Rabbi Rant: Because I Said So

I remember the biggest temper tantrum I ever had. I was about 5 years old at a baseball game at Wrigley Field. In front of me was a lady with a big bag of peanut M&Ms, and I wanted to ask her if I could have a few. My parents said I couldn’t, and when I asked why, they gave me the answer that set me into a rage: “Because I said so.”

That classic parental go-to has exasperated children since way back when. We count down the days to adulthood when we can free ourselves from the shackles of their controlling and arbitrary ways.

So when it comes to Judaism, how do I react when told that something should matter “because God said so?” I revert to my five-year-old self at Wrigley Field, demanding a better explanation (with slightly less crying).

Few, if any of us, accept that type of religious justification. This makes connecting to the holiday of Shavuot, a day we celebrate receiving the Torah, particularly challenging. Whereas other holidays are less focused on the divine, it would seem the Torah’s significance is inextricably tied to it. We should care about the Torah because God wrote it. Once you bring God into it, there’s really no further explanation needed.

But this is a lazy approach to Judaism, and living a thoughtful Jewish life requires more thoughtful answers to basic questions like “Why care about the Torah?” “God said so” is not a full answer. (It begs the follow-up question: “But why would God say so?”) And it’s only one answer. There are many other compelling answers that aren’t rooted in God at all. (I shared 3 last year.)

Shavuot is a time to ask yourself what the Torah means to you, to entertain the possibility that it has meaning outside of its author / religious authority. It might be that those answers are equally non-compelling. At the very least, we can share some dairy desserts together. I know cheesecake is the classic choice, but I’m going to be enjoying a big bag of peanut M&Ms.

ConGRADulations: A Reflection on Being a Year out of College

First, I want to say congratulations to all of the people who have graduated and moved to DC! We’re so excited to have you in this great city.

Whether you moved to DC without a plan or you’ve  had a job lined up since September, moving to a new place is hard. I graduated a year ago (May 22nd, to be exact), and I knew I was moving to DC. I had gotten a job here at GatherDC, and I was so excited for the new phase of my life.

via GIPHY

After moving here, I realized that I didn’t have a lot of close friends who were here. I had new places for me to explore, new routines to follow (ugh 9 am), and new friends to make. It wasn’t easy. However, there is always comfort in knowing things will work out.

You need to find the places and people you feel comfortable, and over time it becomes easier…over the past year, I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve ever made. I think this is because when everyone is in a vulnerable place, everyone is more open to exploring that vulnerability together and making closer, better friends.

All the TV shows say #adulting is the worst, and they’re not wrong. However, they’re not totally right either. Being an adult is also fun, challenging, and definitely worth the wait. (Even though you have to pay taxes and might have to deal with weird roommates.) This past year has been one of the best.

If you want to find a way to connect to Jewish life, friends, or activities (believe me, that’s where all of my friends came from), sign up for coffee! We’d love to be your first point of connection in DC.

How to Create a Budget that Works for You

Just like with healthy eating and exercise habits, it’s really hard to stick to a budget. That’s usually because we are trying to stick to a budget that doesn’t make sense for us. So let’s figure out how you can create a budget that will help you be financially successful.

Identify your financial goals

It’ll be a lot easier to stick to a budget if you know what you’re doing it for… sticking to a budget for budget’s sake is a recipe for failure. That’s why you need to identify your goals so that you can see what you’re working towards. You’ll feel a lot more motivated that way.

What is most important to you moving forward? Do you want to make changes in your career, love life, friendships or financial situation? Do you want to travel? Pick out the goals that mean the most to you, and then you can figure out how to achieve them.

Make sure you write those goals down – you’re much more likely to reach them that way. If these goals are big, break them down into digestible steps. This will make it much less intimidating, and also feel more attainable. For example, if you want to save $5,000 in a travel fund by 2018, figure out how much you’d have to save each week to make that happen.

Now that you know your goals, you can build your budget to help you reach them.

(Need some ideas for goals to work towards? Check out these simple financial goals for 2017.)

Figure out how much is coming in

Some of us don’t even know how much our monthly income is. We get our direct deposit and go on with our day. But it’s really important to know exactly how much is coming in each month. You can’t plan ahead if you don’t know what you’re working with.

Look at your past four paychecks. Are they consistent? What’s being taken out of them besides taxes? Add up your monthly paychecks and any other income you typically receive. That’s the maximum amount of money you should be spending on everything each month.

Figure out how much is going out

Look at all of your expenses. These are broken out into fixed costs, flex spending, debt payments, and other priorities. Add them all up to figure out how much you spend every month.

Here are some definitions to help you:

Fixed costs: Any costs that usually stay the same each month. This can be rent, insurance, utilities, or subscriptions. These are the types of expenses that you usually cannot change (even if you want to). Make sure you’re also including non-monthly expenses in this amount. (Read more about preparing for those.)

Flex spending: This is any spending that can fluctuate from month to month. It can include groceries, gas, shopping, dining out, etc. You usually have some control over these amounts.

Debt payments: Whatever you’re paying towards any debt each month. This can include credit card debt, student loans, car payment, etc.

Other priorities: This amount is anything you’re putting towards other goals, like savings or paying extra towards your debt.

To make this easier, link up your accounts to programs like Learnvest, Personal Capital or Mint. They will automatically categorize your spending into different buckets, so you can see where you are using most of your money.

Once you can see how much is going out during a typical month, you can see how that compares to what is coming in. Are you spending more than you earn? Do you have money leftover that you can allocate to your financial goals?

Decide where you can cut back

Compare your spending habits to the goals you just identified. Do they align? If you realize that you’re spending a lot of money on things you don’t value, you can make some changes. Here are some good questions to get you started:

  1. Are there any subscriptions that you are paying for but not using? (ie: gym membership, magazine subscription, ZipCar, etc.)
  2. Are you taking a lot of cabs or ubers when you could walk, carpool, or take public transportation?
  3. Do you go out for lunch every day when you could be bringing your lunch to work?
  4. Is your money going towards the things you enjoy the most?
  5. Do you regret any of your spendings over the past few months?

(Read more about aligning your spending with your values.)

Adjust your spending as necessary

If you’ve realized that you’re spending more than you’re earning, or that your money isn’t going where you want it to, you can make changes. You have the power!

When you look at how much you’re earning each month, minus your fixed costs and debt payments, how much do you have left? That number is how much you should spend on flex costs and other priorities. Don’t go over that number or you risk going into debt. Allocate the number based on your needs and wants. Obviously you can’t cut out things like food, but you can spend less on dining out, while buying groceries more often. You can make coffee at home and bring your lunch to work. You can cut back on unnecessary shopping trips. (Share in the comments how you’re planning to make changes!)

Throughout this process, and as you continue to use your budget, keep your eye on the prize. Track how much closer you are to your goal each month. Print out a picture of your dream house and keep it on your desk. Remind yourself everyday that you’re doing this for an important reason! You’re doing it for YOU! That will make it easier to stick to.

Automate what you can

The easiest way to save is to set it and forget it. Set up direct deposit from your paycheck, or have your bank make scheduled transfers. This way, you don’t have to think about it and you won’t miss the money. You’re way more likely to save when you do this.

If you are working to pay down your debt, set up auto pay or set a reminder for yourself each month. You want to make sure to pay your bills on time, and this will take some of the work away from you. Just make sure you have enough in your bank account each month to pay these bills!

Note: If you’re already living on a bare bones budget, and still have nothing leftover, you might have to bring in more income. Can you ask for a raise at work soon? Perhaps you can take on a side gig, like babysitting, dog walking, or bartending. Another option is to monetize your skills. If you’re an awesome writer or copy editor, put yourself out there for hire!

Do you want a sample budget spreadsheet to get you started? Email me at hello@maggiegermano.com!

This post originally appeared on Maggie Germano Financial Coaching. Want to read more? Check out maggiegermano.com/blog or subscribe to Maggie’s weekly newsletter!

Spotted in Jewish DC – National Museum of American Jewish Military History

Memorial Day, when America remembers men and women who died serving our country in the U.S. Military, is this coming Monday.  In honor of this, our #SpottedinJewishDC this week goes to the National Museum of American Jewish Military History, located in Dupont Circle. We sat down for an interview with Michael Rugel, the museum’s Program and Content Coordinator to learn more about the museum’s history and what you can find within its walls.

How did the museum come to be?
The museum was founded by the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. The JWV originated in 1896, when a group of Civil War Veteran in New York formed the Hebrew Union Veterans Association. One of the organization’s goals was to disprove the anti-Semitic stereotype that Jews don’t serve in the military. When JWV moved their headquarters to DC, they created the National Shrine to the Jewish War Dead. In 1958, the museum was created by a Congressional Charter as the Jewish War Veterans National Memorial, Inc. In 1984, under the Reagan administration, the museum opened at its current location. George H. W. Bush nailed the mezuzah to the doorpost at the building dedication.

Why do you think it’s important to focus on Jewish, U.S. military members?
It’s important to show that Jews participated in virtually every aspect of American history. In my opinion, the stereotype of the American Jew as intellectual nebbish is still alive today. We want to show that Jewish Americans are very accomplished in a field that some might not expect. When Americans think of Jews in the military, they often immediately think of Israel. People lose sight of how many Jews have contributed to the American military, going back to the colonial era. Over 500,000 served in World War II. These are important stories.

Most of the time, the stories of Jewish service members are the same as service members of any other religion or ethnicity. But there are times when it was very significant that these men and women were Jewish.This includes Jewish brother fighting against brother in the Civil War, Jewish immigrants who left Russia specifically to escape military service – but came to America and volunteered to join the Army, and Jewish American soldiers who liberated concentration camps during WWII.

How long has the museum been at the Dupont Circle location?
Since 1984.

Any tips for our readers who may want to visit?

There are three good upcoming opportunities to check us out:

Friday, May 26th – We’re sponsoring a Memorial Day Shabbat service at Sixth and I (not at the museum). A representative will read the names of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sunday, June 4th – During the Dupont-Kalorama Museums Consortium Walk Weekend, we’ll be open from 11 am – 4 pm, along with 4 other museums in the neighborhoods: Anderson House, Dumbarton House, The Phillips Collection, and the President Woodrow Wilson House. All of us are open free of charge, with special programming. We’ll have a genealogy expert on hand to answer questions.

Sunday, July 16th – At 1:00 pm, we’re having a talk on Jews and Baseball.  Phil Wood is the host of Nats Talk Live and a long-time radio personality in the D.C.-Baltimore area. He’ll join us to discuss the history of Jews in baseball including Hank Greenberg and others who served in the military.

What do you think the most interesting things to see are in the museum?
That’s hard because there are so many, but I’ll list them!

  • A trepanning kit used by a Civil War surgeon to cut into skull and bone.
  • A WWII POW diary kept by Louis T. Wigdortz while a prisoner at Stalag Luft III. It prompts the question of what it was like to be a Jewish prisoner of the Nazis.
  • A listening station with a first-hand account of liberating concentration camps. Many of the American Jewish soldiers were Yiddish speakers and the only ones who could communicate with the Holocaust survivors.
  • Fallen Heroes – a touchscreen display listing the identified American Jews killed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
  • A portable ark and altar created by Chaplain Martin Weitz to honor the “swords into plowshares” theme. The ark and altar used artillery shells and other elements of war to create the ark. He used it to lead Jewish services in the Pacific
  • Hall of Heroes – Features the 17 identified Jewish recipients of the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor, dating from the Civil War to Vietnam.

The museum is open Monday – Friday, 9 am – 5 pm. Memorial Day (5/29) hours are 1pm – 5pm. The museum is open Sundays by appointment for groups of 6 or more, and the museum also hosts Sunday and weeknight programs on a regular basis.

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 Beyond The Tent Facilitator of the Week – Meleia

Though originally from the midwest, Meleia Egger is now a veteran Washingtonian. She also just happens to be a veteran of GatherDC’s Beyond The Tent Retreat. This year, she will be coming back to serve as a facilitator. We caught up with Meleia to chat about her experience at the retreat, as well as what she likes best (and least) about living in the District.

Where are you from originally, and how long have you been in D.C.?

I’m originally from Madison, Wisconsin. I will, as of this September, have been a Washingtonian for seven years!

What do you love best about living in D.C.?

So much! Rock Creek Park. Roof-decks. The food scene. The amazing neighborhoods. The Malcolm X Park drum circle. Jazz in the sculpture garden. The diversity. The happy hour and brunch culture. The healthy/running/yoga culture (to work off the brunch and happy hours). The summer HEAT!

Sounds like you have a lot that keeps you busy! Do you have time for any other hobbies?

Bird-watching, yoga, and spoken word – particularly storytelling and poetry.

What’s one thing you would change about D.C. if you could?

The extremely loud sirens going off so frequently.

How do you connect with your Judaism?

Community, conversation and creativity!

I know you’ve been on the Beyond The Tent Retreat, and you are coming back this year as a facilitator. What do you think the benefits of going on the Beyond The Tent Retreat are?

Connecting to nature, stepping back from your routine, and thinking about what it means to be a Jew in new ways!

What will you be doing in your role as a facilitator for Beyond The Tent this year?

I’ll be leading discussions, modeling vulnerability, and holding space for the participants while bringing my own perspective to it all.

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

My morning yoga.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  TO SIGN UP FOR BEYOND THE TENT, CLICK HERE!

Meet the Mifgash!

This week marks the arrival of the Israelis from the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s Reverse Mifgash program. From May 15th until May 25th, 11 participants from all over Israel will immerse themselves in the Jewish-American experience by joining an array of activities from, Shabbat dinners to baseball games to our GatherDC Happy Hour tonight! For those interested in joining any of the activities, check out our list! We spoke with some participants prior to their arrival on our shores to get a better sense of who they are. Read on and you’ll have some nice icebreakers for tonights Happy Hour!

Keren Asaf

I was in the U.S. once before, for my Bat-Mitzvah.

I’m looking forward to visiting the United States, meeting new people with a different way of life, and seeing D.C.

The reason I wanted to participate in Reverse Mifgash is that I was interested to see the Jewish community outside of Israel. I want to meet people and hear about their life and learn what their perspectives are of Israel.

I hope to meet new friends and to feel more committed to my life in Israel and my Judaism. In Israel, we take our Jewish community, holidays, etc., for granted but I guess it is not like that in America.

 

Joe Graham

I have been to the US once, a year ago, visiting family in New York and Las Vegas.

I am most looking forward to meeting new people and connecting with some old friends. I am also very excited about getting to know the culture (both Jewish and general) of the D.C. area.

I hope to take back to Israel great experiences and memories, and also friendships that will last.

 

Dolev Elbaz

I have actually been to the U.S. twice. When I was between the ages of one and three, my family lived in Sacramento, California, where my father studied for his Master’s degree and my mother taught Shalom School (a Jewish day-school). Of course I don’t remember much, but technically I was there. The second time was on a family trip when I was 12 years old (2003). We traveled for about 2 months visiting the West Coast, Chicago, Canada and then the East Coast (including a few days in D.C.). I’m really looking forward to meeting my friends from Birthright and enjoying D.C, with them as an adult. I believe it will be a totally different experience than what I had as a young boy.

I’m excited about the opportunity to experience D.C. and the U.S. with local friends and learn about the Jewish community abroad. I think this is something unique to Reverse Mifgash since we get to meet a lot of people from the Jewish Federation and hear about their work in the community.

I hope to take back some great memories. Secondly, I would like to return with the feeling that Israel has a great Jewish community in the U.S. that supports it. Also, I will be happy to keep in touch with some more friends from D.C.

Adi Amsalem

This will be my first time in the States.

I’m looking forward to being exposed to the daily life of the Jewish community, seeing how Jews live abroad.

I want to enrich my knowledge about Jews as an authentic group in America, and hope to take home some strong memories.

 

Itzhak Zander

This is my first time in the U.S.

 I’m looking forward to seeing people, sites, culture – everything that is different than in Israel!

I really want to feel how Americans feel when they come to Israel with Taglit.

I hope to gain new friends. Besides that, I hope to get a new perspective about  the term ‘community’.

 

Ohad Shturm

I’ve never been to the U.S. before. This will be my first time!

 I’m looking forward to meeting with my friends from the Shorashim bus, back from July 2013. I’m also very excited about meeting with the Jewish community in D.C., going to museums and generally just traveling around somewhere I don’t know. I haven’t done something like this in a while.

I hope I get a chance to learn as much as I can about the way the Jewish people live in the U.S. and discuss all kind of topics.

 

 

Top 5 Places to Get Cheesecake in DC for Shavuot and Beyond

Why we eat cheesecake and other dairy products on Shavuot has long been debated. Whatever the reason you eat cheesecake, you want to eat the best. That’s why we prepared this list of the best cheesecake spots in DC. Is your favorite on the list?

Capital City Cheesecake Mini Cheesecakes

#5 – CAPITAL CITY CHEESECAKES (Takoma Park, MD)

With two sisters at the helm, this Takoma Park, MD bakery prides itself on its cheesecakes. With 12 flavors, including one vegan option (!), their mini cheesecakes can be ordered individually or by the dozen. Almost all flavors come in their 9″ pies as well.

 

 

 

Truckeroo Photo of That Cheesecake Truck

#4 – THAT CHEESECAKE TRUCK (Mobile)

If you can find it, it will make your day. This truck serves mini-cheesecakes in various flavors. Their products are supplied by Sweetz Cheesecake, a storefront out in Gaithersburg, MD. Try to get their Brown Sugar Bourbon if it’s on the menu when you track the truck down!

Buttercream Mini

 

#3 – BUTTERCREAM BAKERY (Shaw)

Shaw’s sweetest addition to 9th Street is the perfect place to stop for your cheesecake fix if you look like this when you’re around baked goods. Each day, these bakers prepare a cheesecake of the day, bundled in a perfect 4 oz. treat for your taste buds and your waistline.

 

 

 

Dog Tag Bakery Selection

#2 – DOG TAG BAKERY (Georgetown)

While variety of cheesecake is not their strong point, these guys serve up some of the best Key Lime Cheesecake north of the Keys. Oh, and they get bonus points for their inspiring tikkun olam (healing the world) business model by employing disabled veterans!

 

Cakeroom’s Red Velvet Cheesecake

#1 – CAKEROOM (Adams Morgan)

This place does pretty much anything with flour, sugar and butter right. But, their cheesecakes are particularly amazing. With 13 flavors to choose from, including Caramel Macchiato, Red Velvet and Oreo, you won’t know where to start. If you’re going at night, arrive there early since they tend to get pretty bare-shelved by 7pm.

 

 

 

For more on how to celebrate Shavuot in DC, check out our Shavuot Guide 2017/5777.

Shavuot Guide 2017/5777

Also known as “Feast of the Weeks,” you may know Shavuot as “The Holiday Where We Eat Cheesecake.”

Not only does the holiday, which begins the evening of May 30th and ends the evening of June 1st, have several names, it also celebrates more than one religious observance. Shavuot both celebrates the early summer’s grain harvest (in Israel) and also G-d giving the Torah on Mount Sinai to the Jewish people. It has become customary to eat dairy and study, debate and analyze Torah late into the night. This is called a Tikkun Leil Shavuot. In recent years, many Jews have started to reimagine Shavuot…engaging not only with traditional Torah texts, but also with more contemporary texts and art.

However you decide to mark the holiday, we’ve got your guide for doing it in DC!

Events

Missing something? Submit it to our calendar, and then shoot us an email.

May 22nd

THE TEN – Jews and Muslims in America: Political Challenges and Moral Opportunities

May 24th

Shavuot: It’s Complicated

May 25th

What They Saw at Sinai at Sixth & I

May 30th

Shavuot @ Adas Israel: Recreating the Space Between Heaven and Earth

Shavuot with Tikkun Leil Shabbat and Bet Mishpachah

Shavuot Part I: Dessert Oneg and All-Night Learning with Chabad

May 31st

Shavuot Part II: 10 Commandments and Dairy Buffet at Chabad

June 7th

The Unkosher Comedy Tour: Up All Night

Food for Shavuot

Our Picks for the Top 5 Places for Cheesecake in DC

Shavuot Recipes from Federation’s Jewish Food Experience

Shavuot, without Cheese (via Tablet)

Recipes for a Sans Dairy Shavuot (via Federation’s Jewish Food Experience)

New Addition to On Rye’s Menu for Shavuot – Dairy-Based Push Pops

More Shavuot Resources

My Jewish Learning – Shavuot Basics

The Best Cheese Puns Ever via Buzzfeed

Video: Why Do Jews Eat Cheesecake on Shavuot? –

Video: Sixth & I’s Rabbi Shira Stutman Talks Shavuot –

Video: This Hilarious Song –

Spotted in Jewish DC – On Rye’s Awesome SWAG

Whether you’ve tasted their modern take on Jewish deli food or not, you’ll certainly have a craving for On Rye‘s creative piece of SWAG, which happens to be our #SpottedinJewishDC feature this week.

This awesome design that pays homage to the Helvetica List shirts of 2012.  It makes your mouth water on the front and then sports an “On Rye” logo on the back. While this beauty only comes in a sweatshirt (not ideal for summers in DC), pick up one now either in store on online. Or, enter to win one through our contest!

We asked Co-Owner, Ilyse Fishman Lerner, about the sweatshirt’s origin. She said she wanted to create something modern but comfortable. Comfortable it is, made from Bella + Canvas fleece, which is super wearable and soft.

 Want to win a sweatshirt of your very own! Enter the contest! We’ll announce the winners Friday!

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!

Rabbi Rant – Proud, Jewish and Disconnected? Beyond the Tent Might be the Answer

You don’t have to look very hard to find an excuse for not wanting to connect Jewishly.

Many of us can find one by simply thinking back to childhood:

-You hated Hebrew school.
-Synagogue was boring.
-Your Hillel was too religious.
-A rabbi once said something offensive or hurtful.
-Being Jewish made you feel like an outsider at school.
-You or your family were judged or even alienated for “how” Jewish you were or weren’t.

Others of us may gravitate toward present-day excuses:

-You feel you don’t have enough Jewish knowledge to engage.
-You didn’t have the same experiences that every other Jew seems to have had.
-Your beliefs and values seem incompatible with the Jewish community.
-You’re worried about Judaism eclipsing other important pieces of your identity.
-Jewish programs seem overly focused on helping you find a partner.
-It feels like everyone already knows each other.

These (and there are many more) are all legitimate reasons to leave your Jewish identity unexplored, and I’m sure most people reading this will find one or more of these reasons resonates.

Yet, an overwhelming percentage of American Jews (94%) are proud to be Jewish.

And herein lies the paradox of 21st century American Jewry – we’re proud of something that we feel disconnected from and haven’t taken the time to seriously explore.

It’s not that we’re not open to exploring our Judaism or feeling more connected to it. It’s just that we have so many paths out and so few paths in.

This is why GatherDC created the Beyond the Tent Retreat – to present a few alternative paths into Jewish life that are compelling and meaningful for us today. This retreat won’t erase your Jewish baggage or resolve all the problems with the Jewish community. But it will validate your experience and allow you and other like-minded Jewish 20s and 30s in DC to take ownership over your Jewish identity.

It’s not hard to find the type of Judaism that doesn’t work for you. Why not spend a little time searching for a type of Judaism that does?

Our upcoming retreat is July 21-23, so if you’re interested and available, you should apply today! Early applications close on Friday, May 26.