How to Create a Budget that Works for You

Just like with healthy eating and exercise habits, it’s really hard to stick to a budget. That’s usually because we are trying to stick to a budget that doesn’t make sense for us. So let’s figure out how you can create a budget that will help you be financially successful.

Identify your financial goals

It’ll be a lot easier to stick to a budget if you know what you’re doing it for… sticking to a budget for budget’s sake is a recipe for failure. That’s why you need to identify your goals so that you can see what you’re working towards. You’ll feel a lot more motivated that way.

What is most important to you moving forward? Do you want to make changes in your career, love life, friendships or financial situation? Do you want to travel? Pick out the goals that mean the most to you, and then you can figure out how to achieve them.

Make sure you write those goals down – you’re much more likely to reach them that way. If these goals are big, break them down into digestible steps. This will make it much less intimidating, and also feel more attainable. For example, if you want to save $5,000 in a travel fund by 2018, figure out how much you’d have to save each week to make that happen.

Now that you know your goals, you can build your budget to help you reach them.

(Need some ideas for goals to work towards? Check out these simple financial goals for 2017.)

Figure out how much is coming in

Some of us don’t even know how much our monthly income is. We get our direct deposit and go on with our day. But it’s really important to know exactly how much is coming in each month. You can’t plan ahead if you don’t know what you’re working with.

Look at your past four paychecks. Are they consistent? What’s being taken out of them besides taxes? Add up your monthly paychecks and any other income you typically receive. That’s the maximum amount of money you should be spending on everything each month.

Figure out how much is going out

Look at all of your expenses. These are broken out into fixed costs, flex spending, debt payments, and other priorities. Add them all up to figure out how much you spend every month.

Here are some definitions to help you:

Fixed costs: Any costs that usually stay the same each month. This can be rent, insurance, utilities, or subscriptions. These are the types of expenses that you usually cannot change (even if you want to). Make sure you’re also including non-monthly expenses in this amount. (Read more about preparing for those.)

Flex spending: This is any spending that can fluctuate from month to month. It can include groceries, gas, shopping, dining out, etc. You usually have some control over these amounts.

Debt payments: Whatever you’re paying towards any debt each month. This can include credit card debt, student loans, car payment, etc.

Other priorities: This amount is anything you’re putting towards other goals, like savings or paying extra towards your debt.

To make this easier, link up your accounts to programs like Learnvest, Personal Capital or Mint. They will automatically categorize your spending into different buckets, so you can see where you are using most of your money.

Once you can see how much is going out during a typical month, you can see how that compares to what is coming in. Are you spending more than you earn? Do you have money leftover that you can allocate to your financial goals?

Decide where you can cut back

Compare your spending habits to the goals you just identified. Do they align? If you realize that you’re spending a lot of money on things you don’t value, you can make some changes. Here are some good questions to get you started:

  1. Are there any subscriptions that you are paying for but not using? (ie: gym membership, magazine subscription, ZipCar, etc.)
  2. Are you taking a lot of cabs or ubers when you could walk, carpool, or take public transportation?
  3. Do you go out for lunch every day when you could be bringing your lunch to work?
  4. Is your money going towards the things you enjoy the most?
  5. Do you regret any of your spendings over the past few months?

(Read more about aligning your spending with your values.)

Adjust your spending as necessary

If you’ve realized that you’re spending more than you’re earning, or that your money isn’t going where you want it to, you can make changes. You have the power!

When you look at how much you’re earning each month, minus your fixed costs and debt payments, how much do you have left? That number is how much you should spend on flex costs and other priorities. Don’t go over that number or you risk going into debt. Allocate the number based on your needs and wants. Obviously you can’t cut out things like food, but you can spend less on dining out, while buying groceries more often. You can make coffee at home and bring your lunch to work. You can cut back on unnecessary shopping trips. (Share in the comments how you’re planning to make changes!)

Throughout this process, and as you continue to use your budget, keep your eye on the prize. Track how much closer you are to your goal each month. Print out a picture of your dream house and keep it on your desk. Remind yourself everyday that you’re doing this for an important reason! You’re doing it for YOU! That will make it easier to stick to.

Automate what you can

The easiest way to save is to set it and forget it. Set up direct deposit from your paycheck, or have your bank make scheduled transfers. This way, you don’t have to think about it and you won’t miss the money. You’re way more likely to save when you do this.

If you are working to pay down your debt, set up auto pay or set a reminder for yourself each month. You want to make sure to pay your bills on time, and this will take some of the work away from you. Just make sure you have enough in your bank account each month to pay these bills!

Note: If you’re already living on a bare bones budget, and still have nothing leftover, you might have to bring in more income. Can you ask for a raise at work soon? Perhaps you can take on a side gig, like babysitting, dog walking, or bartending. Another option is to monetize your skills. If you’re an awesome writer or copy editor, put yourself out there for hire!

Do you want a sample budget spreadsheet to get you started? Email me at hello@maggiegermano.com!

This post originally appeared on Maggie Germano Financial Coaching. Want to read more? Check out maggiegermano.com/blog or subscribe to Maggie’s weekly newsletter!

Meet the Mifgash!

This week marks the arrival of the Israelis from the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s Reverse Mifgash program. From May 15th until May 25th, 11 participants from all over Israel will immerse themselves in the Jewish-American experience by joining an array of activities from, Shabbat dinners to baseball games to our GatherDC Happy Hour tonight! For those interested in joining any of the activities, check out our list! We spoke with some participants prior to their arrival on our shores to get a better sense of who they are. Read on and you’ll have some nice icebreakers for tonights Happy Hour!

Keren Asaf

I was in the U.S. once before, for my Bat-Mitzvah.

I’m looking forward to visiting the United States, meeting new people with a different way of life, and seeing D.C.

The reason I wanted to participate in Reverse Mifgash is that I was interested to see the Jewish community outside of Israel. I want to meet people and hear about their life and learn what their perspectives are of Israel.

I hope to meet new friends and to feel more committed to my life in Israel and my Judaism. In Israel, we take our Jewish community, holidays, etc., for granted but I guess it is not like that in America.

 

Joe Graham

I have been to the US once, a year ago, visiting family in New York and Las Vegas.

I am most looking forward to meeting new people and connecting with some old friends. I am also very excited about getting to know the culture (both Jewish and general) of the D.C. area.

I hope to take back to Israel great experiences and memories, and also friendships that will last.

 

Dolev Elbaz

I have actually been to the U.S. twice. When I was between the ages of one and three, my family lived in Sacramento, California, where my father studied for his Master’s degree and my mother taught Shalom School (a Jewish day-school). Of course I don’t remember much, but technically I was there. The second time was on a family trip when I was 12 years old (2003). We traveled for about 2 months visiting the West Coast, Chicago, Canada and then the East Coast (including a few days in D.C.). I’m really looking forward to meeting my friends from Birthright and enjoying D.C, with them as an adult. I believe it will be a totally different experience than what I had as a young boy.

I’m excited about the opportunity to experience D.C. and the U.S. with local friends and learn about the Jewish community abroad. I think this is something unique to Reverse Mifgash since we get to meet a lot of people from the Jewish Federation and hear about their work in the community.

I hope to take back some great memories. Secondly, I would like to return with the feeling that Israel has a great Jewish community in the U.S. that supports it. Also, I will be happy to keep in touch with some more friends from D.C.

Adi Amsalem

This will be my first time in the States.

I’m looking forward to being exposed to the daily life of the Jewish community, seeing how Jews live abroad.

I want to enrich my knowledge about Jews as an authentic group in America, and hope to take home some strong memories.

 

Itzhak Zander

This is my first time in the U.S.

 I’m looking forward to seeing people, sites, culture – everything that is different than in Israel!

I really want to feel how Americans feel when they come to Israel with Taglit.

I hope to gain new friends. Besides that, I hope to get a new perspective about  the term ‘community’.

 

Ohad Shturm

I’ve never been to the U.S. before. This will be my first time!

 I’m looking forward to meeting with my friends from the Shorashim bus, back from July 2013. I’m also very excited about meeting with the Jewish community in D.C., going to museums and generally just traveling around somewhere I don’t know. I haven’t done something like this in a while.

I hope I get a chance to learn as much as I can about the way the Jewish people live in the U.S. and discuss all kind of topics.

 

 

Top 5 Places to Get Cheesecake in DC for Shavuot and Beyond

Why we eat cheesecake and other dairy products on Shavuot has long been debated. Whatever the reason you eat cheesecake, you want to eat the best. That’s why we prepared this list of the best cheesecake spots in DC. Is your favorite on the list?

Capital City Cheesecake Mini Cheesecakes

#5 – CAPITAL CITY CHEESECAKES (Takoma Park, MD)

With two sisters at the helm, this Takoma Park, MD bakery prides itself on its cheesecakes. With 12 flavors, including one vegan option (!), their mini cheesecakes can be ordered individually or by the dozen. Almost all flavors come in their 9″ pies as well.

 

 

 

Truckeroo Photo of That Cheesecake Truck

#4 – THAT CHEESECAKE TRUCK (Mobile)

If you can find it, it will make your day. This truck serves mini-cheesecakes in various flavors. Their products are supplied by Sweetz Cheesecake, a storefront out in Gaithersburg, MD. Try to get their Brown Sugar Bourbon if it’s on the menu when you track the truck down!

Buttercream Mini

 

#3 – BUTTERCREAM BAKERY (Shaw)

Shaw’s sweetest addition to 9th Street is the perfect place to stop for your cheesecake fix if you look like this when you’re around baked goods. Each day, these bakers prepare a cheesecake of the day, bundled in a perfect 4 oz. treat for your taste buds and your waistline.

 

 

 

Dog Tag Bakery Selection

#2 – DOG TAG BAKERY (Georgetown)

While variety of cheesecake is not their strong point, these guys serve up some of the best Key Lime Cheesecake north of the Keys. Oh, and they get bonus points for their inspiring tikkun olam (healing the world) business model by employing disabled veterans!

 

Cakeroom’s Red Velvet Cheesecake

#1 – CAKEROOM (Adams Morgan)

This place does pretty much anything with flour, sugar and butter right. But, their cheesecakes are particularly amazing. With 13 flavors to choose from, including Caramel Macchiato, Red Velvet and Oreo, you won’t know where to start. If you’re going at night, arrive there early since they tend to get pretty bare-shelved by 7pm.

 

 

 

For more on how to celebrate Shavuot in DC, check out our Shavuot Guide 2017/5777.

Jewish Composter of the Week – Jeremy

If you’ve been to the Farmer’s Market in Dupont Circle, you’ve probably seen Jeremy Brosowsky. As owner of Compost Cab, Jeremy sets up shop each week collecting your uneaten food in order to turn it into amazing compost goodness. He’s been at it since 2010 but has recently picked up even more steam, now running DC’s new citywide dropoff program on behalf of the DC Department of Public Works.

Still not convinced? Read on to learn how something as simple as composting can make the world a better place. Bonus: Jeremy has set up a promo code for our readers and will donate half of the first month’s proceeds to GatherDC!

How did you first get into composting? 

My interest in composting comes out of my interest in food. It’s a very typical story. After my first child was born, I became acutely aware of everything that we were feeding her. And the more I learned about food and food systems, the more interested I became in the prospect of growing food in and around the city. Fast forward a few years and a few kids, and we were doing a lot right — cooking at home, shopping at farmers markets, etc. But we were still throwing our waste in the garbage, and that really, really bothered me

What made you want to start your own composting business?

Compost Cab exists to do two things. Make it easier for people to compost, and make it easier for urban agriculture to thrive.

I started Compost Cab in large part to solve my own family’s problem. We knew we wanted to compost, but we live in the city — we were worried about rats in the alley, we didn’t have any space to do it right, and with four small children, we didn’t feel like we had the time to do it ourselves. And then my entrepreneurial instincts kicked in.

The more I learned about food systems, the clearer it became that there are two ways to grow food efficiently and intensively in an urban environment. There’s the vertical greenhouse model, which takes advantage of technology requires aeroppnics and hydroponics and other generally capital intensive solutions. And then there’s the fertile soil model, which lets you grow your plants closer together because the soil is nutrient dense. You can maximize your per square foot production in the city through composting. But it turns out that for most urban agriculture projects, acquiring the raw materials for composting in city was a significant challenge.

We put two and two together and created a business that supports community composting and urban agriculture while enabling people to live their values every day.

Why do you think it’s important for people to compost?

For starters, there are all the environmental benefits of composting: reducing waste landfill, reducing methane released into the environment, etc. But beyond all that we’ve discovered that composting is a gateway drug for sustainability writ large. Composting is a daily, affirmative act of sustainability. Unlike other little steps you can take to improve your carbon footprint, like installing LEDs or a rain barrel (which are great things to do!), composting is something you and your family do every day. It’s a powerful tool for behavioral change.

What kind of foods can and cannot be composted?

If it grows, it goes. That is, anything that is organic can be composted. Food of all sorts, paper products, leaves, grass — you name it.  But if you want to compost in your backyard, or through a community based program such as ours, you want to keep proteins out for a bunch of reasons. We have a comprehensive dos-and-don’ts list on our website at compostcab.com.

What if I’m afraid that composting is going to make my apartment smell bad? 

We have a saying that speaks directly to that issue. If it smells bad, you’re doing it wrong. Like anything else, composting requires effort, but when done properly, which means creating a proper mix of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and water, composting smells more like the forest, not the landfill. Or, you can join Compost Cab, and we can pick up your food scraps and compost them for you. Or, you can drop off your food scraps through DC’s new citywide dropoff program, which we’re running on behalf of the DC Department of Public Works.

Do you ever get grossed out by dealing with rotten food? 

Never. To be candid, we (almost) never have any issues with really gross stuff. We take education, outreach, and communication with our members and partners very seriously. As a result we’ve created a super clean stream of compostable material.

How do you connect with the DC Jewish Community?

We’ve been working with Jewish organizations since we started back in 2010. For many years we’ve been donating our services to the DCJCC for their annual Everything But the Turkey Thanksgiving volunteer event, in partnership with DC Central Kitchen. We’ve composted the Labor Seder for Jews United for Justice. We do regular presentations at day schools and synagogues across the region. And then personally, my family is very active in DC Minyan (a community which we helped start), as well as at JPDS (where are four of my children have gone to school). Generally speaking, Jews bend toward environmental stewardship and activism, and we’re proud to help enable those instincts in the realm of sustainability generally, and composting and urban agriculture in particular.

 If I’ve never composted before, what’s the first thing I can do to get started?

Head over to compostcab.com. We’ll point you toward DIY resources or how to participate in a dropoff program. Or you can sign up for our home service: we’ll deliver you a collection bin and get you up and composting in no time. To make it even easier to get started, we’ve created a promo code just for Gather DC readers. Anyone who signs up for our home service in May using the promo code GATHERDC will receive half off their first month of service, and we’ll donate the other half to GatherDC!

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.

Israel Comes to DC!

From May 15th to May 25th, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington (JFGW) will welcome 11 Israeli young adults for a 10-day immersive “Reverse Birthright” experience called Reverse Mifgash. Over the course of their stay, JFGW will host multiple events that are open to the community so that we here in DC can meet and greet the Israelis while also participating in lots of different of events, ranging from pure fun to spiritual. Below, we have highlighted some of our favorite events (including our own GatherDC Happy Hour). We hope to see you there! For a full list of events, you can visit JFGW’s Website by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 16

Federation’s Imagine Israel Changemakers Series
7:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Whittmore House, Washington, DC
Oren Helman, disability advocate and true Israel changemaker, has transformed the way the Israeli workforce employs, integrates and includes workers with disabilities in the work place. Learn how his advocacy efforts with Israel’s Knesset (legislative body) created new employment regulations that champion the rights of individuals with disabilities and set a standard practice which other countries can emulate.
Register Now

Wednesday, May 17

GatherDC May Happy Hour
6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
H Street Country Club, Washington, DC
Share a drink with and get to know our special Israeli guests from Reverse Mifgash.  Meet new people in the DC Jewish community and connect with old friends!
Join us!

Thursday, May 18

Film Screening of “Moos”
6:30 p.m.
E Street Cinema, Washington DC
Enjoy this charming whimsical Dutch tale of love, laughter and the true value of friendship. Moos is one of several films being featured at the Edlavitch DCJCC’s 27th Annual Washington Jewish Film Festival, (one of the largest and most respected Jewish film festivals in North America).
Register Now

Friday, May 19

Good Soul Shabbat
6:15 p.m.-10:00 p.m.
Sixth & I Historic Synagague
Join us as Rabbi Scott, Aaron Shneyer and Michal Bilick offer soulful acoustic music, deep spirituality and a thoughtful Shabbat service that will fill the sanctuary with the spirited sound of new tunes and old favorites. Stay for Shabbat dinner with other community members.
Register Now

Viral Shabbat
10:00 p.m.
Moishe House, Washington DC
Keep the Shabbat ruach (spirit) going late into the night with a welcoming and festive multi-generational Shabbat experience. Enjoy food, drinks and the sounds of singer-song leader, Ben Lovenheim.
Sign up

Saturday, May 20

Havdalah on the National Mall
9:30 p.m.
Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC
Experience a special Havdalah service overlooking DC’s beautiful monuments from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
RSVP today

Blue & White Party
10:30 p.m.
Mission, Washington DC
Celebrate Israel’s 69th birthday with Federation’s Young Leadership, BBYO Friends and Alumni Network, Israel House at the Embassy of Israel and the Israeli-American Council (IAC) Get ready to schmooze, mingle and listen to great music with visiting Israeli guests and other members of the community. Ticket includes one premium cocktail or mocktail.
Buy tickets

Sunday May 21

Israel Ride: Spin Class at Vida Fitness
Class 1: 9:00 a.m. – 9:45 a.m.
Class 2: 10:00 a.m. – 10:45 a.m.
Vida at The Yards, Washington DC
Get your shvtiz on with Federation’s Reverse Mifgash Israeli guests and Vida spin instructor (and former Birthright trip leader from bus #43), Blair Mann.
Register Now

Doing Good with Mitzvah Hoppin’
1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Sixth & I Historic Synagague
Feel good by doing good with a hands-on-volunteer project that will benefit homeless LGBTQ youth in DC. Federation will join with members of the Edlavitch DCJCC’s EntryPoint and GLOE to make hygiene kits that will greatly benefit this at-risk population.
Register to Do Good

Monday, May 22

Craft Cocktail Class
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Duke’s Grocery, Washington DC
Ever wanted to mix some tasty cocktails? Join Federation’s Young Leadership, 11 Israeli guests from Reverse Mifgash and members of the Greater Washington community for a craft cocktail experience at Duke’s Grocery. Learn to make a few classics, and then enjoy them with friends from Israel and D.C.  Ticket includes craft cocktails (or mocktails) and light vegetarian appetizers.
Register here

Tuesday, May 23

Pre-Game at the Bullpen
5:30 p.m.-7:00 p.m.
The Bullpen
Share a drink and schmooze with others before the Nationals take on the Mariners at Nats Park.
No reservation required

Reverse Mifgash at the Ballpark!
7:05 p.m.-10:00 p.m.
Nationals Park
This night is sure to be a homerun…come cheer for the Washington Nationals as they take on the Seattle Mariners.
Buy tickets

For more questions about any Reverse Mifgash events, contact Kira Borman at kira.borman@shalomdc.org or call 301-348-7343.

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.

5 Things About Kabbalah You Probably Didn’t Know

Copyright: X17agency.com

Ask most people what they know about Kabbalah, and they will probably answer with something about mysticism and Madonna. While both have certainly played a role in the popularity of the belief system, Kabbalah’s history is even longer and more complicated than the music career of the “Material Girl”. While we could come up with a much longer list, we didn’t want to cross the “Borderline” given that short blog posts are what is in “Vogue” these days. Okay, we’ll stop (after we “Take a Bow”).

5 Things About Kabbalah You Probably Didn’t Know 

1. Though its roots are from the 2nd Century, Kabbalah really began to flower for the first time during the 13th Century, specifically in Spain with the writings of The Zohar. The Zohar is a collection of commentaries on the Torah designed to guide readers toward understanding the nature of the connection between the divine world and its relationship with themselves. 

2. Many elements of the mysticism involved in Kabbalah have made their way into mainstream Judaism. For example, the notion of tikkun olam, or repairing the world, comes directly from Kabbalah.

3. Interest in Kabbalah has seen a major uptick over the last 30 years. For most of the Western world’s modern existence, Kabbalah was shrouded in mystery at best and relegated to magic mumbo jumbo at worst. However, with the rise New Age spiritualism and a mainstream openness toward mystical experiences, Kabbalah has seen a major resurgence. Its newfound popularity has also given rise to more academic study, especially the ground-breaking works of Gershom Scholem.

4. While you’ve probably never heard of Rav Yehuda Ashlag (1885-1954), he is arguably most responsible for reintroducing Kabbalah back into the world.  Ashlag translated The Zohar to modern Hebrew and his work, Talmud Eser Sefirot, is regarded as the most important textbook for students of Kabbalah.

5. It’s not just Madonna… Kabbalah’s mystic practices have infiltrated celebrity culture in recent years. Kabbalah’s many adherents include Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Gwyneth Paltrow Ariana Grande and Mick Jagger, just to name a few.

Want to know more about Kabbalah? Beginning on Tuesday, May 9th, Sixth and I begins a two part lecture series called Take on the Kabbalah, hosted by Rabbi Scott Perlo. For tickets and more information, click here!

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.

Our Hilarious Chat with the Author of ‘Mother, Can You NOT!?’ (and her mom)

“She’s an evil genius,” said Kate Siegel about her mother using text to reach her. The 28 year-old continues, “With a phone call, I can screen. With an email, I can not open it…”

“But with texts, she thinks they’re from a friend, so she looks down and BAM!, gets the message!” mother Kim cuts in.

Author, Kate Siegel with mom, Kim Friedman

This dynamic, mom-daughter duo know a thing or two about texting. Their text exchanges were the inspiration for Kate’s New York Times Bestseller, “Mother, Can You NOT!?” The book is based on Kate’s Instagram account, @CrazyJewishMother, which is rapidly approaching 830,000 followers. The account are compiled screenshots of Kim’s ‘colorful’ texts to her adult daughter about things like her drying up eggs, meeting “Mr. Right,” and the questionable safety of her neighborhood.

Currently on a book tour (stopping in Northern Virginia next Thursday), Kate and Kim sat down to chat with GatherDC about their texts – the good, the bad, and the “still single.”

GatherDC: What sparked the idea for you to originally post your mom’s texts to Instagram?

Kate: My mom has been a lunatic forever. She discovered texting a few years back, and I’ve been screenshotting them ever since. It wasn’t until I received a text from her while at my friend’s bachelorette party... (In the text) she expressed her congratulations for my friend and concern for my eggs…

Kim: …I’m still concerned.

Kate: (Audible eyeroll) I shared the text with the group, and they loved it. This gave me the idea to post it to my personal Instagram account, where it got a lot of likes too. From there I started a designated account for them, @CrazyJewishMom, and when that got popular, published the book. And now, I’m currently working on a television script based on it with CBS/Ryan Seacrest Productions.

GatherDC: Kim, what do you think of this project? 

Kim: I’m so proud. She’s a New York Times bestselling author! But…she’s still single. So I have to balance the good with the bad.

Kim and Kate

GatherDC: Was there ever a feeling of invasion of privacy?

Kate: One of the things I admire about my mother is her fearlessness. We only had one instance where she called me, upset after her friend flagged a text she thought crossed the line. I explained that if this whole thing was making her uncomfortable I would stop immediately. But, I also said that if she liked parts of what I was doing, that I felt it was important to share all of it – the good and the bad. She agreed and it’s never been an issue since.

GatherDC: Kim, do you keep up on the Instagram account?

Kate: I created her an account of her own so she could follow along, but she promptly lost her password so…

GatherDC: Do you have favorite texts?

Kate: Oh, that’s a hard one. I think my favorite is a text she sent telling the story of her recent encounter with a stranger reading my book in public. My mom approached her and, remaining anonymous, asked how she was liking it. The reader said something to the effect of this mother needs therapy, to which my mother proudly took a bow, and walked away. Another favorite…She used to give my number out all the time to eligible bachelors. Now that we’re sort of in the public eye, she can’t really do that anymore. But, I did get a text from her recently that said something to the effect of, I just gave your number to a 27 year-old Yale Law School graduate! I replied telling her she couldn’t do that anymore. She replied with one word… “YALE.”

 

From @CrazyJewishMom Instagram account

GatherDC: Why do you think your Instagram account got such a huge following, and not just among Jews?

Kate: One of the most popular types of comments I get is about how my mom could be their “crazy Catholic mom,” or “crazy Mexican mom,” etc.  The complex relationship we have with our mothers is universal. It’s a combination of love and throw-her-against the wall hate. It’s complex because for all that drives you crazy about her, you know she has your best interest in mind. Of course, I think my mom is an extreme version, but really the relationship is universal. There is so much love there.

GatherDC: What’s next for you? Any projects in the hopper?

Kate: We have a lot going on the with the brand, building vertically and laterally. There is a lot on the website including our advise column, “Mom & Spawn,” which happened organically, with followers writing me asking what my mom and I would do about a certain situation they found themselves in. It’s a continuation of our dynamic where my mom will say things like, “Key his car!,” but I reign her in.

GatherDC: Thanks so much! Anything you want to add?

Kim: Yes! She’s single!

Kate: Except, I’m not. I’ve been in a committed relationship for three years now.

GatherDC: Kim, why do you say she’s single?

Kim: She’s not married!

Kate: She doesn’t like that he hasn’t proposed yet. She keeps sending me guys’ numbers.

GatherDC: What does your boyfriend think of that, Kate?

Kate: He is a very good sport. After all, he is quite familiar with pushy mothers.

Get more of this hilarious pair just in time for Mother’s Day. Kate and Kim will be in Arlington on May 11th as part of the JCC of Northern Virginia’s  j.talks author series. The evening is presented by JCCNV Cultural Arts in partnership with NOVA Tribe and Moishe House Arlington. More here.

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 Filmmaker of the Week – Lance

Lance Kramer, Partner and Executive Producer at Meridian Hill Pictures, is a busy guy these days. Between winning a Webby, promoting his award-winning documentary, City of Trees, and being tweeted about by Raffi, we were impressed he had the time to talk with us at GatherDC…

So you just won a Webby! 

We were really excited to get this news last week. We won the Webby Award for The Messy Truth. Our production company, Meridian Hill Pictures, co-produced the series last fall with Van Jones, his wife Jana Carter and their production company Magic Labs Media. We had built a relationship with Van and Jana as co-producers on our feature-length documentary film, City of Trees. During the 2016 election season, we felt like Van was one of the few people on TV who was cutting through the noise and toxicity with a kind of much-needed emotional nuance and empathy. We all talked about the idea of having Van go into a community divided by the election and try to model how to have meaningful, respectful dialogue and disagreement. Though we had no budget for the project, we were able to mobilize an all-volunteer crew (many of whom the people who worked on City of Trees). And we were fortunate that several families in Gettysburg, PA let us into their homes and businesses to have the hard conversations that we ultimately documented in The Messy Truth. We initially distributed the three original webisodes solely on Facebook. They were viewed collectively more than 4 million times the weekend before the Election. Thousands of people were talking about the series, – online, in-person and in the media. The impact was profound. When Raffi started tweeting about the series, I knew we were onto something.

How did you first get into film?  What about documentaries is particularly compelling to you?

Since we were little kids, my brother Brandon and I have always loved watching and making movies together. We played with our parent’s camcorder all the time and made spoofs of our favorite films with our friends in the neighborhood. In hindsight, I think from an early age, becoming comfortable filming with regular people, with no money, and without permission, was actually kind of good training for becoming a documentary filmmaker. I majored in history and minored in film, but I really had no idea what I wanted to do for a career. In high school and college, I had developed an interest in journalism and nonfiction storytelling. I decided to move out west to Oregon after graduation to try my hand as a print journalist.

It wasn’t until I moved back to DC in 2008 that I got interested in documentary film-making. My parents were incredibly supportive in encouraging both my brother and I to cultivate this interest and develop it into a career. It seems fairly obvious now, but it was a revelation to me that this art form could be a kind of storytelling that combines the strengths of film and journalism to work toward social justice. I love how documentaries can be a space to search for the truth through the messiness and subjectivity of real people’s lived experiences. This will never get old to me.

You run your company alongside your brother. What is that like? What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with family?

The best part of working with my brother is having the chance to collaborate and create with someone who I love dearly. He knows me better than anyone else in the world. We understand each other in profound ways, and we share the same values. This means that we can quickly reach places of great depth and complexity in our collaboration that might otherwise be very difficult. One of the hardest things about working together as family is the way every decision and interaction can take on an emotional quality. We have to work very hard to be clear with each other, otherwise passive aggression can easily become our worst enemy. From the very beginning, we decided that as much as we care about our work, we would never let filmmaking or anything related to work get between our relationship as brothers. We literally wrote this into an operating agreement we signed when we started the company in 2010. I would rather walk away from the company than walk away from my brother.

Many people don’t think of DC as a big town for filmmaking. Why did you choose to set up shop here, and what have you learned about the local filmmaking community?

My brother and I were born in DC and grew up in Bethesda, MD. Our family has been here since the 1920s. My great-grandfather Isadore started one of the first shops in the Union Market called Kramer & Sons (we’ve actually been working on a film about the family’s history in the market). Our roots are pretty strong here; most of my extended family is in the DMV, and it just seemed like everyone stayed here.

I have always been pretty stubborn. As a kid, I thought that in order to be my own person, I had to get out of this area and do something different. Even though my dad was an artist himself, I thought DC was not a place to be creative. After living in Portland, I decided to move back here to be closer to family. I found that I had really taken the city for granted. I was immediately impressed by the film community that I had entirely overlooked when I was younger. I particularly appreciated how so much of the film created here was nonfiction and had deep social justice roots. I got to know people like Erica Ginsberg and Sam Hampton at Docs In Progress, Melissa Houghton at WIFV, Jon Gann at DC Shorts, Herby Niles at the DC Film Office. I grew to care deeply about this city and wanted to reconnect with my roots here. I feel like something important is happening here, and I want to be a part of building the community.

What are some of your favorite documentaries?

I love the filmmaker Robert Drew, who was one of the early pioneers of cinema verité. He is probably best known for his films about John F. Kennedy — Primary and Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment. When I first saw these films, they really blew my mind. I was in awe of the way they took the elusive magnitude of the presidency and brought them down to such a gritty human level, especially at a time when television was still a relatively new phenomenon. These kinds of films taught people about the mechanics of how our democracy works and helped to create empathy and understanding during crucial moments of the Civil Rights movement. I am also a big admirer of the films by Kartemquin (KTQ) in Chicago. Over the course of more than 50 years, they have made dozens of exceptional films like Hoop Dreams, Stevie, and Life Itself. About five years ago, we met Gordon Quinn, the co-founder of Kartemquin, and Justine Nagan, the former executive director, at an event at the Hill Center in DC. We stayed in touch with them and eventually they effectively mentored us through the process of making our first film, City of Trees.  I don’t know where we would be without their guidance and support.

Your latest film, City of Trees, has garnered acclaim, been selected for film festivals around the country and picked up by PBS. Tell us a little bit about the film and what inspired you to make it.

City of Trees follows the directors and trainees of a green job training program — the DC Green Corps — during the last six months of a major stimulus grant. We first met Steve Coleman and Washington Parks & People just weeks after we started Meridian Hill Pictures. We had moved into the Josephine Butler Parks Center right as Parks & People had received a major stimulus grant to start the Green Corps. We quickly got absorbed in the ambitions and idealism of people like Steve and Charles. We could also feel the intense stakes mounting and the tensions of the real world standing to threaten their dreams. We grew to care deeply about the people we were getting to know. We wanted to make a film that dove into the complexities, nuances and paradoxes they faced as they attempted to make changes in their lives and communities under an incredibly tense and stressful set of circumstances. Rather than shy away from these challenges, we tried to let the film ethically navigate the difficulties real people were facing in their lives. City of Trees was our first feature-length film. It took about five years to make. Everything about making the film was new and difficult for us. But I am very grateful that the film has been well-received and screened for so many people in all kinds of meaningful contexts.

How can I watch City of Trees?

Last year we focused almost exclusively on film festivals and the PBS broadcast. This past fall and winter we put a lot of effort into screening the film at universities and conferences. Recently we’ve been more focused on community-based, grassroots screenings and distributing the film via a new community screening kit we developed. Nonprofit organizations and public agencies can purchase the kit — which includes the DVD, discussion guide, and outreach materials — and host their own screening and dialogue in their community. Starting next month, the film will finally be launched on VOD streaming services, including a few platforms that you have definitely heard of 🙂 Editor’s Note – Moishe House DC will be hosting a Screening and Panel Discussion for the film next Thursday, May 11th at 7pm.

What’s next for Meridian Hill Pictures?

Over the course of the last seven years, we have experimented with many different versions of Meridian Hill Pictures to function as a sustainable production company: we’ve produced independent films, run a youth documentary film program, video trainings for educators, a monthly pop-up film screening series, produced client films, even experimented with building our own app. We continue to return to one thing: the desire to make films. I have such a deep respect for the craft of documentary filmmaking and feel like we have so much to learn. I am also constantly confronting the reality of the substantial time, talent and financial resources required to make a film. I’m proud of many things we have accomplished with Meridian Hill Pictures, but it is still not sustainable. Through conversations I’ve been having with other filmmakers, I am regularly hearing how much other people are also struggling with sustainability. Especially in this moment, when we are living through where fake news and polarized media are so prolific, I have a firm belief that independent documentary filmmaking plays a vital role in the democracy. Right now I’m very committed to playing a part in making the field more sustainable so important films can be made and distributed more easily and the field of filmmaking can be open to more diverse voices.

How do you connect with the DC Jewish community?

For me, most of my connections to the Jewish community are still through my family. Many of my cousins, aunts and uncles live in the area and we have close relationships that I really treasure. We still get together for many of the major Jewish holidays. I’m grateful for all the ways my childhood in Bethesda — especially the Jewish influences — have shaped who I am today.  To be honest, I have not connected with the DC Jewish community as a single adult in my 30s as much as I would like to. This has been harder for for me than I would have thought, but it’s something I am actively working on. Food also plays a big role along with family. I go to Parkway Deli at least once a month with my grandma. Two words: pickle bar.

Recent Kramer family Seder

What is one thing you can’t make it through the day without?

My dog. Last year, I adopted a little Aussie-mix pooch named Sadie. She’s quickly become my sidekick and pretty much accompanies me wherever I go. I take her to the studio every day. She’s the official studio dog.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

From Mourning to Celebration in 2 Days

Today is Yom Hazikaron, the memorial day for Israel’s fallen soldiers. Its scope has evolved and expanded since it was passed into Israeli law in 1963. In 1980, it was expanded to include Jewish fighters killed in pre-State battles.  In 1998, the commemoration was expanded to include Israeli victims of terror. Beginning 12 years ago, some have chosen to participate in an Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day Ceremony to remember the losses on both sides of the conflict. Just as the pain from the loss of a life ripples outward and affects many beyond the inner circle of friends and family, so too the collective consciousness of suffering has been extended in Israel throughout the years. These losses are commemorated most notably by a siren that brings the country to a standstill for 2 minutes of silence.

Yom Hazikaron immediately precedes Yom Ha’atzmaut, the day of Israel’s independence. The juxtaposition of mourning and celebration can be jarring, but it is also reflective of Israel’s and the Jewish people’s resilience. The idea of moving from sadness to joy is also found throughout the Jewish tradition, reminding us that – though one cannot exist without the other – we believe that “those who sow with tears will reap with joy” (Psalms 126:5).

The Diameter Of The Bomb

By Yehuda Amichai
The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
with four dead and eleven wounded.
And around these, in a larger circle
of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
and one graveyard. But the young woman
who was buried in the city she came from,
at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
enlarges the circle considerably,
and the solitary man mourning her death
at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
includes the entire world in the circle.
And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans
that reaches up to the throne of God and
beyond, making a circle with no end and no God.

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Rabbi Rant: The Real Lesson in “S-Town”

If you haven’t listened to the S-Town podcast yet, you should.

Not only because everybody else is doing it (though that does seem to be the case – it’s the fastest podcast to ever reach 15 million downloads or streams on Apple Podcasts).

And not necessarily because it’s the greatest podcast of all time. (I think it’s a great piece of storytelling through journalism, but it’s neither revolutionary nor profound.)

Its beauty stems from the simplicity of its aim – to get to know someone else as best as possible, without judgment.

This endeavor is perhaps best encapsulated in a short dialogue between Brian Reed, the host and journalist, and a man named Tyler.

Tyler: Do you see me being a bad person?
Brian: Do I?
Tyler: Yeah.
Brian: No man, I see you as a complicated, normal person, you know?
Tyler: Yeah.
Brian: I mean, I, I disagree with some of your decisions, but you also, you’ve had a very different life experience than I’ve had.

This attitude, of openness to others’ unique stories, is the key to good journalism.

It’s also one that Jewish sages encourage and that more of us should embrace.

By prioritizing curiosity over judgment, we can let go of both the illusion that we understand each other and also the need to force each other into our ideological boxes.

Perhaps this is why the rabbis of the Talmud offer a surprising blessing for one who sees a large congregation of Jews:

Blessed are you God Who knows all secrets. [Why this blessing? Because] their minds are unlike each other and their faces are unlike each other (BT Brachot 58a).

When confronted with differences, our tendency is to try to focus on similarities. This blessing reminds us to lean into our differences. We may all be in the same place, but we’ve all taken a different path to get there. Remembering this, paradoxically, may be the only way to keep us together.

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.