Ranking The Plagues

Stephen Richer
Ranking The Plagues

Almost everything has a ranking.  Al Franken ranked religions in his book Oh, The Things I Know (reform Judaism placed first); US News & World Report ranks colleges; Newsweek ranks rabbis, The Economist ranks countries, and Maxim ranks women.  But nobody ranks the Ten Plagues of Egypt.

For the next week, Gather The Jews will be posting plague rankings contributed by our staff and community.  If you would like to see your rankings posted and counted toward our final ranking, please email Stephen@gatherdc.org.

Please feel free to provide comments to your rankings.

The final rankings will be based on total number of votes and on strength of argument.

Note:  Although only the first plagues affected the Israelites, for the sake of an objective ranking, assess all ten plagues as if they were universal.

Stephen Richer’s Rankings (Worst to least worst).

Rank    Plague
1             Boils — Chickenpox was bad enough.
2             Flies —  Spiders would probably accompany.  Eww…
3             Lice
4             Locusts
5             Frogs
6             Firstborn — Infant mortality rates were super high anyway. And more children would likely be lost through
lice, locusts, or boils.
7             Hail  — Can you say snow day?
8             Water into blood — The Nile is disgusting anyway.  Plus we’re supposed to drink wine on Passover.
9             Livestock — Vegans manage, right?
10           Darkness — “Cause it’s eleven thirty (A.M) and the club is jumpin’, jumpin'”

Sheryl Burstein’s Rankings (Worst to least worst).

1             Firstborn
2             Lice — eww, I don’t like things crawling on me … (except for cute Jewish boys)
3             Boils
4             Flies
5             Locusts
6             Water into blood
7             Frogs — eww, I don’t like things jumping on me … (except for cute Jewish boys)
8             Hail
9             Darkness
10           Livestock — matzo ball soup, anyone?

Michael Lipin’s Rankings (Worst to least worst).

1             Darkness — Was always, and remain, freaked out by pitch-black situations.
2             Firstborn — Am one of them.
3             Locusts — Not an insect fan.
4             Flies — Ditto.
5             Livestock — Not a vegetarian, so need my meat/poultry fix.
6             Boils — With universal health care, should be easier to seek treatment.
7             Hail — Depends on the diameter.
8             Water into Blood — Brita manual says filter prevents this.
9             Lice — Head & Shoulders does the trick every time.
10           Frogs — Just think of them as multiple Kermits.

Newsletter 4

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Team Jewish,

Welcome to week four of Gather The Jews!

The health care bill passed.  Kansas lost.  Israel and the United States disagreed.  Sandra Bullock is now single according to Facebook.

Celebrate or bemoan these events with some of your fellow Jews at an upcoming Passover Seder, Shabbat dinner, or other Jewish opportunity.

As always, full event details and other events can be found on our website www.GatherTheJews.com

Passover Seders:

If you don’t have plans for Passover yet, be sure to check out our new webpage dedicated to Passover events in Washington, D.C.

Click here.

Shabbat Options (3/26/2010)

1) What: Downtown Shabbat with Larry Paul & Robyn Helzner
Where: Sixth & I Synagogue
When: 6:00 pm – Drinks and appetizers.  6:45 – Services.  8:00 – Dinner.
Theme: “Join musician Robyn Helzner, one of the leading interpreters of world Jewish music, and Cantor Larry Paul for this spirited, musical, Carlebach-inspired service.”

Link: http://www.sixthandi.org/EventDetails.aspx?evntID=73&dispDt=3/26/2010

2) What: DC Minyan Shabbat Services

Where: DC  JCC

When: 6:45 pm – 8:15 pm.

Theme: DC Minyan is a traditional egalitarian Jewish community. Seating is separate for men and women without a mechitzah.

Featured Events:

1) What: Chocolate and Wine with Gather The Jews

Where: Biagio Chocolate – 1904 18th Street Northwest DC
When: Thursday, March 25, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm.
Theme: Open only to GTJ newsletter subscribers.  Come enjoy chocolate and kosher wine with GTJ people.

Link: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=111481442202727#!/event.php?eid=111481442202727&ref=mf

2) What: How to Cook a Passover Seder Dinner with a Spanish Twist – Jewish Professional Network
Where: Contact event administrator
When: Sunday, March 28, 1:00 pm – 4:30 pm.
Theme: “Why not add a different twist to your Passover Seder this year and impress your friends and family with a meal they will never forget?  This evening, we each learn and take on the basics – from A to Z – of making a special Passover Seder Dinner with a unique Spanish Twist!”  Register at www.jewishpro.com

Uncle Samuel Needs You!

Help make Gather The Jews even better.  There are plenty of fun ways to get involved (writing, updating the calendar, organizing events, speaking to Jewish organizations, etc).  If you have free time, talk to us about helping the Jewish community. Write to info@gatherdc.org if you are interested.

Questions, problems, concerns?  info@gatherdc.org

Don’t want to be on this mailing list?  Reply to this email and you will be removed immediately.  Thanks!

Vayikra – Apologize

Last week’s portion.  Sorry, I fell a bit behind… March Madness…

Stephen Richer
Leviticus 1:1 — 5:26

“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

This week’s Torah Portion teaches us that all actions have consequences, especially sinful actions.  Every time we offend, or break rules, there are subsequent occurrences–the offense can be followed with an apology in which case the harm is mitigated, or, if the apology is foregone, pain and grievance are the results.

Parshas Vayikra focuses on apologies–how to atone for our sins.  The method (animal sacrifice) and primary focus (God) of these apologies are different from today’s apologies, but the need for repentance is firmly established in the portion.

“And he shall lean his hand [forcefully] upon the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted for him to atone for him.” (Leviticus 1:4).

“And it shall be, when someone incurs guilt in any one of these cases, that he shall confess the sin which he had committed.” (Lev. 4:5)

The portion spends only limited time detailing the nature of the offenses, choosing instead to concentrate on the details of atonement.  For example, “And the kohen shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger, and place [it] on the horns of the altar [used] for burnt offerings.” (Lev. 4:25)  Previous commentaries offer a number of explanations for this emphasis.

One explanation observes that “to err is to be human.”  Or, more seriously, to sin is to be human.  Most of us, and here I certainly include myself, occasionally sin.  Whether it is yelling at a parent, lying to a friend, or something more serious, sins are an almost inevitable part of life.  This universality is substantiated by the array of potential sinners in the portion.  People sin unintentionally (Lev. 4:1); the entire community can sin (Lev. 4:13); people of the land can sin (Lev. 4:27); and leaders can sin (Lev. 4:22).

Fortunately, given the ubiquitous nature of sin, an individual can still be a mensch even if an occasional sinner.  In summary, sin happens, what is important is the response.  That is why so much emphasis is placed on the apology in the portion.

A second interpretation of why the portion is almost entirely devoted to atonement as opposed to particular offense, is that it demonstrates the relationship of effort between sin and apology.  Sins are quick; they are often the result thoughtlessness, impatience, or lack of discipline.  To fully atone for sins, the opposite characteristics must be exhibited: patience, discipline, and time.  If offense is given; the offender must work doubly or triply hard to atone.

In the final verses, the parsha suggests that these measurements of atonement are relative.  Yes, Kobe Bryant bought his wife a $4 million ring after committing adultery, but such a sum is not necessarily sufficient–according the above discussion of proportionality–nor is it necessary.  “But if he cannot afford a sheep, he shall bring as his guilt offering for that [sin] that he had committed, two turtle doves or two young doves before the Lord.” (Lev. 5:7).  This is a progressive sin tax.  The more you can afford; the more you give.

Sins have consequences–they can either prompt apology or hurt, or a combination of the two.  This portion teaches the importance of the apology.

AIPAC’s Eliot Brandt at Mesorah D.C.

Stephen Richer
AIPAC’s Eliot Brandt at Mesorah D.C.

“Name an issue–just one issue–that receives the same type of bipartisanship Congressional support that Israel receives.”
Despite working for a political institute and reading the newspaper with some regularity, I struggled to name more than two issues: steroid use in baseball and farm subsidies–and I’m not even so sure about the second of these.
But that, of course, was exactly the point.
Speaking before a large crowd at Mesorah D.C., AIPAC’s Eliot Brandt argued that despite the recent tension between Israel and the United States, few things are as unwavering as America’s support for Israel.  Since 1948, the two countries have worked closely together to advance similar aims and values.
And these values extend far beyond the global war on terrorism.  Israel not only represents a country that is America’s frontline of defense, but a country that has more scientific patents and Nobel prizes per square mile than any other country; a country that values women’s rights, civil rights, and economic rights; a country that, unlike many of its Middle Eastern neighbors, does not persecute homosexuals or people of minority religions, and a country that has the second most listings on the NASDAQ, trailing only the United States.
Mr. Brandt enumerated these facts and others during a 25 minute speech that informed and amused the Mesorah D.C. Friday night crowd.  The popularity of his speech was evidenced by the fact that following dessert, nearly the entire Mesorah crowd of more than 140 people stayed for Mr. Brandt’s question and answer session.
Questions were broad in scope–ranging from the recent Israel fiasco at University of California Irvine to whether Congressional lobbying is the most effective method for promoting Israel.  Mr. Brandt offered direct answers for each question, but he also developed several general themes, the first of which was that Congressional support of Israel cannot be taken for granted.  At least fifty new members will join Congress in January 2011–these members need to be convinced of Israel’s importance and friendship.  Moreover, Congress operates on a “what have you done for me lately?” mentality.
For this reason, pro-Israel forces in America cannot rest.  If America ceases being pro-Israel, Israel will stand alone in the world.  The chorus of world voices stands almost unanimously against Israel–the recently renamed UN Commission on Human Rights has issued more condemnations of Israel than the rest of the world put together (this includes places like China, Darfur, and Iran).
Mr. Brandt encouraged the audience to speak up on behalf of Israel, to learn more about Israel, and to get more involved.  Yes, there are those who will never listen and never like Israel, but if the world could be divided between sinners, saints, and salvageables, then the majority of the world would be salvageables–those who don’t yet have a confirmed position on Israel and are seeking more information.  It is these people that pro-Israel activists must target.
After this call-to-arms, Mr. Brandt concluded his question and answer session.  The audience continued to schmooze and eat dessert well into the night, taking full advantage of yet another bi-weekly Mesorah D.C. Shabbat Service and Dinner.
**Any minor inaccuracies in the above statistics should not be attributed to Mr. Brandt.  Owing to the restrictions of Shabbat, I did not take notes–I am simply relying on my memory.

American Jew: A Dilemma?

Article originally appeared at the Daily Caller (here)

Stephen Richer

“American Jew: A Dilemma?”


During her time as Prime Minister, Golda Meir appealed to Henry Kissinger for increased American support. The Prime Minister marshaled many reasons for assisting Israel—the country’s geo-strategic importance, its promotion of democracy, its attitude toward the Soviet Union, etc.—but she also appealed to Kissinger’s identity as a Jew. Unimpressed, Kissinger responded, “I would like to inform you that I’m first an American citizen, second Secretary of State, and third a Jew.” To which Meir replied, “In Israel, we read from right to left.”

Meir won the exchange, but the dilemma of the American Jew (and here I include myself), as referenced by Kissinger, remains unsolved. Where do our allegiances lie when Jewish interests conflict with American interests?

Before I jump into the politics of Israel, let me first recognize that American Jewish interests cannot simply be summarized as concern for the well being of Israel. Our interests are multi-faceted. We are, as a group, passionate about women’s rights, gay rights, meritocracy, economic liberties, racial discrimination, etc. But these issues have never made Jews stand out. Debates about abortion are never announced with headlines that read, “Strong Jewish Group Signals Approbation/Disapproval of Government Policy.” On the topic of Israel, American Jews stand out.

And Israel is important to American Jews. Most polls find that approximately 70 percent of American Jews agree with the statement that, “Caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew.” True, not all Jews support Israel or support it to the same degree—as is evidenced by J-Street—but most studies, including those cited in Norman Podhoretz’s new book, show that the majority of American Jews are still strong advocates of Israel in the classic AIPAC sense.

So what happens when America and Israel disagree? How do we reconcile our status as citizens of America with our status as Jews?

The answer will of course differ from Jew to Jew, and it does not have to black and white; the circumstances would undoubtedly matter. If Israel launched an unprovoked nuclear strike on New York City, I’m guessing that most American Jews would side with the United States.

But in less extreme situations, such as the present dispute between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu administration, it becomes more difficult. My knee-jerk reaction is to stand on the side of the United States. But at the same time, I am a staunch supporter and admirer of Israel and, coupled with that, I agree more with Netanyahu’s foreign policy than with President Obama’s.

I don’t have the answer, but there’s an old Texas expression of loyalty that “you dance with them that brung ya.” And considering that the United States has given me the opportunity to eat, read fantasy books, play basketball, and type essays of small-significance on nice Dell computers, I’ll be proudly siding with United States foreign policy in almost every instance.

All the same, it was a lot nicer when we had an American administration that marched side-by-side with Israel. Which of course makes me continue to wonder: why are American Jews almost monolithically liberal?

Washington Jewish Week on Gather The Jews

Excerpt from Washington Jewish Week article on Gather The Jews.com:

“Andrew Penn-Giannettino prefers latkes over hamantashen, Mel Brooks over Woody Allen (“can anyone argue the genius of Spaceballs?”) and says the best thing about being Jewish is having “access to Jewish women.”

These and other factoids about him were made public earlier this month in Gather the Jews, a new community-based Web site (GathertheJews.com) that envisions itself a one-stop-shop for young professionals who are hoping to carve out a comfortable place for themselves in the Washington-area Jewish community.”

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Josh Kornbluth as Andy Warhol

Aaron Wolff

Last week Aaron was invited to see the play Andy Warhol, Good for the Jews? Witty, humorous and informational I decided to come back for more and interview Josh Kornbluth.  Don’t worry, he wasn’t looking away the whole time, just when I asked him the important questions.

What would you order if you took Andy Warhol out to dinner?
I think he’d expect me to order Campbell’s soup – so I might try to surprise him by ordering Progresso instead (or homemade, if we were eating at one of those fancy places he loved).

What is better than Campbell’s Soup?
In the hopes that Campbell’s might sponsor me, I am going to say: Nothing!  Campbell’s soup is the very best!  (But if they don’t sponsor me, I’m open to the highest bidder.)

Why should we come to see your play?
If you like to see theater that is both thought-provoking and entertaining (if I don’t say so myself!).

If you could have an all star audience, who would you want in it?
Wow – what a potentially overwhelming question!  Here are a few I’d love to see in the audience: Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, the entire cast of The Wire, Barack and Michelle Obama, and (of course) J.Lo.

What painting do you treasure most?
Of the 10 Warhol portraits of “Jewish Geniuses,” my favorite is probably the one of Franz Kafka; it feels like Warhol really captured a sense of the author’s tortured genius.

Where can we learn more about you?
The best place is probably my website, www.JoshKornbluth.com.

Interview done by Aaron Wolff.
Photo by William Mercer McLeod

Newsletter 3

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

J Squad,

Welcome to week three of Gather The Jews!

It is an exciting time to be a Jew.  Not only will we soon get to watch many of the finest Jewish athletes compete in the March Madness college basketball tournament, but we will get to celebrate Passover!  If you have not yet made Passover plans, Gather The Jews will soon be creating a special page for Passover options in Washington DC.  If you are hosting a Passover event, or if you know of one that we should mention, please let us know.

To stay busy in the two weeks before diving into that Hillel sandwich, we suggest attending as many of the following events as possible:

As always, full event details and other events can be found on our website www.GatherTheJews.com

Featured Events

1) March Madness Competition with Gather The Jews.  Brackets Due Thursday by 12:00 pm.  Contact me (stephen.richer@gmail.com) if you are interested.

2) Sunday, March 21, 2010, 12:00 pm – Afikomen Scavenger Hunt – DC JCC
A number of great Jewish organizations have teamed up to bring you the second annual Afikomen Scavenger Hunt.  Grab a few friends and make your way to DuPont circle to outwit and outrun other teams as you search for the Afikomen.  http://www.sixthandi.org/EventDetails.aspx?evntID=327&dispDt=3/21/2010%2012:00:00%20PM

Sunday, March 21, 2010, 2:00 pm – Matzah Factory – Adas Israel
If chasing around DuPont looking for a broken piece of matzah isn’t your thing, then go make your own matzah with Adas Israel!

4) Monday, March 22, 2010, 7:30 pm – Think Jewishly. Act Globally. The Jewish community’s response to global crisis. – University of California Washington Center (1608 Rhode Island Avenue, NW)
Our Jewish values teach us to help people in need –whenever or wherever the need arises. Recent events, such as the crisis in Haiti, are proof that we must think Jewishly and act globally. Join Next Gen of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington for a panel discussion on the Jewish community’s response to global crisis.   Registration is online at http://www.shalomdc.org/nextgencrisispanel.

Shabbat Options (3/19/2009)

1) What: Young Professional Shabbaton. Chabad DC
Where: 2110 Leroy Place, NW
When: 7:30 – 9:00 pm – Pre-service socializing, drinks, and appetizers 7:15 pm – Shabbat service, followed by drinks and dinner
Theme: Lively Shabbat for young professionals.  Divided seating at services.  $18 per person, $25 for two. To pay please call (202) 332-5600 or go on http://afldc.org/donate/secure.shtml and specify that it’s for the shabbaton.

2) What: Shabbat Services and Discussion: Israel’s Place in the World – Mesorah DC
Where: 6th and I
When: 6:30 – Services 8:00 to 9:30 Dinner, lecture, and discussion
Theme: Join Mesorah DC and AIPAC’s Elliot Brandt to discuss the Middle East Peace Process and the Iranian Nuclear Program. http://www.mesorahdc.org/scripts/webapp.py?f=shabbat

3) What: Shabbat Dinner For Global Hunger – Moishe House
Where: Moishe House – 1753 Euclid Street NW
When: 7:30 – 9:30 pm
Theme: Join Moishe House to celebrate the Sabbath and work toward ending global hunger. You also must RSVP at this link (below). Please bring a vegetarian side dish, a dessert or a bottle of wine to share.” http://spreadsheets.google.com/a/ajws.org/viewform?hl=en&formkey=dDc1LUMwNGcwbng5NzU2dXlxZ3RhaFE6MA

4) What: Tikkun Leil Shabbat
Where: 1810 Sixteenth St NW (map)
When: 6:45pm – 9:45pm
Description: Circle seating, with instruments 6:45 pm services; 8:15ish pm dinner Universalist Nat’l Mem’l building (16th & S Sts NW) http://tikkunleilshabbat.blogspot.com/

Special Discounts Brought To You By Gather The Jews:

– See the play “Andy Warhol – Good for the Jews?” at the DC JCC on Thursday, March 18, at 7:30.  Tickets are being offered at a special discounted rate of $18 (normally $42) to the first 15 people to register through Gather The Jews.  Contact me if you are interested.

Uncle Samuel Needs You!

Help make Gather The Jews even better.  There are plenty of fun ways to get involved (writing, updating the calendar, organizing events, speaking to Jewish organizations, etc).  If you have free time, talk to us about helping the Jewish community. Write to info@gatherdc.org if you are interested.

Questions, problems, concerns?  info@gatherdc.org

Don’t want to be on this mailing list?  Reply to this email and you will be moved immediately.  Thanks!

Event Review: Plays And Frozen Foods — Good for Jews?

Aaron Wolff
Plays And Frozen Foods — Good for Jews?


Good for the Jews?

Before we ask that question, we must ask:

What is good?
What is Jewish?

And can something be good for the Jews?

As a Young Professional Jew in will  DC, I am exploring my own religion, tradition, passions, interests and all that goes along with them.  For some reason, I thought I was the only one.

Wait you do it too?!

Josh Kornbluth has done an amazing job integrating humor, history and religion into a 1 hour 20 minute play about Andy Warhol.  Don’t know who Andy Warhol is?  Stop by the JCC and find out. They have his paintings on display.  Or just pick up a Cambell’s Soup can

A great date for those wanting to laugh and learn.

And afterwards, you can stop by Mr. Yogato.

Va-yakhel-P’kudei – Come Together, Right Now…

Stephen Richer
Come Together, Right Now…
Exodus 35:1 – 40:38

Sadly, this week’s double Torah portion marks the end of the book of Exodus.  True, this doesn’t seem so bad when you consider that we spent most of the book slaving away in Egypt.  But the story of Moses has been my favorite ever since I saw Charlton Heston turn his staff into a snake that then destroyed Pharoah’s snakes (I imagine the English literature majors have a field day with this episode).  And I don’t know of any amazing movies made from the next three books.

This concluding Parsha is unexpectedly tame.  After parting the red sea, eating manna in the desert, building a golden calf, and watching Moses throw down the original tablets in a fit of temper, it seems like the book should have concluded with a duel between a wet and angry Pharoah and a cool and collected Moses.

But instead, the Parsha begins with the decree of Shabbat, “Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to the Lord; whoever performs work thereon [on this day] shall be put to death.” (Exodus 35:2) and then launches into a lengthy how-to guide for constructing a tabernacle.

Why does the Parsha transition so quickly between two seemingly unrelated subjects? The sages–and more directly, Rabbis Teitelbaum and Schwersenski–tell us that the Tabernacle and Shabbat run parallel courses.  The construction of the Tabernacle is a guide to Shabbat.  Anything that is done to create the Tabernacle is prohibited on the day of rest (and this is where we get the 39 categories of no-nos).

But what about those of us who aren’t carpenters and aren’t too terribly concerned with the prohibitions of Shabbat?  What do we get out of the Parsha?

Two things.  First, the Parsha teaches us that Shabbat is the home of the Jewish people.  More than Israel, and more than our local synagogue, Jews are at home when the sun sets on Friday.  As Dr. Barry W. Holtz of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) says, “the Tabernacle is God’s dwelling place”–we are constructing the Tabernacle for God, and we construct the Sabbath for ourselves.

If we continue to draw lessons from the construction of the Tabernacle, then we learn the second lesson: that Shabbat is a communal event.  The Portion more than once refers to the Tabernacle as the “Tent of Meeting.” (e.g. Ex. 40:2)  And the creation of the Tabernacle requires the work of the “entire community” (Ex. 35:20), specifically Bezalel, Oholiab, and Ithamar.  Similarly, Shabbat is not a one-man show.   We each have our parts, whether it is lighting the candles, cutting into the Challah, or simply showing up with a bottle of red wine.

Jews are often stereotyped as solemn individuals–staying late at work or pouring over books in the early morning–but “no man is an island,” and on the Sabbath, God strongly encourages us to celebrate life, and what’s a celebration without a friend or two?

Shabbat Shalom!