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So how about those New Year’s resolutions?

In 2019, I didn’t create “resolutions,” but more themes or intentions for the year.

I wanted to create more joy, meaning, and connection to others throughout the year – and so far it’s been pretty great! I’ve started by just making more time for the things that bring me joy, like playing basketball, watching great TV, traveling to new places, and eating delicious food. I’ve pushed myself to also identify more meaning and purpose in my life through journaling, reflection, and constantly reading. And I’ve been really intentional about reaching out to old and new friends to expand and deepen my relationships with folks.

But, as with most goals or resolutions, I’ve started to feel myself stray a little bit from my intentions for 2019. This last month, I was traveling a ton for work and felt like I wasn’t as focused on what I wanted this year to be for me. Some days, it just felt like life was happening and I wasn’t getting the full amount of joy, meaning, and connection I wanted for 2019.

journal

Checking in on my 2019 intentions

So, I’m using the month of April to check in with myself. Not only is it my birthday month (April 2nd!) but it’s also one of my favorite Jewish holidays: Passover. This holiday is all about the Israelites going on a journey toward freedom and redemption, escaping slavery to experience the land flowing with milk and honey. Our story of going from an oppressed community to a redeemed nation includes a ton of joy, meaningful moments, and a strong community – just like the intentions I set for myself in 2019. Our freedom story provides us with several different insights on how each and every one of us can experience more freedom and a better life each and every day.

Rediscovering joy

Just like my first intention for 2019, the first lesson from our Passover story is all about joy. Although it begins with anguish and pain, by the time our people cross the Red Sea we are totally and completely ready to celebrate our freedom. With Miriam leading the Israelites in song and dance, we expressed a lifetime of joy after that tremendous moment.

But you don’t have to wait for all the big moments in life to celebrate. Whether it’s trying a new restaurant, sleeping in a little longer on the weekend, or just pausing to really appreciate the cherry blossoms, each and every day represents an opportunity to experience joy in our lives.

Finding meaning in our lives

My second intention for 2019, and the second lesson we can draw from our Passover story, is all about finding meaning in our lives. Understanding our purpose in life is one of those deep, existential questions that is really tough to figure out, and I’m not saying that you need to tackle that question to truly find meaning in your life. But the Passover story provides us with a great starting place to think about the big questions of the world. A core component of the Passover seder is the reading of the Four Questions.

Here are some adapted questions to help think about how you might create more meaningful moments:

  • How do you want to be remembered?
  • What brings you pure joy?
  • How are you going to make a difference in someone else’s life today?
  • What do you believe is possible in your life?

Connecting with community

My final intention for 2019, and the last lesson we can draw from our Passover story, is that community is essential to success. Although there may have been bickering amongst the Israelites when escaping and definitely while they were in the desert, staying together as a community was necessary for their survival. And for us in 2019, community is necessary for our survival. We are naturally wired to be around other people and it’s even more important when you’re wanting to make a change, big or small, in your life. One of my goals for this year was to be more connected with the people in my life because I know that it will make me happier and bring more meaning into my life.

Among all of the ways that society, other people, and even ourselves sometimes keeps us from fulfilling our true potential, there is always the opportunity for more freedom in our own lives. And if we focus on the lessons from our Passover story, we can seek out more joy, meaningful moments, and a strong community to be on this journey with us.

Passover resolution check-in

If you set resolutions or goals or themes for 2019…

  • How are you doing on them?
  • Would you change them at all?
  • What do you need to do in order to adjust?

If you didn’t set any goals for 2019, now’s the time to start.

  • What’s one thing you want to do for the rest of 2019 to make yourself more free this year?

As we celebrate Passover, may we use this time to check-in with ourselves, to connect with those in our communities, and to commit to freeing ourselves so that we may be our best selves.

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

 

 

 

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

From K Street to the Knesset – Pt 3:  What Does it Mean to be Jewish?

Over 100 events filled the GatherDC community calendar in April 2018. They ranged from a weekly Jewish yoga class at Adas Israel to listening to a Holocaust survivor at the EDCJCC. Events spanned all areas of the city, and extended to Maryland and Virginia. They included social gatherings like bar bingo, and educational outings for Jews of all identity groups.  

Diverse in many ways, but one thread bound these 100+ programs together: they were Jewish.

The 2017 Greater Washington Jewish Community Demographic Study denoted that, “DC’s Jewish community numbers nearly 300,000 Jewish adults and children in over 155,000 households.” The study found that 22% of the community is 18-29 years old, and another 21% are 30-39.

The Greater Washington Jewish community is the third largest Jewish community in the country. 43% of those in the DMV community are young professionals. Although many of these young adults are often seen at Jewish events (or on JSwipe), our local community spans far beyond these highly involved individuals. The study highlights that in America, being Jewish or not Jewish is not a binary classification. Jewish pluralism is alive and well in the U.S., and thriving in our nation’s capital.

As a part of B’nai B’rith International’s 175th Anniversary, I looked to better explore this idea of Jewish pluralism in a project dubbed The Zero.Dot.Two Initiative. With approximately 14.4 million Jews alive globally, our people represent approximately 0.2% of worldwide citizenry. In the U.S., which is the second most populous nation of Jewish citizens, we are still only 2% of the population. In Israel, three out of every four citizens are Jewish. To better understand Judaism in today’s diverse world, I began interviewing different local, national, and international Jewish influencers with just one question: what does it mean to be Jewish?

GatherDC’s Rabbi Aaron Potek answers the question by saying, “my five paths [to a meaningful Jewish identity] are spirituality, wisdom, ethics, community, and culture. I think these are five different ways to think about Judaism. Obviously, some of these paths intersect, but I believe each one individually can be a path that someone can go down.”  

Other DC-area rabbis share their own messages:

Rabbi Shira Stutman of Sixth & I Historic Synagogue discussed the orienting principles of her Jewish identity, which included tikkun olam (repairing the world) and, more specifically, how “that the world as it is, is not the world as it could be… It is our responsibility, as Jews in this world, to continue to yearn to heal the world, which is broken in so many ways, but also to improve the way that we interact with the world.”

Rabbi Steven I. Rein of the Agudas Achim Congregation of Alexandria, VA, who also serves as Jewish Chaplain for Arlington National Cemetery, said “one of the most important roles of Judaism is to provide the ‘derech‘ or path and motivation by which we can aspire to be our best selves, and in doing so, make a positive difference in the world in which we live.”

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, the founding rabbi of B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Maryland, spoke of fulfilling the mitzvot. He paraphrased Elie Wiesel in saying, “to be Jewish in the 20th century is to be offered a gift. I look at Judaism as I look at this wonderful treasure – this wonderful heritage that we have. It has to do with our values that we offer both to individuals, and the values that we contribute to the world. Secondly, being Jewish offers us a sense of identity. An identity of who we are, where we come from, and where we are going.”

Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who is the Executive Vice President of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad), and also serves the governmental and diplomatic needs of the international Chabad-Lubavitch movement, said, “the core of being Jewish means [asking], do I have a strong relationship with my creator – with G-d? Do I nurture that relationship on a daily basis? Do I do whatever I can to make the world better…bringing the world to a place where the nations of the world will be blessed through us collectively as Jews and individually?”

Beyond these religious leaders and teachers, the interview series has included elected officials, academics, celebrities, business leaders, Jewish communal professionals, and more.

U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) answered the question by saying, “It’s family, it’s tradition, it’s values. Almost every Friday, our family gets together for Shabbat dinner because that’s our tradition. We talk about each other’s lives, and what we can do to help our community – because that’s Jewish values.”

Mr. Cardin’s counterpart in the U.S. House, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who represents a swatch of Montgomery County, MD, answered by referencing the first time on Sunday school that he heard the famous Rabbi Hillel dictum, “If I am only for myself, what am I?”


This interview series has been an exciting project for me as I continue to develop my own Jewish identity, that has been significantly evolving throughout my life. 

Growing up, I used to think that I was a “bad Jew.” My family didn’t keep kosher, regularly observe Shabbat, belong to a synagogue, or even celebrate every Jewish holiday.  Today, I don’t think anyone can be labeled a “bad Jew” because I no longer look at Judaism in a binary construct. I recognize that while some may choose to observe Judaism through a more traditional path, others may choose a different route. These paths run parallel to one another, rather than in opposite directions. 

My Jewish identity has matured exponentially while living in DC due to this wonderful, local Jewish community that has taught – and continues to teach – me so much. Today, when I think about my Jewish community, I see past the 300,000 Jews living in and around DC. I consider the wider global Jewish community that offers me lessons on how I can be a better person by representing Judaism in a way that is meaningful to me. I know that I want to raise my future family Jewishly, and am beyond excited to marry a caring, loving, smart, funny, confident, and beautiful young Jewish woman in just a few months. My fiancé makes me a better person, and a better Jewish man, every day. She is my besheret (destined/soulmate). I cannot wait to see how our two Jewish lives and families, unique in their own ways, forge themselves into a single Jewish household under the ‘chuppah’ – and into our collective future.

Thinking back to my meeting with Rabbi Potek at GatherDC’s new Dupont Circle townhouse on April 19, I consider how the significance of that day relates to my personal Jewish identity. Although that day may have appeared like any other Thursday, to me, it was significant. This  importance was not just because I enjoyed learning from the rabbi, but also because we met on Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day).

My own Jewish identity includes a great connection to the land and the people of Israel.  I’m proud that last month the nation celebrated its 70th anniversary since its founding and I have a deep respect for the thousands of years of history of the connection of that land to the Jewish people.

This series of exploring differing perspectives on Jewish identity is a teaching tool. We all relate to our personal Jewish identity in our own way.  One of my favorite things about Judaism is that we often have more questions than answers to some of life’s most complex ideas. These questions and answers can be unique to each of us.

So, my blog series, “From K (or M) Street, to the Knesset”, was meant to share that there is no singular answer to the question, “what does it mean to be Jewish?” Judaism is unique to me. It is unique to you. It is unique to someone on K Street, or M Street, or in the Knesset. It is unique to a Jew in DC, Maryland, or Virginia. And it is unique to someone in Jerusalem, London, Paris, Moscow, Cape Town, Montreal, Morocco, Tokyo, or wherever Jews call home.

Like the 100+ events on GatherDC’s community calendar – to be Jewish is diverse. But, it includes one common thread: t be Jewish is to identify as being Jewish.  Whether you identity as orthodox, conservative, reform, Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrahi, tall, short, Jew-curious, or just Jewish – you are all my Jewish brothers and sisters.

P.S. My personal answer to “What does it mean to be a Jew” is this: Being Jewish comes down to one question, and it isn’t “is your mother Jewish?” I ask myself, and I hope others ask themselves, if they identify as Jewish. If so, then: Do I/they choose to live a life that is based on Jewish ideals; Do I/they recognize that the world is imperfect, and that it is up to each of us to try to find our own individual way to repair it; Do I/they treat others with respect and as-if we would like to be treated ourselves; Do I/they know that God exists and that we as a people should try to both learn and teach Torah.

P.P.S. If you are interested in exploring your own Jewish identity, reach out to GatherDC to learn about all of the wonderful ways that they engage 20-and-30-somethings in the DC-area. Or, to hear other news important to the Jewish people, “like” the B’nai B’rith International Facebook page.

 

About the Author: Jason Langsner is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you. Jason has been an active lay leader of the Washington Jewish community since moving to the city in 2004.  He is a small business owner and formerly served as the head of digital strategy for the oldest Jewish human rights and humanitarian organization in the world – B’nai Brith International. When not blogging, he can often be found walking around his Eastern Market neighborhood or riding around DC area bike trails.

 

 

 

 

 

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

Asking for and Receiving Help: Strength or Weakness?

strengthOne of the most counter-intuitive truths to human existence is that asking for help is a sign of strength.  Why would someone strong need help?  Isn’t asking for help admitting to vulnerability, to lapses in judgment, to weakness?

The thing is, strength is not achieved or maintained independently, it is a product of living in community and relying on others.  Our modern world constantly sends us mixed messages and figuring out the layered meanings is an exhausting task.  For this and other reasons, we blithely accept the indoctrination of the American myth of independence and self-reliance, the Horatio Alger survive-and-overcome-the-odds-to-achieve-greatness stories.

The truth is far more complex, as it usually is.  The most successful among us will readily admit they didn’t do it alone; that they had help along the way.  Why then, is it so HARD to seek help when we need it, and accept it when offered?

This also, is rooted in our collective (somewhat askew) psyche.  We are notoriously bad at self-care and self-love.  The act of asking for and receiving assistance requires a level of self-awareness that can see that beyond the apparent admission of weakness there lies the strength gained of sharing both burdens and joys among friends, family, and community.

As will surprise no one (at least no one familiar with Jewish wisdom), Judaism tackled this issue eons ago and in a way we can learn from today.  Maimonides, a twelfth century Jewish scholar, proposed eight levels of charitable giving.  The lowest level is giving grudgingly, but the highest level is helping to “sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others.”

A careful reading of this highest level of charity does not show the recipient asking for help.  Yet, how would the donor know that someone needed sustaining?  The answer is almost too obvious, we are tasked with offering help before it is needed in dire circumstances.  Our task, to live well in community is to seek out individuals and situations that could use help, not to find fault and denigrate, but to find opportunities to help.

But, what about the other side?  The recipient?  Our sages have wisdom for us here as well.  They teach, “if one cannot subsist unless he does receive tzedakah (charity), he should not hesitate to accept it.  If he be proud and refuses tzedakah, he is compared to one who takes his own life, and who to his sorrow adds a transgression.”  Have the guts to accept what is given, to use it and then when you are able to, to return the largesse to the community that has bolstered you.

And so, I urge you to be strong.  Be strong and ask for help when you need it.  Be strong and receive help with grace and kindness, and be strong for others and help them help themselves.

Rabbi Deborah Reichmann JD, MPH
Executive Director
Hebrew Free Loan Association of Greater Washington
www.hebrewfreeloandc.org

Basic Instinct – Rabbi B. on this Week’s Torah Portion

TorahScrollNo, this is not a movie review and, no, I don’t think I ever saw it either!

This week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, does challenge us to contemplate: What are our basic instincts as Jews?

Moses presents the Torah to the Jewish people who famously respond with the words “ naseh v’nishma,”  “we will do, then we will listen.”  Seemingly we are pledging that we first accept the Torah unconditionally, no matter what may be written within.  After making that commitment we are ready to hear the Torah’s content.   A quite noble statement, but is that what the words really mean?

Taking the words literally, how exactly is it possible to do anything before first knowing what to do?  Before beginning any task, we have to at least know what the task is.  If not where would we start?  This is really what our words as a people are: “We will do, then, we will listen.”  We seem positioned ready to act.  How, if we don’t know yet what to do?

Let’s examine basic, natural human instincts.  When a person feels hunger, thirst, or really any desire, does the person first think “I need to eat” then begin a thought process of what to eat, when to eat, do I need hot sauce?  What really happens is that, first, we instinctively feel hungry or thirsty.  Only then does our thought process begin for “how will I fulfill my need?”  The actual hunger pang is a natural instinctual occurrence by which our bodies tell us it is time to eat.  We see that the process of eating really begins well before we intellectually think about the fact that we are hungry.

Upon receiving the Torah, we as Jews not only committed to unconditionally accept its priceless lessons, but we pledged to weave the Torah into the very fabric of our being.   Living by the Torah’s word became a very basic instinct of the Jewish people.

Just as we feel a pang of hunger or a sudden thirst, if we listen closely, we can also hear the calling of our souls telling us that our spiritual needs cannot be forgotten.

Something to ponder.  Shabbat Shalom!

Veterans Day: An Interview with Rabbi Resnicoff, Honored Military Chaplain

Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff’s service in the U.S. military spanned from being a line officer in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam to Special Assistant to the Secretary and Chief-of-Staff of the U.S. Air Force during the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Along the way, Rabbi Resnicoff has been a leading voice for interfaith values, interreligious affairs, and veterans affairs- the retired U.S. Navy Chaplain was among the small group of Vietnam veterans who helped establish the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and offered the closing prayer at its dedication 30 years ago.  He sat down with historian Jason Steinhauer to discuss his military career, current interfaith work, and what Veterans Day means to him.

Hear Rabbi Resnicoff’s story of military service online in the Library of Congress Veterans History Project collection.

Jason: What does it mean to you to be a veteran of the U.S. military?

Rabbi Resnicoff:There are many ways to serve our country.  I think veterans can take special pride in the fact that they have literally put their lives on the line for our nation.  It’s like the story of the pig and the chicken who see a restaurant sign advertising “ham and eggs” as the daily special.  The chicken is afraid, but the pig says to her, “All they want from you is a contribution.  From me, they want total commitment.”  I take pride in the fact that I was among a group of men and women who responded to the call for total commitment.

No action gives me more pride than the fact that I was part of the small group of Vietnam veterans who fought to create the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  That Memorial was created as a place for all Americans, regardless of their feelings about the war, to come together to mourn our dead- and in so doing, to salute those veterans who had come home, but who brought with them the physical and emotional scars of that war.

The wall has become for me the closest thing we have in America to the Kotel.  It is a place for prayer, for memories, and for dreams.

Jason: How has your military service as a Chaplain and life’s work as a Rabbi informed each other?

Rabbi Resnicoff: I sometimes considered leaving the military to look for a position in a synagogue.  My belief that Judaism could really be a “light unto the nations” kept me in the chaplaincy.  I took pride in the fact that I was not only helping others, I was helping them as a Jew, and as a rabbi, drawing from the wisdom and humanity of my faith.  I took pride in the fact that my rabbinic training helped me bring a “Jewish voice” to the table.

Jason: Tell us about the projects you’re currently working on.

Rabbi Resnicoff: I’m involved in a number of projects linked to remembering, and drawing lessons learned from past events with upcoming anniversaries.

I am working to make February 2, 2013 “Four Chaplains Day” because it falls one day before the day when four Army chaplains- one Jewish, two Protestant, and one Catholic- each gave up his life jacket to save someone else when the ship they were on was torpedoed during WWII.

I am also working in various ways to ensure we remember the October 23, 2013, the 30th anniversary of the Beirut barracks bombing- the first modern suicide attack against Americans.  I was present in Beirut that day and worked side-by-side with U.S. Chaplains to help our wounded, regardless of religion.

Jason: What do you think is important for young Jewish professionals to know about Jewish military service?

Rabbi Resnicoff: Most Jews know about the Biblical verse from Isaiah that teaches we should beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks.  There is another prophetic verse, from Joel, that teaches that we must sometimes beat our plowshares into swords, and our pruning hooks into spears.  We must keep the dream alive, but must understand there still may be times we are called upon to fight to help make those dreams possible.

I salute my fellow veterans who stood up in a special way, and I thank every man and woman who refuses to give up hope.  Jews must believe that there is hope in the future, and that each of us can help bring a time of peace closer through the way we live our lives.

 

Rabbi Shlomo Buxbaum

Name: Rabbi Shlomo Buxbaum

Congregation/Organization: Aish DC

Location: Rockville/Bethesda

Denomination: Outreach/Educational

Ordained From: Aish HaTorah Jerusalem

Programs/Services you run/offer: One-on-one learning, Wednesday night “Whiskey, Wine, and Wisdom”, Music and Mysticism,  Carlebach/Instructional Shabbat Services, Friday night dinners, etc.

Specialty within Judaism: Bringing out the meaning, relevance, spirituality, energy, vitality, and fun in Judaism.  Jamming to the music of Judaism.

One Jewish DC event that you recommend: Friday night at the Buxbaums!  Great food and great company… family style!

Hobbies: Playing guitar, performing and singing spiritual Jewish music with other musicians and music lovers.  Meeting new, creative, and interesting people.  Meditating.  A good L’chaim.

Fun fact about you: I starred in a Jewish spoof of Grease at the Denver Center for performing arts.  It was called “Shmaltz”.  I sang, danced, and even greased my hair!

Contact: 301-448-6153, SBuxbaum@aish.com

 

Mitzvah Maker – Rabbi Berkman

Tell us about Mesorah, DC.
Mesorah DC is an organization committed to enhancing the Jewish experience of the young professional community in D.C. Over 10 years ago Rabbi Teiltelbaum saw an opportunity to connect with, and serve a community that was not really being serviced at the time. Since then, countless numbers of young professional Jews have participated our events. We take pride in trying to make all Jews from all affiliations and backgrounds feel comfortable and welcome at our programs.

Where can we find you on a Friday night?
On the first and third Friday night of each month Mesorah DC hosts Shabbat services and dinner at the beautiful 6 & I Historic Synagogue. Services start at 6:45 and dinner follows at 8. We often have guest speakers or special events at our dinners and it always guarantees a good time. This week, in fact, is our kick off Shabbat for the season. We are privileged to have world renowned relationship expert Mort Fertel as our guest speaker. I would like to take this opportunity to personally invite all GTJ readers to join. For more info or to RSVP check out our new website www.mesorahdc.org.
How many people come to Mesorah Shabbat dinners?I would say that in an average shabbat, we probably expect about 120 people. If we have a special event or speaker, we can host between 180 and 200 people. This coming shabbat, we are preparing for a big crowd.

What if we are Jewish, but have never been to a Shabbat, can we still come?
Absolutely! That is why we are here. If you are apprehensive or feel funny about just showing up to services, please feel free to contact myself or any of the Mesorah rabbis any time throughout the week. We would be happy to talk to you or meet with you sometime before Shabbat if that would make you feel more comfortable.   What is your personal role in Mesorah DC, and how do you view youre roll in the community in general?I am fortunate to work with a very talented staff along with Rabbis Lefkowitz and Motzen and under the direction of Rabbi Teitelbaum. We very much work as a team, and I feel very fortunate to be a part of that team.  On a personal level, I want to be whatever the community needs. Even outside of regular Mesorah events, I am available throughout the week. If you want to learn, but Cafe Nite doesn’t fit into your schedule, let me know and we can make a different time to study. If you want to start a special class or study group during the day for friends or colleagues, I would be happy to help that happen as well. I am really here for the young professional Jews in DC, committed to making your Jewish experience a positive and enriching one.

How do we contact you (facebook, email, website…)?
I have about ten different email addresses, but the easiest one to reach me at is rabbiberkman@gmail.com. I feel kind of funny giving it out online but it’s on our website anyway so my cell phone is 443-538-3606.

Also I am kind of new to the face book community, so i could use some good friends.

Any parting shots or  piece of wisdom can you share with young professional Jews in DC?
D.C. is a great community with awesome potential. Make the most of your time here and the resources available to you. It’s amazing to thing that I am talking to Gather the Jews, a website focused on the options for Young professional Jews in D.C, that receives over 2000 hits a week. Its been a pleasure to watch GTJ grow to what it is now in really a relatively short time. You guys used to come to Mesorah events as participants now you come as community leaders. It is a testament to your hard work but also to the community you serve. Young professionals in D.C. are hungry for Jewish enrichment. We at Mesorah DC are here to provide what you are looking for. Please join us soon!