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Girl of the Week – Stacy #WayBackWednesday

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Stacy was a Jewish Girl of the Week 6 years ago when the feature first began. She even competed in the first-ever Jewish Girl of the Year competition. Stacy is still an integral part of the DC Jewish community, but now in a professional capacity.

Read our updates on Stacy and her original article (including a poem) below!

 

  • I am not in the field of education anymore (I sooo miss recess and the kiddos), but before I left teaching I started an after-school cooking program for kids called Snack Attack Cooking. My favorite session was when we had an Iron Chef competition and the judges tried one group’s creation that looked like a dessert pizza.  But, the kids had used garlic instead of sugar! The looks on the judges faces when they tasted it was priceless.
  • About a year after the original article was published, I founded an organization that hosts events for Jewish young professionals in Northern Virginia called NOVA Tribe Series. Since 2011, I have hosted over 150 programs, engaged thousands of peers in the community, and helped orchestrate countless numbers of friendships – and even 2 marriages!
  • Last fall I started working for the Edlavitch DCJCC as their manager of EntryPointDC, a program for 20s and 30s. I have helped revamp the Shabbat Clusters program, started the B’Shert 2.0 Modern Jewish Love Series and am looking forward to our next big event, Schmooze & Snooze Fest on Saturday, February 25th. The event will be an “all-night” type party with a 90’s cover band, Bar Mitzvah DJ dance party, moonbounce, Havdalah, drinks, carnival snacks, Ted Talks and more! Tickets go on sale today.
  • One signature program I created that I look forward to hosting every year is Lox Meets Bagel. It has become one of the largest speed dating & mixer events in the DC area for 20s and 30s. The 6th Lox Meets Bagel is next Tuesday, February 7th, and you can register here!
  • I am still a Virginia girl, but I now live in Arlington instead of Fairfax. My favorite things to do in the neighborhood are people watch at Northside Social, catch a comedy show or movie at Arlington Drafthouse, and take long walks to Georgetown.

Read her original article below!

Stacy on why she should be Jewish Girl of the Year:

There once was a girl from VA

Who taught her students to say

“I flip my latkes in the air”

She spent $157.23 on metro fare

To get to Jewish events last year

Her Hebrew name

is a video game

She works with Jnet

Your vote she needs to get

Editor’s note: Stacy raised the bar for Jewish Girl of the Week by submitting a Youtube video as part of the application process. If you think you or someone you know has what it takes to be a Person of the Week, shoot us an email and tell us why. We encourage creativity in nominations!

How long have you been teaching?

This is my sixth year teaching. I have taught students from grades K-7 over the years, but right now I teach 1st-3rd grade at a Montessori school. These kids are awesome. The Montessori philosophy emphasizes learning practical life skills, so my kids cook me lunch every Wednesday, do the dishes and laundry every day and take field trips out of the classroom at least once or twice every few weeks. I want to take them home with me to clean my house!

Stacy, so many people ask: “What do you do?” The GTJ staff likes look deeper into the Jewish soul, so we ask, “What is your passion?!”

My biggest passion is helping others. Besides teaching, I also work with autistic kids once a week leading social skill groups. My first day at social group went something like this (and I knew from then on I was in the right place) Me: Ben, we have something in common, we both like to celebrate Hanukkah  Ben: You are Jewish Ms. Stacy? I am so glad you joined group! (He runs around the room singing the dreidel song)  Nate: You must be Israeli then because you are Jewish  Me: Actually, I am not.  Nate: Aww man, I really like Israeli women, can’t you be Israeli for me?  Dan: I know someone that is Jewish, but I don’t like her very much.  Me: Why is that?  Dan: She is a very bossy Jewish girl.

Are there really Jews that live out in Virginia?

Yes, there are and we rock.  I am on the committee of Jnet. We plan happy hours, BBQ’s, and other great events; our next BIG gathering will be a philanthropic event for the JCC of NOVA special needs department. You can find us on facebook if you add JnetVA as a friend. I promise if you come find me at an event I will make sure you have a great time!

Can we share the video of your kids with all our readers?!

Of course you can share the video! I love being Jewish, and I want to share my love of my religion and culture with everyone; the video explains it all.  You can see the enthusiasm in my students’ faces as they sing this song (and my amazing dancing skills and “latke” flipping tools as well). I spent a whole day reading Hanukkah stories, playing dreidel, sharing latkes, and taught them all the words to Candlelight and I have never seen them more excited, or in other words, equally excited to sing about/celebrate Hanukkah as Christmas.  Since you and the Maccabeats are BFF’s, can you send the video to them as well?

What has been your most memorable Jewish moment?

Hmmm that’s a hard one. I think I have had many, but one that sticks out actually occurred this week. We had a Celebration of Light ceremony with our class in which all the families came together to share their winter month traditions that involve light. I have 23 students in my class and only 1 is Jewish. After the presentation, the one Jewish family came up to me and gave me a big hug. They thanked me for teaching the students the Candlelight song and told me their daughter finally feels included and everyone is now just as excited about Hanukkah as any other winter holiday. It really touched me because I have always made it my personal mission to bring Jews together from smaller communities, whether it’s making my one Jewish student in my class feel more comfortable talking about her religion to her classmates to planning events for my alma maters’ Hillel that included only about 400 Jewish students out of 15,000.

You can only eat one Jewish food for the rest of your life, what is it and why?

It would be my mom’s challah. She started making using this recipe when I was about 10, it’s a sweet version that I can’t get enough of. It totally satisfies my sweet tooth.

Is it Chanukah, Hanukkah, or Hannukah?

Is this a trick question? I have not seen the double N’s before or if I did it was way back in the day; spell check does not like it either. Actually prefer the double K’s, Hanukkah is where it’s at. My students know 3 ways to spell it and are very proud of that fact.

Where can we find you on a Friday night?

I usually check out the services at Adas Israel and Sixth & I and then go out in the city. I have gone to Shir Delight the past few months and always have a good time with my friends and meet a lot of new people. You never know who you are going to run into, last week I saw my babysitter whom I have not seen in 20 years!

What’s the next big Gathering you will be at?

I am on the committee of Jnet. We plan happy hours, BBQ’s, and other great events; our next BIG gathering will be a philanthropic event for the JCC of NOVA special needs department.  See facebook page here.

How Not to Catch Someone’s Eye – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (No. 85)

eyesAccording to the handy dandy GTJ calendar, there are quite a few events coming up, aren’t there?  I know I’ll be at the Sixth in the City Shabbat and the Purim Bash in the next couple of weeks, and I have no doubt that many people reading this are also planning to shake their tuchuses at an event or two.

If you’re single, these events can not only serve to give you a taste of Judaism and the Shabbat or holiday spirit, but they might also serve to give you a taste of the finest kosher meat in town… and I’m not talking about your bubbe’s brisket!  It’s important, though, when trying to meet people at religious events (or large parties in general, regardless of the affiliation), not to creep someone out when your real intention is to do just the opposite: turn that person on.

Here are a few examples of people not to be:

The Tiger

This person waits silently until you take a breath in the middle of a conversation about your dog or take a swig of your Cabernet Sauvignon to pounce on you and go in for the kill, in the form of dominating your attention.

The Elephant

This person, oblivious to the surroundings and the discussion already in progress, will simply charge into the conversation, not worrying who or what is in his or her path.

The Shark

This person “swims” around the event, talking to no one and silently stalking everyone.

The Lizard

Much like the shark, this person doesn’t talk to anyone all night.  Instead, he or she simply sticks to the wall, observing but not actually entering any conversations.

Let’s say someone catches your eye.  We’ll call her a 5’1 woman with curly brown hair, hazel eyes, and freckles.  You really want to talk to her, but she’s engaged in a pretty in-depth conversation.  (You know this because her hands are flailing around.)  Rather than taking your social cues from Sea World or the zoo, your best bet is to simply be social with everyone.

If the brunette beauty is all the way across the room, it’s no big deal.  Simply chat with someone who looks interesting near you, male or female.  This gesture does two things: 1) Makes you look friendly and inclusive (and perhaps you might really enjoy the conversation) and 2) Warms you up before you get to talk to your new crush.  Before long, you will have made your way across the room without pouncing, charging, stalking, or cowering.  Instead, you will have been that nice, normal person who knows how to converse with anyone.  And when your time comes to talk with the target of your affection, you will have already talked to so many people that you won’t appear to be trying too hard.  This sounds much better than creepily watching her for two hours until she finally disengaged from her conversation to use the restroom, doesn’t it?

As a side note, if you’re looking to end a conversation for some reason, don’t simply walk away when you’re done.  Politely say something like, “I see someone over there I want to say hi to.”  And assuming you’re taking this article’s advice, that “someone” could be anyone!

So relax, be social, have a great time, and when you’re ready to talk to someone of interest, act like you grew up in a normal household and not the zoo.

erika ettin-49334smallErika Ettin is the Founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps people stand out from the online dating crowd and have a rewarding experience. An archive of all of Erika’s columns is also available.  Want to connect with Erika?  Join her newsletter for updates and tips.

 

 

Ryan Braun Needs a Ride to Synagogue for Yom Kippur After Playoff Game (ARCHIVE STORY-2011)

ryan braun jewish funny jews jewish jokes yom kippur jokes jewish baseball players ryan braun comedy news yom kippur jokes funny news funny news ryan braun sandy koufax baseball playoffs hank greenberg jewish milwaukee brewersBraun:  “Can I Bum a Ride to Shul, Anybody?”

MILWAUKEE, WI – (@TheComedyNews)– Milwaukee Brewers left-fielder Ryan Braun has more than just game 5 of the National League Divisional Series to attend tonight.

Immediately following the game, Braun intends to go to Yom Kippur services at a local Milwaukee synagogue.  However, the All-Star currently has no ride to get from Miller Park to a Temple to repent his sins.

“Can I bum a ride to shul, anybody?”  Called out Braun to tailgaters in the Miller Park parking lot this afternoon.  “Win or lose, I really need someone to drive me to a synagogue!  I really need to repent for my sins!”

The 27-year-old Braun, nicknamed “The Hebrew Hammer” for being both Jewish and one of the top sluggers in baseball, has been in a similar conundrum before.  “This is just like the time my Hebrew school carpool left without me when I was 12,” lamented Braun.  “I was so scared.  And my Mom freaked out and called the police.  I didn’t get home until almost 9:30 PM that night.”

Already wearing his suit and clutching a ‘Gates of Prayer’ book in hand, Braun seemed quite desperate to find a ride.

Braun explained that, in accordance with Jewish Law, he would not drive a car to get to a synagogue for Yom Kippur services.  He fears now that if the Brewers lose their playoff game, no limo driver, taxi driver, friend, or parent in Milwaukee will be happy enough to take the time to drive him to services.  And if the Brewers win, everyone in Milwaukee will be too drunk and slap-happy to get behind the wheel.

***UPDATE***
Braun is currently suspended from Major League Baseball. This year, Braun will get a ride to shul for Yom Kippur from his mom, Diane, who was recently spotted doing some Habitat for Humanity with her Jewish son.

Brian Fishbach is a writer and comedian.  You can read Brian’s weekly satire news articles at http://www.TheComedyNews.com, and enjoy his late-night jokes at http://www.BrianFishbach.com. Join The Comedy News’ Facebook page for updates.

How’s Your Jewdar? – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (No. 72)

SUS2D00ZFor most people on JDate, meeting someone Jewish is a top priority.  Maybe it’s because you felt inspired by your 5th grade Hebrew school teacher.  Maybe it’s because you love any excuse to get your hands on some homemade kreplach.  Or maybe it’s because you have a strong spiritual side and really value your relationship with G-d.  Whatever the reason, it led you to JDate.

Now, let’s say that you’re still that same spiritual, kreplach-loving person, but you meet someone in (gasp!) the real world – a happy hour, your apartment building’s pool, outside while walking your dog, etc.  You want to find out if your prospective new belle or beau is Jewish, but you don’t know how.  There are so many options.  Some are funny, some are clever, and some are just plain ridiculous.

1. Find out the last name.

This was the strategy my mom took when she met my dad.  My mom and dad used to live next door to each other, and my mom actually met my dad’s brother, my uncle, first.  (My dad was just the guy always sitting in the window studying.)  To my mom, it was important to marry someone Jewish, even though she didn’t grow up in a particularly Jewish area of North Jersey, so she asked my uncle his last name.  He told her that his last name was Ettin.  What he said and what she heard were two different things when she asked, “What kind of name is that?”  She thought she heard “Sicilian,” but what he really said was, “It’s silly!”  That got them to talking, then she met my dad, and the rest is history.  (As a side note, I sent my mom this article, and she said, “I went to great lengths to find someone Jewish, and I found a ‘silly/Sicilian’ guy right next door!”)

Another way to find out someone’s name is to ask for a business card.  I once briefly dated someone I met at jury duty (I was on the jury of a six-week murder trial!), and I was curious to know if he was Jewish, so I asked for his card.  The last name ended with “man.”  I was happy as a clam… ahem… happy as a kosher meatball.

2. Make sly references to Jewish things.

Maybe you’re walking down the street with your date, and you casually say, “I sometimes make my grandma’s amazing kugel recipe” to see if there’s any recognition.  Or throw in some Yiddish for good measure.  “I can’t believe my ferkakte car broke down again!  It’s such a schlep to get all the way out to the Mini Cooper dealership in Virginia.”  Your date will either look at you like you’re a little mashugana (and maybe you are!) or with a sense of appreciation and knowledge.

3. Ask his or her family background.

Maybe you ask where his or her ancestry is from.  Maybe you ask if the family came over on the Mayflower or through Ellis Island.  Maybe you ask where his or her grandparents lived.  These are all indirect ways to get to someone’s religion.

But, of course, none of these is a surefire way to find out.  And some ways could be fairly ignorant and obnoxious.  The name may be Davis, for example, which could have any background.  Plenty of Jewish people have blond hair and blue eyes.  And with so many people of mixed heritage, it’s such a melting pot that nothing is certain until you ask.  Now, am I saying to ask someone outright on a date whether he or she is an MOT?  Not in so many words.  But, like any other potential deal-breaker – education or age, for example – you are allowed to ask before you become too invested.  Make sure you’re asking in a nice, open way, though.  Rather than, “Are you Jewish?  If not, I can’t date you,” instead ask something like, “What’s your background, out of curiosity?  I’m Jewish, but I have a hard time telling what other people are these days, and I don’t like to assume anything!”  Or just go out, enjoy the date, and focus on whether you actually like the person before you decide if you’ll be having Jewish babies together. 😉

Erika Ettin is the Founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps people stand out from the online dating crowd and have a rewarding experience. An archive of all of Erika’s columns is also available.  Want to connect with Erika?  Join her newsletter for updates and tips.

Alternatives to Celebrating the Royal Baby’s Birth This Week

WillKateBaby_1527748gThe yet-to-be-named Royal Baby is not even a week old, but is already featured in more photographs and news articles than most of Kings and Queens before him combined.  Even a Google search of “royal baby prince william kate middleton” turned up 561 Million results.

Still, roughly 124,657,534 people on this planet had a birthday this week that in some way or another, was overshadowed by news of the birth of the offspring of a British Monarch.

While many people rightfully appreciate the nachas beaming from the faces of new parents Prince William and Kate the Dutchess of Cambridge, many people are irked by the over-hyped spectacle—often citing that the three-day-old Prince will be living a life of nepotistic privilege.

Alas, if you are looking to celebrate the birthday of someone this week, here is a list of people, past and present, who deserve to have a piece of the celebratory cake.

And since this article is being composed for a a Jewish publication, every birthday guy and gal featured is Jewish.  Dayenu.

July 21st Birthday
1903:  Roy Neuberger – Some people bankroll elections, some people bankroll drug cartels.  This guy bankrolled modern art awareness from the 1930s until his death in 2010–yeah, he lived to be 107 years old.  http://www.royrneuberger.com/

July 22nd Birthday
1947:  Albert Brooks – This Academy Award-nominated voice-over actor has been featured in such prolific works as Finding Nemo  and The Simpsons.  Most recently, Brooks received over 20 nominations and awards from various film festivals for his performance in the film Drive.  http://www.albertbrooks.com/

July 23rd Birthdays
1971:  Joel Stein –  When he’s not writing a cover story for Time Magazine, you can find his weekly features in the back pages of the famed publication.  The curiously humorous writer also released his first book last year about his adventurous quest to become a more “manly” father:  http://www.thejoelstein.com/

1973:  Monica Lewinsky – You know the story.

1989:  Daniel Radcliffe – He IS Harry Potter.

July 24th Birthday

1965:  Doug Liman –  This film director has brought us an eclectic variety of features such as the comedy Swingers and the suspenseful thriller, The Bourne Identityhttp://nymag.com/news/features/42823/

July 25 Birthday
1923:  Estelle Getty – Before she became Sophia on The Golden Girls, the late Estelle Getty performed in Yiddish theater and comedy in the Borscht Belt.  http://www.estellegetty.com/main.html

July 26 Birthday
1965:  Jeremy Piven – In addition to playing the hot-headed super agent Ari Gold on the HBO hit series Entourage, Piven self-identifies as a “Jewish Buddhist”. https://twitter.com/jeremypiven

July 27 Birthday
1972:  Maya Rudolph – This Saturday Night Live was not only the the love interest in a popular Lonely Island digital short, she also got down and dirty in the streets in the 2011 comedy hit, Bridesmaids.

Brian Fishbach is a writer and comedian.  You can read Brian’s weekly satire news articles at http://www.TheComedyNews.com, and enjoy his late-night jokes at http://www.BrianFishbach.com. Join The Comedy News’ Facebook page for updates.

Pina Colada Hamantaschen

photo (1)I love hamantaschen, especially poppyseed.  But one of the best parts about them is that they can be filled with almost anything.  For this column, I tried to go outside the box with my fillings.  I tested three: pina colada, caramel popcorn, and pecan pie.  I thought the caramel popcorn ones would either turn out really well or really badly.  They weren’t so bad, actually, but nothing, as my family says, we’d serve to company.  The pecan pie hamantaschen have potential, but I had some serious technical difficulties with those.  Perhaps next year, I can post a recipe for pecan pie hamantaschen that did not have the filling leak out.  The last hamantaschen standing were the pina coladas: traditional fruit filling kicked up a notch.  And delicious.

Total time: about 1.5 hours

Yield: about 4 dozen

Level: Moderate

Ingredients

  • 1 cup crushed pineapple
  • ½ cup shredded coconut
  • 1-2 tbsp sugar (optional)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 stick butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp milk
  • 3 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 3 cups flour, plus extra for rolling

 Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. In a small bowl, sitr together pineapple, coconut, and 1-2 tbsp of sugar, to taste (if using unsweetened coconut and/or pineapple).  Set aside.
  3. In a mixing bowl, blend butter and sugar until creamy.  Mix in eggs and milk.
  4. In a separate bowl, stir together flour and baking powder.  Add to the other ingredients, mixing until combined.  (It may be easier to mix with your hands for this step.)
  5. Working in batches, roll out the dough between two pieces of well-floured parchment, to a thickness of ¼”.  You may need to add more flour as you roll.
  6. Using a 2-3” diameter cookie cutter or glass, cut circles out of the dough and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.
  7. Place a teaspoon of the pineapple mixture in the center of each circle.  Fold in three sides to make a triangle and tightly pinch the corners closed.
  8. Bake for 12-16 min, being careful not to brown them on top.

© Courtney Weiner.  All Rights Reserved.

Chutzpah in Motion

Ollie-w-bible-text-lighter-border“My So-Called Jewish Life” was at 8 PM, Saturday, December 15th at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue

The story of the Maccabees is one often told during Hanukkah, but that was not the story those at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue heard on Saturday night.  The stories told on that last night of Hanukkah were similar to the theme of the Maccabee tale as they all featured the presence of perseverance and meaning.  Stories were told courtesy of SpeakeasyDC, a non-profit whose mission is “to give voice to people’s life experiences, support artistic expression, build community, and contribute to DC’s cultural capital and creative economy by promoting and teaching the art of autobiographical storytelling.”

The Saturday evening event, titled “My So-Called Jewish Life”, was the fourth annual event of its kind.  The speakers were invited by founder and Director, Amy Saidman.  Their stories, tones, and styles varied, but a pride in their heritage (whether born into or adopted later in life) was there.  The snarky, self-defeating style typical of Jewish humor also rang true and loud, giving the event an authentic Jewish feel (though the synagogue setting also helped.)

Bonnie Benwick, interim Food Editor of The Washington Post, used audience participation to tell an age old tale, all too common to Jewish hardship: how to make the perfect brisket.  Andy Pollin, co-host of The Sports Reporters on ESPN980, led the audience to gasp as he told the tale of receiving a phone call from Sandy Koufax.  Sara Polon, aka Soupergirl of the (delicious!) DC soup delivery service, recounted a camping trip gone awry with Jordanian Bedouins.  Meleia Egger, returned Peace Corps volunteer liaison, spoke of a dear friend who showed her comfort in Judaism and later inspired her to find prayer.  Hillah Culman is a Program Manager for Pro-Active Performance who met the perfect “NJB” only to realize he wasn’t a Jewish boy at all – leading them to search for an interfaith solution to their relationship.  The story told by Eliot Stein, Managing Editor of Living Social, had the room in hysteria.  He told the story of lying to impress his teacher, writing to her that he became a man when he had a Bar Mitzvah.  Here lays the catch: Stein (despite the suggestion of his name) is not Jewish and never had a Bar Mitzvah.  He tugged on heart strings as he explained how the confusion his name often causes has brought him experiences to be gained from.  John Donvan, an ABC News correspondent, closed the night.  Mr. Donvan, a three-time Emmy winner, told of finding himself at his daughters’ Bat Mitzvah wondering just far he’d go “with this Jewish thing.”  Mr. Donvan was not born Jewish, but always held a deep curiosity for Judaism.  Married to an Israeli, he found he was clinging on to his own heritage as his family around him delved deeper and deeper into Judaism.  He realized, though, that this was the “Jewish thing to do,” holding onto his own heritage.  Also, noted from his storytelling, he speaks excellent Hebrew for a goy.

The storytellers closed the night by lighting a menorah together on stage with Stein controlling the shamash in good humor.  After the show, Stein credited Saidman with being a “tremendous force” in the success of the night. “The night was great.  There was a variety and a good message.  It was a well-rounded event, very telling of the Jewish community.”  His father, who was by his side afterwards, also noted that he “experienced the same name confusion Eliot has his whole life.  It was like hearing my own story, but dramatized.”

Those statements envelope the theme of the night, and a theme of Judaism: we are all in this together, all sharing and living similar stories.  It is up to us to listen and learn from each other.  Everyone who attended the fourth annual “My So-Called Jewish Life” did just that.

 

Pumpkin Blintzes

Blintzes are a traditional favorite—most often seen in cheese or berry flavors.  But there’s no reason you couldn’t play with the filling a bit to update it or make it seasonal.  I decided to try it with pumpkin.  I will admit that making the crepe part takes a bit of practice, and you shouldn’t expect the end result to look like the ones from the box, but they’re still a pretty and delicious brunch treat for fall.  Top with maple syrup.  (Adapted from a NY Times recipe.)

Total time: 1 hour

Yield: about 15 blintzes

Level: Difficult

Ingredients

Filling

  • ½ cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • ½ cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp cloves
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg

Batter

  • 2 cups flour, sifted
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ cup milk
  • 4 eggs, well beaten
  • Butter for frying

 Directions

  1. Stir all filling ingredients together in a small bowl until well blended.  Set aside.
  2. Sift together flour and salt.  (You can do this by stirring with a whisk.)  Stir the milk into the eggs and gradually add to the flour mixture.  Beat until smooth.
  3. Heat a 7” skillet over medium heat and lightly butter it.  When it is very hot, pour some batter into skillet, tilting the pan very quickly to just cover the bottom surface as thin as possible, and rapidly pour back any excess into bowl.  When the batter starts curling away from the side of the pan, it’s done.  Quickly shake or lift it out onto a clean paper towel.  Repeat until all crepes are done.  Cover with plastic wrap or damp dish towel until you are ready to use them to keep them from drying out.  You may have to adjust the temperature of the skillet as you go and wipe out the old butter if it starts to brown.
  4. Place a spoonful of the filling on the lower third of the cooked side of a crepe.  Fold the bottom of the crepe up, then fold the sides in, and roll to the top.  Repeat with the remaining crepes.
  5. Place blintzes on a hot, buttered frying pan and fry until golden brown, turning once.

© Courtney Weiner.  All Rights Reserved.

How Lung Cancer Led Me to GTJ

 

My mom and I when I was 9, and in my tom-boy phase.

Support GTJ’s Sara and Rachel as they walk in memory of their mothers at Breathe Deep DC, an event to promote lung cancer research.

The doctors diagnosed my mom with lung cancer when I was sixteen years old.  It was May of my junior year of high school- by August she was gone.  At the time, I did not know that every 2.5 minutes someone in the US is diagnosed with lung cancer, and that every 3 minutes someone in the US dies from lung cancer.  At that time, I did not know that the 5-year survival rate for lung cancer is only 16.3%, and that number goes down to 3.5% when the cancer is found after it has already spread to other organs as my mom’s had.

My mom was the type of mom who knew all my friends.  She knew who was dating who, who was upset with who, and who had done something embarrassing that weekend.  My senior year of high school, between my friends, their families, my youth group, and my teachers, I had an amazing support group.  That changed when I went to college and all my friends went off to different schools;  I struggled through my first year of college.  On the outside, I still had stellar grades and was a social butterfly, but I could not come to terms with my loss.  I tried grief counseling and talking to a therapist, but none of it really helped.

It was not until I found the Chabad house at the University of Delaware did I finally start feeling more like myself.  Although I went to Hebrew school until my bat mitzvah and joined a Jewish youth group, my family celebrated both Chanukah and Christmas and led a mostly secular life.  Despite my secular lifestyle, I was craving a Jewish connection, thinking it would connect me more to my mom and comfort me in her loss.  At first I was wary of Chabad: they were much more religious than I was used to.  However, the summer after my sophomore year I went on a birthright trip led by the Chabad rabbi.  I had an amazing time learning about Israel and being around my Jewish peers, but it was my visit to the Kotel that changed the course of my life.

I was filled with apprehension as I slowly approached the Wall, but as soon as I touched the stone a feeling of calm swept over me.  In that moment I knew, that although things in my life were not going as I had imagined and although I still struggled with the loss of my mother, that everything was going to be okay.  While I still think about my mom every day, after my trip to the Kotel, I decided it was time to be the strong, resilient, and independent young woman my mother raised me to be and to take charge of my life.  I still craved a Jewish connection, and over the next two years I spent my Friday afternoons at the Chabad house helping prepare for Shabbat and serving on the Chabad board.  The rabbi’s family became close friends, and my rebbetzin at Delaware has been one of the most influential people in my life the past few years.

So how did lung cancer lead me to Gather the Jews?  The loss of my mom and my subsequent journey for a Jewish connection led me to the Chabad house at the University of Delaware.  As fate would have it, one Shabbat my senior year, Aaron Wolff came back to his alma mater for a visit and we sat across from each other at the Chabad house.  I told Aaron that I was looking for jobs in the international relations field, and he assured me as we exchanged emails that he knew people to put me in touch with.  When I emailed him the next week, he responded with quite a different idea: Gather the Jews was hiring.  Finding a Jewish connection was a turning point in my life, and I loved the idea of helping others find their connection whether it be through services, sports, or social events.  I applied for the job, and a few weeks later I found out I had been chosen as Gather the Jews’ Director of Operations.

Losing my mom has been the most influential experience of my life.  At first I let myself play the victim, thinking of all the moments and events in my future the cancer had ruined when it took my mom.  After my trip to the Kotel, I realized that life is what you make it.  I have decided to live my life to the fullest and take advantage of every opportunity.  This mindset has led me to some of the best experiences in my life, as well as to my first job at Gather the Jews.

 

Heaven’s DJ: Exclusive Interview

I had a chance to catch up with the upcoming macher in the music world, Diwon, as well a chance to catch a few great words from one of his musical artists, Y-Love. Discover the roots of a producer and musician’s sole, and here from Y-Love about his favorite spots in DC, and his connection to Shavuot. Also check out their show this Sunday.

Sunday June 12th Live in D.C.

$4 D.C. Show @ Chief Ikes with Flex Matthews, Y-Love, Kosha Dillz, ill prophet & Diwon Live in D.C.
8pm doors $4 21+. Address: 1725 Columbia Road Northwest DC 20009
www.chiefikes.com Facebook Event

 

DIWON INTERVIEW

GTJ: I know that you are CEO and also music aficionado/mixer/maker, as well as family man. How do you find time to do all that you do? Where did your story begin? What motivated your journey into music?

Diwon: Well, My first label began in 2001, called Modular Moods. Shemspeed grew out of that as a promotions company and label in 2007. The original concept was to work with the best Jewish artists, whether they are on Shemspeed records or not.  I think it was more niche in the beginning and over time has become a little more mainstream, more crossover and universal but still with a very strong positive Jewish message.

The focus with most of the artists on Shemspeed seem to be diversity and unity. I think we are breaking stereotypes and opening up peoples mind both in the Jewish and non-Jewish world. Our artists come from the perspective that we have more similarities than differences, lets focus on the similarities and collaborate on those! celebrate those, create more of those….That’s why you will see DeScribe, a Chassidic kid from Crown Heights who spend a lot of his day praying and learning Chabad Chassidut collaborating on tracks and videos with tons of different artists from Jamaica and Trinidad, including Bob Marley’s family. I think this wakes up all communities to our shared mission of perfecting the world and realizing that each of us is a piece of G-d. Shemspeed is all about signing and working with groups with positive and unifying messages, but with music that is appealing to a wide range, I guess you could call it cross over music. We don;t usually sign groups that would only appeal to the Jewish community, there are hard core religious labels that are generally homes to those groups.

We want to learn and build and inspire.  At the same time, we have artists that have Jewish messages and maybe middle eastern sounds, but non Jews who listen to it just look at it as, say, a hip hop CD.  We aren;t putting out albums that are klezmer hip hop and rapping in Yiddish, we don’t pick up the overtly niche. Once in a while we will release a side project like Shir HaShirim, but it is just that, a side project. …our main releases are way more ‘pop’ and mainstream in a sense…The reason for that is because our staff, like the majority of American youth, listen to hip hop and pop and things that move our culture and we like to mix our taste in music with our beliefs and ideals. We want to be a light unto the nations and have a powerful effect on the world, we see our music (instrumentally) as in line with what is moving the youth of today and our music (lyrically) in line with our mission as Jews to uplift and set an example. One of our touring artist that has been all over TV, Radio and magazines is Y-Love, a black Jewish artist from Baltimore, he along with myself (Diwon) make club music as way to get these messages out in mediums that the messages are lacking. We work with artists like Matisyahu, who is very inline with out mission which is creating global universal music from a specific and spiritual place and I think the world is seeing how badly this type of music and message is needed at this exact moment. Shemspeed is a conduit for this type of crossover music by Jewish musicians that speak to the world inspired by ancient texts and beliefs.

AND Y-Love was the first artist signed to Modular Moods/Shemspeed. The mixtape we made was probably one of the most original urban Jewish pieces to that day. It was a classic mixture that introduced Y-Love to the world. The MC dropped his lyrical skills over a genre smashing blended classic mixed by myself (Diwon). It mixed club music with indie rock and brazilian baile funk all with Torah inspired lyrics and even some Aramiac. One of the newest artists is Brody, an incredible Israeli singer who makes soul hip hop and r’n’b. His songs mix soulful vocals in Hebrew and English with hip hop head nodding beats and introspective lyrics.

GTJ: You have a great passion for music. What’s the root of your story? When did you first have that ‘Aha’ moment with music?

Diwon: I’m a Navy brat so I grew up in different cities and countries every few years. I was born in San Diego, CA and went to all sorts of schools throughout my early years…sometimes it was the Military school on the base and other times we would drive far for me to go to the Jewish school that was miles away, it really depended on the country and the Jewish options that were available.

Music keeps me excited about life, whenever life seems stale or repetitive I will hear music or make music that will reenergize me and get me excited about being a part of it all. The first memory I have with music being a part of my life was when my family was stationed in Naples, Italy and I was on the bus on the way to military school. The bus driver would have all these 8th graders play whatever they thought was cool at the time.  I got my parents to take me to the Commissary, I was 9 at the time, and I told them I wanted the  Montley Crue’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” tape. I was really into the tape, probably because it had reminded me of Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet” cassette. I took it and told the driver to pop it in his tape deck. From that second on, every kid on my bus looked at me in a different light. That was the first time I saw music change how people viewed others.  In college I started to get into the klezmer fusions music that was being made in NYC at the Knitting Factory and Tonic via CD submissions that were being sent to the college station that I was a music director and DJ at, at the time. I started to really dig it, especially Masada which was John Zorn’s book of original Jewish compositions. Until I heard Masada, the only jazz that had been able to mess me up that bad (in a good way) was Ornette, Coltrane & Davis. I found 3 other people in college and eventually convinced a fourth that we should start a group (called Juez) that mixes break beat, punk, jazz and klezmer music and start playing house parties. People would dance as if they were at a Ska show and back in 2004 or so we started playing with Matisyahu and when I moved to NY I would DJ, play drums in that band and put my other musician and artist friends on the bill.  When I saw how people felt like they were a part of something fresh and were excited about Jewish expression, I myself started to get more and more into it.  I met an aspiring rapper back in 2001 while studying outside the old city of Jerusalem, his name was Yitz Jordan and at about that time I wanted to put together Jewish hip hop like no one had ever heard. I remember telling Yitz who started going by Y-Love, that if he is ready to start really working on rap and recording, we could make the most amazing music the Jewish world has ever heard.  We put together a mixtape called ‘dj handler presents Y-Love’ back when I went by dj handler and not Diwon.  The mixtape blended old school hip hop, brazilian funk, soul, electronic tracks and indie rock with Y-Love rapping about everything from the national Jewish population survey to his talmudic studies in Aramiac. I still look back at that mixtape and feel that it captured a time in Jewish history. Since then I think that my work with Shemspeed, Y-Love and Matisyahu’s work has all become even stronger but not through becoming more niche or overt in the messages of the music, quite the opposite, I think it is stronger because the music has become more universal, it is music for the world, while still being naturally infused with positive messages and Jewish thoughts.  I still love to release music that is niche, such as cinematic instrumental music, and niggunim records and the Sephardic Music Festival CD, but I like to balance that with music that is pop and for the radio.  There is something strong about a track that’s sort of ‘radio music’ pop that has a Jewish message. I see my mission with Shemspeed to produce music and programming that reflects our mission as Jews of being a light unto the nations.

I have always thrived on collaboration and I always have a dozen collaborative projects that I am either producing or playing on at any given moment.  As far as how it began…..In college I was writing songs on my guitar and playing this sort of experimental music with a drummer friend, but meanwhile I was really into the hip hop scene that was happening around me and the university.  I was a DJ and music director at the college for 4 years and was blown away by a few of the artists that were in school with me. At the radio station I was the recipient of tons and tons of albums and press releases of bands trying to break it into the mainstream through the college market. I started to get a feel for the whole promo game and what works and what totally did not.  Meanwhile I started booking shows for my band with some of the hip hop groups, I was getting press and selling out shows and so there was a sort of buzz going around.  I thought instead of releasing my CDs as glorified CDrs, I should take it on more professionally, press up the CDs with a UPC, amazing artwork the kind that begs you to open the CD and then I put together a marketing and college promo campaign….with the very first release we hit the top 10 hip hop charts.  After, that everything started to come together. more people wanted to collab and I wanted to take what I learned and help as many groups as I could. Of course, only groups that blew me away, at the time Educated Consumers and bellflur and then my own band, Juez.  Since those days I started Shemspeed as the public face for all that we do and have since toured the world and put out incredible music with incredible artist. THis winter we kick off our 7th annual Sephardic Music Festival!

GTJ: I know you guys also work with Matisyahu. What’s up on
your work with him?

 

Diwon: Well, our first release of his was on our Sephardic Music Festival CD, http://sephardicmusicfest.com/cd/ an amazing track he did with a Yemenite chorus by the singer of Moshav. Then he asked me to produce his “Miracle” music video and I was glad to and finally, we released a collaboration of DeScribe and him for special needs kids. you could check the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6LZNuESxq4 Lots more to come, we love Matis and beyond being a collaborative artists on Shemspeed, he is on our advisory board 😉

Y-Love Interview

GTJ: So Y-Love, shavuout just came up. Any reflections and connections with your “this is unity” song and the message of the holiday? 

Y-Love: We know from Kabbalistic philosophy that “the King will not sit on a broken chair” – If we want divine blessings to come to us, if we want G-d to “come down and sit on His throne” in this world, the chair has to be whole; the people must come together in unity. Before the torah was given, the people camped together as one – how could the torah be given to people in discord with divisions? Unity is a prerequisite.

GTJ: So I know you sometimes frequent DC when you’re not in the big city. What are some of the places you love about DC? Any place in particular? 

Y-Love: I love dc nightlife of course, but honestly one thing I love about dc is the embassies and consulates. Seeing people from all over the world come together even for quick lunches – I love seeing things like that. plus im addicted topolitics – I scream at the tv watching c-span like it’s the world cup – so i dig the whole k street/capitol hill vibe too.