Rabbi Rant: There’s a Jewish Holiday This Week

rabbi rant

This Saturday night is Tisha B’Av, a holiday that is less familiar to many American Jews. On Tisha B’Av, we commemorate the major Jewish calamities that happened on this day, most significantly the destruction of the two Temples. The loss of our “religious home” was coupled with the loss of our actual homes. As we read in Lamentations 5:2, “Our heritage has passed to aliens, our homes to strangers.” Tisha B’Av, then, is also a time to think about being away from the places, people and feelings we associate with home.

I recently got back from a three-week vacation to Tanzania, so, naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot about traveling and being away from home. The Sfat Emet, a late-19th-century chassidic rabbi in Poland, says that humans are called “travelers” because we “need to always travel from one level to the next level.” Journeys, he says, disrupt our sense of rest and complacency, compelling us to grow.

I don’t take many vacations, certainly not for three weeks at a time, so this past month, I decided it was time to push myself to travel. It was certainly a disruption from my comfortable life here – I climbed Kilimanjaro, “safari-ed” in the Serengeti, and explored Dar Es Salaam and Zanzibar. These experiences helped me grow in powerful ways that I’m still processing and trying to understand.

kilamajor

But being “on the go” doesn’t necessarily lead to growth. Traveling can easily become aimless wandering. That’s why, according to the Sfat Emet, we need to balance our “journeys” with our “encampments,” just like the ancient Israelites in the desert. Life is about vacillating between states of rest and restlessness.

Each of us tends to prefer one state over the other. Some yearn to wander, associating it with freedom, the opposite of being “tied down.” Others yearn to feel more grounded, associating wandering with God’s curse to Cain after he kills his brother – “You shall become a ceaseless wanderer on earth.” (Genesis 4:12). This may be a grass-is-greener situation – those who seek to wander often feel stuck, and those who seek to set down roots often feel lost. But I think all of us have both voices within ourselves.

Perhaps, then, Tisha B’Av is a day to confront the downsides of journeying and to make a little space for the part of ourselves that longs for a greater sense of home.

Even Cain, cursed to ceaselessly wander, ultimately settles down, in the land of Nod. Rashi, the famous French commentator on the Torah, explains the apparent contradiction: “Nod is a city of wandering exiles.”

DC can sometimes feel like Nod – a transient city full of wanderers and world travelers. We push off getting our DC license or registering to vote in DC, telling ourselves we’ll only be here for a year or two. We live here, but it’s not home.

Although we may not permanently settle in DC, our lives don’t need to be completely unsettled. Tisha B’Av can be an opportunity to ask ourselves:

  • How can we incorporate more of a sense of stability into our lives?
  • Where have we avoided making commitments, fooling ourselves into thinking we can be just as invested without that commitment?
  • How can we feel more at home, not just in DC but within ourselves?

Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning.  There is sadness and pain in confronting the ways we’ve wandered too much or too far. But Yom Kippur is just two months away, calling us to return to ourselves, to return home.

camping

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 Dog of the Month: Tabitha!

Due to the overwhelming response to our “Jewish Dog of the Month” feature, we are excited to announce that we will now be showcasing adorable pups EVERY OTHER WEEK! Email Allie Friedman to nominate your favorite dog (or cat!) .

This month, we say *WOOF WOOF* to Marcy Spiro‘s beloved pup, Tabitha. 

doggy of week

 

Sarah: What is your name?

Tabitha: Tabitha, but my mom has A TON of nicknames for me. Tabby, Tabby Tabs, Taberella, etc.

Sarah: Where did your name come from?

Tabitha: The lovely people at Lucky Dog Animal Rescue named me Tabitha. When I lived in South Carolina, my name was Beverly. But, I try to forget both that name and the bad times I had while living there.

Sarah: What is your favorite food?

Tabitha: I love salty foods, just like my mama! Multigrain Tostitos and saltine crackers are my faves.

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

Tabitha: So, I think it’s actually the best compliment my dog mommy received…when her boss told her that we look alike!

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

Tabitha: I may or may not have flipped over the garbage can and dragged stuff all through the house…three times.

Sarah: Who is your best friend?

Tabitha: Besides my humans? I guess, my dog uncle who I get to see whenever we drive to Rochester, New York to visit my mom’s parents. He’s a bichon poo, and we love chasing each other all around the house.

tabby the dog and marcy

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

Tabitha: Since my mom works for a Jewish organization, she’s not home for a lot of the holidays. But, one she is always home for is Hanukkah. I love all the Hanukkah lights, the blessings, and sufganiyot. Since my mom doesn’t like jelly donuts, she usually gets cream filled ones, and I get a little cream filling on the tip of my nose!

Sarah: My biggest fear is….

Tabitha: That my mommy leaves me and doesn’t come back. Whenever she leaves I wait by the door and sometimes whine. And when she gets home, I jump and dance, and squeak with excitement until I get some quality tummy time from her.

Sarah: I get most excited when…

Tabitha: …my mommy comes home! Lately, I’ve also started to enjoy hearing the harmonica and singing along.

Sarah: What is your spirit animal?

Tabitha: Remember the original Jurassic Park movie? Well that Velociraptor and I have a lot in common if you disturb me when I’m sleeping.

tabs

 

 

About the Author: Sarah Brennan

Sarah grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida and graduated from The University of Rhode Island with a degree in Communications in 2012. After graduating, she lived in Israel until 2016 where she got her M.A. in Government from the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and worked as an Intelligence Analyst at Cycurtiy Ltd. She moved to DC in May 2016 and works at AIPAC on their Policy & Government Affairs team. In her spare time, she enjoys 305 fitness classes, horseback riding, and traveling.

 

 

 

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.

Spotted in Jewish DC: A Vegan Egg McMuffin!

In today’s crazy universe, the idea that we are moving towards a better tomorrow can at times seem, well, kind of hopeless.

The values that I care about most deeply are often left unprotected by my government.

The natural world is being destroyed daily by greed.

I could go on ad infinitum (but I won’t, because it’s way too depressing).

This week, I felt a genuine glimmer of hope that I have not experienced in far too long – all thanks to a tiny bean.

Specifically, the mung bean.

The mung bean, a plant species in the legume family from South Asia and Africa (great trivia fact), is the basis of Just Egg, a brand new vegan product that looks, tastes, and scrambles just like real egg (and no, this company is not paying me to say any of this. But, I mean, if they’re looking for an awesome brand ambassador – they can totally slide into my DMs).

egg

Someone who does get paid to eat and make delicious foods, AKA José Andrés, said of the Just Egg, “It’s not every day you see something that blows your mind.”

I spotted this miraculous product at Equinox, the DC-based restaurant owned by Jewish couple Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray that is now – no big deal or anything – the only East Coast location to feature Just Egg on their menu!

Due to my being married to The Avocadbro, I was lucky enough to accompany him to Equinox last week for a private event where we had the pleasure of being some of the first to take a bite out of the Just Egg (life goals).

We were completely blown away.

I watched a chef scramble up this liquid product, resembling liquid carton eggs, right in front of my eyes. As someone who is new to veganism, egg-based dishes have long been one of my favorite ways to get the protein I need without sacrificing taste or adding tons of calories. Finding a nutritious replacement for eggs when transitioning to a plant-based diet was challenging, because to be honest, even the best tofu scramble just won’t cut it sometimes. And yeah, I make a really good tofu scramble.

Pause here.

For those of you who have made it this far into the article, first – I’m very impressed with your attention span. Second, here’s a quick background on my recent transition to veganism: As someone who is deeply passionate about living according to my Jewish values, the transition to eating plant-based this past year felt pretty seamless. It all started after I decided to marry a hardcore vegan who loves spending Sunday mornings eating stacks of vegan pancakes while watching intense Netflix documentaries about the food industry (we’re really cool). So, after watching one too many documentaries, I was “woke” to what goes on behind the scenes at food companies, and could never look at food the same again. Plus, thanks to the amazing DC-based organization Jewish Veg, I realized that plant-based eating and Jewish living go hand-in-hand. I learned how veganism is one way to express our shared Jewish values of compassion, protection for the environment, and concern for our physical and spiritual well-being – every single day.

The minute I walked into Equinox last Tuesday morning, and looked around to see a room full of wide-eyed idealists, chefs, and social media influencers, all with a profound passion for a better world, my eyes started to water (no joke, it was quite embarrassing). I held back tears as I anxiously introduced myself to some of the best and brightest people in the plant-based business, including co-founder of JUST (the company behind Just Egg) Josh Balk and the director of upcoming documentary Meat the Future, Liz Marshall. My cynical soul began crashing down at the site of so many brilliant minds joining together to eat a vegan egg on a toasted, buttery English muffin. Because to me, that egg sandwich we were happily devouring was so much more than the sum of its mung bean, vegan mayo, and Daiya cheese parts. It was as if we were biting into the future.

So, whether you are a diehard carnivore, cheese lover (no judgment, jumbo slice pizza is definitely one of the best meals in DC), or devout vegan, I hope we can all be excited about the possibility of a brighter future for our planet.

A future where all beings, regardless of where they come from or what species they are, can be treated with love.

Learn more about Just Egg here.

vegan egg

 

About the Author: Allison Friedman is the Communications Director for GatherDC. When she’s not at work, you can find her hiking in the great outdoors, enjoying weekend getaways in Bethany Beach and trying out new vegan recipes. She lives in the rolling hills of Cleveland Park with her husband, The Avocadbro.

 

 

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.

A Kurdish Shabbat Experience!

On Friday, July 13th, my organization Sephardic Jews in DC, in partnership with OneTable and JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa), will be hosting a traditional Shabbat dinner featuring delicious homemade kosher Kurdish food and a panel of phenomenal speakers.

This panel is composed of those who have lived and worked in Kurdistan, and a Jew whose family lived in Iranian Kurdistan for many generations. Together, they will discuss the Jewish history of the Kurdish land, their struggle for independence, and why we as American Jews should care about the future of the Kurdish people.kurdish food

My first experience with the Kurdish Jewish people happened very serendipitously. Many years ago, a friend of mine suggested going to the Azura restaurant in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market to try their delicious Turkish food. As a Sephardic Jew of Turkish and Greek descent, I was excited to try out the food and practice my Ladino. Upon entering the homey restaurant, I spotted several very unique dishes. Some of these foods looked familiar to me, but other dishes looked like nothing I had ever seen before. My friend introduced me to the owner of the restaurant and told him I was a fellow Turkish Jew. I said hello to the owner with a Ladino greeting, and he replied back in a Kurdish dialect, which is a version of Judeo-Aramaic. My intrigue at the language he spoke led to a captivating conversation about his Kurdish heritage. From that moment on, I became deeply fascinated with the history of the Kurdish Jews.

Who are the Kurds? How did Jews get to Kurdistan? Where are they now? I had so many questions, and turned to the internet to help me get the answers I craved.

I learned that the Kurds are recognized as the largest stateless national group in the world. Although the vast majority of the 30 million Kurds in the world are Sunni Muslims, the Kurdish people also include many other faiths and religions due to the large area they inhabit.

kurdistan map

According to The Kurdish Project,

“After losing the opportunity for statehood post-WWI, the Kurds now exist as an ethnic minority spread out between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, and strive to maintain a culture that has been rapidly absorbed by their host countries. Borne from a long history of strife, Kurdish culture places value on individual freedoms. Whether it be overt religious tolerance, strides towards equality in the status of women, or democratic government, Kurdish culture values individual life and has fiercely defended its ability to live free from external rule.”

The Kurdish Project goes on to explain that over the years, Kurds have been targeted by various governments, for reasons ranging from lack of religiosity, to living on land with natural resources, and other border disputes.

Does this story and history sound familiar? Parallels between the Jews and Kurds have been drawn as early as the Ottoman Empire. Their struggle for independence mirrors one another in many ways.

The history of the Kurdish Jews can be traced back to the Israelites of the tribe of Benjamin. This tribe first arrived in the area of modern Kurdistan after the Assyrian conquest of the Kingdom of Israel during the 8th century BC. During this time, many Jews settled in rural and remote mountainous areas. Unlike the Jews in Europe and parts of the Middle East, many Kurdish Jews worked in agrarian occupations such as farming and trading. Kurdish Jewish society was mostly traditional and observant, but occasionally communicated with outside Jewish populations, such as Israel.  

In many cases, Kurdish Jews merged Jewish customs with local tradition. This can be seen in Kurdish food, which reflects local food of their region that is cooked in accordance with the laws of kashrut. The majority of Kurdish Jews, who were concentrated in northern Iraq, left Kurdistan during Operation Ezra and Nehemiah (a mass emigration of Iraqi Jews to Israel) of 1950-52. This brought almost all Iraqi Jews to Israel, and meant the end of a long Jewish history in places once known as Assyria and Babylon.

kurdish food

Despite facing many challenges after arriving in Israel, the Kurdish immigrants started assimilating into mainstream Israeli culture within a single generation. Israel, in turn, began to absorb some of the Kurdish culture and cuisine. For example, the popular Kurdish dumpling soup called Kubbeh, is now a national Israeli dish. Today, Kurdish Jewry is deeply zionist and settled mainly in Jerusalem.

However, The Yale Israeli Journal explains that even after living much of their lives in Israel, many Israeli Kurds deeply connect with their native Kurdistan, and strive for an independent Kurdish state.

Next Friday, we will come together for a Shabbat dinner to learn more about the Kurds’ compelling history and enjoy their traditional foods. This dinner is open to everyone!

Please register here ASAP as space is limited.

 

 

 

Jackie FeldmanAbout the Author: Jackie Feldman is the founder of Sephardic Jews in DC, a group that hosts events for young professionals in DC in celebration of Sephardic culture, food, and religious traditions. She is the author of the food blog, Healthy Sephardic Cooking that features a healthier spin on many traditional Jewish and Sephardic recipes and teaches classes on Sephardic cuisine and cooking in DC. When she’s not busy cooking or hosting, she enjoys painting, yoga, watching Seinfeld, and anything to do with International Affairs.

 

 

 

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 Dog of the Month: Bailey

This tiny-pawed puppy is on a mission to brighten the days of every Jewish young adult across the DMV, one tail wag at a time. 

Oh, and Bailey wanted us to give a huge “MAWWZEL TOV!” to her parents on their recent engagement, and hopes to walk down the aisle at their wedding. Oh, and nbd or anything, but his parents met at a GatherDC happy hour

puppySarah: What is your name?

Bailey: Bailey, aka Bails, Bailush, Bailseybubs and many nicknames of the sort.

Sarah: What breed of dog are you?

Bailey: I’m a King Charles Cavalier.

Sarah: How did you get to DC?

Bailey: When I was only 8 weeks old, Daddy surprised Mommy with me for her birthday! He told her to get in the car for a drive. He kept driving…and driving…and driving until they ended up at my first home in Richmond! Mommy said I was the best surprise and present she ever got.

Sarah: What is your favorite food?

Bailey: Turmeric! Mom and Dad put it in my dinner every night. I dunno, I guess it’s healthy for pups or something. But it turns my nose yellow, which looks pretty silly. Besides that, mulch. Lots and lots of mulch. I just can’t ever seem to eat enough of it, no matter how much Mom and Dad try to stop me.

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

Bailey: People tell me all the time that I made their day with my cute face. Some people say they were having a bad day till they saw me, and I brightened it up for them! Even some people say, “I don’t even like dogs…but you are the cutest thing in the world”

Sarah: Who is your best friend?

Bailey: Sunny. No, Nikko. No, Lola. No, Sunny, definitely Sunny. I’m gunna be honest, and I hate to be cliche, but I really do love everyone. Human, dog, cat, bird…you name it. I just wanna play with everyone.

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

Bailey: Ugh, they’re always sticking their hands in my mouth to get out the huge assortment of random items I find on the ground! From plastic caps to metal screws to rubber bands to mulch. It’s so annoying!

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

Bailey: I haven’t gotten to experience all of the Jewish holidays yet, I’m just a baby! I’ve only been around 4 months. But, I can’t wait for Hannukah. I hear we get lots of gifts! Any excuse for more bones and toys to chew on sounds great to me! I’m also looking forward to Yom Kippur, to atone for my sins of peeing in the house on an almost daily basis, despite Mom and Dad’s best efforts of taking me out 7+ times daily.

Sarah: I get most excited when…

Bailey: I hear the sound of my dog food bag and I know a meal is coming! Or when Mom and Dad come home from work, so I can play with them all night long with my nonstop energy.

 

About the author: Sarah Brennan grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida and graduated from The University of Rhode Island with a degree in Communications in 2012. After graduating, she lived in Israel until 2016 where she got her M.A. in Government from the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and worked as an Intelligence Analyst at Cycurtiy Ltd. She moved to DC in May 2016 and works at AIPAC on their Policy & Government Affairs team. In her spare time, she enjoys 305 fitness classes, horseback riding, and traveling.

Want to nominate a dog? Email Sarah!

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.

A Toli Moli Shabbat!

burmese foodA typical Shabbat in DC is perhaps one of the hardest things to describe about this city.

A DC Shabbat can be anything from a service at one of the several synagogues across town, a vegan dinner of buddha bowls and trolley fries at the 100% plant-based Pow Pow (nourished by OneTable), or perhaps a dinner of coconut noodles and tea leaf salad at a Burmese bodega in Union Market.

The diversity of Shabbats in DC, and the opportunity for each of us to create these dinners and push the boundaries even further, are some of my favorite qualities of DC. Plus, these Shabbats give us the chance to be introduced to wonderful new food and people.

The latter Shabbat experience of a Burmese bodega was exactly where I found myself last Friday, seated around a table of people hungry for an adventure to Burma (also known as Myanmar).

Toli Moli, which means “a little of this and a little of that,” is the Burmese snack shop from mother-daughter team Simone Jacobson and Jocelyn Law-Yone (Chef Jojo) where this Shabbat took place. And a little of this, and a little of that, is just what these two women brought to the table. Throughout the evening, Simone and Jocelyn provided us with a warmth of hospitality and family stories along with every delicious bite.

toli moli owners

L’dor va’dor is a commonly sung prayer that means “from generation to generation.” In Judaism, passing down traditions is an integral part of the religion – from your family’s favorite matzo ball soup to the way you fold your hamataschen – food is one of the best vehicles to transport these customs. The practice of l’dor va’dor is a global concept, and one that inspired this Shabbat evening with OneTable, JDC Entwine, and Toli Moli. Unbeknownst to the organizers when planning the event, Toli Moli is not only an intergenerational concept, but also one with a strong Jewish connection!

As the only Burmese eatery in DC, Simone sees Toli Moli as not just a legacy for her own family, but also for her heritage. Growing up in Arizona with a Burmese mom and a Jewish dad, Simone’s Asian-American appearance gave her a sense of pride and provided her with a way to connect with similar people. Although Simone’s childhood best friend (who was of Thai-American descent) may not have grown up eating falooda like she did, her friend’s Thai heritage had a similar concept with Nam Manglak and the more familiar bubble tea.

Seen as an “international connector” and the foundation for Toli Moli, falooda is a fruity-layered dessert made with jellies, basil seeds, milk, and ice cream. The bodega of Toli Moli is stocked with falooda, as well as Asian pantry items, locally made DC products and, of course, a Burmese menu full of noodles and sandwiches.

By bringing falooda, a dessert that is eaten all around the world, to DC, Toli Moli creates an environment where everyone can feel at home.

Toli Moli is a place where everyone can find connections both to the food and to the intergenerational family that welcomes you as soon as you step inside – a place where everyone can have their own “toli moli moment”.

challah

 

About the Author: Judith Rontal  hails from wintry Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she grew up in a family that always managed to eat dinner together, even if that was at 10 pm. She’s continued that connection between food, family and culture in her blog, Aluminum Foiled Kitchen, and in her daily life in DC where she works in PR, focusing on media relations. When not in the kitchen working on a new recipe to serve at her next dinner party, you can find Judith sweating it out at yoga or running the Rock Creek Park trails. Follow her food adventures on Twitter and Instagram.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Gather DC Camping Trip: Country Roads Took Us Home

This was not a throw-your-gear-in-the-car-and-go kind of camping trip. Let me clarify: We definitely did throw our gear into cars and we certainly did go to Shenandoah National Park. But the GatherDC Camping Trip from May 11-13 was about more than just satisfying an urge to get outdoors, it was a welcome opportunity to unplug while checking in with our natural world, with each other, and with elements of our often-fragmented Jewish lives.

I really wasn’t looking for any sort of revelation on our first hike of the trip. I was more focused on not getting sunburnt. During our first group activity on the lookout of Stony Man Mountain, we spent time among the soaring hawks and ravens talking about the differences between the week and the weekend. I didn’t grow up with any strong Shabbat traditions and likewise had not thought very deeply about what this weekly exercise really is.

Shabbat, to me, had always meant candles and challah, so framing it as a deliberate and meaningful separation from the week was pretty profound. And so the week ended. The Sabbath began in a wild, green place. And I did not get sunburnt.

For the next two days, we hiked, we ate, we laughed, and we met cool people from DC, MD, and VA. We were pretty unplugged from technology, which was refreshing, but we did try to capture a few photos.

camping trip

14 really good-looking Jews on the summit of Old Rag, arguably the most strenuous and rewarding day hike in the DC area. After thousands of feet of elevation gain and some rock scrambles, our PB&J tortilla lunch could not have tasted better.

 

girls on camping tripIlana Hoff, Rachel Gorosh, and Kerry Honan take a moment to enjoy Overall Run Falls on our final hike of the trip.

 

Mathew's Arm CampsiteGroup Campsite D166 at Mathews Arm Campground treated us well. It was large enough to allow our 6 tents (and 1 hammock) to be spaced out. Some of us felt so good about the weather Saturday night that we took our rainflies off. That allowed me to see a shooting star from my sleeping bag. Of course the tradeoff was having to scurry out of the tent at 4am to get the rainfly back on before we got poured on for several hours!

 

Old RagMark Nathanson marvels and ponders on Old Rag Mountain. Something GatherDC has really helped me come to terms with is that your holy place can be anywhere.

 

hiking on trailA lot of people on this trip felt that this experience couldn’t have come at a better time. This could have been for one of many reasons. For me, it was a particularly stressful month at work. All of this hiking time allowed for some deep conversations with people we had just met, some jokes, some riddles, and even some peaceful silence. 

 

campsiteBack at the campsite, GatherDC is chillaxing for real. The campsite made a great backdrop for our Havdalah service and campfire songs led by Truman Braslaw on guitar. John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” was a crowd pleaser, believe me. Later in the night you could hear crackling fire, breakouts of laughter, and even some enthusiastic owl mating calls in the trees above us that were, uh, apparently pretty successful.

 

camping trip leadersThe three wonderful people who organized this trip and brought it to life: Daniel Wasserman, Natalie Birnbaum, and Mark Nathanson. From driving, to cooking, to buying all the supplies, to leading our activities, these three did it all. If you run into one of them, ask them about the trip, and when another one might happen. It’s a long summer. Who knows?

 

tortilla lunch

Ok, if you made it this far, this is what epic PB&J Tortilla lunch looks like. #FeedtheJews.

 

 

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.

The Ultimate DC Pizza Rankings (Vegan Style)

The following is a guest blog post by The Avocadbro, a vegan food blogger who shares his greatest animal-free eating adventures on Instagram

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I imagine being asked to rank my favorite vegan-friendly pizza restaurants feels the same as being a parent who is asked to rank their favorite kids. All my favorite dairy-free pizza places are amazing in their own way.

Why am I ranking vegan pizza places you may ask?

Well, Shavuot is this week! Shavuot is the Jewish holiday that celebrates when God gave the Israelites the Torah. For some reason, Jews commemorate this event by eating copious amounts of cheese, and I’d like to provide some dairy-free alternatives for those of us who choose to abstain – or are unable to partake – in the cheese-eating festivities. There are many reasons behind the tradition to consume dairy on Shavuot, but some scholars say it has something to do with Israel being the “land of milk and honey”.

Quick tangent on this…

You might be surprised to find out that the “honey” in this holy phrase isn’t about honey from bees. It’s about honey from dates. As someone who avoids animal products, that’s kind of cool, not bothering bees and all.

But the “milk” part of that phrase is even more surprising. At least two-thirds of the world, including two-thirds of Jews, can’t digest cow’s milk properly. If two thirds of the people who live in a land of milk can’t consume milk, it must get pretty stinky there, right?

Apparently not. In Israel, all 55 Domino’s Pizza locations offer vegan cheese. It’s become one of the most vegan friendly countries in the world.

So, maybe it’s time to rebrand Israel as the “land of almond milk and date honey.”

While Domino’s in the United States still hasn’t caught up, there are no shortage of pizza places in DC that offer vegan cheese.

We’ve got a few pretty delicious vegan-pizza spots worth giving a Shavuot Shout-Out.

I’m quite familiar with DC’s vegan pizza offerings. Pizza is currently in first place as my favorite food. When I first moved to DC about a decade ago, there was one place that I knew of that had vegan cheese: Pizzeria Paradiso. They had the DC market cornered and deserve some special recognition for being trendsetters.

Since then, a vegan cheese company called Daiya emerged and began supplying restaurants around the country with their products. I love Daiya. But if you’ve ever eaten it before and weren’t thrilled, you should know that about six months ago they upped their game in a major way. They came out with a new variety called “Cutting Board” style cheese. Anecdotally, people love it. And slowly, but surely, pizza places have switched over to this new style.

One last thing before I get into the rankings: There’s this myth that vegan cheese is made of weird ingredients. Let me quickly put that myth to rest. It’s not.

Daiya, for example, is mainly a blend of coconut oil and tapioca starch. That’s no weirder than dairy cheese, which could more accurately be called coagulated estrogen excretion from cattle. Sounds more like a Passover plague than an edible food.

Now onto the rankings…

The Elite Three

These places don’t just have vegan cheese (and yummy crust, and a wide selection of veggie toppings). They also have delicious, high-protein vegan meat.

1) Mellow Mushroom: Okay, I’m starting with a chain. But how many pizza places don’t have multiple locations now-a-days? The pizza industry is that strong (yay America!).

Mellow Mushroom’s pizza crust is freaking delicious. Its pizza is considered to be “Southern style.” They recently switched from Daiya cheese to Follow Your Heart cheese, which is very good.  Oh, and they also have vegan calzones. What more could ask for to nourish your late night Torah study seshes?

Pro-tip: Order yourself some vegan pizza with marinated tempeh and sun-dried tomatoes. It tastes incredible.

2) Pi Pizzeria: This place, located in Chinatown, has St. Louis-style deep dish. I love deep dish pizza because it’s more cubic volume of pizza than other styles. They also have Match Meat sausage, which is a really delicious vegan meat.

Word of warning: You have to call six hours ahead of time if you plan to order the vegan deep dish. They lose points for such an oddly strict schedule.

Pro-tip: make it a habit to call them every single morning on your commute to work. That way, you always have a vegan deep dish pizza available to you that evening. (I’m 90% joking – maybe don’t do that if you’re semi-interested in getting summer body ready.)

3) &pizza: Pizza connoisseurs scoff at &pizza because it’s not “real” pizza and gets made in a fancy toaster oven rather than a true pizza oven. But you know what? They’re kinda right. You know what else? Who cares! If you’re in a rush (and if the line isn’t too long), you can get a delicious personal pizza for about $10 and 5 minutes of your time.

Plus, it’s a native DC company and they have Beyond Meat sausage crumbles, which I highly recommend.

Pro-tip: There’s an &pizza location in Terminal C of Reagan National, and most airlines consider your &pizza a “personal item”. Plus, your airplane seat neighbors will be jealous.

Middle Tier

4) Menomale: Full disclaimer: I’ve never eaten here. But they offer both vegan cheese and vegan chicken. That’s pretty awesome. How have I not been here yet? Anyone want to go with me?

5) Duccini’s. This was the first pizza place in DC to get Daiya cheese back in 2010-ish. I remember, because I was there to celebrate that unforgettable occasion (I feel old). Today, they are still rocking the vegan pizza game. Plus, they’re open until 2am on weekends. I’m usually asleep by 10pm after a long night of Netflix, but if you’re cool and party at AdMo clubs, you might enjoy some late night, dairy-free deliciousness.

Pro-tip: They can also make vegan jumbo slices if you call ahead and get the right person on the phone.

6) Pizzeria Paradiso: As far as I know, this was the only place that offered vegan cheese back when I first moved to DC in 2008. Huge points for being part of history. Otherwise, it’s a solid Neapolitan-style pizza place.

7) Pete’s New Haven Pizza: A random city in a random state has its own style of pizza. And after deciding DC was in need of some New Haven, Connecticut culinary pedigree, Pete brought his pizza to DC. They were pretty early in offering vegan cheese. Big points for that.

8) Comet Ping Pong: There’s a dark Internet conspiracy that Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton have ordered vegan cheese pizza from here. Okay, I made that up, but seriously, both of them are vegan and might have ordered pizza from here before.

9) Timber: Wood-fired pizza in Petworth. To be honest, I’ve never eaten here (again, any takers to be my new pizza-eating buddy?). Based on other people’s reviews, this place sounds really good. And I know they offer vegan cheese. I wanted to go on Monday night to prepare for this blog post. But it’s closed on Mondays, resulting in a significant point loss. Some people need pizza at the end of a long Monday (especially before a major derecho). I know I did.

As Pitbull famously wrote, “[Vegan pizza is] going down [my throat]. I’m yelling Timber.”

10) DC Pizza: I’ve never been here either, but they do offer vegan cheese. I think it’s similar to &Pizza, but no vegan sausage option.

Lower Tier

Well, pretty much every other pizza place in DC doesn’t have vegan cheese, which results in a crushing point loss for them. Basically all of the other great pizza places in DC still make pretty good cheese-less pizza (call me crazy, but I prefer cheese on my pizza). As more and more people ditch dairy cheese, these places need to pick up the slack and acknowledge the changing tides.

In Italy, the birthplace of pizza, meat sales are declining. In response, the leading mortadella company in Italy came out with vegan versions of their products. A few years ago, that would’ve been unheard of. As of 2018, the company’s president said:  “It is an incontrovertible fact that the number of consumers choosing vegetarian and vegan [products] is growing.”

And New York City, the most well-known pizza city in the country, is now widely considered to be the most vegan-friendly city, with a large number of lactose struggling Jews and amazing vegan pizza places.

So, my message to Wiseguys, 2 Amys, Ghibellina, il Canale, Etto, Vace, All Purpose, Matchbox, 7th Hill, We The Pizza–heck, let’s throw in Manny & Olga’s, Pizza Boli’s, Ledo’s, Papa John’s, Domino’s and Pizza Hut–it’s already the year 5778! (in the Hebrew calendar). Let’s get with the times and start offering vegan cheese.

If you have any questions, you can find me in Adams Morgan blocking traffic on 18th Street as I debate whether to get Mellow Mushroom or Duccini’s.

 

About the Author: Andrew Friedman is an attorney in Washington, DC. He writes about food, nutrition, and veganism on his blog, The Avocadbro, and shares his favorite vegan eating adventures on Instagram. He loves animals, but doesn’t love eating them.

The Four Types of Jewish Mothers in Our Lives

The top definition of “Jewish Mother” on Urban Dictionary is: “An unstoppable force of nature that will feed you, pamper you, and pester you at the slightest provocation, known to spout Yiddish randomly. Be warned: if you come to my house, you WILL leave with a full stomach and a bag of leftovers.”

I could not have come up with a better definition of a stereotypical Jewish mother if I had tried. However, from my experience, Jewish mothers come in a variety of different forms that cannot all be encompassed in this definition. These are the four Jewish mothers I have encountered during my twenty-six and a half years of life.

The “Jewish mom” of your friend group

Do you have that one friend who has anything you could ever possibly need at a moment’s notice? In my group of friends, this has 100% been me. Do you need a Band-Aid because your heels are giving you a blister? Check. Do you need some snacks because we are not eating lunch for another hour? Check. Do you have a headache from lack of sleep and need some ibuprofen? Check. I pride myself on being prepared for any situation that may arise and my friends know this about me.

Being the “Jewish mom” of your friend group in action

I had a coworker who was moving to a new home and had anxiety about stocking his kitchen. I of course took this opportunity to take him grocery shopping after work for anything he may need, and stocked his freezer with easy-to-make meals.

One time, I was with some girlfriends on a weekend trip and one of my friends met a very nice man. He walked her home, but then didn’t get the hint that he was not invited upstairs to our hotel room. I was the friend standing at the door telling him it was time to go back to his own place. This is not the first time I have done this for a friend.

Your “Jewish mom” at the office

As a young adult who does not live close to home, I always seem find coworker who has decided to become my “Jewish mom away from home”. Is this a perk of working at Jewish nonprofit organizations? Maybe. But I take full advantage of it!

via GIPHY

Being a “Jewish mom” at the office in action

At one of my previous jobs, I dog-sat for one of my “Jewish moms” from my office. Now, just having a cute puppy to spend time with was enough of an incentive to make this worthwhile for me. But every time I went over to my coworker’s house, she always had my favorite snacks ready for me. One time, she had my favorite – Chicago style popcorn (caramel and cheese popcorn mixed together) in her house. After I left that day, she realized that all the cheese popcorn was gone and only the caramel was left. The next time I was over, there was a whole bag of cheese-only popcorn waiting for me. When I moved to DC, she made sure I was prepared by sending me off with a calendar of her adorable puppy, some dried mango, and a gift card to Bed Bath and Beyond.

I have met some of the best pseudo “Jewish moms” who have invited me to their families’ homes for the Jewish holidays. Whenever these incredible women see my favorite foods at the grocery store, they buy it and bring it into work the next day. They are the reason being in a city on my own, away from my family has not been as difficult as I thought  – and I am beyond grateful for that.

Your first friend to become an actual Jewish mom

I have been excited to have kids since I was young. I always thought I would be a young mom and start this chapter of my life shortly after college. Of course, you cannot plan these things, and I did not end up being a young mom. But, at the age of 24, my first Jewish friend officially became a mother, and I cannot put into words how excited I have been to spend time with her little mush.

After spending hours on the phone with my friend, learning about her new life as a mom, and then spending four days watching her daughter while she was at work, I find that I am no longer in a rush to be a mom. I am in constant awe of my friend’s life as a mother, and truly have no idea how she finds enough energy daily. She takes care of her adorable baby, works, and runs her household. She has an awesome husband who equally supports their household, but I still do not understand how she has time for it all, while also finding time to create a song about me moving to a new city – to the tune of “Elmo’s World”, of course – and sleep.

As insane as this statement is, I did not realize how much having kids changes your life.

I am exhausted after a long day of work and going to a gym class. How in the world will I make it through sleepless nights with children? Needless to say, I am beyond impressed by my extraordinary friend, her endless stream of energy, and complete patience with her daughter at every moment. Right now, I am enjoying my current stage of life and no longer rushing to be at the “kids stage”. Until I get there, I will enjoy any babysitting time I get with my friend’s photogenic and hilarious daughter.

THE Jewish mom

Last, but certainly not least, is the Jewish mother for whom Urban Dictionary’s definition was tailor made for.

Being THE Jewish mom in action

The Jewish mom is the person who raises you to be the unique snowflake that you are. The Jewish mom is the woman who lent you her shoes when you accidently got in the car to go to school without taking off your slippers. The Jewish mom is the woman who sent you with Cheez-Its and Rolos to every youth group convention because those were your favorite snacks – even when youth group conventions were four weeks in a row. The Jewish mom is the woman who you woke up at 2:00 a.m. because your college boyfriend decided this was the best time to facilitate a breakup, and there was just no way you were going to end up sleeping that night. The Jewish mom is the woman who you can share shoes and clothes with when you forget to bring the right outfit home for the weekend.

While your Jewish mom may know how to lay on the guilt about the fact that you do not live close to home, she is also the amazing lady who you can call anytime you need to vent, laugh, or gossip.

Whether I need someone to help me move, or I need someone to keep me company while I am walking from one class to another, I always know my incredible Jewish mom will be there any time I need.

So, in time for Mother’s Day, I’d like to take this opportunity to to tell all the amazing moms in this world – no matter what their religion – thanks for being you. I would not be where I am today without these amazing women – but especially my own mom. Whenever someone tells me I am just like her, I know that is the best compliment they can give me.

 

 

About the Author: Marisa Briefman 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 recent DC transplant who was born and raised in Sarasota, Florida – likely where your grandparents live. Her love of all things Jewish began at overnight camp and continues to thrive in her role at ADL. She is coffee addict, lover of Mexican food, and on a permanent mission pet all the adorable dogs in DC (if someone is in need of a dog-sitter, email me).

 

 

Editor’s Note: This article is meant to be taken as satire. We acknowledge that all mothers, regardless of religious background of upbringing, have their own unique parenting styles, personalities, and behaviors.

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.