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Meet Valerie: Jewish Woman (International) of the Week!

Meet Valerie and other Jewish People of the Week at our Jewish Person of the Year Celebration on May 10th!

Get to know Valerie Brown – lover of “brinner”, The New Yorker, re-runs of The Office, and empowering women and girls nationwide. Read on for our exclusive 1:1 interview!

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Valerie: I was living in France, and a bunch of my college friends had all moved to DC. It seemed like they were having a fun time out here, and I was having a lot of FOMO. So, on my way back from France, I stopped in DC and wound up getting a job here doing design work.

Allie: Why did you transition from design work to the nonprofit organization you’re at now?

Valerie: After the 2016 election, I really wanted to see my work affecting people and feel like I was making a positive difference. I wanted to be at a company that had specific goals to improve the world. JWI (Jewish Women International) – an organization dedicated to supporting and empowering women and preventing domestic violence – was a perfect fit.

Allie: What has most inspired you at JWI?

Valerie: Women to Watch, which happens annually in December, is when we honor 10 Jewish women in our community who are leaders in their field. Getting to interact with them was incredible. They have so much good advice and insight, and are so successful in both the business world and in life. Rabbi Dana Saroken was really amazing; she runs The Soul Center in Baltimore, and I just really connected with what she had to say.

I also admire the Mother’s Day Flower Project that JWI does every year. People donate $25 and JWI sends a Mother’s Day card to whoever you choose. The donation helps send bouquets and financial literacy resources to domestic violence shelters across the country. A lot of time, women who have experienced domestic violence have never received flowers with love, and this shows them that we hear you, we are here for you, and we support you. This year, it feels more relevant than ever. Also, I also designed some cool shirts, sweatshirts, and tank tops to benefit the project.

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

Valerie: With my good friends (and past “Jewish People of the Week”!) Molly Cram and Jackie Zais. We rotate hosting and making dinner for our friends. Recently I made “brinner” (breakfast for dinner) for everyone. This is one of the reasons we put together the upcoming Reclaiming Ritual Retreat – we love spending Friday nights celebrating Shabbat together, and we want to explore Jewish rituals like this with others.

Allie: What do you like to do on a rainy day?

Valerie: Go to a cozy coffee shop and read a book! I’m plagued by “New Yorkers” stacking up every week and would also love a chance to read those.

Allie: What’s a quote that motivates you?

Valerie: “This too shall pass.” It’s reminds me to lean into those moments when you’re feeling really down, and just be present – feel all the feelings. Being able to embrace the painful feelings ultimately helps inform who you are.

Allie: What is your favorite Disney movie?

Valerie: “Moana”, definitely because of the song ‘You’re Welcome’ – I just really identify with that.

Allie: Who is the coolest Jew you know?

Valerie: My brother/future rabbi, Timmy. He inspires me to be a better Jew every day.

Allie: How do you like to relax and destress?

Valerie: When I’m not out at a Jewish happy hour, I’m probably watching Netflix and crocheting on my couch. Right now, I’m rewatching “The Office”.

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

Valerie: I want to quote my pal Liz Lemon and say “I want to go to there.”

 

 

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

Meet Eric: Jewish Board Gamer of the Week

Want to nominate your amazing Jewish friend to be featured on GatherDC? Send his/her name, brief blurb, and contact info to info@gatherdc.org.

Meet Eric: A mensch who hosts game night Shabbats, enjoys Latino Disney movies, and dreams of celebrating Passover “next year in Barcelona”.

Side note: Eric is also helping plan the Jewish People of the YEAR Celebration where we’ll toast to awesome young adults (like Mr. Schwartz) who have been featured as Jewish Person of the Week this past year, and everyone who makes our community so amazing!

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Eric: I moved down here for a job after graduation and moved in with a friend from college. I spent the first year in DC hanging out with work friends and friends from college, and then I discovered GatherDC.

Allie: How did you get involved with GatherDC/ DC’s Jewish community?

Eric: My Jewish life was very ingrained in my college experience at Cornell. But, after graduating I had almost no Jewish friends, so I went to a GatherDC happy hour by myself. I saw one person at the happy hour who I knew and he who told me about GatherDC’s Beyond the Tent retreat. I didn’t know anyone else going, but ended up making a lot of close friends, some of which I’m still friends with today – almost 2 years later.

Allie: What was your experience like on Beyond the Tent?

Eric: Beyond the Tent was a lot of fun, and a way to escape the busy life in DC, and have introspective conversations that we don’t get to do in our normal day-to-day life. The retreat showed me that there is a lot in DC in terms of Jewish life. I learned about Mesorah DC on the trip, and went on a Miami trip with them where I met a lot of other friends. These two trips were the avenues from which I built my social circles in DC, and then I became an Open Doors Fellow for GatherDC because I was interested in helping others have the same experience that I had.

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

Eric: Game night. Some friends and I will host a Shabbat dinner through OneTable, and we’ll play CodeNames, Avalon, Drunk/Stoned/or Stupid, What Do You Meme, and Cards Against Human.

I’ll take on cooking with my roommate or girlfriend, we’ll do a small reflection on everyone’s week, eat, and then head to the game part.

Allie: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Eric: A life quote I always live by, and has been recently popularized by my favorite NBA Team (The Philadelphia 76ers) is “trust the process”. To me, this means doing everything and anything it takes to get to your long term goals. At the end of the day we all want something, and it may not look like it’s the clearest road to that path, but if you keep driving down that road – with hard work and good timing – you can get there.

Allie: What’s your favorite Disney movie?

Eric: “The Three Caballeros” – I’m Latino and grew up watching this movie, it was made in the 1940’s I believe, and I highly recommend this movie!

Allie: If you could be anywhere right now, where would it be and why?

Eric: I studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain and would give anything to be back there.

Allie: What’s your favorite Passover food?

Eric: I was just introduce to it this weekend. My girlfriend’s family makes gravlax which is sushi grade salmon with dill, and avocado.

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

Eric: They are welcomed with open arms.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Finding Your Shabbat Squad

I’ve been working at the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center (EDCJCC) for the past few years as the Director of EntryPointDC, the 20s and 30s program based out of the center. When I started this role, I decided to change up one of our signature programs, Shabbat Clusters – small groups of young adults who we bring together to meet for monthly potluck dinners at each other’s homes and restaurants.

Originally, the Shabbat Clusters groups were based on age and location, and/or if you were single or part of a couple. In 2016, we added interest-based clusters such as outdoors, arts, 30-somethings, and foodies. Each group was also assigned a Shabbat Cluster Coordinator to help the group decide who would host dinner for the month, and be there as a resource for welcoming others to their home and learning about Shabbat rituals. Groups became larger so members had a chance to connect with different types of people. By the end of 2016, we had 285 young adults registered for the season, with new Shabbat Clusters forming every spring and fall!

As someone who has been a part of this program as both a participant, and a staff member, I have discovered that Shabbat Clusters is an incredible way to make new friends, reflect on your week, create Shabbat traditions, throw an awesome themed dinner, and even find your next bae. Check out some of my favorite Shabbat Cluster memories before signing up for the chance to create your own. 

Top 5 Shabbat Clusters Highlights of the Past 2 Years

1) The chilly winter evening when the 30-somethings Shabbat Cluster group hosted an Oscars-themed Shabbat, complete with a photo-booth and themed ice-breaker of sharing your favorite Jewish TV/movie moment, actor, director, or commenting on the week’s Torah portion (and potentially earning an Oscar for this!).

2) That time when two Shabbat Clusters didn’t have enough space at each other’s homes for dinner, so they wound up hosting the dinner together at the EDCJCC – and found these awesome tablescapes and stuffed mini pumpkins for dinner.

3)  That day when we received this awesome email:

I am writing with exciting news! Our cluster was formed through the DCJCC in April 2015. Though we’ve lost a few members to grad school and new jobs in other cities, we continue to meet regularly.  Over the years, we’ve had a Hanukkah Shabbat gift exchange, and gotten together for birthdays, Passover seders, Rosh Hashanah lunch, Yom Kippur Break-Fast meals, Halloween parties, Hamentaschen baking, EDCJCC’s Everything But the Turkey community service project, a singalong Shabbat, and a show at the Kennedy Center (“Kinky Boots”). In September, two of our members (Jennifer Bronson and Douglas Robins), who met through Shabbat Clusters, got engaged and are getting married this summer!

P.S Doug and Jen got engaged over a Shabbat meal that Doug made from scratch. After the proposal,  they danced around the apartment to Bruno Mars. #Shabbatposal

4)  That spring afternoon when the outdoors Shabbat Clusters and the 20’s-something Shabbat Clusters came together for Shabbat lunch in the most creative space: The National Portrait Gallery Kogod Courtyard.

5)  When Lisa Zingman and Hilary Bernstein combined forces to be co-coordinators of their Shabbat Cluster not once, but THREE times. These two amazing ladies already have 15 people signed up to re-join their group for the next year! #winning #Shabbatsquad

via GIPHY

One of our taglines for Shabbat Clusters is “Find Your Shabbat Squad” – and I think that these 5 highlights reflect the idea that coming together for Shabbat is about meeting new friends, celebrating Shabbat your way, creating new traditions, and making lasting memories.

Want to learn more about Shabbat Clusters? Visit the FAQ Page and register for the Spring 2018 Season. The season kicks-off this Friday, but rolling registration will be open until June (or until spots are full).

 

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.

PRO-TIPS For Hosting Your Own Shabbat

I was a completely nervous wreck when I threw my first Shabbat dinner this past summer.

Growing up, Shabbat dinners were not a tradition my family took part in, so I was unaware of all of the customs and traditions that are a part of this holiday. I started attending Shabbat services and dinner regularly with Hillel in college, and soon began to see the beauty in this weekly holiday. Ever since then, I’ve chosen to make Shabbat dinners a regular part of my life.

When I threw my first dinner this past summer, however, I didn’t know where to start. I ended up putting way too much pressure on making sure every part of the night was perfect. The first dinner that I threw helped me realize that as much as I wanted to make it perfect, it was ultimately about enjoying the company of my loved ones, rather than whether or not I cooked a four-course meal.

Since then, I’ve hosted many dinners, both by myself and with others. I have been able to pick up a couple of tricks here and there to help throw a great Shabbat dinner. Read my tips below.

THE GUESTS

Don’t Invite People Who Only Know Each Other

It might be easy to want to only have a specific group of your friends at your first dinner, such as your work friends or the friends you made from your kickball team. It makes it easier on you, as the host, and easier on them, as the guests, because everyone knows each other. But, I really encourage bringing people together from different parts of your life. Your friends will enjoy meeting all the other special people in your life and you will enjoy the dynamic you create by bridging the gaps between your different worlds. If you have concerns about logistically bridging those different worlds, try to make sure that everyone at the table knows or has something in common with at least one person in the room.

Do Invite People Who Aren’t Jewish

Yes, Shabbat might be a Jewish holiday, but that doesn’t mean that non-members of the tribe can’t enjoy it as well. I find that friends of any (or no) religion can all appreciate coming together for a meal, good conversation, and the chance to unwind. As someone who didn’t grow up around a lot of Jews, I really enjoy sharing my culture and my background. Just make sure you encourage them to ask questions at any point during the night.

THE MEAL

Don’t Be Afraid of Store Bought Food

Yes, homemade Jewish food is the absolute best thing in the world! Nothing says a “warm, inviting home” like your mom’s homemade matzo ball soup or that challah recipe that your grandmother taught you how to make as a kid. However, the likelihood of you pulling off an entire home-cooked meal after you get off of work on Friday and finishing it before your friends arrive is “meshugana” (crazy). Just worry about making one or two main dishes. For everything else, go store-bought; the food will be just as good – I promise.

Do Suggest People Bring Items That Will Help Shrink Your To-Do List

Most guests will ask if they can bring something to dinner. While your first thought is probably “no” or “bring whatever you want,” you’ll be better off responding with specific suggestions from your own list. You don’t want to end up with 26 hummuses and no dessert. Wine is always great, and it is what most people will default to. But if someone offers to bring paper products? Take them up on it. Your co-worker wants to make a dessert? Even better. You won’t have as much pressure on your shoulders and you’ll be able to focus on your main dishes.

GENERAL TIPS

Don’t Think The Night Has To Be Super Serious and/or Traditional

If I’ve learned anything from all of the Shabbat dinners that I’ve hosted and participated in it’s this: everyone does Shabbat differently. For example, while I say the prayers and light the candles before every Shabbat dinner, others might choose to forgo that part of the evening. The differences can even be more minute than that, like putting salt on your challah or not (I do for what it’s worth). Part of the beauty of Shabbat dinner is that you can make it yours. Whatever you choose to do, own it — people will just be glad to be there and be part of a special evening.

Do Enlist the Help of Organizations That Serve This Exact Purpose

If you are still feeling overwhelmed after reading this entire post or you just aren’t quite ready to tackle hosting Shabbat dinner all on your own, enlist some of the organizations that solely focus on making hosting Shabbat dinner easier. OneTable and Moishe House Without Walls are two organizations that provide up to $150 credits/reimbursement subsidies to help young adults host dinners. I have personally used OneTable, and it has allowed me to host high-quality Shabbat dinners without feeling like I’m breaking the bank.

 

Leave comments below to talk about your own pro-Shabbat hosting tips.

 

 

 

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.

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.

The Oldest New Way to Do Friday Night in DC

OneTablephotox1My partner and I applied to be OneTable hosts in New York when they were first arriving on the scene; we love hosting our friends for dinners and both find that hosting in our home is the most fulfilling way to celebrate Shabbat. Going to a synagogue where we don’t know anyone and leaving immediately after services can feel cold, uninviting, and distant. A home-cooked meal feels like the Shabbats we both knew growing up, however cost and time are both factors that keep us from hosting more often.

After applying to be hosts, we were contacted by Rabbi Jess Minnen to set up an appointment.  We grabbed coffee in midtown and talked about the kind of atmosphere we hoped to create at our first dinner.  We talked about our commitment to ethically-sourced ingredients and intentional conversation.  We don’t serve kosher food or follow observant laws on Shabbat, but we try to bring the intention of mindful food choices and a present attitude to our Fridays.  Jess was very supportive of any way we wanted to observe Shabbat, and told us she was our personal on-call Rabbi if we had any questions! I must admit, the online platform where hosts posted their meals was intimidating at first; I was afraid random New Yorkers would show up at our apartment!  So we decided to attend a few programs and meals before posting out first Shabbat.

We attended a mixology workshop just for hosts where we learned how to make three fun cocktails and discussed the Jewish value of welcoming guests into our home. We also delved into the meaning behind L’Chayim, and spent the night making many toasts. There were great people there who had hosted OneTable Shabbats all over the city.  We talked about how to select attendees, whether to post an event as open, open but password protected, or invite only, and all our fears were alleviated.  We ended up going to a Shabbat at the home of an amazing couple that we met at the mixology event.  Kate and Jason’s Shabbat confirmed that OneTable was right for us.  It felt unlike any awkward Jewish singles mixer I’d been dragged to in the past.  People were there to enjoy the company, appreciate the food and have an engaging Shabbat experience.

We hosted several Shabbats after that, inviting other guests and hosts we had met through the OneTable network along with our friends and family.  I even incorporated values-driven discussions from our OneTable workshops into our events. The “nourishment options” are unlike any of the Shabbat reimbursement programs I’ve used before.  Instead of creating more work for the host by requiring receipts and follow-up reports, OneTable offers a variety of accessible delivery options for busy millennials.  Having groceries or alcohol delivered on my schedule helped alleviate the cost of hosting a large group and at the same time checked one task off my list for the event.  The options OneTable has include apps like Drizzly, Etsy, and Seamless.  It honestly couldn’t be easier to be a Shabbat host.

As newcomers to DC, we’re so happy to introduce OneTable to this community! OneTable has stepped into the home-hosted DIY Shabbat scene in thoughtful ways, effectively creating small communities within big cities. For young Jews who want an in-home Shabbat experience that is DIY and tailored to your taste, OneTable is it.  I especially love that OneTable collaborated with the JCC and Repair the World in New York.  It’s incredible that these organizations are working together to make points of access for everyone’s preference.  I can’t wait until the OneTable community in DC is up and thriving the way it is in New York. I loved scrolling through my list of options for Friday night, and feeling connected to the other hosts in my community every week.  Sign up to host a OneTable Shabbat today, or come to our next meal–we’d love to have you.

 

Shabbat Guide

Something really incredible happened in DC. At some point in the history of Jewish DC, three major organizations in the city who are the primary providers of Shabbat experiences got together. They came up with a Shabbat schedule that does not overlap, allowing young adults to attend the different options in a month without having to choose one over the other. Not only is this an amazing model of Jewish organizational partnership and collaboration (one that doesn’t exist in many other cities), but it also encourages us to experience a different kind of Shabbat each week.

These are four distinct Shabbat experiences, across denominations, in different parts of the city, with different styles of prayers, but all with some social component to help you meet new people. Maybe this month you want to hit up all four, or you are deciding where to spend your first Shabbat in DC. Below we have compiled a run down of these four Shabbat options. They are based on subjective experiences that community members have had at these places and we hope they paint a bit of a picture of what to expect there. (Full disclosure, we know some people enjoy Shabbat services and for others, it’s just not your thing. That is so totally ok and there are lots of other ways to do Shabbat or to do Jewish. We hope the GatherDC website and newsletter can connect you to the full range of Jewish options in the city.) But if you are looking for a Shabbat service and meal option, here is a little guide that can get you started…


shir-delight-newFirst Friday of the Month: Adas YP’s Shir Delight

Where: Adas Israel Congregation in Cleveland Park

On the First Friday of each month, hundreds of Jews gather in Cleveland Park for drinks and services – and it’s not at the Quebec House, an apartment building near Adas Israel that somehow manages to maintain a 50% Jewish population of residents! It is for Shir Delight, Adas Israel’s young professional Shabbat. This predominantly lay-led (no Rabbi’s in the house till the sermon, although recently they’re experimenting with using their awesome rabbis to lead) Conservative service is kicked off with just the thing to loosen you up to a night of praying and eating: a happy hour. With a great selection of beer, wine, hard cider and hors d’oeuvres, you can mingle and make friends or just try to get as much of the crudité on your plate as you can. The service, usually led by one or two of your peers as you journey through Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv, flows from one prayer to the other with the only interruption being someone calling out the page numbers to keep everyone on track. After services everyone (all 200+ people) shuffles into dinner where you take your seat and meet your new 8-10 best friends to share a yummy kosher meal. The room is usually still packed with people when they start ushering people out at the end of the night. And for many people, the night doesn’t end once Adas locks the doors; many continue the festivities informally at a local bar in Cleveland Park.

6thintheCityShabbatWEB59-300x215Second Friday of the Month: 6th in the City Shabbat

Location: Sixth & I in Gallery Place

Rabbi Shira Stutman’s 6th in the City Shabbat begins Sixth & I’s consecutive weekend YP Shabbat circuit. Like all of the Shabbat options, we warm up with a drink downstairs where you can leave your jacket and bag because this is also the place you will be having dinner. Also for the yogis out there, you can start your night with Shabbasana™: Pre-Shabbat Yoga that often links the weeks Torah portion to your movements. Your dreams may come true if you happen to be there when Rick Recht is performing Cantor duties. If you haven’t been to this Shabbat yet make sure that you bring a friend who went to a Jewish summer camp that Recht played at and you can see your friend literally lose their mind with excitement during the service. (This is not an actual prerequisite to attend.) Make sure to get up and dance during the Lecha Dodi and always try to go for a spot on the bimah (stage), because some of us haven’t been there since our Bar or Bat Mitzvah. This is an accessible Shabbat experience where Rabbi Shira guides everyone through the evening. After the meal, you can join your fellow congregants downstairs for a meal and some more prayers.

GoodSoulLogoSLIDERThird Friday of the Month: Good Soul Shabbat

Location: Sixth & I in Gallery Place

We have now hit the third Friday of the month and that means jamming in a spiritual sojourn lead by the brave and fearless Rabbi Scott Perlo and the great guy killing it on the drums. This journey also includes a “choose-your-own-adventure” element. You can start your night with either 45 minutes of meditation or a happy hour, whichever will get you in the right spiritual headspace for Shabbat. In this service, they really aren’t kidding with the name. Throughout the service Rabbi Scott continually calls attention to the meaning of the prayers that you might have just been going through the motions of without his guidance. He is usually accompanied by several musicians, which makes this one of the most musically focused of the Shabbat options. And once you are done singing your heart out, you, of course, eat dinner and you can join the jam session if you are so inclined.

2239s-Metro-Minyan---goldFourth Friday of the Month: Metro Minyan hosted by 2239

Location: Calvary Baptist Church in Gallery Place

If you live in Gallery Place, you are in a solid spot for the final Shabbat of the month. Rabbi Aaron Miller leads Metro Minyan (named so because this service takes place off-site of Washington Hebrew Congregation and brings it to a much more metro accessible location). Make sure to get there early for Shot of Torah (named such since there are drinks available) – an interactive round-table discussion in English about the Torah portion of the week, led by the fabulous and enthusiastic Rabbi Miller. You then transition to the service that makes those of you who grew up in Reform temples, summer camps, or youth groups feel right at home – with a guitar, Debbie Friedman tunes, and a Reform prayerbook. In addition to the Shot of Torah before services, two things really make this service special, especially for newbies. Rabbi Aaron asks people to stand up and introduce themselves if you’re attending Metro Minyan for the first time. If you are really shy, there’s no pressure, but it is an opportunity for you to be welcomed by the community. Speaking of first-timers, if you showed up with no one, no problem! At the end of the service, you can find someone on the welcoming committee to sit with and introduce you around. Another great part of the service is the chance to share your Simchas (literally means celebrations, your good news from the last month) and accomplishments with the community. Whether it be big or small this is your chance to share what you have been excited about.


So there you have it – here are four great options for spending your Friday night with the Tribe. It is, after all, the holiest day of the week for our people. I haven’t lived in other major cities but DC seems to have a pretty special and amazing Shabbat culture. And remember, there are many wonderful ways to spend your Shabbat praying or not praying if that’s not how you roll. The four Shabbats mentioned tend to be large (between 100 – 300 people) but there are many smaller scale Shabbat options, independent Shabbat options, pluralistic, vegetarian… the list goes on!

Check out our Shabbat page to learn more.

What are other ways you connect on Friday nights? Share in the comments below!

 

If Traditional Shabbat Just Isn’t Your Thing…

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If a more formal Shabbat experience or service just isn’t your thing but you still want to do something to mark the day, here are some ideas to get you started…

5 alternative approaches to doing Shabbat:

1) Mark the day. The name for each day of the week in Judaism is in relation to Shabbat. Sunday is day one, Monday day two, etc., all the way until day 7 which is just called Shabbat. Shabbat is how Jews mark linear time. Days, weeks and months can all blend together without a regular break. By stopping to acknowledge the passing of a week, we are able to consistently assess our growth. I’ve found that a ritual is the easiest way to do this – whether it’s lighting the candles on Friday night, starting one’s Friday night meal with a blessing over wine, or wearing a different style of clothing. Do something unique at some point during the day to make it distinct.

2) Loosen the reigns. “Life goes wrong when the control of space becomes our sole concern”, writes Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Shabbat is a time to let go and put our illusion of control into perspective. There is a lot of brokenness in ourselves and in the world that needs repair, but stepping back from the role of “fixer” allows us to appreciate the world as it is and to acknowledge the aspects of our lives that are out of our control.

3) Reflect. We’re always busy, especially here in DC – too busy to think and reflect. Shabbat can and should be a time to pull ourselves out of the day-to-day and ask ourselves the bigger questions. It’s a time to focus on what’s important, not what’s urgent. Whether you prefer meditating, journaling, or going on a walk, find 30-45 minutes at some point during the day to set aside the checklist and turn inward.

4) Rest from work. Rabbinic Judaism defines work as any creative act, but feel free to define work in a way that is meaningful to you. It could be the thing you are paid to do, it could be the things that make you stressed out, it could be the things that distract you, etc. Once you have your definition, though, try to commit to refraining from those activities for the full day, or even for a few hours. See what enters your mind when you free it from those concerns.

5) Connect to others. Shabbat is also about being present with others. Many of the laws of Shabbat restrict mobility to keep you close to the people in your community (back then, and for some today, community was mostly determined by geography). Have a real, face-to-face conversation with someone. This could be over a meal, over tea, or just on a couch. It could be a group or just one-on-one. But allow yourself the pleasure of seeing and being seen.

Do you have other ideas or suggestions for how to do Shabbat outside of formal options? Please share them in the comments below!

Shabbat Clusters Revamped: Bonding Over A Friday Night Meal

4385237204_8961b01dca_zA few weeks ago my friend (and neighbor) texted me on Friday and said she wanted to host Shabbat dinner. We decided I would bring the veggies and she would make the main dish and then I got to messaging people to join us. I had to think carefully about who to invite because at the time, Snowzilla was gearing up to take over Arlington and I was not quite sure how people would be able to get to us. I messaged two friends who lived in Clarendon and Ballston, my Jewish and non-Jewish roommate, and an acquaintance who wanted to get involved in the community. After everyone had dusted off their snow boots and sat down at the table, my acquaintance became oh-so-curious as to how everyone knew me, the only common denominator in the room.

We laughed as everyone shared their stories of how we met. One guy friend explained how he thought he was going on a “date” with our mutual friend but wound up crashing my huge Shabbat dinner party. My roommate talked about how she came out to Lox Meets Bagel, a dating event I hosted, looking for a guy and I wound up “picking her up” as she needed to find a place to live and I had a spot open in my apartment. Another guy friend teased me about how we met six years ago at a speed dating event and have kept the friendship going ever since (Anyone else noticing a theme here?)

Was it a little uncomfortable mixing my friend groups and bringing together a room full of strangers? Yes. There were moments of awkward silence, but we quickly bonded over our love of the same TV shows and that most of us did not know the blessing for hand-washing that our host graciously printed out and placed near her bathroom sink. (Wait, there is a hand-washing blessing?) Overall the night was a success- people became friends on Facebook and one person even wanted do a set-up between one of my guests and one of their friends. Snowzilla Shabbat brought this motley crew together for a meal and it got me thinking about the concept of Shabbat Clusters, the program I am currently revamping for work and participated in off and on for the past eight years.

Shabbat Clusters is a program the DCJCC runs twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. Each session 150-200 young professionals sign up to be placed in a “Shabbat Cluster,” a group of 10-14 people that come together for monthly potluck style Shabbat dinners. Groups are for singles and couples and are formed based on location, age, and sometimes observance level and interests.

Sometimes the groups became BFFs and other times the groups fizzled after meeting twice. I wondered, did everyone in the room get along at Snowzilla Shabbat because I held the group together? Was it because we had similar interests or knowledge of Shabbat rituals? Maybe because we all lived in the same general neighborhood? Would anyone from the dinner organize a second Shabbat meal without me taking the lead?

One addition to the program this season is a Shabbat Cluster Committee. Each committee member will lead a cluster and help members decide when and where monthly dinners take place. They will make sure the group gels, and help guide dinner conversations when needed. I asked some of our new committee members to tell me more about their experiences with Shabbat Clusters and their thoughts regarding how the Shabbat Clusters program will be different this season.

Stacy: How long have you been involved with Shabbat clusters and why have you continued joining a cluster?

Geno: I’ve honestly lost track of how many clusters I’ve attended.  I think it’s in the 6-7 range.  I mostly keep going because they are fun, a good way to meet new people and make friends.  I’m not very plugged into the Jewish community, so this is a great way to get a foot in that door without a huge commitment.  I’m also single, and Clusters are great ways to meet other Jewish singles without the pressure of being at a dating/singles event.  They are best when you go with a friend, having a wingman never hurts. I am looking forward to being on the committee. In college I was very involved in Hillel, student government, a business fraternity, etc, but since I’ve moved to DC, I haven’t really given much of my time back.  I want to help the program succeed and grow since it’s been a big part of my Jewish identity here in DC.

Stacy: Josh, at the Mid-Season Shabbat Cluster Mixer we talked about your love of biking and you were excited when I told you we were going to be adding interest specific  Shabbat Clusters to our program this year. What aspect of the updated Shabbat Cluster program appeals to you the most?

Josh: I’ve always loved the idea of the Shabbat Clusters program, but none of my clusters have ever really worked out. It seems everyone has their own motivations for joining a Shabbat Cluster. If the cluster itself ceases to align with those expectations or motivations, participants abandon the group rather than attempt to find common ground. In some ways, I believe this is a reflection on the local culture here in Washington, DC. Stereotypically, we are ambitious, outspoken, highly motivated, moderately conceited, and extremely busy, which is a terrible recipe for encouraging any degree of flexibility in a social setting. Introducing very specific “Interest Clusters” is a pragmatic step toward resolving this problem because it establishes a meaningful common ground between the members of each cluster before they even meet for the first time. For example, a Shabbat Cluster catered toward outdoor enthusiasts could include hikers, climbers, cyclists, urban explorers, skiers/snowboarders, laser tag enthusiasts, etc., which means the members have activities they can always fall back on. Perhaps more importantly, hobbies like these are usually indicative of significant lifestyle choices and personality types, which are also likely to improve the chances of creating a meaningful and lasting rapport between participants. Interest Clusters are also then enabled to vary their gatherings and include activities other than or in addition to the actual Shabbat meal.

Stacy: Rachel, we recently met for the first time. I was so impressed with your friendly demeanor and willingness to get involved with the community that I invited you to be a part of not one, but two EntryPointDC programs (Rachel and other comedians with perform stand-up and improv at our Kiss and Kvell comedy show)  Why did you want to sign up for Shabbat Clusters program and join the Shabbat Cluster committee?

Rachel: I believe there is no better way to get to know people than over food! I grew up with weekly Shabbat dinners, and can’t wait to share this tradition with new friends.  I’m looking forward to meeting people I otherwise wouldn’t and I can’t wait to learn more about the DC Jewish Community since I recently graduated from school.

Stacy: Sarah, an option for Shabbat Clusters is to be part of a singles or couples cluster.  This year you signed up for clusters with your boyfriend. Tell me about why you wanted him to be involved in the program with you.

Sarah: My boyfriend and I signed up together so we can participate in an activity we can share. It’s always awesome when we find something we both want to do. Who doesn’t like potlucks and schmoozing?  Also, we will both be meeting new couples through the cluster, which is great. I’m looking forward to being on the committee and hoping I can help to keep our cluster motivated and active for the whole session.

You can learn more about Shabbat Clusters on the EntryPointDC website and register. Registration closes March 4th. The cluster season begins with a Kick-off Shabbat Dinner for all participants on Friday, March 11th at the DCJCC.

Featured image and article image taken from flikr.

Can We Now Take Marriage for Granted?

There is an old joke that all of our parents have told at some point about how when they were young, they had to walk to school, in the snow, uphill both ways. Though, I never believed it was exactly true, I do remember always being amazed at the types of things my parents really didn’t have that I always took for granted. Color TV, seat belts in cars, and microwave ovens are all things that I have taken for granted my entire life.

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In a roundabout way, I was reminded of this last Friday, when the Supreme Court announced its decision to guarantee marriage as a right for all citizens. I have a one year old son, and it occurred to me, that along with things like smart phones, electric cars and social media my son will never know a world without marriage equality in the United States. As many have been saying already, for him there will be no Gay-Marriage because there will just simply be marriage for everyone.

As my Facebook feed turned to rainbows last Friday, I also found more challenging posts reminding me that there is still more work to be done for GLBT equality and many other minorities as well. Really, I thought, can’t we just celebrate this moment and take the week off from beating the drums for social justice?

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After thinking about it more over the weekend, as a father, an American and of course a Jew, the answer must be yes and no. In fact, in the same moment that thousands of celebrations erupted all over the country after the announcement on the steps of the Supreme Court, thousands of people were in mourning as Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was being eulogized in South Carolina. Neither action was any less wrong or appropriate, given the context.

Judaism has a special blessing that is said for the types of celebrations that don’t happen every day. Most Jewish Holidays include this prayer and I have also heard it said at weddings and bar mitzvahs. It is called the Shehecheyanu and in English the prayer translates to mean:

Blessed are you Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.

image-29-06-15-10-02-3When we lit our Shabbat candles last Friday, next to a rainbow flag we that we waved at Pride Parade, we added the Shehecheyanu to mark the occasion of marriage equality.

There is also a quote in Judaism from one of the ancient Rabbis that says:

It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.

While there are many things that my son will take for granted, there are many injustices in the world things that have yet to be resolved. Working through organizations like Jews United for Justice and American Jewish World Service, to name a couple, I will continue to work on them. I hope he follows that example and works to bring about change for the causes for which he cares most. I also hope he gets to celebrate many moments of Shehecheyanu along the way.

Andy Kirschner is a life coach at 100 Reasons to Win, helping professionals take action in order to achieve their health and/or career goals. He’s been in the DC area for 4 years. When he isn’t coaching individuals or facilitating groups, he can be found running long distances through Rock Creek Park, volunteering for social justice minded organizations or spending time with his wife and one year old son.