DC Jews: Disenfranchised or Just Complaining?

Stephen Richer is President of Gather the Jews.  Do not blame GTJ as an organization for this article’s shortcomings or Stephen’s personal shortcomings.


Given the large number of lawyers in the young Jewish adult community, this story is too good to pass up… Even though I’m a little late to the punch.


Rabbi Herzfeld. Picture from the Jewish Outreach Institute

On January 6, 2012, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of DC’s Ohev Sholom synagogue (and friend of this site) finalized a settlement with DC Mayor Vincent Gray and the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics (“The Board”).

The settlement resolves a case that launched on April 13, 2011, when Rabbi Herzfled filed a complaint against The Board for holding a special election on April 26, 2011 – the last day of Passover.  As Herzfeld noted, and as most readers of this website can probably tell you, Orthodox Jews are religiously proscribed from writing on the final day of Passover – a ban that would keep them from voting.

When Herzfeld originally brought the issue to the attention of The Board, the election officials said that “their hands were tied” by the DC law that requires a special election to be held on the first Tuesday that is at least 114 days after the vacancy is certified.

Herzfeld requested that if The Board couldn’t change the date, it should extend poll closing time by two hours, from 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm, thereby allowing observant Jews to run to polls immediately after sundown.  The Board responded that the logistics of this would be impossible; they could not, at late notice, arrange for all 142 polling places to stay open two extra hours.

But The Board did not ignore the potential hardship caused by the date of election.  In light of the scheduling conflict, The Board arranged for absentee ballots, early voting ballots, and it even setup absentee ballot applications at several synagogues and Jewish organizations.

Steven Lieberman. Picture from Rothwell, Figg, Ernst & Manbeck, P.C.

Still, Herzfeld felt that this was not good enough, and he filed a suit alleging that The Board had violated the First (Freedom of Religion) and Fifth (Due Process) Amendment rights of DC’s observant Jews.  Herzfeld’s long-time friend and legal counselor Steven Lieberman (Rothwell, Figg, Ernst & Manbeck, P.C.) served as Herzfeld’s lawyer.

According to Lieberman, Herzfeld proceeded with the suit because “he saw that he would be unable to go to the polls and vote in this special election.  He considered it an important civic duty.”  Lieberman proceeded to say that the early voting measures taken by The Board “were inadequate” and that many in the Orthodox Jewish community would be effectively disenfranchised.

Not everyone in the Jewish community took this line, however, and some even rejected the ideas behind Herzfeld’s suit.  Rabbi Barry Freundel – the dynamo of Georgetown’s Kesher Israel Synagogue – filed a statement with the court on April 15, 2011 stating that,

“It is my view that, while it is unfortunate that by operation of law the election falls on the last day of Passover, and I am, therefore, unable to vote at a polling station on that day because of my religious beliefs, the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics has made a fair and reasonable accommodation for me and my similarly situated congregants by having an early voting process and by being willing, if requested, to deliver absentee ballots for eligible voters to the synagogues on a Sunday before the election.”

Rabbi Freundel. Picture from Kesher Congregant

Over the phone, Freundel  remarked that there could be some potential backlash to the Herzfeld suit.  “[The Board] was remarkably, remarkably flexible.  [Herzfeld] potentially made enemies with a lot of people who were working to accommodate the Jewish community.”

Lieberman responded – on a separate phone call – to Freundel’s actions with some vitriol, “Rabbi Freundel was just wrong.  For whatever reason, Rabbi Freundel decided that he wanted to pander to the District of Columbia.  He made a statement that was not in the interests of the Jewish community or his congregants.  I thought it was shocking that an Orthodox rabbi would take that position.”

Undeterred by Freundel’s signed statement, Herzfeld and Lieberman pushed on.  By this point they couldn’t get change things to their liking for the special election day, but they could win a battle for the future.

Standing before U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, Herzfeld and Lieberman argued that surely The Board wouldn’t have remained as inflexible had the special election day landed on Christmas.  The Board countered that it, in fact, would have.  Judge Sullivan expressed skepticism and hoped that all necessary steps would be taken in the future to avoid such a conflict.

The ramifications of the constitutional assertion – that The Board violated the First and Fifth Amendments of observant DC Jews – extends beyond this DC election.   The much-watched and much-discussed South Carolina GOP primary took place on January 21, 2012 – a Saturday.  The polls opened at 7:00 AM and closed at 7:00 PM (2012 Election Central).  Orthodox Jews are also not allowed to write on Saturday, and Havdallah (Shabbat closing prayers) took place at 5:58 PM on the 21st, hardly enough time to finish prayers and get to the polls.  Would Herzfeld and Lieberman argue that the South Carolina GOP also violated the First and Fifth Amendments?

Must government constitutionally avoid conflict with religions?  Is it enough that the government doesn’t actively prohibit or suppress the practice of a religion?  Or must the government draft its laws and set its dates with religions in mind?

If it must, then what about a hypothetical situation in which new religions emerge and every day of the week is filled with a day of rest (Jews Saturday, Christians Sunday, Group A Monday, etc.)?  Would governments be unable to schedule elections because it would inevitably conflict with the holy day of one religion?  Certainly the government couldn’t say the size of the religion dictates whether or not the religion has constitutional protection – it would be a true First Amendment violation to elevate one religion over another.

It certainly would be nice if elections avoided conflict with religions (much the same way you wouldn’t want to schedule a vote on the day of the Super Bowl), but does the Constitution mandate this?  Must government accommodate religion?  Or just allow for its free practice?

Ilya Shapiro. Picture from the Cato Institute

When asked the question, Ilya Shapiro – Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute –  stated,  “Just as a broken clock is right twice a day, the District of Columbia has the better of the argument here.  The Constitution doesn’t even demand that D.C. accommodate those unable to vote on election day (for religious reasons or otherwise), though absentee ballots are good public policy.”

But for better or for worse, this issue will not be resolved through Herzfeld’s recent suit.   As noted at the beginning of this article, Herzfeld and Lieberman came to an agreement with The Board and Mayor Gray on January 6, 2012 that new legislative measures would be introduced to accommodate for future religious conflicts.

This seems an eminently practical solution.  But it does not answer the Constitutional question.  Perhaps I’ll bring a few experts (Nat and Alyza Lewin are you out there?) to shed further light on this topic.

Apologies for the long post, but this is really interesting subject with a great local spin!


Since writing this article, The New York Times has posted this article on the Saturday caucus going in Nevada.






Star & Shamrock — A restaurant that unites my peoples! (redheads and Jews)*

All mediocre photography is the fault of Stephen I. Richer.

The number of meals I have at Jewish-themed restaurants is sometimes overwhelming (2 in the past 55 days…).

On November 30, 2011, I took my Canadian date to a sumptuous meal at DISTRIKT Bistro — DC’s newest kosher restaurant (see my review here).

Unfazed by this Jewish culinary outing, I lunched on Sunday at Star and Shamrock Tavern and Deli, 1341 H Street, NE.

I’ve been meaning to try Star and Shamrock for a long time.  It opened in early 2011, but my interest was really piqued when the Washington Post mentioned both Star and Shamrock and GTJ in this December article on young DC Jews.

Better late than never!


From the outside, Star and Shamrock could not be better.  A tavern-style sign bears a giant Star of David with an Irish clover in the middle.  If that doesn’t draw your attention, then the restaurant’s storefront title surely will:  “Star” — written in what looks like Irish characters — and “Shamrock” — written in what looks like Hebrew characters.  So great.

Almost by definition, the inside couldn’t be as good as the outside, but it was still pretty solid.  The restaurant features a Jewish-style deli and an Irish-style pub.  All of your favorite deli sandwiches are there: Corned beef, pastrami, beef brisket, liverwurst, etc.  Other Jewish staples also make appearances throughout the menu: Latkes, reubens, Hebrew National franks, Jewish rye bread, etc.  (see the menu here)

Lame as I am, I went with a tuna sandwich, but my date — a tall brunette (**) with an obsession for yogurt, tennis, and model rockets — was a bit more adventuresome and ordered the Latke Madness: “3 potato pancakes, hot corned beef, griddle sauerkraut, swiss.”

I finished my sandwich quickly in the hopes of trying a bit of the Latke Madness.  It worked.  I got to try it.  “And it was good.”  (Genesis 1:31)  My date, admittedly a picky eater, praised the food in less divine terms, but still gave it a thumbs up.


Beyond the deli sandwiches, Star and Shamrock is also a place to drink (drink menu), watch sports (lots of TVs), and socialize.  On Monday nights, S&S hosts a trivia night; Tuesday night is kids eat free night (defined by age, not maturity level… damn!); and Thursday night has live music (see full “Happenings” list).


You may not be able to see it, but trust me, it's a picture of a menorah on a mantel.

I would have liked a stronger Jewish theme to the restaurant.  As it is, Judaism is limited to the exterior, the menu, and the menorahs on the mantel.  Perhaps this is best for attracting the non-Jewish customer, but I was definitely disappointed when I got a “no” upon asking the waiter if I could answer Jewish trivia for a discount (I guess that’s the Mr. Yogato in me).   There’s also the fact that the restaurant is NOT kosher, which of course detracts from the Jewishness of the place, though I can hardly blame the owners given my own experience with the Kosher process.  (Speaking of kosher food… Maoz recently closed, so we’re back to just two NW kosher restaurants)

The other problem is the obvious one: location.  I can count the number of times I’ve been to NE on two hands, and most GTJ readers are similarly ensconced in NW.  I haven’t explored how to get around the metro limitation — I would imagine Mike Weinberg knows of a bus that goes to H Street, NE — so for now, the only times I’ll go to S&S are when I can bum a ride.

But overall, the restaurant is very solid and definitely worth checking out if you’re on H Street, NE.


Souvenir S&S t-shirts.

Our meal, with tip, wound up costing $30 — probably about average for a $10 sandwich shop.

In true Twenty First Century fashion, we split the bill.


To learn more about the restaurant and the owners Jewish/Irish background, see this Washington Post review.

I emailed the owner to get more information on the restaurant and to see if GTJ readers can have a discount, but I am impatient and didn’t want to wait to post this.  I will update the post when he replies.

(*) Though I am a redheaded Jew, I’m only 1/8 Irish, and the red hair probably doesn’t come from that side of the family…

(**) My date’s self-described hair color:  “A luxurious blend of mahogany and chestnut.”



DC Jewish Blog Round Up — Samantha gets a boy.

In case you weren’t able to read the other local Jewish blogs this week, here are a few of my favorite posts:


  • New Year, New Dating Approach: News flash:  Singles columnist Samantha has a boyfriend!  She’s apparently been dating him for a few months; am I the only guy that feels like I’ve been led on?  Now she’s out to help her roommate find a match, and she wonders if JDate is the only option.

Jewish Policy Center:

  • Iranian Plot in U.S. Foiled: If you haven’t read about the Iranian assassination plot in the U.S., read this article by Samara Greenberg.  Remember, the Iranian government is a peace-loving regime that should be offered a seat at the negotiating table.  I wonder if this will make Ron Paul end his sympathetic remarks for Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

ShalomDC – Weekly Jewish Wisdom (by Dr. Erica Brown)

  • Complex Happiness – The Release of Gilad Shalit: Dr. Brown discusses the release of Gilad Shalit in the context of Simchat Torah.  Interesting fact from the article:  “In the past 54 years, Israel has exchanged 13,509 prisoners for 16 soldiers.”

Also, Dr. Brown asks, “And if Gilad were allowed to languish in captivity to prevent this kind of leveraging, would any parent of sound mind be prepared to send a child into an army that is not committed to returning their children, whenever possible, home safely?”  Well… U.S. policy does not allow us to negotiate with terrorists, so if Shalit was American, he likely would have “languished” in prison.  American soldiers know this, yet we still have an Armed Force of about 1.5 million soldiers.  Does that mean there’s roughly 3 million American parents who are not “of sound mind?”

Washington Jewish Week:

  • JFNA bumps BDS backer from Heroes contest: The Jewish Federations of North America and Jewish Voice for Peace into a little spat over the latter’s support for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign.


Want to recommend a DC Jewish blog that we should be reading? Email

Local Jewish blogs we’re reading:



Yom Kippur Events — Full listing!

Please note that many of these events require tickets/registration.

Kol Nidre — Friday, October 7

Yom Kippur — Saturday, October 8

Evening/Neilah — Saturday, October 8

Any options you think should be on our list but aren’t? Email Noa ( or Stephen (


The broken Jewish engagement model

An article on the “The broken Jewish engagement model” by GTJ’s president Stephen Richer is featured in this week’s Washington Jewish Week.  The article’s not bad, but we wish they could expand the picture a bit…

Favorite part of the article:

But the Jewish nonprofit market is not an efficient market. Especially in the young professional world, supply is not directed by the consumer (the young professional service goer), but instead by the donor. Donors — who tend to be older — give money to what they know: the synagogue, rabbi, Torah-centric Judaism. It’s a bit like a Soviet system where the government dictates what types of cars should be produced — rather than letting consumers choose — and then acts surprised at slumping consumer interest.

Go here to read the rest.

DC Jewish Blog Round Up

Moment magazine names the top 10 Jewish apps.

In case you weren’t able to read the other local Jewish blogs this week, here are a few of my favorite articles:

The Blog at 16th and Q:

  • Is G-d Important?: Halley Cohen asks if God is still (or ever was) central to Judaism – a question that the J will explore on September 21.

Moment Magazine:

  • Top Ten Jewish Apps: Moment Magazine’s just-released September/October issue features a story on the top ten Jewish Apps.  My favorite is Jew Booth: “Sure, that photo of you at cousin Jake’s wedding looks nice, but does it need a little Jewish je ne sais quoi? Jew Booth is here to help. Take any photo and make it distinctly Jewish by adding a kippah, a Star of David necklace or other Jewish accouterments. Your Facebook friends will think you’ve undergone a religious transformation when they see photos of you wearing a black fedora; whether or not you clue them in to Jew Booth’s photographic trickery is up to you.”

Jewish Policy Center:

  • Remembering 9/11 in the U.S. – and Afghanistan? Samara Greenberg points out that it’s a bit hard for Afghanis to commemorate 9/11 when “only 8 percent of the Afghan men surveyed… said they know of ‘this event which the foreigners call 9/11.”  GTJ recently logged a couple hits from Afghanistan… perhaps we’re up to 8 percent there now too…

Want to recommend a DC Jewish blog that we should be reading? Email


JCRC's Day on the Hill – Register NOW

There is only a limited time remaining to register for the Jewish Community Relations Council‘s Day on Capitol Hill.  This event will allow local Jews to meet with their Senators and Representatives and hear expert panels on issues relevant to the Jewish community. Topics include: protecting health and human services, defending a strong US-Israel relationship, the Iranian nuclear threat, and more.

WHEN: September 15, 10:00 a.m. to approximately 3:00 p.m.

WHERE: House and Senate Offices

For the full agenda, click here.

Those interested must register by September 1. To do so, click here. Cost is $20

Kosher lunch will be provided.


GTJ idea competition

Gather the Jews invites you to participate in its first ever IDEA COMPETITION.


The competition prompt is simple:  Improve Gather the Jews.


Gather the Jews aims to facilitate Judaism as an event aggregator, news service, and social rallying point for young professional Jews in DC.

We’ve had some success in doing this.  Over 2,000 young professional DC Jews subscribe to our weekly newsletter, and our website receives 3,000 visitors per week.

But we want to keep growing and improving.  And that’s why we’re asking for your help.


What you must do to compete:

To help us, please submit an idea for how GTJ can improve.  Your entry should be fewer than 200 words and must be submitted by Wednesday, September 7 at 11:59 PM EST.   You can submit as many ideas as you like.


The prize:

The winning idea will receive $100.  The second and third best ideas will get $50 each.


The judging process:

All ideas will be reviewed by a committee of GTJ staff members.  Ideas will be judged based on:

1)      Their ability to improve GTJ
2)      Their ability to help the Jewish DC community
3)      The ease with which they can implemented
4)      The cost (lower the better) with which they can be implemented


The GTJ committee will select the best five ideas by September 21.

These five ideas will then be posted on the GTJ website and GTJ viewers will be given one week to vote on their favorite idea.  Final standings will be determined based on number of votes.


Submit your idea: Email


The Modern-Day Dating Lemon Law — GTJ dating series with Erika E. (week 7)

You’re on a date.  It’s going just ok.  Actually, no it’s not.  You’re bored.  He lied in his profile.  Her jokes are offensive.  You got into an argument over some spilled wine.  He was rude to the waiter.  She thought it was polite to spit out her gum and keep it behind her ear for later.  He started talking about a potential Martian invasion and possible future wars between humans and aliens.  Whatever the reason, you want out.

And herein lies the question: Is there a polite, socially acceptable way to end a bad date and extricate yourself quickly and gracefully?

Now, I’m not necessarily talking about Barney Stinson’s Lemon Law.  (In case you don’t watch How I Met Your Mother, see:  I’m just talking about a courteous gesture that indicates that the date is over.

I once went on a JDate to play ping pong.  (If you know me at all, you know I’m a ping pong fiend.)  When I got there, I couldn’t find him.  Why, you might ask?  Well, he was about 50 pounds heavier than his JDate picture and stated weight indicated.  I could talk for hours about the reasons not to lie online, but I’ll save that for later.  I wasn’t happy that my date lied, but I was already there, so I figured I’d give him the benefit of the doubt.  But it soon became clear that he was exceedingly boring (like, pulling teeth boring) and a poor sport at losing to me in ping pong.  Three strikes for him, and I was outta there.  I told him that my workout earlier in the day had really taken it out of me and that I had to go home.

Did I do the right thing?  Maybe.  In hindsight, it might have been more appropriate to say that I was disappointed that he had misrepresented his appearance.  But what’s done is done.

When it comes to a bad date, first determine the nature of “bad.”  Is it “creepy” bad or just “no sparks” bad?  If it’s the latter, then your best bet is to stick it out (at least for one drink or a cup of coffee).  A drink can’t hurt either… It may actually loosen you both up.  Who knows?  You might even start to like each other.  Plus, the worst that happens is you might get a funny story out of it.  “Remember that time when I went out with a guy from JDate who had taken me out six years prior, but I didn’t recognize him?  I didn’t like him then, and I certainly didn’t like him now!”  Yep – happened to yours truly.  I’m glad I stuck that one out since I’m still telling the story.

For the “creepy” bad date (other variants are “scary” bad, “offensive” bad, “mean” bad – you get the picture), the best bet is to (gulp!) be honest.  This is definitely the most awkward choice, but it’s also the most mature. “You know, I just don’t think we’re clicking.  It was nice to meet you, but I don’t want either of us to waste our time, so I thought I’d say that to give us the option to go do something else fun tonight.”

Telling a white lie (you’re not feeling well, you ate some bad cheese, you forgot about a work function you have to attend, you’re really tired, etc.) to get out of a date, like I did, isn’t usually the smartest move.  You may cross paths with this person again, which actually makes this choice pretty awkward too.  Your date may not have gotten the hint and may try to ask you out again, and the lie will become apparent by your present lack of interest.  No, a little white lie never killed anyone, but if you’re comfortable enough to use the, “I just don’t think we’re clicking” line, it’s a better, more honest approach.

So, while there’s no modern-day dating Lemon Law, if your date starts discussing the pros of dogfighting, or coughing in your face without any regard for your personal space, it’s ok to admit you’re not a match and move on.  Even Oprah agrees!

Erika Ettin is the Founder of A Little Nudge, and helps people find success in online dating and gets them excited about its possibilities. “Like” A Little Nudge on Facebook, or follow on Twitter. An archive of all of Erika’s columns is also available.

Have questions you want answered in a future post?  E-mail


Jew camp = DC summer internship?

Image from Covenant Harbor ... Are these kids at summer camp or at a DC internship?

As the DC summer intern season comes to an end (insert your sigh of relief here, staff Washingtonians), I can’t help but reflect on how similar this experience is to Jew camp.

Sure, DC doesn’t quite have the rustic feel of those graffiti-covered log cabins we all called our second home, but there’s still lots of parallels between the two, including: life lessons, bonding, mid-summer lulls, and making the right connections.

When I say life lessons, I’m not talking about “bunk hopping” or late-night make-out sessions at the boating lake, but the confidence and skills we learned while being away from mom and dad for those sacred summer months. Similarly, there are many lessons that we learn during our time as summer interns in DC that will stick with us throughout our adult careers, including, again, confidence and skillsets.

I don’t know what it is about Jew camp, but when you come across someone who has also gone to camp, you instantly feel the need to recollect every tradition and memory that was ever bestowed upon you at camp. Likewise, if you come across someone who has ever been an intern in DC, you swap war stories–like how many times you threw up on the red line metro that summer.

There also comes a point every summer when the daily grind becomes monotonous. At camp, this is usually when the traditional color war breaks out, distracting everyone from the fact that the staff has run out of new activities. In Washington, this also occurs but usually in the form of a crisis in the office, during which the interns get a bit of reprieve (AKA: you take two-hour lunch breaks and no one notices or cares).

At Jew camp, if get in with the “Long Island” crowd at camp, you are instantly popular.  As we say in Washington, “it’s all about who you know.” If you have an internship with a person who has an extremely long/important sounding title (usually involving many hyphens and spanning many departments), you are instantly envied by every other intern you come into contact with.

Ultimately, the camp and intern experiences are only shared, but always shared, with those who have also been part of these summer traditions.  So whether you went to Jew camp or had a DC summer internship, your experience might be over, but you’ll continue to relive it with those you meet, and you’ll continue to benefit from it.  Accordingly, this is goodnight, but not goodbye, DC summer interns.

Rachael Dubinsky is a new GTJ writer.