Reflections on Giving Circle

Where and how we give reflects who we are and what we value.

This is true for every individual, but it’s also true for communities.

Just over a month ago, GatherDC finished its first ever “Gather Giving Circle,” which brought together seven Jewish 20s and 30s to discuss Jewish perspectives on giving and to decide where to donate their pooled money.

The motivation for this giving circle came from members of the DC Jewish community expressing the desire to make a difference. Not just as individuals but also as Jews. They wanted their actions to be shaped by and to reflect their Jewish values and their Jewish identity.

Throughout the four meetings, participants from this first Gather Giving Circle explored some of the different tensions that our sages wrote about – local vs. global, Jewish vs. non-Jewish, and immediate need vs. root cause, to name a few. Through a collaborative decision-making process, they ended up contributing $880 to the Free Minds Book Club, a local organization that works with incarcerated youth.

If the idea of a giving circle interests you, here are three different suggestions to amplify your charitable impact:

1) Start your own giving circle! It’s as easy as getting a few friends together and deciding to have a couple of intentional conversations about where you’d like to collectively donate. (We used resources from AJWS and Amplifier, and I’m more than happy to help you prepare some discussion materials.)

2) Join the other Jewish 20s and 30s of DC who have already contributed to HIAS, a Jewish organization that supports refugees from all across the world, through GatherDC’s campaign, ending Friday, February 10 at noon.

3) If you’re not interested in leading a giving circle but would like to join one, email me at aaronp@gatherdc.org, and I’ll connect you to other Jewish 20s and 30s who are similarly interested.

And if you’d like to read more about the first Gather Giving Circle, here are three participants’ reflections on their experiences and on the importance of collective giving.

Yoni BuckmanYoni Buckman:

I joined the Gather Giving Circle because I wanted to learn about intentional giving and to learn from a group of inspired people. Not only would our contribution’s impact be magnified by pooling money together, but I also hoped that the meaning behind the gift would also be amplified as a result of the process of enthusiastically learning together.

The act of giving as part of a group was not always easy. Donating money that we feel is our own can be highly personal, as it was in my experience. Meditating on and sharing my personal values with the group, bringing organizations to the table for our consideration, and ultimately placing a vote strengthened my feelings of personal investment in the process. So finding the balance between feeling personally invested and being part of a larger group was sometimes challenging.

That said, taking the time to ask and discuss fundamental questions about values-based decision making was incredibly rewarding, both as an introspective process as well as an opportunity to learn from others.

I found the giving circle experience to be deeply meaningful and interesting. I learned more about myself, tzedakah in general, and organizations doing great work in the DC area through the conversations we had as a group. Many of my new favorite organizations to support were pitched by other people in our group rather than through my own research. Spending time with such a passionate, insightful, and loving group of people was often the highlight of my week. I would recommend joining a giving circle to others and I would love to do it all over again in the future!

Laura HuronLaura Herron:

In the current political climate, so many of us feel anxious, angry, and worried about what will happen in our country and the world over the next four years.  Such a profound threat to the progressive reforms that help move us toward a more just society has so many asking what we as individuals, and as a collective, can do to support the causes that we care about deeply.  While I was reflecting on this question, Rabbi Aaron sent out a call for participants for a giving circle, asking those interested to each pledge at least 100 dollars for an act of group tzedakah.  

In our first session, we discussed Jewish values around charitable giving, including the Talmudic notion that “tzedakah is equal to all the other commandments combined,” and the Rambam’s assertion that one should give up to 20 percent of her possessions.  Our group grappled with the gravity of these statements, and I left thinking hard about the imperative to give away a substantial amount of my income.  Yet, whenever I actually consider what it would take to create a more just world, I repeatedly come to the conclusion that those with more simply need to distribute some of what they have to others in need.

Certainly, there are other important avenues to social justice; but there is something about tzedakah—giving one’s own, (often) hard earned resources to someone less fortunate—that forces us to keep our egos in check. Tzedakah reminds us of our blessings (i.e. that we actually have something to give) and urges us to remember our own vulnerability to misfortune, our interdependence, and our responsibility to take care of one another. We are living an age in which too many people consider it radical to put the interests of others ahead of, or even in line with, self-interest. In contrast, those of us who have access to wealth and privilege and are committed to Tikkun have an opportunity, and a duty to give. Contributing tzedakah in a thoughtful and collective way through a giving circle was, for me, a meaningful way to take action.

emily dorfmanEmily Dorfman:

I participated in the inaugural Gather Giving Circle in November/December 2016, and it was a phenomenal experience.  It was only a few days after the election when I found the opportunity, and it could not have come at a better time for me.  I was devastated by the election results (and had been actively fundraising for Hillary).  I was seeking a new path for funding my values.

I have never taken the time to deliberately plan what organizations I donate to.  I usually give where I have a personal connection or a friend asks me to, and I don’t give enough because I haven’t included Tzedakah in my budget.  This year will be different.

In my experience, it is very difficult to talk about money and to assign it value over volunteering time or expertise.  I think that’s all the more reason to create a designated space to engage in this topic—money is important.  It was challenging for our group to define Tzedakah and to choose which organization to support.  Even with the framework of our Jewish texts and discussions of our shared values, these decisions are not straightforward.

In our giving circle, the time we spent discussing, debating and learning about Tzedakah was inspiring for me and I will use the experience to inform where and how much I donate in the future.

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 Gather the Jews, the Gather the Jews staff, the Gather the Jews board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Girl of the Week – Stacy #WayBackWednesday

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Stacy was a Jewish Girl of the Week 6 years ago when the feature first began. She even competed in the first-ever Jewish Girl of the Year competition. Stacy is still an integral part of the DC Jewish community, but now in a professional capacity.

Read our updates on Stacy and her original article (including a poem) below!

 

  • I am not in the field of education anymore (I sooo miss recess and the kiddos), but before I left teaching I started an after-school cooking program for kids called Snack Attack Cooking. My favorite session was when we had an Iron Chef competition and the judges tried one group’s creation that looked like a dessert pizza.  But, the kids had used garlic instead of sugar! The looks on the judges faces when they tasted it was priceless.
  • About a year after the original article was published, I founded an organization that hosts events for Jewish young professionals in Northern Virginia called NOVA Tribe Series. Since 2011, I have hosted over 150 programs, engaged thousands of peers in the community, and helped orchestrate countless numbers of friendships – and even 2 marriages!
  • Last fall I started working for the Edlavitch DCJCC as their manager of EntryPointDC, a program for 20s and 30s. I have helped revamp the Shabbat Clusters program, started the B’Shert 2.0 Modern Jewish Love Series and am looking forward to our next big event, Schmooze & Snooze Fest on Saturday, February 25th. The event will be an “all-night” type party with a 90’s cover band, Bar Mitzvah DJ dance party, moonbounce, Havdalah, drinks, carnival snacks, Ted Talks and more! Tickets go on sale today.
  • One signature program I created that I look forward to hosting every year is Lox Meets Bagel. It has become one of the largest speed dating & mixer events in the DC area for 20s and 30s. The 6th Lox Meets Bagel is next Tuesday, February 7th, and you can register here!
  • I am still a Virginia girl, but I now live in Arlington instead of Fairfax. My favorite things to do in the neighborhood are people watch at Northside Social, catch a comedy show or movie at Arlington Drafthouse, and take long walks to Georgetown.

Read her original article below!

Stacy on why she should be Jewish Girl of the Year:

There once was a girl from VA

Who taught her students to say

“I flip my latkes in the air”

She spent $157.23 on metro fare

To get to Jewish events last year

Her Hebrew name

is a video game

She works with Jnet

Your vote she needs to get

Editor’s note: Stacy raised the bar for Jewish Girl of the Week by submitting a Youtube video as part of the application process. If you think you or someone you know has what it takes to be a Person of the Week, shoot us an email and tell us why. We encourage creativity in nominations!

How long have you been teaching?

This is my sixth year teaching. I have taught students from grades K-7 over the years, but right now I teach 1st-3rd grade at a Montessori school. These kids are awesome. The Montessori philosophy emphasizes learning practical life skills, so my kids cook me lunch every Wednesday, do the dishes and laundry every day and take field trips out of the classroom at least once or twice every few weeks. I want to take them home with me to clean my house!

Stacy, so many people ask: “What do you do?” The GTJ staff likes look deeper into the Jewish soul, so we ask, “What is your passion?!”

My biggest passion is helping others. Besides teaching, I also work with autistic kids once a week leading social skill groups. My first day at social group went something like this (and I knew from then on I was in the right place) Me: Ben, we have something in common, we both like to celebrate Hanukkah  Ben: You are Jewish Ms. Stacy? I am so glad you joined group! (He runs around the room singing the dreidel song)  Nate: You must be Israeli then because you are Jewish  Me: Actually, I am not.  Nate: Aww man, I really like Israeli women, can’t you be Israeli for me?  Dan: I know someone that is Jewish, but I don’t like her very much.  Me: Why is that?  Dan: She is a very bossy Jewish girl.

Are there really Jews that live out in Virginia?

Yes, there are and we rock.  I am on the committee of Jnet. We plan happy hours, BBQ’s, and other great events; our next BIG gathering will be a philanthropic event for the JCC of NOVA special needs department. You can find us on facebook if you add JnetVA as a friend. I promise if you come find me at an event I will make sure you have a great time!

Can we share the video of your kids with all our readers?!

Of course you can share the video! I love being Jewish, and I want to share my love of my religion and culture with everyone; the video explains it all.  You can see the enthusiasm in my students’ faces as they sing this song (and my amazing dancing skills and “latke” flipping tools as well). I spent a whole day reading Hanukkah stories, playing dreidel, sharing latkes, and taught them all the words to Candlelight and I have never seen them more excited, or in other words, equally excited to sing about/celebrate Hanukkah as Christmas.  Since you and the Maccabeats are BFF’s, can you send the video to them as well?

What has been your most memorable Jewish moment?

Hmmm that’s a hard one. I think I have had many, but one that sticks out actually occurred this week. We had a Celebration of Light ceremony with our class in which all the families came together to share their winter month traditions that involve light. I have 23 students in my class and only 1 is Jewish. After the presentation, the one Jewish family came up to me and gave me a big hug. They thanked me for teaching the students the Candlelight song and told me their daughter finally feels included and everyone is now just as excited about Hanukkah as any other winter holiday. It really touched me because I have always made it my personal mission to bring Jews together from smaller communities, whether it’s making my one Jewish student in my class feel more comfortable talking about her religion to her classmates to planning events for my alma maters’ Hillel that included only about 400 Jewish students out of 15,000.

You can only eat one Jewish food for the rest of your life, what is it and why?

It would be my mom’s challah. She started making using this recipe when I was about 10, it’s a sweet version that I can’t get enough of. It totally satisfies my sweet tooth.

Is it Chanukah, Hanukkah, or Hannukah?

Is this a trick question? I have not seen the double N’s before or if I did it was way back in the day; spell check does not like it either. Actually prefer the double K’s, Hanukkah is where it’s at. My students know 3 ways to spell it and are very proud of that fact.

Where can we find you on a Friday night?

I usually check out the services at Adas Israel and Sixth & I and then go out in the city. I have gone to Shir Delight the past few months and always have a good time with my friends and meet a lot of new people. You never know who you are going to run into, last week I saw my babysitter whom I have not seen in 20 years!

What’s the next big Gathering you will be at?

I am on the committee of Jnet. We plan happy hours, BBQ’s, and other great events; our next BIG gathering will be a philanthropic event for the JCC of NOVA special needs department.  See facebook page here.

Rabbi Rant: Moving Past the Past

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When I say “Jewish History,” what’s the first word that comes to mind?

I asked this question at Gather’s Beyond the Tent Retreat last weekend. Not surprisingly, the most recurring responses were “Holocaust,” “sad,” “oppression” and “depressing.” I half-joked that this makes Judaism sound like a tough sell for those on the fence about getting more involved.

This very same weekend, the newest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend featured a song that conveyed a similar sense about our past and the way we relate to it. The song – “Remember That We Suffered” – is a minute and half, and it’s worth a watch/listen. Similar to my one-word exercise, the half-joke behind the song is that it’s hard to move beyond our depressing history.

That history, both ancient and modern, is certainly filled with terrible persecution. This Shabbat, Jews will recount our first collective experience of oppression – slavery in Egypt – as we begin reading from the book of Exodus. And though we’ve come a long way since then, anti-semitism is certainly not going anywhere. Just today, at least 25 Jewish institutions received bomb threats.

Nevertheless, I’m concerned that this negative history has become the primary way that many Jews relate to their Jewish identity.

This presents two serious challenges.

First, it can lead to a focus on our own self-interests. When a person or group is in a perpetual state of fight-or-flight, it’s impossible to think of others. Yet the Torah makes it clear – our suffering should sensitize us to the suffering of others. “You are to love the stranger, for you yourselves were strangers in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19).

Second, our negative history eclipses the more positive aspects of our identity. Even our history is more expansive than a chronicling of our suffering; Judaism has stood for more than self-preservation and resilience. Besides, there are other ways to connect to Judaism outside of our history. It’s easy to dismiss or make fun of Judaism by defining it negatively; it’s harder to explore the ways that Judaism can be more positive, active and meaningful in our lives.

This weekend, our Beyond the Tent participants did exactly that. The more we can commit to this endeavor, the more we can move past our past and into a more hopeful future.

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 Gather the Jews, the Gather the Jews staff, the Gather the Jews board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Mini Gatherings – Early 20s

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Want to meet other interesting Jews in a smaller, more personal setting? New to DC and looking to make new connections? Looking to explore questions that matter to Jewish 20s and 30s? Going through a lot of changes recently?Afraid of commitment?

Gather the Jews is excited to open applications for the next round of Mini Gatherings. Gather is looking to create a space for those who are in their early 20s to who are looking to explore their Jewish identity as it relates to challenges of being in your early 20s.

What is Mini Gatherings, you ask? It is a 3-week-long mini-fellowship that brings together about 15 diverse Jews in their early 20s to meet one another and have some DMCs (deep meaningful conversations) over beers. By the end, you’ll have made new friends, had some great discussions and laughed at least twice. Guaranteed or your money back!

Cost: FREE

What: The three gatherings will be held from 6:30 – 8:00 pm on Wednesday, February 8th, 15th and 22nd. Each session will involve some schmoozing, drinking, and an open conversation facilitated by Gather Staff about questions relevant to Jewish 20s and 30s, such as “Are Jews different?” “What are the unique challenges to being Jewish today?” and “Does Judaism have any deal-breakers?”

No background or knowledge necessary – everyone is welcome. In addition, we will host a Shabbat meal on Friday, February 24th. Must commit to attending all three sessions and the dinner.

Who: People who do not feel connected to a Jewish community in the DC area and is looking to meet other Jews in a smaller, more personal way in their early 20s.

Application: Applications closed.

Want more information? Email Jackie

New City, New Friends

13244856_10154112599460120_8742607338654810679_nToday marks the 9-month anniversary of me hitting the “Submit” button on my application for my job at Gather the Jews (soon to be GatherDC). This was one of the first jobs that I applied to, and man did I get a rush. It was that pit-in-your-stomach feeling, and this was from pure joy and also a tiny bit of anxiety. I’m not sure if it was because I was thinking of moving to a new place where I didn’t really know anyone, or if it was from the adrenaline of being up at 1:31 am thinking about being a “real adult”.

A few weeks later I got the job. And about 3 weeks after graduation, I moved to DC.

I’ll be the first one to admit that my job at Gather helped me with my transition to this new city more than I ever could have hoped. It dropped me right into a community: one th
at I was able to navigate and to meet people who were like me – the Jewish community. I was lucky to meet some of my best friends here through this work. Going to coffee 3-5 times a week basically sets you up to succeed that way.screen_shot_2017-01-11_at_3.48.52_pm

My suggestion for you fellow new-to-DC folks: ask people to hang out. The human condition is to look for connection. Everyone wants to be part of a great friendship. Making the effort is just the first step to something meaningful

But I’m not going to sugar coat it. Sometimes things are hard. Being in a new place will always have hard times – navigating the metro (what is it with only having 5 lines?), finding new doctors, and even sometimes having to move within the first three months of getting here. (That’s another story for another time…ask me, I’d happily tell you stories of my roommate saga.) There have been times where I get homesick or even school-sick (I miss the learning, not so much the homework).

img_7664_1024The moment I knew this was the right place for me was in the middle of the summer. I was talking to a group of my new friends. I don’t remember the conversation, but I remember feeling comfortable. The pit in my stomach that I described earlier melted away. I was at ease, aware that I was with people who I cared about, who also cared about me. Even if life isn’t always easy, small moments can be. These small moments can be thoughtless, simple, and beautiful. That’s what you should search for in new friends and in new places – those moments that tell you, too, that are in the right place. I’m so excited to see what’s coming
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9 Easy Changes You Can Make Right Now To Start Saving Money

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New year, new you, right? Even though I’m slightly skeptical of New Year’s resolutions, the beginning of the year is a good time to start implementing changes. And what better change is there than spending less and saving more?

It can seem impossible to cut your spending, even by a little bit each month. Even if you succeed, it feels like the little changes you achieve won’t make a worthwhile difference. I’ve been there, and I’m here to tell you: it IS possible to cut your expenses, and small changes WILL make a difference in your life. As a former environmental organizer and a current financial coach, I have plenty of ideas for how you can make this happen. Some of these ideas are simple — hiding right under your nose, but you need a step-by-step breakdown of how to actually make it happen — and some you may not have thought of before!

  1. Track your spending.I basically force this on my coaching clients. You can’t make better financial decisions if you don’t know which decisions you’re already making. Whether it’s in a program like Mint or LearnVest, or in an Excel spreadsheet, it’s critical that you keep track of your spending. Pick a time each week (or more than once a week) to sit down and go through your bank statements or receipts and add up how much you’ve spent and what you’ve spent it on. This will let you know if you’re reaching your monthly budget (if you have one…which you should) and if you need to start slowing down.
  1. Carry a reusable water bottle.

Not only are plastic water bottles bad for the environment (check out this plastic island), but they also add up! Why spend upwards of $2 per bottle when you can buy yourself a nice reusable water bottle that you can refill for free? You’ll get your money’s worth within days if you drink a lot of water. I personally carry my Klean Kanteen around with me everywhere I go. It is stainless steel, so it will last me a very long time, and it helps me to drink plenty of water every day. Consider ditching your disposable plastic water bottles for a reusable one.

  1. Make coffee and tea at home or at the office.

I know that coffee shops such as Starbucks can be incredibly tempting. You get your caffeine fix quickly and with barely any personal effort. However, those $5 coffees seriously add up! (Especially if you’re a caffeine addict…like some people I know.) If you stop buying a daily $5 coffee for one year and put that $5 into a savings account instead, you will have $1,825 by the end of the year. Think of the things you could do with that money! It’s such a simple change: make your coffee (or tea) at home and carry it with you. Or, wait until you get to the office kitchen to get your fix. I personally keep a box of green tea at my desk and drink several cups a day. The box cost $2, and has 40 bags in it! Compare that to buying tea at a shop, where one cup costs at least $2.

  1. Make a grocery list and stick to it.

Ugh. Grocery shopping is so full of temptation. You go in to get only one thing and you come out with 20 delicious items. I have found that preparing ahead of time helps me avoid impulse buys. You can be old-school and write out your shopping list, or you can use apps on your phone, like AnyList. Just make sure to actually stick to your list!

  1. Cook more meals at home.

Now that you’ve started making a grocery list, you can also plan out your meals for the week. There are several benefits to cooking more meals at home. You save money, it’s easier to be sure you’re eating healthy foods, and you get to explore your chef skills. Win, win, and win! (Anylist also lets you store recipes and build out your meal calendar. I love having everything in one place.)

  1. Bring your lunch to work.

I like to make sure that dinner the night before includes multiple portions. That way, I always have leftovers for lunch the following day. Bringing lunch to work ends up saving a ton of money! I know how tempting it is to go around the corner for some delicious, comforting Pad See Ew, but that takeout can run you at least $10 a pop. If you do that every weekday for the entire year, you end up spending over $2,500 on…lunch! Again, think of the amazing things you could do with that money instead. It can be really fun to go out to lunch sometimes, so if you don’t want to give it up completely, give yourself a lunch allowance. Perhaps you can go out to eat with a co-worker only once a week instead of every day. That will still save you a lot of money in the long run!

  1. Cut out unnecessary utilities.

One of my hardest (financial) choices in recent memory was getting rid of cable. I love television, y’all. I was well-established as a couch potato by the age of 4. I love the characters, I love the drama, I love the Twitter commentary. However, when I decided to move into an apartment by myself, I knew I had to cut costs where I could. In the age of Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu Plus and more, it didn’t make very much sense to pay an extra $50 a month for cable. So, I cut the cord. Now, I pay for internet, Hulu Plus, and Netflix (and use a friend’s HBO Go…don’t we all). I also have an antenna so that I can watch certain channels for free, like ABC (yay, Scandal!).

  1. Turn off the lights.

Again, I’ll harp on the environmental impact of humans’ habits. The more electricity you use, the more pollution you contribute to (if you’re using coal-powered electricity, which most of us are). Saving the planet in the abstract doesn’t always appeal to us, but I know that saving money does. Whenever you are not in a room, turn off the light. Unplug your chargers when you aren’t using them. I keep my phone charger plugged into a power strip and power it off every morning before I leave the house. That way, I can keep the charger conveniently plugged in by my bed, but I am not using up excess energy. (Yes, plugged-in chargers suck up electricity even when you aren’t using them!)

  1. Drive less.

I know this is not possible for many people, but a big money-saver is driving less. In Washington, DC, a lot of us can take the metro, the bus, ride a bike, or walk. If you don’t have that option, ask yourself: do you have a friend or family member you can carpool with? (Save on gas and…ahem…fossil fuel emissions!)

Like Ben Franklin said, “beware of little expenses. A small leak can sink a great ship.” If you start instituting these small changes above, I guarantee you’ll see more money in your bank account. And don’t forget to put that extra money towards your financial goals!

Do you feel like you need more support and guidance to make positive financial changes like these? Let’s chat!

This article was originally featured on The Financial Diet.

The Jewish Leader of the Week – Rachel

Gather 3Rachel was nominated to be the Jewish feature by Ben, former Jewish Guy of the Week. They went on a Birthright Alumni trip together that inspired Rachel to come back and start her own service project in DC. When not watching baseball or cooking, Rachel is doing communications for the Pew Research Center. Learn more about her in our interview below!

Jackie: You are from St. Louis originally. What do you miss most about it? 

Rachel: I have a ton of St. Louis pride. The number one thing I miss about it is my family. The second thing is my favorite baseball team, the St. Louis Cardinals. The third is just how nice people are in the Midwest – it really is true. For all of these reasons, I try to go back to St. Louis as often as I can.

Jackie: Ben mentioned you went on an alumni mission to Israel last year together. What was that like?

Rachel: I had the privilege of participating in the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s Alumni Leadership Mission through NEXT DC in late 2015, with 25 young adults from D.C. who had been on Birthright trips. It was my second time being in Israel. I hadn’t been back since 2007 when I went on Birthright. This trip was about seeing Israel through the eyes of people who live there and experiencing day-to-day life and culture, beyond seeing tourist sites that we visited on Birthright. We learned all about the work that the Federation does in Israel, visited several Israeli businesses, volunteered, and spent time with Israelis who staffed Birthright trips from D.C. Along the way, we participated in leadership workshops and learned the art and importance of storytelling. The best part about the trip was that we came back to D.C. with a new group of Jewish friends, and we’ve inspired each other to become even more involved in Jewish life here.

gather-5Jackie: You are currently working on a project interviewing Jews with disabilities. Can you tell me more about that? 

Rachel: Yes, after our trip, each of us began working on a project to impact the D.C. Jewish community. I’m working with two other people on a project to help tell the stories of young Jews in D.C. who have disabilities, with the goal of fostering a dialogue that will ultimately help the community become more inclusive. We’ve begun interviewing people and are in the process of turning the interviews into blog posts that will eventually be shared.

Jackie: What inspired you to start such a meaningful project?

Rachel: One of the main themes of our Israel trip was inclusion, which tied into much of our itinerary. For example, our first dinner in Israel was at Café Kapish, a restaurant where all of the staff are hearing-impaired. We found ways to order or ask for things using body language, rather than spoken words. We also visited a military base where we spent time with young soldiers participating in the Special in Uniform program – a program that provides work opportunities in the military for Israelis with special needs, who would otherwise not be able to serve. We talked to them and helped them disassemble computers into parts that the military could use. When I think about the trip, these are some of the experiences that stood out to me most. We’ve all felt excluded at times, and the Jewish community is one that should be welcoming to everyone. Telling the stories of young Jews with disabilities and sharing their ideas for how to make our community more inclusive is something that would benefit all of us.

Jackie: What is one thing you can’t get through your day without?

Rachel: Baseball. I’m a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan and am literally counting down the days until Spring Training starts! Also, chocolate chip cookies. I’m on a quest to find the best one in D.C. So far, my favorite is the Captain Cookie and the Milkman food truck.

gather1Jackie: Speaking of cookies, I hear you love to bake. What are some of your favorite things to bake?

Rachel: I especially love to make my mom’s kugel on Jewish holidays. Without fail, I always have to call her when I’m making it because I can never remember the exact recipe. My mom knows it by heart and can always figure out the ingredient I’m forgetting. I also love making cookies, whether classic chocolate chip, hamantaschen on Purim or Chanukkah cookies in December. Lately, I’ve also been trying new recipes from Dorie Greenspan’s new cookie book, Dorie’s Cookies.

Jackie: Can you tell us more about your job – what’s it like to work at the Pew Research Center?

Rachel: Our mission at Pew Research Center is to inform the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world, which is something that I feel good about doing, every day. I work on the communications team, so my job is to help our research reach the right audiences. Pew Research Center is nonpartisan and non-advocacy, which are qualities that can be hard to find in Washington. I feel lucky to work with such smart colleagues at a place that produces research that is so relevant to what’s happening in the world.

Jackie: What is your favorite Jewish holiday? 

Rachel: Passover. Seder has always been one of my favorite family traditions, and I love the themes of freedom and Spring.

Finish the sentence: When the Jews Gather…there is loud conversation, laughter and way too much delicious food… and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Big News: We are Changing Our Name!

eventbrite finalSince its founding, Gather has prided itself on continuing to grow to meet the needs of you, DC’s Jewish 20s & 30s. Over the years we have worked continuously to improve what we do and how we do it.

After much thought and consideration, we have decided to officially change our name to GatherDC. You might even refer to us simply as ‘Gather’ already, and as we solidify our place in this city’s cultural landscape, affixing the District’s initials to the name felt a natural step. Along with the name change, we have a new logo design which highlights our Jewish identity, a new tagline, and a beautifully redesigned website, all of which we will unveil January 30th at our Launch Party (see below for details).

We hope you like the name as much as we do and agree that it will help us reach more Jews across and around DC. Rest assured that although our name is changing, our mission remains the same – to help DC’s Jewish 20s and 30s meet and connect with one another and with Jewish opportunities. We believe the name change will help us continue to advance our mission.

Thank you for all of your continued involvement and support. We hope you will bring your friends and join us to celebrate on January 30th at our official Launch Party. RSVP early at link below for a free drink ticket.

Gather the Jews Becomes GatherDC

A party celebrating the launch of our new name and website.

Drinks, snacks, music and prizes after work on January, 30th

Co Co. Sala (929 F St., NW)

RSVP Now!

Time to Leave La La Land

I remember a teacher once said to me: “Want to know what you really value? Check your internet browser history.”

I don’t think that’s the best way to understand yourself (most of my time is not spent on my computer), but our online activity certainly reflects a part of who we are – sometimes a part that we’d rather ignore.

Similarly, I think the movies that we choose to watch reveal something about our desires, wishes, and fantasies. And based on what we went to see in 2016, I’m concerned.

As a New York Times article, this week reported, “not one movie rooted in a real-life setting was among the top 10 box office performers.”

That’s a real shame – this year’s “real-life” movies, such as Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea, were its best.

Cultural preferences aside, I’m worried that this desire to escape real life might also be affecting the way we think about spirituality.

A spiritual person is often understood as someone, alone on a mountaintop or in a monastery, who spends all day meditating in order to connect to something beyond this world. It’s the spirituality portrayed in movies like Dr. Strange – one full of mystical secrets and magical powers.

That is certainly a legitimate spiritual orientation. It’s comforting to believe that life has a hidden meaning that we can access if only we break through its chaotic surface. Who knows? Maybe we’re all living in a Matrix-esque illusion.

But there is a very different spiritual orientation rooted less in the extraordinary and more in the ordinary. This approach finds God within, rather than outside of, our shared human existence. It seeks meaning in connection to ourselves, each other and our surroundings rather than an escape from those things.

Theologians have been writing about the tension between these two spiritual orientations – “Transcendence” and “Immanence” – for millennia. Judaism, like any rich spiritual tradition, has always struggled to balance both.

When our movie choices reflect a disproportionate interest in fantasy at the expense of reality, I fear we may be dismissing the spiritual potential of what is right in front of us. Movies can open our eyes to the wonder of the everyday, or they can distract us from it by taking us to La La Land. It all depends on what we choose to see.

The views and opinions expressed on 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 Gather the Jews, the Gather the Jews staff, the Gather the Jews board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.