When Religion Gets In The Way Of Sports

Stephen Richer
When Religion Gets In The Way Of Sports

Considering how many Jews are competing in the upper-echelons of athletics, it’s no surprise that an occasional conflict should arise between a playoff game and a Jewish holiday.  When this happens, what is the athletic Jew to do?

Having grown up in a household where Judaism ranked third in the list of family worships (1–Sports 2–Jane Austen), this question never posed much of a problem to me.

But it did for the much vaunted Northwest Yeshiva women’s basketball team.


Are they to be commended?

GTJ Newsletter 1

Welcome to Gather The Jews (GTJ),

Thank you for being a proud and active member of the Washington, D.C. Jewish community! This letter highlights some of the week’s upcoming events and ways you can be a part of the GTJ community. For a full list of events, please see the calendar on our home page (www.gatherdc.org).


Thursday (3/4/10) – Judaism and Islam: Mirrors and Echoes. Sixth and I Synagogue. 7:00 p.m.

Friday (3/5/10) – Shabbat Services, Dinner, and Wine Tasting. Mesorah DC. Sixth and I Synagogue. Services start at 6:30. Dinner starts at 7:45. RSVP required.

Sunday (3/7/10) – ROUTES: A day of Jewish learning and service. Washington Convention Center. 10:00 am – 5:00 pm

Tuesday (3/9/10) – Going Cold Turkey: Are Israel and Turkey Destined to be Fellows or Foes? One Lounge, 1606 20th Street NW. 7:00 – 9:00 pm.


– Want the whole community to know what a mensch or mayven you are? Apply to be the Jewish guy/girl/couple/business of the week! Convince us that you’re the best by sending a short email to info@gatherdc.org

– Interested in describing your thoughts in more than 5 sentences and a picture (per the above)? Then write for Gather The Jews! Gather The Jews is now recruiting writers for its blog, “The Schpiel.” For more information, write to Stephen@gatherdc.org

– We are always looking for new ways to grow and serve the DC Jewish community. If you have an idea, a suggestion, or want to help gather Jews, please let us know by writing to info@gatherdc.org

Ki Tisa – False Idols and False Prophets

Stephen Richer
False Idols and False Prophets
Ki Tisa
Exodus 30:11 – 34:35

This week’s Torah portion tells one of the best known Biblical stories: the rise and fall of the golden calf.

The story begins with the prolonged stay of Moses on Mount Sinai.  Fearing abandonment, the Jewish people turn to Aaron. “Come on! Make us gods that will go before us, because this man Moses, who brought us up from the land of Egypt we don’t know what has become of him.” (32:1)

And so came the golden calf.

This doesn’t go well with God. He plans to destroy the Jewish people, “Now leave Me alone, and my anger will be kindled against them so that I will annihilate them.” (32:10)  But Moses stays His hand.

False idols and false prophets are repeatedly addressed throughout the Torah, but the message is pretty simple: don’t have them, don’t follow them.

How applicable is this?  I would imagine that if granted an extra hour every day I would probably sleep more, eat more frozen yogurt, or do more crossword puzzles — I can’t foresee wanting to construct a golden calf.  And since leaving Utah, I haven’t been under active pressure to follow derivative prophets.

But false idols and messiahs appear in many forms, not just as potential usurpers of God’s throne.  Anything that tries to quickly undermine proven wisdom — in this case, the wisdom of God — can be seen as a false idol.  That Judaism promotes significant respect for the tried-and-true should come as no shock; the Fifth Commandment tells us to honor our parents — the embodiments of grayed wisdom — and Fiddler On The Roof sings about the importance of tradition.  The current state works for a reason; years and years of learning-our approximation of God-like wisdom-should not be readily abandoned.

In this sense, the portion warns against events such as the French Revolution, the Soviet Revolution, or other instances where established wisdom, models of government, or economic systems are abandoned wholesale in favor of an enticing new ideology.

These false idols and prophets are most appealing in times of duress.  The Jewish people felt despair in the absence of Moses; the Russian people felt despair as a result of a struggling economy and a crippling 1918 treaty with Germany.  The Jews departed from God’s wisdom by creating the golden calf as a quick panacea; the Russians turned from history’s established wisdom to a utopian dream.

The portion teaches that even in extreme times we should not reach out to false prophets.  We can perhaps look to make minor adjustments in Moses’ absence — maybe invent a dreidel or a bagel to keep us occupied — but we should be wary of directly abandoning the wisdom of God and Moses.  After all, it was they who took us out of Egypt.

The Jewish people are old.  Very old.  Our years burden us with a lachrymose history — 586 B.C.E., 70 C.E., 1492, 1933, etc. all stand out in pain — but our age also gives us a perspective on the world.  New fangled religions, new political ideologies, and new prophets (religious or otherwise) come and go, but the Jewish people are here to stay.  We must be doing something right, so while some alterations to Judaism and existing wisdom might be desirable or even advisable, we should think twice before abandoning all established wisdom and creating a golden calf.

1) The use of the third person masculine pronoun is not intended to preclude other interpretations of God.

Going Before The King

“Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:16

Going Before The King
Joshua Kaller

As we launch Gather The Jews, it is serendipitous that the focus of our Mission and the name on our website is found in the portion of Jewish writings that are being celebrated this very weekend in the Megillah Esther. Rabbis have suggested that each week’s Torah portion reflects an existing energy that parallels the story being told during that week. I personally remember reflecting upon the Parsha of Achari Moot (After The Death of Aarons two children) as my family was burdened to undertake the beginning of a loss in our lives. I am certainly one to accept the criticism that it is easy to read and interpret into materials what you need to see. Even if so, this holds true today.

At this moment, I sense that there is a great need for us to unite. There is such a great diversity, strength, and collection of resources that exist within our Jewish community. But I challenge you by asking, “Are we united?” What I have witnessed thus far in DC over the past 2.5 years is that there exists pockets of communities that thrive within the urban jungle gym we know and love.

However, are we too insular, too isolated, and too ignorant of all the others? Have we become so comfortable in our cliques that we don’t even seek out others?

We at Gather The Jews are seeking to help remedy this dilemma. We wanted to provide you with a one-stop shop that presents to you all the formal opportunities that are being organized and created just for you! However, this is where I go and emphasize the need for our collective and informal unity.

The Story of Esther Teaches us that the power of unity is profound, and has the ability to mark unprecedented changes and victories against law and its formalities. Through the collective powers of the Jews fasting, they we’re able to affect the success of Esther’s approach to the king unannounced. The law stated that any one who approached the King unannounced would perish, UNLESS he tilted his scepter and acquiesced through his grace.

Rabbis have continued to agree that through the Jewish communities unity, they were to affect Esther’s outcome, which would ultimately affect their own.

This teaches us a profound lesson as we grow and gather together this Purim and beyond, that we possess great power to change the tides of law, the course of oceans, and lives of one another. Hopefully, as we unite we will grow comforted to know that what unites is positive and profound, unlike the plans that inspired the surge of community during the times of Esther.

So let us gather together tonight, tomorrow, and beyond because we never if we will need to change the stars together again.

Be in peace.

Joshua Kaller