5 Things You Didn’t Know About Judaism

Okay, given the seemingly infinite nature of Jewish text, history, and interpretation, there may be more than 5 things you didn’t know about Judaism. But, here are 5 things you can learn more about at Federation’s ROUTES: Day of Learning on Sunday, November 5th at George Mason University! ROUTES is a full day of classes led by world-famous presenters from all walks of the Jewish world – including many from right here in the DC area. So, did you know…

“JewBarrassment” is a thing. It’s that uncomfortable feeling most of us get when we think we’ve said or done something wrong with regard to Jewish practice. It was coined by Archie Gottesman, founder of and a featured speaker at Federation’s ROUTES, who will discuss her vision of making Judaism more accessible. (Search Class 1A and 3A)

You can use rhythm and movement to engage with Torah. Jewish tradition has a long history with using rhythm to evoke meaning in Torah texts through cantillation and Chassidic niggun, a form of religious song. Matisyahu Tonti will lead a ROUTES session where participants will use a classic Torah story, and musical techniques from the Orff Approach to music education, to learn and create a short performance that will be fun, kinesthetic, and intellectually stimulating. (Search Class 1B)

The Torah is green. Jewish tradition teaches us to protect the environment through a wide range of lessons about how to conserve resources and use them responsibly. Eating locally and sustainably is tied closely to a Kosher diet. In Evonne Marzouk’s ROUTES class, you can learn about what Jewish wisdom says about protecting the environment and using resources sustainably, then see pictures and learn about the “ingredients” of sustainable home improvement. (Search Class 1E)

The Statue of Liberty is totally Jewish. Kerry Brodie’s session at ROUTES will discuss the brief life and legacy of Emma Lazarus, the Jewish woman behind the words etched into The Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” (Search Class 2F)

Jewish Washingtonians held a vigil outside the Soviet embassy in DC every day for 20 years. GatherDC’s Jewish Teacher of the Week(!), Aaron Bregman, will explore the time when Soviet Jews were fleeing the Iron Curtain, American Jews in DC responded to the reports of harassment and oppression by organizing a resistance movement that included vigils, protests and more. Come ready to discuss questions like, “Was this experience the last time diaspora Jewry bonded together over such an important topic?” and, “What does it take to galvanize or unify our Jewish community?” (Search Class 1D)

Check out all the details and register here. Plus, get $20 off your registration with code GATHERDCROUTES2017. Heads up – if you use the code, lunch will not be included with your ticket (but you can BYO). Online registration closes Wednesday, November 1st, but young professionals (under 40) can show their IDs at the door to receive $20 off the door price of $54. This discounted price does not include lunch.


This is a sponsored post. 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.

Young Jews from the former Soviet Union organize in Washington, DC

ussr_flagAssimilation and disconnection from the Jewish community are, unfortunately, higher in Jews from the Former Soviet Union who have immigrated to the United States than in many other American Jewish communities.  Disconnection from traditional practices due to decades of oppression, differences with the greater American Jewish community about Jewish expression, and a lack of formal structure to address the needs of the community have all played a role in this phenomenon.  As a result, many Jews from the Soviet Union, particularly the younger generation and the children of FSU immigrants, are often alienated from their Jewish identity.  To combat this issue, a new group called Druzya, the Russian word for “friends”, has recently formed in Washington, DC through the use of social media.  Formed by young Jewish professionals, the group aims to reconnect young Jews to their history, their culture, and each other.

Events that have been organized by the group have included Shabbat dinners, Passover seders, and Shavuot parties, as well as many social events.  Members of the group have also attended Limmud FSU, and plan to partner with this organization for future events.

For many members, a recent Shabbat dinner was the first time they heard the Kiddush blessing over wine.  For others, it was a typical Friday night, and they led the blessings in perfect Hebrew.  Some barely spoke Russian, trying out a few phrases they had picked up from their parents while growing up in American suburbia.  Others had, just a few weeks prior, disembarked from a plane out of Moscow.  Each had much to learn from the others, but a common history and culture united them. A community was born.

At a recent house party, Pugachova, the husky Russian songstress, echoed in the background as twenty and thirty-somethings chomped on home-made Plov and discussed everything from current events in Israel, to the uncanny ability of Russian Jews to imbibe gracefully on a weeknight, to the woes of finding a Jewish significant other in the city.  Later, after the obligatory photographs by the Israeli flag on the wall, someone pulled out a guitar and played songs in Russian that some had not heard since childhood, but that were remembered well enough (thanks to the imbibing) for a round of song and dance.  This was followed by another round, but with Birthright songs.

Most recently, the group has partnered with the National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ), also located in Washington, DC, to host the former American Ambassador to Ukraine, Steven Pifer, for an evening of conversation.  Topics of discussion included the human rights situation in Russia and Ukraine, particularly how it relates to the Jewish minority still living there, diplomatic strategies, and the potential political future of the region.

In the future, the organization hopes to continue to foster relationships with Jewish organizations, connect the young Russian-speaking Jewish diaspora in the United States and abroad, and foster the strengthening of a Jewish identity among its members.

While the organization is relatively new, there is great excitement and many close friendships have been born of the initiative.  This type of grassroots community building may, in fact, be the key to re-engaging young diaspora Jews, Russian-speaking or otherwise, as assimilation continues to increase among the younger generation.