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Meet Sarah: Jewish Equestrian of the Week

Last week, her dog – Lilush – made headlines as GatherDC’s first-ever Jewish Dog of the Month. This week, we have the inside scoop on the woman behind the dog. And guess what, she’s awesome.

Get to this dog-loving equestrian who we are lucky to have as a part of our Jewish community here in DC.

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Sarah: I moved back in August, 2016 when I was hired to work on Hillary Clinton’s campaign. I moved here after living in Tel Aviv for 3 ½ years.

Allie: What were you doing in Tel Aviv?

Sara: I went on a Masa Israel program where I interned in Tel Aviv, and then I stayed to go to grad school in government and diplomacy and conflict resolution at IDC. I was never able to study abroad because I was a competitive equestrian in college, so I thought of this as my study abroad experience.

sarah in israel with her mom

Allie: How did you get into horseback riding?

Sarah: I started when I was 10 years-old at summer camp. I fell in love with it. I love animals. Finding a hobby that combined exercise, animals, and was a challenge was the greatest thing ever. I love the feeling of bonding with your horse. Riding also teaches you so much responsibility. It shows you how to care for another animal and be responsible for their well-being. I loved all aspects of learning how to groom and properly take care of the horse and the competitiveness of showing.

Allie: What is showing?

Sarah: Showing is essentially competing against your peers to win ribbons and rankings. I did dressage and hunter/jumpers. which are different types of riding. Dressage is like dancing on horses, its being one with your horse. Hunter/jumper is going over obstacles in a course.

Allie: Do you still ride?

Sarah: When I went to Israel, there wasn’t much opportunity to ride horses. But, whenever I go back home to visit my family in Florida, I visit Jasper who is living in a stable near them. I definitely want to get involved in riding in DC. It’s just so expensive.

sarah horseback riding

Allie: Do you have any other favorite hobbies?

Sarah: I love board games, and trivia. I also love 305 Fitness dance classes.

Allie: How did you come up with the idea for your new Jewish Dog of the Month feature?

Sarah: It was a team effort with the other Open Doors Fellows. We had a meeting where we talked about what we would like to bring to the Jewish community as our capstone project, and I knew I wanted to do something with animals. One of the Fellows, Julia, said “I hate dogs, but people seem to really like them.” That got me thinking about this, and then another Fellow, Ben Cohen, suggested the idea of a Jewish Dog of the Month feature. He may have been kidding. But I said, “Yes! That’s perfect.”

Allie: What do you hope comes from this feature?

Sarah: I hope people enjoy reading more about the dogs in DC, and the owners will learn new, fun places to take their dogs. I also hope we can have fun, social events where you can come with your dog to a Nats game, a brunch, or a “yappy hour”.  I hope we can get a great community out of it, as well as a network of both dog owners and people who love dogs and want to get their puppy fix. I know a lot of people who love dogs but don’t want to get one because of the whole time commitment, so I’d love to have a training session where we go over how to own a dog in the city. Email me if you’d be interested in a doggy owner/lover meet-up!

Allie: What’s your favorite thing to do with your dog, Lilush, in DC?

Sarah: I love taking her to the park. She gets so excited. I just love having quality one-on-one time with her. After the park, there’s a dog store called Doggy Style Boutique, and she loves to stand in front of it until I get her a treat.

Allie: How has Lilush’s life changed since being named “Jewish Dog of the Month” ?

Sarah: I think she definitely has more recognition. She loves meeting people – not dogs necessarily, so it’s been a great way for her to meet new faces and make new friends. She’s excited to see what the future holds. She’s getting a little brother in July. My boyfriend and I are getting an English golden retriever on July 5th whose name is yet to be determined. Lilush is going to be 11, and she’s not as mobile as she used to be. I’ve read that the older the dogs get, if you introduce them to a puppy, it will keep them young.

dog and owners

Allie: Describe your perfect DC day from start to finish?

Sarah: I love to go to the Dupont Farmers Market, and then go kayaking along the Georgetown Waterfront. Then, I’d go for Sunday happy hour on 14th Street at Ghibellina or Sette Osteria – with Lilush. Then, I’d just hang out at home and watch Law & Order: SVU or Fauda.

Allie: If you could eat at one restaurant every night, which one would it be?

Sarah: Aqua Al 2 in Capitol Hill. They have these really awesome vegetarian pasta, salad, and dessert tasting menus. Last time I was there I saw Nancy Pelosi!

Allie: What are you most excited about this summer?

Sarah: I love going to the outdoor movies. I am also really excited because I am going to Israel and Ireland for two weeks. In Ireland, I’m planning this amazing riding excursion where I’ll ride through the forest to a haunted castle.

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

Sarah: They’re welcome to bring their dogs!







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

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.



*NEW FEATURE* Jewish Dog of the Month: Lilush!

Say “woof” to our newest blog feature…The Jewish Dog of the Month.

GatherDC’s very own Open Doors Fellow and big time dog lover, Sarah Brennan, is excited to showcase the cutest Jewish pups across the district.

Learn what really goes on inside the heads of these adorable, Challah-loving furballs with this monthly treat. Plus, we’ll even offer meetups throughout the year where you can get to know these pups and their awesome owners. Email Sarah if you and your dog would be interested in attending get-togethers with other pups and their humans.

*Wags tail*

The first doggy to be featured is Sarah’s own pup, Lilush! A dog that needs no introduction.


Allie: What is your name?

Lilush: Lilush – American name: Layla. My owner’s name is Sarah Brennan.

dog and ownersAllie: Where did your name come from?

Lilush: My name comes from Israel! I lived and grew up there before moving to DC.

Allie: What’s your favorite DC restaurant?

Lilush: I love to dine al fresco at Sette Osteria and Floriana! Sette has a great happy hour, and I am always welcomed with a warm greeting and tons of water. Floriana is across from where I live and they have tasty Rose. Plus, Italian is my favorite cuisine, how can you beat the complimentary bread?

Allie: How did you get to DC?

Lilush: I moved here from Tel Aviv! I was so lucky when my pawrents decided to move to DC, and I was able to fly in the plane with them (I got upgraded to business class, NBD). I had the greatest time on the plane, and was surrounded by kids giving me non-stop attention.

Allie: What is your go-to pet store?

Lilush: I love “Doggy Style Bakery, Boutique, & Pet Spa”. I’m so lucky because it is located just down the block from my home! I go there for regular groomings and to stop in for treats and toys. Last Halloween, I won their costume contest (wearing a sparkle tutu).

What is your favorite food?

Lilush: I love the classics. I can never go wrong with peanut butter, especially if it is covering one of my new bones.

dog at brunch

Allie: What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?

Lilush: A year ago, when I moved to DC, a young girl told me I was “so fluffy she could die.” She said I was fluffier than the unicorn from “Despicable Me”.

Allie: What is your favorite thing to do when you think no one is looking?

Lilush: My favorite pastime is snagging food off the street during my walks when my owners aren’t looking. This morning, I found a chicken wing.

Allie: If a genie could grant you 3 wishes, what would they be?

Lilush: 1) Go to brunch/happy hour everyday with my mom and friends. 2) Have endless amounts of treats and bully sticks. 3) Have designated people whose sole purpose is to rub my belly.

Allie: What’s your favorite Jewish holiday and why?

Lilush: That’s a tie! I love Passover because most times at the Seder people pass me their matzah when they are sick of eating it. I also aim to find the Afikoman before the humans (I succeeded, Seder of 2015)!

Yom Ha’atzmaut is also great because I love the non-stop BBQ’ing and celebrating my homeland’s independence.

Allie: What is your spirit animal?

Lilush: My spirit animal is most definitely a unicorn! Got to love their unique qualities, rainbow, and sparkle.

Want to nominate your awesome doggy (or cat!) to be featured? Email Sarah Brennan and let her know.


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.

Jewish Politician of the Week: Andrew!

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

Get to know Mr. Andrew Friedson, AKA: beloved Uncle Drew, diehard Caps fan, DC-area native, and future county council member? Only the votes will tell.

andrew friedson

Allie: Is this the first time you’ve run for political office?

Andrew: If you don’t count student government! I was SGA Treasurer, Vice President and then President of Hoover Middle School, and then student body president of Churchill High School and University of Maryland.

Allie: Where does your passion for politics come from?

Andrew: I view public service not as a career choice, but as a calling.

When I was in 5th grade at Wayside Elementary School, I saw an issue with the bus route where there was a blindspot on one of the turns. I tried to tell the school principal, but she wouldn’t meet with me. So, I stopped her  in the hallway and explained it to her on a note pad. She said, “Andrew, the Montgomery County Board of Transportation made these bus routes, and I think they are up to par.” A week later there was a major bus crash at that turn.

An article about this crash was published in the Potomac Almanac. I cut it out and pinned it to my cork-board in my bedroom, and had it there my entire childhood. It became my north star. If you see something, you should say something. If there’s a wrong, you should try to right it. This sense of obligation drove me then, and does still.

friedson and his bro at good deeds day

My brother (and new dad!) Matthew and I at The Jewish Federation’s Good Deeds Day

Allie: What celebrity would you most want to be your campaign manager?

Andrew: Natalie Portman! She’s awesome.

Allie: Did the 2016 presidential election motivate you to run?

Andrew: I have the same frustration, anger, and disgust as many do about some of the things that are happening as a result of the last presidential election, but I didn’t need Trump to get elected for me to get involved in politics. That election has helped galvanize people to get involved in politics who were not engaged before, and who now finally see just how important it is. Unfortunately, there is a saying in politics that there are two motivators – ambition and fear. We hope we have leaders that are playing more to people’s ambitions for a better world than to people’s fears. But, when there is a fear of our values being threatened, it’s encouraging to know that people are willing to stand up for them.

Allie: What would be your ultimate dream job?

Andrew: When I was little I wanted to be a pediatric oncologist. I realize this is not a totally normal thing for a kid to want to do. It turned out I wasn’t that good at science and wasn’t interested in being in school for that long. But, I was able to speak at the groundbreaking for the Shady Grove Adventist Aquilino Cancer Center. I felt like this was the closest I would ever come to realizing my dream.

I was actually at Shady Grove Medical Center Shady Grove just yesterday because my sister-in-law was having a baby (MAZEL!), and passed by the cancer center.

Right now though, my dream job is to be the Montgomery County Council Member.

Also, in a fantasy world, I’d love to be the General Manager of the Caps, and on Facebook, sometimes I pretend that I am!

Allie: Has your Jewish identity shaped your platform at all?

Andrew: From the time I was really young, I’ve felt a strong obligation to help community. This is a value I learned from my parents growing up in a Jewish household. My focus on making sure we don’t leave anybody behind and having a high quality of education are core Jewish values. I’ve also always had this burning desire to improve the world – tikkun olam. I used to think of this in a much more global sense, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve started to view it in a more Jewish context, that saving just one person is like saving the whole world. That’s why I love state and local politics, where you have the chance to change the world one person, one community, one specific problem at a time.

Allie: Do you have a favorite memory from the campaign trail?

Andrew: I was canvassing, going door-to-door in a neighborhood, and It was really hot. I decided to walk into a nearby market to grab a cold drink. When I was walking in, I saw a piece of campaign literature with my name and face taped to the window, and saw one of my yard signs out front. All of a sudden the store owner looked up at me and he looked at the picture and shouted, “You’re my guy!” His name is Weldon, and I had never met him before that.

taste of bethesda

On the campaign trail

Allie: What are the biggest issues you want to help out with as County Council Member?

Andrew: I’m most focused on education, transportation, and economic development. If we can get these three things right, they’ll have the biggest impact on improving people’s lives.

Allie: What’s the best and worst thing about campaigning?

Andrew: Running a campaign is basically like running a small business that all coalesces on one day, so there is definitely pressure. But, I love campaigning. I enjoy getting up in the morning often, and not going to bed at night. I get energy from meeting people, learning what they care about, and discussing how how address the challenges we face.

Allie: Do you have a favorite quote you like to live by?

Andrew: I have two:

  1. “If I am not for myself, then who will be or me? If I am for myself only, then what am I? And if not now, when?” – Rabbi Hillel
  2. “It always seems impossible until it’s done” – Nelson Mandela

Allie: It seems like you keep yourself  VERY busy. When (and if) you have free moments, how do you like to spend them?

Being Uncle Drew

Andrew: I love spending time with my nieces and nephews as their Uncle Drew. I have 8, which includes one who was just born, and they all live in this area.

Allie: Are there any interesting facts that people may not know about you?

Andrew: I cracked my head open twice as a kid when I was asleep, I just rolled over and hit the nightstand! 

Allie: If you had 3 wishes, what would they be?

Andrew: 1) Good health for my family. 2) Every student in Montgomery County is able to show up to kindergarten ready to learn, so they’re not left behind before they even have a chance to start. 3) Every young person who goes to school feels and is safe.

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

Andrew: Exciting things happen.

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 Jeremy: Jewish Canadian 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

hanging at a sports gameAllie: What brought you to DC?

Jeremy: Like most people, it was happenstance of the job. I went to school in St. Louis, and am from Toronto originally, so I didn’t have ties to any cities in the US. I’d always heard that DC was a cool city to live, and filled with a lot of young people. After 3 years here, I’m so happy I made that decision.

Allie: How did you decide to move to America after growing up in Canada?

Jeremy: Canada’s university system takes a very European approach to education. When you apply to college out of high school, you apply directly to a specific program, like pre-med. In the US, it’s a lot more liberal. You don’t need to pick your major until the second year, there’s a lot more flexibility. Also, I had the same group of friends since middle school, and they were all going to go to the same college, so it was good for me to expand.

Allie: What do you think are the biggest differences between America and Canada?

Jeremy: 1) The cities in the US. have a much more diverse group of people. In Canada, people are either from Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver. In the US, you have people from the middle of Iowa and people from New York who are now living in the same city.

2)  In the US, there is a lot more homegrown, original stuff that goes on in the cities. Toronto is a big city, but if you look at the entertainment options there, most shows and art didn’t originate in Toronto, they started in New York or L.A.

3) There are a lot more all-you-can-eat buffets in the US.

4) Canada just got its first Cheesecake Factory six months ago. Since then, there have been non-stop lines at the restaurant, and Canadian food bloggers are writing food blogs about it. People can’t even get reservations.

Allie: What are you most excited about for the summertime?

Jeremy: It’s my dad’s 60th birthday this summer, so my family rented a house in Puglia, Italy and are going to go at the end of summer. Apparently, there’s a wood-burning pizza oven in the backyard of the house, and it’s near wineries. I’m excited to drink wine, eat pizza, and it’s only 20 minutes from the beach and some old Italian cities.

Allie: If you had an entirely free day to do whatever you want in D.C., how would you spend it?

Jeremy:  I’d probably sleep in, go to Bethesda Bagels, and ideally there wouldn’t be a line. Then, I’d head towards the monuments. I’ve always wanted to go up the Washington Monument, even though the elevators have been broken for so long. In my ideal day, the elevators would be working. I’ve really wanted to go to the African American Museum, so I’d go there, and then  grab lunch somewhere downtown. I’d go to Mini Bar for dinner, and then to a speakeasy – the one behind Jack Rose called Dram and Grain DC. I’ve never been, but apparently they have really good bourbon drinks. Oh, also, I love going to see movies at the Air and Space Museum.

Jewish friends in DC

Allie: What’s your favorite smell and why?

Jeremy: Vanilla, Cinnabon, and the smell of a flower shop.

Allie: What’s your favorite way to relax and destress?

Jeremy: I try and go for a run every so often, and read. I tried to meditate for a week, and I wish I could do that longer, maybe that’s something I can learn this year.

Allie: If you could eat 3 foods for the rest of your life what would they be?

Jeremy: Bagel/lox/cream cheese, steak with a side of parmesan truffle fries, and any veggie pizza.

Allie: What’s at the top of your bucket list?

Jeremy: I want to see the Northern Lights. I want to go skydiving, but I’m terrified of heights. And I want to go scuba diving more often.

Allie: Are there any Canadian terms for things that you wish people knew?

Jeremy: My favorite word you guys don’t have here is a garburator – it’s a garbage disposal.

Allie: Hobbies or skills you want to do or learn this year?

I want to do more snowboarding and ice hockey. I’d like to go on a snowboarding trip to Vail or Big White in Canada for hockey and snowboarding.

Allie: Do you have any interesting facts that people may not know about you?

Jeremy: I have slept in an igloo, and have been dog sledding before.

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

Jeremy: They argue whose mom makes the best matzo ball soup (mine does).

Jewish guy of the week and girlfriend


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 Danna: Jewish Spin Lover of the Week

Fact: Danna Koren used to get in trouble for sniffing magazines in the grocery store. Learn more about this phenomenal Hebrew speaking, spin loving human in our exclusive 1:1 interview!

jewish girl of week on bikeAllie: What brought you to DC?

Danna: After college, I moved home to Philly – go Eagles! – to work as a fundraiser for a local gubernatorial campaign. I went to University of Maryland for undergrad and loved being in this area, so I moved back to DC to continue working in politics before eventually landing at The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington as an event planner.

Allie: If you had an entirely free day to do whatever you wanted in DC, how would you spend it?

Danna: First, I’d go to a spin class at Cycle Bar. Then, I’d probably go to Union Market for brunch and have a bloody mary or two – I love Buffalo & Bergen. I also like to take really long walks around the city, and love outdoor biking – as well as indoor. I’d love to bike all the way across town and along the river, and see the monuments. At night, I’d read a book on my balcony.

danna and her boyfriendAllie: What’s your favorite smell and why?

Danna: Fresh new books and magazines. I love cracking open a new book. As a kid I would sniff magazines in the grocery store, and would get in trouble for it.

Allie: If you could eat at one restaurant forever, which one would it be?

Danna: I love Indigo DC, which is in my neighborhood. I could eat their butter chicken, rice, and chickpeas every single day. Make sure not to skip their mango chutney. And no, they did not pay me to say this.

Allie: What is a skill you want to learn this year?

Danna: I’ve always wanted to be an indoor spin instructor. It’s a really long and difficult process, and I’m still getting over a lifelong stage fright. My goal is to get myself ready to try out within the next year.

Allie: What are you looking forward to most about summertime?

Danna: I love playing kickball with my DC Fray team, this is a highlight of the week for me in the summertime. Also, I’ve been working on this Israel@70 Celebration with Federation that I’m really excited for. It’s going to be a musical birthday celebration for Israel with some amazing musical talent, including the singer of “Golden Boy” (Nadav Guedj). 

jewish girl of week at sukkah with friendAllie: What makes you so excited about this event?

Danna: I am actually a dual citizen of Israel and the US. I grew up with Israeli parents. A lot of my childhood memories are in Israel, even though I’ve never technically lived there. Growing up, I spent every summer in Israel since all of my extended family are there. We spoke Hebrew at home – and still do. I actually didn’t learn English until I went to school. So for me, it really is a privilege getting to be a part of this Israel@70 Celebration.

Allie: Wow! Do you have other Hebrew speaking friends in the area?

Danna: I’m part of Hebrew speaking club, called the “Hebrew Club”. We meet once a month for happy hours and other events where we just speak Hebrew with one another.

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

Danna: They’re bound to have 25 mutual friends.


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

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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.

Artichoke is the New Shrimp

The precedent

July 11, 1883, is one of most disastrous, non-violent days in recent Jewish memory: the date of the infamous Trefa Banquet.

During the graduation celebration for the first class to attend Hebrew Union College, dishes were served featuring shrimp, crab, and meat alongside ice cream! It is still unclear to this day if it was a caterer’s mistake, or done intentionally. Whatever happened, it was followed by the Head of the College, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, skipping apologies entirely, and eating the forbidden food under the eyes of hundreds of speechless guests. Since that momentous event, many who identity with Reform Judaism are inclined to eat shrimp and other non-kosher shellfish, differentiating them from Orthodox and Conservative communities.

In sum, this sole dinner helped launch the first true schism in modern Jewish history.

The current crisis

Why am I talking about this banquet more than a century later? Because another, although smaller, culinary and cultural schism may be on the horizon.

This time, the bone of contention is a dish very close to my heart (and mouth): the carciofo alla giudia, better known as the Roman artichoke (AKA: a deep fried artichoke). This succulent dish is the pride of the Rome’s Jewish community, and has been one of its most important symbols for centuries. This year, just a few days before the beginning of Passover, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel’s Chief Rabbinate declared the artichoke to be non-kosher after receiving a package of Roman artichokes full of worms. The Israeli rabbinate stated that the artichoke is not safe to eat since worms can be hidden on the inside of the vegetable, rendering it non-kosher.

The reactions

As you can imagine, the reaction of the Italian Jewish community was at first of incredulity, followed thereafter by a rebellion that has caused a break within the community itself.

The Jews of Rome stayed faithful to their beloved dish and, led by their Chief Rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni, continued to offer fried artichoke in the ghetto’s restaurants. To emphasize the point,Rabbi Di Segni wished everybody a “Happy Passover” in a video during which he peeled artichokes in front of a synagogue. The Jewish community of Milan, however, has instead decided to follow the decision of the Israeli rabbinate, and removed the dish from its Jewish restaurants.

The solution(s)

As my grandma says, “for each problem there is a solution.” When applied to the Jewish world, this saying becomes, “for each problem, there are several different solutions.”

Milan’s answer: The Jews of Milan are reinventing the dish and making it 100% kosher by cutting it up and cleaning the vegetable before frying it. The artichoke is now re-composed directly on the plate.

Rome’s answer: The Jews of Rome followed their own Chief Rabbi and continue to eat the artichoke according to their tradition. After all, as Mr. Pavoncello (owner of Nonna Betta, one of the Roman ghetto’s Jewish restaurants) said, “There is no pope [in Judaism]”. He explained that each community can make its own decision about which fruits and vegetables are proper to eat.

Naples’ answer: Rabbi Umberto Piperno, chief rabbi of the Jewish community of Naples, is trying to create and patent an ultrasound, flying-bug repellent which could tell with a 100% certainty if there are worms/bugs inside the artichokes without needing to open them.

My personal answer: Since my personal kashrut rules are limited to not eating pork or bringing shellfish home (mostly to avoid the complaints of my husband, who keeps kosher), the artichoke issue is not a problem. However, this debate continues to feel very personal to me because it involves the Italian Jewish community of which I am a part. I try to eat at least one Jewish artichoke every time I go to Rome. Last time, during a nasty NYC-snowstorm-induced layover, I had the signature dish in Rome’s airport as part of my wedding anniversary celebration!

After reading all about the controversy around this dish, I started to crave some good, deep fried artichokes myself. So, I decided to try the two DC restaurants that I knew were serving the delicacy: Etto and Lupo Verde.

Lupo Verde, which is designed to serve typical Roman food, was the uncontested winner! Their fried artichokes were so delicious that they made me almost feel like I was home.

If this article triggered your own fried artichoke craving, here are some recipes you can try out at home. Bete’avon!

Fried Artichoke from The New York Times

Jewish Style Fried Artichokes from My Jewish Learning

[Video] Artichokes Jewish-style, Italian recipe



About the Author: Daniela 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 a “retired philosopher” who works as an executive assistant and loves to write about Italian and Jewish events happening in DC. She was born and raised in Sicily (Italy) in an interfaith family and moved to D.C. with her husband after studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where they met. They have a wonderful Siberian cat named Rambam! Daniela loves going to work while listening to Leonard Cohen’s songs and sometimes performs in a West African Dance group.



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 Sam: Jewish Twin 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

Sam and his twin sister, Hannah

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Sam: When I graduated, I got a job in DC doing higher education research with EAB. I grew up in Westchester, New York – and found DC to be a lot more diverse and fun than I expected!

Allie: What does higher education research entail?

Sam: EAB does education and technology research and provides services to make academic institutions more financially sustainable. It might sound a little boring, but one of the cool things about it is that most finance people are not going to work at a university if they’re in it for the money. Finance officers at colleges are there because they value the importance of higher education. So, when we talk to them, we talk about finance as a means to provide more education to more students in a more sustainable way.

Allie: Awesome. Okay, new topic – what’s your favorite smell and why?

Sam: Vanilla. It brings back memories of baking in my kitchen with my family. I personally love baking – making pies, cakes, and cookies. My twin sister is also a pastry chef, and I’m often told that I’m not allowed to bake because it’s her thing. She is pretty legit, she went to culinary school and got a degree in baking and pastry arts.

Allie: What is it like being a twin?

Sam: I loved being a twin up until teenage angst happened. [When we were teens], both of us were not the biggest fans of each other. It often felt uncomfortable in high school because the other person was always there. My twin sister and I have become a lot closer over the last five or six years, and it’s great having someone my age to talk to about the issues we both deal with.

Sam on Beyond the Tent

Allie: In other news, I heard you went GatherDC’s last Beyond the Tent retreat. What was that like?

Sam: A friend of mind from college (and previous Jewish Person of the Week Margaret), went on Beyond the Tent with GatherDC and had a great experience. Because of her, I met a bunch of people who also went on Beyond the Tent, and they convinced me to go. In college, I spent a lot of time doing dialogue intensive programs with race groups, and was missing the opportunity to develop strong relationships through dialogue experiences.

I really didn’t know what to expect from Beyond the Tent. Immediately, when I arrived, Rabbi Aaron started to facilitate an intensive ice breaker experience. I was hooked on trying to unpack my own experiences, and prior understanding of what my personal American Jewish identity was. This was something that fascinated me, and I was really eager to get into it. I’ve never taken the time to unpack what Jewish culture, tradition, and morality meant to me. It was really great to have the opportunity to do so in an environment where I was pushed to think about those ideas.

[Editor’s Note: Applications for the next Beyond the Tent are now open. You can apply to be a part of Beyond the Tent this July]

Photo Credit: Skidmore Women in Business

Allie: If you had an entirely free day to do whatever you wanted in DC, how would you spend it?

Sam: I would start by kayaking on the Potomac River and then have brunch at “Farmers, Fishers, Bakers” in Georgetown. Then, I would walk along the National Mall and play frisbee with some folks. After that, I would go back somewhere and play board games for a little while, and then see where the night takes us.

Allie: Do you have any favorite board games?

Sam: Right now, I’m in the middle of Season Two of Pandemic Legacy. I’m playing it with three good friends. 

Allie: What 3 celebrities would you most want to have as a part of your entourage?

Sam: Anna Kendrick. Chris Pratt. Lin-Manuel Miranda. That would be a weird and fun group of people to hang out with. My sisters and I were very into the show “Everwood”, and there is an amazing scene of Chris Pratt doing karaoke in one episode, so I imagine he could join in with any random singing that may break out and be fine.

Allie: What is a skill you want to learn this year?

Sam: I grew up going to a lot of improv and comedy shows in New York City, and when I got to DC I decided it was something I wanted to learn. I started doing improv with the Washington Improv Theater, and want to spend more time working on that this year.

Allie: What’s at the top of your life bucket list?

Sam: I want to move to London.

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

Sam: We go deep


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.


From K Street to the Knesset – Pt 3:  What Does it Mean to be Jewish?

Over 100 events filled the GatherDC community calendar in April 2018. They ranged from a weekly Jewish yoga class at Adas Israel to listening to a Holocaust survivor at the EDCJCC. Events spanned all areas of the city, and extended to Maryland and Virginia. They included social gatherings like bar bingo, and educational outings for Jews of all identity groups.  

Diverse in many ways, but one thread bound these 100+ programs together: they were Jewish.

The 2017 Greater Washington Jewish Community Demographic Study denoted that, “DC’s Jewish community numbers nearly 300,000 Jewish adults and children in over 155,000 households.” The study found that 22% of the community is 18-29 years old, and another 21% are 30-39.

The Greater Washington Jewish community is the third largest Jewish community in the country. 43% of those in the DMV community are young professionals. Although many of these young adults are often seen at Jewish events (or on JSwipe), our local community spans far beyond these highly involved individuals. The study highlights that in America, being Jewish or not Jewish is not a binary classification. Jewish pluralism is alive and well in the U.S., and thriving in our nation’s capital.

As a part of B’nai B’rith International’s 175th Anniversary, I looked to better explore this idea of Jewish pluralism in a project dubbed The Zero.Dot.Two Initiative. With approximately 14.4 million Jews alive globally, our people represent approximately 0.2% of worldwide citizenry. In the U.S., which is the second most populous nation of Jewish citizens, we are still only 2% of the population. In Israel, three out of every four citizens are Jewish. To better understand Judaism in today’s diverse world, I began interviewing different local, national, and international Jewish influencers with just one question: what does it mean to be Jewish?

GatherDC’s Rabbi Aaron Potek answers the question by saying, “my five paths [to a meaningful Jewish identity] are spirituality, wisdom, ethics, community, and culture. I think these are five different ways to think about Judaism. Obviously, some of these paths intersect, but I believe each one individually can be a path that someone can go down.”  

Other DC-area rabbis share their own messages:

Rabbi Shira Stutman of Sixth & I Historic Synagogue discussed the orienting principles of her Jewish identity, which included tikkun olam (repairing the world) and, more specifically, how “that the world as it is, is not the world as it could be… It is our responsibility, as Jews in this world, to continue to yearn to heal the world, which is broken in so many ways, but also to improve the way that we interact with the world.”

Rabbi Steven I. Rein of the Agudas Achim Congregation of Alexandria, VA, who also serves as Jewish Chaplain for Arlington National Cemetery, said “one of the most important roles of Judaism is to provide the ‘derech‘ or path and motivation by which we can aspire to be our best selves, and in doing so, make a positive difference in the world in which we live.”

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, the founding rabbi of B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Maryland, spoke of fulfilling the mitzvot. He paraphrased Elie Wiesel in saying, “to be Jewish in the 20th century is to be offered a gift. I look at Judaism as I look at this wonderful treasure – this wonderful heritage that we have. It has to do with our values that we offer both to individuals, and the values that we contribute to the world. Secondly, being Jewish offers us a sense of identity. An identity of who we are, where we come from, and where we are going.”

Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who is the Executive Vice President of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad), and also serves the governmental and diplomatic needs of the international Chabad-Lubavitch movement, said, “the core of being Jewish means [asking], do I have a strong relationship with my creator – with G-d? Do I nurture that relationship on a daily basis? Do I do whatever I can to make the world better…bringing the world to a place where the nations of the world will be blessed through us collectively as Jews and individually?”

Beyond these religious leaders and teachers, the interview series has included elected officials, academics, celebrities, business leaders, Jewish communal professionals, and more.

U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) answered the question by saying, “It’s family, it’s tradition, it’s values. Almost every Friday, our family gets together for Shabbat dinner because that’s our tradition. We talk about each other’s lives, and what we can do to help our community – because that’s Jewish values.”

Mr. Cardin’s counterpart in the U.S. House, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who represents a swatch of Montgomery County, MD, answered by referencing the first time on Sunday school that he heard the famous Rabbi Hillel dictum, “If I am only for myself, what am I?”

This interview series has been an exciting project for me as I continue to develop my own Jewish identity, that has been significantly evolving throughout my life. 

Growing up, I used to think that I was a “bad Jew.” My family didn’t keep kosher, regularly observe Shabbat, belong to a synagogue, or even celebrate every Jewish holiday.  Today, I don’t think anyone can be labeled a “bad Jew” because I no longer look at Judaism in a binary construct. I recognize that while some may choose to observe Judaism through a more traditional path, others may choose a different route. These paths run parallel to one another, rather than in opposite directions. 

My Jewish identity has matured exponentially while living in DC due to this wonderful, local Jewish community that has taught – and continues to teach – me so much. Today, when I think about my Jewish community, I see past the 300,000 Jews living in and around DC. I consider the wider global Jewish community that offers me lessons on how I can be a better person by representing Judaism in a way that is meaningful to me. I know that I want to raise my future family Jewishly, and am beyond excited to marry a caring, loving, smart, funny, confident, and beautiful young Jewish woman in just a few months. My fiancé makes me a better person, and a better Jewish man, every day. She is my besheret (destined/soulmate). I cannot wait to see how our two Jewish lives and families, unique in their own ways, forge themselves into a single Jewish household under the ‘chuppah’ – and into our collective future.

Thinking back to my meeting with Rabbi Potek at GatherDC’s new Dupont Circle townhouse on April 19, I consider how the significance of that day relates to my personal Jewish identity. Although that day may have appeared like any other Thursday, to me, it was significant. This  importance was not just because I enjoyed learning from the rabbi, but also because we met on Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day).

My own Jewish identity includes a great connection to the land and the people of Israel.  I’m proud that last month the nation celebrated its 70th anniversary since its founding and I have a deep respect for the thousands of years of history of the connection of that land to the Jewish people.

This series of exploring differing perspectives on Jewish identity is a teaching tool. We all relate to our personal Jewish identity in our own way.  One of my favorite things about Judaism is that we often have more questions than answers to some of life’s most complex ideas. These questions and answers can be unique to each of us.

So, my blog series, “From K (or M) Street, to the Knesset”, was meant to share that there is no singular answer to the question, “what does it mean to be Jewish?” Judaism is unique to me. It is unique to you. It is unique to someone on K Street, or M Street, or in the Knesset. It is unique to a Jew in DC, Maryland, or Virginia. And it is unique to someone in Jerusalem, London, Paris, Moscow, Cape Town, Montreal, Morocco, Tokyo, or wherever Jews call home.

Like the 100+ events on GatherDC’s community calendar – to be Jewish is diverse. But, it includes one common thread: t be Jewish is to identify as being Jewish.  Whether you identity as orthodox, conservative, reform, Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrahi, tall, short, Jew-curious, or just Jewish – you are all my Jewish brothers and sisters.

P.S. My personal answer to “What does it mean to be a Jew” is this: Being Jewish comes down to one question, and it isn’t “is your mother Jewish?” I ask myself, and I hope others ask themselves, if they identify as Jewish. If so, then: Do I/they choose to live a life that is based on Jewish ideals; Do I/they recognize that the world is imperfect, and that it is up to each of us to try to find our own individual way to repair it; Do I/they treat others with respect and as-if we would like to be treated ourselves; Do I/they know that God exists and that we as a people should try to both learn and teach Torah.

P.P.S. If you are interested in exploring your own Jewish identity, reach out to GatherDC to learn about all of the wonderful ways that they engage 20-and-30-somethings in the DC-area. Or, to hear other news important to the Jewish people, “like” the B’nai B’rith International Facebook page.


About the Author: Jason Langsner is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you. Jason has been an active lay leader of the Washington Jewish community since moving to the city in 2004.  He is a small business owner and formerly served as the head of digital strategy for the oldest Jewish human rights and humanitarian organization in the world – B’nai Brith International. When not blogging, he can often be found walking around his Eastern Market neighborhood or riding around DC area bike trails.






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.

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GatherDC’s 2017-2018 Impact

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