5 Things About Kabbalah You Probably Didn’t Know

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Ask most people what they know about Kabbalah, and they will probably answer with something about mysticism and Madonna. While both have certainly played a role in the popularity of the belief system, Kabbalah’s history is even longer and more complicated than the music career of the “Material Girl”. While we could come up with a much longer list, we didn’t want to cross the “Borderline” given that short blog posts are what is in “Vogue” these days. Okay, we’ll stop (after we “Take a Bow”).

5 Things About Kabbalah You Probably Didn’t Know 

1. Though its roots are from the 2nd Century, Kabbalah really began to flower for the first time during the 13th Century, specifically in Spain with the writings of The Zohar. The Zohar is a collection of commentaries on the Torah designed to guide readers toward understanding the nature of the connection between the divine world and its relationship with themselves. 

2. Many elements of the mysticism involved in Kabbalah have made their way into mainstream Judaism. For example, the notion of tikkun olam, or repairing the world, comes directly from Kabbalah.

3. Interest in Kabbalah has seen a major uptick over the last 30 years. For most of the Western world’s modern existence, Kabbalah was shrouded in mystery at best and relegated to magic mumbo jumbo at worst. However, with the rise New Age spiritualism and a mainstream openness toward mystical experiences, Kabbalah has seen a major resurgence. Its newfound popularity has also given rise to more academic study, especially the ground-breaking works of Gershom Scholem.

4. While you’ve probably never heard of Rav Yehuda Ashlag (1885-1954), he is arguably most responsible for reintroducing Kabbalah back into the world.  Ashlag translated The Zohar to modern Hebrew and his work, Talmud Eser Sefirot, is regarded as the most important textbook for students of Kabbalah.

5. It’s not just Madonna… Kabbalah’s mystic practices have infiltrated celebrity culture in recent years. Kabbalah’s many adherents include Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Gwyneth Paltrow Ariana Grande and Mick Jagger, just to name a few.

Want to know more about Kabbalah? Beginning on Tuesday, May 9th, Sixth and I begins a two part lecture series called Take on the Kabbalah, hosted by Rabbi Scott Perlo. For tickets and more information, click here!

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.

Our Hilarious Chat with the Author of ‘Mother, Can You NOT!?’ (and her mom)

“She’s an evil genius,” said Kate Siegel about her mother using text to reach her. The 28 year-old continues, “With a phone call, I can screen. With an email, I can not open it…”

“But with texts, she thinks they’re from a friend, so she looks down and BAM!, gets the message!” mother Kim cuts in.

Author, Kate Siegel with mom, Kim Friedman

This dynamic, mom-daughter duo know a thing or two about texting. Their text exchanges were the inspiration for Kate’s New York Times Bestseller, “Mother, Can You NOT!?” The book is based on Kate’s Instagram account, @CrazyJewishMother, which is rapidly approaching 830,000 followers. The account are compiled screenshots of Kim’s ‘colorful’ texts to her adult daughter about things like her drying up eggs, meeting “Mr. Right,” and the questionable safety of her neighborhood.

Currently on a book tour (stopping in Northern Virginia next Thursday), Kate and Kim sat down to chat with GatherDC about their texts – the good, the bad, and the “still single.”

GatherDC: What sparked the idea for you to originally post your mom’s texts to Instagram?

Kate: My mom has been a lunatic forever. She discovered texting a few years back, and I’ve been screenshotting them ever since. It wasn’t until I received a text from her while at my friend’s bachelorette party... (In the text) she expressed her congratulations for my friend and concern for my eggs…

Kim: …I’m still concerned.

Kate: (Audible eyeroll) I shared the text with the group, and they loved it. This gave me the idea to post it to my personal Instagram account, where it got a lot of likes too. From there I started a designated account for them, @CrazyJewishMom, and when that got popular, published the book. And now, I’m currently working on a television script based on it with CBS/Ryan Seacrest Productions.

GatherDC: Kim, what do you think of this project? 

Kim: I’m so proud. She’s a New York Times bestselling author! But…she’s still single. So I have to balance the good with the bad.

Kim and Kate

GatherDC: Was there ever a feeling of invasion of privacy?

Kate: One of the things I admire about my mother is her fearlessness. We only had one instance where she called me, upset after her friend flagged a text she thought crossed the line. I explained that if this whole thing was making her uncomfortable I would stop immediately. But, I also said that if she liked parts of what I was doing, that I felt it was important to share all of it – the good and the bad. She agreed and it’s never been an issue since.

GatherDC: Kim, do you keep up on the Instagram account?

Kate: I created her an account of her own so she could follow along, but she promptly lost her password so…

GatherDC: Do you have favorite texts?

Kate: Oh, that’s a hard one. I think my favorite is a text she sent telling the story of her recent encounter with a stranger reading my book in public. My mom approached her and, remaining anonymous, asked how she was liking it. The reader said something to the effect of this mother needs therapy, to which my mother proudly took a bow, and walked away. Another favorite…She used to give my number out all the time to eligible bachelors. Now that we’re sort of in the public eye, she can’t really do that anymore. But, I did get a text from her recently that said something to the effect of, I just gave your number to a 27 year-old Yale Law School graduate! I replied telling her she couldn’t do that anymore. She replied with one word… “YALE.”


From @CrazyJewishMom Instagram account

GatherDC: Why do you think your Instagram account got such a huge following, and not just among Jews?

Kate: One of the most popular types of comments I get is about how my mom could be their “crazy Catholic mom,” or “crazy Mexican mom,” etc.  The complex relationship we have with our mothers is universal. It’s a combination of love and throw-her-against the wall hate. It’s complex because for all that drives you crazy about her, you know she has your best interest in mind. Of course, I think my mom is an extreme version, but really the relationship is universal. There is so much love there.

GatherDC: What’s next for you? Any projects in the hopper?

Kate: We have a lot going on the with the brand, building vertically and laterally. There is a lot on the website including our advise column, “Mom & Spawn,” which happened organically, with followers writing me asking what my mom and I would do about a certain situation they found themselves in. It’s a continuation of our dynamic where my mom will say things like, “Key his car!,” but I reign her in.

GatherDC: Thanks so much! Anything you want to add?

Kim: Yes! She’s single!

Kate: Except, I’m not. I’ve been in a committed relationship for three years now.

GatherDC: Kim, why do you say she’s single?

Kim: She’s not married!

Kate: She doesn’t like that he hasn’t proposed yet. She keeps sending me guys’ numbers.

GatherDC: What does your boyfriend think of that, Kate?

Kate: He is a very good sport. After all, he is quite familiar with pushy mothers.

Get more of this hilarious pair just in time for Mother’s Day. Kate and Kim will be in Arlington on May 11th as part of the JCC of Northern Virginia’s  j.talks author series. The evening is presented by JCCNV Cultural Arts in partnership with NOVA Tribe and Moishe House Arlington. More here.

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.


Jewish Filmmaker of the Week – Lance

Lance Kramer, Partner and Executive Producer at Meridian Hill Pictures, is a busy guy these days. Between winning a Webby, promoting his award-winning documentary, City of Trees, and being tweeted about by Raffi, we were impressed he had the time to talk with us at GatherDC…

So you just won a Webby! 

We were really excited to get this news last week. We won the Webby Award for The Messy Truth. Our production company, Meridian Hill Pictures, co-produced the series last fall with Van Jones, his wife Jana Carter and their production company Magic Labs Media. We had built a relationship with Van and Jana as co-producers on our feature-length documentary film, City of Trees. During the 2016 election season, we felt like Van was one of the few people on TV who was cutting through the noise and toxicity with a kind of much-needed emotional nuance and empathy. We all talked about the idea of having Van go into a community divided by the election and try to model how to have meaningful, respectful dialogue and disagreement. Though we had no budget for the project, we were able to mobilize an all-volunteer crew (many of whom the people who worked on City of Trees). And we were fortunate that several families in Gettysburg, PA let us into their homes and businesses to have the hard conversations that we ultimately documented in The Messy Truth. We initially distributed the three original webisodes solely on Facebook. They were viewed collectively more than 4 million times the weekend before the Election. Thousands of people were talking about the series, – online, in-person and in the media. The impact was profound. When Raffi started tweeting about the series, I knew we were onto something.

How did you first get into film?  What about documentaries is particularly compelling to you?

Since we were little kids, my brother Brandon and I have always loved watching and making movies together. We played with our parent’s camcorder all the time and made spoofs of our favorite films with our friends in the neighborhood. In hindsight, I think from an early age, becoming comfortable filming with regular people, with no money, and without permission, was actually kind of good training for becoming a documentary filmmaker. I majored in history and minored in film, but I really had no idea what I wanted to do for a career. In high school and college, I had developed an interest in journalism and nonfiction storytelling. I decided to move out west to Oregon after graduation to try my hand as a print journalist.

It wasn’t until I moved back to DC in 2008 that I got interested in documentary film-making. My parents were incredibly supportive in encouraging both my brother and I to cultivate this interest and develop it into a career. It seems fairly obvious now, but it was a revelation to me that this art form could be a kind of storytelling that combines the strengths of film and journalism to work toward social justice. I love how documentaries can be a space to search for the truth through the messiness and subjectivity of real people’s lived experiences. This will never get old to me.

You run your company alongside your brother. What is that like? What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with family?

The best part of working with my brother is having the chance to collaborate and create with someone who I love dearly. He knows me better than anyone else in the world. We understand each other in profound ways, and we share the same values. This means that we can quickly reach places of great depth and complexity in our collaboration that might otherwise be very difficult. One of the hardest things about working together as family is the way every decision and interaction can take on an emotional quality. We have to work very hard to be clear with each other, otherwise passive aggression can easily become our worst enemy. From the very beginning, we decided that as much as we care about our work, we would never let filmmaking or anything related to work get between our relationship as brothers. We literally wrote this into an operating agreement we signed when we started the company in 2010. I would rather walk away from the company than walk away from my brother.

Many people don’t think of DC as a big town for filmmaking. Why did you choose to set up shop here, and what have you learned about the local filmmaking community?

My brother and I were born in DC and grew up in Bethesda, MD. Our family has been here since the 1920s. My great-grandfather Isadore started one of the first shops in the Union Market called Kramer & Sons (we’ve actually been working on a film about the family’s history in the market). Our roots are pretty strong here; most of my extended family is in the DMV, and it just seemed like everyone stayed here.

I have always been pretty stubborn. As a kid, I thought that in order to be my own person, I had to get out of this area and do something different. Even though my dad was an artist himself, I thought DC was not a place to be creative. After living in Portland, I decided to move back here to be closer to family. I found that I had really taken the city for granted. I was immediately impressed by the film community that I had entirely overlooked when I was younger. I particularly appreciated how so much of the film created here was nonfiction and had deep social justice roots. I got to know people like Erica Ginsberg and Sam Hampton at Docs In Progress, Melissa Houghton at WIFV, Jon Gann at DC Shorts, Herby Niles at the DC Film Office. I grew to care deeply about this city and wanted to reconnect with my roots here. I feel like something important is happening here, and I want to be a part of building the community.

What are some of your favorite documentaries?

I love the filmmaker Robert Drew, who was one of the early pioneers of cinema verité. He is probably best known for his films about John F. Kennedy — Primary and Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment. When I first saw these films, they really blew my mind. I was in awe of the way they took the elusive magnitude of the presidency and brought them down to such a gritty human level, especially at a time when television was still a relatively new phenomenon. These kinds of films taught people about the mechanics of how our democracy works and helped to create empathy and understanding during crucial moments of the Civil Rights movement. I am also a big admirer of the films by Kartemquin (KTQ) in Chicago. Over the course of more than 50 years, they have made dozens of exceptional films like Hoop Dreams, Stevie, and Life Itself. About five years ago, we met Gordon Quinn, the co-founder of Kartemquin, and Justine Nagan, the former executive director, at an event at the Hill Center in DC. We stayed in touch with them and eventually they effectively mentored us through the process of making our first film, City of Trees.  I don’t know where we would be without their guidance and support.

Your latest film, City of Trees, has garnered acclaim, been selected for film festivals around the country and picked up by PBS. Tell us a little bit about the film and what inspired you to make it.

City of Trees follows the directors and trainees of a green job training program — the DC Green Corps — during the last six months of a major stimulus grant. We first met Steve Coleman and Washington Parks & People just weeks after we started Meridian Hill Pictures. We had moved into the Josephine Butler Parks Center right as Parks & People had received a major stimulus grant to start the Green Corps. We quickly got absorbed in the ambitions and idealism of people like Steve and Charles. We could also feel the intense stakes mounting and the tensions of the real world standing to threaten their dreams. We grew to care deeply about the people we were getting to know. We wanted to make a film that dove into the complexities, nuances and paradoxes they faced as they attempted to make changes in their lives and communities under an incredibly tense and stressful set of circumstances. Rather than shy away from these challenges, we tried to let the film ethically navigate the difficulties real people were facing in their lives. City of Trees was our first feature-length film. It took about five years to make. Everything about making the film was new and difficult for us. But I am very grateful that the film has been well-received and screened for so many people in all kinds of meaningful contexts.

How can I watch City of Trees?

Last year we focused almost exclusively on film festivals and the PBS broadcast. This past fall and winter we put a lot of effort into screening the film at universities and conferences. Recently we’ve been more focused on community-based, grassroots screenings and distributing the film via a new community screening kit we developed. Nonprofit organizations and public agencies can purchase the kit — which includes the DVD, discussion guide, and outreach materials — and host their own screening and dialogue in their community. Starting next month, the film will finally be launched on VOD streaming services, including a few platforms that you have definitely heard of 🙂 Editor’s Note – Moishe House DC will be hosting a Screening and Panel Discussion for the film next Thursday, May 11th at 7pm.

What’s next for Meridian Hill Pictures?

Over the course of the last seven years, we have experimented with many different versions of Meridian Hill Pictures to function as a sustainable production company: we’ve produced independent films, run a youth documentary film program, video trainings for educators, a monthly pop-up film screening series, produced client films, even experimented with building our own app. We continue to return to one thing: the desire to make films. I have such a deep respect for the craft of documentary filmmaking and feel like we have so much to learn. I am also constantly confronting the reality of the substantial time, talent and financial resources required to make a film. I’m proud of many things we have accomplished with Meridian Hill Pictures, but it is still not sustainable. Through conversations I’ve been having with other filmmakers, I am regularly hearing how much other people are also struggling with sustainability. Especially in this moment, when we are living through where fake news and polarized media are so prolific, I have a firm belief that independent documentary filmmaking plays a vital role in the democracy. Right now I’m very committed to playing a part in making the field more sustainable so important films can be made and distributed more easily and the field of filmmaking can be open to more diverse voices.

How do you connect with the DC Jewish community?

For me, most of my connections to the Jewish community are still through my family. Many of my cousins, aunts and uncles live in the area and we have close relationships that I really treasure. We still get together for many of the major Jewish holidays. I’m grateful for all the ways my childhood in Bethesda — especially the Jewish influences — have shaped who I am today.  To be honest, I have not connected with the DC Jewish community as a single adult in my 30s as much as I would like to. This has been harder for for me than I would have thought, but it’s something I am actively working on. Food also plays a big role along with family. I go to Parkway Deli at least once a month with my grandma. Two words: pickle bar.

Recent Kramer family Seder

What is one thing you can’t make it through the day without?

My dog. Last year, I adopted a little Aussie-mix pooch named Sadie. She’s quickly become my sidekick and pretty much accompanies me wherever I go. I take her to the studio every day. She’s the official studio dog.

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

From Mourning to Celebration in 2 Days

Today is Yom Hazikaron, the memorial day for Israel’s fallen soldiers. Its scope has evolved and expanded since it was passed into Israeli law in 1963. In 1980, it was expanded to include Jewish fighters killed in pre-State battles.  In 1998, the commemoration was expanded to include Israeli victims of terror. Beginning 12 years ago, some have chosen to participate in an Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day Ceremony to remember the losses on both sides of the conflict. Just as the pain from the loss of a life ripples outward and affects many beyond the inner circle of friends and family, so too the collective consciousness of suffering has been extended in Israel throughout the years. These losses are commemorated most notably by a siren that brings the country to a standstill for 2 minutes of silence.

Yom Hazikaron immediately precedes Yom Ha’atzmaut, the day of Israel’s independence. The juxtaposition of mourning and celebration can be jarring, but it is also reflective of Israel’s and the Jewish people’s resilience. The idea of moving from sadness to joy is also found throughout the Jewish tradition, reminding us that – though one cannot exist without the other – we believe that “those who sow with tears will reap with joy” (Psalms 126:5).

The Diameter Of The Bomb

By Yehuda Amichai
The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
with four dead and eleven wounded.
And around these, in a larger circle
of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
and one graveyard. But the young woman
who was buried in the city she came from,
at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
enlarges the circle considerably,
and the solitary man mourning her death
at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
includes the entire world in the circle.
And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans
that reaches up to the throne of God and
beyond, making a circle with no end and no God.


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.

Rabbi Rant: The Real Lesson in “S-Town”

If you haven’t listened to the S-Town podcast yet, you should.

Not only because everybody else is doing it (though that does seem to be the case – it’s the fastest podcast to ever reach 15 million downloads or streams on Apple Podcasts).

And not necessarily because it’s the greatest podcast of all time. (I think it’s a great piece of storytelling through journalism, but it’s neither revolutionary nor profound.)

Its beauty stems from the simplicity of its aim – to get to know someone else as best as possible, without judgment.

This endeavor is perhaps best encapsulated in a short dialogue between Brian Reed, the host and journalist, and a man named Tyler.

Tyler: Do you see me being a bad person?
Brian: Do I?
Tyler: Yeah.
Brian: No man, I see you as a complicated, normal person, you know?
Tyler: Yeah.
Brian: I mean, I, I disagree with some of your decisions, but you also, you’ve had a very different life experience than I’ve had.

This attitude, of openness to others’ unique stories, is the key to good journalism.

It’s also one that Jewish sages encourage and that more of us should embrace.

By prioritizing curiosity over judgment, we can let go of both the illusion that we understand each other and also the need to force each other into our ideological boxes.

Perhaps this is why the rabbis of the Talmud offer a surprising blessing for one who sees a large congregation of Jews:

Blessed are you God Who knows all secrets. [Why this blessing? Because] their minds are unlike each other and their faces are unlike each other (BT Brachot 58a).

When confronted with differences, our tendency is to try to focus on similarities. This blessing reminds us to lean into our differences. We may all be in the same place, but we’ve all taken a different path to get there. Remembering this, paradoxically, may be the only way to keep us together.

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 – Israeli Iced Coffee

Unicorn Frappuccino

Unicorn Frappuccino

Our newest feature – #SpottedinJewishDC – will highlight something we or our readers find in DC that is particularly Jewish. It can be a product, store, bumper sticker, whatever! If you spot something Jewish and want us to mention it, just snap a photo and tag it with #SpottedinJewishDC or email it to us!

While the Unicorn Frappuccino may be winning the Instagram game, our newest feature, #SpottedinJewishDC thinks that Pleasant Pops‘ newest summer drink wins the flavor game. If you’ve been to Israel during the summer, you know how refreshing an Israeli Iced Coffee can be. Their version of an iced coffee turns this morning essential into the best adult slushie the world has ever tasted. Made of coveted cold-brew coffee, local whole milk and organic raw cane sugar, you’ll be wide awake and dreaming of the next time you can have one.

Past Jewish Entrepreneur of the Week, Roger Horowitz, brings this Israeli treat to his shop in Adams Morgan, with an option for the milk-averse made with almond milk. We suggest you try one ASAP (ask for a coffee slushie), and take a photo with it using #SpottedinJewishDC. We can keep the unicorn on her toes (er…hooves).

Israeli Cafe

Israeli Iced Coffee at Pleasant Pops

Spotted in Jewish DC - Aroma

Aroma Espresso at Montgomery Mall

If you’re looking to do a taste-test of this treat, head to Montgomery Mall in search of Aroma Espresso Bar, an actual Israeli brand specializing in coffee and beyond.

If you’re looking for other Israeli flavors, check out this recent post on The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s Jewish Food Experience, “In DC, Israeli Food is On the Rise,” or their recipe for an Israeli cappuccino (cafe hafuch) you can make at home!


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.

Happy Purim!

Confused? Good. This was a joke in honor of the holiday of Purim, which begins this Saturday evening, March 11th. Purim is known as the day we eat triangle shaped cookies (hamentashen) and read the story of Esther in the megillah out loud. It’s also known as a day we turn everything upside down by wearing costumes and getting drunk – it’s April Fools meets Halloween.

But, Purim’s not just another excuse to dress up and party – there’s actually a deep spiritual message behind the holiday, one especially relevant in a year where everything seems to have been turned upside down (e.g. Trump defeating Clinton, the Cubs winning the World Series, the Patriots coming from behind to beat the Falcons, the La La Land / Moonlight fiasco, etc.).

Throughout the year, we delude ourselves into thinking that we control our surroundings and that we know everything. Purim is a day to let go of that control and give in to the unknown. To specifically lose control.

There’s a deep fear in acknowledging and sitting with uncertainty – a fear many of us have experienced this year. But, it can also be liberating to appreciate the limits of what we can perceive or know. Purim is about finding hope in the most unexpected places by giving in to surprise and embracing how quickly things can turn around.

If you’re looking for ways to celebrate Purim this year, there are lots of incredible opportunities here in DC – check them out HERE