Making High Holiday Plans and Picking a Synagogue


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

new house

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



jasonAbout the Author: Jason Langsner has been an active lay leader of the Washington Jewish community since moving to the city in 2004, and volunteers for several Jewish organizations including B’nai Brith International. He is a small business owner and formerly served as the head of digital strategy for the oldest Jewish human rights and humanitarian organization in the world. When not blogging, he can often be found walking around his Eastern Market neighborhood, or riding around DC area bike trails.





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

Meet Lisa: Jewish Relationship Journalist of the Week!


Allie: What brought you to DC?

Lisa: I’m from California and went to UCLA where I had been writing a dating column for the student newspaper. Then, I got an internship at The Washington Post right out of college. So, I packed up my stuff and moved out here for what I thought was going to be three months and have been here for 14+ years.

Allie: What inspired you to become a journalist?

Lisa: In second grade, we had to write a story about our worst day – like “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”. I included everything “bad” that had ever happened to me into the chronology of one day. My teacher showed it to another teacher and was like “isn’t this so good?!” I decided right then that I wanted to write stories. 

Allie: Tell me about the Solo-ish column you started at The Washington Post?

Lisa: I wrote an op-ed once on Valentine’s Day about how people should be picking up the phone to ask people out on first dates, and then a couple years later I got dumped by email and wrote a piece about the art of digital rejection. I was writing these one-off stories as I was continuing to edit stories about the budget and the War in Afghanistan. 

In 2014, I had a really great editor who asked me if I wanted to write a dating column. I realized I wanted to write a singles’ column that was about more than just dating, but also incorporated friendship, travel, personal finance, and figuring out your life as a person. We launched this in 2015 and called it “Solo-ish”. It’s now under “Relationships.”

Allie: What are your favorite pieces you’ve written for “Solo-ish”/”Relationships”?

Lisa: I wrote a piece about going to my college boyfriend’s wedding. The wedding was fun but also kind of terrible. In part, the wedding made me feel like I was behind in my life because I hadn’t been in a significant relationship since that relationship, but it also helped me reflect on how great it is that we have this friendship that spans over a decade. Writing helps me process my emotions. 

I also love writing pieces where I can talk about the larger culture that we’re in. Dating and relationships might seem frivolous or non-essential, but they’re really not. They’re what we live for. There’s hope and despair and sadness and discovery and joy and friendship – all the elements that are in every good story happen in love stories.

Another favorite piece is from a few months ago. I got to go to a romantic comedy festival in LA this past summer. The woman running the festival was in a relationship with her high school crush. She sent him a letter at the end of high school that was like, “I really like you, but you missed your chance with me!” They stayed in touch, and eventually decided to date when they were in their late 20s. Now they’re together and he was there following her around all weekend. I asked her boyfriend why he didn’t swoop in and propose to her during the festival, and he said that he didn’t want to take the spotlight off of her and become focused on their relationship. I realized that this woman was living in a 2019 romantic comedy. If it were set in 1999, her boyfriend would have proposed and made it a big spectacle. Since its 2019, love is a little quieter and more equal. 


Allie: What is your favorite part about being a journalist?

Lisa: I’m super nosy, and it’s my job to ask the most personal questions of people. Having those really deep, intense conversations with anyone who is willing to have them with me is super rewarding and interesting.

Allie: What is one dating tip you’ve taken away from your years of writing about relationships?

Lisa: Everyone has something interesting about them. They might not be the person for you, but everyone has something interesting and lovable to discover.

Allie: Walk me through your perfect DC day from start to finish.

Lisa: It would start by a friend texting me, “Want to go have brunch at the diner?” It would be unplanned. When you’re in your late 30s, you don’t really do planned brunches anymore. I might wander over to La Colombe for a tan-line. I would gather some friends to act out a famous movie. We did this to commemorate the 30th anniversary of “When Harry Met Sally” in July, which is one of my favorite movies. Most recently, we did this with “Princess Bride”. It was amazing with the drum circle behind us making the whole thing feel more intense. Everyone brought their own special flavor, energy, and voice. Then, I would bring people over to grill on my rooftop where we have a view of Adams Morgan. I would end the day by spending some time with a novel.

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

Lisa: I’m still playing Pokémon Go.

Allie: Anything else you want to share? 

Lisa: I have to share some of my favorite Jewish pick-up lines I’ve heard at events. Someone once came up to me and said, “So, where did you go to camp?” Another time someone walked up to me at a Moishe House event and asked, “Sarah? Rachel? Rebecca?”

Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…

Lisa: Chaos ensues.

lisa and friends



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

Your 2019 High Holiday Gifting Guide

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

For the fashionable 

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


Jewish Hairclips from Ariel Tidhar

For the foodie 

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

For the art collector 

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

Pomegranate Fruit Watercolor by Marcella Kriebel


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

Love and Fear mobile phone case by Jessica Tamar Deutsch

For the reader

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

For the hard-to-gift

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

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


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






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

Not Your Bubbie’s High Holiday Playlist


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

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

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

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

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


“Ghetto Gospel” by Tupac Shakur

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

“Root Down” by the Beastie Boys

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

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

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

I shall be released.”

“Tears for ODB” by J Cole  

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

“Brand New Me” by Alicia Keys

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

“God’s Plan” by Drake

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

“Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen

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

“Everything is Everything” by Lauryn Hill

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

“Sometimes it Snows in April” by Prince

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

“Keep Ya Head Up” by Tupac Shakur

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


Full Playlist Here


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







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

Meet Aurell: Jewish Doctor of the Week

aurellAllie: What brought you to DC?

Aurell: I’m from Kansas City, originally, went to medical school in Tel Aviv. Most recently, I was living in Denver after residency but had no family around because they’re all in DC. I also wanted to find a place with a bigger Jewish community. So, I looked for jobs in DC and found a hospital that fit what I was looking for, and moved here. 

Allie: What kind of medicine do you practice?

Aurell: I did my residency in internal medicine, and practice as a hospitalist, which is basically an internal doctor who only works in hospitals. I see a lot of cancer patients, and patients with pretty challenging cases.

Allie: What’s your favorite thing about being a doctor?

Aurell: I feel like it’s something I can become better at all the time as I deal with challenging situations and learn to problem solve. I can feel myself becoming a better physician each year, and that’s the best gift you can give to a future patient. I really like interacting with patients and collaborating with the people on my team. It’s very rewarding.

What’s your favorite way to relax after a long work week in the hospital?

Aurell: I like treating myself to spa days. A facial, massages, anything involved in going to a spa. I also recently started playing golf which is very fun.

Allie: Describe your perfect DC day from start to finish.

Aurell: I’d wake up very late. I really enjoy sleeping in. Then, I’d work out. I like doing lots of different types of exercises like spinning, boxing, lifting weights. I’d pick one of those to do. At night, I’d probably go see an artist I like at the 9:30 Club. I like upbeat, dance music, but have pretty eclectic taste. I recently saw Zara Larsson there and have tickets to see Lauv at The Anthem

Allie: What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?

Aurell: When I lived in Israel my favorite Jewish holiday was Shavuot because it was widely celebrated, but since moving to DC my favorite holiday has shifted to Hanukkah. There are just so many fun activities and the whole thing seems to last a month. I see my friends more often around Hanukkah time because there are so many fun events for young adults.

aurellAllie: Do you have any Jewish New Year resolutions?

Aurell: I don’t. I’m not into making resolutions because I feel like you should always be working on and for yourself. My mantra is to continuously be better, learn from others, and not wait for a certain time to work on yourself.

Allie: Do you have anything on your bucket list?

Aurell: I want to go on a big Scotland, Ireland, England trip. There is a lot of history and scenery I want to see.

Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…

Aurell: Babies are made.



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.

Back To The Future


“Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” 

As someone who loved learning about history in school, I always found this saying inspiring. Our history, whether it’s of the Jewish people, the United States, or the world, gives us a roadmap for how to approach the many decisions and situations that appear in our lives each and every day. And our Torah portion this week reiterates this idea.

In Parashat Ki Teitzei, the Israelites receive dozens of commandments as we prepare to enter the Promised Land. After several of these commandments, we read: 

“Always remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore do I enjoin you to observe this commandment.” – Deuteronomy 24:22

As rational as the many commandments about family life, animals, property, and farming are, we’re reminded of our history as slaves in the land of Egypt and the oppression that we’ve faced. Without these reminders about our history, the Israelites may have been doomed to fall into similar situations, or, even worse, repeat the oppressions of Pharaoh. The portion’s last words are a triumphant, “Do not forget!”, challenging us once again to remember who the Israelites are and the experiences that have brought them to this point. 

We’ve all learned various lessons in our lives that have come to shape who we are and what we believe. By knowing our history – our family history, the key experiences in our lives, our values that guide us along the way – we can continue the journey of becoming our best selves and living our best lives. 



About the AuthorEvan Traylor, originally from Oklahoma City, currently works at the Union for Reform Judaism and is an aspiring rabbi. He graduated from the University of Kansas in 2016 studying political science and Jewish studies. Evan loves reading, traveling, exploring DC, and cheering on the KU Jayhawks.







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

Meet Carolyn: Jewish Influencer of the Week!

She’s wielding her Instagram powers for communal good. Get to know Carolyn Becker, the fashion forward, plant-based brains behind @DCVeganLife, @FindingYourGood, and @Petite_Punk.

WARNING: This interview may cause hunger.


Photo by @Petite_Punk

Allie: How did you wind up in DC?

Carolyn: I was born here, raised in Bethesda, and then went to American University. I’ve always loved this city so I never moved. I joke that rather than move to different states, I just moved from State Street to State Street.

Allie: Tell me how the @DCVeganLife Instagram account came to be.

Carolyn: I’ve been a vegetarian since college and had a lot of vegan friends. Then, one of my best friends said that for her birthday she wanted her friends to try going vegan for a week. So I said, “heck yes” and went to Yes! and bought all the Daiya cheese and vegan deli meats. I love deli sandwiches! But, being the petite size that I am, I had leftovers after the week ended. I hate wasting food so I just continued begin vegan. 

Shortly after that, I started @DCVeganLife. I was already active on Instagram documenting my thrifting adventures, so I figured this would just be one more account to run – it’s fine. Mostly, I was so excited about the foods I could have as a vegan – like fried ice cream and donuts. I also really love supporting local vegan businesses and wanted to help fuel the local DC vegan community. I made a strict posting schedule and tagged other brands – and it just started to grow from there. 

Photo by @DCVeganLife, from Sugar Shack Donuts Arlington

Allie: What’s your favorite part of running @DCVeganLife?

Carolyn: Supporting and connecting with the DC vegan community, specifically with businesses who do not have as big of a budget as other companies. There are some brands that I hold dear to my heart like Donut Run and Pow Pow, because I’ve been able to help them grow, and that brings me so much satisfaction.

Allie: Walk me through your dream DC eating day.

Carolyn: I’d start with a dope breakfast bagel sandwich at Bethesda Bagels. I’d get a whole wheat everything bagel with creamy veggie tofu cream cheese with a side of fruit salad. For lunch, I love Little Sesame. I’d get their cauliflower hummus bowl and their tahini soft serve. It’s so fresh and healthy and feels good. I’d get a snack later on at Sticky Fingers; either a calvin cookie or a cupcake. Or maybe both! For dinner, I’d get Menomale pizza with vegan cheese. They have scissors so you can cut your own slices. Or Roscoe’s Pizzeria in Takoma Park. Then, I’d have to get a slice of vegan funfetti cake at Fare Well for dessert.

vegan pizza

Photo by @DCVeganLife, from ROSCOE’S Neapolitan Pizzeria

Allie: On top of running your vegan food Instagram, you have a full time job; tell me about that.

Carolyn: DC Vegan Life is my 6pm-8am. From 9-5pm, I’m the DC Communications Manager for Goodwill of Greater Washington. I run their social media platforms, and am one of their in-house photographers and event planners. In that capacity, I get to connect with the local DC community from a sustainable fashion capacity through their lifestyle community brand, Finding Your Good..

Allie: Why is sustainable fashion and veganism so important to you?

Carolyn: It all goes back to supporting community and loving your home. When you make a purchase, you have a lot of power. I think it’s so important to take a moment to think about whether your purchases are supporting organizations that are doing good in the community, supporting animals or people, or not. In regards to fashion – when you buy something new, that leads to more trash, which creates poison in the world. You don’t have to buy, buy, buy to have interesting fashion. I actually think it’s really cool to have the confidence to repeat outfits. Buying recycled fashion from local thrift stores can make such a difference – both for the people in the community and for the environment.

Allie: What are some things you like to do to relax?

Carolyn: Walking. It is one of the most therapeutic and invigorating activities; you’re exercising, exploring your city, all while saving money on a gym membership. I also love to thrift. I love finding that gem in the rough, and have a passion for one-of-a-kind finds and vintage fashion. I love being outdoors – hiking, urban foraging, discovering edible trees and plants, and baking vegan treats with my boyfriend, Steven.

Photo by @DCVeganLife, vegan funfetti cake from Farewell

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

Carolyn: I do have time to watch Netflix! 

Allie: Do you have any resolutions for the Jewish New Year?

Carolyn: To slow down and relax.

Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…

Carolyn: We can foster a greater sense of community and build a stronger DC.

Photo by @Petite_Punk

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

The Hummus Games: May the Odds be Ever in your Flavor

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Restaurant #1: Little Sesame

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

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

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

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

Our rating: a humMUST! 

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

little sesame

Restaurant #2: Yafa Grille

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

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

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

Our rating: a humMISS.

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


Restaurant #3: Shouk

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

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

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

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

Our rating: a humMUST!

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


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


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







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

Meet Elissa: Jewish Economist of the Week

She may seek balance, but this thoughtful PhD candidate can already perform a headstand with ease! Read all about Elissa Cohen and her secret past life as a saber fencer!

Allie: What brought you to DC? 

Elissa: I originally moved from Philly to DC in 2012 to work as a welfare policy researcher at the Urban Institute. At the time, I totally thought I was going to be a member of the transient DC community, and leave after a couple years for grad school. Yet here I am, seven years later; a legit DC resident with a DC driver’s license and all! So, in case you were wondering about DC Statehood – vote yes! 

Allie: Tell me about the PhD you are currently pursuing? 

Elissa: I’m pursuing my PhD in Economics. I had been on the fence about whether a doctoral degree was the right path for me. Ultimately, I decided a research path would allow me to make the impact I wanted on society. Being able to rigorously evaluate the policies and programs we have in place is extremely important to me. So, one day, you know, post dissertation, I hope to use my skills and knowledge to improve the quality and structure of our safety-net and financial systems.

Allie:  What led you to your interest in economics?

Elissa: I was in college during the Great Recession and wanted to understand why socioeconomic systems broke down and led to widespread turmoil. I also observed how the burdens of these system failures were unevenly distributed across the income and wealth distributions. I felt compelled to understand which policies could best help those most vulnerable. 

Allie: What was this awesome program you participated in this past summer in Santa Fe?

Elissa: The Santa Fe Institute’s Complex Systems Summer School! It was basically a nerdy adult summer camp. It brings together an interdisciplinary group of people from around the world come to learn about complexity science, including chaos theory, network theory, and information theory. I was able to start – and am now continuing – to collaborate on projects with some of the incredible people I met from this program.

In addition to all the learning, I managed to find some free time to explore the area! I attended my first rodeo, hiked amazing trails, and got to view inspiring local Native American art. The only thing I wish I could’ve done was go to the Santa Fe Opera, of which RBG is a regular patron! Everyone should find time to go to Santa Fe.

Allie: I hear you’re also a certified yoga instructor, tell me about that!

Elissa: I did my teacher training in 2013 at Studio DC up in AdMo, and it was one of the best investments I’ve ever made in myself. Having practiced yoga for eight years already, I had a strong desire to deepen my physical and meditative practices, and to be able to share the passion I had cultivated for yoga with others.

I love that yoga is a forever practice; there’s always something fun and new to discover within it. There’s this intrinsic recognition that our bodies differ every day, so when we’re flowing through the same sequence again, our experience changes. We inevitably learn – and it’s definitely a learning process – to appreciate the experience in the present, letting go of expectations.

I also love being able to empower my students to have fun and feel comfortable in their own skin. I often hear new students say, “I’m not flexible, so that means I’m bad at yoga”. Having been at that stage myself, I get from where they’re coming; but I also know where they’re going! Yoga is a process…and, you gotta trust the process.

elissa yoga

Allie: It seems like you’re someone who stays pretty busy. What is your favorite thing to do to relax at the end of a long work/school week?

Elissa: Honestly, I really enjoy going to Kabbalat Shabbat services and then having a chill Shabbat dinner with friends to catch up.

Allie: What are some of your favorite Jewish dishes to cook?

Elissa: I’m going to have to say shakshuka. I make my own harissa paste, and there’s something incredibly satisfying about being able to develop layers of flavor in a shakshuka. I’m also of the camp that one should cook the egg in the shakshuka and not separately.

Allie: With the Jewish New Year quickly approaching, what is something you want to achieve in the coming year?

Elissa: I’m seeking balance. The past two years of grad school were quite rough, and so it’s my intention to do a better job this year of making time for friends and family. 

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

Elissa: In an earlier life, I used to be a saber fencer, and got to go to Junior Olympics! Perhaps if, and when I have time, I’ll find a fencing club in the area to join. At this point I’m definitely rustier than my sabers.

Allie: Complete the sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Elissa: …let the Jewish geography games begin. 

elissa c

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.

DID JEW KNOW? It’s already time to dust off that shofar and wake up your soul

did jew know

For all the shofar lovers out there, you may be pleased to know that blowing the shofar is a ritual that can be done well before Rosh Hashanah. In fact, starting this Sunday, when the new Hebrew month of Elul begins, there is a tradition of sounding the ram’s horn every single day for a month up until and including the first day of the next month, a.k.a. Rosh Hashanah, a.k.a. the Jewish New Year. 

Just as you would train for a marathon or practice before performing with your band, it makes sense that we would spend time emotionally preparing ourselves for the High Holy Days. These essential days are a time for making amends with the people we have hurt (including ourselves) and recommitting to our moral values. 

Personally, I’ve come to appreciate having some lead time to gauge where I am in my life and plan for how I can, to the best of my efforts, set myself up for success moving forward. 

I like to think of the High Holy Days as a mirror that reflects back at us an honest reflection of who we are and what we’ve done. However, when I don’t give the necessary thought and emotional energy to where I want to be, how I can get there, and what my realistic obstacles are before the High Holy Days arrive, I wind up feeling more overwhelmed by Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur than is helpful. By spending time in self-reflection throughout the entire month leading up to this time of year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur can ultimately be days I am able to fully honor and uplift my process of renewal and forgiveness. 

Judaism recognizes how hard it can be to observe and change our behaviors, as well as reconcile our personal relationships.Therefore, with innovations over time, Jewish tradition has come to offer us a whole High Holy Day season, rather than just two or three days to think about and embrace real change. 

This is why the practice of personal introspection has evolved as a central part of the month of Elul. Some call this practice cheshbon hanefesh, or soul-accounting, and it includes mindful reflection through journaling, conversation, meditation or prayer, and, you may have guessed it, blowing the shofar. (Side note: therapy works, too!)

Personally, I love the blowing of the shofar (evidence below). I love the eerie, loud cries that emanate from it. I love how it makes us uncomfortable and alerts us to the urgency of addressing what feels broken in our lives. The shofar is there to guide us so we can be motivated to take positive action for the sake of improving our own lives and the wider world. 

Since the mitzvah, or commandment, around the shofar is to actually hear its sounds rather than blow it, I’m including a video of me blowing the shofar that you can listen to once a day during your own period of cheshbon hanefesh. Give it a try, and let me know how it’s going!

As we begin this new month and start sifting through the messiness of our lives, remember to embrace the many good things you’ve done and the parts of you that you absolutely cherish. It is by recognizing and accepting who we are fully, that we can take steps to become more whole, more loving, and more effective in this work of soul-accounting and in our lives.


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








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