Together At the Table

This weekend, the world–and specifically our neighboring state of Virginia–witnessed a violent display of hatred, racism, and anti-Semitism from a group of neo-Nazis. It is hard to see, hear, and think about these deplorable acts that are happening so close to home. We must continue to work towards understanding one another and showing love and kindness to all, despite our differences.

This Shabbat, join in opposing bigotry and celebrating diversity by creating welcoming, inclusive Shabbat dinners. Be a host. Be a guest. Take your seat at the table.

Shabbat has the power to unite, to elevate conversations, to deepen community.

Together at the Table is a celebration of unity and diversity in the face of fear and division. #TogetherAtTheTable

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, OneTable, Repair the World, and many other partners (including GatherDC) have made it as easy as possible for you to get started. These organizations are working to bring people together through Shabbat dinner this week – Friday, August 18th. If you do or don’t decide to host or attend a Shabbat this week, the partners working to present #TogetherAtTheTable have compiled resources on the web page to having important, meaningful conversations about all of this.

We asked a few people to share why they think this opportunity is important for the DC Jewish community.

Marina, the DC Hub Manager for OneTable explained, “I feel blessed to be able to bring the community a resource that is so important in the world we live in, especially here in DC, and I feel lucky during times like these to be able to see so tangibly how we come together and bring out the very best in each other. OneTable aims to facilitate this by providing a space for the community to come together and heal over the Shabbat dinner table. In the face of hatred, our community will become stronger by embracing diversity and ensuring that each and every one of us has a seat.”

Alyssa, Moishe House Columbia Heights resident, reiterates the importance by stating, “We (Moishe House Columbia Heights) felt that it was important to create our Shabbat dinner into a space that could be a #TogetherAtTheTable meal because as community builders, we wanted our house to be seen as a safe space for all those looking for some solidarity and understanding. Shabbat is one time in the week that, regardless of what is going on in the world, the traditions, smells, tastes, and celebrations stay the same. This is not only a time to seek solidarity in our community, but to find a time to celebrate the Jewish communities and traditions that we foster and are a part of!” Join their dinner.

Ruth, one of the hosts for this Friday, says she believes that “#TogetherAtTheTable is a great way to foster conversations around justice. They don’t begin and end at the Shabbat table, but rather they should inspire us to act in the face of bigotry and hatred. As we take action for our community as self-advocates, may we never forget to act as allies in the fight for shared liberation for all.”

Host your own dinner now – open or closed – to bring people together against hate.

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.

Jewish Renaissance Man of the Week – Ben

Shaina: I hear you’re quite the guitar player. Tell us a bit about your background in music.

Ben: When I was nine, my older sister brought home a drum set for herself…but I mistakenly thought it was forme. Years later, I picked up guitar through Jewish music at youth group events and summer camp. I never learned any classic rock songs on guitar, but I know a lot of Debbie Friedman!

Shaina: What do you see as the intersection between music and Judaism?

Ben: Music is one way to enhance and make accessible the great gifts of Judaism. I really like synagogues that bend the rules of formal music and composition to better serve their community engagement.

Shaina: We also know you’re vegan – do you have any good recipes to share?

Ben: Crumble up some tempeh and diced onions – add salt, oil, and a little brown sugar and roast. A great addition to any meal, vegan or not!

Shaina: Any Jewish recipes to add to that list?

Ben: I used to make a mean bread-pudding latke – a dessert latke if you will – but that was well before I was vegan…

Shaina: You moved here pretty recently and started working at Tesla. What’s that like?

Ben: Amazing. The sense of urgency in our mission is invigorating. I’ve never had the opportunity to work on such an important issue as energy sustainability, and it has been a constant source of motivation and pride.

Shaina: What kind of work do you do for them?

Ben: I lead the sales team for Tesla in Baltimore. We educate folks on the many benefits of electric vehicles and help customers find their next car.

Shaina: Complete the sentence: When the Jews Gather…

Ben: It’s generally a little later than we planned, but there’s usually bagels to nosh, so who cares?!

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.

Tyber Creek Happy Hour

Red, white, or rosé: when life hands you grapes, you make wine. And then you bring the community together.

Jordan Stahl was given grapes, and she turned the fruit into vino. Just a few months ago, she opened Tyber Creek Wine Bar & Kitchen with her husband, Jonathan. Warm and welcoming on the nose and with a pleasant finish, the restaurant sits on the corner of Rhode Island and First St NW, in booming Bloomingdale. Having uncorked its doors on May 4, it focuses on food prepared in its centerpiece wood-fired oven – and of course, wine.   Jordan previously worked at Virginia-based Blenheim Vineyards, so wine is in her background – and on her palate. After a stint at LivingSocial, Jordan realized it was time to realize her dream of opening a wine bar.

Curious as to what that all actually means? Get to taste the product of grape genius on August 23, when The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s Young Leadership is teaming up with Federation’s Jewish Food Experience®(JFE) to put on an exciting event: a Tantalizing Happy Hour, featuring the restaurant’s fantastic food and drink.

At the event, young professionals will come together to chat, mingle, and enjoy a relaxed evening in a vibrant space. Jordan and Jonathan will host the evening, and everyone will be able to speak with Chef Kerry Tate, who helms the aforementioned wood-fired oven, around which the restaurant’s menu is based.

In my opinion, with the Rose Flight, a specially curated set by wine expert Jordan, is going to make this event especially exciting. The restaurant’s lengthy wine list draws from all over the world, but the rose is the shining jewel. There’s even an option that’s on tap. The six options available at the Happy Hour include Adega Rosé Lago from Portugal, Âme du Vin from France, Jelu Estate Malbec from Argentina, Rosemont Unfiltered from Argentina, Silvermyn Cab Franc from South Africa, and the French Camarey Cinsault Rose, which is poured from the tap, as fresh as ever.

Jonathan and Jordan say they are thrilled to be part of Federation… and of the Jewish food community. They’re excited to share in this with folks – so come on out an celebrate!

Jordan said that “we wanted to create a cozy space, a completely non-corporate space. Whether it’s after work, a birthday, a family gathering, it has to be focused on community.”  To up the fun factor, two wines are always on tap. There are also two cocktails on tap, which can be tasted a t the Happy Hour as well.

It being a neighborhood restaurant means that its signature wine program is thoughtful, but not overly serious. “Instead of cult or popular national wines, we use only small, independent, and boutique producers with exciting, original wine at a good value,” said Jordan.

Finally, the food menu is also approachable and straightforward. It’s American, with a touch of French. The event includes thoughtfully plated small bites, like crudités, endive, and fresh house-baked flatbread served with hummus and healthful Green Goddess dressing. You’ll also get to try seasonal flatbread bites of squash blossoms and creamy burrata, as well as a roasted veggie and goat cheese bruschetta.

About her restaurant, Jordan said, “We are bringing old friends and new together over great food and good wine.”

Proceeds from the happy hour will be donated by Jordan and Jonathan to support JFE’s ongoing volunteer initiative at N Street Village.

Tyber Creek Wine Bar & Kitchen is not a kosher restaurant. All of the appetizers included in the ticket price are vegetarian. Additional fare and refreshments can be purchased individually by attendees.

Sponsored by Jewish Food Experience from the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington

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.

What it’s Like to Throw the First Pitch

Any Rookie of the Year fan can relate to the intense desire to step up on a pitcher’s mound and throw a fastball into the catcher’s mitt at a professional baseball game. Last year Ben Shlesinger of Silver Spring, fulfilled that childhood fantasy and threw the first pitch at a Nationals game during The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s Grand Slam Sunday: Jewish Community Day at Nationals Park. He was selected to do the honors because of his longtime volunteer work with The Jewish Federation.


As Federation’s third annual Grand Slam Sunday approaches on Sunday, August 27, bringing together over 1,500 community members, we thought we’d talk to Ben about his unforgettable experience at last year’s Grand Slam Sunday and what he’s most looking forward to at this year’s game against The Mets.

GatherDC Staff: Let’s get right to the question we’re dying to know. What did the field feel like?

Ben: Ha! The field felt, for the lack of a better term, professional. It was all soft grass and the mound had a nice sturdiness to it. Much nicer than the fields and mounds I used to practice on.

GatherDC Staff: What does it sound like on the field? Can you hear distinct voices or is it all muffled? Is it super loud?

Ben: I could definitely hear distinct voices while on the field. I could also hear the announcer well. But you tune out the sort of background noise from the crowd. I totally know now that a player could hear me if I heckled them from up close.

GatherDC Staff: How did you prepare to throw the pitch?

Ben: It actually took a ton of practice. I went out to a field nearby my house and practiced a lot, throwing ball after ball. I was less concerned about speed and was just focusing on accuracy and getting the ball far enough to reach the catcher.

GatherDC Staff: When you threw the pitch, how did it go?

Ben: Well, it turns out the field I practiced on was a lot smaller than the real thing. So I don’t think they’re going to recruit me to their bullpen. But, honestly, just being out on the field and seeing the players was the best part.

GatherDC Staff: Did you meet any players?

Ben: I got to meet Blake Teinin, who caught the ball I threw. He then signed it and let me keep it which was a big deal since I’m an avid autograph collector.

GatherDC Staff: Do you think there is something inherently Jewish about baseball?

Ben: This is difficult to say. I don’t know if there’s anything inherently Jewish about baseball, but I feel like Jews inherently like baseball. To me baseball and Jews are just two things that go together naturally.

GatherDC Staff: What are you most looking forward to at this year’s game?

Ben: I love the community feel of the event. There’s a lot of pride in the air both for our home team and for our Jewish community. People are mingling and enjoying the game and it’s just a really fun day where all feel welcome.

If you’re interested in joining the excitement at this year’s Grand Slam Sunday, individual tickets are available now starting at the discounted group price of $25 and include access to pre-game fun.

Sponsored by Jewish Federation of Greater Washington

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.

Mr. Nice Jewish Boys Pageant 2017

The debate has raged for centuries.

It’s all Jewish mothers, fathers, and potential spouses talk about: what makes a nice Jewish boy?

Your prayers, my friends, have been answered.

Enter the four finalists of the Mr. Nice Jewish Boy Pageant 2017! Drawn from a diverse pool of contestants across Washington, DC, the top four aim to impress the voting public and a panel of celebrity judges. It’s an unmissable event.

“What I love about this pageant is people joining together and showing off their talents to create a fun event that benefits the community as a whole,” said organizer Jonathan Gilad. “At our last event, we had everything from matzoh ball soup making to a rabbi taking shots. So I’m very excited to see what our candidates will bring to the (Kiddush) table this time around.”

This event, which was last held four years ago, is set to take place August 13 at 2PM at Town Danceboutique in Shaw. It’s co-organized by NJB (Nice Jewish Boys) and NJG (Nice Jewish Girls).

Unlike other pageants, this one will not include a swimsuit competition. Instead, the four finalists will compete in three other areas: (1) an entry and introduction; (2) a talent; and (3) a question-and-answer session with the judges. Each of these three areas will have equal weight in the final voting tally.

Contestants will receive points by wowing the crowd, the judges, and the social-media public through video.

The winner will gain the crown, as well as a prize package including theatre tickets, courtesy of sponsor Theater J,  and a donation to the charity of the winner’s choice.

While the competition is to crown a nice Jewish boy, drag hostess Queen Esther has other ideas. “A girl like me on the stage with boys like those. They won’t be nice for long,” she said, sipping imported Persian tea.

Get your tickets now!

All proceeds from the event will benefit the GLOE (Gay Lesbian Outreach and Engagement) Program at the Edlavitch DCJCC and DC LGBT Center.

The contestants are:

Mike Sexton: I’m observantly Jewish, conventionally attractive, prestigiously educated, gainfully employed and I can solve a Rubik’s cube in under two minutes. I know my abrasive personality, deeply ingrained neuroses and staggering student loan debt make me undesirable as a husband, but those aren’t relevant here…and I just feel like this should be a slam dunk.







Jeremy Gilston: I am DC’s nicest Jewish boy because, let’s face it, your mom photoshops you into couples pictures with me for her mantle and shows all her friends in her Mahjong league…







Sam Rubinstein: Nice Jewish Boys has been my community and support in DC, from my time as a lowly intern to now as a young professional. The intersection of Judaism and Queerness is central to my identity, and this is my place to explore and grow it. I hope to take this energy and passion to serve and represent this community as Mr. NJB, and ask for your support to allow me to do so.







Tony Cohn: I have the greatest family and the best friends. It’s easy to be nice when you’re surrounded by love.





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.

Jewish Shabbat Host of the Week – Justin

I met Justin at the OneTable DC Hub launch party a few months ago. I was lucky enough to sit at his table and learn a bit about him and his past experience hosting Shabbat dinners. We recently connected again and got to talking about this awesome Shabbat dinner he had. Learn more about it in this week’s interview!

Shaina: I hear you hosted quite the eclectic Shabbat dinner recently! Tell me a little bit about your menu.

Justin: The menu featured appetizers and main course dishes from Zannchi, a tasty Korean restaurant, while dessert was catered by the bake shop Pie Sisters; both these restaurants are located in Georgetown. Appetizers included mandu dumplings (fried and steamed), japchae noodles, and patty jeon (think of it like a Korean-style latke). For the main meal, I brought in a series of different Bibimbap bowls for guests to choose from. To finish off the night, I picked up an assortment of different Pie Bites (hand-held mini pie cupcakes) from Pie Sisters, which included Apple Caramel Crunch, Bourbon Chocolate Pecan, and Jumble Berry (their unique mixture of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries). To wash everything down–and also

bridge the two styles of food featured in my dinner–I decided to make Peach Soju Sangria that included white wine, peach juice, Peach Soju (a Korean spirit similar to Japanese Sake), and fresh peaches.

Shaina: That sounds delicious! How did you decide to pair these cuisines?

Justin: Because Pie Sisters reminds me of traditional, southern-style comfort foods and Zannchi is the best Korean food I have ever had, I decided to call my dinner “Seoul-Soul Shabbat” (Get it–bridging Seoul, Korea and Soul food…I know, I am not as clever as I think).

Shaina:  It can be hard to host meals. How were you able to pull together such a fantastic meal?

Justin: OneTable was super helpful; they encouraged me to do host the Shabbat dinner my own way, with awesome food. In addition, OneTable’s financial assistance enabled me to throw together a dinner at a fraction of what it would have cost me to do it otherwise. It helped me to realize that I could host OneTable Shabbat Dinners week-after-week in the future without having to worry about selling a kidney to pay for them.

Shaina: Where did you learn about all these great restaurants?

Justin: One of my side jobs is leading food tours through the DC area. The company I work for, DC Metro Food Tours, has several different routes; I specifically lead tours through the U Street and Georgetown neighborhoods. They usually last 3-4 hours, during which my groups of 10-12 people walk through the neighborhood stopping at various 

spots to hear about the history, culture, and architecture. Interspersed along the way, we go to four different restaurants that speak to the spirit of each neighborhood. Zannchi and Pie Sisters have both been featured in the Georgetown tours recently. I wanted to bring a taste of my food tour experience to my friends in DC.

Shaina: There’s also rumblings of your mom being really excited for you to host. What happened there?

Justin: In classic Jewish mother fashion, my mother grew up idolizing and cherishing her mother, who was the queen of hosting and entertaining guests. My mother vicariously embodies her spirit––so much so that I have come to nickname her “Martha Jewart” each winter when she decorates our house in enough Chanukah ornaments/paraphernalia to make it look like something out of a Homes and Living magazine.

As a result, there was no way I was going to be able to keep concealed from my mother the fact that I was hosting a Shabbat dinner–she demanded pictures of the event before I had even sent out invites to my guests. I think she takes solace in knowing that some of the “hosting and entertaining” traits she got from her mother have been passed on to me.

Shaina: What’s your approach to decorating for a Shabbat meal?

Justin: I have way too many Shabbat accoutrements, all of them courtesy of my mom. For example, I do not merely have a Kiddush cup, challah cover, and candlesticks; I have a Shabbat wine bottle koozie that goes around any sized bottle and a Shabbat matchsticks holder that fits around your average-sized matchbox. Nevertheless, I have little space to openly display them in my apartment so I end up having to stuff them in a single hidden cabinet in my kitchen above my microwave. If you ever visit, open this slowly…

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

Justin: “The Best of Britney Spears” playlist on Spotify starts playing.

Want to host your own OneTable dinner or attend a meal? Register to host here or connect with Marina at OneTable to learn more!

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.

Are you Game to Celebrate the Jewish Holiday of Love?

It’s August. Most professional Jews are gearing up for the Jewish SuperBowl Sunday, otherwise known as the High Holidays. I, on the other hand, look forward to celebrating a lesser known holiday each summer –  Tu B’Av.

According to the Mishna (the oral tradition of Jewish law), on this one day in the Hebrew month of Av, unmarried women would dress in white and run through the fields looking for love during the holiday. In modern-day Israel, Tu B’Av is considered a romantic holiday often compared to Valentine’s Day.

Last year, I hosted The Chosen Chosen: A Tu B’Av Date Raffle with EntryPointDC of the Edlavitch DCJCC.

The most eligible singles of DC mingled with a great crowd.

We entered the raffle to win some great prizes. 

We eagerly waited to see if we won a date or prize.

And we got silly in our photo booth.

This Thursday, August 3, I invite you to join EntryPointDC of the EDJCC and our partners Moishe House Columbia Heights, Israeli House, and Honeymoon Israel to celebrate Tu B’Av by coming to The Love Games, a game show night and party for singles and couples.

Hang out at our pre-party and sip on Israeli wine while you learn from a Sommelier, snack on some aphrodisiac-inspired treats, and take selfies in our photo booth! Then get ready to laugh, win prizes, and cheer on your friends as our comedic hosts Benjy Himmelfarb (DC Improv) and Erika Ettin ( A Little Nudge) bring us game shows featuring – You Had Me at Shalom (The Dating Game) and  B’Shert Bliss (The Newlywed Game ). Enter our lottery during our pre-party to win a spot on our last game show of the night, Jewmigos (Family Feud).

Maybe it’s been awhile since you have seen these classic games shows or you have never seen them before. Check out some old school video clips , and then grab a ticket for Thursday’s event.  For our GatherDC fans, we have a BOGO sale (buy one ticket, get one ticket.) Be sure to get your ticket by before we sell out.

See you at The Love Games – May the Odds be Ever in Your Favor!

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.

Jewish Feminist of the Week – Chloe

I met Chloe for coffee a few months back, shortly after she had moved to DC. She was super passionate about getting involved in international policy, specifically Israel-based work. She and I would see each other around occasionally until I randomly saw her working at a store in Adams Morgan. We started talking, and I found out that she had actually landed a job there. Learn more about her in this week’s interview below!

Shaina: What’s the story of the unique retail store that you work at in DC?

Chloe: I work at The Outrage in Adams Morgan. Our goal is to stop the patriarchy, change the system and start a conversation with expression through fashion. The Outrage sells mission-forward apparel as a way to connect with others who support equality and want to smash limits, stereotypes, and barriers. We are located in Adams Morgan, right near all the bars on 18th Street.  We actually started as an online business last fall, and our CEO Rebecca Funk decided to open a pop-up shop right before the Women’s March in January. We didn’t realize how successful itwould be – lines to get into the store were over 2 hours long…and even actress Sophia Bush stopped by to shop! The pop-up shop has now been converted to a real store, and we still continue to do e-commerce as well.

Shaina: What excites you about the opportunity to work there?

Chloe: One of my favorite parts about working there is being able to raise money for human rights organizations. Also, we recently collaborated with Teen Vogue journalist Lauren Duca to create the “Thigh High politics” tank.  Last December, Tucker Carlson told her live on the air that she wasn’t qualified to write about politics, and that she “should stick to thigh high boots.” The week we released the shirt, we had so many sales that we raised $10,000 for Planned Parenthood.

Shaina: Have you gotten to design your own clothes since starting there?

Chloe: Actually yes, which is something I never imagined doing! I came up with idea for our newest collection, “The Flower of Life” (see left). It is basically an ancient symbol that represented the fertility goddess in ancient Greece, the womb of the cosmic mother of the universe Ma’at in ancient Egypt, and is the root element for the Flower of Life in Jewish Kabbalah. I thought it not only looked cool, but would make a great symbol of female power to empower modern women.

Shaina: What’s the best part about working in retail?

Chloe: That I get to wear crop tops to work! Just kidding. Probably that I am able to have an outlet for my creativity at work. I’ve always had interest in comedy writing as a hobby, and it’s cool to be able use that interest to write sassy copy for our websiteand social media posts.

Shaina: When’s the best time to come check out the store?

Chloe: Anytime! Come say hello, we are open everyday of the week from 10am-8pm. A fun time to stop by could be before going to happy hour after work. Word on the street is the next GatherDC happy hour is right across the street from The Outrage at Adam’s Morgan hang out Mellow Mushroom.

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

Chloe: We share ideas and gain new perspectives! Preferably over a glass of nice kosher wine 😉

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.

Exploring Jewish Identity Through Documentaries

The set up couldn’t be more Jewish.

The audience watches an introspective documentary film about a woman’s search for her “Jewish soul,”and then they give their honest feedback about how to make it better.

This scenario will take place on Sunday, August 6th as part of the launch of Docs In Progress’ newest NEA-funded program, Docs in the City. Docs in the City builds on Docs In Progress’ strong record of programming aimed at mentoring emerging documentary filmmakers while connecting them with enthusiastic audiences are interested in documentary film, the creative process, and the film topics.

The August 6th event, co-hosted by The Washington Jewish Film Festival, will kick-off with the screening of local filmmaker Bonnie Rich’s work-in-progress, Searching for My Jewish Soul. An audience feedback session will follow, moderated by Docs In Progress’ Erica Ginsberg. After that, the program continues with the screening of a completed documentary, 51 Birch Street, by a well-known New York (and Jewish) filmmaker, Doug Block. A Q&A with Block will follow.

In “Searching for My Jewish Soul,” Bonnie Rich takes a light-hearted approach to a serious matter—convincing her millennial daughters to raise her unborn grandchildren Jewish. Her daughters see little need for religion as they navigate adulthood. Bonnie is undeterred and pursues meaning in Judaism beyond matzo ball soup as she: goes on a 40-day diet of prayer, embraces Bubbie and Zaydie wisdom, sings Jewish songs off-key, and drags the girls to meet with rabbis. But will she convince her daughters that Judaism is relevant?

We had the chance to speak with Rich’s twenty-something year-old daughters, Leah and Rebecca, to learn more about what it was like to be the subject of this documentary. Leah lives in San Diego and is in the fitness industry, and Rebecca is a baker at the Wydown Coffee Bar in DC. You may also know Rebecca as an attendee at one of our Mini Gatherings and Happy Hours.

What did you think when she told you she was going to make the film?

Leah and Rebecca: We don’t think her idea for the movie came to be over night. It was a combination of several conversations we had with her about the millennial perspective of life and religion, not so wonderful synagogue experiences, and reconnecting with our family history.

What do you make of the process? Did you like being interviewed?

Leah and Rebecca: Our mom has been documenting our lives since we were children. Sometimes we were scripted, wearing silly clothing or singing…but we always played along.

We were good sports until she made us redo the shot three times, and then we’d max out on patience (which is still the case)… but we have never thought twice about our mom’s projects and we actually enjoy being on camera! Our mom is the most supportive and caring woman we know, and we were happy to support her along her process.

Was it hard sharing with your family that you weren’t going to raise your children Jewish?

Leah and Rebecca: Our entire family is extremely supportive of the life decisions we make. They all agree that as long as the person we choose treats us well, they don’t care if they are Jewish. However, our mom has obviously made a point that she wants our children to be raised Jewish. Neither of us has children yet, so we will all just have to wait and see what happens. She has put very loving pressure on us to raise our children Jewish, and we intend to continue the family traditions.

Has your perspective on your Jewishness evolved in the process of your mother making this film?

Rebecca: My perspective on Judaism has changed in the sense that I feel more open-minded to joining young adult Jewish groups and events and having the occasional Shabbat dinner with friends. However, I still don’t have any interest in learning the Torah, morning service, or more ritual than I learned in Hebrew school. I have a strong love and appreciation for the family traditions during high holidays and Passover, and I plan to continue those in the future. Every time I mention the documentary to anyone, it strikes a very interesting conversation about religion. She’s definitely provoking my generation to think about faith and spirituality.

We also spoke with Erica Ginsberg, Executive Director of Docs In Progress about how she connects with her Jewishness and her programming decisions.

Tell us a bit more about this new program, Docs in the City.

This new program, Docs In The City, combines Docs In Progress’ vision of fostering a supportive community for documentary filmmakers and deepening the public’s appreciation for the artform. It does this by connecting a seasoned filmmaker with an emerging filmmaker in a way that provides professional development to the emerging filmmaker while also providing a different kind of screening experience for the broader public. By selecting two films which have commonalities in genre or theme, we revisit both an iconic film of that genre while also helping to workshop a film in development. The audience becomes an active participant in that process rather than just viewing the film passively or just asking questions about how it was made. Thus, the screening becomes more of an experience than just an afternoon at the movies.

What made you choose these films for August 6th?

We knew that we wanted to bring Doug Block to Washington DC as part of this program. He is an award-winning filmmaker who is best known for some of the best personal documentaries of the past decade, including The Kids Grow Up, 112 Weddings, and the film we will be spotlighting, 51 Birch Street. As soon as we knew that we wanted to bring Doug, we started to put out feelers for another film which was also personal in nature. We didn’t have to look far. Bonnie Rich had been part of our Fellowship program and had started to develop the film which has become Searching for My Jewish Soul. I knew that the films had some overlapping themes in terms of the relationships between parents and children, but they were also different enough that we could create a really interesting juxtaposition program between them.

While we look at this more as a personal documentary themed program rather than a specifically Jewish-themed program, there is no question that both films deal in different ways with aspects of contemporary Jewish-American life. That is why we approached the Washington Jewish Film Festival (who we had partnered with on several other work-in-progress screenings) to co-host the screening. They are an incredible partner.

You’re Jewish. How do you connect with your Jewishness?

In many ways, I connect with Bonnie’s daughters.

I wasn’t raised particularly religiously. I never belonged to a synagogue growing up (though we would occasionally go to the University of Maryland for the High Holy Days). I never had a bat mitzvah. I’ve never been to Israel. The first time I ever really felt I connected with my Jewishness was when I studied abroad as an undergraduate in Dublin, Ireland, and got to know a little bit about the city’s tiny Jewish community. Later I worked for the Washington Jewish Film Festival while I was studying film in grad school, and I kept a copy of Judaism for Dummies in my drawer…which I would consult regularly when I didn’t understand something I encountered, such as why donors would write checks in amounts like $18 and $36. I still don’t consider myself particularly religious, but I do feel a strong connection to being culturally Jewish. I have a great appreciation for Jewish humor which I think comes through in both of these films.
You can catch this programming on Sunday, August 6th at the DCJCC. Tickets are $13.50/screening or $25/both. Searching for My Jewish Soul starts at 2:00pm and 51 Birch Street starts at 4:00pm. Got to for more info and for tickets.

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: Trolling Tevye

There’s no debate – Fiddler on the Roof is part of the Jewish American canon. It’s given us a classic story, many popular songs and two dance moves that aren’t the Hora – the Bottle Dance and the Tevye Shimmy.

But it’s also given us a terrible metaphor for Judaism.

“A fiddler on the roof – sounds crazy, no? In our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy.”

These are the very first lines of the movie, spoken by Tevye in the opening song “Tradition”. So, being Jewish is crazy. And dangerous. And it isn’t easy. OK, not a great sales pitch for Judaism.

But surely there must be some benefits to fiddling on the roof…otherwise we’d just get down from there, no?

“You may ask, why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous? We stay because Anatevka is our home.”

That’s the pitch?! We stay, not because we gain anything by being on the roof, but because that’s what we’re used to and we don’t want to leave? Habitual Judaism: do it, because that’s what you do.

Maybe there wasn’t a need to articulate reasons for staying on the roof back in the day, when Judaism was so ingrained that “leaving” would have been extremely difficult in the rare instances when it was even an option.

But Judaism does not play the same role for most American Jews today. For those on the roof, seeing how easy it is to leave, the “it’s your routine” argument doesn’t suffice as a reason to stay. Besides, most of us aren’t on the roof at all – we’re on the ground floor deciding whether climbing up is worth the effort, sacrifice and risk. We need the case for engaging, not the case for staying.

So, why fiddle on the roof? Tevye has only one word for an answer: tradition!

“You may ask, how did this tradition start? I’ll tell you… I don’t know. But it’s a tradition.”

This may be a funny joke, but it reflects an uninspired relationship with Judaism. Tradition without explanation is arbitrary and empty. It’s the routine argument all over again, except, instead of it being what you’re used to doing, it’s what previous generations were used to doing. Just because someone did something 200 years ago doesn’t mean it has inherent meaning. We believe in the idea of progress precisely because we don’t believe that the way things were is necessarily the way things should be. Tradition for tradition’s sake is not a value, and it’s certainly not a foundation upon which to build a Jewish identity.

Maybe it’s not fair to give Tevye this burden of representing an inspired Judaism. His character wasn’t intended as a model of the ideal Jew. Still, whether by causation or coincidence, his understanding of Judaism as something that is important because it’s old, not because it’s relevant, is shared by many American Jews today.

While this may have provided Tevye with sufficient motivation to stay, it certainly isn’t a compelling reason for us to engage today. We need to find a new metaphor. To do that, we’re going to have to put the fiddle down and get off the roof.

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.