amazing work of Jews United for Justice on a few occasions and enjoy returning to synagogue for high holy day services at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue each year to reinforce my connection to Judaism and the role I can play as an active participant in the narrative. 

Tell me about your art! How would you define your style and what inspires your work?

I love art with every fabric of my being! I always have. I would define myself as a painter but am recently exploring ceramics and sculpture. I love working with large scale and have about 7 murals displayed in the DC area. I am drawn to public art that can be appreciated by many people, day after day and year after year. Content wise – I enjoy people and the human figure. I strive to make art that carries a message. I never tire of a face and a story it can tell. Art for me is a form of expression that crosses language and cultural borders and a critical tool for social influence and change.  

What are some of your favorite projects that you have worked on?

I painted a mural at the Mitch Snyder Homeless shelter last year as part of a MuralsDC grant. I photographed folks from the shelter and painted them on the wall. The entire experience was enlightening and solidified the importance of working directly with my DC community and using art to shed light on various populations. 

What’s it like being an artist in Washington, DC? What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages?

I think being an artist in DC is both excellent and tough at the same time. There is money in this city, and the DC government treats its artists quite well compared to other cities across the country. The pool of artists is much smaller than NY or LA, so I am a bigger fish. The flip side is that the cost of living is so high that it can be unsustainable for artists to live (and make a living) inside District lines.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist? How did you get started?

I started drawing and painting around six years old and haven’t really stopped. That being said, I didn’t think of it as a viable career until college. Only then did I see examples of artists making a living from their work and knew that is what I wanted to do. I hustled after college with part time jobs, building my freelance portfolio and participating in gallery shows. After four years I made the leap to full-time artist. 

Do you have any work you want people to know about right now?

I have a show coming up at the Mansion at Strathmore opening June 10th. The show runs until August 4th. Follow me for updates on @rose_inks. My website portfolio is www.rosejaffe.com

What do you love about DC?

The amount of green space, the diversity, the small size. 

What’s one thing you would change about DC?

The transient population that does not invest time or money into the rich history and culture of this city. 

What’s the one thing you can’t get through the day without?

Other than art???? Yoga. 

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.

Spotted in Jewish DC – Shouk

If you’ve walked around Mt. Vernon Square lately, you may have run into our latest #SpottedinJewishDC, Shouk. Shouk, a fun (and delicious) spot, refers to itself as a “modern eatery and market offering a new take on comfort food.” What’s the “new take?” Well, for Shouk, it means everything served is plant-based. Vegans and Vegetarians rejoice!!!  And carnivores, don’t worry…our tasting indicates that your palettes will be satiated too!

Named after the open-air markets of Israel, where founder, Ran Nussbacher grew up, Shouk opened just over a year ago in May 2016. Both Ran and his Executive Chef, Dennis Friedman, are Jewish. When we asked them about how Jewishness plays into their restaurant, they said, “In typical Israeli – and Jewish – fashion, Shouk is all about playing with tradition and mixing up culinary influences.”

We highly recommend their cashew labneh, which has just as much cream and tang as the traditional yogurt dish, and, the Shouk Burger, which contains 15 different veggies and beans. So head there today and take an Insta-worthy picture and tag us (@Gather_DC), we’d love to see your creations!

Spot something particularly Jewish in DC? Let us know about it by emailing or snapping a photo and posting it on social with #SpottedinJewishDC. You may see it here!

Jewish Library Lover of the Week – Sally

Most days, you can find Sally at the library… organizing scavenger hunts, punk shows and 3-D printing classes. We sat down to hear more about her position as Development and Communications Specialist for DC Public Library Foundation and to learn about her life in DC!

You’re from NY originally. What brought you to DC and how long have you been here?

I moved to DC a little over four years ago at the beginning of Obama’s second term – it felt like a lot of millennials were making the same move during this time. It’s a bit cliché to say I came to DC looking for more meaningful, mission-driven work, but that’s basically the truth! I was ready to leave my corporate marketing job in NYC. I also had a couple of very close friends from college who were living here, so having some built-in support made the transition easier. I began applying for government and non-profit jobs, and I ended up accepting an offer from the DC Public Library to help launch a city-wide early literacy initiative. I love NYC and my family is near there (in the suburbs), but I have no plans to move back.  

You just returned from a trip to Morocco. What did you see or learn that you will bring back to your life here?

Before this visit to Morocco, I hadn’t left the country in six or seven years. The trip was a good reminder for me to prioritize travel a little more and save/budget accordingly because there is no substitute for physically visiting and absorbing a new place. The culture in Morocco is perhaps the most hospitable I have ever experienced. Everyone is very warm and eager to share their cities, food and traditions with tourists. There’s always time for afternoon tea; no one is ever in a rush. This is very different from the east coast mode of operation!

Since my return, I’m trying to slow down, enjoy more simple moments, and take time for mint tea breaks.  I was reminded of another lesson that always seems to come up when traveling abroad. You have to be at peace with what you cannot control because things almost never go according to plan, especially when relying on public transportation and Mother Nature.

Tell us about your job with the DC Public Library! What do you do there?

After working in the Library’s Marketing Department on the initial phase of the Sing, Talk and Read DC early literacy campaign, I moved over to the DC Public Library Foundation – the Development Department at the library. My role focuses on developing public and private programs designed to attract the next generation of library users and supporters. I get to work with our brilliant librarians and community partners to market and execute a variety of programs including free concerts, co-working for local creatives, author events, Fab Lab happy hours, fundraisers, and more. Come fall, I’ll be working on our second annual city-wide banned book scavenger hunt in celebration of Banned Books Week.

Every day is different and our program offerings are always evolving. I created the @dcpl_literati Instagram account as a way to promote some of these unique library programs to a new audience. I also manage less interesting but necessary administrative stuff, like the Foundation’s accounts payable and receivable and our donor database.

When many people think about a library, they think–obviously–of books , but DC’s library is so much more, right?

Public libraries are safe, egalitarian spaces that cater to the needs of the community. Nowadays this increasingly includes digital literacy and access to technology.

The DC Public Library is a very innovative system when it comes to leading the makerspace movement in libraries. With a DC Public Library card, you can take classes ranging from PowerPoint Basics to 3D printing, record music in the Studio Lab, print your own novel using the self-publishing machine, and so much more. As a history nerd, I love our Washingtoniana and Black Studies Special Collections, which house everything from the DC Music Archive to old photographs and oral histories. Library visitors can come for the free internet and stay for the documentary screening or the punk show in the basement. This intersection of free educational and cultural opportunities is what makes the DC Public Library such an important, local institution. 

Are the renovations at MLK making things crazy for you right now?

Definitely! From a public perspective, that location, at the convergence of every metro line, was the most central in the city. The departments and resources that were housed at the MLK Library are now scattered throughout the District in interim spaces. Communicating all of these changes and updates to the public is challenging. We also no longer have a central, free space to host author events, job trainings, story time, art exhibitions, etc. Internally, this forces us to be creative and thrifty, and engage the community where they already are. Although there is a void downtown left by the temporary close, the library is so much more than just a physical building.

What is your favorite thing about living in DC?

The diversity and access to cultural events. It’s hard to be bored here. There’s always something new to explore, like an exhibit or live show. I really appreciate the music scene and love how the city celebrates with different festivals like the Funk Parade, H Street Festival, Bluegrass and Folk Festival and Capital Pride Festival. I’ve also met a lot of passionate and interesting people here. So many people who live in DC are working and fighting for a greater cause. You don’t see that in every city.

What is one thing you would change about DC if you could?

Obviously the cost of living is high and only continues to go up. I also wish the food scene was more accessible. There are tons of ‘buzzed about’ trendy restaurants for foodies, but DC lacks a wide variety of affordable places that offer quality basics. My taste buds are not very sophisticated but the New Yorker in me would like to see more options when it comes to delicious and affordable bagels, bakeries, Italian and Chinese food. That’s not to say these places don’t exist, but they are just fewer in number. I realize it’s probably difficult for small, independently owned businesses to meet rent and charge reasonable prices, but I wish that could change. It all ties back to cost of living being high. On Rye feels like a little taste of NY, and I am excited about Shouk.

What does being Jewish mean to you?

Like a lot of secular young Jews in the States, being Jewish is a big part of my cultural identity and has shaped my personality, values and sense of humor. I definitely take an interest in Jewish history, tradition, food, arts and culture and like to see what’s happening at Sixth and I and the DCJCC, which is just a few blocks from where I live. I really love the Washington Jewish Film Festival at the DCJCC as a lens into the Jewish experience across the globe, from Israel to Europe to Africa.

I also have a close group of friends in DC (Jews, non-Jews, half-Jews) with whom I celebrate the holidays when I can’t make it home to family. This year we started doing a friends-Seder for Passover, and I think it will become an annual tradition.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

That’s always a tough question, it’s hard to set expectations for the future. Where do I realistically see myself vs. where I’d like to be – these are probably two different projections! I hope I’m in a funky, cool city with access to nature. Maybe that’s DC or somewhere new. I hope I’m surrounded by close friends, not too far from family, maybe starting my own family, who knows!? I hope my work is creative and benefits society in some way. I do see a dog in the picture, that’s about all I can guarantee.

What is one thing you couldn’t get through the day without?

Coffee incentivizes me to get out of bed every morning, and I usually have to cater to my sweet tooth on a daily basis. But it’s my wonderful friends, boyfriend, family and coworkers who provide the comic relief I need to get through the day-to-day. Times are tense, so a good laugh and some nonsense is paramount.

‘Broken Glass’ Star Talks Miller, Human Contracts and Jewishness

Arthur Miller’s riveting psychological drama, Broken Glass, directed by Aaron Posner opens at Theater J later this month. According to Theater J, the plot centers around “Sylvia Gellburg, who has suddenly, mysteriously, become paralyzed from the waist down. Her husband, a self-denying Jew, can’t figure out why. Set in Brooklyn throughout the rampage of Kristallnacht in 1938, this rare and gripping drama demands we confront our fears, our assumptions, and our anguish. Miller balances private and public morality in this astonishing and electrifying play about being American, being married, and coming to terms with one’s own identity.”

We sat down with actress, Michele Osherow, who plays Harriet, Sylvia’s sister, to learn more about her process as an actress, the play, Arthur Miller as a playwright, and how she connects to her Judaism.

Tell us a bit about your character in the play? Who is she, what motivates her?

I play Harriet, the sister of the woman, Sylvia. Harriet represents a kind of womanhood expected by America in the 1930s—or, more specifically, 1930s Brooklyn. She’s a caretaker: she cares about the color in her sister’s cheeks, about cuts of meat, about whether to call a family doctor or a specialist. She’s the archivist of familial facts. She takes her responsibilities seriously, and I think she’s very competent. She’s not compelled to question or to push against boundaries the way her sister is. Harriet’s eyes are open, but she’s not looking much beyond her block in Brooklyn.

How did you prepare for this role?

Mostly by channeling my mother’s cousins! Miller’s play takes place in Brooklyn. My mother grew up in Brooklyn and was very close with her Brooklyn cousins. I spent some memorable afternoons sitting at their kitchen tables sipping the coca-colas I couldn’t have at home. These women were always talking, and they had a way of making everything they said sound urgent and important. They had opinions (!) and funny ways of making them known. My mother was (and still is) the quiet, refined type, so as a girl I was always sort of alarmed and delighted by how well she got on with these bold-talking women. I’ve been thinking about them a lot for Harriet because, like my mothers’ cousins, I think Harriet has her methods for asserting authority and disguising those methods at the same time. I don’t think she hesitates to take pride in her contributions to making the world turn. I also think that for women such as these, love is something you do rather than something you say.

Do you consider this play to be Jewish?

The play overtly deals with issues of Jewish identity. The action is sparked by a woman’s—a Jewish American woman’s—reaction to Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass). She becomes obsessed with images and coverage in the newspapers; and this event, though it’s across an ocean and in another country, triggers an awareness of other immediate forms of persecution and vulnerability. The play mines these on several levels, both public and private. Miller uses characters’ Jewish identity to get at the broader picture of the dangers of denial and disassociation.

He’s counting on our reading the play through the lens of history, so we know the devastating consequences of not reacting, of not feeling. The character is paralyzed by what she sees, which is a telling metaphor for America’s response to these events.

Other ways the play feels ‘Jewish’ to me are through its use of humor and metaphor, and patterns of language.

I heard you are Jewish. How do you connect to your Judaism?

I am Jewish, and I connect to Judaism in any number of ways – but the one that shows itself most is probably through language and literature. I’m an English professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and I both research and teach the Hebrew Bible as literature. I never get tired of biblical readings and criticism and how biblical texts get revised and revisited in Western literature. I also teach courses on Jewish American literature. There’s a flavor to Jewish storytelling, and I’m drawn to the kinds of stories we choose to tell—a mix of humor and pathos, truth and wonder. It’s a community that recognizes the value of a good story. The Bible itself suggests that language is a pretty powerful thing. G-d does his creating in Genesis by saying things, after all! And the psalms suggest that G-d appreciates a good turn of phrase. (Can’t help but admire that.)

What do you hope the audience takes away from this play?

There’s layer upon layer of possibilities for this one. Our director, Aaron Posner, was saying just today that what audiences take away will depend largely on what they bring: some might focus on the personal relationships the play explores, some the social, some the historical. Miller’s plays are always invested, I think, in reminding us that human beings are responsible for one another—that there’s a social contract to which we agree just by being in the world. Broken Glass suggests that the social contract is severely compromised when an individual ignores obligations to his or herself.

What are your thoughts on Arthur Miller as a playwright? Do you think he is a Jewish playwright?

I think Arthur Miller is probably the greatest dramatist our country has produced. His best works rattle you to the core. You don’t expect his deeply flawed characters will break your heart, and yet they do. Mostly, he tells the truth.

Is he a Jewish writer? He certainly taps into issues relating to Jews and Judaism throughout his career (both in his plays and in his novel), and it’s clear that he values the power of the word. Again, that’s a biblical inheritance. But I think his plays and politics might find the category of “Jewish playwright” too narrow. Miller’s litmus test for the value of the written word was to consider the work in terms of the question: “What is its relevancy to the survival of the race? Not the American race, or the Jewish race, or the German race, but the human race.”

You can see Osherow on the Theater J stage from June 14th to July 9th. For tickets and more information, visit their site.

Rabbi Rant: Struggling with Spirituality

I got trolled last week.

I’m not sharing this news because I want your pity. (If anything, I’m bragging about it – if you’re getting trolled you must be doing something right.)

I’m sharing this because it led me to an important realization.

The troll was reacting to a story I told about six months ago (as the saying goes: “better troll late than never”) where I questioned my own relationship with keeping kosher. I struggle with the costs of adhering to such a strict eating practice, and wondered aloud whether this is really what God intended.

The troll responded with his own question: “While we should support all those who are struggling spiritually, is this the type of behavior we expect from our Orthodox spiritual leaders?”  I know this was intended rhetorically, but I think it’s actually a legitimate question.

Is there no room for religious leaders to struggle spiritually? Do rabbis need to have it all figured out?

For many Jews, the answer seems to be: yes. While the standards and expectations differ, Jews across denominations want their rabbis to be “more Jewish” than they are, to uphold the most ideal version of their type of Judaism.

This desire is symptomatic of what happens when we outsource Judaism (and of the problematic ways we understand what it means to be “more Jewish”). We don’t want Judaism to die, but we’re also not going to live our own lives in a way that ensures its survival. To assuage ourselves of the guilt of not living out a sustainable Judaism, we look to the rabbi with a sigh of relief. “Phew. At least someone is making sure Judaism continues.”

And we don’t only do this with rabbis. Less observant Jews often do this with Orthodox Jews, too. “I don’t want to keep all these rules, but I’m glad someone is doing it to keep Judaism going.”

I’m the last person to lay on the guilt of Jewish continuity; I think emphasizing Jewish survival is the best way to guarantee that the Judaism that survives will be completely uninspired.

But I do think outsourcing Judaism creates a double standard that prevents us from asking ourselves the hard questions about our own relationship with Judaism. If you think your rabbi should believe in God, why don’t you think you should believe in God? If you think Jared Kushner shouldn’t fly on a plane on shabbat, why can you?

When we can finally begin to hold ourselves to the same standards as those to whom we outsource our Judaism, we might realize just how arbitrary or irrelevant those external standards are. Instead of hoping that someone somewhere else perpetuates a Judaism that you don’t connect to, try to find the things about Judaism you do connect to personally. The best way to keep Judaism alive is to keep it alive within you.

I know many people want me, as a rabbi, to have the answers. Or at least to act like I do. But I don’t. So I’m going to continue to model authentic wrestling with my Judaism. I hope that wrestling inspires others to live a more dynamic religious life. Afterall, it’s what I seek for myself. Trolls and all.