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New City, New Friends

13244856_10154112599460120_8742607338654810679_nToday marks the 9-month anniversary of me hitting the “Submit” button on my application for my job at Gather the Jews (soon to be GatherDC). This was one of the first jobs that I applied to, and man did I get a rush. It was that pit-in-your-stomach feeling, and this was from pure joy and also a tiny bit of anxiety. I’m not sure if it was because I was thinking of moving to a new place where I didn’t really know anyone, or if it was from the adrenaline of being up at 1:31 am thinking about being a “real adult”.

A few weeks later I got the job. And about 3 weeks after graduation, I moved to DC.

I’ll be the first one to admit that my job at Gather helped me with my transition to this new city more than I ever could have hoped. It dropped me right into a community: one thScreen Shot 2017-01-11 at 3.48.52 PMat I was able to navigate and to meet people who were like me – the Jewish community. I was lucky to meet some of my best friends here through this work. Going to coffee 3-5 times a week basically sets you up to succeed that way.

My suggestion for you fellow new-to-DC folks: ask people to hang out. The human condition is to look for connection. Everyone wants to be part of a great friendship. Making the effort is just the first step to something meaningful

IMG_7664But I’m not going to sugar coat it. Sometimes things are hard. Being in a new place will always have hard times – navigating the metro (what is it with only having 5 lines?), finding new doctors, and even sometimes having to move within the first three months of getting here. (That’s another story for another time…ask me, I’d happily tell you stories of my roommate saga.) There have been times where I get homesick or even school-sick (I miss the learning, not so much the homework).

The moment I knew this was the right place for me was in the middle of the summer. I was talking to a group of my new friends. I don’t remember the conversation, but I remember feeling comfortable. The pit in my stomach that I described earlier melted away. I was at ease, aware that I was with people who I cared about, who also cared about me. Even if life isn’t always easy, small moments can be. These small moments can be thoughtless, simple, and beautiful. That’s what you should search for in new friends and in new places – those moments that tell you, too, that are in the right place. I’m so excited to see what’s coming next.

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9 Easy Changes You Can Make Right Now To Start Saving Money

deathtostock_wired3New year, new you, right? Even though I’m slightly skeptical of New Year’s resolutions, the beginning of the year is a good time to start implementing changes. And what better change is there than spending less and saving more?

It can seem impossible to cut your spending, even by a little bit each month. Even if you succeed, it feels like the little changes you achieve won’t make a worthwhile difference. I’ve been there, and I’m here to tell you: it IS possible to cut your expenses, and small changes WILL make a difference in your life. As a former environmental organizer and a current financial coach, I have plenty of ideas for how you can make this happen. Some of these ideas are simple — hiding right under your nose, but you need a step-by-step breakdown of how to actually make it happen — and some you may not have thought of before!

  1. Track your spending.I basically force this on my coaching clients. You can’t make better financial decisions if you don’t know which decisions you’re already making. Whether it’s in a program like Mint or LearnVest, or in an Excel spreadsheet, it’s critical that you keep track of your spending. Pick a time each week (or more than once a week) to sit down and go through your bank statements or receipts and add up how much you’ve spent and what you’ve spent it on. This will let you know if you’re reaching your monthly budget (if you have one…which you should) and if you need to start slowing down.
  1. Carry a reusable water bottle.

Not only are plastic water bottles bad for the environment (check out this plastic island), but they also add up! Why spend upwards of $2 per bottle when you can buy yourself a nice reusable water bottle that you can refill for free? You’ll get your money’s worth within days if you drink a lot of water. I personally carry my Klean Kanteen around with me everywhere I go. It is stainless steel, so it will last me a very long time, and it helps me to drink plenty of water every day. Consider ditching your disposable plastic water bottles for a reusable one.

  1. Make coffee and tea at home or at the office.

I know that coffee shops such as Starbucks can be incredibly tempting. You get your caffeine fix quickly and with barely any personal effort. However, those $5 coffees seriously add up! (Especially if you’re a caffeine addict…like some people I know.) If you stop buying a daily $5 coffee for one year and put that $5 into a savings account instead, you will have $1,825 by the end of the year. Think of the things you could do with that money! It’s such a simple change: make your coffee (or tea) at home and carry it with you. Or, wait until you get to the office kitchen to get your fix. I personally keep a box of green tea at my desk and drink several cups a day. The box cost $2, and has 40 bags in it! Compare that to buying tea at a shop, where one cup costs at least $2.

  1. Make a grocery list and stick to it.

Ugh. Grocery shopping is so full of temptation. You go in to get only one thing and you come out with 20 delicious items. I have found that preparing ahead of time helps me avoid impulse buys. You can be old-school and write out your shopping list, or you can use apps on your phone, like AnyList. Just make sure to actually stick to your list!

  1. Cook more meals at home.

Now that you’ve started making a grocery list, you can also plan out your meals for the week. There are several benefits to cooking more meals at home. You save money, it’s easier to be sure you’re eating healthy foods, and you get to explore your chef skills. Win, win, and win! (Anylist also lets you store recipes and build out your meal calendar. I love having everything in one place.)

  1. Bring your lunch to work.

I like to make sure that dinner the night before includes multiple portions. That way, I always have leftovers for lunch the following day. Bringing lunch to work ends up saving a ton of money! I know how tempting it is to go around the corner for some delicious, comforting Pad See Ew, but that takeout can run you at least $10 a pop. If you do that every weekday for the entire year, you end up spending over $2,500 on…lunch! Again, think of the amazing things you could do with that money instead. It can be really fun to go out to lunch sometimes, so if you don’t want to give it up completely, give yourself a lunch allowance. Perhaps you can go out to eat with a co-worker only once a week instead of every day. That will still save you a lot of money in the long run!

  1. Cut out unnecessary utilities.

One of my hardest (financial) choices in recent memory was getting rid of cable. I love television, y’all. I was well-established as a couch potato by the age of 4. I love the characters, I love the drama, I love the Twitter commentary. However, when I decided to move into an apartment by myself, I knew I had to cut costs where I could. In the age of Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu Plus and more, it didn’t make very much sense to pay an extra $50 a month for cable. So, I cut the cord. Now, I pay for internet, Hulu Plus, and Netflix (and use a friend’s HBO Go…don’t we all). I also have an antenna so that I can watch certain channels for free, like ABC (yay, Scandal!).

  1. Turn off the lights.

Again, I’ll harp on the environmental impact of humans’ habits. The more electricity you use, the more pollution you contribute to (if you’re using coal-powered electricity, which most of us are). Saving the planet in the abstract doesn’t always appeal to us, but I know that saving money does. Whenever you are not in a room, turn off the light. Unplug your chargers when you aren’t using them. I keep my phone charger plugged into a power strip and power it off every morning before I leave the house. That way, I can keep the charger conveniently plugged in by my bed, but I am not using up excess energy. (Yes, plugged-in chargers suck up electricity even when you aren’t using them!)

  1. Drive less.

I know this is not possible for many people, but a big money-saver is driving less. In Washington, DC, a lot of us can take the metro, the bus, ride a bike, or walk. If you don’t have that option, ask yourself: do you have a friend or family member you can carpool with? (Save on gas and…ahem…fossil fuel emissions!)

Like Ben Franklin said, “beware of little expenses. A small leak can sink a great ship.” If you start instituting these small changes above, I guarantee you’ll see more money in your bank account. And don’t forget to put that extra money towards your financial goals!

Do you feel like you need more support and guidance to make positive financial changes like these? Let’s chat!

This article was originally featured on The Financial Diet.

 

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The Jewish Leader of the Week – Rachel

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Rachel was nominated to be the Jewish feature by Ben, former Jewish Guy of the Week. They went on a Birthright Alumni trip together that inspired Rachel to come back and start her own service project in DC. When not watching baseball or cooking, Rachel is doing communications for the Pew Research Center. Learn more about her in our interview below!

Jackie: You are from St. Louis originally. What do you miss most about it? 

Rachel: I have a ton of St. Louis pride. The number one thing I miss about it is my family. The second thing is my favorite baseball team, the St. Louis Cardinals. The third is just how nice people are in the Midwest – it really is true. For all of these reasons, I try to go back to St. Louis as often as I can.

Jackie: Ben mentioned you went on an alumni mission to Israel last year together. What was that like?

Rachel: I had the privilege of participating in the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s Alumni Leadership Mission through NEXT DC in late 2015, with 25 young adults from D.C. who had been on Birthright trips. It was my second time being in Israel. I hadn’t been back since 2007 when I went on Birthright. This trip was about seeing Israel through the eyes of people who live there and experiencing day-to-day life and culture, beyond seeing tourist sites that we visited on Birthright. We learned all about the work that the Federation does in Israel, visited several Israeli businesses, volunteered, and spent time with Israelis who staffed Birthright trips from D.C. Along the way, we participated in leadership workshops and learned the art and importance of storytelling. The best part about the trip was that we came back to D.C. with a new group of Jewish friends, and we’ve inspired each other to become even more involved in Jewish life here.

gather-5Jackie: You are currently working on a project interviewing Jews with disabilities. Can you tell me more about that? 

Rachel: Yes, after our trip, each of us began working on a project to impact the D.C. Jewish community. I’m working with two other people on a project to help tell the stories of young Jews in D.C. who have disabilities, with the goal of fostering a dialogue that will ultimately help the community become more inclusive. We’ve begun interviewing people and are in the process of turning the interviews into blog posts that will eventually be shared.

Jackie: What inspired you to start such a meaningful project?

Rachel: One of the main themes of our Israel trip was inclusion, which tied into much of our itinerary. For example, our first dinner in Israel was at Café Kapish, a restaurant where all of the staff are hearing-impaired. We found ways to order or ask for things using body language, rather than spoken words. We also visited a military base where we spent time with young soldiers participating in the Special in Uniform program – a program that provides work opportunities in the military for Israelis with special needs, who would otherwise not be able to serve. We talked to them and helped them disassemble computers into parts that the military could use. When I think about the trip, these are some of the experiences that stood out to me most. We’ve all felt excluded at times, and the Jewish community is one that should be welcoming to everyone. Telling the stories of young Jews with disabilities and sharing their ideas for how to make our community more inclusive is something that would benefit all of us.

Jackie: What is one thing you can’t get through your day without?

Rachel: Baseball. I’m a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan and am literally counting down the days until Spring Training starts! Also, chocolate chip cookies. I’m on a quest to find the best one in D.C. So far, my favorite is the Captain Cookie and the Milkman food truck.

gather1Jackie: Speaking of cookies, I hear you love to bake. What are some of your favorite things to bake?

Rachel: I especially love to make my mom’s kugel on Jewish holidays. Without fail, I always have to call her when I’m making it because I can never remember the exact recipe. My mom knows it by heart and can always figure out the ingredient I’m forgetting. I also love making cookies, whether classic chocolate chip, hamantaschen on Purim or Chanukkah cookies in December. Lately, I’ve also been trying new recipes from Dorie Greenspan’s new cookie book, Dorie’s Cookies.

Jackie: Can you tell us more about your job – what’s it like to work at the Pew Research Center?

Rachel: Our mission at Pew Research Center is to inform the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world, which is something that I feel good about doing, every day. I work on the communications team, so my job is to help our research reach the right audiences. Pew Research Center is nonpartisan and non-advocacy, which are qualities that can be hard to find in Washington. I feel lucky to work with such smart colleagues at a place that produces research that is so relevant to what’s happening in the world.

Jackie: What is your favorite Jewish holiday? 

Rachel: Passover. Seder has always been one of my favorite family traditions, and I love the themes of freedom and Spring.

Finish the sentence: When the Jews Gather…there is loud conversation, laughter and way too much delicious food… and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

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Big News: We are Changing Our Name!

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Since its founding, Gather has prided itself on continuing to grow to meet the needs of you, DC’s Jewish 20s & 30s. Over the years we have worked continuously to improve what we do and how we do it.

After much thought and consideration, we have decided to officially change our name to GatherDC. You might even refer to us simply as ‘Gather’ already, and as we solidify our place in this city’s cultural landscape, affixing the District’s initials to the name felt a natural step. Along with the name change, we have a new logo design which highlights our Jewish identity, a new tagline, and a beautifully redesigned website, all of which we will unveil January 30th at our Launch Party (see below for details).

We hope you like the name as much as we do and agree that it will help us reach more Jews across and around DC. Rest assured that although our name is changing, our mission remains the same – to help DC’s Jewish 20s and 30s meet and connect with one another and with Jewish opportunities. We believe the name change will help us continue to advance our mission.

Thank you for all of your continued involvement and support. We hope you will bring your friends and join us to celebrate on January 30th at our official Launch Party. RSVP early at link below for a free drink ticket.

Gather the Jews Becomes GatherDC

A party celebrating the launch of our new name and website.

Drinks, snacks, music and prizes after work on January, 30th

Co Co. Sala (929 F St., NW)

RSVP Now!

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Time to Leave La La Land

I remember a teacher once said to me: “Want to know what you really value? Check your internet browser history.”

I don’t think that’s the best way to understand yourself (most of my time is not spent on my computer), but our online activity certainly reflects a part of who we are – sometimes a part that we’d rather ignore.

Similarly, I think the movies that we choose to watch reveal something about our desires, wishes, and fantasies. And based on what we went to see in 2016, I’m concerned.

As a New York Times article, this week reported, “not one movie rooted in a real-life setting was among the top 10 box office performers.”

That’s a real shame – this year’s “real-life” movies, such as Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea, were its best.

Cultural preferences aside, I’m worried that this desire to escape real life might also be affecting the way we think about spirituality.

A spiritual person is often understood as someone, alone on a mountaintop or in a monastery, who spends all day meditating in order to connect to something beyond this world. It’s the spirituality portrayed in movies like Dr. Strange – one full of mystical secrets and magical powers.

That is certainly a legitimate spiritual orientation. It’s comforting to believe that life has a hidden meaning that we can access if only we break through its chaotic surface. Who knows? Maybe we’re all living in a Matrix-esque illusion.

But there is a very different spiritual orientation rooted less in the extraordinary and more in the ordinary. This approach finds God within, rather than outside of, our shared human existence. It seeks meaning in connection to ourselves, each other and our surroundings rather than an escape from those things.

Theologians have been writing about the tension between these two spiritual orientations – “Transcendence” and “Immanence” – for millennia. Judaism, like any rich spiritual tradition, has always struggled to balance both.

When our movie choices reflect a disproportionate interest in fantasy at the expense of reality, I fear we may be dismissing the spiritual potential of what is right in front of us. Movies can open our eyes to the wonder of the everyday, or they can distract us from it by taking us to La La Land. It all depends on what we choose to see.

The views and opinions expressed on 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 Gather the Jews, the Gather the Jews staff, the Gather the Jews board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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Gather the Jews is one of the Top 50 Jewish Blogs

jewish-50-transparent_1000x1000pxGather the Jews is proud to announce that we have been named one of the top 50 Jewish blogs by Feedspot! On a list that includes The ForwardMy Jewish Learning, and The Jewish Week, Gather came in 25th. On this international list, names Gather as one of just five local blogs to make the top 50, including DC’s own The Washington Jewish Week. These blogs are ranked based on following criteria:

These blogs are ranked based on following criteria:

  • Google reputation and Google search ranking
  • Influence and popularity on Facebook, twitter and other social media sites
  • Quality and consistency of posts.
  • Feedspot’s editorial team and expert review

Thank you for following the Gather the Jews blog and helping us make it into the top 50 worldwide! Sign up for our newsletter to get weekly updates on our blog and events happening all over the city.

Email Jackie if you are interested in writing for the Gather the Jews blog in 2017.

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New Year Resolutions from Gather

The New Year is an opportunity to take a look at our past year and think about what we want the next one to bring. The Gather Staff took a second to make resolutions for the new year to come.

Aaron Potek, Community Rabbi

Aaron Potek, Community Rabbi

Aaron: When I reflect on the aspects of my life that caused me the most tsoris in 2016, I think of social media and politics.

I spent a lot of time on Facebook this year. I don’t think all of it was time wasted. I have had productive discussions about important issues on my walls and others’ walls, I was pointed to articles that I otherwise would not have read, and I sent love to people in the form of birthday wishes, condolences or “likes”. But for 2017 I’d like to be more intentional about my Facebook usage. I just installed an app that will limit the amount of time I’m on Facebook a day to 30 minutes – I might extend that time a few extra minutes on some days, but I think it’s a reasonable aspiration for the new year.

Like many, I’ve struggled with the political discourse this year. I’d like to think I’m good at listening to and learning from an opinion with which I disagree, but this year more than ever I’ve struggled to find a kernel of truth or wisdom in many opinions that I’ve heard. In 2017, I would like to focus less on the opinions that I find to be hateful or ignorant and focus more on the people who hold them. Without justifying or excusing that hatred or ignorance, I’d like to be more curious about the life experiences that have led people to those opinions. This year I want to work extra hard to remember that we are all created in the image of God. There may not be a moral equivalence between every opinion or ideology, but there is a moral equivalence between every human being.

Shaina Dorow, Community Coordinator

Shaina Dorow, Community Coordinator

Shaina: 2016 brought about a lot of changes in my life. I graduated college, I moved to DC, and I started living as an “adult”. I’m not sure I really still understand the true nature of #adulting, but part of my resolution is to hone that skill a bit more. Basically, I want to start cooking for myself more. The times that I do make me feel healthier and less wasteful (of both money and leftovers). If anyone has easy, fun recipes they want to share – hit me up. I’m always down to try new things.

This whole new life brought me into a very new space, mentally and physically. I’ve started to realize that I love to walk and explore to help me feel more at ease. I pledge to start walking more this coming year. I want to find new things to see in DC. It’s so easy to say that you’ve seen everything, but that obviously can’t be true. Here’s to seeing more of the city!

 

Jackie Zais, Senior Associate

Jackie Zais, Senior Associate

Jackie: I never make new years resolutions. I’m not into it and apparently no one keeps them anyway. I also don’t like arbitrary due dates or timelines. Any part of the year is a good time for a fresh start. Why did we pick in the middle of the winter? All I want to do in the winter is wear layers and drink tea.

Four days into 2016 I turned 25 which honestly didn’t turn out to be my best year. If memes and songs are to be believed, 2016 was a tough year for many of us. I was looking forward to 2017 and 26 but after November’s elections results, I was feeling pretty pessimistic about 2017 as well. But I’ve decided to shed some of that pessimism, it’s not helping anyone. I am going to be hopeful in the new year, I’m going to start listening to NPR again (I haven’t been able to listen since November), and I am going to get my own insurance policy. Let’s all go have a good 2017 whatever that might look for us!

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2016: A Jewish Year in Review

Can you believe that it’s almost 2017? As the year comes to a close, we should remind ourselves what is in our past and how to move forward.

So how do we look at such an amazing year? Some of our organizational partners sent us just a few highlights from their year – these are the moments that you created through your enthusiasm and participation! Check it out…

January 27: EntryPointDC Lox Meets Bagel – Speed Dating with a Twist

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May 3rd: Gather the Jews’ Second Cohort of the Open Doors Fellowship 

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May 20th: Camp Sixth & I
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June 4th: Moishe House Shavuot White Party

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July 15th: Gather the Jews’ first Beyond the Tent Retreat

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 August 16th: Kosher Wine Tasting

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August 18th: EntryPointDC Tu B’Av Date Raffle

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August 27th: Moishe House Capitol Hill Volunteering at Capital Area Food Bank

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September 2nd: Adas Israel Meridian Hill Shabbat

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September 6th: EntryPointDC Bark Mitzvah Happy Hour

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October 20th: Moishe House Capitol Hill Kombucha in the Sukkah

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November 20th: EntryPointDC and Federation of Greater Washington Everything but the Turkey

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#WayBackWednesday Jewish Guy of the Week – Ben

img_5324Ben is a familiar face for many of us in the Jewish community. If you haven’t had the opportunity to meet him you can run into him at any number of Jewish events around DC! Gather first interviewed him in 2012 but we wanted to check back in with him to see what he has been up too. Read his updates and his original article below!

Ben, what have you been up to since your original interview?

  • I’ve been a teacher at the Religious School with Adas Israel.  One of the classes I enjoy teaching is on “Pop Culture and Judaism”, where we discuss topics in movies and TV shows and look at how they parallel Jewish values in our world today.
  • I worked in online advertising and marketing in the tech and software community.  This year, I’m having a blast working in the Preschool with Adas Israel.
  • I traveled to Israel a good amount. I staffed three Birthright trips, including a DC community trip. Last year, I participated in the Birthright Alumni trip with Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
  • I was a ConnectGens Fellow in partnership with PresenTense where my initiative was bringing together Holocaust Survivors in our community with Hebrew School students.

 

New Question:  Why do you deserve to be Jewish Guy of the Year?

We have one of the greatest cities in the world for young Jewish professionals. I’m that guy who’s always trying to connect people in the Jewish community and helping others out. There’s so much out there in this town and lots of great people to meet and network with and I’m always encouraging others to get involved because… I mean why not? I’m genuinely a good guy and a mensch.

That’s why I’m your Jewish Guy of the Year.

You have a cool mix of jobs. Tell us about it.
I’m substitute teaching at the DC JCC preschool and the Jewish Primary Day School. I’m also teaching a 3rd-grade class at the Adas Israel Hebrew school. I’m interning in the area of marketing for IsraelStrategist.com. It’s a one-stop shop for readers who want to become more informed on Israel’s economy, and it helps readers identify investment opportunities in Israel. In addition, I lead tours of restaurants in Georgetown on weekends through a tour operator geared towards foodies.

Did you say restaurant tours? You’re going to have to explain this.
I really enjoyed taking people around my campus as a tour guide when I was studying at Florida Atlantic University. Recently, I learned that I can do something similar on weekends here in Washington, but instead of showing prospective students the ins and outs of a college campus, I get to show off the restaurant highlights across neighborhoods of DC. This spring, I’ll be working with DC Metro Food Tours showing visitors and locals around Georgetown, speaking about its history and stopping into a few local restaurants along the way to nosh on some of their featured dishes. It’s a fun birthday present or great afternoon activity to do with friends or family visiting from out of town.

You attended a summer institute in California. What was this experience like?
I participated in a program in Los Angeles called Brandeis Collegiate Institute (BCI). It allows you to really immerse yourself in exploring your Jewish identity through various ways including learning about the arts, studying Jewish texts, and forming a community with young Jewish adults from all over the world. It definitely was one of the most meaningful and uplifting experiences I have ever had. You can find out more about BCI here http://bci.ajula.edu/

You’re from Florida. What brought you to D.C.?
Ever since my sister became a student at GW, I’ve had an interest in the DC community. After a summer internship at the Hillel International Center and a semester internship on Capitol Hill, I saw that DC had so much to offer Jewish young professionals, career-wise and socially.

Where can we find you on a typical Friday night?
It varies but typically at Sixth & I or DC Minyan and chilling with friends.

 

To learn more about Ben, email info@gatherthejews.com.

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What Are We Actually Celebrating On Hanukkah?

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Jewish Do Gooder of the Week – Stephanie

Inspired by Bagel Bash in Atlanta, Stephanie and some friends started DC’s own Falafel Frenzy in 2010. They wanted to create a way to party and give back on Christmas Eve. And so, Falafel Frenzy was born as an event where 100% of the proceeds would go to charity. This week, I got to learn about Stephanie’s involvement in Falafel Frenzy and what she is up to when not planning a charity party!

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Jackie: You have been a part of Falafel Frenzy since it began back in 2010. Why did you want to start throwing a Christmas Eve Party?  

Stephanie: I had attended the for-profit alternative the two prior years with a high cover charge. On Christmas Eve of all nights, it didn’t feel right directing my dollars this way. With two friends, we launched the Falafel Frenzy as a meaningful way to support the community through donations to local food programs and holocaust survivors living below the poverty line.   

ff-photoJackie: How has the event changed over the years? 

Stephanie: We have grown in numbers and location. We have held the space at Local 16, Howard Theatre, and this year 18th Street Lounge. We have raised over $100,000 for charity since the event’s inception. 

Jackie: Do you do any other volunteering around the city? 

Stephanie: I do – I have been involved in StreetWise Partners since 2008, a 3-month career venturing program for those living below the poverty line. It is an incredible program that really transforms the lives of individuals. I am happy to speak with anyone interested in mentoring!

Jackie: What are you most passionate about?  

Stephanie: I am passionate about addressing the cycle of poverty and helping those less fortunate than myself. I recognize that life is incredibly unfair to so many, and I want to do as much as I personally can to help others have increased opportunities for success.

Additionally, as the Director of Holy Cross Health’s Cancer Program, I am passionate about impacting access to cancer-related health care. In my professional role, I establish programs that help to support patients during such an incredibly difficult time in their life.

img_1247Jackie: You like to plan trips for friends. What was one of your epic weekends

Stephanie: It was a weekend in the eastern shore 4+ years ago; the group had great energy, we did yoga on the dock (see attached picture), had bonfires at night, and lots of swimming despite jellyfish issues!

Jackie: Who is your favorite Jew? 
Stephanie: Ruth Bader Ginsburg – she’s liberal, speaks her mind, and she’s vocal about women’s issues.

What is something you just can’t live without? 

Sunshine – the winters are always hard in DC!

Finish the sentence: When the Jews Gather… we can fight injustice, especially after this campaign season!

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Our Interfaith Relationship with America

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The hardest part about being in a relationship is navigating differences. But those differences also give each relationship its dynamic, creative energy that ultimately sustains it.

This past week, I was in Israel helping to lead a group of 18 couples on a program called Honeymoon Israel. Of each couple, at least one of the partners had never been to Israel before. The goal of the program is to allow each couple to explore their individual and shared relationship with Judaism and Israel as they think about what their future lives and family together might look like. Representative of the current demographics of American Jews, most couples are interfaith and most of the Jewish participants identify more as “cultural Jews” than as “religious Jews.”

The first night we arrived, we heard a talk from Avraham Infeld about the challenge of being a modern Jew in America. He posed the question: How can we have a rich Jewish identity while still being engaged with the secular society in which we live? He mentioned that this challenge is relatively recent (before the enlightenment, Jews didn’t have an option to identify with a nationality or ethnicity other than “Jewish”). It’s also one that we as Jews still haven’t figured out (most American Jews today either don’t see a contradiction between their American and Jewish identities or clearly prioritize one over the other).

On a free evening last week, I went to visit a friend who lives in Jerusalem. He moved to Israel after determining that being a religious Jew in America was too challenging for him. The cost (financially and socially) of sending his future kids to Jewish day school or Jewish camp, of eating only at kosher restaurants, etc. was simply too high for him in America. Jewish education is free and kosher restaurants are everywhere. As a result, Jewish identity in Israel just happens and doesn’t require a lot of sacrifice or particular intentionality.

I thought about my friend when, a few days later during a full-group discussion, one participant argued that interfaith couples, unlike couples where both partners are Jewish, can’t simply assume that their children will be raised Jewish. He said that being interfaith requires intentionality, negotiation and compromise in every single decision they make as parents. Despite the negative rhetoric that exists in many parts of the Jewish community about interfaith relationships, these couples are faced with questions and conversations that are often ignored by two Jewish partners. Perhaps the very fact that Jewish identity doesn’t “just happen” for these couples can paradoxically lead to a more intentional Jewish identity than the one of my friend in Jerusalem.

I wonder if being Jewish in America is like being in an interfaith relationship. Our country’s culture isn’t Jewish, so we have to work hard to define and maintain our Jewish identity. There’s always the temptation to drop our Jewishness or move to a Jewish society — where the tension between personal identity and the dominant culture doesn’t exist. But I think it’s possible that this very tension can create a deeper relationship with Judaism. Confronting our differences, whether between us and our partner or us and our society, can be the beginning of transformational growth.

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The Personal Finance Checklist To Make Sure You’re Financially Healthy

buissnessBack in October, I attended the Millennial Week Unconference in Washington, DC. I walked away with a lot of exciting ideas for my financial coaching business. I also met some really cool people and got to hear several inspirational speakers. One of the speakers, Learnvest CEO (and my hero) Alexa Von Tobel, gave us a financial checklist to get through before starting a business.

I found this list incredibly helpful, but I also wanted to tweak it so that it can apply to anyone — not just people starting a business. It’s hard to get your money right when you don’t know where to start, so hopefully this list will serve to help anyone who’s just starting to think about taking control of their finances. Or, if you’ve had a financial hiccup, maybe seeing these steps written out will help you get back on track. Here you go!

  1. Find your money

How many credit cards do you have? How much money do you owe? Where’s that 401k from your first job? How much are you actually spending every month? These are all super important things for you to know. Before you start making any financial changes, you need to know where your money currently is, and where it is going.

  1. Organize your accounts

Now that you know where your money is, life will be a lot easier if you have it all in one place. Create an account on a budgeting website like Learnvest, Mint, or You Need A Budget. Link all of your accounts — credit cards, bank accounts, retirement accounts, etc. This way, you only have to go to ONE place to check up on all of your accounts. You can see if there are suspicious charges, or if you are nearing your spending limit for the month.

  1. Figure out what your goals are

It’s hard to know where your money should be going if you don’t know where you want it to go. So, do some soul searching — answer some questions for yourself. These answers will help clarify what your financial goals should be. Here are some examples:

What kind of life do you want to live?

What financial issues are causing you the most stress?

Do you want to own a home?

What are the top 5 things on your bucket list?

  1. Create a budget

Now that you know where your money is, and where you want it to go, it’s time to create the framework to make that happen. Your budget will outline how much comes in every month, as well as how much goes out. It will specify (based on your needs and priorities) how much you should be spending on what. You should come back to it every month and adjust as necessary. (There are plenty of budget spreadsheet resources online, and I’d even be happy to send you one — email me!)

  1. Make sure you’re saving for retirement

When you’re young, retirement can seem so far away that it’s not worth preparing for. But honestly, the earlier you start saving for retirement, the better off you’ll be. As they say, compound interest is your friend! If your company offers a 401k or 403b, especially if they offer a match amount, take advantage. Invest at least up to the match amount offered. If you don’t work somewhere with a retirement plan, open an IRA and start contributing now. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money! Every little bit counts, especially when you’re young. This is not something to ignore until you’re in your forties. If you’re looking for an IRA that doesn’t have a minimum initial investment, try out WorthFM!

  1. Start paying down debt

If you have credit card debt, you should start paying that down. That could mean just paying a little bit more than the minimum every month at first. Slow and steady wins the race. You can’t do everything immediately. But any additional payments will make a difference, and once you’re on your way to being out of credit card debt, you’re on your way to financial freedom. (Check out the snowball method for tips on how to pay down your debt gradually.)

  1. Build an emergency savings account

I am very passionate about emergency savings. This account should have 3-12 months of your expenses in it. Of course, you can’t save that kind of money over night, so you have to start small and build it gradually. Start with a goal of $1,000, since that feels more achievable than $10,000. Even if you only have an extra $25 a month, automate it to go into your savings account. Set it and forget it, and as you start to earn more (or owe less in debt), you can increase your contribution. This will protect you from unforeseen events, and give you peace of mind.

  1. Get insurance

You should have any insurance that is appropriate for your lifestyle. We’re all required to have health insurance now, but there are many other types of insurance you should also be thinking about. If you have children, you should absolutely have life insurance. Do you rent your home? Definitely get renters’ insurance. It is very affordable, and can save your butt if anything bad happens to your home (like a fire or robbery). (I use State Farm in case you just need somewhere to start.)

  1. NOW start thinking about investing

Retirement planning is an investment, but I have had a lot of clients ask me about investing in the stock market separately. There are several new apps out there, like RobinHood, Acorns, and ElleVest, that make investing easier for those who don’t have a ton of money to spare. I personally have been using Acorns for a few months because it’s simple to use, but that is only because I’ve already been through steps 1-8! You don’t have to worry about investing until you have paid off your credit card debt, built up your emergency savings, and prioritized retirement saving. You won’t see enough of an immediate return from this type of investment for it to be more important than paying off debt and having a savings cushion.

Am I missing anything? Are there other steps that are important to you? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

This piece was originally featured on:

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Jewish Professional of the Week – Abby

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If you have spent some time at Sixth and I, you will recognize this week’s Jew of the Week. Abby joined the Sixth & I team this past summer as their Jewish Programming Event Planner. She comes to DC with an MSW and a passion for performing. Learn more about Abby in our interview with the Jewish Professional of the Week!

Jackie: You are a new arrival to DC. How are you liking the city so far?

Abby: I came to DC from St. Louis this summer after completing my MSW at Wash U and spending five months working with Rick Recht at Jewish Rock Radio. I am thrilled about my decision to move to DC. It is such an awesome, welcoming city with so many options for great areas to explore and numerous ways to stay active. Since moving here I have developed a never-ending list of amazing restaurants, joined a new rock climbing gym, and I live walking distance to Whole Foods and Trader Joes. What more could you want?

Jackie: What led you to become a Jewish professional?

Abby: I grew up actively involved in the St. Louis Jewish community because my mom worked for the JCC and later for Jewish Federation. I went to JCC Day Camps and Camp Sabra, was active in BBYO and Hillel at Indiana University. I have a passion for working with children with disabilities – especially youth theater – and didn’t necessarily plan to work in the Jewish community. I now realize that it is inspiring to be part of a work environment where I share values with colleagues, and the entire staff is amazingly accepting and supportive.

shabbat-centerpiecesJackie: You have already helped plan some amazing events at Sixth & I including Shabbat dinners, parties, and celebrations. What do you believe is central to create a warm inviting place?

Abby: You have to start with being consistently friendly to everyone who walks through the door. Everyone wants to feel comfortable and accepted for who they are. I also enjoy paying attention to details from the food options, room set-up, and decorations. It’s important to use our Event Assistants and volunteer Ambassadors to help create the desired culture.

Jackie: What has been your favorite event so far?

Abby: High Holidays actually stand out to me as one of my favorite events to have organized so far. This was my first huge event to tackle at Sixth & I. It was fulfilling to see the hard work put in by ALL the Sixth & I staff and incredible to have created meaningful services and programming for over 4,000 community members.

Jackie What makes Sixth & I different?

sanctuary1Abby: First, the magnificent sanctuary certainly makes events at Sixth & I uniquely special. Sixth & I is also a place of never-ending innovation. We are constantly developing inspiring programming, responding quickly to needs in the community and seeking new ways to elevate and design events that keep participants involved and curious to see what’s next. We’re also very clear on our mission of inclusiveness and prioritizing ways for young adults to feel connected to Jewish life.

Jackie: Any exciting behind-the-scene secrets you can share with us?

Abby: Taking risks and being flexible towards change are both key when creating inventive and exciting events.

Jackie: You have always had a passion for performing arts. How do you pursue that passion outside of work?

Abby: Currently, my main outlet for the performing arts is attending and seeing shows. I am still figuring out the best way to stay connected to theater and music in DC. I love dance and choreography and working with kids and teens. Also, I look forward to using my theater background for some future Sixth & I Events. In the meantime, I am planning to take some dance classes and make new connections in the DC art world. If you know anyone looking for a choreographer…you know where to find me.

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Jackie: I noticed you front and center in the Pantsuit Flash Mob. How did you end up in that great YouTube video?

Abby: My mom actually sent me a Facebook post about the flash mob because my former neighbor from St. Louis was the organizer. I decided to go ahead and jump at the opportunity to do something fun and uplifting during the craziness of the election. This was actually my third flash mob experience and each previous time had been a blast and I thought it would be fun to dance in my new city. I just ended up being the lead dancer because of all of my show choir experience. I am very happy with how it all came together and applaud the incredible team behind the production.

Finish the sentence: When the Jews Gather…relationships develop, meaningful conversations ensue and memorable experiences are shared.

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8 Unique Hanukkah Gifts from Fig Tree and Vine

Stuck for cool holiday gift ideas that won’t break your budget?  Fig Tree & Vine (FT&V) is an online resource for Jewish lifestyle content, curated artisanal Judaica and products from around the world, with an emphasis on Israeli artisans. Founder and CEO Danielle Crittenden Frum has selected 8 unique and beautiful gifts in honor of each night of Hanukkah.

FT&V is offering a 10% discount on every item for Gather the Jews community members. Use discount code GATHER at check out.  

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