Meet Jeff: Jewish Math Teacher of the Week

Have a suggestion for a Jewish Person of the Week? Email to nominate your friend. colleague, partner, or even yourself!

jeff levy

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Jeff: I was born in Washington, DC and raised in Silver Spring and Rockville. When I got back to the U.S. after two years in South Korea, several opportunities fell into place in the DC area. 

Allie: How did you decide to become a math teacher?

Jeff: When I studied abroad in Japan, I was a guest teacher in schools and met both Japanese and foreign teachers, and this field that I’d previously considered launched to the forefront of my priorities. I applied to teaching jobs during my senior year of college and decided to go with an offer in South Korea.

When studying in Japan and China, I realized there was a significant gap in the abilities of students (compared with U.S. students) and their math teachers’ content delivery. I have a penchant for math, having studied it as an undergraduate, and I’d previously taught English as a second language, so when I got back to the U.S. after two years in South Korea I decided to become a math teacher to try something different. I teach Algebra I at West Potomac High School in Fairfax County. In previous school years, I’ve taught Geometry and Pre-Algebra and tutor in everything from Math 6 to Calculus II.

Allie: What do you enjoy most about teaching and what is the most challenging part?

Jeff: I enjoy helping students realize the change they want to see. It’s satisfying being part of their growth. When they miss the mark, I understand and make plans with them so they can give a better effort or use a different strategy. The most challenging part is knowing all of the recent changes to the curriculum and policies and making sure I’m in compliance.  

Allie: I hear you’re going to Israel to teach English this summer, tell me about that!

Jeff: I’m going to be teaching with TALMA in Israel this summer. I’m excited for the challenge of working with low-income Israeli schoolchildren. I’ve wanted to get back outside my comfort zone and learn from Israeli educators by working with them in co-taught settings. I’ve also been to Israel with Habonim Dror and Birthright, so I’m looking forward to making a contribution to Israel society this time.  

Allie: You also coach tennis, right? Has this always been a passion of yours?

Jeff: I played high school and college tennis. I haven’t always enjoyed playing, but am glad that I did. My experiences and coaches taught me how to work with others, maintain a high level of discipline, and compete with good sportsmanship. I like the coaching model of working one-on-one with an athlete and have brought this to the classroom. I also like helping athletes improve their awareness of others and learn how their decisions have an impact on their team.

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

Jeff: This year, I plan to travel to India and Cyprus for the first time, which I’ve wanted to travel to for a long time. I haven’t kept a list, but if I did, Kazakhstan and a few other central Asian countries would be on it. Friends have told me about their travels through central Asia and it sounds like a fascinating and beautiful region. 

Allie: Where is your favorite place you’ve ever traveled?

Jeff: My most memorable trips were to Ecuador and Mongolia. The Galapagos is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen. Mongolia has one of the most unique cultures I’ve experienced. I enjoy meeting new people when I travel and reuniting with old friends. There are so many good people in so many places.

jeff levy

Allie: What do you enjoy most about traveling?

Jeff: I enjoy learning like a child again. I like the discomfort of stepping into a new culture and soaking it up. I like leading travel groups and planning my travels, and wandering without being aware of time.

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

Jeff: I live and work in Alexandria, but visit DC a lot on weekends. My dream day would be spent with people I care about and doing things I enjoy. I like visiting museums and would want to go back to the National Geographic Museum because I haven’t been in a while. Likewise for hiking and Roosevelt Island. Lately, I’ve been getting into book discussions at Politics and Prose, which I’ve been going to since I was a child.

Allie: What is your favorite hamantaschen filling?

Jeff: I like hamantaschen, and many other foods, with blueberry filling. 

Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…

Jeff: We’ll see who’s the punniest. 

jeff levy 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.

How and Why Do We Party on Purim?

purim party

The Jewish comedian Alan King once said, “A summary of every Jewish holiday: they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!” 

I’ve heard this line repeated too many times to count to explain why and how we celebrate various Jewish holidays. Purim, coming up next week, is no exception, although we could modify King’s statement to say, “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s drink!” 

We would not be wrong…sort of. Our tradition tells us,

“When the month of Adar arrives, we increase our joy,” meaning, during the month of Purim, we celebrate. Why? 

As the story goes, the Jews living in Persia of yore lived happily and peacefully with their neighbors. They did well for themselves in Persian society… so much so, they even had one of their own in the royal palace, Queen Esther! 

But Haman, advisor to King Ahasuerus, hated the Jews and turned a personal act of defiance by one Jew, Mordechai, into a vendetta against the Jews as a whole. He cast a lot (in Hebrew, pur, which is how we get the name for Purim) and on the randomly selected day, planned on carrying out a genocide against the Jews, all under the unsuspecting Ahasuerus’ authority. When Esther finally exposed herself as a Jewish person and revealed Haman’s plan, she was able to save the Jews from annihilation. The Jews therefore celebrated on the day they were supposed to die (the 14th of Adar, which we now celebrate as Purim) “with drinking and rejoicing, and sending gifts to one another and presents to the poor.” The Jews are also said to have killed thousands of Persians in retaliation in addition to Haman’s entire family (this troubling part can be found in Chapter 9). 

The Book of Esther is told as a satirical story from the standpoint of the victors (fun fact: Queen Esther is the first recorded female author in all the Torah). The book is written with the same jest – fanciful plot twists, a dopey, drunken king with an irate advisor, and exaggerated circumstances – that we’re supposed to bask in during this month. Though joy and celebration is at the heart of what makes Purim so fun, what we often forget when we celebrate it is the underlying vulnerability behind the Persian Jews’ merrymaking, the catching of a collective deep breath after a deadly near miss. 

Indeed, when Haman’s genocidal plan was announced, the Book of Esther says, “the city of Shushan [the capital] was bewildered.” Why, after all this time of living undisturbed as loyal, integrated citizens, were all the Jews suddenly separated out and targeted? “How could this happen here?!” must have been going through people’s minds. And although we know the story’s conclusion after the fact, imagine what it must have been like to know the day of your death and not be sure if you’d really be saved. 

Capturing the quick shift from fear to joy that is behind Purim, Rabbi Irving Greenberg writes,

“Purim…celebrated (and admitted!) the narrow margin by which Jews snatched meaning from the jaws of tragedy and absurdity in history. The humor, mockery, and tongue-in-cheek tone of the Book of Esther and of the holidays is a perfect way to express the ambiguities and reversals built into the occasion…humor can be the key to sanity.” 

Sounds about right! Using humor by dressing up in costume and having parties on Purim is one way Jews have coped with the truly absurd and random circumstances of history. It’s important to be able to laugh at ourselves and society, especially when we realize we aren’t always in control of our lives the way we’d like to be. Although drinking is one way Jews have sought to add to the jest of the holiday, please note the following: 

  1. Heavy, toxic drinking is not what the rabbis had in mind when they shaped the customs of Purim.
  2. Jewish thinkers have argued about the significance of drinking on Purim for a long time now.
  3. Drinking on Purim at all is meant to fulfill a greater purpose. As Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, (1839-1933) once wrote, “We are not commanded to rejoice for the sake of debauchery and stupidity, rather we should rejoice with delight…and acknowledge the miracles wrought for us.”

If drinking is not your way of tapping into the kind of joy that can sit side by side with vulnerability, or if you do not drink for personal, health, or other reasons – try hosting a Purim seudah, a festive meal like the one Esther had. Invite friends, make or eat hamentashen, read the megillah (acting out all the parts of course), and discuss the meaning of the holiday in today’s time. 

And, even more importantly, Jewish tradition emphasizes that we do not forget those in our midst whose economic situations prevent them from celebrating. We are indeed commanded to give gifts to the poor on this day and to prioritize this mitzvah over hosting a lavish meal or party. At the GatherDC Purim happy hour next week, we’ll be making gift bags full of necessary toiletry items for the clients at So Other Might Eat. You can also fulfill this mitzvah by donating to an organization like Yad Yehudah, which will provide food assistance to local needy Jewish families within the Greater Washington area on Purim itself. 

I’d love to know what you end up doing for Purim, so please feel welcome to share your plans and any fun costume ideas you come up with with me!

Chag Purim Sameach, and have a happy, festive Purim! 



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 Elyssa: Jewish Leslie Knope of the Week!

Have a suggestion for a Jewish Person of the Week? Email to nominate your friend. colleague, partner, or even yourself!

elyssa clauson

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Elyssa: I went to GW for undergrad. I was very into service and I thought I wanted to do something in the health sector, and fell in love with the Public Health School at GW. I will probably go to grad school at GW because I really don’t want to leave DC. I love the passion and scene of this city. 

Allie: What made you interested in the health sector?

Elyssa: I really wanted to be a doctor when I was growing up and like many people, I took a chemistry class and said no way I am ever doing that again. I got really into service and volunteering, and public health was a really great combination of the science that I liked and the service element. As I got through the program I started to focus on what I wanted to do with public health. I also had a minor in theater and I was able to include that in my senior thesis.

Allie: What do you want to do in the public health field? 

Elyssa:  I want to get a PhD and go into academia. I’d like to focus on people with HIV and domestic violence survivors. Before that, I’d love to work for a local health department because I think that’s one of the best ways to reach people. I really want to be the Leslie Knope of a local health department. Everyone says that I’m like Leslie Knope.

Allie: Why do people say you’re like Leslie Knope?

Elyssa: I love local government and hope to work in it someday. I also love being super excited about things and leading events. I get very excited about my Shabbat Cluster and like making it as big of a deal as I can. I also love giving gifts. My boyfriend’s half birthday is tomorrow, I got him a gift and he didn’t even realize it was happening – I am really excited about it. I love making a big deal of people. Oh, and I’m obsessed with paninis how Leslie Knope is obsessed with waffles. 

elyssa and friends

Allie: Do you love Galentine’s Day as much as Leslie?

Elyssa: Yes, it’s so fun! My mom actually makes valentines for all of my friends. I always tell my boyfriend that my mom is my biggest Valentine and he has to get another one. 

Allie: Tell me more about your involvement with Shabbat Clusters.

Elyssa: There are different Shabbat Clusters depending on your age or interest. I’m in a young 20’s Shabbat Cluster and it’s such a great excuse to do Shabbat once a month and also get free food (thank you OneTable). I’ve made really lasting friends from it. And once a year, all the clusters meet up at the EDCJCC for dinner! (Editor’s note: Registration for spring Shabbat Clusters is now open!)

Allie: What made you seek out Shabbat Clusters? 

Elyssa: Even though I went to school locally at GW and knew some people in the city, I really wanted to make new friends. So I just browsed on the internet and found Shabbat Clusters on the EntryPoint website

Allie: Walk me through you dream day in DC.

Elyssa: The first thing I would do is volunteer with the Whitman Walker Clinic. It’s a sexual health clinic. When I volunteer there, I do HIV outreach and education and pass out condoms to people getting tested for HIV. It’s nerdy, but I really love it. Then, I’d go kayaking at The Wharf. After that, we would go back to Columbia Heights and get paninis at my favorite place – The Coffy Cafe. I always get the pesto caprese. After the panini, I would probably lie down for a bit. I really like movies, so we might go see one. And then we’d end with a show at The Kennedy Center

Allie: What are you planning now?

Elyssa: It was actually a few weeks ago, but I planned a baked ziti pajama party. My favorite food is baked ziti and my favorite clothing is pajamas. I’m not a big drinker, so I figured let’s just have this big dinner party where people can come eat. 

Allie: What do you like more – celebrating Shabbat or planning it?

Elyssa: I like both. I have come into my own in terms of what Judaism and Shabbat mean to me. Shabbat draws me closer to my Jewish identity and helps me make Jewish friends through this bond of culture. I’m not super religious, I don’t keep kosher, but I like that Shabbat helps me feel close to a Jewish community. 

Allie: What is your dream Shabbat dinner?

Elyssa: I have already lived out my dream. I planned an “Off the Kids Menu” themed Shabbat dinner recently. I made mac and cheese, vegetarian chicken nuggets, pizza bagels, fish sticks. People brought Gushers, Capri Suns and some wine. It was so fun!

elyssa in pjs

Allie: What are you looking forward to this year? 

Elyssa: I am going to take a training to do HIV testing, so I can do that in addition to the outreach and education. It involves doing the finger prick but also counseling. I am really excited to apply to grad school too.

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

Elyssa: I love adults with braces, I think they are adorable. It’s never too late to work on your teeth.

Allie: Do you have a Jewish role model?

Elyssa: I love my mom, my mom is great. I also love Rabbi Aaron Miller, he gave a sermon last fall at 2239’s Rosh Hashanah’s service that made me rethink my whole life. 

Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…

Elyssa: Everyone’s just excited about being there. 

elyssa and boyfriend

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 DC Purim Guide: 2020!

gatherdc purim

DC knows how to party like its 357 BCE. So get ready, because the best in DC-area Purim parties, hamantaschen recipes, and Shusan inspired gatherings are about to take the city by storm. See a full list below. And if there’s an event missing, submit it here.

However you celebrate, we wish you a chag Purim sameach – a happy and joyous Purim!

Wednesday, February 26th

Wednesday, March 4th

Thursday, March 5th

Saturday, March 7th

Sunday, March 8th

Monday, March 9th

Tuesday, March 10th

Where to Get Hamantaschen

Purim Inspiration


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 Andrew: Jewish Dog Lover of the Week

andrew cohen

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Andrew: I’m originally from Orlando, Florida and was most recently living in Boston. I moved to DC about 5 to 7 years ago for a job with Hillel International. They were building an Israel Education and Advocacy support branch and I was one of the regional support support staff. 

Allie: It seems like you’ve built a really strong Jewish community in DC. How did you do that?

Andrew: Raechel, my wife, and I are both from the Hillel world, so we are used to gathering friends. Raechel lived here years ago and met a lot of people while working at the RAC. When I started working at Hillel, I met more Jews. We also became friends with some of the DC area rabbis, and recently started doing programs with The Den. We do couples learning at our house. We hosted around 30 people for our Tu B’Shevat seder, which is my wife’s favorite holiday! She even has her own Haggadah for it. 

Allie: I hear you have a really adorable dog. Please tell me more about him. 

Andrew: Jack Banks. He took my wife’s name like a good dog should. He is a rescue, and we think he is from Georgia and about a year old. We rescued him through the Humane Rescue Alliance. I was friends with the coordinator and she sent me a picture with his little nose poking out. I called my wife and told her we were picking him up. He is 12 and half pounds and is a beast. He’s the best.

andrew dog

Allie: Walk me through your ideal day in DC.

Andrew: I would start at Call Your Mother and have the place to myself: just me, the owners, and a bagel. Like a good Jew, I would then go home and take a nap. If I’m feeling fancy, I’d do the smoked salmon and whitefish with onion on an everything bagel or I’m feeling healthy I get the Za’atar bagel with radish and carrots. Then, I would either go to the zoo or The Air and Space Museum because I’m still a child on the inside. I have to talk to people, so I’d lead or take a Segway tour. I’d have lunch at any Jose Andrés spot and then get an oat draft latte at La Colombe. We’d finish the day at my new favorite restaurant Maydan. If it’s a perfect world, I’d also get froyo. 

Allie: What do you do to relax at the end of a long day of work.

Andrew: I go to the dog park. I love that everyone knows the dogs’ names, but no one knows each others’ names. I’m also a sucker for The Great British Baking Show, it’s amazing. I also love to talk to people, so chatting with friends and catching up is nice.

Allie: If you could invite three people to Shabbat dinner, who would you invite?

Andrew: I would love to talk to Oprah, I would want Amy Poeler there to make it fun, and I’d invite the author of the Golden Compass – Philip Pullman.

Allie: What’s your favorite Jewish food?

Andrew: Okay, I think this is a trick question because not all traditional Jewish food is good, but lots of food Jewish people have adapted can be really delicious. I love Kubbeh soup – a great Iraqi dish. I also love Knafeh (best made by Palestinians) and hummus. You can tell I just want to be in The Shuk in Israel. 

Allie: What is on your bucket list for the coming year?

Andrew: My wife and I are going to Thailand. I’m really excited to see elephants and go scuba diving! In terms of life bucket list, I never want to stop traveling. 

andrew wedding

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

Andrew: I love gardening, I love to repot plants and arrange succulents. I do them as gifts for friends. My grandmother competes with African violets and I like that gardening is a hobby that connects me with her. 

Allie: When the Jews of DC Gather…

Andrew: We’re a force to be reckoned with.

Meet Maurissa: Jewish Millennial Grandma of the Week!


Allie: What brought you to the DC area?

Maurissa: I’m a Northern Virginia girl born and raised. I grew up in Fairfax County (go Woodson Cavaliers!), and I live in Annandale now.

Allie: Tell me a bit about your job.

Maurissa: I heard about NGLCC (National LGBT Chamber of Commerce) through an old colleague of mine. He knew that I was looking to make a change and we had worked together at my last job, and he told me he wanted me on his team. I’m the Corporate Relations Manager and I couldn’t be happier. 

We are the only national certifying body of LGBT businesses. We look for businesses that are 51% or more owned and operated by a member of the LGBT community. I work with Fortune 1000 companies that are working to put their money where their mouth is and show that they are actively helping LGBT businesses.  

Allie: What motivated you to take on this role?

Maurissa: I am bisexual. It’s important to me that there is an organization fighting for visibility and inclusion, as well as advocating for LGBT businesses. 

Allie: I want to hear more about your side hustle.

Maurissa: It’s called Designs by Maurissa, I do makeup and clothing design. I took down my website, but one of my goals is to give it a facelift and get it back up in 2020.

Growing up, I was always doing people’s makeup and really enjoyed it. I wound up going to school to be a theater teacher but when my program was cut, I switched my track to hair and make up design. I also took a costuming class and fell in love with it. I started making my own clothes and fixing clothes I found at thrift stores. I once won a costume contest based on Purple Rain by Prince. 

Allie: How do you find clients?

Maurissa: At this point, most of what I do is theater-related or one-on-one consultations. Community theater doesn’t really pay, but it’s a fun world to be in. For consultations, I have found that very few women need more make-up, they just need help using what they already have. 

Allie: Do you do wedding makeup?

Maurissa: I try not to do weddings anymore since there is so much pressure, but I’ll do weddings for close friends and family. I joke that I haven’t paid for a wedding gift in years since I’ll offer to do the bride’s makeup. 

Allie: What are your goals for the future of Designs by Maurissa?

Maurissa: I am pretty happy with where my makeup is. I would love to be more intentional about making money from my sewing projects. I just got my first commissioned project a few weeks ago for a wedding dress. I am very excited about it. I think when my website goes back up, I’ll market more towards the sewing side and enhancing clothes that exist.

maurissa skirt

This skirt is one that I made, and was inspired by ’50s actress Vera-Ellen and the overall look of that time. I’m trying to bring more vintage inspiration into my wardrobe, and love fashion from the ’30s-’50s.

Allie: I heard you had your Bat Mitzvah in Ireland! Tell me more about that.

Maurissa: My mom’s family is actually Irish Catholic, and I’m Jewish on my dad’s side. But my mom is the most Jewish non-Jewish person ever. We were raised Jewish, but we had the opportunity to experience both. My sister is only one year younger, so when it came time for us to have our Bat Mitzvahs, we wanted to be inclusive of both sides of our family. 

We had our Bat Mitzvahs at a castle that was built by my mom’s family in Galway. It was a 3-day event for 70 people! Thursday was Thanksgiving, Friday was Shabbat, and Saturday was the service. One of my favorite memories is of my grandpa and great uncle on my mom’s side singing Danny Boy in this beautiful castle at our bat mitzvah. 

Allie: Walk me through your dream day in DC or NoVA.

Maurissa: It’s April 25th, so the weather is not too hot and not too cold. I would start with a bottomless brunch at El Centro, then visit the FDR memorial. I’d have a little picnic near there and see lots of dogs. I would then go see a matinee at The National Theater, followed by dinner and an evening performance at The Kennedy Center. I’d have drinks on The Kennedy Center balcony after that. 

Allie: What is your favorite Jewish holiday and why?

Maurissa: Passover. The traditions around the holiday itself are incredible. As a theater person I can appreciate good story-telling and my family has some cool Passover traditions. My dad is really extra and to play off of the idea that you should be comfortable at the seder, he always wears a bathrobe on top of his clothes.

My girlfriend and I are hosting this year and are making robes mandatory. Passover also has the best food. Also, my grandma makes the best brisket. Really.

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

Maurissa: I do ballroom dancing! I’m also a grandma at heart. My dream night is sitting at my sewing machine with a cup of tea watching Golden Girls and then hopping in bed by 10. 

Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…

Maurissa: Great things happen. 

Coping with Winter: Why Judaism Asks Us to Learn from Trees 

Tu B’shevat (the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat) is a strange Jewish holiday.

It’s technically the New Year for Trees. But:

  • Why do trees need a Rosh Hashanah?
  • Why is it celebrated in the winter time?
  • Basically, what’s the deal? 

Truth be told, the origins of Tu B’shevat are rather obsolete today. It began nearly 2,500 years ago when priests served as the Jewish people’s religious leaders in the Jerusalem Temple. Because they exclusively worked by offering sacrifices and such, all day every day, it was up to the rest of the Israelites to feed and clothe them. There developed a neat tithing system, which included a one-tenth tax on fruit. In order to organize the tithe seamlessly, they created a tax year within the regular year to define and synchronize the fruit trees’ harvesting cycles. It was basically an agricultural tax day. 

When the ancient Temple was destroyed and the priests were no longer employed, Tu B’shevat could have been forgotten from Jewish life. But, as you can guess, it stuck around. 

For centuries, Jews observed Tu B’shevat by reciting special psalms or hymns which were sung by the priests and by eating fruits from Israel (particularly olives, dates, grapes, figs, and pomegranates) to connect them to the land as they were dispersed around the world. Many still observe the holiday just like this. 

Others, inspired by a 16th century mystical tradition of viewing the inner workings of trees as a symbol for how God’s energy flows through the world, developed a tradition of hosting a Tu B’shevat seder. During this seder, participants consume several courses of symbolic dried fruit, nuts, and wines. Each course creates a moment for reflection about how to connect with the Divine though the earth and beyond. Although these seders can be really beautiful and creative, I don’t like dried fruit and I’m not a mystic.

So, what else can be done to bring Tu B’shevat back to life?


I think Tu B’shevat is still fascinating precisely because it’s set during the wintertime.

The winter is a rather precarious season for trees because they are much more susceptible to freezing, losing precious energy, and being beaten down by heavy winds and snow. When this happens, trees do what they can to survive. They lose their leaves and stop producing energy to save up what they have left. They also send all of their sap, their nutrient-rich water, down towards their roots for safe-keeping underground until it is safe to use again in the spring. 

Clearly, there’s something much more intentional in celebrating trees this time of year than first meets the eye. This intention has something to do with the fact that there is a lot we can learn from our wise friends.

Trees are very realistic about getting through a time of year that is dark and cold. They don’t pretend that they aren’t impacted by the weather. They sustain themselves by turning inward and holding tightly onto the resources they need to get through it. As the days start to grow longer, even before it gets warmer out, the trees shift gears internally. They begin, slowly but surely, sending their sweet sap back up from underneath. 

As human beings affected by our natural environment, we experience our own physical shift in the winter.

This season often forces us to spend more time inside. We may sense that life is moving more slowly than when it’s warmer out. For some, this is a great time to focus inward, to spend quality time alone or with fewer people than usual, and to replenish our souls with a cozy blanket, a good book, and tea (hygge night anyone?). 

But, as winter goes on, we may feel more isolated, uninspired, and lonely. This is when we can turn towards the trees and remember that we can emerge from our funks well before spring officially begins.

We can intentionally shift gears and open ourselves back up to people, hobbies, and opportunities that bring us joy. We can begin to spend more time outdoors. And just as trees choose to grow in a forest, so that if one falters from a windy blow another is right there to prop it back up, we too can choose to rely on one another to help us get by during challenging times. 

I’ve come to realize that this is why I love and need Tu B’shevat. (It also help that my name, Ilana, is the Hebrew word for tree!). Tu B’shevat gives us the prompting to come out of our emotional hybernation and curate a seasonal shift.

Every breathe we take can be a moment to remember that the very oxygen we breathe is from our world’s forests. We recognize the trees importance to our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

We can say “thank you” to them with a Jewish blessing for trees every time we take a breath or visit a park;

“Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melekh Haolam, she’kacha lo b’olamo” – “Blessed are You, Source of Life, that there is such a thing in this world.” 

We can do our share to return the favor and make the earth more habitable for trees and plants to live in (which, as we’ve seen in places like California and Australia, is increasingly difficult). There’s even a new Jewish initiative called JTree to raise funds for the National Forest Foundation and plant more trees in America’s National Parks and Grasslands. I just made my donation. 

In the spirit of the Tu B’shevat seder, we can gather with friends to study Jewish environmental perspectives (including from my favorite book on the subject) and talk about how to be stewards of the earth. 

What Tu B’shevat can still teach us is that new fruits don’t happen overnight, not for trees and not for us. Each of us harbors the potential to bring forth some incredible new fruits this year.

Let’s use this Jewish New Year for Trees to inspire us to move through the rest of this winter season – or any moment of long, daunting “lows” – to nurture ourselves and others. Let’s trust that in time, we’ll turn as the seasons do.

And if we need it, we can remember to take some advice from a tree

  • Stand tall and proud
  • Sink your roots into the earth
  • Be content with your natural beauty
  • Go out on a limb
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Think long term
  • Enjoy the view!

Happy Tu B’shevat! 



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 Trey: Jewish Community Organizer of the Week!



Allie: What brought you to DC?

Trey: I’m a native Hoosier (born and raised in Indiana), went to Butler University, a small liberal arts college outside of Indianapolis, and after a brief stint working for the Indiana Legislature and then a law firm, I started working in communications for Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) Fraternity headquarters. In that role, I was traveling to DC a lot, and I got this feeling that DC was the place I needed to be.

I made the move almost two years ago, got my current job at a small cancer research foundation and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Washingtonians are ambitious and passionate about the things they are doing, and I’m attracted to that. It has been a good fit.

Allie: You’ve only been in DC for two years, but it seems like you have already built such a strong foundation here. How did you do that?

Trey: Before I officially made the move to DC and when I was in town for work, I would be invited by a few local friends (h/t to Dan) to Shabbat dinner. That was a really cool way to meet friends of friends and grow my network. So when I finally moved to DC, I already had a small community, but I also wanted to get more connected to the larger Jewish community. 

I found myself on the Gather website and reached out to have coffee with Rabbi Aaron. It was kind of serendipitous because we met up right before Beyond the Tent 5, and Rabbi Aaron mentioned someone had just canceled and there was space on the retreat if I were interested. Despite being a huge planner, the weekend of the retreat I was completely free, so I ended up going and loving it! I had a great small group on the retreat. We connected really quickly and decided that we wanted to stay in contact with one another, so we made a concerted effort to do Shabbat dinner together once a month. Almost two years later, we’re still gathering for monthly Shabbat dinners (thanks, OneTable!), but we like to keep them open to new friends. We’re a welcoming and fun group, and I hope fellow GatherDCers join us.

Plug: Our next dinner, which I’m hosting, is on Friday, Feb. 21! (Editor’s note: Email Trey if you’re interested in attending.)

btt smal group

Trey and his Beyond the Tent small group

Allie: Has building and being part of community always been important to you?

Trey: Yes! I think you are the company you keep, so I really enjoy meeting new people. I find the best way to do that is finding different communities of things I’m interested in. Also, because I’m a Midwesterner, I grew up knowing my neighbors and saying hello to everyone. I think even just smiling at a stranger on the street is a good opportunity to feel connected to our shared humanity. I also find a path to Judaism that most resonates with me is community. Being a part of something bigger than yourself that can impact the world around you is an incredible feeling.

Allie: What communities are you a part of?

Trey: I have many different friend groups because I have a myriad of different interests and hobbies. I like to run with the GatherDC run group, attend/host monthly Shabbat dinners with my Beyond the Tent small group, spend time exploring the city with some of my close friends who I’ve met through work and Gather, and volunteer my time with the Butler University Washington, DC and the AEPi alumni communities as well as with B’nai B’rith Connect.

Allie: As a planner, do you have fun plans for this coming year that you’re particularly excited about?

Trey: On New Year’s Day, I was on my couch with my Google Calendar open and setting flight alerts for most of 2020. Between marriages, babies, work travel, and personal travel, there’s a lot coming up!

I’m most excited about my upcoming trip to Japan with B’nai B’rith International. I’m also hopefully going to Ireland and Croatia with family in the summer. On top of this, I’m trying to be more mindful of leaving some space on my calendar for spontaneity, which I’m pretty bad at doing. 

Allie: How do you like to relax at the end of a long week?

Trey: I’m a huge supporter of the DC Public Library. One of the first things I did when I moved was to get my library card. I prefer borrowing Kindle versions so I can read on-the-go, and then when I’m done or the loan expires, the book just disappears.

Working at a small organization means there’s never a shortage of work, so I generally find myself pretty burnt out by the end of the week. If I’m not hosting or going to a Shabbat dinner, I normally become best friends with my couch and whatever book I’m reading and/or the show I’m bingeing on Netflix.


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

Trey: It would be a Friday when I’m hosting a Beyond the Tent small group Shabbat. I’d wake up early (I don’t know how to sleep-in), listen to NPR Up First and The Daily while getting ready. Then I’d go on a run — either on the Metropolitan Branch Trail or a loop I run from my apartment in NoMA down to Navy Yard and back. This day I would do the Navy Yard loop so I could end my run at The Wydown on H Street NE and get coffee and their blackberry lavender scone — it’s my favorite!

After that, I’d venture down the street to Whole Foods to get food for Shabbat and then head home to cook and clean my apartment. Whenever I host, I love being able to look around the table and watch my friends — old and new — interact over good food and good conversation. It fills my cup — literally and figuratively.

Allie: If you could invite three people to your Shabbat dinner table, who would you invite and why?

Trey: This might be breaking the rules a little bit, but I would invite one music group and a dog! I like all kinds of music, but my favorite group is Matt and Kim – check them out on Spotify. One of the first things I did when I moved to DC was go to a Matt and Kim 9:30 Club show with my friend Dillon. It was awesome! Matt and Kim are much edgier and cooler than me, so they’d definitely make Shabbat dinner quite the experience. My other guest would be Butler’s new live mascot, Butler Blue IV, also known as “Blue.” Go follow him on Instagram, and you won’t need to know why I’d invite him!

Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…

Trey: Friendships 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.

Spotted in Jewish DC: Jewish Planner Part II

Keeping up with our Jewish lives is hard enough when we are dealing with job stress, making plans with friends, and the general hustle and bustle of daily secular life. For many of us, trying to keep up with our High Holiday and Shabbat routines can feel like more of a chore than the joy it should be.

Last year, Amanda Herring and Mo Golden launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the capital to print The Jewish Planner. This year, they are taking it up a notch with more room for reflecting and I personally cannot express how deeply excited I am to get my 5781 planner!


Alex: What differences will there be in this year’s planner compared to last year’s?

Amanda: First, we learned so much through the process of starting the business last year – about working with printers and graphic designers, shipping, and managing workflow so the behind the scenes process is smoother this year. It’s wonderful to have all that experience coming into this year. Second, due to user feedback, we’re adding extra blank note pages and a back pocket, so those are really great feature ideas we got directly from our supporters.

Mo: There was the temptation to make a ton of changes, just because we have so many creative ideas. But we decided to channel that energy into new products and to keep the basic structure of the planner the same because people really like it. We’ve built upon what was successful last year, while still making changes based on feedback. We’ll see what works well from last year and this year, and then be able to make more significant changes as needed for the third year. Most of the illustrations are new too, which is fun.

One way we’ve added depth to the planner without modifying the product itself is with the new tea subscription we’re launching along with this year’s Kickstarter. 

A lot of us don’t know this, but there are body parts, senses –smell, sight, etc. – and healing properties associated with each month of the Hebrew year. So, we are creating an herbal blend that you’ll receive on the new moon each month during the year 5781, along with a teaching and guide for facilitating a meaningful experience at any gathering. This builds off of the planner and offers a way to embody the learning that comes from using the planner, but is also something people can happily enjoy without The Jewish Planner, as a stand-alone subscription. 

Alex: What are some creative ways you’ve heard of people using the planner?

Mo: Quite a few users have shared with us on Instagram that they color in the monthly and weekly illustrations, which I absolutely love. We went back and forth about whether they should be simple line drawings or have more color, and I think the simplicity that we landed on has been inspiring to other people’s creativity. 

Also, the weekly wheel is controversial – in a good way! Everyone has something different to say about how they use it. A lot of people use the wheel to bullet point key tasks and appointments through each day, but not everyone. Some folks are actually using each day section in the wheel to write down their dreams from the night before. Others use it as a space for past reflections, as they look back on the week. One person told us she uses it for her Daf Yomi practice, which is really cool. 

Overall, the planner has attracted a wide range of people and met more diverse needs than we initially expected. It has become a teaching tool for educators, especially the digital version, which can be printed out for sessions on a specific month or theme. And the planner has also made its way into conversion classes because it lays out a pretty complex aspect of our tradition in an elegant, simple, and engaging way that invites the user to learn about the Hebrew calendar in bite-size pieces, through the process of living their life and reflecting on the changing seasons. 

Alex: What have been the biggest challenges in creating this planner in Year 1 and now in Year 2?

Amanda: The challenge was initially creating something totally new! We changed up the traditional linear planner layout and visually aligned the Hebrew and Gregorian dates with the offset at sundown. All these things were fun design puzzles, and we then had to communicate our solutions to the graphic designer and find ways to include all the information without looking cluttered or confusing. 

This year, the challenge is communicating the continued need for Kickstarter support and explaining why we aren’t rich off of one round of sales, but are actually still very young as a business. We know people loved the planner last year, so we’re hoping for return backers. We had so many people asking for planners after they sold out, we’d love to order more this year, it just depends on the response.

Alex: How did you decide what to include in the Jewish Planner?

Mo: We were really inspired by the Bullet Journal method, which has a structure that goes from broad to specific. That way of working makes sense, which is why our planner starts with the large Shmita cycle, then seasons, months, weeks… From there, we decided that we needed an overview teaching of the aspects people wouldn’t be familiar with and that are important to know in order to really interact with the calendar. So, there’s a monthly teaching where we introduce the themes, as well as journaling prompts where the monthly teaching becomes alive and personally relevant to the user.

Then, after that process, the month overview that comes next– which looks like a grid and could feel overwhelming on its own – makes sense and feels approachable. Most of our decisions were about structure, context, order. The content piece followed from there, both for the writing and the illustrations. We created images that embodied the themes of each month, and for the weeks, we played off of the Torah portions, the seasonal shifts, holidays, and other themes for the week. That took a lot of thought, but it was a fun process.

Alex: What is Gold Herring LLC and how did that launch?

Mo: Gold Herring is our new publishing company! We create immersive products that deepen your connection to Jewish wisdom and culture. We created The Jewish Planner under Gold Herring, as well as the new tea subscription we’re currently launching. It’s a nice container for all the goodies we are making, and may also grow into a publisher for other creators’ work as well.

Alex: What are your dreams for the future of this planner and Gold Herring?

Amanda: We have so many ideas for immersive and experiential products that will help users connect to Jewish wisdom and teachings. We want to make Jewish educators’ lives easier, we don’t all need to reinvent the wheel. There are great resources out there that we can all use and reuse year after year. We’re planning to release our calendar’s teaching curriculum introducing the Hebrew calendar as a ready-made kit that teachers can use in the classroom or on retreat.

We’re also dreaming of a beautiful Omer counter that can be hung up in your home, office, or classroom to help you move through the seven weeks of the Omer thoughtfully and with guidance. We have tons of other ideas of activities and games that any Jewish professional can add to their repertoire of effective programming that works with all age groups, settings, and levels of Jewish knowledge.

Mo: As the planner grows, we hope that it creates more awareness of the Hebrew calendar as a doorway into embodying Jewish tradition and connecting with natural cycles. We have been so excited by the partnerships we’ve already made with organizations. We look forward to The Jewish Planner and the kits and educational tools we’re creating being a part of Jewish organizations’ programming. 

Alex: What audiences do you envision using the planner?

Amanda: We know the planner is being used by Hillel professionals, Moishe House residents and retreat facilitators, Jewish day school teachers, and folks from all walks of life who want to come into the rhythms of the lunar-solar calendar. I have non-Jewish friends who like the lunar month breakdown and journal prompts as reminders to be attuned to the changing seasons and how they affect our mood, productivity, and energy.

The planner is for anyone, unless your current Google calendar or paper planner is already doing what you need… and then you don’t need us! But if you wish your planner could help you feel more grounded, connected to the cyclical rhythms of Jewish time, then try out The Jewish Planner and let us know what you think.

Alex: How do I get one?

Amanda: Right now we’re totally sold out of 5780, so the only way to ensure you’ll get your hands on a copy of the 5781 planner (coming out this August) is to back the Kickstarter and then share it with as many people as you can!

Mo: We do have digital pdfs available at for 5780, but the 5781 physical copy and our new tea subscription are being crowdfunded now.


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 2020 Tu B’Shevat Playlist

Being the nice Jewish hippie that I am, Tu B’Shevat has always been my favorite Jewish holiday. Tu B’Shevat celebrates my favorite food group (fruit), and specifically fruit from the seven species that are indigenous to Israel. This includes olives, dates, figs, grapes, and – if you’re feeling extra boujee – chocolate bark pomegranates and carob! 

Jaffa oranges are the flagship product of Israeli agriculture. This stamp was created to represent the Jewish connection with fruit.

As more Jews flocked to Israel, the custom of planting trees took root for Jews to literally put down roots in the soil of Israel. This act symbolized the renewal of the soil and our souls as a Jewish nation.

The tradition of planting trees in Israel became a routine for more and Jews, and now over a million of them plant trees each year on Tu B’Shevat. This tradition makes Israel the only country in the world with an almost constant net blossoming of trees. In the 1960s, when the kibbutz movement was in its golden age, fruit became both a spiritual for the Tu B’Shevat Seder as well as a symbol of springtime agriculture. 

In both moshavs and kibbutzim, there were dance parties on the 15th of Shevat starting in the 1960s. Hookah and wine were always mainstays at these parties. So, with the Jewish New Year of the Trees approaching this Sunday, February 9th, I’ve compiled the top five tracks to celebrate Tu B’Shevat.

This year, let’s remember to dance, drink the fruit of the vine, enjoy the coming of springtime, and be a free spirit! 

2020 Tu B’Shevat Playlist


“Hana Mash Hu Al Yaman” by A-Wa

“Land of wheat and barley, grapes, and olive

Fig and pomegranate, date and home”


“Waterfalls” by TLC                          

“Dreams are hopeless aspirations

In hopes of comin’ true

Believe in yourself

The rest is up to me and you”


“Talk to Me Now” by Ani Defranco                   

“And I was blessed with a birth and a death,

And I guess I just wanted some say in between.”         


“Everything is Everything” by Lauryn Hill                           

“After winter, must come spring

Change, it comes eventually

Everything is everything

What is meant to be, will be

After winter, must come spring

Change, it comes eventually”


“Nice for What” by Drake                              

“With your phone out, snappin’ like you Fabo

And you showin’ off, but it’s alright

And you showin’ off, but it’s alright (alright!)

It’s a short life, yeah”


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.