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Meet Melanie: Jewish Marathon Runner of the Week!

Allie: I hear you have a pretty cool DC job. Tell me a little bit about that.

Melanie: I’m on the digital communications team at J Street, which is the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans who are diplomacy-first US foreign policy in the Middle East, a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and policies that reflect our Jewish and democratic values.. I feel really fortunate to wake up everyday knowing that I’m working for an organization that I care about, and is fighting for important causes. It’s a nice combination of working both in the Jewish community, and in the political space.

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Melanie: I grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, and did an internship at Jewish Women International in 2011, where I learned about the RAC (Religious Action Center), and felt like it would be really amazing to work for an organization that advocates for critical issues like homelessness, hunger, minimum wage, children’s issues, and engaging the reform Jewish movement. So, in 2014, I moved down here to be Legislative Assistant at the RAC.

Allie: How did you get involved with Gather?

Melanie: I ran into Rabbi Aaron Potek as a HIAS event, and he told me about the Beyond the Tent retreat. I decided to apply, and went on it this past July. I had a fantastic experience, i met a lot of people I wouldn’t have otherwise have met, I got to think critically about what it means to have a Jewish identity, and how I connect to my Jewish identity in a meaningful, real way. If you go, you have to be able to ask big questions, challenge yourself, and be comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable.

Allie: What do you like about DC?

Melanie: I’ve been fortunate to have wonderful jobs where i get to think critically and work with smart colleagues. I also love a lot of the people I’ve met here, many of whom I’ve through a running group call The November Project – which is a free fitness group where you show up early to work out. I ran track and cross country in college, so this was a really great way for my to get integrated into the DC running community, and meet people outside of the Jewish and political worlds. There’s really nothing better than starting your day while running past the Lincoln Memorial.

Allie: Have you ever run a marathon or have any plans to?

Melanie: Oh yes! Since getting involved in The November Project, I started training for marathons. I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 2015, 2016, and 2017, and the Charles River Marathon in Boston in 2017. I actually ran fast enough in the last two marathons to qualify for The Boston Marathon, which I am planning to run in 2018 and 2019. That’s been a dream of mine forever, I grew up handing out orange slices to Boston Marathon runners during the race, and I can’t wait to be a part of it.

Allie: Who would you say is your Jewish role model who inspires you to stay so determined?

Melanie: My mom and grandma – they are both such incredible people. My parents raised all of my siblings with very strong Jewish identities in terms of striving to be better and do better, advocating for social justice, making the world a better place (tikkun olam), learning, being a part of the Jewish community, and also in terms of family. These are also the core values that I want to ensure I pass on the my kids one day.

Allie: What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?

Melanie: Passover. I love that the root of Passover is about Jews fleeing slavery, and that the core values of Passover can be relevant to so many social justice issues that we’re currently grappling with. It’s a holiday that pushes us to help others suffering from forms of slavery, and is also a holiday I can share with my non-Jewish friends who seem to really enjoy it.

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

Melanie: The world better be ready for what’s coming next.

 

 

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 many questions should you ask on Passover?

JSSA Passover Gameboard_Page_1“She died in her sleep,” relayed the voice over the phone.  “After years of suffering… she is at peace, but, now… now I am suffering. Rabbi, can you help me?” I put down the phone and was with the family in under an hour.  That afternoon, I heard fragments of a lifetime of memories…the next morning we returned her body to the earth.

How quickly life can change, and, when it does, JSSA is here to help.  As the Director of JSSA’s Jewish Chaplaincy Services, my team and I work with families facing challenging situations every day.  Some families are able to pay for JSSA’s services and some are not.  Regardless, we are always ready to help.

Two weeks after officiating at the funeral for the family mentioned above, a letter arrived on my desk.  It contained a check for twice the amount of our suggested donation, along with a note that read, “For the next family in need.”  What a mensch!

One ancient sage, Rabbi Tanchum, would purchase double of everything.  When asked why, he explained, “one for me, and one for someone in need.” This kind of generosity is at the foundation of kehillah kedosha, a holy community.  And it is what has kept JSSA’s doors opened for the past 120 years.

This Passover, JSSA is partnering with B’nai B’rith, and other local organizations and synagogues to deliver 500 Kosher for Passover food baskets. For families, individuals with special needs, seniors and Holocaust survivors in need.  As you prepare for your own holiday celebration, consider sponsoring a basket (or more) for $36.  Your generosity will allow a struggling neighbor to celebrate Passover with dignity.

Too often, we hear of clients unable to afford the additional items necessary to observe Passover.  Some even consider buying less in the weeks before in order to afford the more expensive Kosher for Passover items.  Others forgo their medication.  You can help them avoid making these choices by sponsoring a basket or few.  This holiday program relies solely on the contributions from our community.

JOIN US by choosing to sponsor a basket (or few) in honor of your host or guests – send an eCard today, www.jssa.org/holidaygiving.

To extend our thanks to program supporters and to enhance Seder experiences across the metro area, we’re providing some added fun…with Passover BINGO!  This is not just your Bubbie’s BINGO!  With questions like, “Why is sponge cake a popular Passover dessert” and challenges like, “share a modern day exodus story”, JSSA, your local Jewish Social Service Agency, has created a Passover BINGO game for everyone at your Seder.  Together your friends and family will learn more about each other and reflect on story and experiences of Passover.

Hag Sameach (Happy Holiday),

Rabbi James Q. Kahn
Director of JSSA’s Jewish Chaplaincy Services

and

Marissa Neuman Jachman
JSSA Manager of Annual Giving

Are you a Birthright alumni? Birthright NEXT will help you host a Passover seder!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABirthright NEXT is providing some great resources to help you host your own seder!

Been on a Birthright Israel trip?  Celebrate Passover by hosting a NEXT Passover Seder for your friends.  NEXT will give you everything you need, including delicious recipes, up to $10 per person to help cover the cost of food, and a guide to customizing your own traditions.  Sign up today: Passover Your Way.

Even if you’re not a Birthright alumni, there are still great resources on the NEXT website that you can take advantage of.  Check them out here.

JUFJ’s Labor Seder Focuses on Raising the Minimum Wage

jufjWe are commanded that in every generation, every Jew is obligated to view themselves as though they came out of Egypt.  In most Jewish families, this means dipping parsley in salt water, eating horseradish covered in charoset and singing “Hagadya”.  For me, this has also meant that for the last 5 years, I have attended Jews United for Justice’s annual Labor Seder.  For the past few years, I have a been a part of the seder planning team and this year, I have been co-chairing the planning process.  The Labor Seder is meaningful to me because the value of Tikkun Olam has always been central to my personal Jewish identity, but I have not always known how to integrate my activism with traditional Judaism.  My involvement in the Labor Seder has allowed me to connect my favorite Jewish festival, Passover, with my desire to see a more just world.

The haggadah states – “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt – now we are free.”  But many in our society are not free and experience oppression and hardship every day.  Every year, the Labor Seder brings a social justice issue of local and national importance together with the traditional themes of the Seder, connecting our history and values as Jews with the struggles of working people.  This year, as DC, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County have already taken action to raise the minimum wage and JUFJ is part of an active campaign to raise the wage in all of Maryland, the theme of the Seder is the need to raise the minimum wage.  The 300+ person event features singing, speakers, group discussion, taking action, and of course, some light noshing.

The Seder will be at 5:30 pm on Sunday, March 23rd at Adas Israel Congregation in Cleveland Park, DC.  You can find more information and buy tickets here.

Finding Hope in Hate

bananasAny opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and does not represent the opinions of Gather the Jews.

The signs the protestors held outside our synagogue on the eve of the second Pesach seder read “GOD HATES JEWS,” “JEWS KILLED JESUS (.com)” and “GOD HATES (their terrible word for homosexual people).”  My entire life, I have been a member of the Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, DC and it has become a family tradition to celebrate the seder with our community members on the second night of Passover.  But this year, the Westboro Baptist Church has also decided to make their presence known on this symbolic evening by attempting to sabotage our festive gathering.

That same day, the Westboro members demonstrated their vehement bigotry outside of the Supreme Court, where the justices are questioning the constitutionality of the “Defense of Marriage Act.”  There they picketed with “SAME SEX MARRIAGE DOOMS OUR NATION,” “GAY RIGHTS: AIDS HELL,” and their favorite fallback “GOD HATES (again, derogatory slur for homosexuals).”  They told reporters that “every leader at every level of this nation has some powerful f** influence right outside their door.”  They spent the day spewing hatred and intolerance on the subject of gay marriage (also towards “BLOODY OBAMA” and “THANK GOD FOR DEAD SOLDIERS”) and then traveled all the way across town to spend the twilight hours disseminating their terrible messages outside our shul.

By this point, the Westboro Baptist Church is internationally known as a group of hate-mongers who have almost no credibility whatsoever (and yet, they did win their Supreme Court appeal over funeral protests).  But, even so, it is frustrating and disheartening to be reminded that people with such prejudice, who continually go out of their way to discriminate and promote their narrow-mindedness, exist and propagate and have a voice that is seen and heard.

There is a popular joke that every Jewish holiday can be summed up in three phrases: They tried to kill us.  We survived.  Let’s eat.  Before the seder began, the reaction to these crusaders of hate ranged from sarcastic indifference (“People hate Jews?  Quelle surprise!”) to bewilderment (“God hates Jews?”) to outrage (“I can barely stomach this gefilte fish I’m so angry!”)  But once we commenced our journey into reliving the story of the Exodus, once we were provoked into insightful discussion by thoughtfully prepared questions such as “Has any bitter experience in your own life been the springboard for something sweet?” and once we began to celebrate our surviving and thriving as a religion, a culture, an ethnicity, a people, the instigators of intolerance faded from our lives.  We focused on the hope that Passover inspires, the freedom that we rejoice in, and the sense of community that we cherish.

Our Rabbi, the brilliant Gil Steinlauf, did take a moment to recognize the impact and significance that the picketing represented.  “Our Haggadah tells us that in every generation there are those who seek to destroy us. We have a literal reminder of that reality outside, as members of the Westboro Baptist Church seek to spew hatred upon us and our LGBT brothers and sisters.  Their presence is a reminder to us all that our celebration of freedom brings with it responsibilities.  Even in our day, there are those who are not free from the oppression of those who hate.  Tonight is a literal reminder that our work for justice in this world is not yet done. May we draw inspiration from our story tonight in our work that lays ahead for us in liberating all the oppressed peoples of the world.”

The gay rights movement was a constant subject matter throughout our seder discussion.  Freedom, equality, and struggle are all themes that are intrinsic to Passover and are dealt with and explored during the seders.  And the symbolism of the maror, the bitterness, mixed with the charoset, the mortar that keeps everything together, seemed particularly pertinent given the current battle for human rights.  The success of nine states (and D.C.! Can’t forget us here) legalizing same-sex marriage mixed with the DOMA requiring inter-state marriage recognition only to opposite-sex marriage is inherently bittersweet.

But the Passover holiday reminds us of many lessons.  Through the darkest times comes light.  Through despair comes hope.  Through struggle comes triumph.  Through hate comes love.  And for all our LGBT brothers and sisters fighting for their right to equality in love, I eagerly await the day where we can celebrate together at your weddings and lift my glass to you to say “L’chaim.”

Passover Events!

Looking for a seder? Something to do during the eight days without chometz? We’ve got you covered. If we left anything off, please email Rachel at rachelg@gatherdc.org.

Tuesday, March 12th:

Sunday, March 17th:

Monday, March 18th:

Wednesday, March 20th:

Thursday, March 21st:

Saturday, March 23rd:

Monday, March 25th:

Tuesday, March 26th:

Friday, March 29th:

Sunday, March 31st:

Liberate Your Seder!

Zion's book to help you liberate your Seder

“Ok, let’s get through this, let’s get through this, let’s get through this.  Ok, let’s eat Matzah ball soup.”

Is this how your typical Passover Seder feels?  If so, you’re not alone.  In fact, on Wednesday night, about 50 people met downstairs at Sixth & I Synagogue to learn how to make their Seders more meaningful with the assistance of author and scholar Noam Zion of The Shalom Hartman Institute.

Full of energy and obviously passionate about his subject, Zion reminded the audience that the Haggadah is not a prayer book nor is it the Torah; it does not exist to be recited, but rather, it’s meant to start a conversation.  That conversation is the real measure of a meaningful and successful Seder.

So how to facilitate a good conversation?  This requires no special rabbinical skills — according to Zion, what is needed are the skills of a good talk show host.  The host has to invite the right guests, ask good questions, listen closely, manage the flow of conversation, involve participants, and know when to press forward.

But what if this means the Haggadah isn’t recited in full?  Zion claims this isn’t important.  He compares the Haggadah he published to a menu — “You can’t order the entire menu!”  Rather, you pick and choose parts that will serve you well.

To get things started, Zion recommends prompting a discussion of modern day slavery.  Have we — as humans — really escaped from Egypt?  What about economic slavery (yours truly had to bite his tongue on this one) or slavery in Afghanistan?

And then your talk show is off to the races.

The event was co-sponsored by DC Minyan, DC Beit Midrash, Rosh Pina, the Shalom Hartman Institute, and Sixth & I Synagogue.

Click here for a list of public Passover Seders in DC.

See here for a video recording of the event.

Special thanks to Ben Freedman (Beit Midrash), Annie Lummerman (Sixth & I), and Allison Adges (Sixth & I) for organizing things and getting this video.

Passover vs. Easter

This display at the Safeway at 17 and R made me realize why Christians sometimes think their holidays are better than Jewish holidays…   Where’s the Purim display?

Jewish items on the left: Matzo ball soup, Matzo, Kedem grape juice, gefilte fish, borscht. Christian goodies on the right: Chocolate bunnies, Snickers bars, Starbursts, malt chocolate eggs, peeps.

Chocolate bunnies... Mmmm....

Borscht... Not exactly every child's special treat...