DID JEW KNOW: There’s Another Jewish Holiday This Weekend?

ilana

It’s not what you’re thinking. There’s no joyous family gathering nor tons of delicious food. 

It’s a fast day. 

It’s a time to mourn. 

It’s the saddest day of the Jewish year. 

And no, it’s not Yom Kippur (which, while serious, is meant to be uplifting). 

It’s called Tisha B’Av, and this Saturday night through Sunday (the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av) Jews around the world will be marking this day.

Tisha B’Av is a day that Jewish tradition marks as a time to remember and mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, the ancient epicenters of Jewish life. The Temples were destroyed first in 586 BCE and then again in 70 CE. Since then, Tisha B’Av has become a most inauspicious day marking other large-scale tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people; the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290 and again from Spain in 1492, the start of WWI, whose unresolved ending built up to WWII and the Holocaust, and the list goes on. 

Over time, Tisha B’Av has become a symbolic container holding centuries of Jewish history’s darkest moments, and it is traditionally observed by fasting and reading from the book of Lamentations (a biblical book composed after the destruction of the First Temple) while sitting on the floor like mourners. 

Tisha B’Av comes at the height of summer – just when we’re well-practiced in the art of leisure, sitting by our friends’ rooftop pools (I’ve learned that these are good friends to have in DC), or spending time at the beach. In the midst of all this fun – who wants to pause for a day of mourning, let alone fasting? 

As a kid, I dreaded this day. I was at Jewish summer camp when this “holiday” arrived, and with it came a day without swimming, field trips, games, or really anything other than watching Holocaust movies and talking about the never ending cycle of anti-semitism. On top of this, I was not provided any time or space for emotional preparation or reflection. After Tisha B’Av, we’d resume business as usual, so it never quite made sense to me as a summer holiday. 

Furthermore, Tisha B’Av is about commemorating events that are long gone (the Holocaust itself actually has its own memorial day), so it can be hard to feel a genuine sense of loss around them. 

And yet, I think it’s because – rather than in spite of – this emotional disconnect that Tisha B’Av is so vital for each of us to commemorate today. Tisha B’Av is about accepting that significant loss and grief can disrupt our lives and the lives of those around us – no matter what else is going on. It tells us that despite how utterly terrible grief feels, the only way out of it is through it. Unfortunately, we live in a society that doesn’t like to see people grieve. Oftentimes, people, even our closest friends, don’t know how to respond to our deepest sorrow and pain. They may try to keep it light or remind us that we’re going to be okay, even though we are not ready for a positive mood change just yet. 

In this vein, the author of Lamentations comes to tell us that expressions of grief are an essential and healthy part of the healing process. 

“I cry…tears fall from my eyes: far from me is any comforter who might revive my spirit.”

The very first word of the book, Eicha (which is the Hebrew name of the book), is a question, “How?” as in, “How could this have happened?!” Sometimes, before we get to make meaning out of our loss or figure out what’s next, we can only sit in the shock that has befallen us. We should take time to let our minds consider the unanswerable questions, rather than ask someone for the answers. Reading Lamentations along with other people, which is how Jewish communities read it, may be just what we need to resensitize ourselves to expressions of grief as well as all the anger and fear that can come with it. In this act, we give ourselves permission to feel distraught and/ to support those around us who are in pain as well. 

In addition to asking us to tune into our individualized expressions of grief, Tisha B’Av is a day for grieving major communal losses. While the ancient Temples in Jerusalem were sites for religious devotion, their destruction came via warfare. This brought about the loss of many lives and led to the dispersion of the Jewish people as refugees around the world. Ultimately, it marked the end of their sovereignty and way of life as they knew it then.

But even more than this, the rabbis of Jewish tradition say that the Temples were destroyed because of both external military defeat and a breakdown of internal values that led people to distrust and disrespect one another. Although an external enemy physically destroyed the edifices of Jewish life, they were only able to do so because of a community structure that was already tearing at the seams. 

During a major societal breakdown – such as the destruction of these ancient Temples or the political division of a country like America – it’s not clear how constructive responses will fill the void or when healing will begin. Communal losses are scary, yet we, like those of the past who ultimately reimagined a new Jewish way of life without the Temples, can find the courage to embrace the fears that come with major losses. If we permanently desensitize ourselves to painful feelings because we are tired, frightened, or overwhelmed, we’ll never be able to eventually move forward.

Imagine what it might look like then, for communities, or even a whole society, to set aside a day to bravely mourn the loss of its values and shared commitments. Although we do have Memorial Day in America, this is not usually a day spent in serious introspection about how a people can unite for a greater social good.

By the end of Lamentations, we pray for renewal and change,

“Renew our days as of old!”

Even if we are feeling utterly hopeless in the moment, we pay homage to the fact that we have before, and one day, we will feel hope again. We set aside a day to grieve the patterns of major life-shattering events, together, and see what responses we can generate with time.

This year, I propose that we reclaim Tisha B’Av for what it can be. 

We can read and discuss ancient and modern-day Lamentations with family and friends, such as: Lamentations for the earth, Lamentations for the breakup of immigrant families, or Lamentations for acts of gun violence. We can also join an organized Jewish communal event for a reading, a prayer service or even a protest to mark this day for our losses, our sadness, and our righteous anger. 

Although it may take some commitment to pause from our regular summer weekend plans, we can at least try to courageously lean into the pain of this holiday. If we can, we just may become more open, honest, and ready to take on the pain of our lives, and the pain of our world.

 

ilana

About the author: Rabbi Ilana Zietman is GatherDC’s Community Rabbi. She loves meeting new people and creating real and meaningful connections with them. 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.

Meet Shira: Jewish Travel Lover of the Week

shira

Allie: Tell me how you ended up in DC.

Shira: I like to base my life choices on the show I’m binge watching at the time. During finals my senior year of college, I was watching “The West Wing. I thought every day in DC would have an invigorating Toby-Sam argument. Spoiler alert: After working as a policy fellow in DC for a few years, I got into “Mad Men” and moved on to an ad agency.

Allie: Describe your dream day in DC from start to finish.

Shira: I’d embrace my inner “basic-ness” for a day: I’d start with an early morning hike, drink just the right amount of coffee to feel cool with my friends but not enough to start up my Ashkenazi stomach, skip brunch (that’s my one non-basic move), and get free samples at the farmer’s market. After such a stressful morning, I’d need to take a load off at a local beer garden. Dacha, anyone?

Allie: What outdoor adventures have you loved the most?

Shira: Hiking Old Rag is a classic, and Old Town Alexandria is fun when I’m not there for work. Outside of the DC-area, I try to go on two big trips every year. One of last year’s trips was the Grand Canyon. Next week, I’ll be traipsing my way through Sweden and England with my high school frienemy Laurie Hunt (shout out). Boys – don’t worry if you see me disappear from the JSwipe scene. My distance filter is only 1,000 miles, but I’ll be back in two weeks.

shira

Allie: What has been your favorite trip?

Shira: Peru. I’m a history nerd, so I loved going to Machu Picchu and learning about the earliest religions. I also loved hiking Lake 22 outside of Seattle.

Allie: What do you love most about traveling?

Shira: The fact that I am traveling. But really, I just love learning about history and language, and I love seeing how others live and exploring the beautiful views while hiking. I especially love visiting the Jewish communities for a Friday night dinner when I’m abroad.

Allie: Where do you most want to travel to next?

Shira: My new client project might be taking me to Bethesda, and I hear it’s hopping there. Other than that, I’m hoping to plan a trip to Spain and Portugal soon, as well as go hiking in Switzerland one day.

Allie: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

Shira: I got an A+ in my hip hop dance class in college. And I’m really good at Super Smash Bros.

Allie: What is at the top of your DC bucket list? 

Shira: Take an improv class. I’ve read Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Mindy Kaling’s books, so I think I’m ready.

Allie: What is your favorite Jewish holiday?

Shira: Sukkot; specifically in the Atlanta weather with my mom’s butternut squash pie. October 2019: You’re all invited.

Allie: Complete the sentence: when Jews of DC gather…

Shira: They refuse to acknowledge their previous conversations on JSwipe.

shira

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.

Meet Josef: Jewish Community Engagement Director of the Week!

Attention Jewish DC: The one-and-only Josef Palermo has made his way onto the GatherDC team, and we COULD NOT BE MORE THRILLED. All caps are 100% necessary to express our uncontainable excitement.

If you don’t know Josef, read on. If you do know Josef, read on and you might learn something new. Either way, email Josef to welcome him to the team or grab coffee. Okay enough with this intro, onto the interview…

Allie: What brought you to DC? 

Josef: I’ve been in DC for about 11 years – I came here right after undergraduate as a part of a fellowship with Greenpeace. I started to carve out a career path for myself in activism and community organizing because, like so many young people, I wanted to have some kind of positive impact on the world. I had a 6-month stint in San Francisco, but kept my place in DC so I could come back. DC really feels like home! 

Allie: Tell me more about your interest in activism.

Josef: I really started to dive into activism in college, organizing my college campus community on issues related to human rights and genocide prevention and awareness.

From there, I just kept going! I’m from Florida, so I decided to intern for a Florida state senator, then in 2008, I worked for a presidential campaign. After that, I went back to Florida, and just a few months later I was in DC advocating for the environment at Greenpeace. 

Allie: Did you think about going into politics? 

Josef: Yes, but I ultimately found it wasn’t for me. My interests are more in advocating for specific issues and causes that I believe in. 

Allie: What ultimately led you to find your career path as a Jewish professional?

Josef: I was hired to run GLOE, the Kurlander Program for GLBTQ Outreach and Engagement at the EDCJCC. It was the first, and for a long time, only, full-time LGBTQ outreach program at any JCC. This position really spoke to where I was in my life, and my passion for working with the community at the intersection of LGBTQ and Jewish identity.

I recently started at Gather as the 30s Community Engagement Director, and am excited to continue working in a space that speaks to where I am in my life. 

Allie: What are you most looking forward to in your role at Gather?

Josef: I’m excited to connect with other folks in their 30’s who are still connecting to their Jewish journeys and looking for more meaningful engagement with those journeys. Often in your 30s, you focus your time differently and may search for new ways to engage in Jewish life. I’m very excited to innovate opportunities for Jewish 30s to think differently and challenge themselves more in connecting to their Judaism.

Allie: Outside of work, what are your favorite ways to relax? 

Josef: I love to cook! I’m not someone who follows recipes, I just like to open the cupboard and whip something up. I also like to explore museums, hang out with my friends, take books to the park and read. 

Allie: Describe your dream day in DC…

Josef: I recently discovered how fun the electric scooters are, and love scootering to places I’ve never been to before. My dream day would include scootering to Roosevelt Island or Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. It would also include the Potomac – I love being on the water. I would get a boat with some friends and head down to Old Town Alexandria. We would end the day with a potluck dinner on a rooftop. I love the DC skyline, especially when you can see the Washington Monument and the National Cathedral.

Allie: What is your favorite way to celebrate Shabbat?

Josef: I try to include at least one person who is new to the Shabbat experience whenever I host. I like sharing Jewish traditions and rituals with people and helping them learn about it. 

Allie: What is at the top of your bucket list? 

Josef: I want to sail the Amalfi Coast. I would love to spend a couple weeks with friends, making stops along the way to explore! 

Allie: Is there anything else you would you like to share? 

Josef: I’m openly queer identifying, and I’m excited to join the Gather staff and bring those experiences of mine to the team, and connect with others who have an LGBTQ identity in the Jewish community.

Allie: Complete the sentence! When Jews of DC gather….

Josef: …There will be several rounds of Jewish geography!            

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.

Let’s Work Out! (…of a gym)

Last week, I took a field trip from the GatherDC offices to the MINT Health Club. Rather than going to enjoy a mid-day workout, I was going to meet up with Sarah Hostyk, founder of a new tech startup called WorkStrive and former Jewish Tech Startup Founder of the Week. I was curious to learn more about what her brand new company has to offer DC.

Sarah’s describes WorkStrive as a combination of AirBnB, WeWork, and ClassPass. It takes local gyms and fitness studios that are often empty during peak work times, and transforms them into a shared workspace for remote workers. Better yet, when Excel is driving you crazy or you’ve been staring at your inbox for one too many hours, you can spend an hour rejuvenating your mind – and body – with a fitness class or use of the gym facility that you’re in.

Rose: Tell me a little about yourself and how WorkStrive came to be.

Sarah: I’ve wanted to create a startup since I was a little kid, and even won a few elevator pitch competitions as a teenager and in college. My first job was working remotely for a startup near Tel Aviv working to launch their first mobile app in the US. I was living in a new city and all of my coworkers were in Israel.

When I moved to DC, I launched my first startup called PlaceTempo, which matches students and remote workers with the best places to study based on their needs.

While I was trying to launch PlaceTempo, I would go door-to-door trying to get businesses to offer deals for the app. Walking around DC, I’d pass by beautiful and empty gyms and had a lightbulb moment that led me to come up with WorkStrive.       

Rose: What’s your elevator pitch for WorkStrive?

Sarah: Its a network of gyms and yoga studios that have unutilized space during the work day and turns them into furnished co-working spaces. You get to work and workout without any extra cost or transportation. It costs $36 per day – about the price of a one-hour spin class. Eventually, I’m going to roll out a monthly membership. 

In addition to offering an affordable alternative for remote workers, WorkStrive helps business at smaller gyms and helps with the loneliness that many remote workers experience.      

Rose: When did you start this company? 

Sarah: I started working on it in January 2019 and I just launched it this month.

Rose: What is your favorite part of working in an environment like this?

Sarah: The space – its colorful, and the studio is calm and serene.

Rose: Where do you see this company going in the future?

Sarah: Right now we have four locations in DC, and I’ll be opening other locations around the DMV by early fall. We’ll be having monthly memberships and other workshops that incorporate both wellness and working. In the future, I’d like to expand all over the world. The sky’s the limit!  

workstrive

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.

Meet Jessica: Jewish Nurse of the Week!

When she’s not slaying it as a pediatric oncology research nurse, this outdoor lover might be found reading on a kayak, playing volleyball, or planning her dream trip to Iceland. Get to know Jessica Nooriel!

 

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Jessica: I’m pretty extroverted, so I wanted to live in a big city where there are lots of people and things happening. I’m also from Atlanta and am a southern girl at heart, so I didn’t want to go too far north. I decided to apply to jobs in DC, and got a great offer as a clinical, pediatric oncology research nurse at NIH. It worked out well! 

Allie: What are the biggest differences between DC and Atlanta? 

Jessica: Weather! It gets cold here (maybe not this week…). There is also a lot more going on in DC. In Atlanta, I lived in a nice, quiet, suburb which I loved. But here, it’s very happening, and political, and people all seem so smart and passionate.

Allie: What led you to a career in nursing?

Jessica: Science has always been a big topic of interest for me. I am fascinated by the science of healing, and love how nurses look at patients holistically. Seeing patients from a biological, sociological, and psychological perspective can give us a lot of insight. 

In the future, I’d like to go back to school to become a nurse practitioner so I can be involved in making the big decisions.

Allie: Describe your dream DC day.

Jessica: I’m an outdoorsy person, so my day would start with a morning hike. Then, I’d get lunch somewhere outside – maybe go to a brewery. After that, I would go kayaking or paddle-boarding. I’ve never lived near a body of water, so that is still new and exciting for me. I have a kayaking season pass for the summer at the Potomac. Then, I would go on a private tour of the White House and the monuments.

Allie: What is at the top of your bucket list? 

Jessica: Skydiving, but in a different country. I’d also love to go to Iceland, I’ve heard it’s the type of country you can just camp the entire time, and that the food and sights are amazing. 

Allie: What are your go-to ways to relax?

Jessica: Boating and reading. I read a lot. I’m about to finish Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I’m also interested in Holocaust books. Two of my favorites are Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl and The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult.

Allie: What is your favorite Jewish holiday?

Jessica: Passover, because my family always gets together as a big group. I love long meals and being around people. And I also love matzah, especially matzah pizza! And I enjoy anticipating that the holiday is coming with all of the cleaning and the preparation. 

Allie: Is there something that people would be surprised to know about you?

Jessica: Yes! Even though I’m super short, I play volleyball. I played competitively in high school and intramural in college. My position is setter. I can’t join a DC league because of my schedule, but I would love to get a pick-up game started. 

Allie: Complete the sentence: when Jews of DC gather…

Jessica: …They have a good time.

jessica

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

 

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Rosh Hashanah (September 29th – October 1st)

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Yom Kippur (October 8th – 9th)

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Sukkot (October 13th – 20th)

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Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah (October 21st – 22nd)

  • Monday, October 21st

  • Tuesday, October 22nd

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High Holiday Inspiration

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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.

Meet Allen: Jewish Real Estate Guru of the Week!

 

Temporary Matt Corrado Mural at the Carnegie Library

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Allen: I went to school at The University of Maryland and was offered a job with a real estate developer doing an enormous mixed-use, multi-phase development project in Montgomery County. It was exciting, so I stuck around.

Allie: Do you still work in real estate?

Allen:  Yes! I had spent years working with restaurants on their design, construction and real estate expansions all over the east coast and have since started a company, Concept Lab CRE, which focuses on real estate, design and analytics consulting, primarily for restaurants, retail businesses and small multi-family projects.  

There are a lot of businesses that have great concepts, but need help developing processes to grow and evolve efficiently. I am always excited to talk to business owners interested in growth or addressing issues affecting their businesses.

Allie: Outside of work, I hear you’re also involved with Bridge To Health. Tell me about that.

Allen: Bridge To Health USA is a charity that provides sustainable healthcare to underprivileged communities in the US and around the world. I really wanted to be involved with a non-denominational, results-focused organization, and I’m a founding board member of BTH USA and serve as our Director of Fundraising and Development. We are setting up programs in Peru and Ohio and having worked in countries like Kenya and Uganda in the past.

We’re actually holding an event on September 26th at Prather’s on the Alley and we still looking for corporate partnerships, so if our mission resonates with you – reach out to me.

Rosenthal Vineyard, Malibu, CA

Allie: Wow! You must stay pretty busy.  What is the number one superpower you wish you could have?

Allen: I definitely try to stay active. If I could have a superpower it would be the ability to slow down time.  By the time the week starts it’s so packed with work and activities I always feel like I need more time in my day! I feel like you can never spend too much time with the people that you love and sometimes you just want time to stand still so you can really savor those moments.

Allie: If you could have a totally free day in DC, what would you do?

Allen:  I’d start out grabbing an espresso at Kafe Leopold in Cady’s Alley. They have a courtyard terrace where you can sit outside and relax listening to their fountain, you might as well be in Europe. From there I’d go to The Phillips Collection and sit in the Rothko Room for 15 minutes before biking the Mount Vernon trail – I try to do a 40 mile ride every other day. Then, I’d pick up lunch and go to The Graham Rooftop in the afternoon, which has one of my favorite views in the city and is probably my favorite place to throw parties during the day.  

After that, it’s dinnertime. Making dinner plans is one of my favorite things to do so I’d probably have made a reservation somewhere; favorites include Spoken English, Maydan and Kinship. Anyone who’s been out to dinner with me knows I’m also a big fan of the legendary tea menu and apple pie at Blue Duck Tavern for afterwards, and then drinks would continue after that.

Dinner and drinks with Friends at Bourbon, best fries in town included

Allie: What is something that people might be surprised to know about you?

Allen: I’m a huge post-war modern art fan, particularly hard edge pairings and minimal art from artists like Flavin, Kelly, Stella, Serra, Yves Kline, and Rothko. I’ve always been fascinated by beautiful architecture, design, and art, and it’s amazing showing up to the Hirshhorn or National Gallery of Art and seeing some of the most impressive works in the world. Big fan of The Whitney in NYC and The Broad In LA as well.  

Allie: Do you do art yourself?

Allen: I used to work on mixed-media pieces. I did some painting, worked with paper, and cut-out work. I also collect DC street art, but I really should be doing more of it. It’s funny you ask that actually, I was just speaking with a friend and DC street artist this weekend, we are going to work on a piece together.  

Allie: What’s at the top of your travel bucket list?

Allen: I really love the water, especially shallow reefs, so most of the travel items on my list involve the ocean. I’ve always wanted to dive the Maldives or the Great Blue Hole in Belize. They are supposedly some of the most beautiful reefs in the world, and great beaches to relax on afterwards. Also, I’m a huge fan of Japanese culture, architecture, and food, so I’d love to spend time there as well.

allen

Swimming at Caneel Bay, St. John

Allie: Which 3 people would you invite to Shabbat?

Allen: I’m not much of a small group person, so let’s call it a party and invite a bunch of people: I’d invite Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn, Hilton Founder Conrad Hilton, Actress and Honest Company Founder Jessica Alba, Real Estate Developer Donald Bren, Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat, Danish Architect Bjarke Ingels, and have Off-While Founder Virgil Abloh spinning records. 

Definitely a fun night.

Allie: What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?

Allen: A tie between Passover and Hanukkah. Passover because I love drinking around the table with my cousins and friends we invite over. And Hanukkah because I enjoy thinking of very personal, specific gifts to give to people.

Allie: Complete the sentence: when Jews of DC gather…

Allen: We make fun of everything and everyone.

 

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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.

Getting Beyond the Blah

“What would constitute a perfect day for you?”

That’s the question I pulled from the mason jar holding 86 such questions, each written on a mini sticky note and then folded over. I named my creation Beyond the Blah Jar.

My new girlfriend Anie had to answer per the rules of Beyond the Blah Jar. She was sitting next to me on the couch, on the middle cushion. We were tired, approaching the end of our March weekend together, but she didn’t hesitate responding. “Today!”

Today, a day she’d spent entirely in my presence, was my new girlfriend’s perfect day? I forced my lips to remain within the boundaries of my face.

We began the day with scrambled eggs and coffee with heavy cream (for me, tea for her). That sated us before we hiked around Claude Moore Park in Sterling, Virginia, and then drank India pale ales at Lake Anne Brew House. Anie’s perfect day was now ending with me, dinner, a movie, and Beyond the Blah Jar.

“Oh wait,” Anie added. Her face held an “aha” expression. “I thought the question asked for a recent perfect day. Did it mean what is my ideal perfect day?”

I laughed. Yes, that was how I took the question, though I wasn’t complaining about Anie’s response to her interpretation of it.

My idea to create Beyond the Blah Jar hit me after attending Even Further Beyond the Tent in February. Anie, I, and some 35 others attended this follow-up to the original Judaism-focused retreat hosted by GatherDC and its former improv comedy-loving, eccentric rabbi. This retreat didn’t lead to increased understanding of my Jewish identity like the original had. Instead, it led me to delve deeper into myself and my relationships with others. Even Further Beyond the Tent taught me it was OK to ask questions.

The jar’s first 36 questions came from a study now known as The 36 Questions That Lead to Love. I didn’t include those to trick Anie into falling for me; I suspected both she and I had already begun sinking. I just happened to have recently read the Modern Love essay referencing the study, and the study just happened to have included questions like:

What is your most treasured memory?

What is your most terrible memory?

If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone?

What a question. My initial thought is that’s a question neither Anie nor anyone else would want to be asked. It leads to too much vulnerability; it’s too hard to create the pulmonary pressure and tongue placement required to verbalize the response we feel is most truthful.

But on second thought, I wonder if part of us wants to be explicitly asked that question because some truths are too hard to reveal to the people we care most about on our own, without the encouragement of Beyond the Blah Jar.

If I were asked that question, maybe I’d say I’d regret not having told my brother that the way he treated me during the years I received and recovered from cancer treatment was perfect, that I wouldn’t have wanted anything from him beyond what he gave, all those days and nights he spent hanging out watching sports and movies with me and carrying on as if little had changed in our lives besides him occasionally having to press pause to empty the contents of my puke bucket into the toilet.

Yes, I think, I may say that if asked that question, but I’m unsure if I could say that outright. I don’t think I could say to him directly, like during a halftime commercial break while watching a Redskins game together, “So, if I were to die, I’d most regret not having told you, ‘Thank you.’”

Yes, sometimes it’s easier to die than to find the courage to reveal a truth openly. Sometimes, we need encouragement. Sometimes, we can only reveal a truth when forced to confront an inquiry from Beyond the Blah Jar.

Once I finished adding the 36 Questions That Lead to Love, I added two of my own questions. I stole the next 12 from Tim Ferriss’s book, Tools of Titans, and pirated StoryCorps for Beyond the Blah Jar’s remaining 36 questions.

StoryCorps’s mission is to record, preserve, and share others’ stories. StoryCorps inspired me to virtualize my jar on occasions when my coffee table with the jar propped on it wasn’t around. For example, when I would visit my parents at their Manassas, Virginia house, the same one in which I grew up.

Four times since then, my parents have answered my questions from my virtual Beyond the Blah Jar, and I audio-recorded them. Mom’s answers included stories about her zayda and where her passion for social work stemmed from. For another question directed at both of them, their answer led to a story about our summer vacations during my childhood. My, how they sacrificed their own passions and joys so my brother and I could pursue and have ours!

Of all their answers to my questions, I most enjoyed the one about how my mom allowed my dad’s parakeet, Felix—who she says always tried biting her, probably out of jealousy for her taking my dad’s attention away from him—to share their residence. That’s young love. She didn’t, however, allow for a replacement Felix once he died.

All those questions and answers are now preserved in Beyond the Blah Cloud Drive (aka Google). I decided to preserve the conversations because I don’t know how much longer my parents will live and I want to always be able to hear them. It’s not that they are terminal; we just don’t know how long anyone will live because health and longevity are privileges, not promises. People tend to carry on just fine, but every once in a while they don’t.

My parents have been married for 44 years. It’s my turn for young love. I don’t take it for granted. We can’t assume people will live, or stay lovers, forever.

Anie realized she likely misinterpreted the way the question was intended to be understood, but she didn’t offer a replacement response. So her day with me was her perfect day…at least, her one perfect day compared to the previous six or so.

I then shared my ideal perfect day, and we returned the folded sticky note to Beyond the Blah Jar, where it awaits my or my guest’s actual or ideal response the next time the note is pulled.

There wasn’t much time left with Anie that weekend. It was getting late. Maybe one plunge into vulnerability each day is enough, so we returned our attention to the comedy we’d begun watching earlier. Laughing with Anie felt so good.

If anything, Beyond the Blah Jar has taught me that if you don’t have both beyond the blah—and some blah—in your life, then you’re not fully living.


About the Author. Benjamin Rubenstein  is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you!  Benjamin is the author of the Cancer-Slaying Super Man books. He earned his Master of Fine Arts degree from University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program. You can subscribe to his quarterly newsletter.

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.

Meet Ilana: GatherDC’s New Rabbi!

Hailing from Brooklyn, this recently ordained rabbi is ready and eager to take GatherDC by storm. Get to know the remarkable, soulful, passionate Ilana Zietman and welcome her to the Gather team!

NOTE: If this interview piques your interest, tune into our Instagram this Friday at 12pm for our first ever AMA (Ask Me Anything): Rabbi Edition. You’ll be able to ask Rabbi Ilana your most pressing Jewish or Jew-ish questions via our Insta-story, and get her honest answers.

Allie: How did you wind up living in DC?

Ilana: I grew up in the greatest borough in the greatest city in the world – Brooklyn, New York. I stayed in NYC through college and then decided to be adventurous and try living somewhere else. I applied to Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps in DC, and ended up staying for a couple more years. I left five years ago to go to rabbinical school at Hebrew College in Boston, but I always had it in my mind that I would be back. 

Allie: When did you know you wanted to become a rabbi and why?

Ilana: Around the time of my bat mitzvah. I was really excited to read from the Torah and lead prayer services at my synagogue, but the rabbi of my community didn’t play much of a role in the process, nor was there any space to talk about what becoming a bat mitzvah was supposed to mean. I started thinking that if I became a rabbi, I could do things differently. 

After that, I sought out opportunities to keep growing in my Jewish identity and began to see that Jewish tradition is not simply about observing ancient customs, but is about learning how to live a more mindful, loving, and meaningful life with ourselves, others, and the world around us. Jewish tradition became something I wanted to share and bring into conversation with people from all walks of life, and I thought that I could do that most deeply as a rabbi.

Allie: What are you most looking forward to in your new role with GatherDC?

Ilana: Building relationships with young professionals across the city and seeing how we can continue to make Jewish life in DC appealing and substantial. At the end of the day, Jewish tradition and communal life must embrace who we are, even as it challenges us to think about how we might want to change and grow. 

I hope to create opportunities for honest conversations about our Judaism and Jewish lives. I’m also excited to facilitate learning opportunities for us to ask what being Jewish means and how it can add value to our lives. Also, getting to lead an alternative Yom Kippur experience (and maybe other holidays) at a beer garden or other non-traditional space…how can I not be excited about that?!

Allie: What do you hope to achieve in your rabbinate career?

Ilana: I’m not exactly sure where my rabbinate will take me, but what I do know is that as the world changes, so will my rabbinate. No matter what, I hope to be part of people’s lives in meaningful ways and to foster communities where people feel like they can show up as themselves. 

Allie: What is something that people might be surprised to know about you?

Ilana: I love our national parks! I will probably always choose to go camping in a national park for vacation than go on any other kind of trip. Last summer, my husband and I rented an RV and camped all around Alaska. It was so fun and beautiful. We also got to eat the halibut we caught ourselves for almost a year afterward!

Allie: If you had a totally free day in DC, how would you spend it from start to finish?

Ilana: I would start the day walking around Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown. It’s one of the most beautiful garden spaces I have ever been to. I would next visit the foodie haven of Union Market for lunch and then visit one of DC’s many (gloriously air-conditioned) museums. I especially like the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of American History. To relax at night, I’d binge-watch some great television like Parks & Rec, Great British Bakeoff, Broad City, and most recently, Big Little Lies.

Allie: I hear you recently discovered a love of making pottery! Tell us about that.

Ilana: I started taking pottery classes last summer, and have found a great studio in Georgetown where I’m continuing to learn. I love feeling like a kid again by playing with clay and getting messy at the wheel, and there’s nothing more satisfying than mastering new techniques that lead to making functional pieces. I hope to get good enough to make all kinds of things, maybe even Shabbat candlesticks or a seder plate for Passover. For now, I’m still figuring out how bowls work. 

Allie: What is your favorite Jewish holiday and why?

Ilana: In my opinion, Sukkot brings together some of the best parts of Judaism – wacky rituals and important life-affirming themes. 

Sukkot, meaning booths or temporary shelters, gives us the opportunity to connect to food and land and to find a sense of gratitude for the world that sustains us, and at the same time asks us to face the fact that no matter who we are, we are vulnerable to nature and the vast unknown. 

During Sukkot, there’s really nothing like sitting in a decorated sukkah at night, looking up at the stars while sharing good food and conversation. Plus, while eating or sleeping in these unconventional dwellings, we get to shake the lulav and etrog. So, I guess at the end of the day, I’m proud that Jews kind of invented the original shake shack!

Allie: Complete this sentence, When Jews of DC Gather…

Ilana: They ask big questions and get a thousand different thoughtful and creative answers.


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

From Eli to Ben: Passing the JMAC Torch


Get to know the man taking the reins on the Jewish Monthly Article Club (JMAC) before I say goodbye to DC this August. Ben Lovenheim is also a huge proponent of civil discourse and talking across lines of difference, and he’s officially taking over. Get to know JMAC’s new leader and then join him for a gathering this coming Monday, July 22nd where the topic will be “Questions About Polyamory and Polygamy”.

Eli: First, who the heck are you? 

Ben: Well, my name is Benjamin Adam Lovenheim, but most folks call me Ben or just text me because that’s easier. I’m from Rochester, NY. I went to school outside Boston, and I now reside in a little place called Dupont Circle. I enjoy reading, listening to podcasts, and eating french fries at The Red Boat on H St.

Eli: What got you interested in JMAC?

Ben: Eli Feldman’s wonderful beard, but I stayed for the people and great conversation. It was all Rabbi Aaron Potek’s doing (Aaron put Eli and me in touch. Thanks Aaron!). I was seeking out a community where I could have important and sometimes tough conversations with genuine courtesy and inviting people. If you’ve been to a JMAC meeting, you know they fit the bill. 

Eli: What’s your favorite article topic/outlet and why?

Ben: My favorite things to read are conflicting takes on the same story. I love investigating why and exactly how two people disagree. In fact, I’d like to do a JMAC meeting that discusses two articles with starkly different takes on the same topic (don’t worry, they’ll each be shorter than our standard reads!). 

Eli: What are the elements that lead to a great, deep convo?

Ben: I can’t even begin to describe how important this question is. It may be among the most important questions we have as a species, and I certainly don’t have a well-formed answer. But if you come to JMAC meetings, I think you’ll quickly sense that each of us are asking ourselves this very question over and over again throughout our discussions. Just asking the question is an important element.

One other interesting element has to do with the framing of the conversation. We often start out a discussion or debate with a question. From there, we can either choose to spend our time investigating the answer, or we can further investigate the question itself. Most of the time, the latter choice will lead to a greater understanding. 

Eli: Why is having open dialogue so important?

Ben: With anything important––especially the views we espouse––it’s generally a good idea to open them up to careful inspection, criticism, and refinement, and to do this regularly with people we trust. This process is one of humility and integrity, and it’s one that we should be careful not to impede or constrain. 

Eli: What is unique about what JMAC provides? Why does the group keep growing over time?

Ben: JMAC is one of the few places you’ll find where you can come into a meeting genuinely undecided on a topic, and that’s totally ok. You aren’t forced to “pick a side”, and you can test out ideas as you go. We also generally discuss niche topics that leave more room for nuance (e.g., we don’t just talk about guns, taxes, abortion, etc.). I think it’s that combination of interesting topics and genuine intellectual openness that keep people coming back for more.

Eli: What are some changes or additions you’re thinking about making to the group? What topics do you hope to discuss going forward?

Ben: We’ll continue to explore a variety of topics and experiment a bit here and there with the format to see what else might stick. As I mentioned earlier, I’m interested in discussing articles with opposing views. I also would love to do a special meeting in which we discuss a JMAC topic through a Jewish lens, perhaps in combination with GatherDC’s Wednesday night discussion group. I’m also open to organizing outings to local book talks and lectures. 

Eli: Who should come to the group meetings?

Ben: I really think that everyone should give it a try. The topics vary widely, so even if the article for one month isn’t your jam, the next one might be right up your alley. But regardless of the topic, everyone leaves the meetings having learned something new and with more questions to chew on in the future.


eli

About 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.