Hey, mainstream Jewish press…lighten up

MSM. C’mon Washingtonians, I know you know what it stands for. And if you don’t, ask the nut job conspiracy theorist rambling on about how Israel was behind 9/11 at your local Metro station.

Mainstream media. Let’s talk about the Jewish mainstream media though, if just for a moment. Because, in many ways, the Jewish establishment acts a lot like that conspiracy theorist. I can sum up their collective writing and reporting over the past few decades as “They’re out to get us!” The Jewish press doesn’t wear its Judaism on its sleeve, it wears it under a tinfoil hat.

And therefore, to them, Judaism is defined by “They.” Nazis. Arabs. A country boy in Mississippi who’s not too fond of bagels. And while, yes, we are the people that invented kvetching…

…we also invented kvelling.

Here’s one thing I’ve learned from my Christian friends — they enjoy being Christian. The Christian press is filled with wonderful reasons to be Christian. They are the Whos down in Who-ville.

And while Anatevka was a rough neighborhood, there’s no need to be Grinches. I’m not going to argue that the Jewish press is wrong. “They” are out to get us. So, what’s new? They’ve been trying for thousands of years. And yet right now we’re eating donuts and trying on new sweaters from Neiman Marcus (I won’t even tell you the deal I got on this thing), and the best they’ve done is change the name of their county so it no longer begins with a-s-s…

Let’s not let “them” define “us.”

So, let them keep trying. But in the meantime, I believe

Because at the end of the day, pogroms and all, it’s a pretty cool club to be in (especially when that club is in modern-day America). You’re related to all those people in the Adam Sandler songs. The food…forget about it. And you’ve been passed down an extremely wise how-to manual to life that’s worked well for thousands of years.

So I feel like a mom at medical school graduation when I see how the Gen Y sons and daughters of Abraham have created ModernTribe. And AskMoses. And Jewlicious. And, dare I say, Gather the Jews.

Sure, there’s talk about “They.” And there always will be. But these Macintosh-wielding Maccabees, these iPad Israelites, these digital Davids are bringing a little more joy to what it means to be Jewish. And the Jewish MSM could learn a lot from that.

Editor’s note: Daniel Burstein is a contributor to Gather the Jews and is the brother of the famous Sheryl Burstein. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

Menorah lighting on the Ellipse

Rabbi Shemtov, Itzhak Perlman, Jacob Lew, and Dreidelman all braved the cold weather yesterday to kick off the first night of Hanukkah at the Menorah lighting on the Ellipse.

According to the American Friends of Lubavitch – the hosts of the event – close to 4,000 people requested tickets to see the giant menorah lighting.

Each year, the top Jewish White House official serves as the ceremonial lighter of the menorah.  Last year, Rahm Emanuel had the honor.  Jacob Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) held the Shamash this year.

Mr. Lew was called back to the White House shortly after lighting the menorah to continue working on an agreement between Congressional Republicans and Democrats on the Bush tax cuts.  But Lew’s absence was quickly filled by world famous violinist Itzhak Perlman, the three cantors, and the United States Navy Band.

Of course, according to this National Journal article, all of these famous performers were eclipsed by the legendary Dreidelman:

Washington, D.C. Mayor-elect Vincent Gray attended and poked fun at his campaign slogan by declaring “one Hanukkah, one city,” and renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman closed the ceremony by playing the traditional Jewish song “Oseh Shalom” and “God Bless America.”

Other dignitaries in attendance included Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Norm Eisen, President Obama’s former ethics czar who is in line to become ambassador to the Czech Republic. But the most recognizable attendee may have been Dreidelman, a man dressed up as a giant blue dreidel, who drew the loudest round of applause.

And here Gather the Jews has a claim to fame.  Co-founder and director, Stephen Richer, served as this year’s Dreidelman, filling the large shoes left by fellow co-founder and director, Joshua Kaller, who served as last year’s Dreidelman.

One can only hope that Aaron Wolff is equal to the challenge for next year.

Lighting the National Menorah, image from WWLP.com

Washington Post photo gallery.
NBC coverage of event.
Fox News.

Picture of Dreidelman and the National Menorah, courtesy of Melissa Fishkin.

Maccabees meet the Midwest

Indiana Hebrew T-Shirt

A Hillel t-shirt with the word Indiana in Hebrew.

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah.  I love Hanukkah.  My annoyance at the over-commercialization of the holiday notwithstanding, I love pretty much everything about Hanukkah.  The food, the music, the historical story, the pyrophilia associated with it all.  Needless to say, I’d been singing holiday songs pretty much all morning. And then, early this afternoon, I heard that several Jewish campus organizations at Indiana University, in my hometown of Bloomington, had their community centers vandalized over the weekend.  Hebrew books at the IU library were found, befouled, in the toilets.  Boom.  Buzz over.

I immediately reached out to a family friend, founder of the newly-formed Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism at the university.  I contacted the ADL’s regional office to make sure they were already involved (they were).  But mainly, I felt helpless and violated and outraged.  “We’re a resilient people,” a friend told me, trying to make me feel better.  Frankly, I didn’t find resilience to be a sufficient concept. Sure, Jews are great at getting back up after they’ve been kicked around.  However, our collective ability to stand and dust off wasn’t particularly comforting to me today.  I needed something more.

And then I thought about Hanukkah. I mean, really thought about it. Not about the frequently touted, God’s-always-there, eight-days-of-oil angle, but rather about the tough, self-reliant Maccabees angle.  I thought about a small band of smart Jews who not only used their wits to tactically overcome a much larger army, but did it all while insisting on keeping an overt and proud Jewish identity.  I thought about men who hid themselves physically so as to utilize guerilla tactics, but flaunted their embrace of Torah learning over Greek philosophy.  I went home and put on a Star-of-David necklace.  Were I male, I would have put on a yarmulke, too. I smiled when I read that IU’s Chabad house insists on still putting a twelve-foot-tall menorah out on their lawn.  That’s right.  We’ll see your hatemongering ignorance and raise you some holiday spirit.

So, Happy Hanukkah, everyone.  With a vengeance.

Editor’s note: Noa Levanon is a GTJ staff member and a doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced and International Studies (SAIS). The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Noa Levanon.

This Year’s Top 5 Chanukah Videos

New for 2010, all these videos are definitely worth sharing! Also check out our Chanukah page for a comprehensive list of Chanukah events in the DC area.

Matisyahu’s ‘Miracle’ Chanukah song– Matisyahu in a very psychedelic video.

Candlelight by The Maccabeats– The YU a capella group gets down, Chanukah style.

I Light It – Chanukah Musical Remix 2010– NCSY presents a remix with melodies from Justin Bieber, Kanye West, and Enrique Iglesias.

“Eight Days”– Nefesh B’Nefesh presents an eight day tour of Israel to the beat of Matisyahu.

Double Down Latke Sandwich– JewishJournal.com Editor-in-CHEF Rob Eshman prepares this tasty variation of the Chanukah classic.

Got a video you like better? Let us know in the comments!

Which Jew is Smarter?

Battle of the Ilyas, Round II. This Time, It’s Personal

For those of you in the D.C. Libertarian community, you know that there are two Ilyas.

Ilya Shapiro, a Senior Fellow of Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute, and Ilya Somin, a Professor at George Mason School of Law. Both are Libertarians. Both are Russian. Both have the same last initial. They often get confused, but they are nothing alike.

To resolve this name-game between these two brains, last year I hosted a trivia battle, dubbed the Battle of the Ilyas. Shapiro was victorious. Ilya Shapiro has dutifully enjoyed his one-year reign as the undisputed Ilya of Washington, D.C. However, his term ended on November 24, 2010. Thus, it is time to fight again–Round Two of the Battle of the Ilyas began a week ago.

Last week both Shapiro and Somin a 25-question quiz, based on the Judicial Clerkship Knowledge Quiz of the Honorable Danny J. Boggs.

After the parties complete the written component, we will record a podcast with several oral questions. Following the oral component, I will announce the winner of the 2nd Annual Battle of the Ilyas competition (and I gather Justice Kagan, and not Justice Scalia, will get the reference in the title of this post.)

May the best Ilya win!

For those of you who wish to play at home, here are the questions.

To vote on which Ilya you think will win, visit the original post.

This post originally appeared at JoshBlackman.com.  Josh Blackman is a recent graduate of George Mason University Law School.  He is now president of FantasySCOTUS.net and The Harlan Institute.  He is still frequently seen at Mesorah DC Shabbat dinners at Sixth & I Synagogue.

Ilya Shapiro and Ilya Somin are also D.C. Jews; their bios are linked in this post.  However, it bears mentioning that Ilya Shapiro is a former Jewish Guy of the Week.

A Deluge of Double Standards

The Jewish Policy Center featured a post today by GTJ’s Stephen Richer.

According to Natan Sharansky, criticisms of Israel can be divided into two camps—reasonable and unreasonable—by using the “three D’s” test: demonization, double standards, and delegitimization.

Judging by the second criterion—double standards—the past few weeks have been rough for Israel. Consider the following double standards.

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan on Israel.

As noted in this blog post by David Frum, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan recently referred to Israel in a less-than-friendly manner: “We will go on to raise our voice against those massacring innocent people and children. We will call a killer a killer when needed.”

Only a little later, CBC News shined new light on Hezbollah’s involvement in the assassination of Rafiq Hariri. Erdogan’s suggested response? Ask the investigating tribunal to delay its official report for another year so as to not upset the Middle East.

So much for calling killers killers…

To read the rest of the article, click here.

Parsing the Parsha: No Rest for the Righteous

Editor’s Note:  Will Gotkin is a recent graduate of The George Washington University and is currently studying at a yeshiva in Israel.

Parshas Vayeishev describes Yaakov as settled, implying permanency.  The Midrash infers from this that after his long exile and struggles, Yaakov wished to finally settle down in tranquility.[1] Yaakov reasonably thought that after siring the progenitors of the twelve tribes, working for Lavan, surviving his confrontation with Esav, and suffering the rape of a daughter and violence in Shechem, he had accomplished his mission of laying down the foundation for the future Jewish nation. However, Hashem saw it differently. We see that Yaakov’s tests were not yet at end, because shortly after this verse Yaakov’s son Yoseph disappears.

On Yaakov’s continued labors, Rashi comments: “[Whenever] the righteous seek to live in tranquility, G-d says ‘Is it not sufficient for the righteous [to have] what has been prepared for them in the World-to-Come that they should also want to live in tranquility in this world?’”[2]

This is not to say that the righteous are not deserving of any comfort in this world. In fact, Yaakov spent the last seventeen years of his life in spiritual bliss.[3] It simply means that Yaakov’s mission was not yet complete. Indeed it is not us, but G-d who determines when we have accomplished what we must do in life.

Tzaddikim (the righteous) are often called on to do more, because they are among a small few who are able to best carry out Hashem’s will. The greater the person, the more challenges they face, precisely because they are able to overcome them.

In the end we are not the ones to decide when our job is finished. Judaism teaches that Hashem has a specific plan for each of us. As long as we are alive, it is up to us to figure out what is our mission in this world, actualize our potential, and fulfill the purpose for which we were created.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Will Gotkin.

[1]Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash, page 198

[2]Metsuda Chumash/Rashi, page 416

[3]Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash, page 198

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

We at Gather the Jews (GTJ) are thankful for the opportunity to interact with so many young professionals who are passionate about Judaism and the Jewish community, and we are thankful to be in a city and country that encourages a rich Jewish life. The first 39 weeks of GTJ’s existence have been a blast, and we hope to do even more with the Jewish community in the coming weeks.

Please let us know which parts of GTJ you like most, and please let us know what needs to be added or improved. Although this is a standing invitation, we’d especially appreciate your advice as we head into the New Year.

We hope that you had a wonderful Thanksgiving—even if you’re a Lions, Cowboys, Bengals, or Longhorns fan and were on the wrong side of the scoreboard today.

Wishing you the best,

GTJ Crew

Y-Love and Shemspeed Perform for Gather the Jews

Y-Love with two GTJ slap bracelets.

Over 125 young professionals met last night at Club Ozio to hear Jewish hip hop artist Y-Love at a Gather the Jews happy hour. See the pictures on our fan page.

Y-Love opened with variations on well-known hip hop songs such as “All I do is Win,” and then treated the audience to some of his own popular songs.  He closed with a few upcoming features that have yet to be released on CD.

For those less-familiar with the Jewish hip hop scene, Y-Love (Yitz Jordon) is one of the latest and most famous orthodox pop music artists.  Others in this category include (most famously) Matisyahu, Pey Dalid, Piamenta, and Soul Farm.  See this Jerusalem Post interview for more about Y- Love:


Supporting Y-Love was Erez Safar, mix artist and proprietor of the popular Jewish music company Shemspeed.  Erez is well-known for his ability to make cool beats for large Jewish audiences.  Forward magazine named him one of the 50 top Jews of 2007.  More info about Shemspeed and its artists can be found here:  http://shemspeed.com/daily/

But before either of these Jewish musical titans took the stage, the audience heard from GTJ’s very own Joshua Kaller and a few members of his band: Hanukkah Harry and the Guilty Gelt.  Andres Harris ran the evening as MC and DJ.

The bright blue bands that feature prominently in most pictures are the new GTJ slap bracelets that say “You’ve Been Gathered.”

(See additional pictures on our fan page.)