Rabbi Rant: Moving Past the Past


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

GatherDC_MiniGatheringsPageBanner (1)

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

9 Easy Changes You Can Make Right Now To Start Saving Money

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)


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.

Gather the Jews is one of the Top 50 Jewish Blogs

jewish-50-transparent_1000x1000pxGather the Jews is proud to announce that we have been named one of the top 50 Jewish blogs by Feedspot! On a list that includes The ForwardMy Jewish Learning, and The Jewish Week, Gather came in 25th. On this international list, names Gather as one of just five local blogs to make the top 50, including DC’s own The Washington Jewish Week. These blogs are ranked based on following criteria:

These blogs are ranked based on following criteria:

  • Google reputation and Google search ranking
  • Influence and popularity on Facebook, twitter and other social media sites
  • Quality and consistency of posts.
  • Feedspot’s editorial team and expert review

Thank you for following the Gather the Jews blog and helping us make it into the top 50 worldwide! Sign up for our newsletter to get weekly updates on our blog and events happening all over the city.

Email Jackie if you are interested in writing for the Gather the Jews blog in 2017.

New Year Resolutions from Gather

The New Year is an opportunity to take a look at our past year and think about what we want the next one to bring. The Gather Staff took a second to make resolutions for the new year to come.

Aaron Potek, Community Rabbi: When I reflect on the aspects of my life that caused me the most tsoris in 2016, I think of social media and politics.

I spent a lot of time on Facebook this year. I don’t think all of it was time wasted. I have had productive discussions about important issues on my walls and others’ walls, I was pointed to articles that I otherwise would not have read, and I sent love to people in the form of birthday wishes, condolences or “likes”. But for 2017 I’d like to be more intentional about my Facebook usage. I just installed an app that will limit the amount of time I’m on Facebook a day to 30 minutes – I might extend that time a few extra minutes on some days, but I think it’s a reasonable aspiration for the new year.

Like many, I’ve struggled with the political discourse this year. I’d like to think I’m good at listening to and learning from an opinion with which I disagree, but this year more than ever I’ve struggled to find a kernel of truth or wisdom in many opinions that I’ve heard. In 2017, I would like to focus less on the opinions that I find to be hateful or ignorant and focus more on the people who hold them. Without justifying or excusing that hatred or ignorance, I’d like to be more curious about the life experiences that have led people to those opinions. This year I want to work extra hard to remember that we are all created in the image of God. There may not be a moral equivalence between every opinion or ideology, but there is a moral equivalence between every human being.

2Shaina Dorow, Community Coordinator: 2016 brought about a lot of changes in my life. I graduated college, I moved to DC, and I started living as an “adult”. I’m not sure I really still understand the true nature of #adulting, but part of my resolution is to hone that skill a bit more. Basically, I want to start cooking for myself more. The times that I do make me feel healthier and less wasteful (of both money and leftovers). If anyone has easy, fun recipes they want to share – hit me up. I’m always down to try new things.

This whole new life brought me into a very new space, mentally and physically. I’ve started to realize that I love to walk and explore to help me feel more at ease. I pledge to start walking more this coming year. I want to find new things to see in DC. It’s so easy to say that you’ve seen everything, but that obviously can’t be true. Here’s to seeing more of the city!

1Jackie Zais, Senior Associate: I never make new years resolutions. I’m not into it and apparently no one keeps them anyway. I also don’t like arbitrary due dates or timelines. Any part of the year is a good time for a fresh start. Why did we pick in the middle of the winter? All I want to do in the winter is wear layers and drink tea.

Four days into 2016 I turned 25 which honestly didn’t turn out to be my best year. If memes and songs are to be believed, 2016 was a tough year for many of us. I was looking forward to 2017 and 26 but after November’s elections results, I was feeling pretty pessimistic about 2017 as well. But I’ve decided to shed some of that pessimism, it’s not helping anyone. I am going to be hopeful in the new year, I’m going to start listening to NPR again (I haven’t been able to listen since November), and I am going to get my own insurance policy. Let’s all go have a good 2017 whatever that might look for us!