Work Out and Find Love – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (week 23)

Did you ever notice how the gym is packed in the first week of January, and your favorite stationary bike that overlooks the fire station on U St… ahem… your favorite piece of equipment is never available?  And that Zumba class that used to have six people every week now has 38?

People make all kinds of New Year’s resolutions – to work out more, to quit smoking, to eat more vegetables, to learn a new language, to find love.  Do you notice anything different between the first four items on that list and the last one?  The first four are easily measured in small stages: You can increase your workouts from two to four times per week; you can switch to nicotine gum until the addiction has subsided; you can buy broccoli at the supermarket instead of tortilla chips; and you can take a community college Spanish class at night.  But when it comes to finding love, it can seem hard to judge your results with anything short of “I met someone.”  Just putting that as the arbitrary goal isn’t the way to go.

The better way to make a resolution to find “the one” this year is to break it down into smaller, measurable pieces.  If you’re anything like me, you like to accomplish your goals and be able to measure the results.  Below is a list of measurable (and fun) resolutions for the year ahead that should give your love life a kick-start in 2012.

  1. Join an online dating site, and if you’re already on one, become more active.  As I’ve said before, just putting a profile up does not necessarily help with finding love.  E-mailing people and being proactive about the process is what really matters.
  2. Go to one extra social event per month.  The more events you go to, the more people you’ll meet, and the more likely you are to strike up a conversation with a potential mate.
  3. Talk to at least one new person at every event.  It’s nice to have a crutch (aka your friend), but try to break out of your comfort zone this year and meet someone new.  Plus, it might even make for a good “meet-cute” later.  (I once dated someone I met in the hallway at jury duty because we both dared to meet someone new that day.)
  4. Give one person you normally wouldn’t consider going out with a chance.  You never know if you’ll have chemistry until you meet in person.

In the end, if you use these resolutions rather than simply stating “I am going to find love this year,” you will have full confidence in the fact that you put the effort in and worked toward your goal.  Don’t be too hard on yourself, either.  Meeting someone takes time, but the reward for working hard now may be a lifetime of happiness.

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.

Help Keep the Gathering Going: Donate to GTJ!

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Dear Friend,

There have been good times; there have been less good times.  But Gather the Jews has kept rolling.

For 96 weeks (and counting!) we have provided:

  • An event calendar with all of DC’s young adult Jewish events,
  • News stories on developments in young adult Jewish DC,
  • A forum for commentary on life in young adult Jewish DC,
  • Interviews with over 75 exceptional Jewish guys and 75 amazing Jewish girls,
  • A weekly newsletter highlighting the best of young adult Jewish DC,
  • An informational service for over 2,600 email subscribers and 2,750 weekly website viewers.
If you’ve enjoyed these features, then we’d appreciate it if in you could:
GTJ has taken up a lot of time, but it has been a blast.  Thanks for making Jewish DC an amazing place!

Happy New Year!

Stephen Richer
Gather the Jews

on behalf of the GTJ Leadership Team:

Aaron Wolff
Joshua Kaller
Mike Weinberg
Jodi Tirengel
Noa Levanon
Sara Sidransky

Donate here. 

Jewish Guy of the Week – Ezra

Click here to see all the photos of the famous menorah!

What is like knowing that you have built DC’s biggest indoor menorah?
There are no words to describe it, next year we are going to have a competition for who can make an even bigger one in DC.

What inspired you to make this menorah?
My neighbors have a lot of lights and bright decorations around us.  I wanted to take it to the next level and celebrate our festival.

How long did it take you to make it?
It was a day at Home Depot and a labor of love.

What is your next Jewish project?
I will be tweeting that…

What is your favorite Jewish Holiday?
Rosh Hashanah.  My mom makes the most amazing food and has the most interesting guests come over.

Where can we find you on a Friday night?
I am a traveler of the Jewish experience… I like to experience the Jewish community at large. I may be hosting my own event, attending Chabad or even TLS.

What is the real reason that we light 8 candles?
It is the coolest gang sign that you can throw…

Jewish Girl of the Week – Ali

Why do you Enjoy Reading?
I taught second grade for four years and my kids had a difficult time reading.  I realized that the students did not have the resources available, and the majority of schools do not have libraries.

What is the mission?

We facilitate book sharing in DC schools that don’t have libraries.

Where did you launch this project?
We launched at Stanton Elementary, which is the lowest performing school in DC.  Eight percent of Stanton Elementary students are proficient in reading.  At the school, we created a book room where the kids can visit and borrow one book each week.  The next week they bring it back and get a new book.

What is your current target demographic?
We are focusing on K-2 and we will be expanding to other grades soon.
How do you get the books?
We have a list of books that the kids want to read, and then we share that information on our website.

What is your most popular book?
At the beginning of the year someone dropped off 72 copies of Gossip Girl–that didn’t work so well with us.  Our most checked-out book is Lottie Paris Lives Here by Angela Johnson.

How is this aligned with Judaism?
Jews value community, and this is a way to educate and connect the greater DC community.

Are you on Twitter?

What is the website?

Can we email you if we have books we want to donate or time we want to volunteer?
Yes, absolutely!

Don’t Fear an Empty DC

Thank goodness for Chanukah this year. If there’s one thing I consistently hear about DC during the winter holidays, it’s that it becomes a ghost town for young professionals. We’ve already discussed this phenomenon during Thanksgiving, but it rings even truer for this time of year.

Luckily, this year Chanukah spanned a good chunk of the straddling week between Dec. 25 and New Year’s Eve, giving DC Jews something to do if they aren’t able to go home or on vacation. And Chanukah events are not the only ones on the roster for late December.

So don’t despair for those reading this and still in town.  As Rabbi Teitelbaum said last night at Mesorah DC’s Café Night, the Torah learning still has to go on. So too does DC’s Jewish social scene:

  • On Wednesday, Matisyahu will be at the 9:30 Club (in case you’ve been living in a Maccabee-style cave and haven’t heard about this already)… So if you haven’t found tickets for the event yet, keep trying. Given recent events, it seems like this would be a good performance to check out, even if to satisfy morbid curiosity.
  • Chabad is having its usual dinner and learning session this Wednesday too, so RSVP now and grab some dinner with fellow DC Jews left behind.
  • If you have any time off on Thursday or Friday, help a synagogue make minyan. With the numbers of in-town folks being scanty this week, most synagogues are probably in need of a few good men and women. If you don’t know where to start to find a synagogue for you, we’ve already got you covered on a primer to find one.
  • And if you’re really that tremendously bored above all these suggestions, then you can look at GTJ’s updated photo albums from recent Chanukah soirees for the thirty-sixth time. They make excellent (if not ersatz) fodder for playing Where’s Waldo or I Spy at your next DC Jewish get-together.

Award-Winning Coconut Sweet Potato Flan

After taking first place at Sixth & I’s Holy Chef contest, GTJ’s food columnist Courtney agreed to share her original recipe with us.

I’m taking a break from my usual theme of “converting” existing non-kosher recipes in order to share a new recipe that I invented for the Hanukkah-themed Holy Chef contest at Sixth & I. Enjoy!


© Courtney Weiner.  All Rights Reserved.

Total time: About 3 hours

Yield: 12-16 servings

Level: Difficult


  • 1 ½ cups sugar, divided
  • 1 large sweet potato (about 1lb)
  • 1 cup cream of coconut
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 egg yolks


Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Pierce sweet potato several times with a knife.  Microwave for about 8 minutes or until soft.  Let cool while making the caramel sauce.

Set aside a 10 cup soufflé dish or individual ramekins.  Add 1 cup of sugar to a heavy saucepan.  Melt the sugar over medium-high heat, swirling pot to promote even cooking.  Cook until all of the sugar has become an amber-brown liquid.  Keep a close eye on the sugar while it is cooking and remove as soon as it is done—it can burn quickly.  Pour into the prepared dish(es).  (Note: you can cook the sugar with up to a ½ cup of water and cook the water off, but I found it easier to make the sauce without.)  Set aside.

Spoon the insides of the sweet potato into a food processor.  Whisk together cream of coconut and coconut milk until they are smooth.  Add half of the mixture to the food processor while the machine is running until a smooth paste forms. 

In a large bowl, combine the remaining sugar, remaining coconut mixture, condensed milk, water, vanilla extract, and ginger and mix well.  In another bowl, beat the eggs and egg yolks until frothy. Strain the eggs into the ingredients in the first bowl.

Add the sweet potato puree to the other ingredients.  Whisk well and pour into the prepared dish with the caramel sauce.   Place the dish in a large baking pan and add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the dish. Bake for 1hour and 45 minutes or until the flan is set but still soft.  Remove from the oven.   Carefully remove the soufflé dish from the water and transfer to a rack to cool.

Refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight. Before serving, run a knife through the edges and invert onto a serving dish.

Are You a Hellenist or a Maccabee?

Most of us learned in Hebrew school that the story of Chanukah involved a war between the Greeks and the Jews. However, in truth, the conflict was just as much a fight between Jews and their fellow Jews as it was between the Jews and their Greek oppressors. What our ancestors fought for holds much relevance for us today.

Every year at Chanukah we thank G-d for the miracle that occurred “in those days at this time.” This is because the message of this holiday resonates with Jews of every generation and perhaps more so with our own generation than with any other. Many mistakenly believe that Chanukah is religiously a ‘minor’ holiday, but in actuality the teachings of this holiday and the relevance they hold for today’s modern Jew – especially those of us living in America – make it one of the most important.

One thing that distinguished the Greeks from previous world empires was that they were just as focused on spreading their culture – Hellenism – as they were about gaining money and power. Hellenistic Greek culture, with its emphasis on learning, at first glance seems quite compatible with Jewish culture. The Greeks venerated their philosophers and thinkers. Similarly, Jews honor and respect their Torah scholars. However, in many ways the worldview of the Greeks was completely different from that of the Jews. The Greeks valued the body and physical beauty above all else. In Greek society, deformed or sick infants were routinely abandoned to the elements or even thrown off cliffs to their death. Beautifying the body was considered holy in itself. In fact, many of the gymnasiums in which people exercised in the nude also featured shrines to the Greek gods. To the Greeks, the gods themselves were gods in man’s image.

The Jews believed in only one G-d who created human beings in His image. The Jews understood and valued spirituality over physicality. The Torah the Jews received at Mount Sinai taught them that the world was not perfect and that human beings had to assist G-d in perfecting the world by doing the mitzvot, caring for the weak and the needy, and doing acts of kindness.

The Greeks were relatively tolerant of the cultures they conquered and they extended that same tolerance to the Jews. They were fine with Jews studying Torah as long as they did so in a philosophical, detached, and intellectual manner. What drove the Greeks up a wall was the Jewish value of studying Torah in order to connect with G-d. The Greeks didn’t mind if the Jews wanted to follow some of their rituals even if they did seem to the sophisticated Greeks to be antiquated, anachronistic, and superstitious. What the Greeks couldn’t stand was that the Jews believed in a divine reality higher than rationale thought. They resented that the Jews saw themselves as a distinct and holy people committed to bringing holiness into the world.

Many Jews – especially those of the intelligentsia and the upper class – jumped on the Hellenization bandwagon and adopted the Greek language, Greek dress, Greek education, and, in some cases, even Greek idol worship. It’s quite understandable why many Jews went for Hellenism. After all, Greek culture held a powerful allure. It kindly beckoned the Jew saying: “It’s ok, you can be Jewish. Just don’t be so different! Adopt our enlightened thinking…Maybe add a pig or two to your sacrifices in the Temple…Enjoy some Greek theater…Participate in the new world order!” When Greeks saw that some of the Jews stubbornly refused to comply, they outlawed Sabbath observance, brit milah (ritual circumcision), and Rosh Chodesh (the celebration of the new moon at the start of each month on the Jewish calendar). The significance of these three mitzvot will be explained later.

In many ways, Greek or Hellenic culture is the foundation of secular, Western thought and culture. Unlike many nations that have risen up and tried to annihilate the Jewish people throughout our long history, the Greeks of yesteryear did not seek to harm us physically. The Greeks did not wish to eliminate the Jewish people. However, they desired to destroy Judaism. How many of us Jews today, living comfortably in the United States, free to worship as we choose, would give our lives and fight for our Judaism if our government suddenly decided to outlaw Shabbat, brit milah, or Rosh Chodesh?

The Shabbat irked the Greeks. In a society that only valued a person by what they accomplished, resting one day a week was seen as lazy and immoral. Brit milah upset the Greeks, because they believed that nature and the human body was perfect in itself. The fact that Jews would alter their own bodies was an affront to everything the Greeks held dear. Rosh Chodesh represented that Jews operate on a different time table than the rest of the world. If the Jews were to be properly assimilated into Greek culture, this simply could not do. But how many of us would be prepared to fight for these mitzvot? How many of us recognize and appreciate the sanctity of resting on Shabbat? How many Jews believe having a brit milah is a barbaric ritual of the past and how many American Jews have even heard of Rosh Chodesh?

In ancient times, one Jewish priestly family known as the Maccabees could not stomach the Greeks and what they were doing to Judaism. They’d also had enough of the Hellenist Jews making a mockery of their religion. These few courageous, stubborn, and proud individuals rose up against the Greeks and the Hellenists. Their victory boosted the morale of the Jewish people and re-instilled the fundamental Jewish pride that was at risk of being lost forever.

We live in confusing times. The openness and tolerance that defines American and Western society seems to encourage many of us to put aside our Judaism – or at least those aspects of it that separate us and define us as a distinct entity. Universities (modern-day embodiments of Greek culture) with their emphasis on academic achievement combined with hedonism discourage individuals from trying to transcend the physical and connect to G-d, the Source of all Creation. On Chanukah we light a menorah to show that the holiness and truth of Judaism and the Jewish people should shine brightly. We specifically light our menorahs near the door to demonstrate that we must impact the world. Jewish values must make this world a holier, kinder, and better place – a place in which G-d feels comfortable dwelling.

Most of us Jews are neither Hellenists nor Maccabees. Most contemporary Jews living in America possess such insufficient Jewish educations that they are not even able to make an informed decision about who they are. Yes, it’s true that most Jews today do not follow the majority of Jewish laws and customs of their ancestors, but the vast majority do not do so out of willfulness, but out of ignorance. Most Jews in this generation have been so cut off from traditional Judaism and their heritage of Torah and mitzvot that they hardly recognize their own tradition. But, we need not worry. It does not need to stay this way. If we allow the fire of our Chanukah menorahs to ignite a spark in our hearts and in our souls, we can summon the fearless and proud Maccabee inside each of us and do more to learn and grow in our Judaism. Like the shamash candle that is used to light the other candles on the menorah, we can kindle a flame of passion for Judaism in the hearts of our fellow Jews.

For the first time we Jews are not forced by external circumstances such as rampant anti-Semitism to be Jewish. No longer are we protected by the spiritual safety provided by the shtetl. No longer are we confined to the ghetto. For the first time in Jewish history we are not only tolerated, but accepted. Many of us assimilate into our benevolent host culture rather than use our freedom to be Jewish in a positive and spirited way. The choice is in our hands. We can choose to marry out, assimilate, and disappear. It’s very easy to do today! Or we can stand up for what’s right and discover more about the truth and beauty of Torah and why it is an eternal gift to humanity. We can do our job as Jews by being a light unto the nations or we can simply disappear into the family of nations. The choice is ours. So who are you going to be – a Hellenist or a Maccabee?

Why go to the Matzoball?

The following is written by Greg of, and does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of GTJ.


There is simply no substitute for the original and largest Christmas Eve Party in Washington, D.C.   Every year thousands of Washington’s young Jewish Professionals gather at the biggest celebration of the year!

The Matzoball attracts thousands for a reason:

  • WASHINGTON’S TOP PROFESSIONAL DJs – Featuring DJ Biks (Jay Sean’s Official Tour DJ)

3 Floors…3 Parties

  • Hip Hop, Top 40 and the Latest Modern Hits
  • Retro Dance Classics from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s
  • House and International Dance!

Don’t miss an awesome night of dancing and romancing and holiday cheer.

Tickets are $30.00 at the door, but, we offer a reduced rate of $25.00 if you purchase in advance at or















First Report From the Hanukkah Field

Hanukkah officially started last night, but in terms of parties, this miraculous first candle been burning for over a week.

— Republican Jewish Coalition (12/13)

I started Hanukkah last Tuesday with the Republican Jewish Coalition.  In recent weeks, the RJC has contributed to a victory in New York’s ninth Congressional district, hosted a Presidential forum for all the main Republican candidates except Ron Paul, and even earned itself a segment on Jon Stewart’s show (watch this clip; it’s amazing).  Accordingly, the event’s energy was plentiful, as were the donuts and latkes.  For any of you Republicans trending Jewish, or Jews trending Republican, I highly recommend getting in touch with the organization (

Donut count = 2;  Chocolate gelt = 5;  Latkes = 0 (they’re gross.  I’m decidedly team Hamentashen).

— Mesorah DC’s Dreidel Championship (12/17)

The dreidel arena

I was a bit curious to see how Mesorah would pull this off.  The game of Dreidel as it is supposed to be played – see Wikipedia if uncertain – is one of the most lackluster games I’ve played, and I don’t know of anyone who actually plays it.

Mesorah’s style was better.  Players at the different tables took turns spinning the dreidel in a board the shape of a Jewish star.  Each spin was clocked.  After all players spun, the administrator shrunk the board by putting another star inside the original star.  The players spun again.  This was done three times.  At the end of the three rounds, the table administrator added up the times, and the player with the longest time advanced.

Some you know I’m a competitive person, so I definitely took this seriously.  Jonathan Horowitz and I even managed to get inside of one of our competitors and caused him to choke away his lead on the third round.

The fake champion. But when my grandkids find this picture 50 years from now, they'll think I was awesome.

It was not to be.  My poor small motor skills (index finger and thumb in this case) have failed me many times in the past, and they failed me again here.  The championship trophy went to Josh “Spinner” Stern (see picture), but that didn’t keep me from posing with the trophy (see other pictures…  I’ll be able to convince my grandchildren that I was once a Dreidel champion!)

Food and drink were served.  Over 200 people showed up.

Donut count = 2;  Chocolate gelt = 10;  Latkes = 0 (they’re still gross.)

The real champion. Josh.


— Fare thee well (12/17)

I then helped escort our favorite Italian Jew from the premises of our country.  But we did this profile of her before we kicked her out.  Somehow that took us to the Diner in Adams Morgan at 3:30 AM.  Classy.

— Courtney wins Hanukkah-themed cooking competition (12/18)

On the seventh day – in Christian counting – I rested.  But that doesn’t mean that everybody spent reading, sleeping, and watching Tim Tebow vs. Tom Brady.  GTJ’s very own cooking columnist Courtney Weiner took first place in Sixth & I’s cooking competition.

— How the times have changed… Austrian Embassy Hanukkah Party (12/19)

I trust that one day my enormous biography will be written by Walter Isaacson or his protege.  In that sense, all of my days are historical.  But Monday night was especially historical because I got to go to the Austrian Embassy’s first ever Hanukkah Party!

The American Jewish Committee cohosted the event with the Austrian Embassy.  Big hit.  The Austrian Embassy is gorgeous, and the Ambassador said he enjoyed the event so much that he would like to make it an annual affair.

I spent most of the evening talking with the Ambassador about his daughter’s studies in Switzerland and why his daughter’s desire to move to the United States (New York), is not only reasonable, but is a great decision;  2) Learning more about the AJC’s efforts and young professional opportunities; and 3) and, of course, eating gelt and donuts.

Austrian Ambassador

Donut count = 5;  Chocolate gelt = 15;  Latkes = 0 (so oily.)

— National Menorah Lighting (12/20)

Lew and Shemtov

No, I was not Dreidelman.

Many of you asked.  But after last year’s show-stealing performance, I decided to pass the torch – blue dreidel suit – on to another worthy Jewish lad.

You can read about this event at the Washington Post (front page of the morning’s Metro section) and many other national papers, so I’ll just quickly say that everything was great per usual:  Rabbi Shemtov capably led the event, OMB Director Jack Lew (highest ranking White House Jew) lit the menorah; the three cantors sang; the Maccabees trooped around; and Dreidelman spun.

— Hanukkah Happy Hour on the Hill (12/20)

This annual event is always huge.  And it was again last night.  Over 300 people crowd into the two bars in the Capitol Hill area.

I couldn’t make it, but I got 5 texts last night and this morning asking about different Jewish girls and guys, so it must have been a success for at least some…  Everyone I spoke with today has confirmed this.

Congratulations to Ilana and DC JCC for taking the lead on this.  And thanks to all the groups (including GTJ) who cosponsored.    I’ll get some pictures up soon.


Visit back for updates on the next 7 nights.

And to find out what’s available out there, visit our Hanukkah calendar.