So, what DOES Jewish Look Like?

IMG_6951On Tuesday afternoon, I saw Dr. Helen Kim address a room full of Jews and Peace Corps staff about her experience with the phrase, “Funny, you don’t look Jewish.” Since attending Episcopalian school in the Bay Area, Dr. Kim (who prefers to be called “Helen”), was often “other-ized” by her peers. She strived to fit in by assimilating to the majority culture. But Helen was never fully accepted, she explained, because she looked different from her white peers. Helen also struggled to fit in at home where she was raised by Korean immigrant parents. To encourage her quick assimilation, her parents refused to teach Helen Korean culture, which they stopped practicing altogether, or language, which they still spoke to one another. Helen felt like an outsider at home and at school. She described this experience as, “I don’t fit in here, and I don’t fit in there. Holy crap, where the hell do I fit!?”

Helen continued to struggle with these issues as she grew up and attended college. In graduate school Helen met and later married a Jewish man and decided to live a Jewish life. Together, they have two children, Ari and Talia, whom they are raising Jewish. Helen, already a member of a minority ethnicity, has chosen to join another minority group. Despite these personal and intentional decisions and commitments, her physical appearance leads people to question her identity, this time as a Jew, and “other-ize” her.   For Helen, the phrase, “Funny, you don’t look Jewish” isn’t funny at all.

Does this sound familiar to anyone else as they try to navigate their own Jewish identity today? How do you keep trying to engage if you’re getting messages from everyone around you that you just don’t fit in, or you only “half” fit in? And then what do you do?

I left this event, hosted by Open Doors Fellow Tiffany Harris, thinking to myself, so what DOES Jewish look like? Why, in a world of such diversity, multiculturalism, and global exposure, is the Jewish community failing to recognize and embrace our diversity? My gut says it’s because we are not frequently enough in situations where we can have meaningful encounters with Jews (or non-Jews for that matter) who look different from ourselves. And often, when we do encounter difference, we dismiss the otherness, stay in our own comfortable Jewish mental paradigms, and move on.

Fortunately, Helen’s academic research, and her experience raising her own family, offer hope for what it might mean to “look Jewish” in the future. Helen encourages Jews to make connections and find commonalities in all of our Jewish stories, whatever they may be. So many of us feel “half” or “partial”, whether it’s Jewishly or in other parts of our lives. How can we, on a daily basis, allow and encourage people and Jews of all races and backgrounds, to bring their entire selves to the table?

In addition to the work we can all do more of on a daily basis, I am excited to learn about, and now share, other initiatives and people, both national and local, that are working to create more inclusive Jewish environments for Jews of color and other ethnicities and backgrounds. Please see below for more info, and as always, reach out to Rachel or Jackie at info@gatherdc.org if you’re interested in learning more, OR if you have ideas about how to create these inclusive spaces here in our own community:

  • Here is a recent NPR Article about Dr. Helen Kim and her work.
  • Learn about Rabbi Angela Buchdal, the first woman to be ordained as both a cantor and a rabbi, who is also believed to be the first Asian-American to obtain either post.
  • Two of our own Open Doors Fellows, Tiffany Harris and Georgia Mu, are each creating a unique project to highlight the amazing diversity of Jews in the DC area with their Capstone Projects – FunnyYouDon’tLookJewish.com and #MyJewishDC, respectively. More info on both of these projects will be posted on Gatherthejews.com in the coming weeks. If you want to be part of the videos or website s associated with these initiatives please email info@gatherdc.org.
  • Find out about B’Chol Lashon (In Every Tongue), an organization in the Bay Area trying to literally change the face of Judaism.
  • Participate in The Race Card Project by Michele Norris on NPR, by submitting your own six word essay.

This week we read the Torah portion Naso, which details the headcount of the Children of Israel in the Sinai Desert. Those who are counted will be the ones to build and then carry the tabernacle (or mishkan) that contains God’s holy presence. In our lives today, may we remember to count all Jews, all of the Israel’s children, even those who might not all look the same, but who still possess and carry God’s holy presence and make us a stronger people because of our beautiful differences.

Shabbat Shalom to all.

Global Jewish Advocacy in Action: the AJC ACCESS Summit

“Last summer, I attended my first AJC ACCESS Summit, which has proven to be a life-changing experience. In just two jam-packed days, I met so many young, impressive Jews who care not only about Israel, but international issues at large. We discussed the Middle East, Ukraine, and anti-Semitism in France. I established new contacts and friends, several of whom I now see regularly here in D.C. During the conference, I met a young Polish man who later became my entry-point into the young Jewish community in Poland, where I served as an AJC Goldman Fellow in June and July of 2014. While conversations with the ACCESS Summit participants were perhaps most inspirational, I also appreciated what I learned at break-out sessions, workshops, and formal talks, because they allowed for open dialogue and even respectful disagreements. Engaging in such high-level, nuanced conversations about global problems convinced me that I had to be more involved in the AJC, and immediately after the conference I applied to join the ACCESS DC board. Unsurprisingly, I cannot wait for this year’s summit!”

ACCESS DC Board Member, Hannah Morris, shared the above testimonial about how her experience with ACCESS Summit led her to become an ACCESS leader here in Washington, DC.

Are you interested in joining a community of global Jewish advocates who influence policy and engage with representatives from over 55 countries , participating in an intimate conference and showing up to represent the Washington Jewish Community? Now is your opportunity. Join the ACCESS DC Board and Supporters for the premier global Jewish conference for young professionals at AJC’s annual ACCESS Summit Friday June 5th through Sunday June 7th at the Washington Hilton.

At this year’s ACCESS Summit, representatives from over 55 countries will join AJC ACCESS in Washington DC to discuss and learn about diplomacy, United States Israel policy, how to combat anti-Semitism in Europe, the P5+1 negotiations with Iran, Israel’s place among nations, Muslim-Jewish partnerships, and German-Jewish Relations. In the intimate setting of the ACCESS Summit, you will sit next to diplomats at dinner, form ties with Jewish peers from Latin America, Europe, or Israel, and learn about opportunities to travel on an ACCESS mission around the world. Speakers include AJC experts from around the world as well as academics and world leaders such as Rabbi Ephraim Gabbai, AJC’s Assistant Director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations; Irshad Manji, the Founder and Director of the Moral Courage Project; and H.E. Daniel Taub, Ambassador of Israel to the Court of St. James’s. Find the full list of speakers here.

The Summit fee is $500 for the weekend which includes all meals and drinks. $500, ah! Sounds a little out of your budget? While the ACCESS Summit experience is priceless…have no fear, there are significant discount opportunities. For example, it’s 50% off for first-time attendees, 50% for ACCESS donors, 85% for students, and 100% for rabbis and Jewish educators. Interested in attending and receiving a discount? Can’t make it to the whole conference? No problem, for $50 you can attend the Summit Gala on the evening of June 6th. For more information about ACCESS Summit, contact Cassie Chesley at chesleyc.fellow@ajc.org.

This June is your chance to be a global Jewish advocate. What are you waiting for?

Jewish Girl of the Year Sasha’s Acceptance Speech

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Dear Gather the Jews Community, Friends, and Family,

I am honored and excited to have been chosen as Jewish Girl of the Year for 2015 on behalf of Gather the Jews.

Gather the Jews has been such a warm and welcoming community and has truly helped shape my life in D.C. I can’t believe it was just a year ago that I was moving here from San Diego, knowing only a handful of people.

I remember my first Gather the Jews event. I came alone. I barely knew anyone in the city and was excited to make new friends, so I thought I’d give Gather the Jews a try. I saw another girl who looked like she was alone but I thought, “I can’t just go over to her, that would be weird.” After 20 minutes of awkward conversation and feeling uncomfortable, I decided it was time to go. I gathered my stuff and was ready to leave. But then, I stopped and said to myself, “Wait a minute, I came here to make friends and that’s what I am going to do.” I turned around and introduced myself to that girl. Despite feeling nervous and awkward, I turned around and introduced myself to a girl standing alone, who I know consider one of my best friends here in D.C.

GTJ520_082I decided to apply to be an Open Door Fellow for Gather the Jews because it is my nature to talk to the person standing by themselves, and I wanted to have the opportunity to reach out to new Jews in the D.C. area. I love the diverse group of people I have met through this fellowship, and as it comes to an end, I hope to continue to be an ambassador for the Jewish community as Jewish Girl of the Year, connecting those around me and fostering a stronger Jewish community for young people in D.C.

By being both a fellow for Gather the Jews and coordinator of JWI’s Young Women’s Leadership Network, I have the opportunity to meet amazing young men and women every day. I urge everyone to go to Gather the Jews events and every Jewish event possible. You may surprise yourself and leave with friends and opportunities, as I have.

Thank you to Rachel and Jackie for being so kind and for all of your hard work planning GTJ events. A big thank you to everyone who voted in person or online and all my friends who came to support me.

Best,

Sasha (Challah Back Girl)

Jewish Guy of the Year Marc’s Acceptance Speech

GTJ520_065Every year, I am truly awed by the Washington, D.C. Young professional Jewish Community. Where else are you able to have so many great organizations working to support Jewish Young Professionals on their Jewish journey? As Rabbi Aaron Miller from 2239 said in a recent article in eJewish Philanthropy discussing 2239’s work with other organizations, “We care about each other’s success, respect each other’s calendars, and some of our best events are collaborations between organizations.” There are fantastic organizations each adding to DC’s 20’s and 30’s Jewish experience, and Gather the Jews is a part of the glue that holds us all together.

GTJ520_045D.C. doesn’t just have great Jewish organizations, but I have found that D.C. has amazing Jews. I believe that it is the power and the passion of each member of our community that drives these organizations to create unique Jewish experiences. D.C.’s Jews are passionate. During this campaign, I had the opportunity to talk to so many individuals who have a deep commitment to the issues that they care about, whether that is through Jewish organizations or through non- profits or even political campaigns. And it is this passion that I think makes the Jewish community in D.C. truly special.

I was never the cool kid in high school, and let’s face it, even though I’m Gather the Jews’ JGOTY, I’m barely cooler now. But I care about Judaism, I care about D.C.’s Jews, and in some small way, I want everyone in DC to find and then build up whatever is the meaningful Jewish place for them, whether that is a religious experience, social justice work, Torah studying or just hanging out with other Jews. As I take a moment to think about my own small place in this community, I wonder how as a broad community we can help support each and every person’s passion. How as a community can we make the various D.C. communities a better place than when we arrived? How can we make D.C. our Jewish home?

GTJ520_057Lastly, I want to thank all the people who voted for me, thank my parents and sisters for all their love and support and to all my dear friends who helped me throughout. I also want to provide a shout out to Nathaniel for an amazing video that highlights many great Jewish organizations in D.C. (definitely check them all out) and Gabe for making an excellent House of Cards spoof. I also want to thank 2239, in particular Metro Minyan,the RAC and JUFJ for helping me on my Jewish journey.

“An Honorary Member of the Tribe” – President Barack Obama at Adas Israel

IMG_4673I haven’t even lived a full year in the District and I already passed one of DC’s most notable steps of initiation (along with a happy hour at Founding Farmers and paddling along the Potomac): seeing President Barack Obama speak. Not only was I in the same room as the President, but the event was held at Adas Israel Congregation, an exciting and historic place to hold the event since only three other sitting presidents have ever spoken at a U.S. synagogue.

President Obama was welcomed wholeheartedly by Rabbi Gil Steinlauf and with a long standing ovation by the audience. Once everyone was reseated, Obama opened with lighthearted banter about his faith and a humorous anecdote, in which he was dubbed “The first Jewish President” and, my personal favorite, “An Honorary Member of the Tribe.” After a few more mentions of his involvement with Jewish culture – seven White House Passover Seders and two Jewish chiefs of staff – the President was clearly connecting with the audience before getting into the nitty gritty of his message.

Obama sought to reassure American Jews that he fully supports the state of Israel, reiterating the need for a two-state solution, all while reaffirming support for Jews amid rising anti-Semitism. With all the turmoil and conflict over the Iran nuclear deal, it was uplifting to hear Obama say directly to the Jewish people that no matter what happens, “The people of Israel must always know that America has its back.” While he revealed no definitive plan or any new information on the subject, a glimpse of hope is nothing to denounce.

The speech fell on the culmination of Jewish American Heritage Month and on the night before Shavuot, great timing in my opinion. At a time when the politics of U.S. support for Israel have become increasingly polarized – with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking out to Congress against Obama’s Iran policy in March, followed by Obama’s criticism of Netanyahu’s reelection campaign tactics – Adas Israel stood out that Friday morning as a place of unity among the Jewish community.

Obama’s presence at Adas was an attempt to repair his image to the Jewish people and reaffirm his staunch support for the state of Israel. But in addition, he really wanted to forge an emotional connection with the Jewish people, and I think he succeeded.

Watch the Presidents full remarks here.

Read about the Presidents chavruta with Rabbi Gil Steinlauf

Washington Jewish Weeks Coverage of the Event: Obama speaks of love for Israel while continuing criticism

Time’s coverage of the Event

 

Gather the Jews highlight the multiple voices of our community therefore does not endorse any of the held opinions of our writers. 

Rediscovering and Reinventing Judaism

kelleyWhen I began my time as an Open Doors Fellow, I was drawn in two directions. I wanted to create space in DC’s Jewish community where Jewish people could do any of the various things they loved together. My dream was for there to be a Jewish community engaging in the incredible diversity of activities and learning opportunities that DC has to offer. Whether or not their engagement explicitly centered itself in Judaism was irrelevant to me. I wanted a Jewish community where Jews were able to engage other elements of their identity, but do so together. I also wanted to allow for the possibility of in depth Jewish learning for those who had not had access to it in their earlier Jewish life, or who did not feel at home in learning spaces that exist now. Early on in my Fellowship, I discovered Minyan of Thinkers, which allowed me to explore more deeply why these things matter to me and how they’re connected. Minyan of Thinkers provided a spark of hope for my Judaism when I didn’t know where to turn to rejuvenate it.

The Minyan of Thinkers is a dialogue-based group that creates an intellectually open and safe space that allows us, the ten members, to come up with new approaches to challenges facing the Jewish community. Just as traditional Judaism uses a quorum of ten for public prayer, we build on the collective spiritual and intellectual energy of our members to create positive social change. We meet monthly to grapple with scholarly articles on a major Jewish topic and develop new ideas that we share with the larger community via written reflection pieces and public events. This year, Minyan of Thinkers has been discussing the Pew Study, Jewish identity, and the future of the Jewish Community. In that conversation, I have been given the opportunity to explore why I think it matters that Jews be able to connect about the multi-faceted elements of their identity and also deeply engage their Judaism so that it is as fulfilling and meaningful as they want it to be.


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We have spent a good deal of time considering what it actually means for the Jewish community that intermarriage is on the rise while birth rates decline, and affiliation with Jews and Jewish organization become less numerically prevalent. We discussed the fact that this must be viewed in the larger context of American religious affiliation in general, as well as American “melting pot” culture. We also acknowledged that our anecdotal evidence, while anecdotal, leads us to believe that the PEW study data at best overstates the problem, and at worst fails to grasp the complexity of modern Jewish identity. This led us towards discussion of what does constitute a modern and American Jewish identity. Perhaps, we posited, one element of the problem is that the metrics used by the PEW study are the structures in Jewish life that are no longer practical or resonant, so to measure them will show us that what we have lost is what we know is no longer working. How, then, do we construct metrics that measure for the quiet, internal, less institutional and traditional elements of Jewish identity–the personal but deeply important ways that people view their lives through a Jewish lens? And, perhaps more important than measuring, how do we create Jewish life that speaks to those pieces in new ways?

There exist structures–camp, day school, Hillel–that get it right, but how do we create those opportunities for people who are older and still in search of their Jewish identity? How do we continue to excite people in the way that those institutions do? How do we transform what does exist to meet these new needs, and expand the lens of Judaism’s meaning outward into the modern, complex, busy lives of the modern day Jew? How do we allow Jews to connect to one another in a way that includes both meaningful Judaism and also allows for the importance of other pieces of who we are?

Minyan of Thinkers has allowed me to really dig into these questions, and Open Doors has allowed us to act on them. On May 31, Minyan of Thinkers and Open Doors Fellow David Miller will present a public opportunity to explore Jewish Identity in a new way. Inspired by what it feels like to exist on the margins of Judaism in any way, this event invites participants to explore the edges of Judaism and discover and engage more deeply with the ways they do connect. Senior Rabbi Gil Steinlauf of Adas Israel will be an educator and facilitator in our discussion.
Later, on June 20, Open Doors Fellow Kelley Kidd will partner with Minyan of Thinkers and Next Dor present an opportunity for people to specifically delve into their relationship to Shabbat, and build a deeper, more personal one. It is thrilling to see the way that partnership, growth, and learning can emerge when we gather together to discover what we’re all looking for.

The Minyan of Thinkers is a sustained Jewish learning group that meets monthly to grapple with scholarly articles on a major Jewish topic. Contact them to learn more or get involved.

To learn more about the Open Doors Fellows and their projects email Gather the Jews.

Shavuot Guide 2015/5775

shavuos-banner2Shavuot is the second of three Biblical pilgrimage and agricultural holidays (the others being Passover and Sukkot) but the lesser known of the three. So what exactly is Shavout? It is the Festival of Weeks, the holiday’s date is determined by counting seven weeks after the end of Passover. Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. It is customary to stay up all night and study Torah and to eat dairy foods (especially cheesecake!)

There will be several opportunities to participate in Shavuot celebrations all over DC and we will update the list as the events are announced! Did we miss anything? Submit Events Here.

Tuesday May 19th

Wednesday May 20th

Saturday May 23rd

Recipes for Shavuot:ChocolateCheesecake-230x150Try this Chocolate Cheesecake & Challah Recipe from Aish.com

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Cooking these Cheese Blintzes, recipe from Chabad.org, will make your roommates love you!

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These Spinach Tidbits from About.com make a great appetizer, or whole meal if you have no portion control!

Other Shavuot Resources:

Giving You a Nudge NOT to Fudge

456900443A new study came out this week discussing what happens when people enhance (aka fudge) their profile pictures on popular online dating sites and apps. The most interesting part of the findings was that they differed between men and women.

Researchers at the University of Connecticut have revealed that when men viewed enhanced photos of women, they perceived the women to be more attractive but less trustworthy.  (This seems to make sense.) Women, however, found enhanced photos of men both increased attractiveness and increased trustworthiness.  This one, I’m not so sure about…

They go on to say, “Our research also found that males found the beautified profile as more attractive and had a higher desire to date the person in the picture despite the lower degree of trustworthiness they reported,” the authors noted.  “In our sample, attraction seems to be more important than trust.”

So, basically, men like hot women. That’s not news.

Here’s how the research went down:
This team of researchers performed a study that followed more than 300 heterosexual men and women aged 17 to 36 from different online dating sites. Men were asked several questions regarding different profiles of women and were then asked to rate the profiles under categories like attractiveness and trust. The images had been previously chosen so as to feature two distinct image types. One had been edited (including lighting, make-up, hair) while the other represented a “non-beautified” image. Then the women were questioned regarding male profiles that had undergone the same type of phf9f8a20eba603fda0be0e604637409f2oto alterations.

Before I discuss the study’s implications, it’s important to take the results with a grain of salt for the following reasons:

  1. It’s not statistically significant.
  2. The age range is not representative of the average age of all online daters. (OkCupid’s reported median age last year was 29.)
  3. Those studied may have known—or figured out—what kind of study this was, thereby impacting the results.

What does this study actually mean? I read the results as a sign that when men see an exceptionally attractive picture, while they may see the woman in it as being less trustworthy, her superior looks overshadow that lack of trust. On the other hand, women see the better-looking picture of a man and actually think he’s more trustworthy. It is true that men just want looks, and women are able to rationalize things when they find someone attractive? Like, if he’s that good-looking, he must be smart and trustworthy and successful, too.

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I know that since catfishing abounds, such information can be useful. But the best advice I can give is to use a real, unenhanced photo. When you show up on the date, you want to look just like your photos so 1) you can be recognized and 2) you can be truthful. Enhancing your photos—or otherwise lying in your profile—shows a lack of confidence, and you’re wasting your date’s time by making him or her agree to meet you only to realize it’s not the real you.

10 Things You Should Know about Natasha Lyonne

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On Wednesday, May 20 at 7:00 pm, celebrate Shavuot at The TEN, Sixth & I’s innovative take on the holiday traditionally observed by studying Torah and enjoying the first fruits of the harvest. The TEN refers to the ten commandments since Shavuot commemorates the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah/ten commandments to the Jewish people.

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This high-energy, entertainment-rich, thought-provoking evening features actress Natasha Lyonne in conversation with Rabbi Scott Perlo. They’ll discuss storytelling from an artistic and human perspective; Jewish culture and identity; and the intersection between culture/spirituality and the creative life.

Since it is The TEN, we thought it’d be perfect to share 10 things to know about Natasha Lyonne:

  1. When she was just six years old, Natasha got her first “big break” when she was cast as “Opal” on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.
  2. She attended The Ramaz School, a Yeshiva in Manhattan, where she performed in the school production of The Magic Garden.
  3. Along with Goldie Hawn, Drew Barrymore, Natalie Portman, Edward Norton, Alan Alda, and Julia Roberts, Natasha starred in Woody Allen’s only musical movie, Everybody Says I Love You.
  4. Between 1996 and 2006, Natasha appeared in over 30 films—including Slums of Beverly HillsAmerican Pie, and the cult-classic But I’m a Cheerleader.
  5. She has guest-starred on both New Girl and Girls.
  6. The Rufus Wainwright song, “Natasha,” is written about her.
  1. Her maternal grandparents, both originally from Hungary, were Holocaust survivors.
  2. She has a dog named Root Beer.
  3. She received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for her portrayal of Nicky Nichols on Orange Is the New Black. 
  4. You can see Natasha back in action as Nicky Nichols when Season 3 of Orange Is the New Black premieres on June 12.

Want to learn more? Register today for the The TEN: An Alternative Shavuot Experience.

Hang out after the conversation for cheesecake cupcakes from Grassroots Gourmet, Vietnamese iced coffee spiked with Kahlúa, DIY crafts, and to continue the discussion with Rabbi Scott.

Made possible by the generosity of The Reva and David Logan Foundation