Rabbi Rant: The Struggle Is-real

As the great poet Kanye West once pondered: “And the weather so breezy; man, why can’t life always be this easy?”

Life is hard, and it seems to get harder the older we get. Like all great minds, Yeezy simply gives expression to our deepest desires.

It’s no wonder, then, that some people have often turned to religion looking for reassurance, the ability to transcend our daily struggles, the comfort of knowing we are doing the right thing, or the guarantee that it will all work out in the end (if not for everyone, then at least for us).

Don’t believe this is how people actually relate to religion? Ask your rabbis (or other clergy) what happened to their attendance in services after the election last year. (Not that numbers matter all that much… they clearly didn’t for the election.) This “religious” drive is why Karl Marx called religion “the opium of the people” – many people relate to it as a calm-inducing drug.

The Torah offers a very different understanding of what it means to be religious, and to be human. In the very first sentence of this week’s Torah reading, we read: “Now Jacob was settled in the land where his father had sojourned, the land of Canaan” (Genesis 37:1). Nothing all that remarkable.

Yet the rabbis read into the word “settled” a deeper longing for tranquility. Jacob has had a difficult life; in his old age, he justifiably wants some peace and quiet. In direct response, God disrupts his life once again through the ensuing drama of his son Joseph (whose brothers sell him into slavery while convincing his father he was killed by wild beasts).

As the biblical commentator Rashi explains: “[When] the righteous seek to dwell in tranquility – God says: ‘Is it not enough for the righteous, what is prepared for them in the world to come, that they seek to settle in tranquility in this world?’”

Life isn’t supposed to be easy – you can rest peacefully when you’re dead.

Instead of encouraging retreat from challenge, Judaism pushes us toward it. The tough moments in life are the moments where we grow the most.

Almost 2000 years before it became a workout slogan, Rabbi Ben Hei Hei said: “According to the pain is the gain.”

It’s ironic that Jacob wanted to settle down, because his name was changed to Israel (which means, “to wrestle with God”) after wrestling with a man/angel just a few chapters earlier. Yet he still retains the name Jacob, which means “heel” and alludes to his tendency to run away, perhaps reminding us that we can never fully overcome our urge to avoid the harder moments.

This is why we need Judaism. Not to provide the easy answers, but to ask the hard questions.

We are called the children of Israel. To live up to our namesake, we must constantly choose to wrestle, instead of escape. It’s the critical first step in improving ourselves and the world around us.

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.

Spotted in Jewish DC – Indie/Folk Singer Eli Lev

Folk singer-songwriter Eli Lev was spotted at the Silver Spring Fresh Farmers Market by our very own Rachel Gildiner. The moment Eli’s soothing indie/folk music hit Rachel’s ears, she was captivated. So, to ensure all of our amazing readers can experience this mesmerizing music around DC, we’re featuring Eli’s band in this week’s #SpottedinJewishDC!

Oh, and you can go check him out in person next week on December 13th at SonyByrd for his album release party.

Allie: How did you become a musician?

Eli: Growing up I was always exposed to Jewish music especially klezmer music. I came back to DC last year to take care of my family because my dad has been going through some health issues. Before coming here, I was working as a teacher and finishing my Master’s in Language Education from Indiana University. When I came back to the area, someone asked me to play music with them at Tryst. This led to me playing at SongByrd, the Kennedy Center, and then Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton asked me to perform at The Capitol! All of a sudden – I’m a full time musician.

Allie: What type of music do you play?

Eli: Indie/Folk, Americana with a little bit of soul in there. Jack Johnson meets Johnny Cash. Smooth, laid back vocal approach with some honky tonk general.

Allie: Music heroes?

Eli: Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, all the best singer/songwriters from the 60s/70s. Vance Joy I like a lot. Mumford and Sons I have to thank for bringing folk back to people’s ears.

Allie: What are your songs about?

Eli: A lot of my songs I wrote when traveling around the world. My most recent single is “Go Down,” about a baptismal site I saw when I was living in Israel. I just made a music video based on that song.

Allie: What are the goals for your music?

Eli: My music is about bringing people together, and creating power with ourselves to identify who we are. This has a lot to do with getting back to nature, connecting to your neighbors – and understanding that we’re a part of the community we create. The folk music brings this all together because it inherently has a link to the past.

In today’s political climate, we’re at the mercy of the latest news cycle. We’re being taught to fear each other, even within the Jewish community, and it makes us weak. To be a strong person and a strong community, there has to be unity. My music speaks to that.

My next single is called “Making Space” and that is about creating space for ourselves to feel empowered, and use our voice to protest.

Allie: Any plans for the future of your music you’re particularly excited about?

Eli: I’m playing with a full folk band, and we have an album release party coming up at SongByrd. Playing with a band gives me a lot of excitement, and expands my reach. Ultimately, I’d love to do national and international touring.

 

 

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.

Happy Hanukkah: Party Themes, Pop-Up Bars, Holiday Markets, & Gift Guide

Those 8 crazy nights of Hanukkah are almost here! It’s not too late to put together a festive fete for your Jew crew and get gifts for your entire mishpacha (family). Whether you want to challenge the BFFs to a latke cook-off, find the ugliest holiday sweater, or get your boyfriend the ultimate present – we’ve got you covered with party themes, decorations, recipes, and a gift guide.

Hanukkah Party Countdown

  1.     This classy tablescape from figtree & vine makes us feel like we are living in a West Elm catalogue this holiday season. They are going out of business, so grab your discounted décor while you can!
  2.     Keep guests lit with the 8 drinking games of Hanukkah.
  3.     You will be the coolest “Jew kid on the block” when you break out this menorah-saurus  during candle lighting.
  4.     Slip on your Hanukkah suit and bring your pals to Chai-vy & Cohen-vy Hanukkah Pop-Up. Bar or the Miracle on 7th Pop-Up Bar featuring a Jewish Chinese & Movies themed room for a selfie-sesh & round from the “shot-norah”.
  5.     Take your latke game to the next level with these recipes from BuzzFeed.

A Very Jewish Christmas: Chinese & Movies

  1.     Save your gelt, grab your wok, and throw together your own veggie lo-mein with these 30 takeout dishes from Food Network Canada.
  2.    Paper lanterns make everything  pretty.
  3.     Have your guests personalize their own chopsticks while you waiting for the Chinese food to arrive.
  4.     End your meal with these cute marzipan takeout boxes, or witty Jewish fortune cookies from Modern Tribe.
  5.    A popcorn bar, because snacks. Oh, and the 100 best movies on Netflix. You’re welcome.

The Chosen Gift Guide

  1.     Did you know the first Hipster Hanukkah Holiday Market is on Wednesday, December 6th at Social Tables? Get all the gifts on your list! (Editor’s Note: If you missed this event, check out Amazon.com)
  2.     Your sister ran away to the warm weather for the holidays? Remind her of home with a Jewish Christmas scented candle from Homesick (butter popcorn + Chinese food flavor, oy).
  3.     The Happy Hanukcat sweater is a must for the future cat lady in your life.
  4.     Inspire your nephew to be the next Dr. Dreidel with this Jew Chainz tee.
  5.     You’ve probably spent more than eight nights trying to think of something to get your boyfriend – Kveller has several great present ideas.

 

 

About the Author: Stacy Miller 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 enjoys entertaining her large Jew crew at her home and is currently the Director of EntryPointDC, the 20s and 30s program of the Edlavitch DCJCC. She represents all things Northern Virginia as the Founder of NOVA Tribe Series and is a former GatherDCGirl of the Year Runner-Up. Most importantly, she wants you know she LOVES this community a-latke.

 

 

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.

Manny Arciniega: Quartet to the End of Time

When I checked out the program of the 19th Washington Music Jewish Festival (WJMF), I noticed that the Levine Music faculty were/are performing Messiaen’s “Quartet to the End of Time,” a work composed inside a prisoner of war camp in 1940. I wondered what a piece written by a Catholic composer, and inspired by the Book of Revelations and the Apocalypse, had to do with the Jewish festival.

I got very curious and decided to attend the concert and interview one of the members of the band, percussionist Manny Arciniega. Manny explained that while inside the prisoner of war camp, Messiaen met with two other world famous musicians: violinist Jean le Boulaire and cellist Étienne Pasquier. Messiaen loved to listen to natural sounds like birds singing, and added these sounds into his composition.

The other band members presented an innovative version of the piece by re-scoring and playing it with electronic instruments and percussion. What resulted was a mesmerizing performance.

By the end, I had an answer to my question: why was this performance included into the Jewish music festival? Well, in addition to one of the three musicians who played it, Étienne Pasquier, being Jewish, the piece is a work expressing liberation and the possibility of hope — sentiments which are very close to our Jewish history.

Enjoy my interview with Manny Arciniega!

                                                                 —

Daniela: I hear you are on faculty at Levine Music. Tell us more about that!

Manny: Levine Music is a community music school that serves the area around DC for students of all ages and abilities. It provides a welcoming community for children and adults to find lifelong inspiration and joy through learning, performing, listening, and participating in music.

Daniela: Why did you decide to commemorate Messiaen’s Quartet to the end of time at this year’s WJMF?

Manny: Each year, Levine Music chooses a theme for its concert series that faculty participate in.  The theme for the 2016-2017 Levine Presents series was “The Power of Music: Protest, Propaganda, Promise” – and I immediately thought of the “Quartet for the End of Time.” The story of the piece’s conception, having been written in a Nazi prisoner of war camp during WWII, perfectly intersected with the proposed theme.  Messiaen drew his inspiration from the Book of Revelation but its message is far from Apocalyptical.  It was an offering from Messiaen to the other prisoners in the camp. The music, composed of birdsong and sounds no one in that camp had ever heard before, allowed each individual to remove themselves from the temporal and into peace.  

The work is a testament to the power of human will to overcome the darkest of circumstances.  It’s message of hope, perseverance, and love.

This seemed appropriate topics for the WJMF.  Recent political events have necessitated a fresh look at Messiaen’s timeless masterpiece.

Daniela: How do electric instruments and percussion add to/change the original piece?

Manny: I loved the “Quartet for the End of Time” since my first encounter with it as a graduate student in the UK. I used to drive around listening to it in my car and imagine what it would sound like with percussion behind it. Messiaen was an avid composer for percussion instruments, and many of his birdsong compositions use a percussion or lesser known instruments such as the Ondes Martenot.

Changing the orchestration provided a variety of challenges from an arranging standpoint.  I tried to find parallels between the original instruments and their modern counterparts. My goal was to find moments where I felt Messiaen was trying to maximize a particular timbre or sound and see if we could dial it up.

My hope was to just strike a chord with the individual. Whether that is one of contemplation over the cacophony of sound, or complete disgust for the destruction of revered music, we just want to invoke an emotional response.

After the premiere of the re-orchestration this past January, one individual just came up to me, gave me a hug and then thanked me with tears in his eyes. It’s a moment I will always remember.

Daniela: Does this piece give you an experience of oppression or liberation while you play it, knowing that it was composed and performed in a Nazi camp?

Manny: As for the history of its composition, knowing its origins strengthens its meaning of hope and liberation. Each time I play that 8th movement, I get goosebumps.

I can’t help but think about how beautiful the world is, despite all of the hatred and lack of empathy around us — music is inspiring — it’s an escape from the ‘now.’

Daniela: How has playing this piece changed the relationship between the musicians? 

Manny: If it weren’t for the other individuals in this performance, it most likely would have never been realized. As a result of this project, we have all found ourselves in vulnerable positions, both musically and emotionally, from the stress that comes with working such a challenging work and that has served to bring us closer together. Everyone has put their heart and soul into learning this music, its story, and the language of Messiaen’s unique composition style. I will admit, there have been moments of doubt that some of the tasks before us might be impossible to pull off, but in the end no one backed down from the challenge.

 

 

 

About the Author: Daniela 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 “retired philosopher” who works as an executive assistant and loves to write about Italian and Jewish events happening in DC. She was born and raised in Sicily (Italy) in an interfaith family and moved to D.C. with her husband after studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where they met. They have a wonderful Siberian cat named Rambam! Daniela loves going to work while listening to Leonard Cohen’s songs and sometimes performs in a West African Dance group

 

 

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 “Cancer-Slayer” of the Week!

Ben Rubenstein is one of the most fascinating Arlingtonians (that’s a word, right?) I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting in my time in the DMV. To elaborate on that bold statement – he’s a published memoir author, decade-long blogger, beer travelog-er, enthusiast of living life in the present moment, and tattoo aficionado. Plus, he hates hummus. Which is just super interesting in itself. Read on to get to know this really amazing human. 

9.14.17. Ben, his brother, and his sister-in-law’s dog – celebrating 16 years since finishing treatment for Ewing’s sarcoma.

Allie: So, your cancerslayer blog is incredible. How did it get started? 

Ben: In college, I got a literary agent for a book I was writing called “How I Became a Cancer-Slaying Superman Before I Turned 21.” At first, my book didn’t get picked up by publishers, so my agent suggested I start a blog to get noticed. I did, and she was right! My book actually got published in 2010. After that, I continued with the blog, because it was a great outlet for me, and I’ve been blogging for 10 ½ years now.

Allie: Wow. So, after your book got published – did any cool opportunities come your way?

Ben: Children’s National Medical Center invited me to be a part of a book signing, which was a really cool experience. One of the first times I went, I met a boy there who had the same kind of cancer I had (bone cancer). He was so appreciative of meeting me. In his room he had a superman picture he drew on his wall and it said “I am a cancer-slaying superman” that was based on his book.

7.19.17. Ring of Kerry in Ireland, visiting as a part of his MFA program at the University of Southern Maine.

Allie: How did you get into writing in the first place?

Ben: Well, between the ages of 8 and 20 I wrote one story. It was about Scottie Pippen playing basketball against an extraterrestrial. Then, at 20 I had a job at Hollywood Video and decided, out of nowhere, that I wanted to write a book. That night, I got home at 1 am, started writing, and didn’t stop. Now, I’m a writer professionally and am just about to finish a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Southern Maine. I work one-on-one with a faculty member there, and can do that from the comfort of my apartment in Arlington, VA.

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Ben: I grew up in Manassas, Virginia and then went to UVA for college. My only time living out of the state was when I received a bone marrow transplant in Minnesota, which took four months. Then I moved to Arlington, which is the first place, besides the house I grew up in, that ever really felt like a home.

Allie: Besides writing, what are your favorite ways to spend free time?

Ben: I love to rock climb. Once, while at George Washington University for a “Cancer– Slayer” book signing, I learned about a group called First Descents that offers free adventure trips for young adults impacted by cancer. I decided to go with them to Moab, Utah, and rock climbed there for the first time. Since then, I’ve been with First Descents to Colorado, Tanzania, and different places in Virginia to rock climb, hike, and explore. 

I also love movies – a hundred times more than I like to read book. And, I’m a big fan of my do-not disturb button on my phone because I like the idea of single tasking.

Allie: What’s your favorite Jewish food? 

5.21.17. Rock climbing at Seneca Rocks, West Virginia, with friends from his First Descents group.

Ben: I’m on a mega health kick. I think without realizing it, I decided to be as healthy as I possibly could so I could prevent getting cancer ever again. There’s mixed research on if diet can be a cause of cancer, but I like to believe I can do something to protect myself. I’m surprised the Jewish religion hasn’t kick my out yet because I don’t like hummus, gefilte fish, and don’t even eat bread! But, one thing I’m not willing to give up are my IPA’s.

Allie: So, you’re a pretty big beer lover, huh?

Ben: Well, when I started my health kick I was drinking solely whiskey neat because it has the least sugar and calories, but definitely missed beer. Then, my brother showed me an app called “Untappd” where you log different beers each time you drink one. Soon after discovering this app, I went to a brewery-hopping weekend in Boulder, CO and started putting it to good use. The app gave me a sense of accomplishment every time I tried a new beer. The app became a travelog, adventure-log, and beer-log all in one. So far, I’ve tried 1,280 beers.

7.15,17. The Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.

Allie: How does Judaism play a role in your life?  

Ben: Every morning and night, I say the shema, in the morning I thank God for being healthy, and I think about the gratitude of being able to stay healthy given what I’ve been through. At night, I say it again and ask God to look after my family and friends who might need some looking after.

Allie: What your best piece of life advice?

Ben: Well, I have three tattoos with different wisdom. One, is an image of my perception of my tumor when I was 16 years old before treatment, it’s just an ugly big blob. The second is a fig tree, which reminds me of health and cleanliness and that there is always another day to live a clean life. The third is a koi fish which makes me think of the National Institutes of Health, where I got treatment for my first cancer, because they had a lot of these fish in their waiting room. It reminds me of perception.

Beyond the tattoos, I think about time a lot. None of us have unlimited time. It’s up to us how we choose to spend it. We have to make sacrifices to take advantage of that time, even in how we spend our leisure time.

For example, I no longer watch TV shows with story arcs, because in 2 hours I can get a wonderful, complete story in a movie. I log all the movies I watch and books I read with apps like LetterBoxd and GoodReads, because it gives me a sense of accomplishment. I think by tracking things, I feel like the things I do matter.

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

Ben: They congregate around the hummus.

 

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 Anna: Jewish Peace-Maker of the Week!

Anna loves sandwiches, rainy Sundays, West Wing, and teaching Peace Corps volunteers how to facilitate transformative workshops worldwide. Get to know this super cool, peace-making lady and how fate and Bullfrog Bagels led her to a life-changing experience!

Allie: I hear you have a pretty cool job with Peace Corps. Tell me a little bit about that.

Anna: I am a training specialist for Peace Corps, with a focus on leadership development, diversity, and inclusion. I write and design and facilitate trainings for Peace Corps staff who then take what they learn to the volunteers.

Before starting at Peace Corps, I was a facilitator for camps and outdoor education spaces, concentrating on how we can learn outside of a traditional classroom. Then, I become a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia and fell in love with the organization. As a volunteer, I did a lot of trainings in cross-cultural communication, gender empowerment, and life skills work with local community members.

Allie: How did you wind up in DC?

Anna: I’m from Arlington, VA originally and love the area. I moved back to DC after I returned from serving as a volunteer in Ethiopia. It’s been a hard transition coming back from the Peace Corps, and I feel like I’m still getting used to the American way of life. I sometimes wish people would slow down, look at each other more, and talk to each other more – but that’s sometimes the reality of DC. But I still love it.

Allie: How did you get involved with Gather?

Anna: A friend of mine was trying to convince me to go on Gather’s Beyond the Tent retreat (EDITOR’S NOTE: Applications are currently open for the next Beyond the Tent retreat taking place February 9-11, okay I’ll stop now). I was hesitant. But one morning I was grabbing a Bullfrog Bagel at The GreenBee, and the Beyond the Tent team was there by total coincidence. They bombarded me and wound up convincing me to go.

I went into Beyond the Tent with pretty much no expectations and it really was mind blowing. It helped me connect to my Judaism more than I ever had by learning that there are no rules to what it means to be Jewish. Rabbi Aaron Potek (GatherDC’s Community Rabbi) and I are now best friends, I’ve joined a Rosh Chodesh group through people I met on that retreat, and have been much more involved Jewishly around the city because of that weekend.

Allie: What’s your favorite way to spend a free Sunday in the city?

Anna: Going to brunch where I have three different kinds of beverages: a seltzer, a coffee, and a Bloody Mary. Then, I’d have a delicious sandwich, because I just really love sandwiches. Then, there’d be a sitting in the park period to digest said brunch. Suddenly, it would start to rain, which gives me a perfect excuse to go to a movie. Then, I go grocery shopping and cook for the week. I love to cook, it fights off my “Sunday scaries.” To finish the day, I’ll go back out for Sunday evening drinks with my friend at a nice wine bar, and then go hang out at home with my roommate or girlfriend.

Allie: Best piece of life advice?

Anna: One saying from the community I lived in in Ethiopia called Shambu, is that when things go wrong, you say “The rain is raining.” Yeah, it’s raining, you can’t change it. You have to manage and accept the realities and be able to move forward.

Allie: Favorite show to binge watch right now.

Anna: I’m currently rewatching “Happy Endings,” which was cut short prematurely. But my go-to is “West Wing.”

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

Anna: We unite.

 

 

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.

Spotted in Jewish DC – The EmporiYUM: Meet. Eat. Shop.

This week in #SpottedInJewishDC we checked out The EmporiYUM, a pop-up marketplace with over 100 vendors selling their best food products ranging from snacks, drinks, and even boozy ice cream! We went around with an empty stomach and an open mind, getting a taste of all the offerings and scoping out the local Jewish foodies sharing their products at the event.

With Hanukkah around the corner, we did your homework for you (you’re welcome) and have some great gift ideas for your fellow foodies. Dig in to meet some of these DC food scene changemakers, one full belly at a time!

Even if you didn’t make it to The EmporiYUM this year, don’t fret, just follow my pro-Hanukkah gifting tips to support your local Jewish foodie favorites and get some good eats along the way. You’ll be in foodie heaven, while giving the gift of eating locally made products that support the buzzing startup community here in DC.

 

NOSH BARWith “just the good stuff” inside, Nosh Bars are full of ingredients you can identify without pulling out your phone and turning to Google: nuts, fruit, oats, seeds, and spices. That’s it!

Keeping it simple is just what Nosh Bar’s owner, Michele, intended when she created them in her own home kitchen. Tired of being confused in the grocery store with all the various “health bar” products out there, she turned to the basics of eating simple foods full of clean ingredients. Her bars come in a variety of flavors, with the best-selling figstachio and something for the more adventurous with the goji berry bar (if you haven’t tried these berries yet, grab one – they are full of antioxidants and perfect for the winter sniffles). This was Michele’s first year at The EmporiYUM and she had lines throughout the whole event!

PRO-GIFT GIVING TIP: You can get some Nosh Bar products for your favorites online, and at local stores like TasteLab Marketplace, Steadfast Supply, and Reformation Fitness.

 

PRESCRIPTION CHICKENThe EmporiYUM was held outside on a chilly November day, so warm soup was just what we needed to keep up the energy. Luckily, the soup-slinging duo Prescription Chicken was on-site serving up shots of their chicken soup alongside mini challah braids.

This soup delivery service sends chicken soup out to cure whatever ails you, like the classic winter sniffles, to the hangover package that includes a turmeric spiced soup with a side of vitamins, tea and saltines. Started after co-founder Valerie Zweig had a rough battle with laryngitis where all she wanted was some good matzo ball soup, an idea was born and she recruited her cousin, Taryn Pellicone, to launch the business.  With the notion that soup infers comfort, their soup can be for those who are sick or just having a bad day.

PRO-GIFT GIVING TIP: Deliver a package of Grandma’s Famous Chicken Noodle Soup to those needing some extra love.

 

BUFFALO & BERGEN: Located steps from The EmporiYUM’s pop-up marketplace, Buffalo & Bergen brings the joys of New York soda shops to Washington, DC, giving a new spin on old classics.  With soda flavors ranging from Coca-Cola to Lemon Lavender to Carrot Marigold, Gina Chersevani’s mixology expertise adds an extra splash to these longtime favorites (you can also add a little booze if you choose)!

In addition to the expansive drink menu, Buffalo & Bergen serves up classic Jewish bites like knishes and bagels! Sourcing their water straight from New York, these bagels will have even the biggest critic coming back for more.

PRO-GIFT GIVING TIP: Treat your friends to brunch or cocktails at Buffalo & Bergen…or simply bring some bagels to your next Hanukkah shindig when everyone’s had enough latkes (is that a thing?!).

 

SWAPPLES: Frozen waffles are a staple in any millennial’s freezer, offering a quick breakfast option for our busy lives. Swapples provide a healthy alternative to the often sugar-loaded frozen waffle; entirely plant-based, these allergen-free waffles are made with yuca root, a starchy, nutritious tuber vegetable.

When owner Rebecca Peress was told by a doctor to cut out all sugar from her diet, she quickly felt limited by the options in her grocery store. She started making Swapples for herself, and once her co-workers kept requesting them, an idea for a business was born.

Swapples currently come in four flavors: Blueberry, Cinnamon, Tomato Pizza, and Everything (this one’s especially for bagel lovers). You can find them in grocery stores like Whole Foods, MOM’s Organic Market, and Glen’s Garden Market.

PRO-GIFT GIVING TIP: Grab a bag and try out this healthy, vegan alternative to your favorite waffle! Maybe even swap a Swapple for this year’s latkes – who knows, you may find a new holiday tradition.

 

 

 

 

About the Author: Judith  Rontal  is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you! Judith hails from wintry Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she grew up in a family that always managed to eat dinner together, even if that was at 10 pm. She’s continued that connection between food, family and culture in her blog, Aluminum Foiled Kitchen, and in her daily life in DC where she works in PR, focusing on media relations. When not in the kitchen working on a new recipe to serve at her next dinner party, you can find Judith sweating it out at yoga or running the Rock Creek Park trails. Follow her food adventures on Twitter and Instagram.

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 Melanie: Jewish Marathon Runner of the Week!

Allie: I hear you have a pretty cool DC job. Tell me a little bit about that.

Melanie: I’m on the digital communications team at J Street, which is the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans who are diplomacy-first US foreign policy in the Middle East, a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and policies that reflect our Jewish and democratic values.. I feel really fortunate to wake up everyday knowing that I’m working for an organization that I care about, and is fighting for important causes. It’s a nice combination of working both in the Jewish community, and in the political space.

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Melanie: I grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, and did an internship at Jewish Women International in 2011, where I learned about the RAC (Religious Action Center), and felt like it would be really amazing to work for an organization that advocates for critical issues like homelessness, hunger, minimum wage, children’s issues, and engaging the reform Jewish movement. So, in 2014, I moved down here to be Legislative Assistant at the RAC.

Allie: How did you get involved with Gather?

Melanie: I ran into Rabbi Aaron Potek as a HIAS event, and he told me about the Beyond the Tent retreat. I decided to apply, and went on it this past July. I had a fantastic experience, i met a lot of people I wouldn’t have otherwise have met, I got to think critically about what it means to have a Jewish identity, and how I connect to my Jewish identity in a meaningful, real way. If you go, you have to be able to ask big questions, challenge yourself, and be comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable.

Allie: What do you like about DC?

Melanie: I’ve been fortunate to have wonderful jobs where i get to think critically and work with smart colleagues. I also love a lot of the people I’ve met here, many of whom I’ve through a running group call The November Project – which is a free fitness group where you show up early to work out. I ran track and cross country in college, so this was a really great way for my to get integrated into the DC running community, and meet people outside of the Jewish and political worlds. There’s really nothing better than starting your day while running past the Lincoln Memorial.

Allie: Have you ever run a marathon or have any plans to?

Melanie: Oh yes! Since getting involved in The November Project, I started training for marathons. I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 2015, 2016, and 2017, and the Charles River Marathon in Boston in 2017. I actually ran fast enough in the last two marathons to qualify for The Boston Marathon, which I am planning to run in 2018 and 2019. That’s been a dream of mine forever, I grew up handing out orange slices to Boston Marathon runners during the race, and I can’t wait to be a part of it.

Allie: Who would you say is your Jewish role model who inspires you to stay so determined?

Melanie: My mom and grandma – they are both such incredible people. My parents raised all of my siblings with very strong Jewish identities in terms of striving to be better and do better, advocating for social justice, making the world a better place (tikkun olam), learning, being a part of the Jewish community, and also in terms of family. These are also the core values that I want to ensure I pass on the my kids one day.

Allie: What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?

Melanie: Passover. I love that the root of Passover is about Jews fleeing slavery, and that the core values of Passover can be relevant to so many social justice issues that we’re currently grappling with. It’s a holiday that pushes us to help others suffering from forms of slavery, and is also a holiday I can share with my non-Jewish friends who seem to really enjoy it.

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

Melanie: The world better be ready for what’s coming next.

 

 

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.

1:1 with Simone Baron, Washington Jewish Music Festival

Simone Baron – AIR
Strathmore

I was very excited, a few days ago, to speak over the phone with Simone Baron, artist in-residence at the Washington Jewish Music Festival (WJMF), which just ended this past Sunday. Simone had a very busy Washingtonian week, with a concert every night, including three shows during the WJMF. Nevertheless, she found the time to talk with me about her life and her love for music and performance. My excitement grew after we exchanged a few greetings and Simone asked me – with a perfect accent – “Ma…sei italiana?” [Wait, are you Italian?] and explained me that her mother is Italian too! We made a promise to find time to meet and grab a coffee – an espresso, of course – together soon!

I know you want to read about Simone, so I’ll stop writing so you can get to a slightly modified version of our phone interview.

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Daniela: What are your current musical influences and how did you arrive at this point in your career?

Simone: I grew up listening to classical chamber music. I started playing piano seriously at age sixteen, and was given my first accordion for my bat mitzvah when I was 12. When I was finishing my degree in classical piano at Oberlin, I was in a musical rut and feeling tension in my body, so I started playing some phrases accordion and it opened up my world a lot – I was able to sing on the instrument. I listened to great accordion players who were creating all sorts of interesting things with the instrument.

My musical influences? People who inspire me and totally immerse themselves as deeply as possible. Esperanza Spalding, is someone who goes deeply into everything she does and moves freely between musical genres, yet stays true to her musical DNA. Another current influence is Tyshawn Sorey. I met him this past summer in Canada at Banff. He is a brilliant, beautiful composer, multi-instrumentalist, and conductor, and listens with every pore in his body. Making music with him was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

I arrived at this point in my career through a combination of hard work, jumping into many things without thinking too much, and staying true to my constantly growing appetite and inner weirdness.

Simone Baron – AIR
Strathmore

Daniela: Do you view the accordion as a contemporary instrument, or something in need of a revival?

Simone: There is an amazing quote by Pauline Oliveros:

The accordion is my primary instrument. It’s an old friend – comfortable and expressive. Symbolically it is aligned with *the people* – working people. It is also a challenge to play an instrument that grew up after the period of classical music. The piano is centered in that period. The accordion has a life of its own.”

By the time I became interested in the accordion, the stigma tied to it has been largely washed away, replaced by a vague admiration for this eclectic thing. At the same time, due to the efforts of a few excellent musicians, there is a lot of very interesting contemporary music written – and being written 1– for the accordion: it is an instrument with infinite possibilities, the beautiful visual mechanism of breathing, and it is still evolving.

Daniela: We heard your just had your “World Premiere” concert with David Buchbinder at the WJMF. What was most exciting for you about this collaboration?

Simone: David is a Toronto based trumpeter, and as I’ve just started my masters there, so the WJMF organizer had the idea for us to collaborate on a performance together. David has assembled a fantastic band including Drew Jurecka – an amazing violinist/saxophonist, and Justin Gray, a fantastic bassist– it’s wonderful to hear our music interpreted by all of them! We were joined by DC based Lucas Ashby, a frequent collaborator of mine and a beautiful drummer.

Daniela: Let’s talk about the Bina Project, which I know is very important for you. You mixed chamber music works from women composers, madrigals from Italian–Jewish composers and multimedia effects. What is this project about and how did you managed to include all these elements?

Simone: The Bina Project (which took place this past Sunday at the WJMF) grew out of an ongoing inquiry into what the concert form can be. I’m coming from a world in which the standard model of a concert pianist is one who sits down at the piano and plays a well balanced, slightly boring repertoire, without really interacting with the audience.

Humans seek communication and direction. The concert focused on Bina, which means “understanding, knowledge” in Hebrew. It has the same root as livnot (to build) so it’s a creative concept. People in the audience created their own story out of the different disparate elements presented on stage – poems by Gertrude Stein, dance, the dialogue between spectralism and Scriabin.

Daniela: With so many active projects (the Arco Belo Ensemble, the Contra Ponte Project, and now the collaboration with Buchbinder) how do you

Simone Baron – AIR
Strathmore

manage to keep them all going while pursuing your masters?

Simone: The Contra Ponte Project, which took place this past weekend, featured regular trio of mine with Lucas Ashby and Leo Lucini on bass, as well as guests such as Rogerio Souza, a famous seven-string guitarist, and a wonderful saxophonist from Brazil. I’ve been playing a lot of concerts with these musicians over the last year. Playing with them always gives me so much energy and joy. Arco Belo is also an ensemble that I formed during my residency last year at the Strathmore. It’s a mix of chamber music with contemporary influences, and jazz with global roots.

For the last two months, I have been having concerts every weekend here, and I go back to Toronto to study during the week. It’s very rewarding and enriching: all these projects are actually related to each other and to what I am studying—they cross pollinate in fascinating ways.

Daniela: What is the role of a female Jewish musician in today’s music world?

Simone: Being Jewish means having access to an incredible wellspring of musical tradition, and is a way of being and thinking. I studied Mishnah and Talmud before becoming a musician, and I’m convinced that that culture of inquiry and philosophy translated directly into my approach as a musician. The fact that I studied with my mother, a Roman Jew, instilled a strong sense of a cultural identity as well as pride in being a Jewish woman that I try to carry in my artistic voice.

Listening for me is a very feminine characteristic and for me the most important part of being a musician. In today’s world we are struggling with regression – we’re still battling sexism among others, and often we fail to listen to each other. Ultimately, there is quite a lot of work to be done since there are not many women musicians, composers, and conductors in the world, and as one of the composers on the Bina concert, Kaija Saariaho, puts it, “You know, half of humanity has something to say, also.”

 

 

About the Author: Daniela 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 “retired philosopher” who works as an executive assistant and loves to write about Italian and Jewish events happening in DC. She was born and raised in Sicily (Italy) in an interfaith family and moved to D.C. with her husband after studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where they met. They have a wonderful Siberian cat named Rambam! Daniela loves going to work while listening to Leonard Cohen’s songs and sometimes performs in a West African Dance group

 

 

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.

Spotted in Jewish DC – 1831 Bar & Lounge

This week in #SpottedinJewishDC, we’ve discovered an awesome bar steps away from our favorite soup-spot (what up Soupergirl). Some reasons this bar is worthy of the highly revered “Spotted in Jewish DC” title: 1) Really inexpensive happy hour prices; 2) Steampunk inspired ambiance; 3) The owners are three Jewish brothers who are natives of the DC suburbs. Read this exclusive interview with 1831 Bar & Lounge’s Co-Founder and Owner Sean Chreky – and then go say hi in person!

Allie: How did you wind up opening the bar?

Sean: I come from an entrepreneurial family. My mom had her own dance school, my dad started his own hair salon, and many of my extended family members were hairstylists. I was meant to be a hairstylist (ie: Don’t Mess with the Zohan). Instead of becoming a hairdresser, I got my masters in finance and was going to work in investment banking. But deep down, I wanted to own my own business and be my own boss. And my father always taught me I should follow my own dreams. When my brothers and I saw this amazing space available in DC in 2015, we jumped on this opportunity to buy the space and transform it into a bar. Now, my two brothers and I are owners of 1831 Bar & Lounge! They say doing business with family is never a good idea, and we definitely have our moments, but ultimately we’re happy to be doing it.

Allie: What sets your bar apart from the others?

Sean: Well, we have a really inexpensive happy hour menu. Since we started 1831 on a shoestring budget, we wanted to do whatever we could to create buzz around it, and figured having really cheap drinks and food -$1 beers, $4 glass of wine, $6 Tito’s – would do the trick. We also specialize in hosting events, whether it’s a birthday party, or a corporate or nonprofit event.

Ambiance-wise, we’re trying to be a steampunk-inspired bar – like in the 1800s when there was industrial steam-powered machinery, a little bit like the train time machine in Back to the Future Part 3. We’re looking forward to eventually having our staff wear steampunk outfits.

In the future, we will keep the bar & lounge as is and start a nightclub by taking over three more levels of the building.

Allie: What advice do you have for someone dreaming of opening up their own business?

Sean: Before you do it, know that it’s really what you want. It takes a lot of work, late nights, and the bar industry can be a tough one. Make sure that whatever business you are planning to start is the industry you really want to be in. Try working in that industry before you start your own business, so you get a feel for it. And have a niche. You need to be able to carve out your own unique space and stand out from the competition. Oh, and make sure you have more than enough money saved if things don’t go as planned.

Allie: What do you like to do for fun outside of work?

Sean: Well, because I invested everything in the bar, and it takes time for a bar to become profitable, I had to get another job during the day. So, my fun time is very limited. But, if I did have time to spare, I’d spend it by the water. My brothers and I love going to the beach, scuba diving, and spearfishing. I love watching football – we’re Ravens, Redskins, and Miami Dolphin fans. If you come to 1831 on Sundays, we have Redskins games playing, and are also the official DC bar for the University of Miami Hurricanes and the DC International Film Festival.

Allie: How do you connect with your Jewish identity?

Sean: I have a deep cultural connection, and care a lot about Jewish tradition. I went on Birthright Israel, and we grew up going to Congregation Har Shalom. I also love Jewish foods – Matzo ball soup has a soft spot in my heart. I used to live in New York City, and there were real, authentic Jewish diners where I had some of the best matzo ball soup of my life – like 2nd Ave Deli.

 

 

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.