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Soul(less) Cycle

rabbi-rant-bannerI hate to be the one to say it, but spinning is not a spiritual act.

Feeling healthy, releasing endorphins, pushing yourself to the limits… all great things. It’s important to exercise and to feel good about your body, which Hillel the Elder says is made in the image of God (Leviticus Rabbah 34:3).

But co-opting the word “soul” distracts from the fact that SoulCycle and other places like it are fundamentally focused on the physical body. Without explicit checks and balances in place, I believe that focus can lead to the opposite of spirituality: an approach to life that is concerned only with what can be seen and measured.

Certainly, a person can access spirituality through physical means. In fact, a spirituality divorced from physicality is equally as problematic as physicality trying to pass itself off as spirituality. Connecting spiritually does not require magical chants or escaping to foreign lands. Jewish spirituality, according to the Torah, is grounded in our present reality and accessible in our day-to-day lives. “It is not in the heavens… nor is it beyond the sea…” (Deuteronomy 30:12-13).

Spirituality happens in the intersection between body and soul. It connects the physical to that which lies beyond the physical. Some might call that God. Others might call that our inner conscience. And others might call that the unknown mystery of the universe.

Whatever it is, it’s really hard to connect to. And without an intentional practice, hard work and constant vigilance, that connection to beyond the physical can easily be broken.

It’s definitely nothing like riding a bike.

Do you do find spirituality in spinning and want to counter-rant? Let me know in the comments…

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 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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Jewish Jeweler of the Week – Elana

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Elana was nominated to be the Jew of the Week by her roommate Emma, who was the past Jewish Musical Lover of the Week! Emma nominated Elana for her sense of humor and her exciting work in DC. Learn more about Elana in our interview with the Jewish Jeweler of the Week!

Jackie: You just moved to DC from Wisconsin. I know our cheese isn’t as good here so what brought you to DC?

Elana: A job! I graduated this past May from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. After graduating I spent about a month at home in Denver volunteering at Ryan Seacrest Studios in the Children’s Hospital Colorado and then made the big move out to DC in July.

Jackie: Emma told me you help run a jewelry business. Tell me more about that?

Elana: Dayna Designs is a small jewelry design and manufacturing company. We sell sterling silver collegiate jewelry for 100+ school and sororities and are just announcing our new designer line for 2017.

Jackie: What is your job at Dayna Designs?

Elana: My official role is Operations and Marketing, but given the small size of the company, the beauty is I really get to do it all! My daily operations incorporate business decisions/plans, strategy, creative/design, marketing, advertising, etc.

gather-the-jews5Jackie: Since you are new to DC, what are you excited to try out for the first time?

Elana: I haven’t been to the Zoo yet, but have heard great things about it. I am especially excited now that the Zoo Lights are open.

Jackie: Who is your favorite Jew?

Elana: My grandmother, of course.

Jackie: What is your favorite Jewish holiday?

Elana: Passover, without a doubt. My family goes all out – lots of guests, good food, lots of singing and discussions. Last year our Seder went until midnight…I didn’t make it past dinner.

Finish the sentence: When the Jews Gather…we play our favorite game of all time – Jewish geography. 

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Gather the Jews’ Library

Gather the Jews is proud to present our DC communal mini-library! This is a resource for anyone interested in picking up some new reading material – at no charge.

Stop by our North Dupont office to check out our selection or even to just hang out!

Is there a book here that you think would be a great addition to our collection? Let us know in the comments below…

The Bedside Torah: Wisdom, Visions, and Dreams

by  Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artsonbedside-torah

The Bedside Torah guides you into the wisdom, counsel, and holiness of the sacred text that is the center of Jewish spirituality. Rabbi Bradley Artson, one of the truly inspirational and knowledgeable teachers of Torah of our time, weaves together the insights of ancient rabbis and sages, medieval commentators and philosophers, and modern scholars and religious leaders. The reflections in this collection offer three different commentaries on each of the 50 Torah portions, enlightening you into the Torah’s infinite layers of meaning and offering opportunities to discover interpretations of your own.

Unscrolled

Edited by Roger Benettunscrolled

54 leading Jewish writers, artists, photographers, and screenwriters, plus actors, an architect, a musician, and more grapple with the first five books of the Bible, giving new meaning to the 54 Torah portions. Edited by Roger Bennett, one of the founders of Reboot, UNSCROLLED is a gathering of engaging, diverse voices that will speak to anyone interested in Jewish culture and identity. In stories, poems, memoirs, plays, infographics—plus a Web search, a graphic novel, and a psychiatric transcript—it offers a fresh take on the Torah, its value, and its place in our lives.

The Red Tent

red-tentby Anita Diamant

Her name is Dinah. In the Bible, her life is only hinted at in a brief and violent detour within the most familiar chapters of the Book of Genesis that are about her father, Jacob, and his dozen sons. Told in Dinah’s voice, this novel reveals the traditions and turmoils of ancient womanhood–the world of the red tent. It begins with the story of her mothers–Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah–the four wives of Jacob. They love Dinah and give her gifts that sustain her through a hard-working youth, a calling to midwifery, and a new home in a foreign land. Dinah’s story reaches out from a remarkable period of early history and creates an intimate connection with the past. Deeply affecting, The Red Tent combines rich storytelling with a valuable achievement in modern fiction: a new view of biblical women’s society.

The Five Books of Miriam : A Woman’s Commentary on the Torah

five-books-of-miriamby Ellen Frankel

Weaving together Jewish lore, the voices of Jewish foremothers, Yiddish fable, Midrash and stories of her own imagining, Ellen Frankel has created in this book a breathtakingly vivid exploration into what the Torah means to women. Here are Miriam, Esther, Dinah, Lilith and many other women of the Torah in dialogue with Jewish daughters, mothers, and grandmothers, past and present. Together these voices examine and debate every aspect of a Jewish woman’s life — work, sex, marriage, her connection to God and her place in the Jewish community and in the world. The Five Books of Miriam makes an invaluable contribution to Torah study and adds a rich dimension to the ongoing conversation between Jewish women and Jewish tradition.

Man’s Search for Meaning

mans-search-for-meaningby Viktor E Frankl

Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945 Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl’s theory-known as logotherapy, from the Greek word logos (“meaning”)-holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.

The Jewish Way

the-jewish-wayby Rabbi Irving Greenberg

Called “enriching” and “profoundly moving” by Elie Wiesel, The Jewish Way is a comprehensive and inspiring presentation of Judaism as revealed through its holy days.

In thoughtful and engaging prose, Rabbi Irving Greenberg explains and interprets the origin, background, interconnections, ceremonial rituals, and religious significance of all the Jewish holidays, including Passover, Yom Kippur, Purim, Hanukkah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, and Israeli Independence Day. Giving detailed instructions for observance—the rituals, prayers, foods, and songs—he shows how celebrating the holy days of the Jewish calendar not only relives Jewish history but puts one in touch with the basic ideals of Judaism and the fundamental experience of life.

Putting God Second: How to Save Religion From Itself

putting-god-secondby Rabbi Donniel Hartman

In Putting God Second, Rabbi Donniel Hartman tackles one of modern life’s most urgent and vexing questions: Why are the great monotheistic faiths—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—chronically unable to fulfill their own self-professed goal of creating individuals infused with moral sensitivity and societies governed by the highest ethical standards?

To answer this question, Hartman takes a sober look at the moral peaks and valleys of his own tradition, Judaism, and diagnoses it with clarity, creativity, and erudition. He rejects both the sweeping denouncements of those who view religion as an inherent impediment to moral progress and the apologetics of fundamentalists who proclaim religion’s moral perfection against all evidence to the contrary.

Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life

nine-essential-thingsby Harold S. Kushner

In this compassionate and deeply personal work, Rabbi Harold S. Kushner distils his experiences as a twenty-first-century rabbi into nine essential takeaways. Offering readers a lifetime’s worth of spiritual food for thought, pragmatic advice, and strength for trying times, he gives fresh, vital insight into belief, conscience, mercy, and more. Grounded in Kushner’s brilliant readings of scripture, history, and popular culture, Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life is practical, illuminating, and compulsory advice for living a good life.

Everyday Holiness: The Path of Mussar

by Alan Morinis

Mussar is an illuminating, approachable, and highly praeveryday-mussarctical set of teachings for cultivating personal growth and spiritual realization in the midst of day-to-day life. Here is an accessible and inspiring introduction to this Jewish spiritual path, which until lately has been best known in the world of Orthodox Judaism. The core teaching of Mussar is that our deepest essence is inherently pure and holy, but this inner radiance is obscured by extremes of emotion, desire, and bad habits. Our work in life is to uncover the brilliant light of the soul. The Mussar masters developed transformative teachings and practices—some of which are contemplative, some of which focus on how we relate to others in daily life—to help us to heal and refine ourselves.

Surprised by God: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Religion

suprised-by-godby Danya Ruttenberg

At thirteen, Danya Ruttenberg decided she was an atheist. As a young adult, she immersed herself in the rhinestone-bedazzled wonderland of late 1990s San Francisco-drinking smuggled absinthe with wealthy geeks and plotting the revolution with feminist zine makers. But she found herself yearning for something she would eventually call God.

Surprised by God is a memoir of a young woman’s spiritual awakening and eventual path to the rabbinate, a story of integrating life on the edge of the twenty-first century into the discipline of traditional Judaism, without sacrificing either. It’s also an unflinchingly honest guide to the kind of work that goes into developing a spiritual practice-and it shows why, perhaps, doing this in today’s world requires more effort than ever.

A Letter in the Scroll

a-letter-in-the-scrollby Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

For too long, Jews have defined themselves in light of the bad things that have happened to them. And it is true that, many times in the course of history, they have been nearly decimated: when the First and Second Temples were destroyed, when the Jews were expelled from Spain, when Hitler proposed his Final Solution. Astoundingly, the Jewish people have survived catastrophe after catastrophe and remained a thriving and vibrant community. The question Rabbi Jonathan Sacks asks is, quite simply: How? How, in the face of such adversity, has Judaism remained and flourished, making a mark on human history out of all proportion to its numbers?

The Lonely Man of Faith

a-lonely-man-of-faithby Joseph B Soloveitchik

Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the rabbi known as “The Rav” by his followers worldwide, was a leading authority on the meaning of Jewish law and prominent force in building bridges between traditional Orthodox Judaism and the modern world. In The Lonely Man of Faith, a soaring, eloquent essay first published in Tradition magazine in 1965, Soloveitchik investigates the essential loneliness of the person of faith in our narcissistic, materially oriented, utilitarian society.

A Code of Jewish Ethics Volume I & Volume II

by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

A Code of Jewish Ethics, Volume 1: You Shall Be Holy is the initial volume of the first major code of Jewish ethics to be written in the English language. It is a monumental work on the vital topic of personal character and integrity by one oa-code-of-jewish-ethicsf the premier Jewish scholars and thinkers of our time.

With the stated purpose of restoring ethics to its central role in Judaism, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin offers hundreds of examples from the Torah, the Talmud, rabbinic commentaries, and contemporary stories to illustrate how ethical teachings can affect our daily behavior. The subjects dealt with are ones we all encounter. They include judging other people fairly; knowing when forgiveness is obligatory, optional, or forbidden; balancing humility and self-esteem; avoiding speech that shames others; restraining our impulses of envy, hatred, and revenge; valuing truth but knowing when lying is permitted; understanding why God is the ultimate basis of morality; and appreciating the great benefits of Torah study. Telushkin has arranged the book in the traditional style of Jewish codes, with topical chapters and numbered paragraphs. Statements of law are almost invariably followed by anecdotes illustrating how these principles have been, or can be, practiced in daily life. The book can be read straight through to provide a solid grounding in Jewish values, consulted as a reference when facing ethical dilemmas, or studied in a group.

A Code of Jewish Ethics, Volume 2: Love Your Neighbor as Yourself is a consummate work of scholarship. Like its acclaimed predecessor, which received the National Jewish Book Award, it is rich with ideas to contemplate and discuss, while being primarily a book to live by. Nothing could be more important in these strife-torn times than learning how to love our neighbors as ourselves. The message of this book is as vital and timely now as it has been since time immemorial.

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Get Jewish, Get Sexy: Jewrotica is Coming to DC

 

jewroticaNext Wednesday, December 7th, Jewrotica.org, the exciting (and NSFW) website that features all things Jewish and sexy  will bring their show Bedside Reading to the Edlavitch DCJCC. The show will be hosted by EntryPointDC, the 20’s and 30’s program of the J and will kick-off with a happy hour at 6:45 pm followed by an evening of live readings of sexy stories from the Jewrotica website, slam poems, original pieces by the DC Jewish young professional community, audience confessions, trivia and more! We have a great line-up young professional performers and Gather’s Shaina, will be doing a reading.

Tickets include 1 drink and light snacks.

 

I interviewed Jewrotica Founder, Ayo Oppenheimer, to find out why she thinks we all should “get Jewish and get sexy.”

When did you come up with the idea for Jewrotica and why did you create the website?

I proposed the idea in June 2012 at the Schusterman ROI Summit. I felt that the topic of Jewish erotica was innovative and was not something that existed yet in the community. It made sense for me to start a website that explored sexuality and Judaism because we are a sex positive people; the first commandment states we should be fruitful and multiply, there are rules regarding sex when married and so on. A NY Times article written around this time stated that 50 Shades of Gray became popular first among the Orthodox community and I thought we could do something bigger by creating a hub for Jewish sexual expression  that included  everything – romance, consent, identity, kink, Jewish religion and values. I found that people with traditional values had not been exposed to this type of content. Some were “silenced” and others that are more progressive and super open didn’t find meaning in the Jewish community and seek it out. Jewrotica provides a bridge between these worlds.

What is your favorite Jewrotica piece submitted to the website and why?

I can’t pick just one. A piece that is both awkward and funny is the Rabbi and the Vibrator (our opening piece for the show!) I also like how anyone can submit a piece, including those that are part of the observant Jewish community. Often authors will use pen names; I recommend readings by “Sasha Pearl.” It is great to see that people from all backgrounds can write a piece of erotica, even Orthodox moms with eight kids; it gives them an outlet.  I feel connected to the humanness behind each literary piece.

What is Bedside Reading and why should I come out to the show next week?

Bedside reading is a hilarious, informative, tantalizing, and arousing show. It’s an evening that is surprising, fun, and playful with lots of confessions, poetry, erotica, stories, essays….basically everything your Hebrew school was not.  It is a celebration of sexuality and the Jewish community at its best, you will have a lot of fun!

What are some of the regular columns that are a part of the Jewrotica website?

There is Double Mitzvah which connects the weekly parsha and themes of sexuality and relationships, Dear Jewrotica, an advice column, Sex and Science that explores health, science, sex and Judaism, Confessions and Sexiest Rabbi of the Year which are both submitted and nominated by the community and Sex with the Rabbi, a Q&A with rabbis of different rabbis  denominations.

What has been your favorite venue you have hosted an event? 

Limmud Australia because they are “down under” (pun intended.) But really, I enjoyed the Bedside show at Spiderhouse in Austin, Texas because the entire place was packed and it was a really cool spoken word venue.

Want to help out at the Jewrotica event? Email Stacy, Manager of EntryPointDC!

 

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Nosh, Sip & Schmooze: Craft Cocktails, Small Bites, and Celebrated Author Amy Kritzer to DC

nosh-sip-and-schmooze

Chanukah is a whole month away, but there’s no reason to wait on getting together with friends to enjoy each other’s company over food and drink. On Sunday, December 4, from 1pm to 4pm, Jewish Food Experience, the organization that brings DC together through the universal language of Jewish food, is hosting a unique event called Nosh, Sip & Schmooze at the Jewish-owned One Eight Distilling, near Union Market.

one-either-distileryThere will be cocktails. There will be food. There will be merriment. There will be a book tour!

Indeed, one of, if not the, most famous contemporary Jewish food writers will headline the event: Amy Kritzer, founder of the hugely popular What Jew Wanna Eat blog, and author of the just-released cookbook, Sweet Noshings. Hailing from Austin and a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, Amy’s been a leader in the growing, exciting Jewish food scene, with funky and modern takes on classic Jewish food. She’s discussed everything from Top 10 Latke Tips (important pretty soon) to a mind-blowing candy-corn stuffed pumpkin-chocolate babka.

It’d be tough to taste all of the recipes just by looking through the pages, no? That’s where the Nosh part comes in. The just-opened On Rye restaurant team, led by owner Ilyse Fishman Lerner, will be catering the event with both sweet and savory bites based on Amy’s own recipes. Meanwhile, One Eight Distilling will offer tastings of their artisanal spirits. They’ll create bespoke signature cocktails just for the event, and will also be leading behind-the-scenes tours of the distillery.

The past few weeks have been stressful, we know. Engage with fellow foodie Jews, Jews who like craft cocktails, Jews who want to support local, and Jews who like to read. The DC food scene is deep and rich, and Nosh, Sip & Schmooze is one of the best ways this year to enjoy it.

In sum:

  • Sip on hand-crafted cocktails prepared by One Eight Distilling.
  • Meet acclaimed chef, food blogger and author Amy Kritzer and purchase signed copies of her new book Sweet Noshings.
  • Schmooze with other foodies from across DC’s Jewish community.
  • Nosh hors d’oeuvres from the new On Rye restaurant as well as delicious desserts that appear in Amy’s cookbook.

You can sign up for the event here. Cost is $36.

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An Unlikely Gratitude

rabbi-rant-bannerLike many of you, regardless of which way you voted, I’ve been wondering what this recent election means for American Jews – not only regarding our future safety, but also regarding our sense of community and cohesion. Will the vastly differing reactions by American Jews to President-elect Trump further split us apart? Will Thanksgiving this year be a total disaster? It’s possible.

But if a conversation with my father this week is any indication, this election might actually bring us closer together.

What, over the last few years, has been the single greatest source of division and tension within the American Jewish community? Ask just about anyone, and you’ll get the same answer. It’s the third rail, the topic-that-shall-not-be-named, the elephant in the room that you either can’t talk about or can’t not talk about: Israel.

To be super-reductionist (it’s a rant, I can do what I want! Which includes making up words like super-reductionist…), the main source of division for American Jews around Israel is a disagreement about the most significant type of threat to Israel: threats to Israel’s security or threats to Israel’s moral character.

Each group seems to care a lot about their threat and not very much about the other side’s threat.

Those of us on the “left” underestimated the threat of anti-Semitism. One of the core assumptions in my teaching about Jewish identity in America was that we need to move past anti-Semitism. I thought fears about anti-Semitism were generated by older-generation-Jews like my dad who, blinded by the shadow of the Holocaust, couldn’t see that Jews are fully accepted here. I was wrong; the recent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the US has painfully shown me the naivete and danger of that mentality.

Those on the “right” often dismissed the ethical concerns that come with Israel’s power. Jews would never compromise our values for the sake of our own interests. I believe it will become increasingly clear in the coming months that this is not necessarily so. Jews, like anyone else, can and do become corrupted by the influences of power and money. The future will continue to present moral dilemmas for Jewish institutions, and their choices may shine a light on the ethical costs of acquiring unwavering support for Israel.

On the phone with my dad, I told him that I was wrong to treat anti-Semitism so cavalierly. He told me that he was wrong to accept the challenges to liberal, democratic values in Israel that he would never accept here in America. We still don’t agree on Israel, but we were able to appreciate each other’s perspective in a way we hadn’t been able to before now. It wasn’t an upbeat conversation, and it didn’t exactly leave me hopeful for the next four years.

But it was comforting knowing that my dad and I, and perhaps the larger American Jewish community, might be able to navigate our fear and uncertainty with a shared sense of concern and understanding.grateful1

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 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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Jewish Actor of the Week – Sophie

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I had met Sophie only a few times before our 10 hour road trip to North Carolina for the wedding of a mutual friend. Over the course of our drive, I got to know more about Sophie and her work. I just knew she needed to be featured here for the Gather the Jews Person of the Week!

Jackie: You first came to DC for school at American University. After living in California, why did you want to move across the country for school?

Sophie: I wanted to study theatre, as opposed to film. Most of the musical theatre programs that you have to audition for were on the East Coast, so East Coast it was! I do not relish the change in weather. I was very happy living without seasons.

Jackie: When did you know you wanted to be an actress?

Sophie: You know, I’m not sure. I wrote a letter to myself in elementary school that said I wanted to be a marine biologist/flutist/maybe a singer, so I guess performing was always a part of the equation.

Jackie: Do you have a favorite show you were in or character you played?

Sophie: Probably Little Red in Into the Woods. I get to play a lot of children – when you’re 5’1″ it comes with the territory- and it’s always amazing to play a young character with depth and dignity; there is a lot going on in those little brains. The writing from Sondheim and James Lapine is so rich; they do all the work for you. woods3

Jackie: Can you tell us about the show are you in currently?

Sophie: Currently, I’m playing Fan in A Christmas Carol at Toby’s Dinner Theater in Columbia, Maryland. Oh, the irony. But, in all honesty, I think the show has some messages that the world really needs to hear right now. “Till each child is fed. Till all men are free. Till the world becomes a family. Star by star up above and kindness by human kindness, light this world with your love and G-d bless us, everyone.” At its core, the story and the lessons it teaches are pretty universal.

Jackie: Do you have any recommendations of shows to see in DC?

293Sophie: Unfortunately, I don’t get to see much when I’m in a performance.
I have heard amazing things about The Secret Garden at The Shakespeare Theatre. I’m also dying to see Milk Like Sugar at Mosaic Theater and Looking Glass Theatre Company’s Moby Dick at Arena Stage. Ooh and, looking forward to January, I cannot wait for Caroline, Or Change at Round House Theatre; it’s about an African-American maid working for a Jewish family in Louisiana during the Civil Rights Movement. The casting is impeccable, and it’s the kind of piece that makes you uncomfortable, which is so important. It’s the perfect collaboration between Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori, two of the greatest theatre-makers of our time.

Jackie: When you aren’t working, where can we find you spending time in DC?

Sophie: Honestly, I love just wandering the city and exploring new neighborhoods; I’m a good walker. Favorite haunts include the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, the Kogod Courtyard, the Smithsonian’s Butterfly Pavilion, and any block where every row house is topped with a turret.

Jackie: What is your favorite Jewish Holiday?

Sophie: I’m sure I’m in the minority, but Pesach [Passover] has always been my favorite. That whole no bread thing is a bummer, but who doesn’t love a good matzoh ball?

Finish the sentence: When the Jews Gather… there are more than enough opinions to go around.

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Why You Need an Emergency Fund

LeavingHave you ever suddenly lost your job? Or needed a surprise root canal? Perhaps your car broke down, or your refrigerator stopped working.

These unexpected moments in life can put you into debt if you’re not prepared. That’s why you need an emergency savings account to protect you.

What’s an emergency savings account? It’s a savings account that is only to be tapped into when a real emergency arises. (And no, those Adele tickets are not an emergency!)

Alexa Von Tobel, CEO of Learnvest, likes to call this a Freedom Fund because yes, you’ll be covered in an emergency like illness or injury, but it will also give you the freedom to pursue a new career or leave a toxic work environment. It will give you peace of mind, knowing that you don’t have to worry about paying your bills right away.

Experts say everyone should have 3-12 months worth of expenses saved in their emergency savings account. If you are self-employed, or have a family to support, you want to be on the higher end of that spectrum – and that amount can change depending on shifting circumstances. For instance, right now I have 6 months of income saved but I’ll want to increase that once I’m fully self-employed.

What constitutes an emergency:

  • Medical or dental issues
  • Job loss
  • Your car breaks down (and it’s your primary mode of transportation)
  • Emergency home expenses (your roof is leaking, etc.)
  • Bereavement expenses

How to build up your emergency savings:

  • Automate! The easiest way to save is to set it and forget it! Set up direct deposit from your paycheck, or have your bank make scheduled transfers. This way, you don’t have to think about it and you won’t miss the money. You’re way more likely to save this way.
  • Choose a high yield savings account. These days, you don’t get much back in terms of interest, especially from brick and mortar banks. Open a savings account with an online bank like Ally or Synchrony, and you can get up to 5 times the typical interest rate. Before switching to Ally, I only earned 20 cents a month in interest and now it’s more like $15. Every little bit counts!
  • Don’t connect it to your checking account. You need your emergency savings to be accessible when an issue arises. You don’t want it to be in a CD or the stock market, where you can’t get to it easily. However, you don’t want the money to be too easy to spend, either. Put it in a place where you can’t transfer it to your checking account on a whim, but make sure it’s still in liquid form so the cash can actually be accessed in an emergency.

Start now!

If you don’t have any savings built up yet, don’t feel discouraged! Everyone has to start somewhere. And as Elizabeth Gilbert said, “it doesn’t get done until you begin doing it.” Even if you can only save $10 a paycheck, that’s better than nothing. It will grow faster than you think. Over time, the more money you earn, or the less debt you have, the more you can save.

Do you already have a fully funded savings account? Have you ever had to rely on your emergency fund? Share with me on Twitter!

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The Principle of Uncertainty

5e166f35-46b9-455e-8aab-fb5377efe8dbThe results of the election last week were shocking; the polls did not prepare us. Like many of you, I’ve spent the past week reading countless articles trying to make sense of what happened. But I’m not only looking for political analysis, historical comparisons or discussions about the potential ramifications. I’m also searching for spiritual insights into myself and the world I live in.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, I wrote about applying the wisdom from shiva to this situation. We need time to embrace our feelings of unease and not ignore them. That process is difficult and should not be rushed. But there is also the Jewish outlook of seeing everything as a growth opportunity. I’d like to start wondering what we can and should learn from this truly unprecedented moment in history.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll offer some post-election thoughts — rooted in Jewish wisdom — that perhaps will allow us to move forward with greater awareness of who we are as Jews and people.

Thought #1: The world is filled with uncertainty.

One of the unofficial theme songs for Hillary’s campaign, now tinged with a tragic irony, was a song by Demi Lovato in which she asks: what’s wrong with being confident? The answer, as we’ve learned from this election, is that confidence can blind us from reality. The world is filled with uncertainty. Faith is about recognizing that you are not God, and that so much of life is beyond your awareness and control. Doubt, theologian Paul Tillich writes, is not the opposite of faith – it is an element of faith.

We cannot predict the future. Even the prophets of the Hebrew Bible didn’t predict the future — they were only describing what would happen without a change of behavior. Nothing is guaranteed, and religion is not a fortune cookie. It is why the rabbis in the Talmud say that God’s presence was removed from Jacob when he tried to foresee the future. It’s scary to not know what will happen next – but not being able to foretell the future is also a critical feature of being human. As King Solomon asks: “Who can tell a person what the future holds under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 6:12).

This limit to knowledge is not limited to the future. This may be the reason God forbids Adam and Eve from eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil – a metaphor for the limits of human knowledge and a lesson in humility. As psychologist Eric Fromm writes in The Art of Loving: “The further we reach into the depth of our being, or someone else’s being, the more the goal of knowledge eludes us… The experience of union, with man, or religiously speaking, with God… is based on our knowledge of the fundamental, and not accidental, limitations of our knowledge.” (p. 27, 30). The more we know, the more we realize how little we know.

Many Americans were 100% sure about being right regarding this election. These postures of confidence masked a repressed vulnerability; we were afraid to consider the full range of possibilities. One lesson from this election is that we need to embrace our uncertainty. Doing so allows us to see the world more clearly as it is and not as we wished it were.

We shouldn’t give up on trying to understand ourselves and others. Wisdom and truth are holy pursuits central to religious life. These values cannot be sacrificed or compromised. There’s a danger in “not knowing.” But there’s also a danger in knowing. We should always recognize that we might be wrong, that we will never obtain complete knowledge and the full truth. Like Louis CK, (kind of), we should follow up any “Of course” with a “But maybe…”. Because the only thing we know for certain is that we will never know anything for certain.

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 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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Naming the Nebulousness: Reflections on being White and Jewish in the Racial Justice Space Part Two

image1-1So being a white Jew in the racial justice space is hard and confusing and even painful. I have felt this way for a while but I haven’t been able to put my finger on what is going on. I wrote a blog for Gather the Jews three months ago exploring this and had no answers. But now I’m back.

This past weekend I was fortunate to attend the Facing Race conference with Repair the World which is an organization mobilizing young Jews to give back to their community. I did a lot of listening, exploring, feeling frustrated and saddened, and ultimately leaving empowered and inspired. Here are some observations and reflections I have formulated as a white Jew while operating in the racial justice space:

1. When we think about multiracial, multiethnic racial justice coalitions, many of us with white skin include ourselves. But others might not. Sometimes minority groups don’t want to build coalitions with white people. That is tough because many whites have dedicated their lives to racial justice work. Many whites have died fighting this fight. But we need to face the reality that many don’t want a white voice in these conversations.

2. The racial justice movement includes all minority groups, except Jews. Anti-Semitism is not part of the movement, despite its rise in Europe and America. It was difficult not to hear anything at the Facing Race conference about standing with Jews during this challenging time. Nothing. It was glaring. While we think our Jew “we-were-oppressed-too” card is our entry into the movement, in reality, it’s our exit ticket.

That’s painful because many of us have committed ourselves to racial justice and have in fact seen ourselves within this movement. And during a time when swastikas are showing up in Jewish spaces, and Jews are feeling increasingly less safe on college campuses and walking out of synagogues, it’s important for those fighting for justice to stand with us. But it feels like many of our peers in this fight aren’t standing with us. That sucks and it hurts.

But, my white Jewish friends, despite all of that, we need to stand tall and continue to work, and actually DOUBLE DOWN on our racial justice efforts because the need is great. Here are my thoughts on how I want to move forward and maybe some of these will resonate with you:

  • Acknowledge our white privilege (e.g., all the advantages we get because we look like mainstream white America), but also work to reject our sense of superiority as whites (e.g., the myth of whiteness). It feels challenging to do that because it’s as if we are both accepting and rejecting our whiteness. For now, I’m just holding both concepts in my consciousness.
  • Find our voice and don’t apologize for being born with white skin. We should be aware of white fragility (e.g., the tendency for white people to freak out when we hear things that make us uncomfortable) but we should always have a thoughtful voice in this fight. Being awkward and self-conscious all the time is inhibiting our ability to do good work.
  • Fight against white supremacy and structural racism on two fronts. We need to do our voting rights, affordable housing, educational equity work, etc. But we also need to work every day to root out our own racial biases and reprogram our brain. Because our default brain is racist.
  • Forge partnerships with people of color and center their voice in the conversation in ways that uplift their voice but don’t burden them.
  • Call each other in. It’s not the responsibility of people of color to tell us when we are being racist. We need to learn to call each other in, and in loving ways.
  • Stop trying to be down with black and brown people. It’s not about fist-pumping to show how cool we are. Be down for the CAUSE, do substantive change work, and we will be respected as peers in this fight.
  • Draw on our historical narrative and experience of being oppressed. Many of us are grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, and we can use that painful history to fuel our work in promoting peace and understanding.
  • When the going gets tough, talk to each other and engage in self-care. Dig into our Jewish roots which has rituals to rejuvenate, connect, and heal us.

Let’s do this.

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 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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Jewish Resident of the Week – Sam

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Sam is the newest member of Moishe House DC. I got the chance to catch up with him to hear how living in the House was going and also hear what lead him to live there in the first place! Learn more about him and hear his recommendations for getting to know DC in our interview with Sam this week.

Jackie: You moved around a bit since graduating from Binghamton. Where have you been and what brought you there?

Sam: I originally grew up on Long Island and have moved basically every year since graduating college. I attended Binghamton University for my undergraduate degree and moved to Houston to teach middle school as part of Teach for America while also earning my Masters in Education. After that, I moved to New York City for a year, then Baltimore for a year, back to New York City, relocated to Raleigh, North Carolina and then moved to DC in March of this year. Some of the moves were related to work. Others were embracing opportunities to live in another part of the country and have an adventure along the way.

Jackie: What finally brought you to DC?14856074_10100587589263299_4070627615327562005_o

Sam: With every opportunity I take, I always consider how I can have an impact. I was surprised to learn that the third leading cause of death in the United States is medical errors. Looking to become part of the solution, I joined a fast-growing ed tech start-up based in Bethesda called Knowledge to Practice, focused on helping physicians with their continuing medical education needs. My role there is helping build the digital marketing team from the ground up. Everything from digital analytics, to content strategy, to marketing automation, and beyond. I’ll stop while I am ahead.

Jackie: You recently moved into Moishe House DC! Why did you want to live in a Jewish house?

Sam: Being part of the Moishe House represents an opportunity to be part of something larger than myself. A community that becomes a home away from home for many individuals who may only live in Washington, DC for a short time. Having the chance to build that sense of community and become a connector of the community is something that I strive to build in the many cities I have had the chance to call home.

Jackie: What has been your favorite part of joining that house?

Sam: The amazing people! Despite living in DC since March, I’ve met more people in the past month than I have in my total time here previously. The range of events all the Moishe Houses put on in the DMV area allows everyone to connect.

11824943_10101608180155952_7293008731603885208_nJackie: What are some recommendations for the seeing things off the beaten path in the DMV?

Sam: Walking tours are a great way to learn about the city. One of the best tours I recommend is food walking tours you can do in different neighborhoods in DC and VA. Walking around for a few hours. Trying 5-6 different types of food. Learning about culture and history along the way. You really can’t go wrong. I also recommend checking out different breweries.

Jackie: Who is your favorite Jew? 

Sam: Aaron Sorkin. The West Wing is pretty much as close as you can get to my heart. Besides Hamilton at the moment.

Finish the sentence: When the Jews Gather… The house shakshuAKES-ah! (I am so sorry).

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State of Mourning

For many millennial DC Jews, an intersection of three extremely liberal subsets of the population (and around 95% of whom most likely voted for Hillary Clinton), now may feel like a time for shiva. Today we mourn the loss of the America we thought we lived in, the loss of the misplaced optimism that we had, and the loss of feeling safe and secure about our present and our future.

Many of us are too broken, too hurt, too angry to do anything but weep, and the wisdom of shiva is that we need to make space for that. But the deeper wisdom of shiva is that we then must leave our home and re-enter the world. We must confront this new reality, if not today, then soon. We cannot fall back on escapism.

The Jewish response to brokenness is twofold – to learn and to hope. Religion will not solve our problems, but it can provide a space for us to come together, reflect and, when the time is right, move forward.

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 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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Jewish Cook of the Week – Jackie

14915456_10109529814741681_9150082870296178926_nJackie: Where did your interest in Jewish community start?

Jackie N: I’ve always been lucky to live in places with a strong Jewish community. I attended Jewish day school, went to a Cuban-Jewish Sephardic synagogue (yes they do exist!), and grew up in a very traditional home.

When I went to college at the University of Florida (go Gators!) it really propelled my interest in getting involved with the Jewish community. Up until that point, I had lived in Miami which made me take Jewish practices and communal life for granted.  For the first time in my life, I was living on my own without my family nearby. It felt very unnerving to not have Shabbat dinner every Friday and although I loved my new friends at school I missed Jewish life. I started getting involved by going to UF’s Hillel and Chabad and by the time I graduated I sat on Chabad’s board and was very active in Jewish life at UF.

When I moved to DC in 2008 I didn’t really know too many people and had no family in the area, so the Jewish community was an easy and a great way to make friends.  I realized that many of my friends were also alone up here without our families nearby. So I decided to step up and take the lead and host the major holidays and Shabbat for my friends. It also felt more intimate, fun, familiar and less stressful than going to a large holiday event with hundreds of people. From there, my dinners grew tremendously and I became known for hosting Shabbat dinners.

A friend approached me in 2013 about co-hosting a Sephardic Shabbat service/dinner. I agreed and it was a massive success! From there I began hosting monthly Shabbat dinners through my organization Sephardic Jews in DC.

10731068_10105919570544991_2032516370974524497_nJackie: Can you tell me about your love of food? 

Jackie N: I’ve always loved to cook. I’ve been cooking ever since I was a small child and I used to help my mom out in the kitchen all the time. She’s an even better cook than I am, but hopefully one day I’ll be as good as her! I especially love learning about the history and evolution of food. I’m fascinated by what ancient Sephardic Jewish communities ate, how they lived, and how their lives differed from the rest of the population and why. I’m constantly tinkering in the kitchen, researching different kinds of recipes and cuisine, and making it for my friends. I even have a food blog which contains many of my recipes.

Jackie: What is your favorite Sephardic meal to cook?

Jackie N: Oh way too many! I love cooking Turkish Sephardic food, especially borekas, keftes de prasas (leek latkes), abondigas de prasa (leek meatballs), and sofrito. I also love cooking Persian food and my favorite dish to make is fesenjoon (a walnut/pomegranate stew). I also love Moroccan food and love to make Chraime (Moroccan fish), hamim
(cholent) and Moroccan carrot salad.
 

Jackie: How did you get the idea to start Sephardic Jews in DC? 13906725_10109007473278161_3125682790798231446_n

Jackie N:I was raised in a traditional Sephardic home and grew up going to a Sephardic synagogue. I really love the customs, heritage, history, and cuisine of the Sephardic world, but almost all of the synagogues and Jewish events in Washington DC are Ashkenazi, with the exception of a few synagogues in suburban Maryland.

I started the organization because the preservation of Sephardic culture, traditions, heritage and cuisine is very important to me. I want to ensure that Sephardic culture doesn’t die out, but rather will continue to evolve and be celebrated for its many contributions to Jewish life.

I spent many years frustrated that most Jewish organizations in DC didn’t address the Sephardic world, so I decided to take the lead and create a community-based organization to fill this void. My goals with this organization are not just to feed people delicious food (certainly an added benefit), but rather to create a robust Sephardic community in DC and educate people on Sephardic/Mizrahi culture, cuisine, history, liturgy, and traditions.

I believe that sharing a meal helps bring a community together and keeps traditions alive. Plus, learning about something is always easier when you have delicious food close by.

I, of course, have to acknowledge that “it takes a village” and use this opportunity to thank the  people and organizations that have assisted me throughout the years. My fellow Sephardic leaders Ari, Aaron, and Jen. Also organizations like Chabad (Rabbi Levi and Menachem Shemtov), 6th and I (Rabbi Scott Perlo), Mesorah DC (Rabbi Teitelbaum), and Moishe House Arlington/DC for their partnerships.

Jackie: What are ways for people to get involved with your organization?

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Jackie N: I’m always looking for people who are interested in volunteering their time to help nurture and grow a Sephardic community, whether it be helping to cook for events, leading or participating in services, generating ideas for events, or just attending and helping out at events. Thus far we have been a community lay-led organization with no major sponsorship. I’m hoping that in the future I’ll be able to work with larger Jewish organizations and be able to create an organic Sephardic Jewish community in DC. If you’re interested in learning more about coming to one of our monthly Shabbat dinners please visit our page on Facebook Sephardic Jews in DC.

Finish the sentence: When the [Sephardic] Jews Gather…there will be delicious food, good conversation, and fun times.

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Gather Giving Circle

Apply here to join Gather’s Giving Circle with Reb Aaron. 

Most Jews in their 20s and 30s that I talk to are afraid to say anything definitive about what it means to be Jewish – I think a big reason for this is that, the moment we do, we risk alienating or excluding certain people who identify as Jews. Yet this tendency toward inclusivity has its own risk because it can render Judaism contentless and meaningless.

There are many ways to practice Judaism. But there are some basic requirements that should unite all Jews. And one of them… perhaps the most important one… is giving tzedakah.

Tzedakah, often (mis)translated as charity, comes from the word tzedek, which means justice. Judaism has a unique perspective on the value, and the obligation, of donating money. Yet, most of us have not engaged with Jewish texts since becoming adults and earning salaries. Instead of letting Jewish wisdom inform our financial giving practice, we make less intentional choices and sometimes don’t give at all.

So, I’ve decided to host a Gather Giving Circle – a four-week-long giving circle for about 15 Jewish 20s and 30s (who live in greater Washington DC) to come together and talk about the Jewish value of tzedakah. In each 90 minute session, we’ll unpack why, how, and to whom we give. And in order to make sure these are not just hypothetical conversations, we’re also asking those accepted to donate $100 to this circle*. By the end of the 4 weeks, we will collectively decide where to donate our pooled money.

If you’re interested in learning more about Judaism’s take on the responsibility of money, or if you’re looking to make a philanthropic donation but want some support getting started, I hope you’ll apply here. The deadline for the application is Tuesday, November 22 at midnight, and the group will start meeting the following Monday, November 28 and for the three Mondays after.

And if you’re not able to make these dates, or if this is too much for you to give right now, what’s most important is that you give something, somewhere, at some point. As it says in the Talmud: “Tzedakah equals in importance all the other precepts combined” (Bava Batra 9a). The rabbis were not afraid of making definitive statements about what it means to be Jewish, and they placed tzedakah at the top of that list.

*Don’t worry, accountants, it will be tax-deductible.

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Taking Note: My Experience at JWI’s Young Women’s Leadership Conference

Carly writing in her note book at JWI's Young Women's Leadership Conference

Carly writing in her note book at JWI’s Young Women’s Leadership Conference

When I was asked to write this post, I knew exactly where to start searching for inspiration. I went to my bookshelf and found the pink Moleskine notebook that has joined me on two trips to Israel, and in between, JWI’s 2015 Young Women’s Leadership Network conference. I filled up over a dozen pages with words of wisdom from the women who spoke that day, and I’ve consulted these notes many times since last December. Ever-pursuant of convenient literary devices, I thought I’d pick one quote that stuck out to me; instead, I’m finding it impossible to narrow it down.

Truth be told, I really needed that event last year. I was in what felt like a state of near-perpetual self-doubt. I didn’t know what my next professional step should be, which felt exceptionally difficult for someone with a tendency towards a long term plan. I had (and continue to have) some wonderful people surrounding me serving as mirrors, sounding boards and role models, but couldn’t deny that some neutral, outside perspective would be helpful. When two friends who’d attended the conference in 2014 suggested I register, I didn’t hesitate.

I woke up the morning of the event unmotivated to get out of bed – the same early case of the Sunday scaries I’d felt weekly for the previous few months. But after a couple of encouraging text messages (and a reminder of the OPI nail polish in every gift bag), I put on my best game face and headed over to the venue, notebook in hand. After some hellos to a few familiar faces, I settled into my seat, expectations a bit unclear. I wasn’t sure what exactly I was looking for, but my hopes were high that I’d walk away with something I could latch onto.

Clearly, with all of those pages of notes, I found that – and more. The women I heard present throughout the day were honest and open, sharing stories of their successes and failures, letting us in on their insecurities and what got them through it. They offered perspectives on what it means to be a professional, to be a friend, to be a Jewish woman navigating the world today. Author, psychotherapist, and advocate Rebecca Alexander offered us her mantra to borrow if we didn’t have our own – “breathe in peace, breathe out fear” – but truly, any sentence that I jotted down in that notebook could serve the same purpose.

It wasn’t just the women on stage who inspired and impressed me. I started conversations with the other attendees throughout the day and found that they, too, were excited to talk about their experiences. I admired the women who stood up to ask questions of the panelists – the same questions I’d had on my mind throughout the sessions but hadn’t found a way to vocalize. I had the chance to reconnect with one of my Birthright leaders – a woman who is an incredible example of strength and leadership and was an influence in the Jewish journey that led me to that very event. The diversity of backgrounds and perspectives was enlightening and refreshing, and above all, a clear example of the power of shared experience.

With the start of the new year just behind us, I’ve spent quite a bit of time reflecting on my own path. I find the organization’s history to be a particular fate for me, as my grandmother served as the Executive Director of B’nai B’rith Women before it became the JWI we know today. It has always struck me that my connection to Judaism has helped me find new ways to connect with her, even though she passed away many years ago. I think it is thus appropriate that I find this event so compelling, as my grandmother was the strongest and most wonderful woman I’ve ever known. The knowledge that this organization was so meaningful to her makes me especially honored to be a member.

As I find myself on the precipice of another professional change, I know that I can expect even more inspiration from this year’s conference. I look forward to listening to such inspirational women speak about their struggles and successes. The conference will have many familiar faces, but I am also excited to meet new people and share this experience with the similarly inspiring attendees. I’m glad I have plenty of pages left in my Moleskine and can’t wait to see what words fill another dozen pages this year. And, of course, I’m really excited about that new OPI purple polish.

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There’s so much to gain when women are able to come together and share their greatest accomplishments, their deepest vulnerabilities, and their personal wisdom in a space that is free of judgment and pretense. At this conference, it’s hard to feel anything less than awe at the number of incredible Jewish women who are doing amazing things in all parts of the world, but also remain ready to guide and support you on your own path. I cannot think of another event I’ve attended that’s encouraged me to listen, process, and reflect as much as the YWLC, and I’m thrilled to be able to participate again this year. I hope you’ll join me!

You can register to be a part of JWI’s Young Women’s Leadership Conference here.

 

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