Can We Find Joy In Vulnerable Times this Sukkot?

As Yom Kippur ended last Wednesday night, I quickly had a bite of a bagel and downed some orange juice. I soon checked in on social media after taking a nice break from it over the holiday. 

I was quickly horrified to see the news of the terrorist attack on a synagogue in Halle, Germany earlier that day and the tragic death of two innocent people, 40 year-old Jana Lange and 20 year-old Kevin S. This tragic shooting came about a year after another terrorist attack on a Jewish house of worship in Pittsburg. In between were too many acts of baseless hatred directed against minorities here and around the world. 

This time I knew some of the victims who were at the synagogue in Halle and thankfully, lived to tell of their experiences. As one can imagine, they recounted how terrifying the ordeal was and to have to wait inside (and even outside) the locked synagogue for help to arrive. They also shared deep gratitude that the terrorist was not able to infiltrate the building and kill even more people. The group of Jews who started the day in a synagogue on the holiest day of the year concluded their Yom Kippur service at a local hospital instead, where they were taken to be checked for signs of shock and trauma. 

One of the people I know later posted a video of several members of the group coming home from the hospital on a bus together. One person blew the shofar as many communities do to mark the end of Yom Kippur, and then the group erupted in joyous song and dance (which is another way communities conclude Yom Kippur, but this time the gratitude was obviously connected to surviving what had transpired earlier that day).

bus video

Members of the group singing together on a bus returning from the hospital after the Yom Kippur shooting in Halle, Germany

Although I understood the vast range of emotions the folks inside the synagogue must have felt throughout the day, instinctively I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable watching this video. I had just learned about everything that happened and was in the throes of feeling the three A’s: anxious, angry, and afraid. I know I could only interpret this experience as an onlooker, but I just couldn’t imagine what it must have been like to muster up any kind of will to sing and dance after living through a nightmarish experience. I’m sure there were some who didn’t.  

Even if it didn’t feel natural to me as the one reading this news from afar, I recognize that mustering up song is a deep and important act of spiritual resilience in the midst of deep pain.

In no way will the Jews who were there in Halle forget this Yom Kippur – it will forever impact them as it will those who lost their loved ones that day. I pray that they soon find comfort in their grief. 

But I want to recognize that this attack, like many others, can and may have already seeped into our own minds every time we walk into a visible Jewish space or publically show up as a Jewish person. Truth be told, I find myself worrying more and more about physical violence in public places, Jewish and not, and I don’t know if not being afraid is an option anymore. Is it just a matter of when it happens as opposed to if it happens at this point? 

And yet, before I despair for too long, logic tells me that the world will continue to turn and we must go along with it. While we are alive and breathing, we always have the ability to shape our responses to people and events, and therefore, we can redefine these vulnerable times. 

One piece of Jewish wisdom I find myself going back to again and again when I’m disheartened comes from Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Father. It says, 

“In a place where there are no people, strive to be a person” (Pirkei Avot 5:2).

What this means is that when our humanity is deeply challenged, we must show up as the full, beautiful, and loving humans that we are. And sometimes, that has to entail creating moments for joy regardless of what’s going on around us. 

I can’t think of a better time than this week of Sukkot to lean deeply into this message. On Sukkot, we are told to dwell (eat, hang out, and if possible, sleep) in sukkot, or huts which commemorate the temporary shelters the Israelites lived in as they wandered through the desert after leaving Egypt. But the Torah also says,

“You shall rejoice in your festival … and you shall have nothing but joy.“ (Deuteronomy  16:14-15).

Joy is such a central part to Sukkot that it even goes by another name, Z’man Simchateinu, “The Season of our Rejoicing.” So, unless one is really into glamping (which I am, actually…), how is this holiday supposed to help us feel joy? And what are we celebrating exactly?

Sukkot is a holiday of rejoicing, but many may not realize that it’s about rejoicing amidst our vulnerability. More than anything, Sukkot is a festival that commemorates a period of wandering. It asks us to reenact that in-between place of knowing where we came from (or fled from) and where we’d like to be (and may soon arrive at), but not sure how long the present moment of the unknown will last or what it will consist of. 

Sukkot (the huts) are made to help us embody this message by exposing us to the outside world (a “kosher” sukkah must allow us to see the stars in the sky at night, so the “roofing” which usually consists of scattered bamboo shoots, branches or corn stalks, can’t totally protect us from the rain, sun, or even bird poop). The sides are usually made with a tarp or strung pieces of cloth. They are not meant to be comfortable fortresses, let alone a real home.  

On Sukkot we literally embody the temporary nature of things and remember that we are often susceptible to the elements, which may not seem so fun when it rains or is windy. We also observe the holiday with joyful prayers (accompanied by shaking a sweet smelling plant/fruit combo called a lulav and etrog), songs, and festive meals. Additionally, it is a custom to invite guests to our sukkot each day. On Sukkot, we practice facing the world openly, but together.

Sukkot

If Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur ask us to move inward and examine our internal lives, Sukkot asks us to shift our gaze outward.

We may not always like what we see, and we may be forced to see difficult things anew each day, but we can resolve to do so with our own humanity intact by living out our values, being in community, deepening our relationships, and finding moments to celebrate what is good in our lives. And sometimes, the outside world is breathtakingly gorgeous and we should let Mother Earth do her own healing work on us, too. 

So, should we seek joy amidst our vulnerability? Absolutely. It’s our right. Can we? It’s hard, but it’s definitely possible. How should we try? By being realistic about the world we live in and still showing up as human beings, together. 

We don’t need to eat every meal in a sukkah to be able to do this, nor do we have to celebrate this week with Jews alone, but what if we tried to spend each day this week creating a moment for joy, relief or celebration for other people? 

  • Tell people in your life that you’re grateful for them,
  • Compliment others on something they do well,
  • Ask how an old friend is doing,  
  • Bake something delicious for your officemates, 
  • Cook a meal with good friends and invite a new one to join your group,
  • Give up your seat on the metro during rush hour, 
  • Happily give someone in need the money they ask for. 

That’s my plan this week and I hope you’ll join me and tell me all about it. 

Wishing you a chag sameach – a truly joyous holiday. 

——–

ilanaAbout the author: Rabbi Ilana Zietman is GatherDC’s Community Rabbi. She loves meeting new people and exploring Jewish ideas that are relevant and alive for people in their 20’s and 30’s. When Rabbi Ilana isn’t officially Gathering, she can be found cooking in her kitchen, practicing yoga, going on hikes, desperately searching for good pizza in DC (seriously, help her find some!) and watching a lot of tv.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

3 Alternative Ways to Fast this Yom Kippur

Photo from Thought Catalog, UnSplash

Yom Kippur is hard.

At least, for me – a fairly connected, yet pretty unreligious Jew on her own spiritual journey and trying to figure out how these traditional rituals fit into her own life – if they even do hold meaning and have a place in her life – Yom Kippur can be a tricky time of year.

I love the idea of an annual time of year to do some serious “soul-accounting”, but as someone who never grew up engaging with the High Holidays beyond two mind-numbingly boring services and a day without eating (which in reality was having the annual conversation with my mom, “you can fast if you want to, but Julie you really don’t have to, there’s no pressure…”) – how do I meaningfully engage with this day as an adult? How do I observe this holiday without these fledgling practices that come with it feeling rote, like I’m going through the motions of Yom Kippur without actually getting the “why” behind them?

Luckily, there’s a long Jewish history of diving head-first into practice and doing the learning as we go.

From the time the Jews accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai, it was all about “na’aseh vnishma” – “we will do and we will understand”. Understanding the meaning behind a practice or a law is important and valuable, and certainly the ultimate goal. But, if we continue to wait until we feel like we’re “ready” to meaningfully engage with a Jewish custom, we may never feel brave enough, never knowledgeable enough, never Jewish enough to take the plunge.

The good news is, if you’re relating to anything I’ve written thus far, you’re not alone! And I am ready to take that plunge with you.

Yom Kippur starts tonight, and as you may know, a huge component of this holiday is the idea of fasting – but why? Let’s dig into some background.

Why do we fast on Yom Kippur?

As one of the holiest days of the year, Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. It’s when we reflect and repent for our sins and seek forgiveness from those we have hurt. Fasting is meant to be a vehicle for repentance, to “self-deny” (Leviticus 23:32) in order to truly reflect on the repentance process. As Jewish educator Aliza Bulow has said,

“The purpose of fasting is to bring one to repent, and true repentance brings about a change in actions. However, repenting without fasting is not enough.”

Interesting concept. The thing is – and I know this might be the choosy millennial in me coming out – fasting doesn’t really “connect” with me. In these days of intermittent fasting and OMAD, I know so many people who don’t even blink at not eating for a full day. While I don’t follow those food practices, I frequently find myself working through lunch without realizing and decide to just wait until dinner. Part of my ongoing reluctance to engage with the fasting tradition on Yom Kippur stems from the fact that, well, it isn’t really too much a hardship for me, and it’s not a self-denial that’s going to cause me to turn inward to truly stop and reflect, so why bother?

In discussing this disinterest in fasting with my cohort in GatherDC’s High Holidays Prep Class last month led by Rabbi Ilana, I started hearing about alternative ways people have taken this idea of fasting and made it their own. So – in the vein of me being a choosy millennial who wants to do it ~*her own way*~ – I’ve compiled this list of alternative ways people have interpreted the idea of self-denial and molded it to fit their own lifestyles. If you have other suggestions, ideas, or perspectives – please email me at juliet@gatherdc.org or comment below. I’d love to discuss further!

Fast from Social Media

social media fast

We’ve all complained about the monotony of the endless march of baby photos from our high school peers and the political memes from our family members, but when it comes down to it, we can’t seem to put the phone down! Addicted to the meager hit of serotonin that little Instagram heart provides, I find myself checking my apps without even realizing it. I put my phone down, only to immediately pick it up 17 seconds later to scroll mindlessly, before realizing what I’ve just done and throwing my phone down in disgust. 

This fast is, frankly, deeply appealing. What better way to connect with yourself and reflect on the past year, than by removing the device that may be a gateway, but is also one of the biggest barriers in connecting to your larger social world? Disconnect, power down, and let yourself sink into the past year without the aid of your timeline. What went wrong? Where could you have done better? The answers might be hard, but they definitely won’t be found behind your screens.

Fast from Waste

plastic fast

This concept was first introduced to me by GatherDC’s Rabbi Ilana, who sent me the Cleanse 5780 challenge as a different way to connect with the High Holiday season. Cleanse 5780, led by Shaina Shealey and Arielle Golden, is a 10-day initiative using the Days of Awe (the 10-day period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) to intensively reflect on “the mind/body/spirit connection” by eliminating food-based, single-use plastics from your life.

This “cleanse” spoke deeply to my rapidly growing environmental panic, and gave me the space and permission to start thinking about how I can change my habits to be kinder to our world. I really love the idea of fasting from some of the most wasteful aspects of our modern life. In refraining from participating in needless and harmful waste, we can use these energies instead to reflect on the things we can repent for as it pertains to our ecological sins and how we can change our actions to do and be better going forward.

Fast from Judgment

gossip

This might seem like an odd contender for a blog on how to observe and engage with the Day of Judgment, but hear me out.

Judgment is a daily part of our lives, and sometimes it can be helpful – being able to take stock of social situations and make snap judgments is critical to navigating our social world and maintaining one’s physical safety in it, especially in a young, vibrant, urban environment like Washington, DC. However, I think many of us often find ourselves unfairly judging strangers, our social networks, even our friends and family, and it becomes harmful very quickly when this judgment shifts from doing it for yourself and to being a harmful action you do to others.

Our connected world makes it easier than ever to pass this mean, petty type of judgment, to feel judged by the virtual masses (see: Social Media Fast), even to pass overly-critical negative judgment on ourselves! As Rabbi Adina Allen said in her Erev (eve of) Rosh Hashanah sermon just last week, “…we are all too quick to take God’s place, elevating ourselves to the role of arbiter, looking upon one another harshly, judging loudly, sentencing with impunity.” What if we left the judgment to God tomorrow and chose to navigate our day entirely without judgment, in order to more fully focus and turn inward to reflect on our own actions of the last year?

These three alternatives to fasting might not be enshrined in the Torah, but they’re still a way to connect with the themes and the meaning behind the day. I don’t have all the answers– in fact, I think I might be less certain of myself than I was when I started this article. What I do know, is that in really sitting and thinking about what this holiday and process represents, I’ve put more thought into my “teshuva” (Jewish process of reflection and repentance) than I ever have in years previously, maybe ever – and isn’t self-reflection, repentance, and growth what it’s all about?

——————————-

 

About the Author: Julie Thompson keeps Gather’s wheels turning behind the scenes as GatherDC’s Office Manager.  When Julie isn’t at the Gather office, she’s probably out with friends trying a new restaurant across DC, planning her next big trip to explore a new corner of the world, or snuggled in with a good book and her rescue cat, Chloe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Making High Holiday Plans and Picking a Synagogue

temple

In 2013, the Pew Research Center released the comprehensive survey “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” The takeaways from this study opened a lot of eyes to the state of Jewish pluralism today, and the future of Judaism in America.  In Washington Jewish Week’s 2018 article, they claimed it shocked the Jewish community, and (in part) led to the formation of DC’s 2018 Jewish Study that cited GatherDC as an effective organization in engaging Jewish young adults. Although many years have passed since this initial study, the report came to the front of my mind recently when my wife and I bought our first house together. 

Survey respondents said a lot about their connection to Judaism in the report. Two of the findings can’t seem to escape me during this exciting time for my wife and I:

  • 1) Only 28% of Jews interviewed found it “essential” for their Judaism to be a part of a Jewish community,
  • 2) Only 31% belong to a synagogue.

I wasn’t polled for this survey, but I proudly would have raised my hand for the first question. Being a part of both our local and global Jewish community is hugely important to me as a Jewish American. I’m very proud to be Jewish, and I’m very proud to be an active member of DC’s young Jewish community.

During my time in DC, I’ve lived in many different neighborhoods across the city. Most recently, my wife and I were living on Capitol Hill. We were pretty much equidistant from Eastern Market and H Street NE.  It was a great place to live, and allowed us to easily stay involved in a number of Jewish organizations across the District.

We were able to travel to Metro Minyan Shabbats and Sixth & I programs in Chinatown via a short bus or Uber ride. We could easily walk to the metro and take the Red Line to Adas Israel, GatherDC‘s townhouse, and the EDCJCC, or hop on the Blue, Orange, or Silver lines for meetings at Char Bar with Israel Bonds

Although the physical convenience was great, our desire to be a part of the DC Jewish community was about so much more than this.  Community involvement is central to how we identify Jewishly.

So, when my wife and I started to talk about purchasing our first home, we knew that – beyond the specific features of our dream home – we wanted a place that was close enough to our DC Jewish lives. We didn’t want to move to the distant suburbs because we wanted a place where we could still easily see friends and visit the Jewish places in DC that are meaningful to us.  

With the support of a local, young realtor, a mortgage banker, and a title company lawyer – all of whom we knew from the DC Jewish community – we ended up moving to Potomac, Maryland.  And we couldn’t be happier.  

new house

As we now settle into the house and experience our first Jewish High Holiday season out in Potomac, we have a new decision to make. This decision brings me back to the second part of the Pew Research Center study: should we join a synagogue?  If so, which one?  

We’ve decided that we’re going to make this decision after the High Holidays so we can start 5780 off with deeper roots in our Jewish community.

During my time in DC, I’ve attended High Holiday services in a nomadic way.  I’ve gone to Adas, Chabad, Georgetown University, Sixth & I, Washington Hebrew, and others with different sets of friends.  I think I’ve been to all services available in one way, shape, or form in my 15 years in DC. Outside of holiday services, I’ve lost track of how many Shabbats or Jewish events that I’ve attended across the DMV.

In some Jewish communities across the U.S., there may be just one or two synagogues to choose from.  DC and its suburbs are blessed to have many options, and so deciding on a congregation – and primary community to become a part of – is a big deal.  

We’d like to get to know the area rabbis in Montgomery County better and Shabbat-hop a bit.  We want to get a feel for the young Jewish professional community out in MoCo, and at each congregation too.  I’ve been to pretty much every synagogue out here for a program or two over the years, but I was always a Washingtonian coming out to the ‘burbs.  Now as a Marylander living in the ‘burbs, I feel different about deciding on a congregation. I actually think my wife and I will take more time deciding what congregation to join than deciding between our finalists when shopping for a home.

Beyond these questions of where and when to join a congregation, the other question that we’ve been toying with is whether we should stay attached to the DC Jewish community, or plant our roots and grow into the Maryland Jewish community? 

At best, I’ve always seen the DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia Jewish communities as cousins more than brothers or sisters, and each has its own distinct community dynamics.  

As Marylanders, we attended the last Metro Minyan at the Washington Hebrew Congregation’s (WHC) Macomb St home in upper NW.  Beyond going as Marylanders to our first DC communal Shabbat, it was our first time going to local services since we moved to Maryland.  Getting there was super easy for us – it ironically took less time to get to Macomb from our new home than how long it would take to get there from The Hill.  We have friends who are regulars at WHC. We like the rabbis. And WHC even has a satellite campus in Potomac that’s less than 1.5 miles from our new home.  They’re also reform, which is how my wife was raised. Joining WHC makes sense on paper – although I’m too old for their young membership program (but my wife is within the age range). But, we also have eight synagogues within 10 miles of our new home, including Temple Beth Ami as another great Reform option.

So Gather community – email, DM, text, or comment on this blog if you have advice for how you picked a congregation.  If you moved out to the ‘burbs, let me know if you stayed connected to a DC congregation or if you embarked on a new path to join a more local shul.

 

————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

jasonAbout the Author: Jason Langsner has been an active lay leader of the Washington Jewish community since moving to the city in 2004, and volunteers for several Jewish organizations including B’nai Brith International. 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. 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.

Your 2019 High Holiday Gifting Guide

With Rosh Hashanah coming up this year, you might be searching for a special gift for your significant other, friend, or family member. Perhaps, after spending the last 30+ High Holidays at your parent’s home, you might be looking for a small gift that shows your folks how much you appreciate them letting you crash in your childhood bedroom and taking advantage of their family shul tickets all these years. Use this guide to find unique, custom, and local gift ideas that are sure to sweeten up the holiday for those you love the most. 

For the fashionable 

Ariel Tidhar has a great selection of custom-designed jewelry that would be sure to complete any look.  She has a range of designs and products from hair pins to necklaces. For example, these pomegranate earrings are a personal favorite of mine and offered at a range of price points.  All her products are handmade in New York City. 

gift

Jewish Hairclips from Ariel Tidhar

For the foodie 

One of my favorite Jewish chefs is the District’s own Paula Shoyer.  Her cookbook, The Holiday Kosher Baker, is a must for any Jewish household – even if you don’t keep kosher!  The banana bread recipe in there is without a doubt the best recipe I’ve ever tried. For that alone, this book can make the perfect housewarming or hosting gift.  It’s guaranteed to get a lot of use by the food lovers in your life.

For the art collector 

DC local Marcella Kriebel makes some fantastic art prints that would make very appropriate gifts for the New Year.  Her apple and pomegranate prints are both reasonably priced and absolutely gorgeous pieces that can add a bit of flair into spaces that may be lacking.

Pomegranate Fruit Watercolor by Marcella Kriebel

                                                                                                                  

If you’re looking for something for the spiritual person in your life, I can’t recommend the artist Jessica Tamar Deutsch enough. Her shop on Society6 has a range of different artwork that you can get printed as wall art, tote bags, and even mobile phone cases. Her artwork is colorful, energetic, and intrinsically Jewish.

Love and Fear mobile phone case by Jessica Tamar Deutsch

For the reader

Lastly, for the quiet reader in your life, check out The Jewish Book Council’s “Paper Brigade.  This is a collection of Jewish writings and illustrations that are all as gorgeous as they are captivating. I bought Volume II for my mother’s birthday last year. With Volume III out now, she might just be receiving this version soon enough.  Each volume is unique, so you can gift just one or the whole set.

For the hard-to-gift

If you’ve read through this blog and still can’t pick something out for your special someone, it can’t hurt to pick up a gift basket from “Baked by Yael”.  Their cake pops and chocolates are guaranteed to sweeten the mood of even the most difficult of family members.

Wishing you and your loved ones a very sweet new year!

—————————————————

brettAbout the Author:  Brett Boren is a Conservative Jewish guy who loves his mother’s challah, but could do without her latkes.  Originally from Miami, he appreciates arroz con pollo as much as double-chocolate babka, though preferably not together.  When he’s not experimenting in the kitchen, he can be found with his cat, Youpi, or sampling shawarma at Max’s.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Not Your Bubbie’s High Holiday Playlist

music

The iconic Mexican queer artist Frida Kahlo once said, “I think that little by little, I’ll be able to solve my problems and survive.

With the High Holidays around the corner, Frida’s quote resonates with me even more. As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I feel the need to ensure Jewish rituals survive on a very deep level. I believe this is why the High Holidays are so special. It’s a time to focus on forgiving and seeking atonement, but also surviving by continuing with our rituals, while creating new ones. And for me, music is a very important component of our Jewish rituals during the High Holidays.     

During Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), not only do we atone for our sins, but little by little, we solve our problems and like Frida Kahlo said, “survive.” Leading up to Yom Kippur, the Kol Nidre service is often known as a time that music can be especially healing for the New Year. Personally, I think you can have an inspiring playlist to listen to throughout the entire High Holiday season. I’ve compiled some of my favorite contemporary songs for the High Holidays that encourage reflection and healing. Many of the songs are by Jewish artists from Drake to Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boy’s, others are by amazing lyrical artists such asTupac Shakur. 

This playlist is meant to get you in the vibe of ushering in the New Year. So, L’Shanah Tovah. Here’s to a sweet new year! L’Chaim! 

NOTE: If this list inspires you to think of other songs that help you connect to the High Holidays, I encourage you to comment below with the name/artist.

——

“Ghetto Gospel” by Tupac Shakur

“And when it’s said and done. I bet this brother be a better one. If I upset you don’t stress. Never forget, that God isn’t finished with me yet.” 

“Root Down” by the Beastie Boys

”Bob Marley was a prophet for the freedom fight. If dancin’ prays to the Lord, then I shall feel alright. I’m feeling good to play a little music.“ 

“I Shall Be Released” by Joan Baez, written by Bob Dylan

“I see my light come shining from the west unto the east. Any day now, any day now

I shall be released.”

“Tears for ODB” by J Cole  

“Rather die before I fake it. They say life is what you make it. Lord have mercy on my soul. What I’ve done and what I’ve seen, my life is tumbled into stuff, which only you can intervene.”             

“Brand New Me” by Alicia Keys

“Don’t be mad. It’s just the brand new kind of me. Can’t be bad, I found a brand new kind of free. If you were worth a while, you’d be happy to see me smile.”                             

“God’s Plan” by Drake

“I don’t wanna die for them to miss me. Yes, I see the things that they wishin’ on me. Hope I got some brothers that outlive me. They gon’ tell the story, shit was different with me.”  

“Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen

”You can hide ‘neath your covers and study your pain, make crosses from your lovers, throw roses in the rain, waste your summer praying in vain for a savior to rise from these streets.”  

“Everything is Everything” by Lauryn Hill

”Now, everything is everything. What is meant to be, will be. After winter, must come spring. Change will come eventually.”  

“Sometimes it Snows in April” by Prince

“I often dream of heaven and I know that Tracy’s there. I know that he has found another friend. Maybe he’s found the answer to all the April snow. Maybe one day, I’ll see my Tracy again. Sometimes it snows in April. Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad. Sometimes I wish that life was never ending. But all good things, they say, never last.” 

“Keep Ya Head Up” by Tupac Shakur

But please don’t cry, dry your eyes, never let up. Forgive but don’t forget, girl keep your head up. And when he tells you you ain’t nuttin’ don’t believe him. And if he can’t learn to love you, you should leave him. ‘Cause sista you don’t need him.”

 

Full Playlist Here

 

micheleAbout the Author: Michele Amira is a nice Jewish girl,  DC based journalist, spoken word artist, and vegan. When not writing, she might be found Israeli dancing,  listening to hip-hop, and enjoying a l’chaim (toast) with her favorite drink – margaritas on the rocks. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Hummus Games: May the Odds be Ever in your Flavor

Picture this: it’s lunchtime and you’re craving some delicious Israeli cuisine in DC. Where do you go? What do you eat?

If you’re like me and identify as a Falafel Fanatic (should I copyright this as a superhero name?), then you’re reading the right article. I am sharing the results of my search for DC’s best Israeli food with GatherDC’s readers, so you too can know where to get the best middle eastern grub around. 

As a proud Israeli, part of this DC food tour included seeing which places stay true to the authenticity that comes with Israeli food –  the spices, the flavor, and the feeling of home (imagine a decorative pillow saying “hummus is where the heart is”). 

While I am no professional food critic, I do consider myself professionally hungry, so to help us keep it light, we will be giving each restaurant one of two designations: a humMUST or a humMISS.

humMUST: I falaFELL in love with this restaurant and it is straight schug fire. Basically the embodiment of Tel Aviv in DC. You MUST visit it when you get a chance!

or

humMISS: this place missed the Israeli mark for us but it is far from falawful food! 

I tried three different Israel-esque restaurants on this journey: Little Sesame, Yafa Grille, and Shouk. This is by no means an exhaustive list of delicious Middle Eastern restaurants in the area, but rather a small sampling of some hotspots. 

Bear with me as I channel my inner Gordon Ramsey (with less profanity) and dive into the hot Israeli food scene in Washington, DC!

itay
Restaurant #1: Little Sesame

If you’ve traveled to Jerusalem, you’ve probably encountered the delicacy that is loaded hummus (a bed of smooth and flavorful earthy hummus topped with some delicious spices and vegetables or meats). Little Sesame, a fast casual endeavor by chefs Nick Wiseman and Ronen Tenne, captures the Jerusalem marketplace feel with its delicious food. 

The Little Sesame menu includes your option of picking between a hummus base or pita pocket with several salads and sides to compliment your main course. You can also customize with some add-ons (like feta, a “10 hour egg”, and more). Trust me when I say the pita is so fluffy you will want to get an extra. 

And a special attention to all vegans/vegetarians – this place is for you!! Almost everything on the menu is plant-based and it is very easy to find options that are gluten- free and non-dairy (they even have a dairy-free soft serve ice cream dessert with traditional tahini flavors).

Walking into Little Sesame, the unique atmosphere and decor create a nice background for the delicious individually-prepared food. The line may appear long but moves fairly quickly and the turnaround for food is the same. Little Sesame’s prices are what you would expect for a DC lunch but can get pricey depending on your sides and add-ons on top of the main meal. 

Our rating: a humMUST! 

True authentic hummus and fresh ingredients make this meal not only relatively healthy, but a delicious lunch to look forward to. With so many options, it’s easy to mix it up and try new things while still getting a substantive meal out of the experience. The restaurant does not have a lot of space for seating but this type of food is easy to carry out. Words cannot express hummus I love this restaurant. 

little sesame

Restaurant #2: Yafa Grille

If you’re looking for a solid DC staple for food, Yafa Grille is your place! Yafa (often times spelled Jaffa or Yafo) is a coastal city in Israel adjacent to Tel Aviv that is known for its architectural antiquity and for being the true embodiment of coexistence between Israeli and Arab citizens. This melting pot of Israeli culture often leads to amazing food from all corners of the world, and of course, middle eastern cuisine.

Yafa Grille offers eaters a very CAVA / Roti-esque style of cuisine, getting the opportunity to pick from several bases (pita pocket, pita wrap, salad bowl, rice bowl, or platter) and either falafel or a couple types of shawarma as protein. 

Veggie options here are very delicious as well, with a wonderful cauliflower topping that left us wanting more and a grape leaves side that was a perfect supplement to the meal. The pita reminded me of supermarket Israeli pita that we would eat on Saturday mornings in the park with family. 

Our rating: a humMISS.

Yafa Grille has great food and is similar to other types of lunch places you will find in DC. It is a delicious lunch option for when you’re in the area and craving some Mediterranean grub. It didn’t scream “Israel” for us or offer a unique take on the food but is definitely not a restaurant to snuff at!

yaffa

Restaurant #3: Shouk

The final stop on this journey led us to Shouk, a self-titled “modern Israeli street food” hotspot. I had heard of this place through several friends of mine who are vegan/vegetarian because everything on this menu is completely free of animal products and by-products. Even the labneh is made out of cashews! Shouk makes eating there an ultra-inclusive experience for even the pickiest eaters. 

To be fully transparent and acknowledge some bias, as I stepped into their casual eatery, I immediately heard some Israeli music (“mizrahit” if you will) which ignited a nostalgic fire in my already hungry belly. 

Similar to the other restaurants, Shouk gives customers the options of a pita, rice, or salad base. However, their protein options are different, rich, and refreshing, including a mushroom shawarma, roasted cauliflower, and their ever-popular Shouk burger which has been featured on both Forbes and The Cooking Channel. 

The falafel balls were cooked just perfectly and had a very green and tender center to them. Shouk delivered a full flavor profile using their fresh and invigorating ingredients. The spices used in Shouk’s cooking seemed less like an attempt to appeal to the tastebuds of the masses and more true to its Middle Eastern form. I strongly recommend you try their hummus with za’atar seasoning if you want to immediately be transported to the holy land. Additionally, we tried out their polenta fries which were spiced heavily with rosemary and were unlike any other polenta fries we’ve tried before. The meals were not heavy but still very filling and (aside from a little bit of frying) is generally a healthy option. 

Our rating: a humMUST!

Shouk delivered on all cylinders for both remaining true to the Israeli food experience (well, they are an Israeli restaurant) and a delicious flavor-filled meal that even those not seeking out a replicated Israel experience would love. With three locations in DC, Shouk is the kind of restaurant you will return to over and over again (for lunch, dinner, or otherwise). Come hungry because you are going to want to taste a little bit of everything.

shouk

Thank you for going with me on my epic journey to find some good hummus and falafel in DC, and for allowing me to make it as dramatic as NBC’s hit drama “This is (humm)Us”. As we say in Israel, “bete’avon” and good eats to all!

 

itayAbout the author: Itay Balely is a DMV-area local and works in the civil rights non-profit world in DC. He is a proud Israeli and loves listening to records on his record player. When he’s not watching his trash TV (particularly MTV’s Real World/Road Rules Challenge), you can find him HUJI-ing on different DC rooftops.

 

 

 

 

 

————————–

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.

Opening Our Hands & Hearts

traylor

Did you know that 17.4% of people living in Washington DC are living below the poverty line? That equals about 111,000 people, and doesn’t event include the folks that are technically above the poverty line, but still regularly struggle to take care of themselves and their families. 

We can all agree that no one should have to live this way; our Torah agrees. In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat R’eih, the Torah clearly states: “There shall be no needy among you”. 

God makes this statement as a promise to keep if the Israelites follow all of the commandments in the Promised Land. However, this unconditional statement from God is later contrasted in the portion with a much more realistic, pragmatic statement about poverty: 

“For there will never cease to be needy ones in your land, which is why I command you: open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman in your land.” – Deuteronomy 15:11

While we start exploring poverty so aspirationally in this portion, this last statement brings us back to reality. It’s certainly not impossible to eliminate poverty in DC, but it is really hard to imagine. I’m reminded of this reality every time I talk with someone asking for a little bit of money to get something to eat or to get on the Metro. Although I provide what I can, I’m always left feeling like there’s more work to be done. 

So, what can we do to work toward this ideal of living in a place without poverty? While we’ll need bigger structural changes, we can start with our Torah. 

Approach someone struggling with homelessness with the kindness and compassion they deserve as a human being. Shake their hand, ask them their name, provide them assistance, and wish them well. If we each start to open our hands and hearts to those most vulnerable, we can build a better city, country, and world for all of us. 


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.

DC High Holiday Guide 2019

DC is low-key the best place to celebrate the High Holidays as a young professional.

See list below for evidence.

So, whether you’re looking for a Jewish New Year writing workshop, a Reform Rosh Hashanah service at a synagogue, a Yom Kippur conversation with Justice Kagan, or anything in between – this list has it.

Here’s how to use it…

  1. Explore the list of events below. This list will be updated regularly, so check back often.
  2. Email us info@gatherdc.org if you’re not sure which event is right for you, don’t see anything you like, and/or want a friendly face to go with.
  3. Add any High Holiday events for Jewish 20s/30s across the DMV that you know, but don’t see listed.
  4. If you need a ticket for a service, but it’s sold out OR if you bought a ticket and no longer need it – use our High Holiday Ticket Exchange!
  5. Looking for discounted or even free services? EntryPointDC has reduced ticket rates for young professionals for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Meryl

High Holiday Prep

 

—————————————————————————

Rosh Hashanah (September 29th – October 1st)

—————————————————————————

Yom Kippur (October 8th – 9th)

—————————————————————————

Sukkot (October 13th – 20th)

—————————————————————————

High Holiday Inspiration

——

For questions or assistance, email info@gatherdc.org. GatherDC welcomes the participation of interfaith ​individuals, and people of all abilities, backgrounds, gender identities and sexual orientations. GatherDC ​fosters inclusive communities​​​ and strive​s​ to accommodate all needs whenever possible. If you require special accommodations, please contact us​ in advance of the event​ at (202) 656-0743, and we will make every effort to meet your needs.