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5 Things You Didn’t Know About Judaism

Okay, given the seemingly infinite nature of Jewish text, history, and interpretation, there may be more than 5 things you didn’t know about Judaism. But, here are 5 things you can learn more about at Federation’s ROUTES: Day of Learning on Sunday, November 5th at George Mason University! ROUTES is a full day of classes led by world-famous presenters from all walks of the Jewish world – including many from right here in the DC area. So, did you know…

“JewBarrassment” is a thing. It’s that uncomfortable feeling most of us get when we think we’ve said or done something wrong with regard to Jewish practice. It was coined by Archie Gottesman, founder of JewBelong.com and a featured speaker at Federation’s ROUTES, who will discuss her vision of making Judaism more accessible. (Search Class 1A and 3A)

You can use rhythm and movement to engage with Torah. Jewish tradition has a long history with using rhythm to evoke meaning in Torah texts through cantillation and Chassidic niggun, a form of religious song. Matisyahu Tonti will lead a ROUTES session where participants will use a classic Torah story, and musical techniques from the Orff Approach to music education, to learn and create a short performance that will be fun, kinesthetic, and intellectually stimulating. (Search Class 1B)

The Torah is green. Jewish tradition teaches us to protect the environment through a wide range of lessons about how to conserve resources and use them responsibly. Eating locally and sustainably is tied closely to a Kosher diet. In Evonne Marzouk’s ROUTES class, you can learn about what Jewish wisdom says about protecting the environment and using resources sustainably, then see pictures and learn about the “ingredients” of sustainable home improvement. (Search Class 1E)

The Statue of Liberty is totally Jewish. Kerry Brodie’s session at ROUTES will discuss the brief life and legacy of Emma Lazarus, the Jewish woman behind the words etched into The Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” (Search Class 2F)

Jewish Washingtonians held a vigil outside the Soviet embassy in DC every day for 20 years. GatherDC’s Jewish Teacher of the Week(!), Aaron Bregman, will explore the time when Soviet Jews were fleeing the Iron Curtain, American Jews in DC responded to the reports of harassment and oppression by organizing a resistance movement that included vigils, protests and more. Come ready to discuss questions like, “Was this experience the last time diaspora Jewry bonded together over such an important topic?” and, “What does it take to galvanize or unify our Jewish community?” (Search Class 1D)

Check out all the details and register here. Plus, get $20 off your registration with code GATHERDCROUTES2017. Heads up – if you use the code, lunch will not be included with your ticket (but you can BYO). Online registration closes Wednesday, November 1st, but young professionals (under 40) can show their IDs at the door to receive $20 off the door price of $54. This discounted price does not include lunch.

 

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

Meet Aaron: Jewish Teacher of the Week!

Aaron Bregman is a history teacher by day, and hardcore Big Lebowski fan by night (White Russian anyone?). He also recently got engaged (thanks JSwipe!) and is super-excited to teach at this year’s ROUTES: A Day of Jewish Learning. We think he’s a pretty objectively awesome guy, so you should most definitely read on to get to know him.

NOTE: GatherDC-ers (that’s you!) can get $20 off the ROUTES registration price with code GATHERDCROUTES2017. The cost is normally $48 including lunch, but for you it would be $28 (not including lunch – you are welcome to BYO).

Allie: Tell us, how did you become a teacher?

Aaron: Well, while growing up in Danvers, Massachusetts (just outside of Boston), I loved learning about history and politics. So, I went on to study history and education at American University. After graduating, I spent several years developing curriculum on the Arab-Israeli conflict at The David Project in Boston. In 2012, I came back to DC to teach American, European, and Middle East Jewish History for 11th and 12th graders at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland – where I’ve been for five years now. And in just a few weeks, I’ll be teaching about the Soviet Jewry and The Jewish American Experience at ROUTES.

Allie: Huh? What’s ROUTES?

Aaron: ROUTES is kind of like going back to college for the day – except just the actual, education part of college ;). It’s an entire day of Jewish learning hosted by The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington at George Mason University on November 5.

You show up, pick four learning sessions, have lunch, meet new people, and leave with at least one new piece of life wisdom. There’s tons of sessions to choose from…across diverse topics like addiction and Jewish spirituality, rebranding Judaism, creating a sustainable kitchen, using media to talk about Israel, Jewish women making an impact, gratitude in Jewish prayer, and more. See a full list here. And if you’re a history buff – you better sign up for my session!

Allie: Wow. That sounds like quite the day! In other news, I hear you have an exciting life update…
Aaron: Yes! I recently got engaged to my fiancé who I met on JSwipe, and am having fun wedding planning with her. We’re planning a wedding in DC at Hotel Monaco.

Allie: Mazel Tov! What do you guys like to do for fun together in DC?

Aaron: It’s fun going to many of the political events and Jewish community events across DC. There’s just so many interesting ways to be involved. Also, my fiancé is a big foodie…so I’ve subsequently become a lot cooler in terms of my restaurant-going behavior over the past few years. We also like going for walks, playing chess, seeing museums, trying new restaurants…pretty much whenever we see something fun going on in DC when we have time off work – we go check it out.

Allie: More importantly, what TV shows do you guys binge watch together?

Aaron: I used to be very anti reality shows, but my fiancé has officially converted me. Now I watch Big Brother and Survivor (no shame). But my personal favorites will always be Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, John Oliver, and The Daily Show. Oh, and fun fact, one of my friends is actually a writer for John Oliver, which is pretty awesome.

Allie: What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?

Aaron: I’m going to have to go with Rosh Hashanah. It really brings the family together and you get to enjoy that great big dinner, without the difficulty of preparing a big seder. And I love a good brisket and matzo ball soup.

Allie: If you had to be stuck on a desert island with a celebrity who would it be and why?

Aaron: Well, there’s two. I would go with Jon Stewart – he is brilliant in everything he’s ever done. His background, his beliefs, his whole shtick. And also Gal Gadot, because in my world, she is the new Jennifer Aniston.

Allie: Any fun facts about yourself that might surprise our readers?
Aaron: I was in the high school marching band and played snare drum, and our band actually performed at the Rose Bowl in 2001 (between University of Washington and Purdue University). Also, I am a huge Big Lebowski fan; when I went to Lebowski Fest in 2004 in Louisville, Kentucky, my buddies and I won the best costume award.

Allie: Hold up. What’s Lebowski Fest?

Aaron: Oh, it’s incredible. It’s just the most ridiculous, fun time complete with White Russians, bowling, a big screening of the movie on the green, and obscure costumes…

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

Aaron: a family comes 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.

Choosing Faith Anew: A Yom Kippur and Ashura Reflection

About the Author: Julie Sherbill is currently a Peace Corps Volunteer serving near Marrakech, who hails from Washington, DC. Having lived in Turkey and worked for an international fellowship program, she believes well-designed cultural exchanges are crucial for a more peaceful and just world. Read more about her service on her blog: In the End, We’re All Shoes

There are similarities in the Jewish and Muslim calendars—to start with, they are both lunar. The Jewish and Muslim new years overlapped as well.  And like last year, Yom Kippur coincides with fasting for Ashura, which is the 10th day of the first month in the Islamic calendar.

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Social versus Spiritual

So, what does this have to do with my time here inMorocco as a Peace Corps Volunteer? Well, like many PCVs, living in a village where Islam is a big part of life here has of course driven me to reflect on my own religious identity, faith, and resolve. As the New Year begins, celebrating Ashura and Yom Kippur simultaneously embodies this experience.

Back home, as bigoted groups take the center of national news, and activists have to take on identity-based hate speech, the social aspect of my Jewish identity in an American context seems to take a front seat. While I undoubtedly benefit from white privilege, anti-Semitism is still a nuanced, subtle reality especially as “hatred toward Jews has been deeply intertwined with the idea of Jews having unique sorts of advantages.”

But in my day-to-day life in Morocco, religion is not a matter of identity, but rather, of faith and belief. Now I’m realizing that when I remove the social aspect of my Jewishness, there doesn’t seem to be much left. That’s especially as a lot of people I hang out with here pray on their own every day, read the Quran, and base many of their daily beliefs and actions on the teachings of the prophet. Meanwhile, I’m still trying to clarify my definition of God.

 

Collective History and Nationalism

There are 1.8 billion Muslims inthe world, so like in any religion, everyone interprets and practices their beliefs in vastly different ways. Specifically, for many of my friends in my Peace Corps site, faith is not something you observe when it’s convenient, but rather, a sacred code that dictates how to live and view your life. They live out their beliefs with friends and family, but also on their own in their daily routines and perceptions.

My closest friends here know that I am Jewish, but I’m not sure they understand what it means to me back home. Most have never heard of the Holocaust (although they do study the rise of the Nazis in school). While I was explaining to one of my friends what it was, she asked me, “but why did they do this?” and I grew emotional. This collective history of oppression has been a huge part of my Jewish education.

Looking back at my days of bat mitzvahs, Jewish youth groups, ties and trips to Israel, Hebrew school, Hillel, celebrations, commemorations, shivas, and brisses, it’s safe to say I have a strong sense of Jewish identity. For that, I have to thank my family, community, upbringing, and personal choices.

But when I’m alone, without my Jewish community, without people that know my collective history, without any personal sense of Jewish patriotism, I’m only left with my faith—the core belief, spiritual, stuff. Now that I’m looking at it closely, naked, under a microscope, in a sea of other people’s unwavering faiths, I realize just how wavering my own faith is.

Wavering Faith is Still Faith

What do I do with this realization? Clearly, I’m at a crossroads in my, to sound hokey, “spiritual journey.” I could realize that religion is indeed not a “biological reality” and be atheist or agnostic, which would certainly make things easier. I could start from scratch and research all religions, and see which ones I like best. After all, at 26, I’m certainly old enough to pick my own religion, instead of the one chosen for me at birth

Except—I never did feel pressured to be Jewish, anyway. My community and family, for as long as I can remember, always encouraged me to think critically and choose my own path.

Abandoning my religion would feel like I’m letting Judaism’s emphasis on questioning, doubting, and learning lead me away from Judaism itself. And, to not be Jewish would feel like turning my back on the community I grew up in and the self I’ve created. It’s when I’m critiquing my religion, and observing it alongside friends and family, that I feel most Jewish.

It may not seem like the most solid foundation, but for now, it’s enough to keep me here—and that’s what counts. Maybe that’s what faith is—that simple, unexplainable force that makes you keep going, even when there aren’t so many tangible reasons to do so.

Concealing and Atoning

While the word Kippur means atonement (hence Yom Kippur), the root K-P/F-R in Arabic and Hebrew scripts can actually mean to “conceal or deny,” as in, denying one’s religion. This possible connection between denying one’s religion and atoning seems perfect for what’s in my head this year.

This Yom Kippur, as I fast alongside many of my faithful Muslim brothers and sisters, I will aim to begin a more forgiving, yet closer, relationship with Judaism. I no longer want to let doubt lead me to denying or concealing my faith overall.

The Struggle is Real

Listening to Krista Tippett’s podcast On Being, I was inspired by the interviewee Rabbi AmichaiLau-Lavie, who said:

Part of the reason why I’m not an Orthodox Jew but a flexidox or polydox and otherwise-Jew, and not just “Jew,” is that I do believe in evolution, not just of our species and the world, but of concepts. And if the Bible and the Jewish values that have sustained my people for thousands of years believe that women were subservient and that sexuality was of a specific type and that types of worship included slaughtering animals, we’ve evolved. That’s not where we are. So we need to read some of those sacred words as metaphor, as bygone models, as invitations for creativity, and for sort of the second meaning and the second naïveté here that still retrieves this text as useful and these narratives as holy, not as literal.”

I believe in evolution and recognize that sexuality and gender are spectrums. I might not be able to keep kosher, celebrate Shabbat every Friday, or attend Torah study. It may seem to you that I’m picking and choosing what I want, as if God’s commandments are just an open buffet.

But unlike my ancestors, I’m lucky in that, the only one who can prevent me from being Jewish is myself. It’s with this understanding that I will keep learning about religion, having belief be a part of my life, and connecting with my past and future. My own reality and the Jewish texts will never be mutually exclusive, because my own interpretation of religion gives me not dogma, but rather, a platform for freedom to further explore. 

So this year, it is with continued faith, forgiveness, and learning, that I choose Judaism anew. And for that, I have to thank a caring, inclusive, and humble Muslim community in Sidi Bouzid, Morocco for challenging me to do so and showing me what true faith looks like.

This above article is an excerpt. Read the complete article 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.