Jewish Cat of the Month: Bruce!

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

bruce catSarah: What is your name?

Bruce Katz.

Sarah: How did you get to DC?

Bruce: That’s a good question! I don’t really remember because I was a baby. I do remember that I used to live in the basement of an apartment building. It was very scary! Thankfully the animal shelter found me after I was injured and they nursed me back to health, but there’s no medicine as good as an owner who loves you. Except for penicillin.

Sarah: Who is your best friend?

Bruce: My best friend is my roommate Meeko! He usually eats all of the food. Sometimes, he wakes me up at dawn while meowing for food. We like to gallop around the house and playfully fight each other. I hope one day I get to make another cat friend!

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

Bruce: I don’t understand why my owners sing to me all of the time. They sing to me in the morning when they’re getting ready to leave for the outside, and when they come back they sing at me more. I’ve always wondered if they sing to everybody in the outside too.

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

Bruce: I love Purrrrrrrrrim!

Sarah: My biggest fear is….

Bruce: FOMO!!! I hate missing out on a good time, so I like to hang out with my owners whenever they’re home or they bring over any extra humans.

Sarah: I get most excited when…

Bruce: My owner plays mid-2000s Lil’ Wayne or The Boss himself!

Sarah: What is your spirit animal?

Bruce: A ram. The Jewish significance of the ram really speaks to me. And I also head-butt others when I want attention.

cat

 

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.

Rabbi Rant: My 2019 Resolution = Tell More Soul Stories

rabbi rant

We all have moments of feeling inadequate – whether it’s for a specific task that we have to perform or a general sense that we’re not as great as the image we project.

So, what should we do in those moments?

Modern wisdom advises to “fake it til you make it.” Highlight the best version of yourself, even if it feels untrue. After all, studies show that success “correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence.” Besides, everyone else is doing it. It’s practically the new social contract – the social media contract, if you will.

Yet there’s another option, a road less taken, that’s as radical as it is simple – be honest and show your vulnerability.

Parker Palmer, a contemporary Quaker theologian, spells out these two different approaches, naming them ego stories” and “soul stories.” We can avoid our feelings of inadequacy by focusing on our ego stories of accomplishments and successes. Our soul stories, on the other hand, embrace hardships and failures. But because they aren’t stories where we come off looking perfect, we resist sharing them with others, or even acknowledging them within ourselves. It’s easier to ignore that part of our narrative.

These two competing ways of presenting ourselves to the world are also found within our own tradition, embodied by Pharoah and Moses, the two archrivals in the book of Exodus that Jews across the world began reading this past weekend.

Pharoah, who embodies the “ego story,” projects (over)confidence. He thinks of himself so highly that, according to some commentators, he claims to be a God. On the other side is Moses, who embodies the “soul story.” When God comes to him with the divine mission to lead the people out of Egypt, Moses responds: “Who am I that I should go to Pharoah?”

Pharoah leads with self-importance, while Moses leads with self-doubt. And God doesn’t correct Moses by reassuring him or assuaging his fears. There’s no: “Moses, I’ve chosen you because you’re so great” or “Moses, you should stop being so insecure.” Instead, God simply says: “I will be with you.” God lives in the places of vulnerability.

There’s certainly a time for confidence, but it might not be in our moments of insecurity. In fact, the Ishbitzer Rebbe says that it is forbidden to project confidence in moments of doubt. This is, of course, easier said than done. Still, behind his radical view is the understanding that the spiritual life begins where the ego story ends. To live a full life, we need to make space for our soul story. It might not lead to greater “success,” but it will lead us to greater freedom. It’s the path out of Egypt.

 

 

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.

What I learned from the JWI Young Women’s Leadership Conference…

jwi

This month, I attended a conference and luncheon where something amazing happened.

No one mansplained.

No one had their ideas repeated without receiving credit.

Everyone got airtime, and very rarely was someone interrupted or talked over.

After working at this event for a second year in a row, it hit me again that in hosting the Young Women’s Leadership Conference and Women to Watch (WTW) Gala Luncheon each December, JWI creates a unique platform for women’s voices.

Thus far in my career, I’ve had the privilege to work in fields dominated by women. It means that I’m often in spaces with primarily, or only, women. Even so, I’m familiar with the experiences some women have had in the workplace – e.g. working harder to prove yourself, bosses telling you that you’re too emotional, others making inappropriate comments about your appearance. Once, I sat in a meeting listening to a male executive with no design background explain color usage to a room full of women with design degrees. I do acknowledge and feel grateful that this instance is a fairly tame example compared to what some women often experienced in their professional lives.

Reimagining our workplace

JWI’s conference and luncheon represent a unique opportunity to break down these types of common experiences, and beyond that, to reimagine what a truly equitable workplace can look like.

Conference attendees heard Ellen Stone of Bravo (WTW ‘11) talk about letting other people shine, acknowledging positive intent, and sincerely thanking your employees. Dr. Bonnie Hartstein (WTW ‘13), a physician and colonel in the Army, said, “Owning yourself and being who you are is part of your strength. Being a professional doesn’t mean you have to change who you are, but to present your best self.” At the Women to Watch Symposium, this year’s honorees agreed that teamwork has had a major impact on their professional lives. These sentiments – building positive relationships, owning your strengths, the importance of collaboration –echoed throughout the weekend.  

What we witnessed at the Conference and at WTW this year was the way that leadership and company culture changes when women lead. We’re striving for authenticity, for helping others to succeed, for bringing your whole self to work. Rather than, “every man for themselves,” we’re asking how we can create high-functioning teams where everyone brings something to the table. We’re redefining what the workplace can look like, and as a result, building better companies and organizations. And, we’re supporting each other and expanding empathy and inclusivity.

Actress and disability rights advocate Marlee Matlin took the stage at the luncheon on Monday and described how she has built a 33-year career as a successful actress, overcoming both misconceptions about herself and a personal battle with domestic violence. “I know for sure,” she signed, “that it would not have been possible without the strength and the desire to overcome barriers.”  

So, here’s to a weekend that celebrated the strength and determination of women leaders.

One last thought

I’ll leave you with one last moment that I can’t stop thinking about:

In a panel on #MeToo, a conference attendee asked, “How do you approach [sexism] in the Jewish communal world with the men on your Board of Directors?” JWI’s CEO Lori Weinstein responded, “Well, I’d like to say that you can do what I do – have a Board that’s all women.”

 

 

vbAbout the authorValerie Brown has been in DC for 3 years, and questions the decision every time the humidity acts up. She is an unapologetic avocado toast consumer, avid podcast subscriber, cat befriender, and manager of Marketing and Communications for JWI in her spare time.

 

 

 

 

 

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 DC Year in Review: 2018

year in review

 

Ah, 2018. Was it all that bad?

Okay yes, Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson broke our hearts. We had some awkward political tension.  We could go through the list of awful things, because – safe to say – they were plentiful. Instead, let’s recap 2018 on a high note.

After all, 2018 had some pretty beautiful moments.

Queer Eye’s fab five travelled around the U.S. changing lives – one fabulous makeover at a time. “Crazy Rich Asians” made us smile uncontrollably for days. The Caps won the Stanley Cup. Also, Ariana Grande came out with the best music video, possibly ever.

Locally, Jewish DC hosted over 1,000+ community events for 20s/30s, ushered in more than 9 new rabbis to the area, hosted Yom Kippur in a bar, welcomed a new Jewish deli to the scene, and so much more!

Here’s a recap of some of our very favorite moments across Jewish DC in 2018.

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JEWISH PEOPLE OF THE WEEK!

This year, we interviewed 50 of the most phenomenal Jewish people across the District. From a professional pastry chef to politicians to renowned restauranteurs, we were stoked to introduce you to some of DC’s most dope Jews.

In case you missed one, here’s a recap.

Carly was named Most Dope Jew of the Week. She, along with 50 others, were featured as Gather’s Jewish Person of the Week this year!

 

JANUARY

MLK Shabbat at Sixth & I: January 12

mlk shabbat

A favorite Sixth & I annual tradition, this moving service with Turner Memorial AME Church—which worshiped in Sixth & I’s building for five decades—commemorates the spirit and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

 

Metro Minyan Shabbat: January 26

metro minyan

Every month, Washington Hebrew Congregation’s 2239 hosts a casual, musical, come-as-you-are Shabbat service followed by dinner with other 20s and 30s from across the city.

 

FEBRUARY

Beyond the Tent: February 9-11

btt

This February, GatherDC took a group of 30+ young adults out of DC to start exploring their Jewish identities from a fresh perspective.

 

MARCH

Moishe House DMV Purim Party: March 3

Purim

All four DMV Moishe Houses (Bethesda, Capitol Hill, Columbia Heights, and Northern Virginia) gathered to celebrate Purim in spring 2018, welcoming over 200 community members with one giant bash!

 

Honeymoon Israel

hmi

HoneymoonIsrael DC celebrated 2018 with three trips to Israel, bringing diverse couples with at least one Jewish participant to experience Israel and build community back home in DC. We floated in the dead sea, partied in the Golan, and had hard conversations on the beach- welcome home to our 60 new HMI alumni couples!

 

APRIL

Moishe House Columbia Heights “Friends-Over” Thanksgiving: April 6

moishe house

Noah Brown led his first Moishe House Columbia Heights event, called “Friends-Over” (think Friendsgiving), which was a wonderful housewarming/potluck during the best Jewish holiday…Passover! 🙂

 

Pet Projects with Moishe House Northern Virginia: April 19

gdd moho

Moishe House Northern Virginia took part in Federation’s Sara & Samuel J. Lessans Good Deeds Day to make dog toys for cute canines from a local animal shelter.

 

MAY

Jewish People of the Year Party: May 10

jpoy

GatherDC celebrated the extraordinary people who had been featured as a Jewish Person of the Week from 2017-2018, and everyone who makes our Jewish community so friggin’ awesome at its Jewish People of the Year Party with games, photo-booth, a raffle, dancing, and more!

 

JUNE

March with GLOE at Capital Pride: June 9

gloe

The EDCJCC’s GLOE brought together individuals and Jewish groups to join their contingent of DC’s LGBTQ Jews and allies for this fun event!

 

JULY

Mr. NJB Pageant: July 15

nice jewish boys

On July 15, Jeremy Sherman took home the crown at the Nice Jewish Boys DC’s annual Mr. NJB Pageant. Jeremy danced, talked, and sashayed his way to the top, raising money along the way for Keshet’s LGBTQ Teen Shabbaton Program. Read more about Jeremy’s big win here.

 

AUGUST

Jewish Run Club: August 8

run club

This year, a group of Jewish exercise enthusiasts got together and started a running club! Once a month, they “gather” at GatherDC’s townhouse and go for a run around the city, followed by drinks.

 

SEPTEMBER

GatherDC’s Alternative Yom Kippur Experience: September 19

alt yk

For the 2nd year in a row, GatherDC hosted hundreds of young adults for an alternative Yom Kippur experience where we connected to themes of the day through small-group discussions, personal reflection, story-telling, journaling, and more.

 

OCTOBER

Wisdom & Wellness: Jewish Spiritual Tools for Mental Health: October 10

adas at the well

The Jewish Mindfulness Center of Washington, Adas Israel Community Mikvah, and At The Well brought women of all ages together for an evening of learning and conversation with rabbi’s, mikvah attendants, wellness coaches, and therapists to explore using Jewish spiritual practices to live whole lives.

 

Federation’s Impact DC: October 18

impact

On October 18, 2018, more than 200 young leaders joined The Jewish Federation’s Young Leadership to party with a purpose and celebrate the impact of their philanthropy at home and around the globe.

 

Washington Hebrew Congregation District Shabbat: October 19

district shabbat

On Friday, October 19th, Washington Hebrew Congregation (WHC) debuted District Shabbat, a soulful, joyful, and musical Shabbat for all ages at the Southwest Waterfront.

 

NOVEMBER

ACCESS D.C. Policy & Brew Roundtable, November 8

access dc

Attendees at the event learned about AJC’s work on important global and domestic issues, sampled delicious beer, and networked with their fellow global Jewish advocates.

 

YP@AI Brunch and Learn with Rabbi Sarah Krinsky: November 11

brunch and learn

Bagels, mimosas, and Jewish learning? What could be better on a Sunday morning?!

 

DECEMBER

JWI’s Young Women’s Leadership Network Conference: December 2

jwi

JWI’s Young Women’s Leadership Conference brought together 250 women from across the country for a day of learning from each other, networking, and inspiring women’s leadership.

 

Hanukkah Happy Hour on the Hill with EntryPoint: December 5

dcjcc hanukkah

Over 300 young adults joined EDCJCC’s EntryPoint for their annual Hanukkah Happy Hour where we lit the candles, enjoyed gelt, 90s music, doughnuts, and more!

 

Tikkun Leil Shabbat: December 10

tls

Tikkun Leil Shabbat celebrated the final night of Chanukah. On all eight nights, we gathered in community members’ homes across the District to light candles and eat latkes together.

Never Heard of National Landing? You’re Not Alone

Photo by Christian Wiediger

What the heck is National Landing

On November 13th, Amazon announced it had selected Long Island City in Queens, New York and National Landing in Arlington, Virginia as its two new headquarters locations. The entire population of the Washington metropolitan area raised its collective eyebrows and asked, “What the heck is National Landing?”

According to Amazon’s press release, “National Landing is an urban community in Northern Virginia located less than three miles from downtown Washington, DC. The area is served by three Metro stations, commuter rail access, and Reagan National Airport—all within walking distance. The community has a variety of hotels, restaurants, high-rise apartment buildings, retail, and commercial offices. National Landing has abundant parks and open space with sports and cultural events for residents of all ages throughout the year.” So why didn’t the locals know about this great place? In fact, National Landing didn’t even have a Wikipedia page at the time of Amazon’s announcement.

Did Amazon rename Crystal City?

The internet was abuzz with people claiming that Amazon was assigning a new moniker to Crystal City. The Washingtonian published an article on its website titled “Did Amazon Just Rename Crystal City?” Twitter users joked that if Amazon brings 25,000 new jobs to the area, it can call Crystal City whatever it wants.

Where exactly is the National Landing?

So where is National Landing, exactly? Let’s start with the basics. National Landing is in the commonwealth of Virginia;more specifically, it’s in Northern Virginia (which is an odd name considering that there isn’t a region called Southern Virginia). NoVA, as it’s commonly called, is a region composed of the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William, and the cities of Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax, Manassas, and Manassas Park, according to  the Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s website. Arlington is a county within the Commonwealth of Virginia. Since it’s not within a city, Arlington is a self-governing county, and it does not contain any incorporated towns or villages. Arlington is divided into two unincorporated areas with Route 50 serving as the dividing line: North Arlington and South Arlington. Almost all Arlington street names begin with the prefix “North” or “South.”

What about Crystal City?

Both North Arlington and South Arlington contain a mixture of residential neighborhoods, historic districts, and urban villages. Urban villages, though not actually incorporated villages, are “compact, walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods” according to UrbanVillage.com.  The urban villages in South Arlington are Crystal City, Pentagon City, and Shirlington. The fact that two of these places have the word “city” in their name just makes things more confusing. “Why does the app say we’re going to Arlington?” countless tourists have asked their Uber drivers. “I want to go to Crystal City.”

Crystal City got its name in the early 1960s when developer Robert H. Smith built a slew of apartment buildings each with the word “Crystal” in its name, the first of which was Crystal House in 1961 with a large crystal chandelier in the lobby. Prior to that, Crystal City was a nameless area of junkyards and industrial sites along Route 1. Crystal City is nicknamed “Underground City” because of its many underground corridors linking stores, offices, and apartment buildings. It even has an underground mall, which opened in 1976 as Crystal Underground and is now Crystal City Shops.     

Now things get complicated

Now here’s where things get complicated (if you didn’t think they were complicated already). National Landing extends beyond Crystal City. It also includes parts of Pentagon City and Potomac Yard in Alexandria. If it was self-governing, it could be a municipality, but National Landing doesn’t have a governing body. It doesn’t even have borders! Stephanie Landrum, President and CEO of Alexandria Economic Development, told Washingtonian that National Landing has “no finite boundaries” and represents “an interesting way to erase an invisible line between the jurisdictions.”

Basically, National Landing is a community, albeit an amorphous one. Will it someday be nicknamed NaLa? Will the communities adjacent to it one day be referred to as North National Landing? Whatever you call it, the property values in National Landing are about to rise.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Why Rabbis and Shuls Shouldn’t “Get Political”

politics

There’s a relatively new trend in American society that I think is doing us great harm. Everything is becoming political.

We’ve seen it with Nike weighing in on the kneeling debate, Grubhub’s CEO telling his employees that Trump voters should resign, [solidcore]’s owner speaking out about Ivanka Trump, restaurants refusing to serve various politicians, and more. Companies and groups whose missions have absolutely nothing to do with politics are increasingly beginning to publicly endorse (or reject) political parties and candidates. These actions are accelerating the already brutal polarization in this country by denying people respite from politics and the daily dysfunction in Washington. There is, however, one place that I strongly feel should remain apolitical and sacred (pun-intended): synagogue.

Don’t Get Political

What do I mean by “get political”? Increasingly, I’ve noticed a pattern in which rabbis will reference and implicitly endorse or reject certain political candidates, or disparagingly reference a political party using sweeping generalization. Before the 2016 election, some rabbis even had the gall to say “and that’s why it’s so important that we go to the polls to ensure that [x] candidate is elected!” Worse yet, I know a number of people who – in the fallout from the 2016 election – argued that their shul shouldn’t allow members of certain political parties or supporters of certain candidates to even attend the shul.

This, to me, is a complete and utter catastrophe, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, our country is currently bitterly divided across a variety of lines, arguably more so than at any time since the Civil War. Intentionally fracturing ourselves further – not just by denomination, but additionally by political affiliation – is a truly awful idea. Shul should be, and indeed needs to be, a place where Jews can come together and pray, regardless of how they look, where they come from, or who they vote for.

In addition, rabbis are, in many ways, the original teachers and therapists. As any good teacher knows, you’re supposed to teach your students how to think, not what to think. Explicitly telling congregants who to vote for or what policies to endorse completely flies in the face of this basic principle. Relatedly, how could any congregant feel comfortable seeking religious or personal advice from a rabbi who consistently bashes their party or views? This type of proselytization is very likely to unnecessarily alienate certain members of the congregation.

Finally, synagogues have the potential to serve as one of the few places where people of differing ideologies can still come together and engage in productive discussions around important issues. In today’s society, there are precious few opportunities for us to actually do this; debates and discussions – whether they take place in person or on social media – quickly turn to vitriol and ad hominems, instead of respectful dialogue. It would truly be a shame for synagogues to squander such potential by further atomizing themselves in an already tiny and heterogeneous community.

The Counterpoints

I know that this is not a popular argument, especially among my age group. Therefore, I want to take a moment to address some potential objections:

Some people will undoubtedly make the seemingly-reasonable argument that “if 90% of a shul votes a certain way or belongs to a certain party, doesn’t the rabbi have not only a right, but in fact a responsibility to cater to their stances and views?” While this seems logical on the surface, the answer is a resounding “no”. Jews have always been the “stranger in a strange land.” Even in this country today – which arguably offers the most tolerant environment for Jews in history outside the state of Israel – Jews comprise less than 2% of the population. We know what it’s like to be the minority in the room, the country, and the world. It would show a remarkable lack of self-awareness to submit the minorities in our own community to that same treatment.

Worse yet, some people might actually believe that their rabbis hold the Objective Right Answer to various moral and political questions, giving that rabbi license to pontificate. It would take immense hubris and shortsightedness to believe that there are objective Jewish “right answers” to most modern elections and policy issues. Part of what makes Judaism unique from most other religions is that Jews have been arguing about the meaning of the Torah and how best to apply it to their everyday lives for centuries. There’s a rich history in Judaism of chavruta study – being paired with someone with whom you disagree on almost every issue. This is done not to torment people, but because any question with a clear and easy answer isn’t really worth discussing. Important issues, especially political ones, are almost never clear-cut, and to believe the opposite shows a genuine lack of nuance and historical perspective.

Finally, some might argue that it is a rabbi’s prerogative to discuss and endorse whatever they want; if you don’t like it, you can find another shul. While rabbis should indeed enjoy wide leeway in what they discuss in their drashes (speeches), this is a remarkably cold and unwelcoming stance to take. Of course rabbis will inevitably infuse their own views on Judaism and society into their speeches; that is what gives each drash its unique flavor. If you strongly disagree with a rabbi or shul’s approach to Judaism, it may indeed make sense for you to think about switching to another one. But I fear the day when congregants will have to additionally weigh the politics of the shul, even if they agree with the shul’s approach to Judaism itself. This is particularly problematic in more rural areas, where shuls don’t grow on trees. It is profoundly unfair to the members of those communities to add yet another barrier to attending.

The Better Approach

What, then, should shuls and rabbis preach? Am I arguing that they should create a moratorium on discussing politics and current events? Absolutely not. Some of the best drashes I can remember discussed modern issues from a Jewish perspective, which is part of what made them fascinating and relevant. The crux of the issue – which is admittedly a fine line to walk – is that rabbis should teach the principles, history, and ethics of Judaism, without explicitly telling congregants what to do (or – in this case – how to vote).

As educators, rabbis should follow the etymological and historical traditions of the word “education” itself. Education comes from the Latin ducere (to lead) and ex (out), because the idea of education is to help lead out the thoughtfulness and creativity that students are capable of. This is exactly what rabbis should be aiming to do for their congregants: they should provide a solid grounding in the Jewish tradition and Jewish ethics, but allow their congregants to use that background to interpret the choices and dilemmas that their personal lives will inevitably bring. They should lay out the ingredients, but not “bake the cake,” so to speak. If rabbis can do this, they can create a more productive, inclusive environment for people of various ideological backgrounds, one that can serve as an example to the rest of the country and the world. Jews lead the country and the world in so many respects. I would love to see us start doing so in the realm of political tolerance.

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

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.