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Meet the Jewish Girl of the Week Alex

Alex 3Jackie: What brought you to DC?

Alex: My family and I are originally from DC. After I graduated from Old Dominion University (located in Norfolk, VA) I decided DC would be the best place to look for work and cultivate my career considering I am interested in politics and law. One of these days I plan on attending law school in the DC area. I know that you just came back from Birthright, was this your first time in Israel? This was my first time in Israel and I fully intend on going back as much as possible!

Jackie: What made you decide to go now?

Alex: I had always intended on going and I felt like now would be the best time to capitalize on the experience. I felt like I was at an age that I could fully comprehend and appreciate everything that these birthright trips have to offer.

Jackie: What was your favorite moment from the trip?

Alex 4Alex: I would have to say climbing Masada to witness the sunrise. It was certainly a difficult feat climbing on the way up but once we got to the top to witness the sunrise and learn about to history of Masada the climb was completely worth it. Ialso had my bat mitzvah on top of Masada since I never had one when I was younger. It was incredible to have that experience in Israel along side so many amazing people that have now become life long friends.

Jackie: Did you make new connections on your trip?

Alex: I made multiple connections on this trip with those from the DC area as well as the Israelis that were on the trip with us the whole time. I never knew I could grow so close with so many people in such a short amount of time. We have actually all stayed in constant contact through social media and the DC residents have been getting together on the weekends a lot.

Jackie: What’s your favorite way to spend Shabbat?

Alex: I like to go to Friday night service and get together with friends for dinner and wine after. I try to stay as restful as possible on Saturday’s but I generally end up having to run errands due to my busy schedule during the week.

UntitledJackie: What is your favorite Jewish food?

Alex: Sticking to my Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry I am naturally obsessed with matzo ball soup. Anytime it’s really cold out or I’m sick I will make a fresh pot of matzo ball soup from scratch. I took my grandma’s recipe and tweaked it just a little bit.

Jackie: Who is your favorite Jew?

Alex: Golda Meir by a long shot. She is the epitome of a strong willed Jewish woman paving the way not only Jews but women as well. Golda Meir constantly fought for the betterment and fundamental rights of Jews and Israel. For example, she single handedly raised $50 million in 1948 to purchase weapons to protect the young country even though everyone told her it was not possible. Persevering and protecting her people are things she constantly clung to which is truly admirable.

 

Jackie: Finish the sentence: When the Jews gather…

Alex: There will most certainly be constant chatting and eating! The feeling of community is emitted at all times.

 

Registration for Birthright’s next community trip is now open! Click here to apply.

Aaron and Brian share about their experience on the DC Community Birthright Trip…and how you can go too!

Shorashim Bus 153 January 2014 091The second to last night of our Birthright trip, 40 of our new best friends were packed into a tiny hotel room in Jerusalem, reminiscing about everything we had done in the past 24 hours: all sleeping under the same Bedouin tent, riding camels through the Negev desert, floating in the Dead Sea, and fine-tuning our impersonations of our Israeli tour guide. We never expected to feel so close with people with whom only 10 days ago we were playing the name game.

Immediately upon landing in Ben Gurion airport when our trip began, we were greeted by our seven new Israeli friends who would accompany us for all 10 days of our trip. Though we were all exhausted from traveling, we immediately boarded the bus we would call home for the next 10 days and headed north for the Golan Heights. The next 10 days took us to places we’d dreamed of visiting: the Western Wall, Independence Hall, Yav Veshem, Tel Aviv,  and Masada. The days brought us experiences we never could have anticipated: being welcomed into Israeli homes and temples,  volunteering in Washington DC’s partnership city – Beit Shemesh, hiking through a desert canyon,  experiencing Israeli live comedy theater, and even meeting the Prime Minister of the country.

Shorashim Bus 153 January 2014 055We experienced the wonders of Israel as a group, and we also took time to reflect and discuss our feelings on what those experiences meant to us personally. Facilitated by our skilled and knowledgeable tour guide, Tzach, our group engaged in meaningful and personal discussions on what we were seeing, and how these experiences affected our spiritual and cultural identities. One of our favorite discussions asked us to select the most personally important aspects of what it means to be a Jew. Coming up with our answers, and hearing the perspectives of our American and Israeli friends made us more confident in our own Jewish identity, and reignited our intellectual curiosity around the Jewish faith and culture.

Going on a Taglit Birthright trip revitalized our passion for living a Jewish life. After being challenged physically, mentally, and emotionally during the trip, we feel a deeper bond with our culture and with each other. As we  look back on our Birthright experience, we realize that choosing Shorashim and the DC Community Trip has given us a continuing community in which we can grow and flourish. We feel a renewed pride in Jewish culture, and we strongly encourage our peers in the DC area to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to discover a deep, meaningful connection to Israel and the Jewish community.

Want to have an experience like Aaron and Brian’s? Birthright has expanded eligibility! Learn more about the DC trip by visiting www.shalomdc.org/birthright. Returning applicants are able to apply on February 18th  and new applicants on February 19th here.  Please contact Sara Weiner at sara.weiner@shalomdc.org or (301) 230-7266 with questions.

Elise Feldman discusses her amazing journey on a Taglit-Birthright Israel: DC Community Trip and how to sign up for your own!

Untitled“AAAAAAAAAACHIM, ACHIM, ACHIM, ACHIM. SIMCHA, SIMCHA, SIMCHA, SIMCHA, SIMCHA!!!!!”

These were the words chanted together at Ben Gurion International Airport as 48 jet-lagged American Taglit-Birthright members met the seven Israeli participants and Israeli guide they would be traveling with for the next 10 days. The chant echoed through the airport as we all held each other and jumped around in a circle. I could feel all of our exhaustion from the flight fade quickly into excitement. We were ready to start our 10-day journey in Israel – little did we know that each day would bring a new understanding and emotion to the words, “Achim Simcha,” which means “Brotherhood and Happiness.”

That night, we each explained why we decided to embark on Birthright. Each of us came from a different Jewish background. Some formally practiced Judaism, others explained that while culturally Jewish, they did not celebrate the holidays or rituals, yet identified with being Jewish. These descriptions also applied when we learned more about the seven Israelis that were on the trip. All were young adults like us who had either finished serving in the IDF, or were still in the IDF.

We traveled to Jerusalem on Shabbat. Before we entered the passage to the Western Wall, our guide, Iftah, stated that some of us were probably the first in our families to reach the Wall. I am not religious, and I am fortunate to say that I did not lose any of my immediate family in the Holocaust. However, going to the Western Wall for the first time brought out emotions that I had no idea ever existed inside of me. As I stepped away from the wall with uncontrollable tears coming out of my eyes, my Israeli friend wrapped her arms around me and said, “You are home.”

Towards the end of our trip, we sat looking out at Har Herzl’s monument. Iftah said to us, “I know all of you have different ways of being Jewish. Some of you say you are ‘half Jewish’, culturally Jewish, you barely identify with being a Jew – but whatever ‘Jewish’ you are, hold on to it.”

After my Bat Mitzvah, I completely stopped practicing Judaism. I stopped going to services or celebrating the High Holidays. It wasn’t until this last year that I decided to reconnect with my Jewish roots and take this trip. I have never been more physically, emotionally or mentally challenged in my entire life than I was in Israel. I don’t think I have ever cried and laughed so much in 10 days.

Israel answered a lot of questions I had, but I left with three times as many. So, I am now excited to try and answer these questions. The trip made me think about my own country in a different way and appreciate some aspects a little more than I had before. It certainly made me appreciate Israel in ways that I never thought I could.

I now have a brand new family of 57 members, and we already have plans to celebrate Shabbat together soon. I also can’t wait to celebrate the High Holidays this year and feel the love and happiness that I remember feeling as a child. That is what Israel means to me. I will never be the same because of this trip.

………………

Want to have an experience with peers from DC like Elise? Then sign up for the DC Community Trip!

This winter, travel to Israel FOR FREE with fellow Washingtonians on the DC Community Birthright Trip!

Am I eligible?

  • Age 22-26 at the time of application (If you’re under the age of 22, visit www.birthrightisrael.com to find a trip that’s right for you!)
  • Have not previously participated in a peer-orientated Israel trip
  • Local or ties with the Greater Washington area

Important Dates:

There will be trips in November, January and February. Exact dates will be confirmed soon. Registration for the trip opens…

  • Monday, September 9 at noon for returning applicants
  • Tuesday, September 10 at 10:00 a.m. for new applicants

How do I register?
To register, please visit www.israelwithisraelis.com and choose the “DC Community trip.” From there, you will begin to prepare for an unforgettable experience.

Please know that the registration process can be very competitive and only remains open for about a week, so it’s very important to register on the opening date and pay your security deposit as soon as possible. Once Shorashim receives your application, they will move forward with processing it and scheduling an interview. Once this is complete, you will find out the dates of your trip and further details.

Have questions?
To find out more about the Taglit-Birthright Israel: DC Community Trip (sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington), contact Sara Weiner at 301-230-7266 or sara.weiner@shalomdc.org.

 

The DC Alumni Leadership Mission and Why I Decided to Go

b1Applications for the NEXT DC Alumni Leadership Mission are now open.  Space is limited so apply here today.  Check out pictures from last year’s trip here.

I applied to the trip on a whim.  An acquaintance of a friend who I ran into on the metro one night mentioned in passing that the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington sponsored a trip for Birthright alumni to return to Israel.  The trip was solely for young professionals living in the DC area who had been on Birthright before and had an interest in impacting the DC Jewish community in some way.  At the time, I was on the cusp of connecting in a more meaningful way to my Judaism and felt pretty removed socially from the Jewish scene in DC.  I had just been on Birthright the year before and welcomed the chance to return to Israel, but I didn’t really know what the Federation was or what my impact in the community here might be.  That night though, when I got home and thought some more about the chance encounter, I decided to apply for the trip.

B2When I was accepted, I was shocked and slightly terrified.  I went to the first in-person, pre-trip meeting with hesitation and a little bit of anxiety – everyone but me seemed to know at least one other person well enough to be sharing inside jokes, referencing the same mutual friends and being involved in the same Jewish programs.  But once we got through the first awkward ice breaker, my trepidation was quite quickly replaced with awe.  I was sitting in a room with 25 people in their 20s and 30s, who were Jewish, and all within them some core connection to their faith that in turn drove them outward to connect with other young people and enrich the community that brought them together in the first place.

Before applying for the trip, I knew not a single one of them.  Now, we’ve carved out our own little sub-community, sharing Shabbats together, celebrating each other’s birthdays, and supporting each other’s work.  The beauty of the trip is that the end result leaves you with a solid group of friends and supporters who share the same interest in leadership and community and who live in the same city as you.  Upon returning from the trip, you create an “impact project” that does just that; impacts the DC Jewish community based on something you experienced or were inspired by in Israel.  In our group alone, we have a diverse mix of projects in the works ranging from a comedy show that fosters coexistence dialogue through shared humor to an online forum to recognize the vibrancy of community influencers.b3

The trip itself is also its own humbling and enriching experience – on our trip, we attended a conference hosted by the President of Israel, planted fruit-bearing trees alongside the families whose yards they were growing in, and helped open a bomb shelter turned youth center for an Ethiopian Jewish community.  We spoke to young Muslim, Jewish, and Christian girls involved in a soccer program together and heard from the leaders of a nonprofit aimed at fostering social entrepreneurship.  We rang in Shabbat outside overlooking the hills of Jerusalem, we visited an Israeli micro-brewery, and we engaged in a rich dialogue about coexistence and tolerance in Beit Shemesh with members of the Haredi community that I still remember as vividly as if it happened yesterday.  In short, we experienced Israel through the lens of the people who live, work, and lead there, and we were challenged to find new connections between who we met and what we can bring back to DC.

I was asked to co-lead this year’s alumni mission trip as a lay leader, an opportunity that this time last year I would not have even known existed, and one I am honored to take on.  I hope the words I write here and my experience of coming in somewhat as an outsider will encourage you all to apply for this year’s trip, which takes place in November and coincides with the Jewish Federation of North America’s General Assembly.b4

Whether you went to Birthright in college, last year, or last month, apply.  Whether you feel disconnected from the young leadership network and aren’t sure how you’d fit in or whether you are already immersed in Jewish programs and activities, apply.  Whether you’ve been to Israel a dozen times since Birthright or none, apply.  And if you don’t really know what’s intriguing you about the trip but you sense something is missing from the way you’re currently experiencing the DC Jewish community, apply.

I went into the trip last year feeling very much like an outsider and not quite sure what I wanted to get out of it, and I emerged with a renewed appreciation for the community we’re in here in DC, and with a clearer vision of how I might play a part in it.  I hope you’ll find the same by taking a chance and applying to go on this year’s leadership mission.  You’ll have a whole community of people ready to welcome you.

Are You Destined to be an International Singing Sensation?

singingSo you can think you can sing (and you’re Jewish and between the ages of 18 and 30)?  Then prove it.  The Hallelujah-Global Jewish singing contest is now open, so submit your entry today.

Hallelujah is much more than a singing contest.  It is a 19 days program that takes young Jewish adults through a musical journey in Israel.  It’s like an American Idol with a twist of Birthright!  Hallelujah aims to reach Jewish populations spread around the world and unite them to Israel through one simple thing: Israeli music.

The Hallelujah 2012 Contest was a great success and the winner, Evan Malach from Canada, recorded a duet with a known Israeli singer, Dudu Fisher.  Take a quick look into the 2012 program in Israel watching the “Hallelu Hallujah” clip, featuring the 2012 participants, Evan Malach and Dudu Fisher.

To learn more, visit Hallelujah’s website, Facebook, or Youtube.

Go to Israel for FREE this summer or fall with the DC Community Birthright Trip!

Two American Jews on his back... The camel don't care. He don't give...

Two American Jews on his back… The camel don’t care. He don’t give…

 

This summer or fall, travel to Israel FOR FREE with fellow Washingtonians on the DC Community Birthright Trip!

Am I eligible?

  • Age 22-26 at the time of application (If you’re under the age of 22, visit www.birthrightisrael.com to find the trip that’s right for you!)
  • Have not previously participated in a peer-orientated Israel trip
  • Local to or ties with the Greater Washington area

image002What are the perks?

  • Get on our VIP list for priority registration processing!
  • Greater chance of being accepted!
  • Enjoy exclusive pre-trip events!
  • Have direct access to your DC-based Birthright Israel staff!
  • Expand your local network!
  • Travel through Israel with Israeli peers during the ENTIRE trip!
  • Receive personalized follow-up upon your return!
  • The trip is FREE.

Important Dates:

There will be trips in June, August, and November. Registration for the trips opens…

  • Monday, February 11 at noon for returning applicants
  • Wednesday, February 13 at 10 AM for new applicants

image003How do I register?

To register, please visit www.israelwithisraelis.com and choose the “DC Community trip.”  From there, you will begin to prepare for an unforgettable experience.

Please know that the registration process can be very competitive and only remains open for about a week, so it’s very important to register on the opening date and pay your security deposit as soon as possible.  Once Shorashim receives your application, they will move forward with processing it and scheduling an interview.  Once this is complete, you will find out the dates of your trip and further details.

Have questions?

Interested in learning more? Join us Monday, January 28 at 6:30 at Drafting Table for a Birthright Recruitment Happy Hour!

To find out more about the Taglit-Birthright Israel: DC Community Trip (sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington) and get on our pre-registration VIP list, contact me at 301-230-7266 or at sara.weiner@shalomdc.org.

Winter Young Professionals Birthright Trip

Taglit-Birthright Israel is reaching out to Jewish young professionals between the ages of 22 and 26 living in the DC area who has never been to Israel on an organized trip before.

Trip provider Shorashim allows participants to travel to Israel for 10 days this winter to experience the history and challenges of modern Israel while building a community of fellow Washingtonians.

Registration opens on September 14 at 10:00 a.m. and pre-registration for past applicants opens on September 13 at 12:00 p.m.

For more information, please visit www.israelwithisraelis.com and select the “DC Community Trip.”

The trip fills up fast, so make sure to seize this opportunity quickly. Please contact Sarah Arenstein at sarah.arenstein@shalomdc.org or 301-230-7277 with questions.

 

 

 

 

 

GTJ featured in JPC

The oft-mentioned RJ Brodsky,  director of the Jewish Policy Center, interviewed Stephen Richer about the founding of Gather the Jews and the greater issue of Jewish community involvement among young professionals.

An excerpt:

Stephen Richer explained the dilemma: “On my December 2007 Birthright Trip, my peers and I discussed how being Jewish affected our day-to-day interactions with the non-Jewish world.  One travel mate said it didn’t affect his life at all because he never tells anyone that he’s Jewish. ‘Why not?’ I asked. He replied, ‘Because Judaism’s not exactly the coolest religion, right?  I mean it’s kinda dorky’.”

“I felt simultaneously confused, exasperated, disappointed, and motivated to do something,” Stephen said. The result was his co-founding of Gather the Jews (GTJ) in the Washington, D.C. area, where Stephen currently serves as President.

The link between this incident during his trip and the founding of GTJ was not 100 percent direct; after all, nearly 30 months separated the two.  But as Stephen notes, “GTJ is supposed to address what my fellow Birthright traveler felt – by encouraging young professional Jews to connect to Judaism in nearly any way or their own original way, GTJ promotes a Judaism that is young, cool, forceful, active, and robust.”

To read the full article, on the Jewish Policy Center blog, click here.

Pictures from Tyson's Corner BBQ

This past Saturday afternoon, former Mitzvah Maker, John, gathered some Jews for a Fourth-of-July-weekend barbecue in Tyson’s Corner, VA.

Dozens of people enjoyed delicious food and good company at this Birthright NEXT event.

Some pictures from the event:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DC invades Israel

A whole bunch of young professional DC Jews just departed for the Birthright Israel NEXT DC Leadership Mission (led by former Jewish Guy of the Week Jeremy** and recent Jewish Girl of the Week Casey).

You can follow the trip’s blog here.

You can learn more about the trip — and how you can go next year — here.

 

**We’re not doing it on purpose, but Jeremy has been referenced on this blog each week for the last 4 weeks…  Win.