From the Four Corners of the Earth: At the Crossroads of Ghana and Judaism

Deep in a rural and remote area of Ghana, a community has existed for centuries called the Sefwis. They’ve been practicing a religion unlike any of those around them – and just within the last twenty years, realized that this religion is Judaism.  An even more profound discovery among the Sefwi’s was the realization that they aren’t alone, as millions of people around the globe are following the very same religion.

Along with the help of Toronto based Filmmaker, Gabrielle Zilkha, a documentary entitled “From the Four Corners of the Earth” aims to film the Sefwis’ journey to self-discovery of Judaism – from the past to the future as they embark on their very first trip to Israel.

“From the Four Corners of the Earth” is currently in its first phase of production, as the focus is on the Sefwis’ telling their story and journey of discovering their Jewish roots, and will also paint a vivid picture of their life today.  The goal is to explore how Judaism has shaped who they are, their understanding of the world, and their place within it.  Gabrielle and her crew plan to have just 2 people working on this phase of production, to take place over 3 weeks.  Additions to the first phase will include key interviews with experts in African Jewish history and past visitors to the Sefwi Wiawso community.

Delving deeper into the project, Gabrielle and her team seek to enhance the creation of “From the Four Corners of the Earth” by employing techniques that use a variety of digital, social media, and communications technologies to enable deeper and ongoing communication between the Sefwi community and people around the world.  One solution to this is to provide members of the Sefwi community with video-enabled smartphones and enable them to post their own video diaries online.

Why is Gabrielle and her team so interested in the Sefwi’s?  A little back-story reveals that as a young Jewish Canadian, Gabrielle was six weeks into a five-month volunteer placement in Accra, Ghana when the Jewish High Holidays came around.  The prospect of finding a group of Jewish people was looking grim, until she discovered the Sefwis.  Whilst Gabrielle was looking for nothing more than to celebrate a holiday with others, what she found was a community with an incredibly touching story.

Though Jewish traditions such as celebrating the Sabbath, circumcision, and kosher dietary laws have been followed for generations by the Sefwis, it was only in the last twenty years that they came to the discovery of Judaism and its worldwide belief.  Driven to find out more about who they are and to find others like them, the Sefwis embarked on an incredible journey of self-discovery, which leads us to the premise of this upcoming film.

Gabrielle Zilkha and her crew have started to raise money to fund the first phase of “From the Four Corners of the Earth”, but unfortunately still haven’t reached their financial goal.  They’ve recently started a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to ask for help, which can be seen here for more information:

GTJ Health Series: A Guide to New Year’s Resolutions

The contents of this article are for informational purposes only.  The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

If you’re like me and you’ve enjoyed a few too many latkes and slices of apple cake (we all should have read my healthy holiday eating column a few more times), you may be looking forward to a fresh start in the new year.

We enter the New Year with important goals that are often challenging to accomplish.  Whether it’s losing weight, quitting smoking, or paying off debt, this guide will get you ready to make and keep your New Year’s resolutions in 2013.  This week’s column includes general tips on achieving your goals and avoiding pitfalls (stay tuned over the coming weeks for more in-depth columns on starting a fitness routine, quitting smoking, and losing weight).

Setting and Keeping New Year’s Resolutions

1. Love Yourself, You’re Pretty Awesome! 

The first step of self-improvement is realizing that you are pretty awesome and you are motivated to make yourself even more awesome.  By loving yourself and starting from a place of strength you will be more likely to achieve your goals.

2. Set Small, Realistic and Reasonable goals.

If you have a larger goal, break it into smaller units.  By making your goals small, they are more easily obtainable and you will be more likely to succeed.  If you are trying to lose 30 pounds by your high school reunion, break it into weekly weight loss goals such as a pound of weight loss a week.  As you meet this goal, you will get more frequent and positive feedback of success which will motivate you moving forward.

3. Write it Down

Write down your goal and why you want to achieve it on an index card.  Think about why your goal is important to you.  Identify what you want to change and why.  Keep this index card with you and put a copy on your fridge, bathroom mirror, car steering wheel –wherever you’ll see it.  These cards will serve as a reminder of your goal and why it is so important.

4. Plan

Consider your goal, how best to accomplish it, potential pitfalls, and a plan for when the pitfall happens (because they will and that’s okay).  Keep a copy of this plan and refer to it regularly.

5. Hire a Professional

Whether you are trying to lose weight, quit smoking, or learn to dunk a basketball- a professional can be an important component of your plan.  Physicians, psychologists, and therapists can provide guidance, therapy, and medication to help you quit smoking.  A personal trainer, dietitian, or physician can provide exercise, nutrition, or other advice to help you lose weight.  While you are doing the bulk of the work, professionals can provide guidance and support to help you achieve your goals.

6. Share your Goal 

Share your goal with loved ones, significant others, children, parents, friends- anyone that will listen.  By sharing your goal it becomes larger than yourself.  Your friends will be there to support you, cheer you up when you stumble, and keep you focused.

7. Get Rid of Negative Stimuli

Rid yourself and your home of the objects and people associated with the thing you are trying to change.  If you’re quitting smoking, get rid of your cigarettes and lighters, and ask your loved ones and friends who smoke to abstain when they are around you.  If you’re trying to eat better, throw out your unhealthy food and ask those you eat and cook with to try healthier options.  Altering your environment, and thus your environmental reinforcement, will help change your behavior.

8. When Setbacks Happen, Move Forward

You’re making a lifestyle change and it will be a marathon, not a sprint.  You will hit setbacks and you’re not alone.  The average person who quits smoking succeeds on their seventh try.  Treat each setback as part of the process of succeeding in reaching your goal.

9. Celebrate your Accomplishments!

You’re awesome- and you’re getting more awesome as you reach your goals.  Celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small.

Liked this article? Stay tuned for Alex’s next article on Starting a New Fitness Routine!

Alex Berger, a new GTJ contributing columnist, is a native of the Washington DC Metropolitan Area.  He graduated in 2008 from the University of North Carolina and is currently in his last year of a combined MD/MPH program. He is excited to be back in the DC area and to share tips on nutrition, health, and fitness. He can be reached at

The Mayans are 227 Years Early…

Another doomsday is lurking before us.  A lot of speculation, controversy, and talk have come up regarding the end of the Mayan Calendar.  As with most prophesies of the sort, there will be a large number of people swayed by convincing information found in the infinite world-wide-web regardless if the information is legitimate or not.

I first learned of the Mayan calendar ending on a trip to Mexico when I was a young teenager.  The date,  December 21, 2012, seemed like an eternity away, but, with the kind of mathematical accuracy this long gone civilization had, was such a thing plausible?  I found myself curious and wondered what would actually happen, but it’s not something I ever lost sleep about.  I’ve lived through a few doomsdays: The first Rapture in 1994, Nostradamus’ August 1999, Y2K, The second Rapture in 2011 and now the Mayan Calendar coming to an end.

It’s a bit ridiculous when you think of it in terms of a calendar ending.  We don’t go into a frenzied panic when the Gregorian calendar ends each year, so why all the fuss about the Mayan Calendar ending?

Every culture has their doomsday prophesy.  Did you know the Hebrew Calendar is supposed to end, too?  We’re currently in the year 5773 and according to the Talmud we have 227 years left until everything will come to a close.  The details of which are extremely vague, of course.  Then after the year 6,000 we’re supposed to have 1,000 years of rest; some call it 1,000 years of Shabbat which doesn’t sound that bad, actually.

Can you imagine what it will be like 226 years from now?  Will there be the same kind of conspiracy like there is today?  Just picture it, observant Jews will argue and debate about it for years and years prior!  Or perhaps they’ll be too busy while beginning to make arrangements for the everlasting Shabbat by preparing vats of cholent and plenty of challah ahead of time.  How will they agree on what to do when the calendar comes to an end?  Will we light Shabbat candles every night or just once marking the first night of many to come?  …All very important questions.

This actually might be something to look forward to!  We’ll leave all the chores, work, and business left to the goyim and the rest of us will relax, lounge, reflect on life, and more importantly we’ll eat and enjoy the company of our family.  Let’s not get a head of ourselves, though… We still need to get through a few more prophesies first!!  This coming December 21, I’ll be welcoming Shabbat with friends and family.  We’ll be sure to toast the end of the Mayan Calendar with some tequila and start planning for the 1,000 years of Shabbat.

This author is a writer on

GTJ’s Satirist Brian F. – Christmas Writes Cease-and-Desist Letter to Hanukkah

The following letter was leaked from a law firm in Brooklyn: 

18 One-Candle Drive
Jerusalem, Israel

Dear Hanukkah,

It has come to my attention that my client [CHRISTMAS] contends that you [HANUKKAH] have infringed upon Christmas’ position as the preeminent gift-giving holiday during the cold weather months of November and/or December.  My client demands that you cease and desist your existence as a gift-giving holiday immediately.

I understand that you [HANUKKAH] are a “festival” and not a holiday.  However, you and my client [CHRISTMAS] are constantly grouped by the politically-correct masses into the same category.

In the scenarios listed below, the unauthorized likenesses of Hanukkah (H) to Christmas (C) are highlighted:

· Menorahs (H) vs. Christmas Trees (C). A free-standing symbol of holiday cheer consisting of lights and flames.

· Potato Pancakes(H) vs. Buttermilk Pancakes (C)  Honestly, did you really have to re-invent the pancake?

· Blue Tinsel (H) vs. Green/Red Tinsel (C).  Decorative tinsel is for Christmas.  You may not make it blue and call it ‘Hanukkah Tinsel’

· Dreidels (H) vs. Assorted Gambling (C).  Dreidels are a cheaper knock-off of dice- which are supposed to have six sides.  The only gambling allowed during the holiday season is reserved for College Bowl Games.

· Eight Nights (H) vs. Christmas Eve (C).  The nights of Hanukkah are artificially inflated, my client alleges, to overlap with Christmas every few years.  Unacceptable.

· Adam Sandler (H) vs. Bing Crosby (C).  Mr. Sandler’s “humorous” incarnations of the Hanukkah song are a rip on Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.”  And all he does is name celebrities that are Jewish.  That’s not a song, that’s a Wikipedia page.

You must cease and desist all attempts to emulate Christmas immediately.Should you not comply, Christmas will write another Cease and Desist letter each year until you come into compliance.You will be responsible for an eternity of attorney fees, plagiarism, royalties, individual and/or class-action law suits on behalf of Christmas.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


Check Out the DC Hanukkah Events!

Celebrate the Festival of Lights with the DC Jewish Young Professionals!  This page will be updated regularly so check back.

First to get you in the mood:

Wednesday, December 5th

Saturday, December 8th

Sunday, December 9th

Monday, December 10th

Tuesday, December 11th

Wednesday, December 12th

Thursday, December 13th

Friday, December 14th

Saturday, December 15th

Sunday, December 16th

Anti-Semitism & Hate Defy Logic in the Premier League

Benayoun playing for West Ham United.

After this article was published on GTJ, DC Sports Beat approached Jon for an interview.  You can listen to his interview here.

In the past few weeks, the illogical nature of anti-Semitism was put on full display in two separate incidents in which fans of the Tottenham Hotspurs were the recipients of mindless hatred.  Why was Tottenham targeted?  It’s not just because they have a long history of Jewish ownership, but that they are also extremely close to the orthodox community in London. The history of anti-Semitism against the Hotspurs is a long one; it begins with other teams calling them the “Yids” as a derogatory term to insult their supporters.  In response, Tottenham fans banded together to turn an insult into a positive by calling themselves the “Yid Army.”  Other groups, with either no association with the club or who are Jewish but fans of rival clubs, feel adopting this word just eggs on other racist fans.

 To summarize the two incidents:

  • In Italy, fans of the Lazio team recently stabbed two Tottenham fans.  The team has been fined in the past for its fans’ anti-Semitic actions according to NBC sports, and has a long history of racist behavior.
  • At a recent game between West Ham United and the Tottenham Hotspurs, West Ham fans were cheering for Hitler, complimenting the Lazio club on the recent stabbing, and making other anti-Semitic remarks.

The Lazio club is known for these types of incidents, but it’s not surprising that an Italian club- where many supporters idolize Mussolini- would hate Jews. The events at the recent English Premier League game are both troubling and devoid of any logic.  Initially, these news stories would lead someone to believe that anti-Semitism is making a reoccurrence to a dark age in soccer when Jews were constantly in the bull’s eye of the hatred of some clubs.  However, at least one author would say it never left.  On top of the obvious reason that anti-Semitism, along with all types of racism in this world, is never acceptable, the other reasons below show the ridiculousness of these events:

  • One of the starters of West Ham is a well respected Israeli (and Jew) named  Yossi Benayoun. The West Ham fans are basically insulting one of their own in their mindless hatred.  Benayoun was obviously dismayed by the recent chants.  Also, one of their owners, David Gold, is Jewish. To the club’s credit, they are promising to ban for life any individual they can find who was involved with the chant.
  • Two of the other biggest clubs in the league, Manchester United (Malcolm Glazer) and Chelsea (Roman Abramovich), have major owners who are Jewish.
  • Why on earth would the fans of any London team ever cheer for Hitler?  This would be like the NY Giants cheering Al-Qaeda against the Redskins.

While the major sports in the US have their own moments of absurdity ranging from Eagles fans booing Santa Claus to rare tragic violence at baseball games, these are generally instances of just bad apples. The hive-mind where racism is accepted and on full display in the US sporting world doesn’t exist.  Even when Joel Ward, a forward for the Washington Capitals, was sent a sizable number of racist tweets from Boston Bruin fans, it was immediately condemned across the NHL and in no way was it an organized event.  The closest thing we have in the US has been the controversy over Ole Miss, much of it brilliantly documented in an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary about football, racism, and integration in the 1960s.  In the past, the mascot (now retired) was a confederate soldier and they played Dixie at official school functions (a medley that included Dixie was discounted in 2009).

Sports can provide the opportunity for sheer unexpected excitement and gut punches.  It can also bring out the best in humanity.  Hopefully, shining a bright light on this awful chapter in European soccer allows it to solve its problems of the past and return the focus to a sport that so much of the world loves.

Krav Maga

Krav Maga is offered at Rockville’s Krav Maga Center in the Hebrew Academy.  Learn more about classes here.

Krav Maga means “contact combat.”  It is the official self-defense and fighting style of the Israeli Defense Forces, and it is used by U.S. law enforcement and federal agencies.  Similar to kickboxing, Krav Maga is also a great workout.

In addition, Krav Maga teaches people practical skills to protect themselves in a variety of street situations.  You may learn a simple movement that could save your life, like an arm raise to stop a knife or a kick to stop an attempted rape.

Twice a week, at the Hebrew Academy in Rockville, about 10 people- Jew and gentile, black and white, male and female- meet to… Beat each other up.  Fortunately, they are all well-upholstered: The students aren’t here to learn any flashy moves (Krav Maga is anything but stylish) or to practice for a contest.  They are learning how to survive an assault on the street using no-frills methods that include punching, gouging, kicking- anything that works.

This is serious business, and if you don’t believe it, talk to Tomer, 38, a former Israeli secret service agent.  “It’s become a way of life; almost every thing you are doing during the day is analyzing the possible threat to you or the dignitaries you protect.”  Tomer, who now teaches at the center in Rockville, hopes to give his students what he got from the martial art: self-confidence and security- not to mention a kick that could knock the — out of anybody.

Classes are sweaty, noisy affairs, with students pairing off to exchange blows with grunts right out of a Springsteen song.

Krav Maga is for everyone,” says Tomer, who especially enjoys teaching women and teens.  “I love showing them that they can do it, can give punches and kicks.  They walk out feeling so good, they become more aggressive.”

The key to using Krav Maga as exercise, says Tomer, is continuous motion.  “In class, after we get the moves down properly, we’ll do 30 to 50 punches in one set.  And since we focus on leg work as well as upper body, all major muscle groups are used.”  Another advantage to the program, he adds, is that “you can scale it to whatever level you feel fits.  Not everyone can kick somebody in the head.”

Perhaps Krav Maga’s greatest advantage over other martial arts is that instead of requiring many months of training, often years, it can be effectively learned quickly.

While popular films have immortalized the beauty of a taekwondo flying sidekick and the intense concentration required by martial artists who break bricks, these skills are not especially practical if a rapist, carjacker, or gang member jumps you from behind.  Forget about a proper karate sparring stance- you simply won’t have time.

“Traditional martial arts are much more complex and diversified then simple fighting techniques,” says Tomer.

“Our offering is very unique and far from the ordinary Krav Maga classes.  Kicks, punches, blocks, and grabs are the basics.  We focus on street fighting against multiple attackers, knives, baseball bats, hand guns, and more.  You don’t need any special talent or experience to participate.  Some of my students didn’t have any and some have a few years in all kinds of martial arts such as Karate, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, boxing, and etc. My students find the class very challenging and feel confident in facing real life situations in a better and more effective way.  We focus on the students’ progress, we don’t just charge you for a monthly payment to come and punch a bag or accidental ran-dory.  Working with a small group, up to 10 students in a class, gives you the personal attention you need to advance and improve yourself.”

GTJ’s Satirist Brian F. – MatzoBrawl To Feature Simon vs. Garfunkel, Streisand vs. Gene Simmons in Xmas Eve Boxing Matches

NEW YORK, NY – (@TheComedyNews) – Jewish Americans will have a new reason to get down with some holiday cheer this winter:  the first-annual MatzoBrawl is set to take place live from Madison Square Garden on Christmas Eve.

MatzoBrawl will feature one-on-one boxing matches between prominent Jewish celebrities.


Fresh off his recent suspension from the PGA Tour, golfer Happy Gilmore will be certain to have some  aggression to blow off in the boxing ring.  The hockey player-turned-golfer is known for his short temper, which will serve him well in the later rounds.

Knibb High School physical education teacher Billy Madison’s best hope for a knockout hinges on two factors:  keeping the trash talk to a minimum, and showing up to the fight with a blood-alcohol level below .08. Special guest referee:  Rob Schneider 

Favorite Gilmore

Gene Simmons, the Israel-born frontman to K.I.S.S. will clash with Barbara Streisand—an equally as overrated popstar who’s relevance was also left in the 1970s.  Since both competitors refused to “condescend to wearing frumpy boxing gloves”, officials have allowed both Streisand and Simmons one foreign object.Streisand is expected to use one of her eight Grammy awards as a weapon, while Simmons will likely do something that involves either fake blood or his grotesquely deformed tongue.  Still, both celebrity-boxers are expected to quit the fight when their excessive makeup starts to smear. 

Favorite: Streisand.  

Having been buddies since their elementary school days in Queens, folk rockstars Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel have gone in and out of personal clashes.  While they have been reportedly getting along for the last decade, both Simon and Garfunkel will reunite in the center of Madison Square Garden to box their way into another hiatus.  Favorite:  Garfunkel

In what is being billed as “The Battle of the Sarahs”, comedian Sarah Silverman will fight Sarah Jessica Parker in the opening boxing match of MatzoBrawl 2012.Stipulations:  If Parker wins, Silverman has to go a week without using profanity.  If Parker loses to Silverman, Silverman gets to have a night-on-the-town in Chicago with Parker’s husband of fifteen years, Matthew Broderick.   

Favorite:  Parker

Brian Fishbach is a comedian, writer, political satirist, former GTJ JGOTW, and musician specializing in social and political commentary.  You can read Brian’s weekly satire news articles at, and enjoy his late-night jokes at  Join The Comedy News’ Facebook page for updates.