More fun with Kosherness

Stephen Richer is a co-founder and director of Gather the Jews.  The opinions expressed in this post belong solely to Stephen.

On Wednesday, I asked why there aren’t more kosher restaurants in DC.  My answer — based on personal experience — was that the gatekeeper organization for the area (TheVaad) has absurd expectations and an unfriendly attitude toward aspiring kosher restraunteers.

The post got a bit of traffic, and many of you were kind enough to email me your personal stories, frustrations, or thoughts about the Vaad and kosher food in DC.

From these messages, I’ve learned a bit, and I figured I’d share it with you.

1) On Sixth & Rye

I asked how Sixth & Rye managed to get kosher certified given that Spike Mendelsohn owns a non-kosher restaurant (which is a no no according to the Vaad — absurd?).

It seems that Sixth & Rye did its due diligence and went to the Vaad first.  But it was rejected (maybe for the above reason?).  They then went to Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Sholom and Rabbi Y. Zvi Weiss of Baltimore, and, as shown in this letter, Herzfeld and Weiss certified Sixth & Rye as kosher.

2) On the Vaad rejecting Sixth & Rye

As noted above, I don’t know the reasons behind this, however, Rabbi Freundel (of Kesher) posted this to the Kesher board:

6th and sigh-sadly

Posted by: “Barry Freundel”

Thu May 19, 2011 5:21 am (PDT)

Despite extensive negotiations between the Vaad and 6th and I the structure
necessary for us to grant supervision was unfortunately unattainable
as such the truck is sadly not recommended
I will make this the first question at Carlebach Q&A Friday night and if
requested at Seudah Shlishit
Rabbi Freundel

You can’t do fairer than that… offering to answer any question on it.  I imagine somebody will take up this task?

3) On Maoz

So in the comment section of the last post, we discussed Maoz — the vegetarian restaurant on M Street.   Supposedly it has some sort of kosher certification.  But I don’t know who gave it to them.  I don’t think it has a mashgiach on site, and it’s open on the Sabbath — a major no no in the kosher world.  So I don’t know about its level of kosherness.  I was told recently by one Jewish insider that, “Nobody who seriously eats kosher goes there.”  Is this true?


At the end of the day, this all goes to show that there is way too much confusion in the kosher world.  It needs clear guidelines that are public allow certifying agencies to easily enter and allow restauranteerss to know what the standards are.  This would enable a much more dynamic market that would better serve DC’s kosher needs.


Party (or battle?) like it’s 1967 Israel!

Michael Lipin is a GTJ staff member.

A quick primer for those of you who missed the President’s speech today:

U.S. President Barack Obama has endorsed a major Palestinian demand for borders of a future Palestinian state, saying for the first time that those borders should be based on “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”

Mr. Obama’s declaration in a Mideast policy speech Thursday marks a shift from his administration’s earlier position.

Previously, the U.S. State Department said the outcome of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations should “reconcile” the Palestinian goal of a state based on the 1967 lines with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with “secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.”

Palestinians have long demanded a state comprising the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Palestinian officials also have demanded that Israel stop all settlement construction in occupied territories, saying such activity robs them of land they want for that state. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this week that Jewish “settlement blocs” in the West Bank must be inside Israel’s borders as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians. He also called the West Bank a part of the Jewish “homeland” in which Israel has “historic rights as well as security interests.”

Mr. Obama’s position on one of the core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict also represents a shift from the position of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

In a 2004 letter to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Mr. Bush said it is “unrealistic” to expect that the outcome of a peace deal will be a “full and complete return” to the 1949 armistice lines that marked the end of the first Arab-Israeli war.

Mr. Bush said any agreement should reflect “new realities on the ground,” including “already existing major Israeli population centers,” – a reference to the largest Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

A few jobs that have recently been announced…

AIPAC, National Field Organizer

We are looking to hire a full-time National Field Organizer to identify, engage, train, and coordinate pro-Israel political activists on major college campuses. The position is DC-based and involves a significant amount of travel.

Citizens United, Web Developer

Description: Citizens United is looking for an experienced web developer to develop new websites, help redesign legacy websites and migrate many of our existing websites to utilize our WordPress powered CMS. This is a new position at Citizens United, and the candidate will be responsible for the development of complex web applications, including requirements gathering and systems design. This is a fulltime, in-office position at our Capitol Hill location in Washington, D.C. Requirements: 4-6 years of experience developing, updating, and maintaining dynamically driven web sites required; This position will utilize a variety of programming languages such as ASP.NET (VB), PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS, and SQL Server; Useful software experience to include: MS Visual Web Developer, Dreamweaver, PhotoShop, and MySQL. Please contact Kirk Risinger at or by phone at 202-547-5420 if interested.

Senator Blunt, Press Secretary

Optimal candidate will have 4-5 years of press and/or new media related experience; direct involvement dealing with reporters; various new media competencies; strong writing and organizational skills; and overall familiarity with Capitol Hill. Missouri ties a plus, but not a requirement.

Any interested parties should email resume, cover letter, and references to:

Cato Institute, On-Line Publications Manager & Designer

The Cato Institute seeks a publications designer/manager to work on the design and management of internal and external on-line publications for their display on a variety of devices using various applications, including Kindles, iPads, iPhones, and other smart phones and tablets, in addition to web pages. The publications designer/manager also monitors Cato’s electronic publications for quality control and proper functioning and identifies and incorporates upgrades and new features; assists in the management of Cato’s bulk email system; and will be directly involved in the design of Cato’s web site. The position requires experience in web and graphic design, and in HTML, XHTML, XML, ePub, and Adobe Acrobat InDesign, and of the Drupal content management system.

Robert Garber
Cato Institute
1000 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20001

Kosher food on wheels

UPDATE: The Kosher Truck will make its first appearance this Friday (May 20) from 11:30 AM to 1:30 PM at the corner of Sixth and I.


Sixth & I emailed the following press release on Friday:



For Immediate Release
May 6, 2011
Sixth & Rye: DC’s First Kosher Deli on Wheels

When the aroma of smoked corned beef and the distinct crunch of a salty pickle are flooding your senses, rest assured that the Sixth & Rye food truck on the corner ahead is finally more than just a craving-induced mirage. Sixth & I is teaming up with Good Stuff Eatery’s Chef Spike Mendelsohn and personal chef to NBA athletes Chef Malcolm Mitchell to bring DC the old-fashioned Kosher deli cuisine it’s been longing for.

Making stops throughout the downtown DC area, including Chinatown, Farragut Square and Dupont Circle, Sixth & Rye will dish out deliciousness at a different location each week. For a limited time, the truck will be operating exclusively on Fridays, during lunch hours. Find the whereabouts of the mobile deli on Twitter by following @sixthandrye.

Sixth & Rye is made possible in part by a grant from The Natan Fund, which supports innovative projects that are shaping the Jewish future.

Sixth & Rye will begin serving the public in front of 600 I (Eye) Street, NW on Friday, May 20 at 11:30 am.

The truck’s signature hot smoked corned beef sandwich on fresh rye bread will combine the flavors of smoked meat and homemade hot mustard to form an undeniably delicious version of the classic. Several side dishes ranging from an inspired Israeli couscous salad to fresh cut potato chips will complement the signature sandwich. The menu will also feature a grilled vegetable wrap and a “Meal Deal” option. Menu items will range from $2 – $12.

Toward the end of last year, Sixth & I launched its “Next Great Idea for the New Year” contest, a call for Washingtonians to suggest things that they wished to see implemented by Sixth & I. After sifting through hundreds of submissions, the staff came across an idea that really got their “wheels turning” — a Kosher deli food truck.

“We knew this was a perfect opportunity for Sixth & I to expand beyond the walls of our building,” Director Esther Safran Foer said of the idea.  “As an organization, we’re constantly seeking exciting approaches to Jewish culture that are inclusive of everyone.  We can think of no better way to fuse traditional with contemporary than by bringing classic Jewish fare that has transcended generations to the forefront of the latest local trend.”

When Foer reached out to Mendelsohn, a veteran host of Sixth & I events like Chef Spike’s Latke Mania (2008) and Spike up the Matzah (2009), he was thrilled to be part of the venture. Shortly thereafter, Mendelsohn’s fellow cooking connoisseur, Mitchell, joined the team. Mitchell is Sixth & Rye’s on-board chef. He has consulted with Mendelsohn on the tasty menu.

“A Kosher food truck…it’s just genius,” said Mendelsohn. “I’m excited to be working on this project with Chef Mitchell and all the great people at Sixth & I. It will be a knock-your-socks-off lunch, and I can’t wait to see the crowds.”

Mitchell added, “Delis were always a cornerstone of New York neighborhoods. So, as a native New Yorker, I am glad to be a part of history with Sixth & I as well as Chef Spike Mendelsohn in creating the first Kosher food truck in DC. How exciting!”

Jeff Kelley, of Eat Wonky food truck fame, signed onto the project as well. Although using its own equipment and kitchenware, Sixth & Rye will be operating out of the Eat Wonky truck.

“A big part of the Eat Wonky mission is to bring forward fun and distinctive food options to the people of DC,” Kelley said.  “In that spirit, we are thrilled to help facilitate the arrival of Sixth & Rye and their exciting concept by providing a conduit, our truck, to connect their vision with the community.”

Sixth & Rye will be Kosher under Rabbinic supervision. There will be a mashgiach supervising all food preparation and services.

Sixth & I is a non-denominational, non-membership, non-traditional historic synagogue and center for arts and culture housed in a 103-year old building. We are a congregation without borders where the lines of devotion blur to create a spiritual fusion of fresh rituals. As a hub for arts, entertainment, and discussion, people plug in to what’s happening at the forefront of the cultural scene. To learn more about the building’s history as a Conservative synagogue (1908) turned African Methodist Episcopal Church (1951) and nearly would-be nightclub (2002), click here.




Allison Goldstein, Communications Associate

Sixth & I – 600 I Street, NW  – Washington, DC 20001
Direct: 202.266.3233 – Fax: 202.408.5124 – Web:

Follow us on Twitter @sixthandi

Join our community


Are we Jews allowed to celebrate Bin Laden’s death?

From Time Magazine

Following the killing of Bin Laden and the ensuing celebrations at the White House and Ground Zero, I heard a number of Jewish friends and commentators argue that we should not celebrate OSL’s death.  Conspicuous among those making this argument was Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Sholom – The National Synagogue[1] who wrote the following at Frum Forum[2]:

How does our religion teach us to respond to the death of a hated and evil man like Osama Bin Laden?

When hearing about the downfall of an enemy, the rabbis remind us of the verse from Proverbs:  “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.”

This is in line with the tradition that no matter how wicked our enemies are their destruction is not a cause for celebration.  The Talmud tells us that “God does not rejoice with the fall of the wicked.”  As the rabbinic teaching goes, as the Children of Israel were crossing the sea and the army of Pharaoh was drowning, God rebuked the angels for showing excessive joy.  And to this day, our liturgy reflects that by limiting the psalms of joy that we recite to commemorate that event.

The reason for this muted celebration is twofold.

First there is recognition that even when our enemy falls, this does not signal an end to all our troubles.  Just because one enemy or one army or one threat has been removed does not mean we are entirely safe.

Second, we must acknowledge that the destruction of the enemy did not necessarily arise from our own merits.  We are perhaps not worthy of the good fortune that we have received and so we do not want to tempt God, as it were, or remind the Angel of Death of our own defects.

So our tradition is clear: Public rejoicing about the death of an enemy is entirely inappropriate. (full post here)

Two comments in response if I may be so bold:

1) The Torah doesn’t seem to be clear cut on celebrating the death of our enemies.  Yes, there are the seeming condemnations of celebration as noted above by Herzfeld.  But since we just finished Passover, it is also worth mentioning that the Israelites and the angels celebrated after they walked through the Red Sea and the Egyptian armies drowned.  God let the Israelites keep on singing.  He only rebuked the angels.

Also check out Proverbs 11:10 “at the the destructions of evildoers, there is joy.”   Seems like this would include Osama Bin Laden…  (h/t Rabbi Lefkowitz).

2) But even if the literal text of the Torah were crystal clear on celebrations of death, the above phrase from Proverbs can’t be read as certain condemnation of celebrations of the death of enemies.  After all, we don’t always follow the literal text of the Torah (whether because the true meaning is only illuminated by the oral law or because the Torah is fallible is a discussion beyond this post).

For instance, the literal text of the Torah also says that we should stone wayward children:

“This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard. Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death.” (Deuteronomy 21:20-21)

We don’t stone disobedient children, and we never have.  And if we can offer one instance in which we don’t follow the text of the Torah exactly, why can’t this case of celebrating be a second instance?  In simpler terms, if we thought all apples were red, but then we find a green apple, we can no longer say with logical proof that all apples are red or that all Torah text should be practiced as read literally.

Does this mean that it’s OK to celebrate OSL’s death?  Not necessarily.  I just don’t find this appeal to authority to one line in Proverbs to be a convincing argument that we shouldn’t celebrate.

Stephen Richer is a co-founder and director of Gather the Jews.  However, this post represents Stephen’s individual opinion, not an institutional stance.

[1] Gather the Jews has posted previously about Rabbi Herzfeld and Ohev Sholo – The National Synagogue including this recent story about a DC vote during Passover and this post about the newest innovation for selling chametz.

[2] FrumForum is the political website of David Frum, another DC Jew.  It’s a great read.  Strongly recommended.


Why You Shouldn’t Be Religious

Rabbi Aron Moss contributes regular Q&A commentaries to Gather the Jews.  Rabbi Moss is the proprietor of Nefesh and can be reached at  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rabbi Moss.

People with boxes on their headsQuestion:

Is Judaism an all-or-nothing deal? I can’t see myself ever becoming religious, but I have started to incorporate Jewish spirituality into my life. If I get more involved in Judaism, will I have to change my entire lifestyle? Is there no grey area in between being totally religious and being totally secular?


Welcome to the grey area. That’s where the Jewish soul finds itself. We don’t identify ourselves as either religious or secular. That division is an artificial one, completely foreign to Judaism. In fact, biblical Hebrew does not have a word for “religious”, and there was never such a category in Jewish life.

Rather than boxing people into religious or secular, the Jewish view differentiates between two other categories: those who are growing in their spiritual life, and those who aren’t. We are either souls alive, or souls asleep.

In matters of the soul, more important than how high you have reached is how far you have moved. And you’d be surprised; someone who may look very holy could actually be completely stagnant in this struggle, and someone who you may have labelled as secular is in fact a spiritual hero.

One person may pray every day, while another prays only once a week. But the first prayed every day all his life, while the second guy never prayed before at all. One has taken a step forward, while the other is just treading water. Who is achieving more?

In truth, we don’t know. To compare one person’s spiritual level to someone else’s is impossible and pointless. But we do have to compare our own spiritual level today to what we were yesterday. Whether we pray daily, weekly, or not at all, we each have to ask ourselves, Am I on the way up in my soul development, on the way down, or just cruising?

Forget about becoming religious. Just become a soul alive. The Jewish challenge for all of us is to live and grow in that shifting grey area, where my today is higher than my yesterday, and tomorrow will be even better.

Have a question of your own? Submit it to Rabbi Moss.

Goldstone recants. Now What?

"If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document."

I won’t go as far as Moment Magazine and say that Richard Goldstone pulled a 180, but I will say he turned at least 90 degrees…

For those of you who missed it, Richard Goldstone, former chair of the U.N. Human Rights Commission fact finding mission that assessed the 2008/9 Gaza War, just admitted in The Washington Post that Israel is not in fact the scum of the universe, nor did it purposefully target civilians.  Hamas, on the other hand, is far from awesome…

The damage of Goldstone’s original report, can’t be fully undone.  But we can make some ameliorative efforts.  One such step forward is getting the United Nations to recognize Goldstone’s change in position.  The best option I’ve seen to quickly contribute to the cause is to sign this letter sponsored by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Here’s the letter:

I join with the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its 400,000 worldwide supporters in urging you to publicly endorse Judge Richard Goldstone’s retraction of The Goldstone Report whose key allegation was that Israel targeted civilians in Gaza during the 2009 war with Hamas.
We further ask you to inform all members of the UN General Assembly of his retraction.  We also urge you to call on the UN Human Rights Council Chief Navi Pillay and UNHRC members to block any further action based on the erroneous charges in what is now seen by the author as a fundamentally flawed document.
The Goldstone Report has caused inestimable and continuing damage to the international standing of Israel and her supporters around the world. Judge Goldstone has now publicly disassociated himself from his own report. The United Nations should do no less.

First report from the Jewish A Cappella Competition

(Note:  An earlier version of this post incorrectly said there were approximately 650 audience members).

On Saturday, April 2, over 850 Jews gathered (we get a dollar each time this phrase is used) at Adas Israel Synagogue for DC’s first ever Jewish a cappella competition: Kol HaOlam.

There’s tons to report, but here’s this for starters.

Nine groups from different colleges competed.  They each performed two songs (linked below).  One song had to be in Hebrew, and one had to be about Judaism in some sense (see rules).

Awards were given for:

1) Crowd vote (via text message)  —   Shabbatones, Univ of Pennsylvania
2) Best solo performance — Tizmoret, Queens College
3) Best song composition — “Hunger,” Staam, Washington University
4) Best group — 3rd place, Shabbatones (UPenn); 2nd place, Kol Sasson (UMaryland); 1st place, Tizmoret (Queens College)

I agreed with the host that all the groups were fantastic, but my overall pick goes to Kol Sasson (UMaryland), and my favorite song of the evening was “Bar Mitzvah” by Jewish Fella A Cappella (Brandeis, first song).

Many thanks to Elie Greenberg and Adas YP for arranging this excellent event!

Songs in order of appearance. My sincere apologies to Chutzpah of Georgetown University for somehow losing one of their songs. Sorry!