Getting Beyond the Blah

“What would constitute a perfect day for you?”

That’s the question I pulled from the mason jar holding 86 such questions, each written on a mini sticky note and then folded over. I named my creation Beyond the Blah Jar.

My new girlfriend Anie had to answer per the rules of Beyond the Blah Jar. She was sitting next to me on the couch, on the middle cushion. We were tired, approaching the end of our March weekend together, but she didn’t hesitate responding. “Today!”

Today, a day she’d spent entirely in my presence, was my new girlfriend’s perfect day? I forced my lips to remain within the boundaries of my face.

We began the day with scrambled eggs and coffee with heavy cream (for me, tea for her). That sated us before we hiked around Claude Moore Park in Sterling, Virginia, and then drank India pale ales at Lake Anne Brew House. Anie’s perfect day was now ending with me, dinner, a movie, and Beyond the Blah Jar.

“Oh wait,” Anie added. Her face held an “aha” expression. “I thought the question asked for a recent perfect day. Did it mean what is my ideal perfect day?”

I laughed. Yes, that was how I took the question, though I wasn’t complaining about Anie’s response to her interpretation of it.

My idea to create Beyond the Blah Jar hit me after attending Even Further Beyond the Tent in February. Anie, I, and some 35 others attended this follow-up to the original Judaism-focused retreat hosted by GatherDC and its former improv comedy-loving, eccentric rabbi. This retreat didn’t lead to increased understanding of my Jewish identity like the original had. Instead, it led me to delve deeper into myself and my relationships with others. Even Further Beyond the Tent taught me it was OK to ask questions.

The jar’s first 36 questions came from a study now known as The 36 Questions That Lead to Love. I didn’t include those to trick Anie into falling for me; I suspected both she and I had already begun sinking. I just happened to have recently read the Modern Love essay referencing the study, and the study just happened to have included questions like:

What is your most treasured memory?

What is your most terrible memory?

If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone?

What a question. My initial thought is that’s a question neither Anie nor anyone else would want to be asked. It leads to too much vulnerability; it’s too hard to create the pulmonary pressure and tongue placement required to verbalize the response we feel is most truthful.

But on second thought, I wonder if part of us wants to be explicitly asked that question because some truths are too hard to reveal to the people we care most about on our own, without the encouragement of Beyond the Blah Jar.

If I were asked that question, maybe I’d say I’d regret not having told my brother that the way he treated me during the years I received and recovered from cancer treatment was perfect, that I wouldn’t have wanted anything from him beyond what he gave, all those days and nights he spent hanging out watching sports and movies with me and carrying on as if little had changed in our lives besides him occasionally having to press pause to empty the contents of my puke bucket into the toilet.

Yes, I think, I may say that if asked that question, but I’m unsure if I could say that outright. I don’t think I could say to him directly, like during a halftime commercial break while watching a Redskins game together, “So, if I were to die, I’d most regret not having told you, ‘Thank you.’”

Yes, sometimes it’s easier to die than to find the courage to reveal a truth openly. Sometimes, we need encouragement. Sometimes, we can only reveal a truth when forced to confront an inquiry from Beyond the Blah Jar.

Once I finished adding the 36 Questions That Lead to Love, I added two of my own questions. I stole the next 12 from Tim Ferriss’s book, Tools of Titans, and pirated StoryCorps for Beyond the Blah Jar’s remaining 36 questions.

StoryCorps’s mission is to record, preserve, and share others’ stories. StoryCorps inspired me to virtualize my jar on occasions when my coffee table with the jar propped on it wasn’t around. For example, when I would visit my parents at their Manassas, Virginia house, the same one in which I grew up.

Four times since then, my parents have answered my questions from my virtual Beyond the Blah Jar, and I audio-recorded them. Mom’s answers included stories about her zayda and where her passion for social work stemmed from. For another question directed at both of them, their answer led to a story about our summer vacations during my childhood. My, how they sacrificed their own passions and joys so my brother and I could pursue and have ours!

Of all their answers to my questions, I most enjoyed the one about how my mom allowed my dad’s parakeet, Felix—who she says always tried biting her, probably out of jealousy for her taking my dad’s attention away from him—to share their residence. That’s young love. She didn’t, however, allow for a replacement Felix once he died.

All those questions and answers are now preserved in Beyond the Blah Cloud Drive (aka Google). I decided to preserve the conversations because I don’t know how much longer my parents will live and I want to always be able to hear them. It’s not that they are terminal; we just don’t know how long anyone will live because health and longevity are privileges, not promises. People tend to carry on just fine, but every once in a while they don’t.

My parents have been married for 44 years. It’s my turn for young love. I don’t take it for granted. We can’t assume people will live, or stay lovers, forever.

Anie realized she likely misinterpreted the way the question was intended to be understood, but she didn’t offer a replacement response. So her day with me was her perfect day…at least, her one perfect day compared to the previous six or so.

I then shared my ideal perfect day, and we returned the folded sticky note to Beyond the Blah Jar, where it awaits my or my guest’s actual or ideal response the next time the note is pulled.

There wasn’t much time left with Anie that weekend. It was getting late. Maybe one plunge into vulnerability each day is enough, so we returned our attention to the comedy we’d begun watching earlier. Laughing with Anie felt so good.

If anything, Beyond the Blah Jar has taught me that if you don’t have both beyond the blah—and some blah—in your life, then you’re not fully living.


About the Author. Benjamin Rubenstein  is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you!  Benjamin is the author of the Cancer-Slaying Super Man books. He earned his Master of Fine Arts degree from University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program. You can subscribe to his quarterly newsletter.

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 Ilana: GatherDC’s New Rabbi!

Hailing from Brooklyn, this recently ordained rabbi is ready and eager to take GatherDC by storm. Get to know the remarkable, soulful, passionate Ilana Zietman and welcome her to the Gather team!

NOTE: If this interview piques your interest, tune into our Instagram this Friday at 12pm for our first ever AMA (Ask Me Anything): Rabbi Edition. You’ll be able to ask Rabbi Ilana your most pressing Jewish or Jew-ish questions via our Insta-story, and get her honest answers.

Allie: How did you wind up living in DC?

Ilana: I grew up in the greatest borough in the greatest city in the world – Brooklyn, New York. I stayed in NYC through college and then decided to be adventurous and try living somewhere else. I applied to Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps in DC, and ended up staying for a couple more years. I left five years ago to go to rabbinical school at Hebrew College in Boston, but I always had it in my mind that I would be back. 

Allie: When did you know you wanted to become a rabbi and why?

Ilana: Around the time of my bat mitzvah. I was really excited to read from the Torah and lead prayer services at my synagogue, but the rabbi of my community didn’t play much of a role in the process, nor was there any space to talk about what becoming a bat mitzvah was supposed to mean. I started thinking that if I became a rabbi, I could do things differently. 

After that, I sought out opportunities to keep growing in my Jewish identity and began to see that Jewish tradition is not simply about observing ancient customs, but is about learning how to live a more mindful, loving, and meaningful life with ourselves, others, and the world around us. Jewish tradition became something I wanted to share and bring into conversation with people from all walks of life, and I thought that I could do that most deeply as a rabbi.

Allie: What are you most looking forward to in your new role with GatherDC?

Ilana: Building relationships with young professionals across the city and seeing how we can continue to make Jewish life in DC appealing and substantial. At the end of the day, Jewish tradition and communal life must embrace who we are, even as it challenges us to think about how we might want to change and grow. 

I hope to create opportunities for honest conversations about our Judaism and Jewish lives. I’m also excited to facilitate learning opportunities for us to ask what being Jewish means and how it can add value to our lives. Also, getting to lead an alternative Yom Kippur experience (and maybe other holidays) at a beer garden or other non-traditional space…how can I not be excited about that?!

Allie: What do you hope to achieve in your rabbinate career?

Ilana: I’m not exactly sure where my rabbinate will take me, but what I do know is that as the world changes, so will my rabbinate. No matter what, I hope to be part of people’s lives in meaningful ways and to foster communities where people feel like they can show up as themselves. 

Allie: What is something that people might be surprised to know about you?

Ilana: I love our national parks! I will probably always choose to go camping in a national park for vacation than go on any other kind of trip. Last summer, my husband and I rented an RV and camped all around Alaska. It was so fun and beautiful. We also got to eat the halibut we caught ourselves for almost a year afterward!

Allie: If you had a totally free day in DC, how would you spend it from start to finish?

Ilana: I would start the day walking around Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown. It’s one of the most beautiful garden spaces I have ever been to. I would next visit the foodie haven of Union Market for lunch and then visit one of DC’s many (gloriously air-conditioned) museums. I especially like the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of American History. To relax at night, I’d binge-watch some great television like Parks & Rec, Great British Bakeoff, Broad City, and most recently, Big Little Lies.

Allie: I hear you recently discovered a love of making pottery! Tell us about that.

Ilana: I started taking pottery classes last summer, and have found a great studio in Georgetown where I’m continuing to learn. I love feeling like a kid again by playing with clay and getting messy at the wheel, and there’s nothing more satisfying than mastering new techniques that lead to making functional pieces. I hope to get good enough to make all kinds of things, maybe even Shabbat candlesticks or a seder plate for Passover. For now, I’m still figuring out how bowls work. 

Allie: What is your favorite Jewish holiday and why?

Ilana: In my opinion, Sukkot brings together some of the best parts of Judaism – wacky rituals and important life-affirming themes. 

Sukkot, meaning booths or temporary shelters, gives us the opportunity to connect to food and land and to find a sense of gratitude for the world that sustains us, and at the same time asks us to face the fact that no matter who we are, we are vulnerable to nature and the vast unknown. 

During Sukkot, there’s really nothing like sitting in a decorated sukkah at night, looking up at the stars while sharing good food and conversation. Plus, while eating or sleeping in these unconventional dwellings, we get to shake the lulav and etrog. So, I guess at the end of the day, I’m proud that Jews kind of invented the original shake shack!

Allie: Complete this sentence, When Jews of DC Gather…

Ilana: They ask big questions and get a thousand different thoughtful and creative answers.


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 Eli to Ben: Passing the JMAC Torch


Get to know the man taking the reins on the Jewish Monthly Article Club (JMAC) before I say goodbye to DC this August. Ben Lovenheim is also a huge proponent of civil discourse and talking across lines of difference, and he’s officially taking over. Get to know JMAC’s new leader and then join him for a gathering this coming Monday, July 22nd where the topic will be “Questions About Polyamory and Polygamy”.

Eli: First, who the heck are you? 

Ben: Well, my name is Benjamin Adam Lovenheim, but most folks call me Ben or just text me because that’s easier. I’m from Rochester, NY. I went to school outside Boston, and I now reside in a little place called Dupont Circle. I enjoy reading, listening to podcasts, and eating french fries at The Red Boat on H St.

Eli: What got you interested in JMAC?

Ben: Eli Feldman’s wonderful beard, but I stayed for the people and great conversation. It was all Rabbi Aaron Potek’s doing (Aaron put Eli and me in touch. Thanks Aaron!). I was seeking out a community where I could have important and sometimes tough conversations with genuine courtesy and inviting people. If you’ve been to a JMAC meeting, you know they fit the bill. 

Eli: What’s your favorite article topic/outlet and why?

Ben: My favorite things to read are conflicting takes on the same story. I love investigating why and exactly how two people disagree. In fact, I’d like to do a JMAC meeting that discusses two articles with starkly different takes on the same topic (don’t worry, they’ll each be shorter than our standard reads!). 

Eli: What are the elements that lead to a great, deep convo?

Ben: I can’t even begin to describe how important this question is. It may be among the most important questions we have as a species, and I certainly don’t have a well-formed answer. But if you come to JMAC meetings, I think you’ll quickly sense that each of us are asking ourselves this very question over and over again throughout our discussions. Just asking the question is an important element.

One other interesting element has to do with the framing of the conversation. We often start out a discussion or debate with a question. From there, we can either choose to spend our time investigating the answer, or we can further investigate the question itself. Most of the time, the latter choice will lead to a greater understanding. 

Eli: Why is having open dialogue so important?

Ben: With anything important––especially the views we espouse––it’s generally a good idea to open them up to careful inspection, criticism, and refinement, and to do this regularly with people we trust. This process is one of humility and integrity, and it’s one that we should be careful not to impede or constrain. 

Eli: What is unique about what JMAC provides? Why does the group keep growing over time?

Ben: JMAC is one of the few places you’ll find where you can come into a meeting genuinely undecided on a topic, and that’s totally ok. You aren’t forced to “pick a side”, and you can test out ideas as you go. We also generally discuss niche topics that leave more room for nuance (e.g., we don’t just talk about guns, taxes, abortion, etc.). I think it’s that combination of interesting topics and genuine intellectual openness that keep people coming back for more.

Eli: What are some changes or additions you’re thinking about making to the group? What topics do you hope to discuss going forward?

Ben: We’ll continue to explore a variety of topics and experiment a bit here and there with the format to see what else might stick. As I mentioned earlier, I’m interested in discussing articles with opposing views. I also would love to do a special meeting in which we discuss a JMAC topic through a Jewish lens, perhaps in combination with GatherDC’s Wednesday night discussion group. I’m also open to organizing outings to local book talks and lectures. 

Eli: Who should come to the group meetings?

Ben: I really think that everyone should give it a try. The topics vary widely, so even if the article for one month isn’t your jam, the next one might be right up your alley. But regardless of the topic, everyone leaves the meetings having learned something new and with more questions to chew on in the future.


eli

About the Author: Eli Feldman is the Research Associate to the President at The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a non-partisan non-profit that defends student and faculty rights on college campuses. Eli graduated from Yale in 2016 with a degree in psychology.  Eli is an alumni of GatherDC’s Open Doors Fellowship, from which he launched the Jewish Monthly Article Club (JMAC), a club for Jewish 20s/30s to discuss articles about a range of important topics. He is passionate about sports, music, coding, politics, free speech, Marvel movies, and tech.


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.

OPINION: Anti-Semitism, Ilhan Omar, Curtis Sittenfeld, and Seth Meyers

Disclaimer: 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.

—–

Ilhan Omar, a Democratic congresswoman representing Minnesota’s 5th district, took office in January 2019.  She received media attention for being the first Somali-American and one of the first—along with fellow freshman Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib—Muslim women to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

The following month she received media attention for a very different reason: a series of anti-Semitic tweets.  On November 16, 2012 Omar had tweeted: “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” 

The tweet employed the anti-Semitic trope of Jews using magic powers to dominate the world. Shortly after Omar took office, The New York Times writer Bari Weiss penned a column explaining why she, as an American Jew, took offense at Omar’s tweet and how the conspiracy theory of Jews as hypnotic puppeteers has a painful and deadly history.

In response to Weiss’ criticism, Omar tweeted: “That statement came in the context of the Gaza War.  It’s now apparent to me that I spent lots of energy putting my 2012 tweet in context and little energy in disavowing the anti-Semitic trope I unknowingly used, which is unfortunate and offensive.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, compared Omar’s use of an anti-Semitic trope to Iowa’s Republican Congressman Steve King’s comment to The New York Times expressing befuddlement that white nationalism and white supremacy are considered offensive.

On February 10, journalist Glenn Greenwald tweeted: “Equating @IlhanMN [and] @RashidaTlaib’s criticism of Israel to Steve King’s long defense of white supremacy is obscene (McCarthy said it’s worse).  In the U[.]S[.], we’re allowed to criticize our own government: certainly foreign governments. The GOP House Leader’s priorities are warped.”In response, Omar tweeted: “It’s all about the Benjamins baby” (a slang reference to hundred-dollar bills).

Batya Ungar-Sargon, Opinion Editor for the Jewish newspaper The Forward, joined the conversation by tweeting: “Would love to know who @IlhanMN thinks is paying American politicians to be pro-Israel, though I think I can guess. Bad form, Congresswoman. That’s the second anti-Semitic trope you’ve tweeted.”

Omar replied: “AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee]!”

Reading these tweets was painful for me.  As an American Jew and a Millennial, I’ve always taken for granted the acceptance and security I experience living in the United States, a privilege rarely given to Jews throughout history and throughout the world.  Omar’s tweets employed anti-Semitic tropes of Jews using money to control the government. This was the first time I experienced an elected U.S. official publicly using hate speech directed at a minority to which I belonged.

Following public outcry, Omar deleted the offensive tweets and issued an apology the next day: “Anti-Semitism is real[,] and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.  My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize.  At the same time, I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA[,] or the fossil fuel industry. It’s gone on too long and we must be willing to address it.”

In some ways, I’m more offended by Omar’s apologies than by her initial statements.  While I would like to believe her apologies were genuine, they don’t seem plausible. Omar claimed ignorance.  She insisted she wasn’t aware her statements were cloaked in anti-Semitic tropes. But it seems far-fetched to believe it’s merely a coincidence that she unknowingly used classic anti-Semitic notions when tweeting about Israel, employing the same ugly stereotypes anti-Semites have used throughout history.  Plus, her AIPAC tweet was in direct response to Ungar-Sargon’s tweet that blatantly called out Omar for anti-Semitism. How can she claim she had no idea she was spewing anti-Semitic jabs when one of her controversial remarks was in response to being alerted to the anti-Semitic nature of her previous remarks?  

The fact that she didn’t know—or claimed not to have known—she was using hate speech is appalling.  For example, if I as a straight person used the three-letter f-word in reference to the LGBTQ community and then claimed I didn’t know it was offensive, that level of ignorance would be comical.  It would also be disgusting because it means I’m so accustomed to communicating with hate speech that I don’t even see anything wrong with it or comprehend how hurtful it can be to others.       

Omar insisted that criticisms of AIPAC should not be confused with anti-Semitism.  However, when you mix traditional anti-Semitic tropes with your criticism of AIPAC, the word AIPAC becomes a dog-whistle for the word Jews.

Another reason Omar’s apologies seemed disingenuous was because she continued using anti-Semitic tropes.  In March, when questioned about the Twitter controversy at a bookstore event in Washington, DC, Omar said, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” intimating the anti-Semitic idea that Jews possess dual-loyalty, which is inherently suspect of our devotion to America.  This time Omar did not apologize.

Whenever a person makes anti-Semitic remarks, it’s hurtful.  When a person in a position of power makes anti-Semitic remarks, it’s scary.  I wish Omar would stop talking about us.

In April, as I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, I saw that Curtis Sittenfeld, one of my favorite authors and a resident of Minnesota, posted: “#IStandWithIlhan and I’m glad [and] proud she’s my congresswoman.”  The post stunned me and also really bothered me. To be fair, I don’t think Sittenfeld was endorsing the use of anti-Semitic tropes. In the same post, Sittenfeld recommended a documentary about Omar that explores “the adversity she’s overcome as a woman and refugee.”  While it seemed that Sittenfeld’s support of the congresswoman was based on her ambition and overcoming of adversity, she was nonetheless advocating for someone who traffics in anti-Semitism. 

At first, I thought what bothered me about Sittenfeld’s post was that someone I admired was turning a blind eye to incidents that caused me pain.  But then I realized that what bothered me was something more complex. Sittenfeld wasn’t the target of Omar’s bigotry; I was. Sittenfeld is not Jewish, and she made no mention of Omar’s anti-Semitic comments in her post, seeming to tacitly give Omar a pass for her hateful rhetoric.  What bothered me was someone outside of the targeted minority arbitrating what level of anti-Semitism is considered passable.  

That uncomfortable feeling returned on May 8th when late night talk show host Seth Meyers engaged in a testy argument with his guest Meghan McCain about Omar’s tweets.  Three days earlier during an appearance on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, roundtable guests were quick to place blame for the synagogue shooting in Poway, CA on President Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric.  McCain pointed out that anti-Semitic rhetoric exists on both sides of the political aisle and referred to Omar’s tweets as an example.

Meyers repeatedly asked McCain if she stood by her statement from the previous week about Omar’s tweets being anti-Semitic.  McCain confirmed she stood by her statement, saying that she will call out anti-Semitism when she sees it. Meyers urged McCain to reconsider, saying that Omar has apologized and has received death threats and that as one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, she brings a different point of view to which people should listen.

I felt physically sick.  It was painful to listen to a non-Jew publicly make excuses for anti-Semitic rhetoric, and to essentially advocate, as Sittenfeld had, that it was passable.

What scares me more than people who use anti-Semitic rhetoric is non-Jews who use public platforms to argue that anti-Semitic rhetoric is acceptable. It’s these enablers that make anti-Semitism mainstream instead of a fringe viewpoint, giving strength and motion to a dangerous ideology.

When seemingly innocuous celebrities align themselves with politicians who spout bigotry, it is time for the Jewish community to come together and stand against hatred.

The controversy surrounding Omar’s tweets was bookended by synagogue shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue and Chabad of Poway, harsh reminders that anti-Semitism doesn’t just exist on Twitter, it is a real and deadly threat from one coast of the United States to the other.  

German film director Werner Herzog recently tweeted:

“Dear America: You are waking up as Germany once did, to the awareness that 1/3 of your people would kill another 1/3, while 1/3 watches.


aliza

About the Author: Aliza Epstein is a native of the Washington, DC area and currently lives in Arlington, VA.  She works as a non-profit manager.


 

 

 

Calling all Jewish Interns!

Your Guide to the Best Summer Ever in Jewish DC

My name is Rose Haas and I am an intern at GatherDC this summer. DC is a wonderful and exciting, albeit humid, place to spend your summer, especially if you are looking for Jewish or “Jew-ish” events to participate in! 

Check out the list below for a compilation of really cool Jewish (and some not Jewish, but very affordable and intern friendly) events happening in the city this summer for interns and young professionals. As a Machon Kaplan Fellow, I’ll be attending several of the events listed below, so I hope to see you there!

Also, if you are new to the city and would like to get coffee to discuss your interest in DC’s Jewish community, email me!

Want your event listed on this intern guide? Email info@gatherdc.org!

June 26

June 27

  • Yoga at GatherDC  (FREE)

June 28

June 29

June 30

July 2

July 4

July 5

  • Chabad DC’s Shabbat Dinner 
  • Temple Micah’s Kabbalat Shabbat

July 6

July 7

July 9

July 11

  • Yoga at GatherDC (FREE)

July 12

July 14

July 17

July 18

  • Yoga at GatherDC (FREE)

July 19

July 20

July 25

  • Yoga at GatherDC (FREE)

July 26

August 2

August 3

August 4

August 8

  • Yoga at GatherDC (FREE)

August 9

  • Chabad DC’s Shabbat Dinner 
  • Temple Micah’s Kabbalat Shabbat

August 15

  • Yoga at GatherDC (FREE)

August 16

  • Chabad DC’s Shabbat Dinner 
  • Temple Micah’s Kabbalat Shabbat 

August 17

August 22  

  • Yoga at GatherDC (FREE)

August 23


rose

About the author: Rose Haas is a senior at American University studying Jewish Studies and Special Education. During the school year, she works as a 4th grade teacher at Washington Hebrew Congregation, and this summer is GatherDC’s intern. In her free time you can find Rose sunbathing or finding cool new places to eat in DC!   


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 Audrey: Jewish Dog of the Month!

Alice Greenwood is excited to introduce Jewish DC to her beloved pup Audrey. A beautiful brunette ready to star in the next “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” – so long as the breakfast involves a heaping pile of peanut butter and chicken soup.

Allie: What is your name and where did it come?

Audrey. My mom says my brunette features reminded her of Audrey Hepburn. 

Allie: What is your favorite way to spend a day in DC?

Audrey: I love going to the National Arboretum and frolicking in the section with the magnolia trees!  Also, anything that involves food.  

Allie: What’s it like living with your owner?

Audrey: Living with Alice is full of lots of walks, snuggles, and when I’m lucky she lets me have some peanut butter. We are also always excited to see each other.  

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

Audrey: I absolutely love to mess up all of the blankets and pillows on my mom’s bed.  She seems to think making the bed every morning is the way to go but I much prefer to rearrange everything when she leaves for work.  

Allie: What is your favorite costume you’ve ever dressed up in?

Audrey: Definitely when my mom dressed me up as a lamb.

Allie: Who is your best friend?

Audrey: Charlie. He is bigger than me but always lets me tag along the to the dog park. We are both shy and so we understand each other

Allie: What is your biggest pet peeve that your owner does?

Audrey: I really don’t know why my mom thinks it’s acceptable to try to take photos of me with her big camera.  The camera is large and makes noise. She is hopefully taking the hint as to how much this annoys me, because now instead of looking pretty I just run away from her.  

Allie: If you were a flavor of ice cream, what would you be and why?

Audrey: Cookies and cream – I am black/white and very sweet 

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

Audrey: Passover! I get to go to my Grandma and Grandpa’s house where they are cooking and there are so many good smells.  My Grandma also always gives me pieces of soup chicken to snack on.  


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.

Reminding Ourselves of What’s Important

traylor

On the night that my little brother was born, my parents got me a small, yellow stuffed dog as a present. I named him Furzy, and 22 years later, through childhood, my teenage years, college, and moves to New York City and DC, one of the constants in my life has been Furzy. Through all of these life stages, he’s always served as a safe, comforting reminder of my brother, my parents, and my family. 

In this week’s Torah portion, Sh’lach L’cha, we learn all about tzitzit – special, knotted fringes that are supposed to go on the corners of our clothes. As we read in the portion: 


“Look at it (the tzitzit) and recall all the commandments of the Lord and observe them.” 

– Numbers 15: 39

In addition to serving as a fashion statement (there’s supposed to be a blue cord in the fringes), tzitzit are meant to serve as a physical reminder of all of the commandments we’ve been given in the Torah. But when I read these instructions about tzitzit, I can’t help but think about Furzy and the other physical reminders that I keep around to help me remember the most important things in my life, like my favorite books, personal journals, and pictures with friends. These reminders also don’t have to be big – the magnet on the refrigerator from a vacation, the screensaver on your phone, or small trinkets from a work trip – all have the ability to bring joy into our lives. 

So, what kind of physical reminders do you keep in your life? How do they keep you focused on the most important things? And how do they bring you joy? 

Comment below and let’s fill our world with more ways to stay present, centered, and joyful! 


evan

About the AuthorEvan Traylor, originally from Oklahoma City, currently works at the Union for Reform Judaism and is an aspiring rabbi. He graduated from the University of Kansas in 2016 studying political science and Jewish studies. Evan loves reading, traveling, exploring DC, and cheering on the KU Jayhawks.


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 Sarah: Jewish Shark Cage Diver of the Week

When she’s not getting up close and personal with Great White Sharks, you might find Sarah Graham watching Hannah B. find love on “The Bachelorette”, playing with her adorable pups, or enjoying Sofar Sounds shows on the reg.

Allie: What brought you to the DC area?

Sarah: I grew up in Manhattan, and then went to American University for undergrad. I loved DC so much that I decided to stay. I’m coming up on my 6 year DC anniversary in August.

Allie: What do you love about DC?

Sarah: As a millennial and recent graduate, there are so many things to do for free or cheaply, which is incredible. The circulator is now free which makes it easy to explore new neighborhoods. It seems like every week I’m finding cool new things to do, like a feminist woodworking workshop, Jazz in the Garden, or GatherDC events.

Allie: What is your dream day in DC? 

Sarah: Ideally my perfect summer DC day would be jam packed! If I had all the time in the world I would wake up early and take my dogs Porkey and Cuddles (@dogstagraham) along the Rock Creek pathway by my house. I would eat a true Israeli breakfast on my rooftop before going for a dip in the pool and a tanning session while reading a great book (currently Michelle Obama’s “Becoming”) or listen to a fun podcast (Michelle Buteau’s “Adulting” or “Pod Save America”).

Then, I would stop by Dupont Circle Farmers Market for a second breakfast of “Call Your Mother” bagels and Zeke’s iced coffee. Next, I would grab my friends and walk along the monuments making stops at The HirshornThe Renwick Gallery, and the East Building of the National Gallery of Art. After, we would picnic in Meridian Hill Park eating Little Sesame‘s hummus bowls and listening to the Meridian Hill drum circle. I would hit up Rewild DC for one of their awesome plant classes, catch a movie at Landmark’s Atlantic Plumbing Cinema, and grab happy hour on Takoda’s rooftop bar. I would run to Georgetown for their kayaking on the waterfront and hit up the Sculpture Garden for Jazz in the Garden!

At night, I would have Shabbat dinner with my lovely Gather friends, attend a DC United game, go to a Capitol Laughs stand up comedy show, attend a rooftop Sofar  concert, catch a Story District show, go dancing at Brixton, eat a jumbo slice and ideally be in bed by 1am. Impossible? Definitely (but amazing nonetheless).

Allie: What do you do to relax? 

Sarah: Swim. I’m a water person, so I’d sit in the pool all day if possible. I also love spending time with my dogs and unfortunately have to admit that I watch “The Bachelorette”. 

Allie: What are you most looking forward to this summer? 

Sarah: I’ve been going to a lot of Sofar Sounds shows, which I actually found out about through GatherDC. And I love going to outdoor movies in the city.

Allie: So, tell me about these dogs of yours…

Sarah: Their names are Porkie and Cuddles. Porkie is a terrier mix and he’s about 8 years old. He has a beautiful beard, very well-crafted. He has a Napoleon complex. He’s very sassy, smart, and loves attention. Cuddles is a shitzu and she’s black and really small. She has no teeth and is so sweet. They were a bonded pair that I fostered in college. They’ve been through a lot with me. 

Allie: What is something people would be surprised to hear about you? 

Sarah: My favorite sport is scuba diving and I love sharks. I once traveled solo to Australia and did a shark cage dive there. 

Allie: What interests you about sharks? 

Sarah: The interest came from scuba diving. Being underwater is where I feel very calm, and I get to focus on this world that I don’t usually get to see. Sharks have a scary reputation, but they’re beautiful. It’s cool to see them in their natural habitat.

Allie: What was the shark dive like?

Sarah: It’s a very heightened experience. There were Great White Sharks that came and tried to bite the cage. You can look into their eyes and take pictures, and see these beautiful creatures up close without hurting them. It was funny to see men who are big wrestlers get into the cage and panic, while me as a 5’4” Asian girl gets into the cage and thinks “this is so cool!”. 

Allie: Would you do it again? 

Sarah: Absolutely! 

Allie: Complete the sentence: when Jews of DC gather….

Sarah: There is a lot of laughing!    


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 Itay: Jewish Trivia Host of the Week!

Itay Balely may or may not be best friends with Disney Channel’s Aly & AJ, is terrible at trivia, and is his grandmother’s #1 fan.

Allie: What led you to live in DC?

Itay: I was born in Israel and moved to Florida when I was young, but we later moved to Bethesda, Maryland. After high school I did a gap year in Israel, and then moved back to Maryland to work in higher education. I recently started a job at the Human Rights Campaign in DC, so this is where I’ve been living ever since!

Allie: Describe your dream DC day from start to finish.

Itay: I’d grab brunch with friends at a new restaurant in the city. We’re lucky we have such good food in DC! My friends and I have started to do this thing where we have a little picnic in the National Mall or nearby park with my guitar and have singalongs, so I’d definitely do that. I taught myself how to play guitar when I was younger, and love it. Then, I’d go to a record store. After that, I’d go watch a show at The Kennedy Center. I enjoy theater a lot and DC has a great theater scene.

Allie: What inspired you to learn guitar?

Itay: When we moved to Maryland, I was entering eight grade and everyone already had their cliques. I felt like I needed an outlet, so I decided to be emo and write songs.

Allie: What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?

Itay: I host District Trivia. It’s a very fun thing to do. I learn a lot of information you can’t do anything with but it’s just good to know. The team names are always the funniest things in the world. People are so into it and get really competitive, and that makes it all the more fun.

Allie: Are you good at trivia?

Itay: Oh no, I’m terrible. I don’t know the information at all.

Allie: I hear you recently met Disney Channel’s Aly & AJ…please tell me more.

Itay: It’s kind of insane how it all happened because in the last few years Aly & AJ released new music which transformed me from an average Disney-watching fan to a true Aly & AJ fan. I was talking about their new music at work and coincidentally one of my coworkers knew a friend of theirs. When she saw her friend – who happened to be with Aly and AJ – the girls sent me a video saying hello. I wound up taking to AJ for a bit and they gave me backstage passes to meet them at their DC show (which was packed)! It was such an amazing time.

Allie: What’s your favorite way to decompress at the end of a long work day?

Itay: I love binge-watching shows on Netflix. Schitt’s Creek is one of my favorite shows of all time, and I recently watched Dead to Me which is so good. I have way too many good show recommendations on my list.

Allie: Who is your Jewish role model?

Itay: My grandma, for sure. She’s been through a lot of adversity, but still produced a large family that loves being together. We recently went back to Israel to celebrate her 80th birthday.

Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…

Itay: Our grandmas talk about how proud they are.

itay

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.

Mr. Nice Jewish Boy Pagaent 2019: Meet the Contestants!

Launched with brilliant, glittery fanfare in 2013 in the erstwhile Cobalt space, the 2019 Mr. Nice Jewish Boy Pageant is bigger, flashier, and with lots more shmear.

Set to take place on August 4th at U Street Music Hall, the Pageant features four contestants competing for the title and the tiara – and a grand prize from VIDA. Nice Jewish Boys DC, an LGBT Jewish social organization based in Washington DC, is organizing the event.

“Now in our fourth year, this amazing event just keeps getting bigger and better,” said Ben Rosenbaum, President of Nice Jewish Boys DC. “The Mr. NJB Pageant is a chance to showcase our community and the amazing individuals who make it so special. This is our largest event of the year and I can’t wait to share it with everyone.”

The DC community has welcomed the pageant as a smashing success. Proceeds from the event benefit Keshet, one of the largest nationwide LGBTQ Jewish organizations that provides support, education, and resources to LGBTQ Jews of all ages. The event raised more than $4,000 for the organization, said co-organizer and 2017 runner-up Jeremy Gilston, “and we’re hoping to top that this year!”

Mr. Nice Jewish Boy 2018 winner and 2019 co-organizer Jeremy Sherman said that there’s “no doubt that the Mr. NJB Pageant is a wildly entertaining event, but it’s so much more. Mr. NJB Pageant has become one of DC’s premier events for the Jewish LGBTQ+ community. It celebrates the community’s spirit, talents, and ability to come together for a greater cause.”

Contestants begin the show by seeking to wow the audience with a choreographed dance number. Following that, they undergo a rigorous interview from a panel of distinguished judges from the Jewish community, including at least one Jewish mother. Contestants finish with the talent portion. In the past, these have ranged from a rap about Bubbe to doling out homemade chicken soup.

Beyond bragging rights, this year, the contestants are competing for a VIDA Fitness full-year all-access gym membership with access to the pool and rooftop facilities, valued at about $2,000.

Also new this year: a performance by celebrated New York City-based Orthodox Jewish drag queen Lady SinAGaga.

“People in D.C. may not be familiar with Lady SinAGaga, but she is smart, funny, talented, and a Long Island-born former yeshivah boy turned drag queen! She is kind of New York City’s next Miz Cracker, who became a famous RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant,” said Gilston.

The event will also include a silent auction with donations from local businesses; all of these proceeds will also benefit Keshet.

Though they have big heels to fill, the four contestants participating in the pageant this year are promising to slay the stage themselves.

Now let’s meet the contestants!

Adam Gerstenfeld

First is Adam Gerstenfeld, a research analyst at an education nonprofit. He said that he should be the next Mr. Nice Jewish Boy “because I’m just a small town boy trying to make it in the big city.” Just as importantly, Adam says that he calls his mother every day. And “as Mr. Nice Jewish boy, I would offer to call Jewish mothers who don’t feel that their sons ring often enough.” To drive the point home, his special talent is a magical traditional Shabbat meal. He also claims that he can cure hiccups. Adam reports that as a summer theater camp kid, he once ripped his pants open in a competition attempting a split. There’s no word on whether there will be a repeat performance.

 

Ben Gersten

Next is Ben Gersten, a research scientist focusing on cancer drugs with a side hustle teaching Hebrew school. He claims that he should be crowned because of his backstory, having survived gay conversion therapy and then later getting a degree from Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS). He also claims to be great with Jewish moms. They can “count on me to chitchat about The New York Times over coffee, make sure their sons are eating, and to always bring a host gift.” Watch out when it comes to games, though, because “you can bet your tuches I’ll beat you in Jeopardy,” he says.

 

Jordan Aronowitz

The third contestant is Jordan Aronowitz, who is following his roots as an accountant. “But I’m a cool accountant,” he says. “I visit Navy bases to say hi to the boys in uniform.” He claims that he should win the crown because of his Jewish geography: he’s from Great Neck, New York, went to college in California, and is now an accountant in DC. He also notes that he’s a “buxom bombshell with a big personality and long eyelashes.” Since moving to Washington, DC, “the Jewish community has been my favorite part.” He also claims that he calls his mother on the daily.

Larry Komrower

Last but certainly not least is Larry Komrower, a coordinator of international education and study abroad programs. He, too, proclaims skill in the kitchen, but with a “killer” challah to match. Beyond being “nice, Jewish, and a boy,” Larry says that his deep involvement in the NJB community over the past several years proves that he should take the crown. Plus, he can “throw down a good showtune,” not to mention that he can do so in any of the four languages he speaks. “It has been refreshing to find a group in which I could make friends who are both gay and Jewish,” he says. His best friend and adorable pet Corgi agrees, “Larry has what it takes, WOOF!”

——-

Mr. Nice Jewish Boy 2018 Runner Up and 2019 co-organizer Zach Levine is excited for each of these contestants, concluding that they are all winners for getting this far: “Participating in the Mr. NJB Pageant was, by far, one of the best decisions I have made since moving to the District. It introduced me to a Queer and Jewish community in DC I never knew I needed.”  

General admission tickets are $25 and limited VIP tickets come with a meet-and-greet with Lady SinAGaga.


About the Author: Evan Caplan hails from the second Jewish homeland (New York). After serving in the Peace Corps, he’s a longtime DC resident and onetime Jewish Guy of the Week. Evan is the Washington Blade food columnist when not at his day gig. Evan was also the runner-up in 2013. He won points for telling the Jewish mother judge that he would provide all the kosher meat that her vegetarian son would ever need.


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.