Spotted in Jewish DC: Sip City

A few weeks ago, I celebrated Shabbat with a yoga mat, a vegan rice bowl, and a tall glass of switchel.

This Friday night experience was nourished by OneTable, and hosted by GatherDC’s very own blogger – Judith Rontal! It was, in a word, “namastastic”. (Yes, that’s a word I just made up.)

One of the things that made it so awesome, was the drink that accompanied it all, switchel. This nourishing, apple cider vinegar and ginger based drink made my tummy and taste buds happy – all at once. Turns out, the company – Sip City –  behind this delicious beverage, was founded and is owned by a young, Jewish woman living in DC – Nikki Blank, and her business partner Josie. Lucky for me, I got the chance to grab coffee with Nikki at GatherDC’s brand new townhouse where we chatted all things switchel. Read on!

…And yes, it’s kosher for Passover.

 

Nikki and Josie, Sip City Co-Owners

Allie: What is switchel?

Nikki: Switchel is an apple cider vinegar and ginger based drink that’s been around since 1700s. You can trace roots from ancient Greece to U.S. congressmen who used to spike it with rum.

Switchel is made of apple cider vinegar, ginger, citrus, honey, and water. We [my Sip City partner Josie and I] played around with ingredients to come up with the different flavors to update them. Switchel can be used as a refreshing beverage, pre- and post-workout drink, a 3pm slumpbuster, a hangover cure, a cocktail mixer, a salad dressing, and even a chicken marinade.

I also have a lot of friends who don’t drink alcohol, and switchel is the perfect cocktail alternative that’s not just soda or a sugary juice. It’s an inclusive, versatile drink that can work for everyone.

Allie: What inspired you to start Sip City?

Nikki: I’ve been making drink concoctions in my kitchen for years to help relieve some of my stomach issues. I was burning my own kombucha – which was really tedious, and then buying my own kombucha – which was expensive. I thought, there had to be a better way to do this. I came across switchel on a blog, and started playing around with recipes to make it taste great. Then, I started selling my drinks under the table at work.

When I moved to DC [from Boston] this past June, I realized there was nothing that tasted as good as my switchel on market. I also noticed how popular kombucha and these kinds of drinks were getting, so it was a collision of lots of great things happening all at once.

Allie: What is your favorite Sip City switchel flavor?

Nikki: my favorite is “The Boston” – it’s got turmeric, black pepper, cayenne, and cinnamon. It’s so, so good in a spicy margarita, or warmed up on a cold day.

Allie: What new flavors are you working on now?

Nikki: We’re working on some summer flavors with grapefruit and tart cherry. The other day, I juiced a cucumber and threw it into switchel, and realized it was basically a drinkable pickle. I also want to do a Tokyo-themed switchel with green tea yuzu.

Allie: Why Tokyo?

Nikkie: My family lives in Tokyo! My dad got transferred 10 years ago there for his job and my parents moved there full time after I went to college. I try to go once or twice a year…there’s actually a pretty cool jewish scene in tokyo.

Allie: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced while starting your own business as a woman in DC?

Nikki: I’m so new to this industry and not sure how it works – the rhythm and pacing of it all. It’s hard to determine what success is because everyday is super different.

There’s also an education gap. People don’t know what switchel is, so we have to teach them what it is, and that vinegar can be palatable. Getting people to try it is a challenge. Once they do, they love it.

It’s also a very male dominated industry. In DC, we’re definitely seeing a women-led movement in food and food innovation, which is very rare. [My business partner and I] are trying to break down these gender barriers in food.

Allie: What advice do you have for others interested in starting their own business?

Nikki: Go for it! Make sure you have a good support system in place – friends and family who will financially and emotionally support you. You can always start a small business on the side, and grow it while working a full-time job. Just make sure you are 100% invested in what you are doing, and realize it will be a 24/7 endeavor that never ends. You have to be passionate about it and ready to change your life. Because your life will change.

Allie: What is your dream for the future of Sip City?

Nikki: To have people talking about switchel in the same way they talk about kombucha. I want to have people all over the country drinking switchel, and for people to be more mindful about what they drink throughout the day. And for switchel to be be lasting, not just a trend.

 

GatherDC Readers: You can buy Sip City drinks at Glen’s or Union Market, or WIN A CASE at our Jewish People of the YEAR Celebration! You get 2 raffle ticket when you sign up for the party, and will be automatically entered to win Sip City switchel, along with tons of other great prizes.

 

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.

Meet Eric: Jewish Board Gamer of the Week

Want to nominate your amazing Jewish friend to be featured on GatherDC? Send his/her name, brief blurb, and contact info to info@gatherdc.org.

Meet Eric: A mensch who hosts game night Shabbats, enjoys Latino Disney movies, and dreams of celebrating Passover “next year in Barcelona”.

Side note: Eric is also helping plan the Jewish People of the YEAR Celebration where we’ll toast to awesome young adults (like Mr. Schwartz) who have been featured as Jewish Person of the Week this past year, and everyone who makes our community so amazing!

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Eric: I moved down here for a job after graduation and moved in with a friend from college. I spent the first year in DC hanging out with work friends and friends from college, and then I discovered GatherDC.

Allie: How did you get involved with GatherDC/ DC’s Jewish community?

Eric: My Jewish life was very ingrained in my college experience at Cornell. But, after graduating I had almost no Jewish friends, so I went to a GatherDC happy hour by myself. I saw one person at the happy hour who I knew and he who told me about GatherDC’s Beyond the Tent retreat. I didn’t know anyone else going, but ended up making a lot of close friends, some of which I’m still friends with today – almost 2 years later.

Allie: What was your experience like on Beyond the Tent?

Eric: Beyond the Tent was a lot of fun, and a way to escape the busy life in DC, and have introspective conversations that we don’t get to do in our normal day-to-day life. The retreat showed me that there is a lot in DC in terms of Jewish life. I learned about Mesorah DC on the trip, and went on a Miami trip with them where I met a lot of other friends. These two trips were the avenues from which I built my social circles in DC, and then I became an Open Doors Fellow for GatherDC because I was interested in helping others have the same experience that I had.

Allie: What’s your favorite way to spend Shabbat?

Eric: Game night. Some friends and I will host a Shabbat dinner through OneTable, and we’ll play CodeNames, Avalon, Drunk/Stoned/or Stupid, What Do You Meme, and Cards Against Human.

I’ll take on cooking with my roommate or girlfriend, we’ll do a small reflection on everyone’s week, eat, and then head to the game part.

Allie: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Eric: A life quote I always live by, and has been recently popularized by my favorite NBA Team (The Philadelphia 76ers) is “trust the process”. To me, this means doing everything and anything it takes to get to your long term goals. At the end of the day we all want something, and it may not look like it’s the clearest road to that path, but if you keep driving down that road – with hard work and good timing – you can get there.

Allie: What’s your favorite Disney movie?

Eric: “The Three Caballeros” – I’m Latino and grew up watching this movie, it was made in the 1940’s I believe, and I highly recommend this movie!

Allie: If you could be anywhere right now, where would it be and why?

Eric: I studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain and would give anything to be back there.

Allie: What’s your favorite Passover food?

Eric: I was just introduce to it this weekend. My girlfriend’s family makes gravlax which is sushi grade salmon with dill, and avocado.

Allie: Complete the sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Eric: They are welcomed with open arms.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

The Washington Post Takes Anti-Semitism Mainstream

If you aren’t Jewish, then don’t date Jewish men, is what The Washington Post’recent piece called “I am tired of being a Jewish man’s rebellion” insinuates.

Author Carey Purcell’s incomprehensible conclusion surrounding her failed dating experiences takes Jew-bashing tropes mainstream.

Particularly, in a time of rising anti-Semitism, when DC Councilman Trayon White said that the Jews controlled the weather and Louis Farrakhan espoused anti-Semitism at a recent speech, the widely-read Washington Post now contributes to the problem.  

Purcell laments the fact that her two Jewish boyfriends left her after many years, claiming that it was because she was not Jewish.

“Over almost seven years and two serious relationships with Jewish men who at first said religion didn’t matter—and then backtracked and decided it did—I’ve optimistically begun interfaith relationships with an open mind twice, only to become the last woman these men dated before settling down with a nice Jewish girl. I can now say with certainty I am tired of being a Jewish man’s rebellion.”

Despite her sample size – of two – Purcell makes assumptions about Jewish men writ large, promoting broad stereotypes and generalizations which further prejudice against all Jews—ironic considering how many times Purcell writes that she understands a great deal about Judaism.

In fact, Purcell gives the very evidence undermining all of her credibility in the article itself: almost 44% of Jews have a non-Jewish spouse, and that number is rising, according to Pew Research. Clearly a large portion of Jewish men do not, in fact, have a problem marrying non-Jews, as Purcell would try to make you believe. As she herself outlines, the evidence shows that the problem isn’t Jewish men, but in fact Ms. Purcell. And let’s be honest: it’s not hard to see why she hasn’t found Mr. Right.

Purcell again undermines her claim:

“Not being Jewish was not the official reason either of these relationships ended. There were other problems – money, careers, and plans for the future.”

None of those problems are small, and Purcell’s conclusion to pin the ultimate failing of the relationship on religion is unsubstantiated – and at the very least underscores her inability to look at a relationship as the sum of its parts. However, she has no problem labelling all Jewish men as the sum of her small experience dating.

Moreover, Purcell seems to take issue with the fact that her boyfriends might have changed their minds about not caring about their religious differences…despite offering no good proof of this other than an angry outburst from her ex’s mother and the fact that her exes went on to marry “nice Jewish girls.”

But even if one was to somehow assume Purcell’s analysis was not entirely off-base: is she trying to say that two people in a serious and committed relationship aren’t allowed to change their views and grow over time?

Anyone who has ever been in a long-term relationship understands that two people either grow together, or grow apart.

Purcell writes that, “These [religious differences] issues weren’t there at first, but they started to appear after some time had passed and we were already in love,” as if to lead the reader to believe that her exes purposefully led her astray, despite the fact that these so-called “rebellious” phases inexplicably endured multiple years, and many serious conversations.

Even more offensive, Purcell frequently mentions how much she knows about Judaism and how much she respects it, but ends the piece by stating her resolve to create a cocktail named “A Jewish Man’s Rebellion,” complete with a bacon garnish.

Perhaps Purcell thought she was being clever and biting with the intent to include the non-kosher food on such a garnish, but again her conclusions were spiteful and misguided.

There is a silver lining to her piece, though. Ms. Purcell will finally get what she wants: she won’t have to worry about dating another Jewish man.

 

 

About the Author: Idalia Friedson lives in works in DC. In her free time, she enjoys doing Krav Maga, singing too loudly, and attending Gather DC’s Wednesday night learning group with Rabbi Aaron Potek.

 

 

 

 

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.

Rabbi Rant: The Age of Redemption

 

This past Saturday, I joined well over half a million other people in DC at the March for Our Lives rally against the gun violence epidemic in this country. What made this rally especially powerful was the prominence of voices from those who are under 18 years old. There was a hopeful sense that the change we desperately need will come from the leadership of this younger generation.

It’s fitting that Passover, a holiday especially oriented towards the youth, is just a few days away. The obligation to retell the story of our exodus from Egypt is framed in the Torah as a response to the questions of children. Just before the Israelites are about to be redeemed, Moses repeats – three times – the commandment to teach this story to our future children.

Why the focus on children? Cynics will offer answers like, “because children are easier to brainwash” or “because the story is fundamentally juvenile.” Pragmatists will say this is the best way to preserve the narrative.

I’d like to suggest a different answer, one rooted in the major theme of Passover: redemption.

The word redemption has a lot of religious connotations, but it can also be used to simply describe an improved state of being. This can occur through miraculous means, like the one we read about at the seder involving hail, locusts, splitting seas, etc. But it can also happen through the hard work of applied idealism.

This hard work starts with the ability to imagine a future that is different than the present. The older one gets, the harder it is to do. Perhaps this is why God made the Israelites wander in the desert for 40 years before entering the promised land. To build a new society that was not rooted in oppression, God needed to wait for the older generation that was born into slavery to die off (Numbers 14:31-34).

Perhaps this is also why Moses highlights the questions of future children at the moment of exodus. As we read in the Haggadah: “In every generation, a person is obligated to see himself or herself as though s/he came forth from Egypt.Every generation must go through an exodus – a paradigm-shifting change. That change begins by listening to the questions of the children.

For those of us who don’t have children, there is still a relevant message here. Youthfulness doesn’t reflect an age but a mindset. Each of us must leave our own personal “Egypt,” our own confining place (the Hebrew for Egypt, Mitzrayim, means confining place). To see the way out, we first have to rediscover our childlike wonder and imagination. That redemptive journey starts with a question: “Is there another way?

 

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.

Meet Carly: Most Dope Jew of the Week!

To be blunt – Carly likes weed. When she’s not fighting for a future of marijuana legalizations, you might find her bottomless brunching, jamming out to Drake, or binge-watching “New Girl”. Get to know Carly Wolf with our 1:1 interview!

Allie: I hear you have a pretty, um, dope job. Tell me about it!

Carly: I’m a political associate with the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Our mission is to change federal laws to legalize marijuana. We do grassroots advocacy on behalf of the cannabis consumer – rather than businesses. My goal as a lobbyist is for marijuana users to be treated fairly in every aspect of their lives.

Allie: Where do you see the future of marijuana legalization going in DC, and beyond?

Carly: It’s definitely going to be legal everywhere soon, it’s going to continue incrementally on a state by state basis. And government will just have to respect that, and not interfere. It’s tricky in DC because we’re not a state so our budget is controlled by Congress, and they blocked us from using our local money to set up regulated marijuana market – so there’s nowhere to legally buy it.

Allie: How did you wind up working for NORML?

Carly: I used to want to be a cop, so I studied criminal justice in college. I wound up interning at NORML my last semester of college, and got offered a job when I graduated! [My criminal justice background helps me] come at my job from a social justice perspective.

Allie: If you woke up and had a totally free day in DC, beautiful weather, and unlimited money, what would you do from start to finish?

Carly: I’m not a morning person, so I’d sleep in. I’d do a bottomless brunch at Sixth Engine – I’d get a ham, egg, and cheese sandwich on a pretzel roll. Then, I’d go to the Newseum which is my favorite museum in the city. Then, I’d hit up Georgetown for some shopping. I would tell myself I don’t need it, but would end up getting Georgetown Cupcake. Then, I’d end the day at one of my favorite restaurants RPM – they have really good meatballs.

Allie: Who is your Jewish role model?

Carly: Drake. He’s my favorite – he’s so talented, and never forgets his roots.

Allie: What’s your favorite Passover food or tradition?

Carly: Hands down, favorite food is my grandma’s brisket.

Allie: What are you looking forward to most about the upcoming year?

Carly: The midterm elections. With all the controversy in the White House, I think this is a year the Democrats will take back the majority and I’m excited to see how the results will play out. And, it could be the year for marijuana legalization!

Allie: What are your favorite ways to relax and destress?

Carly:  I like to cook Italian food – lasagna in a crockpot. I’m a Netflix binger, right now I’m watching “New Girl” because I love Zooey Deschanel. And also, smoking pot.

Allie: Complete the sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Carly: The world gets a lot smaller. Actually, at the first GatherDC happy hour I went to, I met someone who I found out was my next door neighbor from when I grew up in New Jersey!

 

 

 

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.

I Hope They Serve Beer in Heaven

I am fortunate.

I grew up with grandparents who lived, at most, within a twenty-minute drive from my house. My brother and I had “Mimi and Papa Thursdays” where our grandparents would pick us up from school, and spend time with us all afternoon. We would go to Demetrios and eat white pizza – Papa couldn’t eat tomatoes, so we did not eat tomatoes. Papa would make French pancakes whenever we slept over, and even made a stack for us to keep in the freezer and eat at home. Mimi and Papa took each of the grandkids on a special trip for our 10th birthday. We went out to Sun Valley, Idaho in the summers with Mimi and Papa. We would stay in these big houses and go fishing, hiking, and ice-skating.

Thanksgiving was always spent with Mimi and Papa. One year, we started going to Busch Gardens on Thanksgiving. All ten of us – Mimi, Papa, my parents, brother, aunt, uncle, two cousins, and me. We would drive up to Busch Gardens on Thanksgiving Day, and have dinner at Ruby Tuesdays on the way home. We would then do a more formal Thanksgiving the day after. After many years of this, we started a new tradition where we spent Thanksgiving on the beach where the kids could swim and play games, while the adults could relax.

This year was the first Yom Kippur without my Papa.

I decided, as a way of honoring him, to read his autobiography. This autobiography is just a word document that he saved on his computer to be read by his kids, grandkids, etc. I laughed when he wrote that one of his best memories as a “good Jewish boy” was when his parents set up a Christmas tree, and his Grandpa showed up dressed like Santa. This story is followed by my Papa sharing that he is angry his parents let him opt out of becoming a Bar Mitzvah. He went onto remediate this by becoming a Bar Mitzvah at age 48.

I was both proud and upset to read that he and my Mimi were active in Jewish organizations. In the 1980s, Mimi fell in love with Israel and helped to found The Sarasota-Manatee Jewish Federation’s Chapter of The Lion of Judah. She went on to be the Chairperson of the Women’s UJA Campaign, and President of the Women’s Division of the Federation. Papa joined the The Sarasota-Manatee Federation Board in 1982. He went on to build the sister city program at The Jewish Federation, became Chairman of the General Campaign, and Treasurer. I wish I had known this when he was living and could have talked to him about these experiences. Today, I work as a Jewish communal professional as a fundraiser, and I would have loved to ask my Papa his best solicitation stories or tips.

But, the part of my Papa’s biography that was the most difficult for me to read was this:The birth of our Grandchildren opened up a whole new world to [my wife] and me. We thought we knew what happiness was before the grandchildren arrived, but it was nothing compared to the pleasure and love that we have received since they were born. As the saying goes, “If we knew what pleasure we would get from our grandchildren, we would have had them first”. With the birth of the grandchildren, I spent less and less time at [The Jewish] Federation because they became the most important thing in my life…I’m truly blessed to have such loving and caring children, and the same can be said for their spouses. The crème de la crème to the whole wonderful family that I have are the grandchildren. I only hope that [my wife] and I will be blessed with at least four score and ten so that we can be around to hopefully see [our grandchildren] graduate from college and get married. Maybe some great grandchildren!

Growing up, I assumed that my Mimi and Papa were just like every other grandparent. Recently, I have realized how truly fortunate I was. Not every grandchild is blessed to have grandparents who want to have such an active role in their lives. I had grandparents who called every year on my birthday, most years with my Papa starting each call by singing the “Happy Birthday” song. I had grandparents who attended my performances and school graduations. I had grandparents who had a very active, meaningful role in the first quarter of my life.

This past year has been difficult for me. I remember judging my peers who posted tributes on Facebook about their grandparents, not fully understanding they hurt they were feeling. Now, I feel ridiculous for even thinking that – I mean, here I am writing a public blog doing the exact same thing.

When my Papa passed away, I was angry that Judaism didn’t consider me close enough to him to be a “real” mourner. I mean, I don’t follow other Jewish laws like keeping kosher and observing Shabbat, but I was mad that I was not obligated by Jewish law to mourn my Papa in the same way my Mom was. I was in need of a roadmap for how to deal with this deep loss. I wanted to figure out how to make it hurt less.

There are still some days I will be driving home and all the sudden, I start tearing up because I remember a funny moment with Papa. Every time one of the grandkids has something special going on in our lives, I think of how proud Papa would be. At the unveiling over Thanksgiving this year, the Rabbi shared that the one-year anniversary – which is typically when the unveiling occurs – is a great moment when our painful grief turns to beautiful memories.

This article will never be good enough. It will never adequately share how special my Papa was. I just hope this article can serve as a transitional moment for me to take the next step on my mourning journey from grief to fond memories.

And there are many fond memories that I will carry with me and frequent reminders that I have some “Papa” in me. Whenever I track a flight for a friend of family member, I remember every time he would watch my plane on his computer flying back to Sarasota from wherever I was traveling. Whenever I am ten minutes early to plans because I am so anxious I will be late, I remember when he would arrive everywhere SO early – up to 30 minutes early – because he always stuck to his schedule. And my favorite reminder of all – when I order a corned beef sandwich with mayonnaise and people freak out because Jews do not that. I just smile and respond, I am my Papa’s granddaughter, so eating a corned beef sandwich with mayonnaise is a must.

 

 

About the Author: Marisa Briefman is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you. She is a recent DC transplant who was born and raised in Sarasota, Florida – likely where your grandparents live. Her love of all things Jewish began at overnight camp and continues to thrive in her role at JSSA. She is coffee addict, lover of Mexican food, and on a permanent mission pet all the adorable dogs in DC (if someone is in need of a dog-sitter, email me).

 

 

 

 

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.

From K Street to the Knesset – Pt 2:  Addressing Anti-Semitism at Home and Abroad

Spring has sprung.

It has come in like a lion. But I hope that it goes out like a lamb. And I’m not talking about the weather. Well, kind of…

On Friday, March 16, an elected official from DC’s Council serving the residents of Ward 8, made a regrettable statement.  This was not his first. His subsequent apologies rang with a sense of sorrow. They spoke of regret. They addressed a need to move forward and to use the remarks as a learning experience.

In echoing anti-Semitic tropes from generations ago, Councilmember Trayon White, said in a Facebook Live video, Man, it just started snowing out of nowhere this morning, man. Y’all better pay attention to this climate control, man, this climate manipulation.  And DC keep talking about, ‘We a resilient city.’ And that’s a model based off the Rothschilds controlling the climate to create natural disasters they can pay for to own the cities, man. Be careful.”

As snow flurries fell on DC on last Friday morning, Councilmember White’s remarks opened up a blizzard of a reaction from inside and outside of the District.

DCcouncil.us serves as the online and official home for our city’s legislative body.  The website describes the council as,

the central and chief policy-making body for the District of Columbia” and it defines the mission of the body, “to provide strong, innovative and effective leadership for the benefit of residents across the city.

The statements of Councilmember White are not the official position of the DC Government.  Our city does not believe that the Jews control the weather.  The comments are not policy. But, policy is shaped by policymakers in a representative democracy.  And this comment certainly did not represent “effective leadership for the benefit of [Jewish] residents across the city.”

We’ve all made regrettable statements.  Facebook is full of them. Few can point to a perfect record of speaking on and off-the-record.  But this “lion” of a comment by an elected official in his private time on a social media channel was not a one-off remark.  On February 27, Councilmember White in his official capacity – at a hearing that included Mayor Muriel Bowser – asked the President of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC):

“There’s this whole concept with the Rothschilds — control the World Bank, as we all know — infusing dollars into major cities.  They really pretty much control the federal government, and now they have this concept called resilient cities in which they are using their money and influence into local cities.  How does this influence this? Because it’s really about infrastructure and climate control. What does this have to do with UDC? Have they put money into UDC? What’s the relationship between the Rothschilds and the Rockefellers?”

Councilmember White’s remarks implied that wealthy Jewish families or the Jewish people control the weather, the Federal Government, international development, and local government.

In one of his follow-up messages from the Facebook remark, he said, “I want to apologize to the Jewish Community and anyone I have offended.  The Jewish community have been allies with me in my journey to help people. I did not intend to be Anti-Semitic, and I see I should have said that after learning from my colleagues,” on Instagram in a written statement from March 18.

Since the initial remark was made, and the blizzard of media and communal backlash began, Councilmember White has held meetings with several Jewish Metropolitan Washington communal groups, including Jews United for Justice (JUFJ) and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC).

JUFJ said:

Councilmember White’s words were wrong – even though they weren’t made with malice. That is why we have been working with Councilmember White, mostly behind the scenes, to support what our Jewish tradition calls teshuvah: a process of repentance, apology, learning, and change.”

JCRC will be working with Councilmember White and they have a commitment from him to join them for a visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and to dialogue with Holocaust survivors.  In a public statement, they said that

“the JCRC takes Councilmember White’s comments very seriously, and will continue working to ensure that both he and his colleagues on the DC Council not only have heightened understanding of anti-Semitism but also heightened vigilance and sensitivity in responding unequivocally when they hear it from others.”

During this same week where these regrettable statements were made in the United States’ capital city, a dialogue was occurring in the capital city of the Jewish State.  The Sixth Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism took place in Jerusalem from March 16-21.  The theme of the forum was “United to Stop Hate.”  And that is what we must do. We, as a Jewish community, must reach out to other communities to better educate them about the Jewish experience of today and of generations’ past.

An Israeli historian on the Holocaust, Yehuda Bauer, said at the conference in Jerusalem that, “we have to realize that anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem but a problem of the societies in which it rises. It’s a cancer which eats the societies in which it comes up.”

Perhaps, now that Gather the Jews is called GatherDC, we can also play a role in gathering non-Jewish groups of 20s and 30s to dialogue and serve our communities together.  We have much to learn about all forms of hate.  And we collectively can stand together to combat all forms of hatred in any and all way that its darkness manifests itself.  From here, we can hope that this spring that came in with the roar of a lion can end with the gentle nature of the lamb.

 

 

 

About the Author: Jason Langsner is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you. Jason has been an active lay leader of the Washington Jewish community since moving to the city in 2004.  He is a small business owner and formerly served as the head of digital strategy for the oldest Jewish human rights and humanitarian organization in the world. When not blogging, he can often by found walking around his Eastern Market neighborhood with his Jewish dog, Shekels, or riding around DC area bike trails.

 

 

 

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.

Gather’s Big MOVE!

In the past year, we’ve been through a LOT.

We’ve changed our name and recreated our brand.

We’ve increased our staff from a team of four to seven.

We’ve ramped up our engagement strategy so you and thousands of other 20s/30s can find their people and place in Jewish DC.

And now…we’ve moved into our very own townhouse at 1817 M Street in Dupont Circle! 

(Before we continue, just’d like to give a quick SHOUTOUT to each and every one of YOU for supporting Gather on this journey. Whether you showed up to an event, read our newsletter, liked our Facebook post, or made a gift – you are what keep our organization and community thriving. We couldn’t accomplish any of this without you. Thank you so much.)

But…why? You may ask.

Well, this space is going to serve as GatherDC’s home base and headquarters from which we can do our work across the city. We also hope this townhouse will be a resource for you! We look forward to working together to transform this townhouse into a welcoming, inclusive hub of Jewish community connection and collaboration, a space to host you and your friends for Shabbats, community events, meetings, parties, etc., and a ​means to support your continued engagement in Jewish life.

If you have ideas for how you want to see this townhouse used in our community, email us! (And yes, our townhouse has an accessible entrance-way and parking spot.)

Um, can we see it? 

Short answer, yes. We’d LOVE to have you over. But first, we need to make sure our space is looking totally on FLEEK. Once it is, we’re going to host a big community open house for you and your friends to tour and toast to the new space. Details coming soon.

Can we send a housewarming gift? 

We thought you’d never ask! If you want to support GatherDC as we usher in this new era for our organization – and our community, please consider making a donation. Every single dollar makes a BIG difference for us as we continue to build a dynamic, inclusive city for millennial Jewish life today, and for years to come. Cute mugs are also appreciated.

In the meantime, here’s a sneak preview of the townhouse!

FIRST DAY in the townhouse. Getting our schlepping-faces ready.

Adding gold leaf decals to the walls, as one does.

Our main gathering space!

Where the noshing happens.

Help us fill up our bare kitchen shelves with a cute mug!

We can’t wait to learn, dine, and schmooze with you here!

Turquoise egg chairs are everything.

…and we mean, everything.

 

Tiny, Battered, but Never Broken: “Big Sonia” Film Review

The documentary “Big Sonia” opens with a little old Eastern European woman in a car marveling at the “bog mindling” beauty of nature in everything. The cute outset is quickly contrasted with the film’s overarching question: If something terrible happens to a child, does it affect her for the next 70 years?

Photo courtesy of Gloria Baker Feinstein

Sonia, the film’s protagonist, is shown pondering this question on a radio show – the tattooed number on her arm peeking past the sleeve of her chic red blazer. But it’s the film’s director, Sonia’s granddaughter, who answers this pivotal question by splicing together the endless, endearing moments of the golden-hearted 80-something’s everyday life with depictions of the horrors her grandmother faced as a Jewish teenager in 1940s Poland. The obvious and unequivocal conclusion to the above question is, absolutely.

Photo courtesy of Gloria Baker Feinstein

Sonia works six days a week at her tailor shop, named after her late husband, in a midwestern mall that’s on its last legs. The camera follows her commute, as the mall’s adoring security guard ushers her on walks from her premiere “no parking” parking spot and perusal of the shopping mall’s empty halls. Despite being the final occupants of the mall, Sonia’s shop continues to thrive.Throngs of decades-long regulars flood in and out, each greeted with hugs and kisses and showered with compliments. We follow Sonia further as she navigates the world behind her leopard-print steering wheel cover on her car, visiting family, running errands, and picking up only the freshest bigmouth buffalo prepared specially for her by yet more adoring staff. This makes for a fine gefilte fish Sonia joyously brings to the Rosh Hashanah table.

But Sonia’s life certainly hasn’t been all charm and adoration.

Interviews with her children reveal that, although their mother never talked about the Holocaust, they could sense a darkness in their parents, both of whom were survivors. Sonia buried her story until she saw a skinhead on TV denying the existence of what she endured. Sonia then wills herself to recount the trauma of being sniffed out by Nazi dogs while hiding in an attic and transported to a concentration camp at 14 years old. She speaks about permanently parting from her father and brother shortly thereafter. She speaks about the beatings and torture, starvation and fear, and being forced to spread the ashes of her people as fertilizer. And she finally opens up about watching her mother walk off to the gas chamber. Sonia persevered through all of this, only to be shot through the chest on the day of her camp’s liberation.

She recovered, she moved to America, she built a new life, she got married, she raised a new family, and she built her beloved store.

Photo courtesy of Gloria Baker Feinstein

Sonia’s physical survival is inexplicable, but the crux of this film lies in her soul’s resilience. To lose so much and be able to rebuild is a story of unconquerable will. And she carries that message to schools, where young victims of personal trauma find empathy and inspiration in her ability not to hate, even the Nazis. And to prisons, where she gains respect of grizzled inmates because Sonia, a sweet, sub-five-foot old lady, is tougher than they can ever imagine. Your hardships can be overcome, she teaches.

She lost her entire family. She built a new one. She lost her husband. She carried on his work. And finally, she lost her tailoring shop when the relic mall of middle America was deemed for demolition. Her reading of the notice that her lease was terminated was one of the most gut-wrenching moments of the film. Yet, in her late 80s, Sonia rebuilds an entire new store – and that store thrived, too.

Sonia says she survived the death camps in order to tell the story of the Holocaust. But throughout the film, her grace, wisdom, and wit; her beauty and charm; her charity and love; and most of all, her resilience despite tragedy after tragedy, show that there’s more to the reason she survived.

Although the film makes no mention of it, Sonia survived to tell the story of the Jewish people. Tiny, battered, but never broken – and always big.

 

See “Big Sonia” this Saturday, check out other screening dates/locations, or request a screening for your organization/movie group.

 

 

 

About the Author: Max Bluestein is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you. He is a full-time government flack and part-time research consultant on security issues. With whatever time is left, he’s a writer, traveler, gym-rat, and charity fundraiser. Also husband. Definitely husband.

 

 

 

 

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.

Meet Ben: Jewish Eastern-European Buff of the Week!

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Ben: I grew up in a Suburb of Philly called Moorestown and lived there pretty much my whole life. I moved away to LA for college, and after graduating, lived overseas in Ukraine for a year on on a Fulbright research grant pertaining to Holocaust remembrance, Jewish heritage, and other Jewish community topics. I was fortunate enough to find a job in DC at The National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry, which does similar things to what I was doing in Ukraine. So, I moved here pretty much straight from Ukraine to start working there.

Allie: What spurred your interest in Russia and Eastern Europe?

Ben: In college I had to pick a language, so I signed up for a Russian on a whim. I loved it so much, I made it a second major. I’ve always been interested in that region because my great grandparents are from Eastern Europe, so in some small way it’s a part of who I am. I liked that I could explore that part of myself in an academic setting, and to be able to communicate with people who live there opened up this whole world to me. Also, the language is fun!

Allie: What’s your favorite way to spend your free time outside of the office?

Ben: I like cooking and entertaining for people. I’m like a reincarnated Jewish grandmother. I make a mean roast chicken, stews, soups, you name it. And I made really good hamantaschen during Purim. I’m also trying to become a runner, which I’m really enjoying.

Allie: Well, on top of your job, cooking, running, and entertaining, I also I hear you’re a part of TWO Jewish fellowships, tell me about those!

Ben: I’m in a leadership training with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called the Glass Leadership Institute. We learn about the different programs and issues that ADL works on, and go to ADL events, and volunteer with them. It’s a way to develop the next generation of leaders within ADL.

I’m also a part of GatherDC’s Open Doors Fellowship, which is a way for me to help people grow into and with the Jewish community, and a way for me to grow into a Jewish community in DC too. Before this, I didn’t really know how to meet other Jews, and have been on the search for a community that works for me. This is what I’ve been looking for! I’ve been given access to cool community spaces that I would never have known about before or approached on my own.

Allie: Wow! Where does this passion for the Jewish community come from?

Ben: I grew up with a pretty cookie cutter Jewish childhood – I went to a conservative shul, Hebrew school twice a week, celebrated all the holidays with my family. But, I hated Hebrew school, and I really drew away from Judaism throughout college.

But, when I lived in Ukraine, I started to re-engage with Judaism in a much more personal way. Being there made me realize how fortunate we are to have different Jewish community resources – to have choices. The Jewish community in Eastern Europe was almost completely wiped out by the Nazis, and then the Soviet Occupation made being a Jew a huge liability. The country is still dealing with that history, so there’s much less variety, and a struggle for resources when it comes to Jewish life. When I came back to DC, I decided to make Judaism a priority.

Allie: If you could trade places with any celeb for a day who would it be?

Ben: Jeff Goldblum. I don’t fully understand why people love him so much, but they do, and he’s Jewish so it sounds like a sweet deal to me. Sign me up.

Allie: What’s your favorite Jewish food?

Ben: Three-words. Shelsky’s of Brooklyn. They have the most amazing selection of bagels and smoked fish that I’ve ever had in my life.

Allie: What’s at the top of your travel bucket list?

Ben: Southeast Asia – Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma. I’ve never been to that part of the world before and would love to spend time there.

Allie: Any surprising facts about yourself?

Ben: I played the oboe in orchestra for almost 6 years.

Allie: Complete the sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Ben: You always find someone who knows someone else from another time in your life.

 

 

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.