Taking Action After Pittsburgh to Save Lives

In the aftermath of the tragedy at the Tree of Life synagogue, I’ve read many articles that offer ideas to help our communities cope with the tragedy in Pittsburgh.  Some ideas are spiritual, some offer actions. At the same time, I’ve heard personally from a number of congregations that have told me that their members are worried about attending shul or public events.

We must not let the actions of those who hate us and would seek to destroy us cause us to abandon who we are, nor our desire to join our fellow Jews to meet, and celebrate life’s events and holidays.  At the same time, many want to find something that they can do to help make a real difference in their congregations and in our community that can help improve our safety.


Why This Matters

In any violent attack, whether it be with firearms, knives, or explosives, the arrival of the medical response may be delayed.  During the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue, almost 40 minutes went by beforethe first casualties were evacuated by tactical medical teams.  That delay can be a lifetime for someone seriously injured and bleeding, anddeath can occur in less than 5 minutes. In the world of tactical medicine, we often use the term “preventable casualties” in reference to people who succumb to injuries that could have been survivable if medical care had been provided faster.  Until the arrival of those first heroic tactical medics in Pittsburgh, the members of the congregation were put in the position to be the immediate responders.

Taking Action

There is something that everyone can be a part of that can and will save lives.  There is something we can do to create “immediate responders” in our own synagogues and communities.  Regular people who have the tools and training to save the life of someone who is suffering from severe bleeding.  This can be from something as serious as (G-d forbid) a terrorist attack, or something as routine as kitchen mishaps, car accidents, and why not…even shark attacks.

Bleeding Control Kits

We want to put public access bleeding control kits into our synagogues and community centers.  These kits contain items that can be used to control severe bleeding, such as tourniquets and pressure bandages.  Think of these kits just like public access Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs), but for bleeding instead of heart problems.  Just like AEDs, they enable bystanders to intervene and save lives during the time it takes for EMS to arrive. Just as with an AED and CPR, bystander intervention with severe bleeding can literally mean the difference between life and death.


bleed control


Having these kits is not enough.  We need to get people trained, and the more the better.  The Stop the Bleed program is a nationwide initiative that raises awareness of severe bleeding injuries and encourages people to take action to protect themselves and their communities.

Like CPR training, Stop the Bleed training only requires a few hours of time to teach the skills needed to save a life.  Imagine the feeling of being able to use these skills to save someone at a car crash, at work, or at your synagogue!

What You Can Do

We’re trying to get these kits into DC-area synagogues, and to provide training to staff and members of the congregations.

First, you can become an advocate.  Talk to your synagogue and get them on board.  That’s easy…but hopefully you want to do more.  We’ve had interest from several synagogues, but we’ll help anyone we can.

Most importantly, please contribute towards this project.  Jackie Feldman has created a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds to help make this happen.  These funds will support the purchase of kits and provision of training (I’ve already lined up several tactical medical colleagues willing to donate time) for synagogues that are interested.

If you want to do even more…participate!  If your synagogue is on board, get trained. If they’re not, go to one that is.  Maybe you’ll even decide to get your own kit to keep with you in the car just in case you come upon some kind of accident where you can now help.


About the Authors:

steveSteve Birnbaum is an independent consultant and expert on disaster and emergency response technology and innovation, with experiences responding to domestic and international disasters. He is a volunteer firefighter/EMT and USAR tech in Montgomery County, MD, and is trained as a tactical medic. Birnbaum serves on the various DHS and Department of State advisory bodies related to public safety and disaster response. He is a former wilderness SAR tech in Israel, and previously served in the Climbing, Rappelling, and Rescuing Section of the IDF Counter-Terror School.



Jackie FeldmanJacqueline 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 DC Hanukkah Guide 2018





That can only mean one thing.

It’s Hanukkah time y’all. So get ready to get lit (that pun is still clever, right?).

For those who have been counting down the days until this glorious Festival of Lights, or those who maybe totally forgot Hanukkah was happening early this year and are now debating whether re-gifting last year’s Blue Apron subscription would be socially acceptable…this handy-dandy Hanukkah Guide is for you!

Check out our roundup of the best Hanukkah parties, latke recipes, and menorah lightings across Jewish DC! Oh, and if we missed an awesome event – submit it here . And however you celebrate, we wish you a miraculously wonderful Hanukkah season.

NOTE: This list will be regularly updated, so please check back for new events and celebrations.

Pre-Hanukkah Events

Hanukkah Events

Sunday, December 2nd

Monday, December 3rd

Tuesday, December 4th

Wednesday, December 5th

Thursday, December 6th

Friday, December 7th

Saturday, December 8th

Sunday, December 9th

Monday, December 10th


Hanukkah Recipes + Blog Inspiration


The events listed above are not sponsored or hosted by GatherDC, unless otherwise specified. GatherDC does not assume any responsibility, liability, or financial obligation to to the events listed that are not explicitly hosted by GatherDC. 

Defining Anti-Semitism

The first step of addressing any challenge is defining it.  But anti-Semitism is more than a challenge. It’s a direct threat rather than an abstract one – as our people were sadly reminded last week.

The Threat of Anti-Semitism is Not New

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), in downtown DC, calls it “the longest hatred.”  The museum continues by defining it as a “prejudice against or hatred of Jews” and that the plague of anti-Semitism has sickened “the world for more than 2,000 years.”

The USHMM definition is fairly aligned to the Webster’s Dictionary definition of anti-Semitism:  hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group.

The threat of anti-Semitism isn’t a Jewish problem.  It’s a human problem. Hate is hate. When one people are marginalized or threatened, all people are marginalized and threatened.  This isn’t quite intersectionality – it’s logic.

As the prominent Lutheran German Pastor Martin Niemöller said, as a vocal critic to Adolf Hitler and Nazism, in his post-World War II remarks:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Niemöller was not a perfect person.  No man (or woman or non-binary individual) is perfect.  Niemöller was critical of his own culpability as a Christian for his earlier support for Hitler, but his example as a leader is an important one for today’s day and age.  Let us not forget that if we don’t learn from the past, we are bound to repeat it.

Lessons from the Tree of Life Synagogue

We have a lot to learn from the tragedy that sunk all of our hearts on Saturday, October 27 in the steel city.  The lessons must be for all people – not just the Jewish people.  To me, the most important lesson that we must take as Americans and as Jewish-Americans is to equally agree on a definition of anti-Semitism.

Anti-Semitism is a “prejudice against or hatred of Jews” and it is “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group.”  But it is also more than that…

I personally accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) “working definition”.  As an American, the United States is a party to this non-legally binding working definition and as an American, I accept my country’s definition of anti-Semitism as,

“A certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

IHRA and the U.S. describe a number of manifestations of anti-Semitism online, which may include but is not limited to “targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic. Anti-Semitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for ‘why things go wrong.’ It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.”

The residents of Pittsburgh and the Tree of Life Synagogue may have never thought that such an evil could ever befall them.  They are not to blame for anything that they did or did not do for the evil of the shooter – whose name is not worth repeating. The residents of the DMV should also never think that such evil will not befall our torn community.  

Anti-Semitism Persists 

In the few days alone since the tragedy of Pittsburgh, two incidents of anti-Semitism in our community bring pain to my heart.

On Monday, October 29 – just two days after the shooting – a DC public high school found a swastika sticker affixed to a bathroom wall.  This same school found swastika graffiti on a bathroom wall just one year ago.  As noted, if we do not learn from history, we’re bound to repeat it. Unfortunately, these acts at the DC school are not alone.  Although the most recent swastika was found two days after the Pittsburgh attack, another swastika was found drawn on a classroom desk at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, MD just two days prior to the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting.  An analysis from The Washington Post found three dozen bias incidents in Montgomery County schools alone in the 2016-2017 school year.

Despite it All, We Pursue Peace 

As Jews, I suspect those reading this article and those who attend GatherDC programming believe – like me – in the Jewish ideal of tikkun olam.   These acts of hatred are new cracks in the fractured and broken world in which we live. As Jews, we spend every day looking to repair the world.  I for one will do what I can to double down in my efforts to give my time, my creativity, and my tzedakah to do my small part to repair the world.  I hope you will join me. You can say thank you to a stranger, hold the elevator or front door open for a neighbor, smile at someone that looks different than you, or donate to a charity that is meaningful to you.

Showing up for Shabbat 

I spent my Shabbat before the shooting with friends and family at Washington Hebrew Congregation’s 2239 community shabbat with Rabbi Miller.  I spent my Shabbat after the shooting with friends and family at Sixth & I’s Solidarity Shabbat with Rabbis Shira and Jesse.

I decided to #ShowUpForShabbat. I am committing myself to peace, justice, love, and a desire to pray for those who currently have darkness in their hearts towards Jews – or any other people – to question their own hate and replace it with understanding and light.  The Jewish people make up only 2% of the American population and approximately 0.2% of global citizenry. But, I do hope that we can be – in these dark days – a light unto the nations to guide all people to a better understanding of who we are as a people and what we are as a religion. Let us all take our first step into that light by agreeing to the same definition of anti-Semitism, so we as a generation can eliminate it so our children do not need to experience the pain that we all feel this week.



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, 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.

Five Ways to Cope After the Pittsburgh Tragedy

The shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27th was the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in United States history. There was a death toll of 11.  In the days and weeks after the attack, Jews across the country are still struggling to come to terms with this horrific act. Here are five things you can do to cope after the Pittsburgh tragedy.

Say thank you.

The next time you’re in synagogue, say thank you to the security guards.  Security guards have a difficult, but important job. Oftentimes the people guarding our synagogues are different races, ethnicities, and religions than the people inside the sanctuary.  Although it’s easy to think of our country as being divided, seeing people who are committed to protecting others who are different from them is a reminder of unity and a spark of hope.

thank you

Go to a community Shabbat.  

There are numerous opportunities to come together as a community to process, and move forward together in the wake of this tragedy.  Check the GatherDC calendar. While these events can’t necessarily give us answers or eliminate our pain, they can ensure that we don’t have to grieve alone.


Donate money.  

The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh has established the Fund for Victims of Terror.  The money will be used for medical bills, counseling, repairs of damages to the building, and additional security.  There is also a verified GoFundMe campaign that has already collected over one million dollars, which will go directly to the Tree of Life Congregation.  In addition, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington has created the Communal Security Fund to ensure the immediate security needs of every local synagogue and Jewish organization are met.


Say Tehillim.  

Known in English as Psalms, Tehillim contain some of the most widely recognized verses from the Bible (such as, “the Lord is my shepherd”).  The Book of Tehillim was composed by King David. It is the first book of the Ketuvim (Writings), which are the third section of the Tanakh.  There are 150 Tehillim.  Jews often recite Tehillim during difficult times.  You can find all 150 Tehillim in Hebrew, English, and transliteration at www.DailyTehillim.com.



Everyone has an opportunity to impact our laws, our country, and our future by showing up to the polls on November 6th.  



May the memories of those who died in the Tree of Life shooting forever be a blessing and may the wounded have a speedy recovery.





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







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.


Will Work For Challah

“Do you have any challah left?” I asked into my phone.

“Any what?” the person on the other end asked with confusion.

“Challah!”I repeated louder.


Pic from Alex Levin’s Rosh Hashanah Bakeshop

My mother was doubled over with laughter in the front seat of the car. I was visiting home in Madison, Wisconsin and wanted to secure some challah. Although both of my mother’s parents were Jewish, I was not raised Jewish. As a young adult, I began to explore my Judaism, and ever since learning more about Shabbat at GatherDC’s first Beyond the Tent retreat, I have really embraced the spirit of the tradition.  I have found meaning in my own versions of the Shabbat rituals, including wine, challah, and candles.

When I realized my trip home included Friday night, I was determined  to find some challah. My mom urged me to reserve a loaf prior to stopping by the store, which turned out to be a very good idea. As she drove me through town, she heard me calling store after store. Convinced that Madison, a very progressive small city, would have a bakery staff that knew of challah, it didn’t occur to me to change my script. So, for three or four phone calls my mother heard me say, I asked “Do you have a challah left?” They did not seem to understand the question. So, I asked it louder – as if volume was the problem. I yelled, “CHALLAH!” into the phone. My mom found this hilarious.

This was not the first place I struggled to secure challah. A few months earlier, on a trip to South Africa and Madagascar, I won the challah battle in Johannesburg when I found out that South Africans call it “kitke” making it easy to secure the familiar braid. I hosted a lovely Shabbat in the courtyard of my hotel, complete with kitke, a local Pinotage, and candles stuck in empty beer bottle holders. A week later in Madagascar, I was not so lucky. But I used a brioche-like loaf instead, and, to my delight, it was equally meaningful.   

My quest for challah has also played out in Key West, New Orleans, Colombia, and Belize. But perhaps the most entertaining was last summer in Petoskey, Michigan. Petoskey is a small but amazing place on the northern part of the lower peninsula in Michigan. I was annoyed when I went to a large grocery store and managed to find a sushi stand, but no challah. Undeterred, I called around to each store in the town. Realizing from my time in Madison that running out of Challah didn’t seem to be the concern, I shifted my question slightly.

“Do you have any challah?”

“Olive bread?”

“No, chall-ah!”

Next call. “Do you have any challah?”



Alas, that Shabbat I wound up serving a delicious loaf of grainy whole wheat bread instead. Although not what I envisioned, that bread still served its purpose: making me slow down, be grateful, and mark the beginning of a dedicated time for rest and reflection.  That Shabbat, just like all the ones with the wonder of challah, was free from the daily grind, and filled with connection, family, and joy.



meleiaAbout the Author: Meleia is an avid “Gather Groupie” and 8-year resident of DC. Gather has helped Meleia find her people, find her place, and find her path to her own meaningful Jewish identity and community. She is self proclaimed “pathological optimist” who loves yoga, bird watching, and travel.







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.

Healing Through Togetherness

This week has been a tough one.

The horrific shooting at The Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh has brought to light the excruciating level of hate- manifested in anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia-  that exists in our country. This horrific tragedy may be hitting us in different ways and at different times – I know it has for me.

At GatherDC, when we feel paralyzed and scared we offer what we do best – we bring people together. We did just that on Monday night, opening up our townhouse for a public streaming of the Community Interfaith Service & Solidarity Gathering that was hosted by Adas Israel, JCRC, and The Jewish Federation. 20 young adults stopped by to share in the comfort of their fellow community members. Holding hands, singing together, and sharing words of hope for a better tomorrow has inspired us to go on. In togetherness and love, we can find healing.

So in this difficult time, in our fractured world, I encourage each of you to spread love and togetherness to your circle. You can start repairing our world from exactly where you are:

  • Send a note or text to anyone you know connected to Pittsburgh in any way.
  • Reach out to anyone who works in a synagogue for whom their daily sacred space has been violated.
  • Call someone you know who has experienced the loss of a loved one recently because they may be feeling a magnified sense of pain and loss.
  • Smile at those you pass on the street. Spread kindness wherever you go.

As Parker Palmer writes in his book “A Hidden Wholeness”, the heart can be broken in two ways: “the first imagining the heart as shattered and scattered; the second imagining the heart broken open into new capacity, holding more of both our own and the world’s suffering and joy, despair and hope.”

May we continue to find comfort in those around us. May the memory of the lives lost forever be a blessing. May our community go on, stronger than ever and with even greater capacity to love.

If you want someone to talk to, please do not hesitate to email me at rachelg@gatherdc.org or call GatherDC at 202-656-0743. We are here for you.

Sending love,

Rachel Gildiner

Executive Director, GatherDC

P.S. If you are looking to find healing in togetherness this week, here are Shabbats happening across the District. We encourage each of you to #ShowUpForShabbat this Friday. If you have questions or want to host your own Shabbat, please let us know how we can help.

How to Plan a Jewish Wedding Ceremony


From navigating tricky family dynamics, to having awkward conversations about money, to the million smaller decisions you have to make Cocktails or champagne? Lilacs or lilies? Bruno Mars or Beatles?! There are so many choices to navigate in the crazy wedding world. (If you’re shaking your head and saying “nah, it’s been so easy so far!,” just you wait, you’ll get there.)

The pinnacle of the entire wedding process is the moment the couple actually gets married, the ceremony. Along with this moment comes perhaps the biggest, and most meaningful, decision the couple has to make – what to include in the ceremony.

Do you want to make the ceremony Jewish? Do you want it to be religious at all? How do you navigate all the emotions and competing interests of this special moment?


When planning my ceremony with my partner, I felt the pull of many different interests vying for attention and acknowledgement.

My parents wanted a religious wedding to accommodate their more religious family and friends who would be attending. My partner’s parents are quite Reform, so they and their guests would have been lost with a lot of Hebrew and more conservative customs.

Many rabbis we spoke to weren’t comfortable with the more modern approach to certain rituals that we wanted. Other rabbis weren’t traditional enough for my parents. For the most important moment on the most important day of our lives, we found ourselves thinking: who should we accommodate? Our most religious guests, our most secular, our parents, each other, or ourselves?

In order to navigate these questions and the emotions that came with them, we talked to many rabbis in the DC area. My partner and I thought about the things that were important to us, and researched creative options for our ceremony. We definitely wanted Jewish traditions, but also wanted them to be hyper-inclusive. We wanted to incorporate our loved ones, but not have a ceremony stretching over an hour long.

Ultimately, we were fortunate enough to find a rabbi who was willing to have several extensive conversations with us, patiently listening to our concerns, and steering us through all of the options.

From my research and our discussions with our officiant, my partner and I found that there are many cultural, religious, and historic customs you can borrow from Jewish tradition that can bring meaning, spontaneity, good photo opportunities, and even some fun to your wedding day. The only required part of the wedding ceremony in Jewish tradition is the giving of a ring. Everything else is gravy.

Below are some well-known and less well-known options that we considered for our wedding ceremony. Perhaps this will help you figure out what you might want your ceremony to look like.

jewish wedding

Photography by Birds of a Feather


The most visible (and perhaps most common) Jewish custom you can incorporate is the chuppah, or wedding canopy. In Jewish tradition, the chuppah represents the couple’s home together, and is a nod to biblical Abraham’s famous hospitality and the fact that his tent was open on all four sides to welcome guests. You can also decide to have a chuppah simply because it’s pretty, and it can serve as a focal point for your ceremony. Sometimes couples will select four close family members or friends to hold up each of the four corners of the chuppah. This can be a nice way to actively incorporate your loved ones.  


You may be familiar with the idea of “circling” in a Jewish ceremony. Traditionally, the bride walks in seven circles the groom, but you can circle in any way you like. Some couples take turns circling each other, while others circle a central point together. Circling may represent unity and completeness. It can be seen as a physical reenactment of the wedding ring. Circling can also convey a moment of devotion, when one partner is orbiting the other.


Photography by Birds of a Feather


A less common Jewish tradition, but one with a rich history, is the veiling ceremony. This is where the groom greets the bride at the beginning of the wedding and places the veil over her face. This custom is based on the biblical story of Jacob marrying Leah instead of Rachel, whom he pined for, because he did not look under the veil to see her face before marrying. In some religious communities, the veiling is preceded by much fanfare, dancing, drinking, and singing by friends and family as the groom walks towards the bride to greet her. Other couples choose to have a private veiling ceremony. Some choose to have a veiling when the bride walks down the aisle.


Photo from One Story Weddings video


Neither I nor my partner have living grandparents, so we kept an eye out for ways to recognize them during our ceremony. We decided to use my partner’s grandfather’s prayer shawl as part of the canopy a top our chuppah. Some couples use a shawl as their chuppah, which is a beautiful and simple option as well. We used my grandfather’s prayer shawl to wrap ourselves during the blessings part of the ceremony, which is another lovely and meaningful tradition.


Photography by Birds of a Feather


Another option is the tradition of reciting seven blessings for the bride and groom. Usually, these blessings are recited by family and very close friends. Similar to having readings at Christian weddings, you can choose the traditional blessings or make up your own. Then, you can assign special loved ones to read the blessings to you at points that you choose during the ceremony. You can also have your friends and family choose their own blessings to read to you. You may decide to have these read in Hebrew, English, or both.


The next most recognizable Jewish tradition is the stomping on the glass at the end of the ceremony. This is arguably the most fun Jewish wedding tradition, as it usually results in a big “Mazel Tov!” shout from the crowd that creates a festive end to your ceremony.


Finally, while it is not part of the ceremony itself, the Horah dance has strong traditions in Eastern European Jewish communities. The Talmud actually requires wedding guests to entertain or “bring joy” to the bride and group, and many communities do so by lifting up the couple in chairs during the dancing.


Photography by Birds of a Feather

In the end, there are a myriad of ways to involve your culture and family history in this special moment. No matter what kind of wedding ceremony you choose, I hope you will feel completely surrounded by love when you say “I do” or “b’taba’at zu”.



danielaAbout the Author: Daniela Murch is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you. Daniela grew up between the DC suburbs and Leeds, England, before landing in the District permanently in 2009, where she has lived ever since. As a “tourist of Judaism” she loves exploring different Jewish practices and cultures, both locally and abroad. She works as a lawyer by day, sings in a semi-professional a cappella group by night, and enjoys traveling and exploring the local music and food scenes with her new husband, Jeremy.







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.