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Meet Jeremy: Jewish Canadian of the Week

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hanging at a sports gameAllie: What brought you to DC?

Jeremy: Like most people, it was happenstance of the job. I went to school in St. Louis, and am from Toronto originally, so I didn’t have ties to any cities in the US. I’d always heard that DC was a cool city to live, and filled with a lot of young people. After 3 years here, I’m so happy I made that decision.

Allie: How did you decide to move to America after growing up in Canada?

Jeremy: Canada’s university system takes a very European approach to education. When you apply to college out of high school, you apply directly to a specific program, like pre-med. In the US, it’s a lot more liberal. You don’t need to pick your major until the second year, there’s a lot more flexibility. Also, I had the same group of friends since middle school, and they were all going to go to the same college, so it was good for me to expand.

Allie: What do you think are the biggest differences between America and Canada?

Jeremy: 1) The cities in the US. have a much more diverse group of people. In Canada, people are either from Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver. In the US, you have people from the middle of Iowa and people from New York who are now living in the same city.

2)  In the US, there is a lot more homegrown, original stuff that goes on in the cities. Toronto is a big city, but if you look at the entertainment options there, most shows and art didn’t originate in Toronto, they started in New York or L.A.

3) There are a lot more all-you-can-eat buffets in the US.

4) Canada just got its first Cheesecake Factory six months ago. Since then, there have been non-stop lines at the restaurant, and Canadian food bloggers are writing food blogs about it. People can’t even get reservations.

Allie: What are you most excited about for the summertime?

Jeremy: It’s my dad’s 60th birthday this summer, so my family rented a house in Puglia, Italy and are going to go at the end of summer. Apparently, there’s a wood-burning pizza oven in the backyard of the house, and it’s near wineries. I’m excited to drink wine, eat pizza, and it’s only 20 minutes from the beach and some old Italian cities.

Allie: If you had an entirely free day to do whatever you want in D.C., how would you spend it?

Jeremy:  I’d probably sleep in, go to Bethesda Bagels, and ideally there wouldn’t be a line. Then, I’d head towards the monuments. I’ve always wanted to go up the Washington Monument, even though the elevators have been broken for so long. In my ideal day, the elevators would be working. I’ve really wanted to go to the African American Museum, so I’d go there, and then  grab lunch somewhere downtown. I’d go to Mini Bar for dinner, and then to a speakeasy – the one behind Jack Rose called Dram and Grain DC. I’ve never been, but apparently they have really good bourbon drinks. Oh, also, I love going to see movies at the Air and Space Museum.

Jewish friends in DC

Allie: What’s your favorite smell and why?

Jeremy: Vanilla, Cinnabon, and the smell of a flower shop.

Allie: What’s your favorite way to relax and destress?

Jeremy: I try and go for a run every so often, and read. I tried to meditate for a week, and I wish I could do that longer, maybe that’s something I can learn this year.

Allie: If you could eat 3 foods for the rest of your life what would they be?

Jeremy: Bagel/lox/cream cheese, steak with a side of parmesan truffle fries, and any veggie pizza.

Allie: What’s at the top of your bucket list?

Jeremy: I want to see the Northern Lights. I want to go skydiving, but I’m terrified of heights. And I want to go scuba diving more often.

Allie: Are there any Canadian terms for things that you wish people knew?

Jeremy: My favorite word you guys don’t have here is a garburator – it’s a garbage disposal.

Allie: Hobbies or skills you want to do or learn this year?

I want to do more snowboarding and ice hockey. I’d like to go on a snowboarding trip to Vail or Big White in Canada for hockey and snowboarding.

Allie: Do you have any interesting facts that people may not know about you?

Jeremy: I have slept in an igloo, and have been dog sledding before.

Allie: Complete the sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Jeremy: They argue whose mom makes the best matzo ball soup (mine does).

Jewish guy of the week and girlfriend

 

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.

Choosing Faith Anew: A Yom Kippur and Ashura Reflection

About the Author: Julie Sherbill is currently a Peace Corps Volunteer serving near Marrakech, who hails from Washington, DC. Having lived in Turkey and worked for an international fellowship program, she believes well-designed cultural exchanges are crucial for a more peaceful and just world. Read more about her service on her blog: In the End, We’re All Shoes

There are similarities in the Jewish and Muslim calendars—to start with, they are both lunar. The Jewish and Muslim new years overlapped as well.  And like last year, Yom Kippur coincides with fasting for Ashura, which is the 10th day of the first month in the Islamic calendar.

Image may contain: one or more people and people standing

Social versus Spiritual

So, what does this have to do with my time here inMorocco as a Peace Corps Volunteer? Well, like many PCVs, living in a village where Islam is a big part of life here has of course driven me to reflect on my own religious identity, faith, and resolve. As the New Year begins, celebrating Ashura and Yom Kippur simultaneously embodies this experience.

Back home, as bigoted groups take the center of national news, and activists have to take on identity-based hate speech, the social aspect of my Jewish identity in an American context seems to take a front seat. While I undoubtedly benefit from white privilege, anti-Semitism is still a nuanced, subtle reality especially as “hatred toward Jews has been deeply intertwined with the idea of Jews having unique sorts of advantages.”

But in my day-to-day life in Morocco, religion is not a matter of identity, but rather, of faith and belief. Now I’m realizing that when I remove the social aspect of my Jewishness, there doesn’t seem to be much left. That’s especially as a lot of people I hang out with here pray on their own every day, read the Quran, and base many of their daily beliefs and actions on the teachings of the prophet. Meanwhile, I’m still trying to clarify my definition of God.

 

Collective History and Nationalism

There are 1.8 billion Muslims inthe world, so like in any religion, everyone interprets and practices their beliefs in vastly different ways. Specifically, for many of my friends in my Peace Corps site, faith is not something you observe when it’s convenient, but rather, a sacred code that dictates how to live and view your life. They live out their beliefs with friends and family, but also on their own in their daily routines and perceptions.

My closest friends here know that I am Jewish, but I’m not sure they understand what it means to me back home. Most have never heard of the Holocaust (although they do study the rise of the Nazis in school). While I was explaining to one of my friends what it was, she asked me, “but why did they do this?” and I grew emotional. This collective history of oppression has been a huge part of my Jewish education.

Looking back at my days of bat mitzvahs, Jewish youth groups, ties and trips to Israel, Hebrew school, Hillel, celebrations, commemorations, shivas, and brisses, it’s safe to say I have a strong sense of Jewish identity. For that, I have to thank my family, community, upbringing, and personal choices.

But when I’m alone, without my Jewish community, without people that know my collective history, without any personal sense of Jewish patriotism, I’m only left with my faith—the core belief, spiritual, stuff. Now that I’m looking at it closely, naked, under a microscope, in a sea of other people’s unwavering faiths, I realize just how wavering my own faith is.

Wavering Faith is Still Faith

What do I do with this realization? Clearly, I’m at a crossroads in my, to sound hokey, “spiritual journey.” I could realize that religion is indeed not a “biological reality” and be atheist or agnostic, which would certainly make things easier. I could start from scratch and research all religions, and see which ones I like best. After all, at 26, I’m certainly old enough to pick my own religion, instead of the one chosen for me at birth

Except—I never did feel pressured to be Jewish, anyway. My community and family, for as long as I can remember, always encouraged me to think critically and choose my own path.

Abandoning my religion would feel like I’m letting Judaism’s emphasis on questioning, doubting, and learning lead me away from Judaism itself. And, to not be Jewish would feel like turning my back on the community I grew up in and the self I’ve created. It’s when I’m critiquing my religion, and observing it alongside friends and family, that I feel most Jewish.

It may not seem like the most solid foundation, but for now, it’s enough to keep me here—and that’s what counts. Maybe that’s what faith is—that simple, unexplainable force that makes you keep going, even when there aren’t so many tangible reasons to do so.

Concealing and Atoning

While the word Kippur means atonement (hence Yom Kippur), the root K-P/F-R in Arabic and Hebrew scripts can actually mean to “conceal or deny,” as in, denying one’s religion. This possible connection between denying one’s religion and atoning seems perfect for what’s in my head this year.

This Yom Kippur, as I fast alongside many of my faithful Muslim brothers and sisters, I will aim to begin a more forgiving, yet closer, relationship with Judaism. I no longer want to let doubt lead me to denying or concealing my faith overall.

The Struggle is Real

Listening to Krista Tippett’s podcast On Being, I was inspired by the interviewee Rabbi AmichaiLau-Lavie, who said:

Part of the reason why I’m not an Orthodox Jew but a flexidox or polydox and otherwise-Jew, and not just “Jew,” is that I do believe in evolution, not just of our species and the world, but of concepts. And if the Bible and the Jewish values that have sustained my people for thousands of years believe that women were subservient and that sexuality was of a specific type and that types of worship included slaughtering animals, we’ve evolved. That’s not where we are. So we need to read some of those sacred words as metaphor, as bygone models, as invitations for creativity, and for sort of the second meaning and the second naïveté here that still retrieves this text as useful and these narratives as holy, not as literal.”

I believe in evolution and recognize that sexuality and gender are spectrums. I might not be able to keep kosher, celebrate Shabbat every Friday, or attend Torah study. It may seem to you that I’m picking and choosing what I want, as if God’s commandments are just an open buffet.

But unlike my ancestors, I’m lucky in that, the only one who can prevent me from being Jewish is myself. It’s with this understanding that I will keep learning about religion, having belief be a part of my life, and connecting with my past and future. My own reality and the Jewish texts will never be mutually exclusive, because my own interpretation of religion gives me not dogma, but rather, a platform for freedom to further explore. 

So this year, it is with continued faith, forgiveness, and learning, that I choose Judaism anew. And for that, I have to thank a caring, inclusive, and humble Muslim community in Sidi Bouzid, Morocco for challenging me to do so and showing me what true faith looks like.

This above article is an excerpt. Read the complete article 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 Guy of the Week: Gabe!

Gabe 2Jackie: What brought you to DC?

Gabe: After college, I took a job and spent a year up in Minnesota. Eventually I was just about done with the extreme snow and cold (the week where it didn’t get above -10 did it for me) and I was ready to move on.  I had a few friends that lived in the area and they couldn’t stop talking about how great it is so I decided to move here. The first time I was in the area in the past 15 years is when I showed up with my car packed with all my possessions.  Almost two years later now, I haven’t looked back!

Jackie: I hear you travel a lot, can you tell about some of your recent adventures?

Gabe: My most recent (and probably my favorite so far) was a trip to Peru this past September. The highlight of the trip was four days spent camping and hiking the Inca trail.  It wasn’t the easiest way to get to Machu Picchu but I know that we appreciated the view from the top way more then anyone who took the train did.

Jackie: What’s your favorite way to spend Shabbat?

Gabe: Anywhere that there is friends and food. It never ceases to amaze me how Jewish people from all over the country (and world) all know the same tunes to the songs and prayers.

Gabe 3Jackie: What is your favorite Jewish food and/or holiday?

Gabe: While I’m not in love with the eating restrictions for the rest of the week, nothing beats a good Passover Seder

Jackie: Who is your favorite Jew?

Jackie: I’m kind of on a 60’s kick right now, so I’ll go with Bob Dylan

Jackie: Finish the sentence: When the Jews gather…

Gabe: there’s no place I’d rather be.