Jewish Drag Brunch

Every once in awhile, we all need a Sunday Funday.  

A time to sit back and be entertained with a drink in one hand, and your crew spilling over to the next table, dishing out the latest in their lives.

A popular Sunday afternoon activity that has long been a DC tradition is drag brunch. Favorite drag brunch spots like Nellie’s and Perry’s provide awesome entertainment, but are missing one of our favorite elements – a Jewish shtick.

Luckily, this Sunday, April 22, the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center (EDCJCC), located in your favorite DC neighborhood – Dupont Circle – will be hosting the fabulous  Not Your Bubbe’s Bingo: Drag Brunch and Games presented by EntryPointDC, the 20s and 30s program and GLOE, the LGBTQ outreach and engagement program of the EDCJCC.

There is drag brunch, and then there is JEWISH drag brunch. We thought you might want to know some of the extra elements you will encounter at this entertaining event (drag queens, schvitzing, and glitter may or may not be included).

Bagels, Blintzes, & Many a Mazel Mimosa

There is no better way to start your morning than with Jewish staples like bagel, lox and schmear, challah French toast casserole, blintzes, an unlimited mimosa bar, and coffee and juices for those that may be feeling less “mazel-ous”.


B-I-N-G-O  (with prizes!)

Perhaps instead of getting an X or four corners on a board, you can win a round of bingo with the shape of a star of David or a Chai? Let us know if you can help us figure that one out!


Drag Queen Yentas

What is a drag queen yenta you ask? Someone who can simultaneously channel Barbra Streisand, tell you about the hottest hunk in the room, all while calling bingo numbers.


Mah Jongg,  Canasta, & Jewish Apples to Apples  #FTW

We would love to help you impress Bubbe when you join her at her weekly mahjong game. Learn why a Chinese tile-based game became popular among our female family in Florida and the basics of the classics.


Sunday may be some people’s day of rest, but we plan on ending our weekend having more fun than the time we got lifted in our chairs at our bar and bat mitzvahs.

Get tickets here for Not Your Bubbe’s Bingo: Drag Brunch & Games on Sunday, April 22.



About the Author: Stacy Miller is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you. enjoys entertaining her large Jew crew at her home and is currently the Director of EntryPointDC, the 20s and 30s program of the Edlavitch DCJCC. She represents all things Northern Virginia as the Founder of NOVA Tribe Series and is a former GatherDCGirl of the Year Runner-Up. Most importantly, she wants you know she LOVES this community a-latke.



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.

Call Me by Your (Jewish) Name

My love of the Oscar-nominated “Call Me by Your Name” may be a bit biased. The movie is set in a wonderful villa in the northern part of my home country, Italy, and the Director, Luca Guadagnino, is from my home town of Palermo. What was most exciting about the movie, though, went far beyond the bucolic setting, and the level of Italian nostalgia.

The story is about – don’t worry, no spoilers – two men who fall desperately in love during a summer in the ‘80s. Elio Perlman, a precocious half-Italian, half-American, Jew of only 17 years old, falls in love with Oliver, a 31-year-old Jewish graduate student from the States who travels to Italy to help his professor (Elio’s father) for the summer. I’ll keep silent about the rest – apart from highly recommending you see it.

Something about the movie has stayed with me for the few weeks since I watched it. In one of the main scenes, Oliver, looking intensely at Elio, tells him: “Call me by your name, and I’ll call you by mine.” Oliver’s request may certainly sound weird: why would someone call somebody else by their own name?

After watching, I found myself thinking about the importance of names and nouns in general, and about the role that our names play in our lives. We all have at least one given name. Sometimes, our names are random, chosen because our parents love how they sound. Other times, we are named after specific people. In Italy, like in Judaism, it’s quite common to name a baby after a grandparent. Whether we like it or not, we are stuck with our given name for our entire life, and there is not a lot we can do about it…or maybe there is!

Every name has a meaning, a power within itself. If we truly grasp onto the name and make it our own, then our behavior may shift a little bit to better fit into our name. Even a nickname is something we are given, and accompanies us for parts of our life. Nicknames often depict some of our characteristics, and grow into us, or – sometimes – we may change a bit under the influence of our nicknames.

So, what is the meaning of calling someone else by your own name? To do that seems almost like giving that other person your personality, your story, yourself. That, in essence, is what the two protagonists of “Call Me By Your Name” were doing during the essential scene referenced earlier: they were giving themselves to one another without restriction, exchanging their own given names. Through this exchange, Oliver and Elio nullify the differences between themselves, give each other their entire selves, and transform two separate selves into one. As lovers, the most intimate thing that they can give one another that goes beyond their bodies is, in fact, their names.

The Hebrew word “davar” illuminates the relationship between names and objects. “Davar” means both thing and word, as if to underline the idea that there is no difference between a thing, and the word that defines it. The noun gives meaning to the thing, and the most direct way we relate to a thing is through its name – to the point where the two become indistinguishable. Think, for example, about how and why God named the first man. God named the first man Adam, because he was made from the earth, “adama.” This makes a connection between the creature and what it was made from – it’s essence. We quickly discover more about the power of calling something by a name when God gives Adam the responsibility of naming all of the animals which He had created.

As Genesis 2:20 relays, “And the Lord God formed out of the earth all the wild beasts and all the birds of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that would be its name.”

What happens, though, when we have to choose a name for ourselves? How do we choose it among thousands?

Converting to another religion is never an easy choice, and was something I thought about for several years before making the big step to convert to Judaism. When I started my conversion path in 2012, I never thought that one of the most challenging aspects of it would have been calling myself by a new name.

When my conversion Rabbi told me that I had to pick a Jewish name for myself, at first, I found that odd: my name was already a Jewish name. I was named Daniela after my Jewish paternal grandfather, (nonno Daniele – whom I had never met because he passed away when my father was a child) but my name has a very beautiful Jewish meaning: Dan-i-El, “God is my judge”. I’ve tried to make this name my own throughout my entire life. I interpreted it as a pearl of wisdom to follow every single day, to inspire me to not care so much about the judgements of others, because only “God is my judge”.

When I explained this to my Rabbi, he stated that I had to pick a new Jewish name because I was going to start a new life as a Jew. Yes, people would continue to call me by my given name, but I needed a new Jewish name to remind me of my path. Having expected such an answer, I went to our next meeting prepared and told the Rabbi that I had picked “Laila” as my Jewish name. I liked “Laila” because it means night in Hebrew and Arabic, and I love the sound of it. Smiling, the Rabbi told me: “You should pick a name that has a meaning for you, not just a word whose sound you like.”

By that point, I was frustrated. It isn’t easy to pick a name. We are so used to being “given” names that, when we have the opportunity to pick one, we feel the big responsibility of the choice. After spending several days thinking about what my new name should be, I finally understood that the way to go was to follow my parents’ example and to name myself after someone who had meaningful importance in my life. That’s how I decided on the name Orly.

During a formative year studying in Israel, I met two important women named Orly. The first “Orly” was my Hebrew teacher at the Hebrew University, whose teaching helped me fall in love with that wonderful language. The second was an Orthodox Italian student from the University dorm. We connected immediately, and, despite our different ways of being Jewish, I considered her an example of how to be a “good Jew.” And then, of course, the name Orly literally translated to “light for me.” I loved the idea of a light to “light up” my new path in life. And hey: the Rabbi was satisfied too!

I know why “Call My By Your Name”, and that specific scene, struck such a chord in my heart. It made me wonder about who, among the people in my life, I would call by my own name. To whom would I give my name’s power and strength?

And what about you? Who would you call by your name?






About the Author: Daniela is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you! She is a “retired philosopher” who works as an executive assistant and loves to write about Italian and Jewish events happening in DC. She was born and raised in Sicily (Italy) in an interfaith family and moved to D.C. with her husband after studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where they met. They have a wonderful Siberian cat named Rambam! Daniela loves going to work while listening to Leonard Cohen’s songs and sometimes performs in a West African Dance group



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.

Levine Music: Education, Performance, Community

While covering the Edlavitch DCJCC’s Washington Jewish Music Festival (WJMF) over the past few months, I had the opportunity to speak with several musicians from Levine Music, and see their performances. After listening to their music and talking with them, I became curious about the institution they belong to. So, I decided to speak with Ms. Lois Narvey, head of performance at Levine Music, to figure out what makes Levine Music so successful, and better understand their connection to the WJMF.

Daniela: This year’s WJMF featured several concerts and shows by the Levine Music School. Tell us about the 2018 Levine performance series and the collaboration with the WJMF.

Lois: For a number of years, Levine has had a very unusual concert series of its own. It presents only our faculty, who are both teachers and performers. The series covers all of our genres: classical music, jazz, rock, and musical theater. We develop a central theme each year, and arrange the performance around that. Last year was a slightly political theme, called “The protest propaganda and promise. The power of music”. This year is an anniversary year for Leonard Bernstein, so the theme is about him and his iconic influence. It makes for a very interesting, eclectic but unified series.  

A few years ago, we started to partner with the EDCJCC. This started as a very small partnership, but when Ilya Tovbis – Director of the WJMF – took over, he revitalized it. Ilya was very interested in having some of our concerts presented under the umbrella of the WJMF. I give him choices that I think he may be interested in, and he choose them. I thought he would have definitely been interested in the “Quartet to the end of time”, and “Strange Fruit”, which was performed twice as part of the WJMF.

Daniela: What’s the story behind the Levine Music school? When and why was it created?

Lois: I can definitely tell you about that since I’ve been at Levine for 30 years! It’s about 42 years old, and started in 1976 by three women from New York who came here with their husbands and young families, and couldn’t find music schools for their kids in DC. Around that time, a woman, who was a good friend of theirs, a prominent lawyer, and amateur chamber musician, was tragically killed in an automobile crash. Her friends decided to create a music school in DC named it after their lost friend, Selma Levine. It started very humbly, in a church basement, with volunteer teachers. Today, we have five campuses, ~3,500 students, and 160 faculty.

The founders had a very particular idea about what this school would be. They wanted to have the most excellent teachers, and to bebe absolutely welcoming to anybody who wanted to study music. You didn’t need to be “good” – there were no auditions.We have continued with this mission, which we call “excellence and opportunity.” Today, two of the three school founders are still on the Board, and everybody can study at Levine Music school in any part of the city because we have five campuses, like this wonderful venue [I’m at now] in Southeast DC called The Arc. We have a very strong tuition assistance program, and age doesn’t matter. Our youngest student is – believe it or not – a 4 month-old, and the oldest just turned 100.

Daniela: You are part of the Levine Music faculty. What is the educational goal of the school, and how has your experience been so far?

Lois: We have a core of very talented students for whom we provide a conservatory form of education. The majority of our students will always be amateur, and that is fine with us. My experience with Levine Music has been varied. I came on as a faculty member teaching harpsichord and piano. Then, I became head of the Piano Department, then acting Dean, then Director of Programs and Admission. I’ve done pretty much everything, but I’ve never stopped teaching. I teach as much as I can. I love being part of the faculty and part of the school.

Daniela: In addition to education, the other two principles of the Levine school are performance and community. What does the Levine Music community look like, and who is part of it?

Lois: A few years ago, we realized that we do so much more than just teach. We do a lot of performing: our teachers perform, our students perform, we have master classes, competitions, and workshops. We want to offer our faculty the chance to perform and we want our students to be inspired by them and perform too.

Community is part of our mission. We want to reach out to our musical community, welcome everybody and shape ourselves around it. We talk a lot about how we can make people feel welcome here.

Daniela: Is there an event during your years teaching at Levine that you remember in particular?

Lois: One of the most memorable moments for me was when Yo-Yo Ma came to visit. The reason it was memorable, beside the fact that he is a very famous musician, is that, like other musicians that came to visit us, he just came and mingled with the students and made them feel comfortable. What visitors like Yo-Yo Ma offer is life changing for these kids. To see them interacting with the visiting artists is, for me, the best part of the job.

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 25JAN08 – Yo-Yo Ma, Cellist, USA plays the cello during the ‘Presentation of the Crystal Award’ at the Annual Meeting 2008 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 25, 2008.
Copyright by World Economic Forum by Andy Mettler
+++No resale, no archive+++



About the Author: Daniela is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you! She is a “retired philosopher” who works as an executive assistant and loves to write about Italian and Jewish events happening in DC. She was born and raised in Sicily (Italy) in an interfaith family and moved to D.C. with her husband after studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where they met. They have a wonderful Siberian cat named Rambam! Daniela loves going to work while listening to Leonard Cohen’s songs and sometimes performs in a West African Dance group



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.

I Hope They Serve Beer in Heaven

I am fortunate.

I grew up with grandparents who lived, at most, within a twenty-minute drive from my house. My brother and I had “Mimi and Papa Thursdays” where our grandparents would pick us up from school, and spend time with us all afternoon. We would go to Demetrios and eat white pizza – Papa couldn’t eat tomatoes, so we did not eat tomatoes. Papa would make French pancakes whenever we slept over, and even made a stack for us to keep in the freezer and eat at home. Mimi and Papa took each of the grandkids on a special trip for our 10th birthday. We went out to Sun Valley, Idaho in the summers with Mimi and Papa. We would stay in these big houses and go fishing, hiking, and ice-skating.

Thanksgiving was always spent with Mimi and Papa. One year, we started going to Busch Gardens on Thanksgiving. All ten of us – Mimi, Papa, my parents, brother, aunt, uncle, two cousins, and me. We would drive up to Busch Gardens on Thanksgiving Day, and have dinner at Ruby Tuesdays on the way home. We would then do a more formal Thanksgiving the day after. After many years of this, we started a new tradition where we spent Thanksgiving on the beach where the kids could swim and play games, while the adults could relax.

This year was the first Yom Kippur without my Papa.

I decided, as a way of honoring him, to read his autobiography. This autobiography is just a word document that he saved on his computer to be read by his kids, grandkids, etc. I laughed when he wrote that one of his best memories as a “good Jewish boy” was when his parents set up a Christmas tree, and his Grandpa showed up dressed like Santa. This story is followed by my Papa sharing that he is angry his parents let him opt out of becoming a Bar Mitzvah. He went onto remediate this by becoming a Bar Mitzvah at age 48.

I was both proud and upset to read that he and my Mimi were active in Jewish organizations. In the 1980s, Mimi fell in love with Israel and helped to found The Sarasota-Manatee Jewish Federation’s Chapter of The Lion of Judah. She went on to be the Chairperson of the Women’s UJA Campaign, and President of the Women’s Division of the Federation. Papa joined the The Sarasota-Manatee Federation Board in 1982. He went on to build the sister city program at The Jewish Federation, became Chairman of the General Campaign, and Treasurer. I wish I had known this when he was living and could have talked to him about these experiences. Today, I work as a Jewish communal professional as a fundraiser, and I would have loved to ask my Papa his best solicitation stories or tips.

But, the part of my Papa’s biography that was the most difficult for me to read was this:The birth of our Grandchildren opened up a whole new world to [my wife] and me. We thought we knew what happiness was before the grandchildren arrived, but it was nothing compared to the pleasure and love that we have received since they were born. As the saying goes, “If we knew what pleasure we would get from our grandchildren, we would have had them first”. With the birth of the grandchildren, I spent less and less time at [The Jewish] Federation because they became the most important thing in my life…I’m truly blessed to have such loving and caring children, and the same can be said for their spouses. The crème de la crème to the whole wonderful family that I have are the grandchildren. I only hope that [my wife] and I will be blessed with at least four score and ten so that we can be around to hopefully see [our grandchildren] graduate from college and get married. Maybe some great grandchildren!

Growing up, I assumed that my Mimi and Papa were just like every other grandparent. Recently, I have realized how truly fortunate I was. Not every grandchild is blessed to have grandparents who want to have such an active role in their lives. I had grandparents who called every year on my birthday, most years with my Papa starting each call by singing the “Happy Birthday” song. I had grandparents who attended my performances and school graduations. I had grandparents who had a very active, meaningful role in the first quarter of my life.

This past year has been difficult for me. I remember judging my peers who posted tributes on Facebook about their grandparents, not fully understanding they hurt they were feeling. Now, I feel ridiculous for even thinking that – I mean, here I am writing a public blog doing the exact same thing.

When my Papa passed away, I was angry that Judaism didn’t consider me close enough to him to be a “real” mourner. I mean, I don’t follow other Jewish laws like keeping kosher and observing Shabbat, but I was mad that I was not obligated by Jewish law to mourn my Papa in the same way my Mom was. I was in need of a roadmap for how to deal with this deep loss. I wanted to figure out how to make it hurt less.

There are still some days I will be driving home and all the sudden, I start tearing up because I remember a funny moment with Papa. Every time one of the grandkids has something special going on in our lives, I think of how proud Papa would be. At the unveiling over Thanksgiving this year, the Rabbi shared that the one-year anniversary – which is typically when the unveiling occurs – is a great moment when our painful grief turns to beautiful memories.

This article will never be good enough. It will never adequately share how special my Papa was. I just hope this article can serve as a transitional moment for me to take the next step on my mourning journey from grief to fond memories.

And there are many fond memories that I will carry with me and frequent reminders that I have some “Papa” in me. Whenever I track a flight for a friend of family member, I remember every time he would watch my plane on his computer flying back to Sarasota from wherever I was traveling. Whenever I am ten minutes early to plans because I am so anxious I will be late, I remember when he would arrive everywhere SO early – up to 30 minutes early – because he always stuck to his schedule. And my favorite reminder of all – when I order a corned beef sandwich with mayonnaise and people freak out because Jews do not that. I just smile and respond, I am my Papa’s granddaughter, so eating a corned beef sandwich with mayonnaise is a must.



About the Author: Marisa Briefman is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you. She is a recent DC transplant who was born and raised in Sarasota, Florida – likely where your grandparents live. Her love of all things Jewish began at overnight camp and continues to thrive in her role at JSSA. She is coffee addict, lover of Mexican food, and on a permanent mission pet all the adorable dogs in DC (if someone is in need of a dog-sitter, email me).





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.

How to Celebrate the Spirit of Purim Across DC!

Jewish-holiday-wise, Purim is sneaky. It creeps up in mid-February or March every year, just as we’re reeling from our second try at New Year’s resolutions, and are already thinking about Passover. (Mark your calendars – Purim starts on Wednesday night, February 28th!)

For those who need a little refresher as to what this holiday is all about – I’ve got you covered. Purim celebrates the story of the Book of Esther, when the Jews were saved from Haman’s evil plot. You may have heard it called  “The Jewish Halloween” because of the awesome costumes worn to celebrate the holiday. It’s also the holiday when we shake rice-filled water bottles and make triangular hamentaschen cookies  (plot twist: fill them with nutella?).

There are four core mitzvot (commandments) for celebrating Purim:

  • Reading the Book of Esther
  • Sending Mishloach Manot (snack goodie bags for neighbors and friends)
  • Eating a festive meal (with plenty of adult beverages for those who choose to partake)
  • Giving gifts to the poor (Matanot Le’evyonim). This mitzvah is our expression of gratitude for when Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai saved the Jews from being killed.

In my view, the last I listed – Matanot Le’evyonim, or gifts to the poor – is rarely emphasized in our general understanding of Purim. The Purim spirit is one of fun, filled with costumes, community parties, delicious Hamentaschen cookies, and general positivity and merriment. This year, I challenge us to put a bit more focus into the Matanot Le’evyonim mitzvah – to not just satisfy the mitzvah by giving to charity, but to truly carry over the positive spirit of joy and celebration that is Purim into acts of service.

These four mitzvot are all part of the Purim holiday! Here’s how to participate in all four – check out these happenings across DC to bring you closer to the Purim spirit!


Megillah: Reading of the Book of Esther

Listen to the Megillat Esther (the book of Esther) read aloud. When you add in maracas, rice-filled water bottles, plastic “noisemakers” from Party City, and enthusiastic booing for good measure – fulfilling this mitzvah is much more fun than it sounds.

You can hear the megillah reading at:


Mishloach Manot: Make gift bags for friends, family, and neighbors

If you want to send mishloach manot (gifts of food), make sure to include hamentaschen! (This may be controversial, but the best flavor is definitely poppyseed.) Get a head start on these gift bags with:

Spread the joy of hamentaschen to all: consider donating hamentaschen you bake to local senior centers like Congregation Etz Hayim did this past weekend at the Culpepper Garden senior living facility in Arlington.


Seudat Purim: Have a festive meal

This is the one mitzvah that everyone seems to remember as “it’s a mitzvah to get drunk on Purim!” Although this injunction does tell Jews to “drink until you don’t know the difference between Haman and Mordechai” – what it is saying, on a deeper level, is to find a way to look beyond our rational minds, and tap into our deepest, faith-based self – and, of course, to have lots of fun! However, for those of us who aren’t big into drinking – you can still celebrate this mitzvah with a delicious meal (filled with foods symbolic of the Purim story), and by letting go of stress and totally relaxing into the spirit of the holiday.

Celebrate this fun mitzvah by:

Consider providing a seudah or feast for others – collect cans or non-perishable food at your Purim meal for a local food pantry! See what places like So Others May Eat (SOME) need. In the truest millenial fashion, consider having guests purchase items in need off of Miriam’s Kitchen’s Amazon Wishlist.

Photo courtesy of The Jewish Federation

Matanot Le’evyonim: Giving back to those in need

Incorporating the spirit of service into the other Purim mitzvot can also help in bringing the spirit of Purim joy to the mitzvah of Matanot Le’evyonim!  This Purim mitzvah invites us to help at least two people and to provide enough food for a full meal. Go bigger than our typical mitzvah to give tzedakah, or charity, and bring the joyous Purim spirit to this mitzvah!

There are so many ways to infuse Purim joy into service work. Some may choose to give traditional tzedakah gifts, but others may prefer to give their time, energy, and skills. Read this article for more ways to give back across DC.

However you celebrate, wishing you a chag Purim sameach – a happy and joyous Purim!





About the Author: Shira Cohen is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you! When not writing about volunteer opportunities in DC, she works in student life and disability services at a local law school. Originally from Charleston, SC, Shira loves DC Library $1 book sales and District Taco.



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.

“Strange Fruit” – Remembering the Civil Rights Movement

I was a bit disappointed this past November when I was unable to see the Edlavtich DCJCC’s Washington Jewish Music Festival (WJMF) show by Levine Music, “Strange Fruit: Music from – and inspired by – the Civil Rights movement”. The tickets for this show sold out too quickly for me to get one, and people who attended told me it was a big success. So when I saw, last month, that the EDCJCC was offering a second performance on January 29th, I immediately decided to check it out AND got the chance to speak with one of the musicians involved!

The “Strange Fruit” concert was a powerful and intense experience from the beginning to the end. Energetic songs and freedom chants were sung, heartbreaking poems and motivating speeches were recited. The audience was taken to the 1960s and back by the rhythm of the instruments and the amazing voices of the musicians. By the end everybody stood, sang and clapped to the rhythm of “We Shall Overcome!”

A few days before the performance, I had the pleasure of speaking with internationally acclaimed opera singer and star of this show, Mr. Charles Williams – who has performed at renowned venues such as Carnegie Hall, Wolf Trap, The Smithsonian, and the Kennedy Center. Williams led the “Strange Fruit” show with songs, recited classic poetry, and even read a portion of Martin Luther King Jr’s Nobel Prize speech. We talked about the two performances at the EDCJCC, freedom riders, the civil rights movement, and the difference with today’s movements for social justice.

Daniela: “Strange Fruit” had already been performed and had such a big impact that the EDCJCC proposed an encore. Were you expecting such a big success?

Charles: It was very exciting, and we were very overwhelmed by the reception. We’d love to do it again, and in other places, but there are about 7 people in the show and it’s difficult to get them all together. When composer, educator, and one of the leading musicians Chris Brown (no, not that Chris Brown) – and the people at the EDCJCC suggested we do it again, we all agreed and we’re really looking forward to it.

Daniela: Tell us about this project. Why did you decide to present it as part of the Washington Jewish Music Festival?

Charles: Chris Brown spoke with the people at the WJMF, and thought it was a wonderful idea to open the show during the WJMF because it has a lot to do with racism, and the Jewish people have had their share of racism – it was a natural. During the Civil Rights era, there were so many people of all religions and ages that were very much a part of it, including a lot of Jews. Martin Luther King Jr. had a very special talent because he was speaking the truth and people knew it. He forced Americans to get on the right track.

Daniela: What about the musical selection? How did the set list come together?

Charles: In 1961 the freedom riders travelled to Washington, DC and to the deep south. Some of them were attacked, and some of them were killed. We chose some of the freedom riders’ songs that I suggested, and as well as some of the other songs from the era that were being sung by the students.

Daniela: What makes a song like “Strange Fruit” a protest song, and how big of an impact did that song have when it first came out?

Charles: “Strange Fruit” was written in 1939 by a white, Jewish school teacher Abel Meeropol who was a member of The Communist Party. He wrote it as a protest poem exposing American racism and particularly the lynching of African Americans. Then, Billie Holiday wrote music to it. It became an anthem, a very important song of the civil rights era.

Daniela: Do you think that today’s “resistance” movement can be compared to the civil rights movement? What’s the role of music in it?

Charles: You can compare today’s “resistance” movement to the civil rights movement, but there is one significant difference. During the civil rights movement, people sang. Everybody – Catholics, Jews, Black people, and White people…they sang.

Nowadays, people are not singing. Even during the Women’s March, they were not singing. Music is extremely powerful, and if you do music while you are resisting, that becomes very powerful and it’s difficult to disregard it. I think that’s what is missing with these movements, like the Women’s movement and Black Lives Matter. They could sing the music from the civil rights era! They are missing an opportunity, and it won’t have as big of a success without the music. Music and love are the most powerful forces on earth!


About the Author: Daniela Enriquez is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you. Daniela is Italian and comes from the only Jewish family in Palermo (population: slightly higher than DC). Things she likes about America include: the price of clothing, Internet coffee houses and ice rinks. Among the less desirable things are: the obsession with air conditioning, American “espresso,” and root beer. Feel free to contact her for advice on real Italian food in DC!


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.

Shalom, Self-Care!

I don’t know about you, but 2017 was a LOT to deal with.

From the wild political antics that scroll across my computer daily, to the devastating natural disasters seemingly every other week – all of the noise made me realize it can get really hard to distance yourself and take a break – even for just one moment.

There’s been a lot of talk about “self-care” lately. Perhaps you have seen Instagram photos of your friend’s toes poking out of a bubble bath, or seen someone tweet “#treatyoself” before diving headfirst into a pound-sized bag of M&Ms. You may have even snapped that photo of the brownies you made yourself. There’s no shame – we’ve all been there!

But self-care is something much deeper than just taking some time off to color in a coloring book, or ordering that extra side of fries with your dinner. Self-care is listening to yourself and your needs, and doing what’s best for you in that moment, to make tomorrow just a little bit easier.

A quick word of warning – sometimes listening to your own needs is really, really hard. Sometimes, it’s cleaning out those storage boxes in your closet because you know you’ve got your ex-partner’s sweater and you’ll never actually wear it/repurpose it/burn it in a bonfire in your backyard (just me?). Sometimes, it’s signing up for that sign language class and committing to going every week, even if it’s right after work on a Friday afternoon. And sometimes self-care might actually be that bubble bath, and those brownies, and that bag of M&Ms. What’s most important is taking time to intentionally recognize what part of your self needs that care, and listening to it.

Judaism has always been a major proponent of self-care, even from ancient times. Nearly everyone has heard the great Hillel quote, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” In other words, if you aren’t taking care of yourself – heart, mind, body, soul – who will?

With all of that in mind, I wanted to provide a few simple tips to ensure you give your whole self the self-care you may need. All of these tips are author-tested and Judaism-approved.

Add something small but meaningful to your routine so it becomes habit.

“Customs are more powerful than laws.” – The Talmud

I’m the first to admit that when it comes to routines, I love them – but I’m terrible at them. I’ll write down in my planner and add to my phone calendar that I’m going to go to the grocery store EVERY Saturday at 8am. I’ll feel so accomplished, and “adult” and take pride in myself. Three weeks later, I’ll wake up at noon for the third Saturday in a row, and order pizza two hours later since there’s still no food in the house. *Womp*

But, despite this example, there’s actual proof that adding a small task to your routine can eventually turn into a helpful habit. So, consider a tiny to-do and start working it into your schedule. Last year, I started going to bed in my gym clothes and packing a bag with work clothes before going to sleep. At first, it felt silly. But, I then realized that by waking up in gym clothes and having everything else ready to go for the day ahead, I had no more excuses and simply started going to the gym. By the time I realized that I am infinitely happier on days I’ve worked out, I no longer felt weird going to sleep in exercise shorts and a tank top. It’s a reminder that I’m going to have a better tomorrow because of what I’m wearing to bed tonight. It’s a little note to myself, that I care about my mental and physical health.

It doesn’t have to be a life-changing, schedule-altering routine change. Simply commit to reading for an hour on a Sunday morning, when you’d otherwise be watching Netflix. Or, download an app like Duolingo or TED, so you have something educational to learn from on those long Metro commutes. Make a standing lunch date with a friend at your job instead of always eating at your desk. Little, simple everyday changes can have a huge impact on your life in the long run.

Photo courtesy of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington

Do something kind for someone else.

“I do not want followers who are righteous. Rather, I want followers who are too busy doing good that they won’t have time to do bad.”  – Rabbi Menachem Mendel

Sometimes, the best way to clear your head is to focus on something that has nothing to do with you. What better way that to do this than by helping out a fellow human? There are so many places in DC that are actively looking for volunteers to help our community grow and thrive. Check out this blog post for local volunteering ideas.

Also, doing something kind doesn’t just mean volunteering. Bake a cake for a friend who’s going through a tough time at work. Call your aunt who adores you, but you forgot to talk to until she sent you a Hanukkah card. Write a handwritten letter to your best friend about that time you both did that thing and it was SO FUNNY – and send it in the mail. A little kindness goes a very long way, not only for the person you’re giving the kindness to – but also for yourself. It’s contagious!

Find a cause you believe in and do what you can to support it.

“I don’t speak because I have the power to speak; I speak because I don’t have the power to remain silent.” – Rabbi A.Y. Kook

During the last year, I watched many disheartened friends slowly discover a new passion or cause that they felt strongly about, and then jump headfirst into helping out. For one friend, it was calling representatives in Congress to voice dissent or support on certain issues. For another friend, it was hosting themed “parties” where attendees donated a certain amount to a charity that the party was themed around. (i.e. a Red-Cross themed party where there was “blood” punch and cupcakes with the iconic logo.)

For me, personally, I started researching discussions in my area about the causes I cared about most and attending when I could. Slowly, that blossomed into me going to workshops and conferences, and moving from attendee to presenter. Even though I’m not donating money I don’t have, or committing time I can’t promise, I feel like I’m genuinely making a difference. This sense of fulfillment has done wonders for personal happiness and health!


“The loving man rewards himself.” – Proverbs, 11:17

Okay, I know I poked a little fun at the idea of treating yourself earlier. But, I can’t deny the healing habits of pampering yourself! I say, have the cookie. Wear the silky pajamas. Do something nice just for you. Treating yourself can mean a full-day shopping spree, taking yourself on a date to a your favorite museum, a trip home to surprise your Bubbe, or a scenic hiking adventure through Rock Creek Park. My favorite thing to do is to buy the five-dollar flower bouquet from the man outside of my Metro stop on the way to work. They’re always fresh and beautiful, and light up my windowless office cube.

Reminding yourself – in a tangible way – that you’re worth the cost, time, and energy to be happy is an excellent way to keep that thought in your head all year long.

I hope you enjoyed these few ideas on how to take care of your whole self this upcoming year. If you have any other great self-care tips, please post them in the comments below. I hope you have nothing but happy and healthy days ahead in 2018!





About the Author: Alannah Johnson is part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you! She is a born-and-bred New Englander who now calls both DC and Central Florida home. She is one of the many folks who moved to the District for school, and just never left. She has worked in higher education for nearly a decade. She loves dedicating time to “studying the soul of Judaism,” which ranges from reading books on comparative religions, to attending a different Friday night Shabbat service location for thirteen full weeks. When she isn’t watching the “Swedish Chef” videos on YouTube, she’s probably scribbling in a journal while waiting for a bus in the rain.

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.

Expectations vs. Reality: Reflections on the First Six Months After Graduation

I learned one lesson from the college graduation day that I did not attend: expectations hardly ever become reality.

I graduated from college in May 2017, but unfortunately was not able to attend the day I had spent the past four years working so hard for. Less than a week before the big day, I was diagnosed with strep throat and pneumonia, and given about four different prescriptions.

When the reality sunk in that I wouldn’t be able to walk across the stage with my cap and gown and have the graduation day I had dreamt of for so many years, I cried. A lot.  Although my friends and family were very understanding, it somehow did not ease the sadness and disappointment I felt.

I write about the expectations and the reality of my college graduation day because, the more I think about it, the more I realize it illustrates the journey of a college senior entering adulthood and, most importantly, the journey one faces in his/her first post-grad year.

The expectations for adulthood started way before graduation. There was a lot of pressure, from both myself and the people around me, to have my ducks in a row in time for college graduation. The questions from my friends and family were all the same: What are your plans after graduation? Do you have a job? What will your salary be? Where will you live? They never seemed to stop. It made me think that getting a job immediately, moving into my first apartment and living the “perfect” adult life were the only options I had.

This was all exponentially heightened when my friends and I actually earned our diplomas. I felt as if all of my friends were moving through life at warp-speed, checking things they needed to accomplish in order to become a “real” adult. On Facebook, I would see posts of friends getting new jobs or moving to new cities, and found myself immediately hitting the red ‘X’ in the corner of my screen due to pangs of envy, pressure, and failure filling my chest.

I desired that “perfect” life more than anything. I thought that all of my newfound freedom would give me time to start crossing books off my ‘to read’ list. I thought that earning money would allow me to not feel guilty about eating my way through every brunch place in the city. I thought that it would finally be time to have a social life perfectly curated for Instagramcomplete with close friends from college and many fun nights out in our nation’s capital. I thought that maybe, just maybe, I would even finally meet a nice Jewish boy who would be parent-approved.

However, none of this happened.

Instead, my reality was spending all of my free time looking for a job instead of reading for fun. My reality was saving my money to spend on things I needed for my new apartment instead of spending it on brunch. My reality was saying goodbye to some of my closest friends from college as they started their new chapters away from DC (where we all went to college).

Now that I have been out of school for six months, I find myself reflecting a lot on my experiences since that day I missed my graduation in May. While it might not be exactly what I expected, the reality I currently live is still pretty great. I have found a great support system in DC (shoutout to GatherDC’s Mini-Gatherings for helping with that). I have continued to explore and experience all that this city has to offer. I have continued to learn about myself, and what I want out of life.

In the past six months, I’ve learned that it’s okay if the path I end up paving for myself differs from the one I expected to follow, as there is no right way to go about things.

Your priorities might be different than the priorities of those around you, but that doesn’t mean they are wrong. Decide what is important for you to focus on, and commit to it. For me, that has been spending time with friends, and finding ways to live a Jewish life that is authentic to me.

I also learned that the choices you make are not permanent. It’s not the end of the world if you realize a decision you made turns out to not be the right one for you. It is important to be comfortable with change, and be able to go with the flow.

As I ponder what the coming six months have in store, I feel ready to greet them, even if my reality is different from my ideal.





About the Author: Bryna Kramer is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you. She is originally from the small, southern town of Danville, Virginia. She’s been in D.C. for just over four years, as she moved here in 2013 to attend American University. When she is not busy covering the Wizards on a nightly basis or hosting her own podcast, Meet Us At Molly’s, you can find her binging television or brunching her way through the city. Follow her on Twitter.

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.

Manny Arciniega: Quartet to the End of Time

When I checked out the program of the 19th Washington Music Jewish Festival (WJMF), I noticed that the Levine Music faculty were/are performing Messiaen’s “Quartet to the End of Time,” a work composed inside a prisoner of war camp in 1940. I wondered what a piece written by a Catholic composer, and inspired by the Book of Revelations and the Apocalypse, had to do with the Jewish festival.

I got very curious and decided to attend the concert and interview one of the members of the band, percussionist Manny Arciniega. Manny explained that while inside the prisoner of war camp, Messiaen met with two other world famous musicians: violinist Jean le Boulaire and cellist Étienne Pasquier. Messiaen loved to listen to natural sounds like birds singing, and added these sounds into his composition.

The other band members presented an innovative version of the piece by re-scoring and playing it with electronic instruments and percussion. What resulted was a mesmerizing performance.

By the end, I had an answer to my question: why was this performance included into the Jewish music festival? Well, in addition to one of the three musicians who played it, Étienne Pasquier, being Jewish, the piece is a work expressing liberation and the possibility of hope — sentiments which are very close to our Jewish history.

Enjoy my interview with Manny Arciniega!


Daniela: I hear you are on faculty at Levine Music. Tell us more about that!

Manny: Levine Music is a community music school that serves the area around DC for students of all ages and abilities. It provides a welcoming community for children and adults to find lifelong inspiration and joy through learning, performing, listening, and participating in music.

Daniela: Why did you decide to commemorate Messiaen’s Quartet to the end of time at this year’s WJMF?

Manny: Each year, Levine Music chooses a theme for its concert series that faculty participate in.  The theme for the 2016-2017 Levine Presents series was “The Power of Music: Protest, Propaganda, Promise” – and I immediately thought of the “Quartet for the End of Time.” The story of the piece’s conception, having been written in a Nazi prisoner of war camp during WWII, perfectly intersected with the proposed theme.  Messiaen drew his inspiration from the Book of Revelation but its message is far from Apocalyptical.  It was an offering from Messiaen to the other prisoners in the camp. The music, composed of birdsong and sounds no one in that camp had ever heard before, allowed each individual to remove themselves from the temporal and into peace.  

The work is a testament to the power of human will to overcome the darkest of circumstances.  It’s message of hope, perseverance, and love.

This seemed appropriate topics for the WJMF.  Recent political events have necessitated a fresh look at Messiaen’s timeless masterpiece.

Daniela: How do electric instruments and percussion add to/change the original piece?

Manny: I loved the “Quartet for the End of Time” since my first encounter with it as a graduate student in the UK. I used to drive around listening to it in my car and imagine what it would sound like with percussion behind it. Messiaen was an avid composer for percussion instruments, and many of his birdsong compositions use a percussion or lesser known instruments such as the Ondes Martenot.

Changing the orchestration provided a variety of challenges from an arranging standpoint.  I tried to find parallels between the original instruments and their modern counterparts. My goal was to find moments where I felt Messiaen was trying to maximize a particular timbre or sound and see if we could dial it up.

My hope was to just strike a chord with the individual. Whether that is one of contemplation over the cacophony of sound, or complete disgust for the destruction of revered music, we just want to invoke an emotional response.

After the premiere of the re-orchestration this past January, one individual just came up to me, gave me a hug and then thanked me with tears in his eyes. It’s a moment I will always remember.

Daniela: Does this piece give you an experience of oppression or liberation while you play it, knowing that it was composed and performed in a Nazi camp?

Manny: As for the history of its composition, knowing its origins strengthens its meaning of hope and liberation. Each time I play that 8th movement, I get goosebumps.

I can’t help but think about how beautiful the world is, despite all of the hatred and lack of empathy around us — music is inspiring — it’s an escape from the ‘now.’

Daniela: How has playing this piece changed the relationship between the musicians? 

Manny: If it weren’t for the other individuals in this performance, it most likely would have never been realized. As a result of this project, we have all found ourselves in vulnerable positions, both musically and emotionally, from the stress that comes with working such a challenging work and that has served to bring us closer together. Everyone has put their heart and soul into learning this music, its story, and the language of Messiaen’s unique composition style. I will admit, there have been moments of doubt that some of the tasks before us might be impossible to pull off, but in the end no one backed down from the challenge.




About the Author: Daniela is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you! She is a “retired philosopher” who works as an executive assistant and loves to write about Italian and Jewish events happening in DC. She was born and raised in Sicily (Italy) in an interfaith family and moved to D.C. with her husband after studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where they met. They have a wonderful Siberian cat named Rambam! Daniela loves going to work while listening to Leonard Cohen’s songs and sometimes performs in a West African Dance group



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.