Walk of Shame – Jewish Identity the Morning After


Besides being Halloween, this Monday night is also the beginning of the new Jewish month of Cheshvan, known as Mar Cheshvan (“bitter Cheshvan”) because of its lack of holidays. What an ironic juxtaposition of holidays – one is associated with sweet candy, the other is associated with bitterness. I for one will be honoring both by handing trick-or-treaters fresh cuts of bitter herb.

For many of us, our Jewish identity centers on the holidays. So before we hibernate from being Jewish like little Jew bears (Jew Bear-ymore… possible Halloween costume?), emerging two months later for the next Jewish holiday of Channukah, I’d like to challenge this holiday-based connection that many of us have.

To be clear, I love Jewish holidays. They help us mark the passage of time in our own lives, they push us to reflect on certain ideas and values, and they bind us to our people’s history. Even for those who don’t believe in the history or connect to the message, Jewish holidays are still great opportunities to gather with friends and family.

f40de42d-8045-43bd-ace6-22f8258191feBut that can be hard to do when all of these holidays are not in sync with the American calendar. (The Jewish calendar is both lunar and solar, which is why Jewish holidays fall on different dates in the Gregorian calendar each year.) If you’re from outside the DMV area, it’s much easier to travel to family on American holidays like July 4th, Thanksgiving and Christmas than it is to take off a random day or two in the middle of the week for Rosh Hashana or Passover. And without a group of friends who live nearby and are also interested in celebrating, the holidays could be isolating and lonely.

The issue with connecting to our Judaism only on holidays goes beyond the practical challenges. It also limits Judaism to certain days during the year, allowing us to compartmentalize it in our life – to put it in a box like our menorah and seder plate, to be taken out only a few times a year. Holidays alone are not enough to build community, maintain a spiritual connection or sustain personal growth; they are infrequent and meant as a supplement to Jewish life. Tapping into Judaism only around the holidays also limits Judaism to certain historical/agricultural events and the particular values and ideas associated with them. There is no Jewish holiday for charity, sex, or gratitude… yet our tradition is far from silent on these topics.

In Judaism we welcome each major holiday with a blessing over wine (except, of course, on Yom Kippur). There’s an interesting debate in the Talmud about what to sanctify first – the wine itself, or the special day. Hillel the Elder says we bless the wine first because it is more common. To me, this answer reveals something deep about being Jewish. Yes, holidays are great, but they are by nature a break from our routine. Judaism is, at its core, meant to be lived in the day-to-day, guiding us through and occasionally elevating the mundane. Perhaps Mar Cheshvan, with no holidays in sight, is the perfect opportunity to think about what that could look like. What Jewish value, idea or practice informs, or could inform, your daily life?

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.


Jewish Advocate of the Week – Ben


Ben was nominated as Jewish Advocate of the Week by fellow Tufts alumni and Jewish Foodie of the Week, Julie. I had the opportunity to ask Ben about his diverse interests, how they come together in his work and life, and of course who his favorite Jew is! Learn more about Ben in his interview below.

Know someone who you think should be Person of the week? Nominate them!

Jackie: What brought you to DC?

Ben: DC is the third city I have lived in; I was born and raised in Pittsburgh and went to school in the Boston area. In my mind, these three cities are very similar. They are of a similar geographic size, have fantastic cultural institutions, and have strong communities (Jewish and otherwise). I spent a summer in DC while I was in college, and knew I could see myself living here afterward. During my senior year, I was able to find a job in the city.

Jackie: In college, you studied Peace and Justice Studies and Physics. What drew you to these polar opposite pursuits?

2016-09-04-12-37-10Ben: The first time I walked into a physics class, I fell in love with the subject. Math had always come easily to me, but I found it boring. With physics, math finally had a use and a fantastic one with that! Early physics courses so clearly translate to our experienced reality (mechanics, magnetism, etc.), that I was able to apply this framework to my universe in a way that thrilled me. I felt compelled to learn as much as I could about the subject.

However, I’ve always had a commitment to doing something for others beyond myself. My grandparents were Holocaust survivors, and there has always been a nagging within me to make sure I make a difference in the world. Tufts University, where I attended college, offered this interdisciplinary program in Peace and Justice Studies, which I was immediately drawn to. I viewed it as a “Choose Your Own Adventure” major, as I was able to take courses in philosophy, anthropology, English literature, sociology, among many others. Rather than studying two disciplines, I could study five or six – but with a common thread. By the time I reached my senior year, I attempted to combine these pursuits: what is the relationship between science and society? My thesis attempted to justify government funding for scientific research, and my capstone explored the public understanding of scientific language. In my mind, they aren’t polar at all.

Jackie: You now work as a lobbyist. What causes are you advocating for?

2016-08-02-07-55-10Ben: This certainly was not a job I ever expected. I work exclusively with institutions of higher education, research associations, and laboratory facilities that are nonprofits or public. In essence, I advocate for continued public investment in scientific research. Given my background in physics, I work more on the physical sciences side, including engineering, energy research, and “smart cities.” Since WWII, the federal government has been one of the biggest funders of research on a spectrum from basic (think, discovering the Higgs Boson) to applied (think, making solar panels better). Universities and scientific societies do a great bulk of this research, and it’s important to make sure that Congress is supportive of science.

Jackie: How do you pursue your interest in Urban Planning and architecture?

Ben: This is a personal interest that I have been pleasantly surprised to also work on it in my day job. Pittsburgh (my hometown) has changed significantly over the past 30 years, not unlike many major cities throughout the U.S., including Washington, DC. There are whole wards in DC that look nothing like they did 30 years ago, and while that can come with significant benefits, it also can hurt residents who live here and who have lived here. During the Obama administration, a confluence of events led to an increased interest in cities. Open data initiatives at the federal, state, and local levels have made cities “smarter,” insofar as they are more efficient in delivering services. A number of cities have hired Chief Innovation Officers to help integrate technologies into their cities. I’m fascinated by how cities will change in the next 20 years, and getting to work with “anchor institutions,” such as universities, that are studying and changing their own cities has been a great experience. I also tend to do a lot of reading, with City Observatory, The Atlantic’s City Lab, and Planetizen all being great sources.

12961539_10154232286153968_5784365337675715953_nJackie: What do you like to do for fun in DC?

Ben: It’s incredible how much DC has to do. I try to frequent the museums as often they have new exhibits. The National Portrait Gallery/National Gallery of American Art is a favorite, as is the National Building Museum. A number of friends from both Pittsburgh and Tufts have also moved to DC, so it’s also good to see them, either grabbing a meal, walking through Rock Creek Park, or having them over for Shabbat Dinner.

Jackie: You have been on many world travels! Where is your favorite place you’ve traveled to?

Ben: Favorites are hard for me. I was just in Colombia, though, and that was an incredible experience. I traveled alone for a week in Bogota and Medellin, and so enjoyed my time there. Medellin has changed so much during my lifetime, and it was incredible to see.

Jackie: Who is your favorite Jew?

Ben: Again, favorites are hard, but among Jewish historical figures I think I would go with Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Finish the sentence: When the Jews Gather… it is sure to be interesting!



Dear UNESCO, You are not the UN Security Council


Recently, a UNESCO vote was called upon for countries to debate whether or not Temple Mount was strictly a Muslim holy site. The vote was pushed by a group of Middle Eastern countries, all of whom practice Islam, and felt that Temple Mount was undergoing discrimination. Specifically, many governments surrounding Israel, including Palestine, were furious that Jewish right-wing protesters chose to appear within Dome of the Rock, one of the holiest Muslim praying grounds. This move, motived because of a belief in ‘oppression and occupation,’ now ignores religious and cultural difference that exist on the Temple Mount. While browsing through my Facebook newsfeed and the immediate CNN and BBC phone updates, one headline stood out: ‘UNESCO votes to give Palestinians Temple Mount’.

Now, not only did that headline so drastically exaggerate the situation, it, unfortunately, implied that what happened during the UNESCO vote was one step towards anti-Semitism and another towards worldwide hatred for Israel. In the next few paragraphs, I’d like to take the time to reiterate that new sources have you fooled.

What the media fails to highlight is that the UNESCO vote does show improvement against Israeli sentiments. Earlier this year, while UNESCO gathered in Paris during late April to also vote on Temple Mount in which there were 33 votes supporting Temple Mount as strictly Muslim (yes votes) and 17 abstentions. The vote called earlier last week resulted in only 24 yes votes and 26 abstentions. Nine countries changed their vote from yes. NINE. Those that moved to abstain were France, Argentina, India, Spain, Argentina, Sri Lanka, Guinea and Togo and one voted no.

This small alteration is in itself an achievement for Israeli diplomacy. Furthermore, while Brazil voted yes, it still heavily argued against the specificity of Temple Mount becoming ‘strictly’ Muslim. Additionally, Mexico switched its vote, no longer supporting the UNESCO vote. Moreover, not a SINGLE European country voted yes for the resolution.

However, while this is an achievement for Israel diplomacy, there are still conflicts that arise from the approval of the UNESCO Resolution. First, the Old City in Jerusalem is split into four quarters. Not a single new source mentions the fury the Armenians must feel in regards to overlooking their portion of the historical claim to the land and the Christ Church Jerusalem. In addition, while Temple Mount does contain Dome of the Rock (Qubbat As-Sakhrah), it also contains the holy Jewish Western Wall and borders directly with one of the holiest Christian sites, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

I have had the luck of walking through the Old City cobble streets, touching the walls that border the city and the four religions within, entering all of the churches, sitting on the grounds of Qubbat As-Sakhrah, and placing my note within the ancient cracks of the Western Wall. I have related to every human that connected with the age and importance of the city, and I have witnessed hundreds and thousands of tourists visit these sites for their personal redemption and religious needs and wants. I have watched people cry, bent over, in all four of these sacred sites.

It is absurd that UNESCO has chosen a political route in a city split in four. UNESCO stands for United Nations Educations, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. None of those words defines UNESCO state political interest. To be frank, it is ironic that an organization that prides itself in cultural respect is now imposing political will on a city that uniquely holds more historical and religious diversity than anywhere in the world, and in doing so, has chosen to highlight only one.

UNESCO’s history seems to contradict this resolution. When Jerusalem’s Old City became a World Heritage site in 1981, proposed by Jordan, it was stated that:

“The Ramparts represent the Ottoman boundaries of the 16th century and enclose within it the built sites of the Temple Mount/Haram el-Sharif and the Christian shrines of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Via Dolorosa.

Jerusalem between these hills, forms a unique witness to the cultural cradle of the Western monotheistic religions, including Jewish sites identified during, the Temple periods, including the City of David Christian sites identified by Queen Helena including Gethsemane, the Church of the Ascension, Bethany, and the site of the Last Supper, and Islamic sites of the Night Journey of Mohammed.”

Therefore, this vote seems to not ideally respect the four religions within the Old City and the original reflection from the 20th century. Even in its mission statement, UNESCO aims to ‘contribute to peace and security by promotion collaboration among the nations through education, science, and culture.’ In a vote made up a majority abstaining votes, and one that has already led to the opposite of security and disorder, this seems to strongly contradict the very fundamentals of the organization.

So, to close this, I view the vote as a humorous effort of a UN branch to further discredit its legitimacy around the world. This vote, criticized both by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova, achieved nothing. Nothing in Jerusalem will change.

Jerusalem contains political turmoil and injustices. However, let us remember that fighting fire with fire will only create more chaos. Perhaps it is time for the United Nations to either impose security in religious sites or learn that what used to be a powerful, respected, steadfast organization is now a political diplomatic machine.

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.


Community Gone Missing


The line I hear most when getting coffee with Jewish 20s and 30s around the city is: “I want to get more involved in the Jewish community.”

Let’s set aside, for now, the disquieting reality that “the Jewish community” doesn’t exist. Our organization’s name, Gather the Jews, might fuel this misconception by implying that there is a central place where ALL the Jews gather – spoiler alert: there isn’t. (If you’re interested in reading more about a variety of issues related to “the Jewish community,” check out the most recent issue of Sh’ma Now, for which I wrote the introductory essay.) And let’s also shelve the questions of what “getting involved” in a Jewish community looks like and why that is so important to Jews.

Before we can have those important conversations, we first need to address a more basic issue that is not unique to being Jewish: We have lost the concept of community. So what is a community? I’ve heard the word used to describe people at a concert, a yoga class, a local coffee shop, and fellow commuters on the Metro. When it is used to describe any gathering of people, it loses its meaning and we lose the aspiration to belong to one.

Parker Palmer, the Quaker elder and activist, recently shared: “I went to Washington, D.C. and became a community organizer working on issues of racial justice. Five years later, I realized that I was trying to lead people towards something that I had never really experienced for myself, namely community.”

What components are critical to help create an authentic community? I’m curious to hear others’ thoughts, but here are four criteria of mine:

1) A community is more than a feeling – you need to actually communicate with each other, learn about each other holistically, and know what is going on in each others’ lives. That you recognize the same 15 people at your spin class each week is not enough.

2) A community is not limited to a particular time. Of course communities can dissolve, but they don’t form instantly and shouldn’t have a pre-set expiration date. Something that happens once or twice – like High Holiday services – constitutes only an isolated experience or program and is not the basis for an ongoing community.

3) A community is also not limited to a particular place. There needs to be a way for people within the community to encounter each other regularly, and a particular location can help facilitate that. But a community cannot be defined by any one place. Sorry, Birthright bus, but if you don’t stay connected after returning to the States, then that community has ceased to exist.

4) A community is more than a group of friends – it brings people together for a larger purpose. That purpose can be artistic, political, or intellectual (to name a few) but it must be more than social.

Few of us, if any, have experienced a community that meets all of these criteria. These types of communities are hard to find and difficult to build. But our tendency to put the label community on any gathering of people might reflect a desire to belong to something deeper. And acknowledging this need might provide us with the motivation to start exploring ways to fulfill it.

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.


Opening Your Doors During the Holidays & Hosting Those Who Are New to DC

After graduating from a university in the area, many of my friends had moved away. For the first time in a long time, I found myself without an easy answer for what to do for the high holidays. Knowing there were other people in similar situations, volunteering to become a High Holiday Host with Gather the Jews gave me the chance to explore young professional Jewish life in DC and meet people along the way.

On Erev Rosh Hashannah, I met up with a girl for happy hour before services at Sixth & I where we bonded over our love for Jewish summer camps and our new jobs. She later met me for Kol Nidre services and a break fast at my house. In the spirit of hachnasat orchim (hospitality), and because I believe that celebration is a group activity, I chose to invite friends and strangers without a place to go for the holidays to my house. Expecting only 6 people at first, I was overjoyed that my house was filled on break fast with seemingly endless food and 19 new friends. It felt great to help create a new community that far surpassed my expectations, but more than anything, my house filled with people with full bellies felt like home.
In an effort to recreate that feeling, I  hope to host more holidays like this in the future, and I hope that if you are ever left without a place to celebrate a holiday, you reach out.

Happy Wednesday,



Jewish Advocate of the Week – Alyssa

img953972Jackie: What first brought you to DC?

Alyssa: GW! I moved to DC in 2010 to study international affairs at The George Washington University and I fell in love with the city. Six years later and I still feel fortunate to call the District my home.

Jackie: I hear you’re quite the foodie. What’s your favorite restaurant in the District?

Alyssa: There are few things I love more than great food with great company. With the recently announced Michelin DC Restaurant Guide, Michelin’s Bib Gourmand and the Washington Post’s 2016 Fall Dining Guide, I’m excited to continue exploring the DC food scene! My favorite restaurant is probably Le Diplomate, but recent places I’ve loved are Kinship in Shaw and Tail Up Goat in Adams Morgan.

Jackie: How did you get involved in Jewish Women International’s Young Women’s Leadership Network?

Alyssa: I was invited on a whim to a YWLN Potluck Shabbat in Summer 2015 and was surprised at the ease with which I could talk to and connect with other YWLN members. Soon after, I joined the network and have been involved ever since. I joined the DC Board a few months ago and I’m excited to continue working with this amazing organization.

img_0838Jackie: Have you always been interested in advocacy for women?

Alyssa: Absolutely. I grew up with the best role models: fiercely strong women who showed me the importance of believing in and standing up for oneself, caring for others, dreaming big and giving back. I was lucky to have been raised in such an environment. It’s important to me that I give my voice to making sure all women and girls feel supported and empowered to realize their full potential.

Jackie: What is your role for the JWI Young Women’s Leadership Conference on December 11th?

Alyssa: I’m on the Young Women’s Leadership Conference Committee, so I’m part of a team of YWLN members working to make this conference the best one yet! I’m on the workshop review subcommittee, so I work with my subcommittee to make sure the workshops are engaging and meaningful to conference participants.

Jackie: Why should someone come to the Conference?

Alyssa: This conference is a great way to network with young Jewish professional women in a variety of different fields, not just those working in the Jewish community. The Conference is also an amazing opportunity to learn from former and current JWI Women to Watch, notable women recognized by JWI as change-makers and leaders in their respective fields ranging from art and culture to business and technology. The different workshops cover both professional and spiritual topics, making this a well-rounded and meaningful event.

img_0304Jackie: Can you tell us about your role at AJC?

Alyssa: I’m the Senior Associate for the Department of International Jewish Affairs at AJC. In my role, I support the work of my boss, Rabbi Andrew Baker, who has been working to combat global anti-Semitism for decades. I also plan exchange programs with overseas foundations. My next program is called Promoting Tolerance, which brings emerging liberal civil society leaders (i.e. journalists, politicians, lawyers, NGO directors, etc.) from former Soviet Union countries to learn about pluralism, tolerance, and the role of minorities in a flourishing civil society. They’re coming less than a week after the election– it’ll be a very interesting program, depending on the results…

Jackie: Do you have a favorite Jewish dish to cook?

Alyssa: Two dishes I love to make that bring me back to cooking at home are roasted rosemary potatoes and vegetable soup.

Finish the sentence: When the Jews Gather… We Eat! :)


5 Shows You Won’t Want to Miss during the Washington Jewish Music Festival

Your favorite DC music festival is back this fall with a slew of international and local musicians performing various genres and exploring the intersections with Jewish music. Running October 26-November 5, the Festival finds the best Jewish sounds from all over the world, including the music of Cuba, Israel, Pakistan and Ethiopia, and closer ports of call like Brooklyn and Appalachia.

Here is your top 5 guide to the 18th Washington Jewish Music Festival:

  1. Kicking off the Festival, Israeli-Ethiopian sensation AvevA Music performs at The Howard Theatre with their trademark R&B, funk, and pop sounds fused with traditional Ethiopian music in English and Amharic.



  1. Festival headliner and Israel’s top recording artist Noa reunites with Mira Awad, her partner in 2009’s historic Eurovision Song Contest.


  1. The Festival returns to Tropicalia with WJMF Artist-in-Residence Yoshie Fruchter’s critically acclaimed band Pitom. Spruce up your Thursday night with this $8 concert in the heart of U Street.



  1. Back at their home venue, the Edlavitch DCJCC, the WJMF presents Steven Hancoff, the official Artistic Ambassador of the United States for 15 years, in a mixed media exploration of the life of Bach.



  1. Closing the 11-day Festival, David Buchbinder teams up with Grammy-nominated Cuban pianist Hilario Duran to present Odessa/Havana, an unprecedented project of musical discovery: the Jewish-Cuban connection.


Pro-tip: Buy a Festival pass and attend as many concerts as you like at a discount. Under 30? Get an even cheaper pass at WJMF.ORG/passes



Mini Gatherings – Early 20s

Mini GatheringsWant to meet other interesting Jews in a smaller, more personal setting? New to DC and looking to make new connections? Looking to explore questions that matter to Jewish 20s and 30s? Like drinking? Afraid of commitment?

Gather the Jews is excited to open applications for the next round of Mini Gatherings. Building off of the success of previous sessions, Gather is looking to create a space for those who are in their early 20s.

What is Mini Gatherings, you ask? It is a 3-week-long mini-fellowship that brings together about 15 diverse Jews in their early 20s to meet one another and have some DMCs (deep meaningful conversations) over beers. By the end, you’ll have made new friends, had some great discussions, and laughed at least twice. Guaranteed or your money back!

Cost: FREE

What: The three gatherings will be held from 6:30 – 8:00 pm on Wednesday, November 2, 9 and 16. Each session will involve some schmoozing, drinking, and an open conversation facilitated by Senior Associate Jackie about questions relevant to Jewish 20s and 30s, such as “Are Jews different?” “What are the unique challenges to being Jewish today?” and “Does Judaism have any deal-breakers?”

No background or knowledge necessary – everyone is welcome. In addition, Jackie will host a Shabbat meal on Friday, November 11th at her apartment in Cleveland Park. Must commit to attending all three sessions and the dinner.

Who: People who do not feel connected to a Jewish community in the DC area and is looking to meet other Jews in a smaller, more personal way in their early 20s.

Application: Apply here. Applications close Wednesday October 26th at midnight.

Want more information? Email Jackie


Jewish Guilt

Phew – that’s over. You checked off the “Did Something Jewish” box by fasting, going to synagogue, or at least teleworking from home as an homage to the big day. You thought about your Jewish identity and maybe felt a little Jewy, and that made some parent or grandparent proud. You even added another piece of evidence to your defense that you’re not a bad Jew, that you haven’t abandoned your history and your people, and that you’re not giving Hitler a posthumous victory.

In short, you have assuaged your Jewish guilt.

But what if I told you that your Jewish guilt is the very thing that should give you the most Jewish guilt?


The only thing worse than a bunch of Jews disengaging because they find no meaning in Judaism is a bunch of Jews engaging despite finding no meaning in it. Jewish guilt defines the motivation for engaging Jewishly as completely extrinsic; it isn’t about you or for you. Those who claim that it’s better to engage for the wrong reasons than to disengage rarely consider how this seriously distorts the purpose of Judaism, which should move us toward becoming better, fuller, more self-actualized people.

Ironically, then, Jewish guilt might keep Jews connected, but it does so by stripping Judaism of all meaning and turning it into a pagan-esque religion obsessed with appeasing and placating someone else, whether that “someone” is God, a member of your family or some mythical ancestor. This isn’t just bad news for Judaism; it’s also a missed growth opportunity for Jewish 20s and 30s.

Some argue that doing something for the wrong reason can lead one to do it for the right reason. But I worry that Jewish guilt prevents us from discovering personal, intrinsic motivations for connecting to our Judaism by shutting down the question “Why be Jewish?” before we can ask it. As it says in Jeremiah 29:13 – “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” This is a quote about God, but it could just as easily be about meaning: to find it within Judaism, we need to actively seek it.

So now that Yom Kippur has ended, it’s time to let go of Jewish guilt. Not until High Holidays next year, but forever. Stop doing Jewish stuff only because you feel bad or because you want to please someone else. Do it because it adds value to your life. And if, without the tranquilizing drug of Jewish guilt, you realize that none of this adds value to your life, let’s grab coffee.

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.


Sukkot Guide 2016


Is your event missing from our list? Submit it here!

Sunday, October 16

Wednesday, October 19

Thursday, October 20

Friday, October 21

Sunday, October 23



On Finally Finding Community: A Story of Jews on Bikes

img_2677Bicyclists use the term “critical mass” to describe riding across town in a group. It’s quite the sight. Bicyclists play music. They chat with each other. They invite other bikers to join. Sometimes they’re dressed in costume. It is, in short, a party. Everyone starts out at the same time–a clump of strangers navigating the first few lights while chatting. When the group is big enough, all you can see ahead of and behind you are bikes. Like a sea of fish pulsing through the ocean–all quick movement, flashes of color–a critical mass moves as one. Biking is normally a solo activity, so it’s stunning to bike as part of a larger group.

I attended my first critical mass in Michigan, the group of us mounting hills and gazing into the sunset. As the night ended, we dispersed in all directions down dark streets, becoming tiny lights in the distance, blinking, blinking until they disappeared. I was energized, and I vowed to find another critical mass to join.

My next opportunity cropped up a year later, and when I heard about it, I rolled my eyes. “Jews on Bikes?” I asked my brother-in-law, “I don’t get it. What makes it Jewish?” He explained that a bike ride would be followed by a Havdallah service, which would be followed by a happy hour. I didn’t say it at the time because I was embarrassed, but I wasn’t sure what a Havdallah service entailed. I’d been to a couple growing up, but not being very observant I couldn’t recall the songs or motions. I agreed to go, but mostly because going would offer a chance to experience a critical mass again and biking with my family sounded interesting.


But then on the night of the ride, biking along Pennsylvania Avenue west of the White House, I felt it again. The warm glow of a critical mass. We were crossing the city as a long, moving mass of bicycles. All of us pedaling and braking, signaling and turning, our beautiful city serving as a spectacular backdrop. It felt like being a part of something.

When we arrived at the park for Havdallah, we piled our bikes and gathered in a big circle. The sun was setting all around us, turning buildings pink. Someone walked around with a small bag for us all to smell–a cinnamony thickness emanating up and warming us. And then we all began singing. I recognized the song, though I didn’t know the words. So I just looked out at the group. And I smiled, happy tears welling in my eyes.

I have longed, for years now, for a Jewish community. Not being observant or believing in God, going to shul has seemed unappealing. But I’ve also wanted to participate in the traditions I grew up with, and to make friends here in DC who have that characteristic Jewish sense of humor. How do you find them, though, if you won’t go to shul? But there, in downtown DC, satisfyingly exhausted from the ride, I looked around the Jews on Bikes circle and realize there it was: there was my community. And it was more beautiful and diverse than I’d pictured. We came from all over the world and we celebrate all flavors of Judaism. But we were all there to take time out of the week to bike and reflect together… and then to get some drinks.

This experience stuimg_2674nned me. Partly because I hadn’t expected it, but also because I just couldn’t believe we’re so fortunate to have something like this here in DC. Here is this group of 50 or so people–a different group each time, really, though there are a number of repeat riders–who gather just for the joy of it. There’s no famous, funded organization running the event. It’s a grassroots effort. It is welcoming and friendly no matter what “flavor” you are, or even if you’re not Jewish at all. Or not a biker!

I’ve been on several of the rides since and have felt that same welling up of gratefulness each time. It’s hard not to. Jews on Bikes is a modern expression of Judaism–tradition, appreciation, and some tasty nosh. And I feel so, so lucky to have found it.

Join Jessica’s community for the next Jews on Bikes Havdalloween Ride! Pick out your (bike safe) costumes, grab your friends, and get ready to ride through the streets of our nation’s capital on October 22nd.


Make Judaism Great, But NOT Again


A recurring joke in the current season of South Park involves “member berries” – drug-like fruits that help you forget about the present by literally reminding you of the good ole’ days. It’s a poke at Trump’s campaign slogan, Make America Great Again, which references a past that may have never existed or may not have actually been that great.

In addition to Trump, member berries also made me think of many of us, or Jews you know, whose Judaism today is rooted in reminiscing. “Remember when it was fun to be Jewish? Remember Bubbe’s matzah ball soup? Remember BBYO? Remember summer camp? Remember your Titanic-themed Bar Mitzvah party?”

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having fond memories of being Jewish. But a Judaism that is stuck in and defined by our childhood doesn’t translate for us as Jewish adults. Going to High Holiday services alone is nothing like going with your family as a kid. The stories we learned in Hebrew School were watered-down samples of a deep textual tradition. And we can stay camp counselors or sing camp songs to relive the magic of being a care-free camper, but we will never be 14 years old again.

Because our Judaism hasn’t grown up with us, connecting to our Judaism often becomes a regressive experience. Those of us who don’t want to check our adulthood at the door “resolve” this problem by simply disengaging. Those who eventually reengage do so only after they have children in order to pass on this Juvenile Judaism and perpetuate the cycle.

This desire to relive or preserve the Judaism of our youth might be an avoidance of the fact that we just don’t know what it means to be Jewish as adults. Like South Park, the film Midnight in Paris similarly critiques nostalgic thinking. As one character explains: “Nostalgia is denial – denial of the painful present… the name for this denial is golden age thinking – the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in – it’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.”

Holding onto the Judaism from our past not only limits Judaism’s potential; it also misrepresents the past. Many of us had very negative experiences with Judaism as a kid (see: Hebrew School). Many others weren’t involved at all (see: Jews by Choice, Jews who couldn’t afford $10,000 summer camp, unaffiliated Jews, etc.). Attempts at recreating Juvenile Judaism drives away those seeking to (re)engage as adults by falsely assuming that everyone shared in positive Jewish experiences.

Perhaps our own textual tradition puts it best: “Do not say ‘How was it that the former days were better than these?’” (Ecclesiastes 7:10). We need to shift our focus from the past to the present. We need to make Judaism great – for adults. I’m still trying to figure out what that looks like.

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.


Jewish Extrovert of the Week – Lisa!


If you have spent some time at Sixth & I Synagogue, there is a good chance you have met Lisa. She is outgoing, friendly, and welcoming; with a smile that you can’t miss! For many years Lisa was the Cultural Programming Associate responsible for bringing many famous speakers to Sixth and I, and is now on to a new adventure at The Washington Post! Catch up on what your Jewish Extrovert of the Week has been up to in our interview with her!

Jackie: What do you miss most about working at Sixth & I? 

Lisa: In life, sometimes you’re lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time, and I was fortunate enough to have that happen to me in 2012, when I learned about the opening of the Cultural Programming Associate role at Sixth & I. Far and away, what I miss most are the people! I miss discovering new things about Jewish culture through conversations across cubicles and the adrenaline that goes into an evening of hosting 800 guests. Thinking back on my experience, I’m incredibly thankful to have learned how to think creatively, collaborate across departments and build community through my role at Sixth & I, as I have been able to carry those skills with me through my transition to The Washington Post.

Jackie: Who is your favorite Jew? 

Lisa: I know quite a few Jews and I’d consider many of them a favorite, so answering this question doesn’t come easily. The Jew who has been most influential in cultivating my identity as a Jew, as a partner, and as a forward-thinking woman is Rabbi Shira Stutman, Sixth and I’s Senior Rabbi. She is a Jew that is loved by many, and one that has taught me about the importance of acceptance of self, challenging the boundaries set by past experience, and experiencing Judaism through the lens of social justice.

gather-5Jackie: I am sure it is hard to choose, but who was your favorite speaker that you brought to Sixth and I?

Lisa: This is a tough one! I used to often say, “the one from last night”, as the caliber and content of speakers is beyond impressive. My favorite speaker event was the second time that Sixth & I hosted Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, for the release of her most recent book, Big Magic. I tend to resonate with the authors that have a message of finding one’s voice, expressing gratitude and accepting vulnerability. That is Liz Gilbert’s character, both in her writing and in how she carries herself through life. Her generosity shined through as she gave those working on the event, including Sixth & I’s wonderful cadre of volunteers, a charm from a store that she owned. The charm I chose from Liz’s bucket is a small, brass elephant. It’s intended to be part of a necklace, but since I haven’t found the right chain for it, it remains a happy keepsake on my desk at the office.

Jackie: What is your new role with The Washington Post? 

Lisa: In July, I joined The Washington Post’s Human Resources team as the Talent Acquisition & Organizational Development Specialist (Talent Specialist for short). I like to say that I do a little bit of everything as it relates to talent and development. I work closely with our recruiters to help build the candidate pipeline for the Post’s growing engineering team through managing university events and establishing partnerships with thought leaders in the areas of science, technology, math, and science. I have put my public speaking skills to the test through leading new employee orientation. I will soon start training to become a coach and lead organizational development workshops for management teams at the Post. My role is continuing to evolve! There is such a great energy, both on my team and in the company, and I can’t wait to see how my role continues to grow in the weeks and months ahead.

Jackie: What has been the biggest difference between working at a synagogue and a newspaper? 

Lisa: Sixth & I and The Washington Post share more similarities than I would have imagined before coming here. Both organizations have a strong sense of culture, community and a continued focus on innovation. In my short tenure here, the biggest difference that I’ve discovered is size. Sixth & I has a strong and mighty staff of 17. The Post employs more than 2,500 people across the globe. I am continuing to get to know my new colleagues through coffee dates, company-wide events, and connecting on good book recommendations. 


Jackie: In addition to the new job, you are also celebrating your recent engagement. What are you most looking forward to about getting married?

Lisa: As silly as this may sound, I am most looking forward to calling myself Grant’s wife! I couldn’t be happier with my decision to marry Grant. He is the ultimate partner, in every way possible. He is the most joyful, affectionate and loving person. I’m fortunate to have found someone who loves me, accepts me and challenges me to be my best self. We’re at the seven-month mark and counting! I can’t wait.

Jackie: Where is your favorite place to spend time in DC? 

Lisa: If a suburb of DC can count for this – my favorite place is Del Ray, a community just next to Alexandria in Northern Virginia. I like to describe Del Ray as a modern day Pleasantville. It has a small town charm that includes a cheese shop, a toy store for dogs and an old-fashioned ice cream parlor. What else could be better?

Finish the Sentance: When the Jews Gather… there is dynamic and thoughtful conversation, full bellies, and an opportunity to discover new friendships


Introducing “Rabbi Rant”


As we enter the Jewish new year, we at Gather the Jews have decided to launch a new feature in our newsletter. Each week I’ll share a (hopefully) provocative idea about being 20 and 30-something Jews in 21st century America.

The easier choice, of course, is to keep my opinions to myself. Sharing my thoughts in such a public forum comes with the risk of offending or alienating all of you, of being perceived as not open or welcoming, or of incorrectly presuming that anyone actually cares about what I have to say.

But I worry these types of fears have led to an overly validating and sterile conversation about Judaism– one that affirms everyone’s Jewishness without questioning what it means or why it matters. The result is a real-life Jewish version of the movie Bigwe find ourselves as adult Jews with an adolescent understanding of our Jewish identity. After all, most of us were 13 the last time we thought critically about being Jewish (if that’s what you can call what we did in Hebrew school).

I also worry that we’ve lost a critical piece of what it means to be Jewish by sacrificing our Judaism to the gods of inclusivity. We haven’t always been so affirming of one another. Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish were study partners about 2000 years ago in what is now the State of Israel. When Reish Lakish died, Rabbi Yochanan tried to replace him with another Rabbi who supported every opinion that Rabbi Yochanan stated. But that’s not what Rabbi Yochanan wanted or needed. He complained: “When I used to state an opinion, Reish Lakish would raise twenty-four objections, to which I gave twenty-four answers, which consequently led to a fuller comprehension of the law.”

An important part of being Jewish is arguing – not for argument’s sake, but because dialogue and disagreement make us more thoughtful and more understanding people and Jews. Done right, discussing our different opinions can actually foster authentic, honest, and deeper relationships with one another. I hope Rabbi Rants can spark these types of provocative conversations, or at least push us all to think more critically about certain aspects of our Jewish identities.

I look forward to a year of disagreements, growth, and connection. Share suggestions in the comments below for future rant topics. Shana tova – and tune in next week for my first Rant of 5777!

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.



Jewish Comedian of the Week – Max

MaxJackie: You are originally from California. What do you miss most now that you live on the East coast?

Max: I actually tell a joke about how Californians here complain about how much better California is than DC. The weather, the beaches, the Mexican food, yadda yadda. Honestly, my thing is the lack of places to get cheap, quality donuts in DC. In my opinion, Krispy Kreme and Dunkin don’t count and are honestly pretty terrible. And sure, you can get an “artisan donut” that costs $17, is locally sourced, and blessed by a hipster with glasses. But you can’t find a place in DC that’s really dedicated to the donut craft like you can in California.

Jackie: Where is your favorite place to spend time in DC? 

Max: My new backyard! The first four and a half years that I lived in DC, I was in an apartment building. I just moved to a house and now I sit outside several nights per week, working on comedy and hanging out with friends. Being from California, I’m not a big fan of winter… even less so knowing that soon enough I won’t be able to spend as much time outside.

Jackie: What is your favorite thing about working at the Religious Action Center (RAC)

Max: Lots actually. First, I get paid to be on social media all day and interact with the press. Also, I have a very dynamic group of coworkers who are all great to work with. I’ve definitely had jobs in the past where I couldn’t stand being around my colleagues. I can’t say the same for my time spent at the RAC.

Jackie: As a comedian, do you incorporate your Jewish identity in your stand-up routines? 

Max: My stand-up is a mix of Jewish material and non-Jewish material. Ultimately, I don’t want to be known just as “a funny Jewish comedian.” I want to be known a funny comedian who just so happens to be Jewish. My stand-up is more reflective of my overall experiences, whether Jewish or not. Basically, if I think it’s funny, I’ll talk about it.

11709901_10152842785485981_6588522059791561531_oJackie: You will be performing at Confessions: A Storytelling Interrogation Show what can audiences expect from this show?

Max: I’ve never performed on a Perfect Liars Club show before, but from what I’ve heard about the many past shows, audience members can expect to be thoroughly entertained and even competitive as they try to determine which story was the lie.

Jackie: Where else can we see you perform?

Max: So, I recently launched a website for my comedy. It’s simply All of my major performance dates are on there. Plus, I just started a new show every 1st and 3rd Friday of the month at the brand-new Drafthouse Comedy Theater with my good friend Stephen Nicks, who by the way has always been a good friend to the Jews. The show is called Vent! and it’s (as far as I know) DC’s only interactive comedy happy hour. Basically, the show is about encouraging people to express what’s bothering them (vent) and we’ll talk about it during the show. But that’s not the whole show, just a part of it. We also incorporate sketch, stand-up, and improv comedy. Our next two shows are Fridays, October 7 and 21. Additionally, I’m on Twitter and Instagram (@MrMaxRose) and I post many of my shows on those platforms as well.

Jackie: You have opened for some pretty well-known comics. Do you have a favorite story? 

Max: Last summer, I had the thrilling opportunity to open for an internationally known British comedian named Russell Howard at Sixth & I Synagogue. He’s a big deal (over in the UK at least), and that was an amazing experience. However, the best story happened earlier this year. I opened for a comedian named Moody McCarthy (as seen on Conan and Letterman). Now, I often tell a joke about how I share the same name (same spelling) as one of the men who was indicted for dealing the fatal dose of heroin to Philip Seymour Hoffman. In the joke, I say that personally, I didn’t care when Hoffman died because, for the most part, celebrity deaths don’t affect me. However, this one did because my name was all over Google, but in a negative capacity. Anyway, Moody came up to me after the show to tell me that in college one of his best friends was PSH, and Moody showed me a picture of the two at Hoffman’s 19th birthday party. I immediately apologized to Moody for saying that I didn’t care that his friend died. Moody responded by saying: “No problem at all. Philip was a weird dude. I think he would’ve liked that joke.”

Jackie: What is your favorite Jewish Holiday?

Max: When I’m not performing on a Friday and I can get together with friends, my favorite holiday is Shabbat. It’s a good way to power down after a long week and meet up with close friends you haven’t seen in awhile. I also like Shabbat because it’s benign enough to be inclusive of people of all religions. You don’t need to be Jewish to have a get together with people you know, power down, and reflect on the week.

Finish the sentence: When the Jews Gather…

Hopefully, they decide to come to a comedy show. And laugh, of course.


Page 1 of 10912345...102030...Last »