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Jewish Professional of the Week – Abby

abby-headshot

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

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

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

Jackie: What led you to become a Jewish professional?

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

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

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

Jackie: What has been your favorite event so far?

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

Jackie What makes Sixth & I different?

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

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

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

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

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

pantsuit-flashmob

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

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

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

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8 Unique Hanukkah Gifts from Fig Tree and Vine

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

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

pizap-com14816521112883

Left to right clockwise:

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Become an Open Doors Fellow!

The Open Doors Fellowship deepens social connections and provides concierge services for Jewish life in DC to those in their 20s & 30s.

Right now, we’re looking for the next diverse cohort of Jewish connectors! Applications close Tuesday, January 10th.

Apply today.

As an Open Doors Fellow, you will:

  • RetreatPicConnect and build relationships with young Jews across the DC area
  • Build inclusive and welcoming community
  • Create innovative Jewish experiences
  • Explore Jewish DC + further your own Jewish connections
  • Impact the landscape of DC’s Jewish life
  • Receive financial support for your initiatives, personal and professional development, mentorship, skill-building, and more

Here’s what past Fellows had to say about their experience

“The Fellowship allowed me to affect the Jewish Community by encouraging me to listen to the community’s needs, and providing me resources to create positive change.”

“The Open Doors Fellowship helped me remember what I love about my Judaism, as well as learn how to work with others to create a Jewish community that speaks more deeply to more of us.” 

“As fellows, we are hubs of the networks of relationships in the DC Jewish community. It was amazing to see how the connections we help facilitate between individuals in the community could quickly multiply into so many new connections.” 

Benefits of becoming a Fellow:

  • Open Doors FellowshipImmersive training in a retreat setting outside of the city – professional skills, team building, resource mapping, and more
  • Access to human and financial resources to support your relationship and community building
  • Jewish learning opportunities and resources (all backgrounds encouraged to apply!)
  • capstone experience or trip at the conclusion of the Fellowship
  • Follow-through after the Fellowship has concluded

Here’s all it takes:

  • The Fellowship will begin the final week of January 2017 with bi-weekly meetings until May
  • One weekend of immersive training March 24th – 26th
  • Approximately 5 – 6 hours per week including
    • Fellows meetings 2x per month
    • Relationship building with diverse range of young Jewish adults in DC
    • Relationship Management
    • Serve as a Greeters for new arrivals to DC
    • Create personally relevant Jewish initiatives around a topic or issue that matters to your community
APPLY TODAY or share with a friend!
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Hanukkah Guide 2016

hannukah-guide-2016
The festival of lights is right around the corner! That means that there are plenty of events happening to celebrate. We hope to see you around the city at some of them. We will be updating this list as we go, so be sure to check back regularly.

Don’t see your event listed? Submit them here.

Sunday, December 18

Monday, December 19

Tuesday, December 20

Thursday, December 22

Saturday, December 24

Sunday, December 25

Monday, December 26

Tuesday, December 27

Wednesday, December 28

Thursday, December 29

Friday, December 30

Don’t see your event listed? Submit them here.

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Syrian Mehshi Kusa – Stuffed Zucchini Recipe

This week, Sephardic Jews in DC will be co-hosting a Sephardic Shabbat service and dinner for
for young professionals with DC Chabad to celebrate Syrian Jewish heritage and cuisine.

Did you know that there is a long and rich history of Jewish in Syria? Jews have lived in Syria for thousands of years, and the cuisine has been heavily influenced by both trade in the region and by Arab, Iberian, and Moorish cuisine. The Shabbat dinner meal will feature dishes from this ancient Jewish community and a discussion on what life was like for the Jews that resided in Syria for thousands of years. Additionally, services will be led in the traditional Syrian style by a community member whose family descends from Syria. For more info on this event, please visit the Chabad event page and register at YPShabbat.com.

The recipe below will be featured at Friday’s dinner. It is a healthier version of a classic Syrian Jewish dish, Mehshi Kusa.

This dish was introduced to me by a Syrian friend a few years ago, and I fell in love with it right away. The flavor profiles on the dish are very complex, yet the preparation and ingredients are super simple.

Turkish Jews also eat many stuffed 15267720_10109784231308841_2744425788103467914_nvegetable dishes (usually tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplants, or grape leaves) so, right away I loved the concept of stuffing zucchnis (I love cooking Turkish food!). What really makes this dish unique is the very interesting flavors of the sauce and meat mixture.

The original recipe is already fairly healthy, but as someone who doesn’t eat a ton of rice I loved how easy it was to substitute cauliflower rice without changing the flavor profile of the dish. You can also use ground turkey or chicken meat instead of beef. If you’re a vegetarian I’m sure you can even substitute a meatless stuffing as well.

So here is my version, keep in mind that it’s fairly similar to the original with only a few modifications.

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 medium/large zucchini, cored and chopped in 2/3 segments
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice15337662_10109784231298861_2462224001703849931_n
  • 3 tablespoon tamarind paste (substitute juice of 2 lemons or pomegranate molasses)
  • 1 tablespoon honey (optional)
  • 1.5 cup of tomato sauce
  • 1.5 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup of finely diced onion
  • 2 tablespoons garlic
  • 1 tablespoon Baharat spice mixture
  • 1/4 cup of canola or vegetable oil (olive/grapeseed/avocado are okay to use as well)

Hashu (Beef mixture)

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 cup cauliflower rice (or regular white basmati rice)
  • 1 tablespoon Baharat spice mixture
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/4 cup of pine nuts (check for bugs)
  • 1/4 cup of finely diced dried apricots (I use my food processor for this – just make sure  to open them and check your apricots for bugs)
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped garlic (about 4 cloves)
  • 1/2 cup of yellow onion – very finely diced (You can use a food 15349571_10109784231303851_1966394711208807097_nprocessor for this as well)
  • 2 tablespoons tamarind paste

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Prepare the hashu (beef mixture) by mixing all of the ingredients together in a bowl. If using rice, make sure to thoroughly check the rice for bugs and then soak the rice in water. To soak rice, run it under cold water in a small bowl and leave uncovered for 30 minutes, rinse and then drain.

2. Begin coring zucchinis: I like to chop my zucchinis into 2 or 3 pieces since it makes it easier to stuff them. I aim for about 3-4 inches for each piece. Use a corer to scoop out a hole in the zucchini and then loosely stuff it with the hashu mixture. You don’t want to overfill it because the rice will swell as it cooks. Also make sure that you leave a bit of the core at the bottom to keep in the beef mixture. Because this is baked in an oven instead of cooked in a pot (traditional method) it doesn’t really impact the dish if you over scoop, but do your best to ensure that you leave a tiny bit of core since it will hold in the mixture better and makes for a better presentation.

Also feel free to save the zucchini cores for another dish! They taste great lightly sauteed with olive oil and garlic. In a traditional Sephardic kitchen almost nothing goes to waste.

3. Place the zucchini meat side up in a baking casserole. Ensure that there is at least an inch or so of space between the top of the zucchinis and the casserole. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and then set aside the zucchini.15317970_10109784231293871_7237091036220458634_n

4. Prepare your sauce on the stove top. Heat your oil in a medium size pot and then caramelize your onions/garlic. Once they’re golden brown, add your tomato sauce, water, tamarind, baharat, honey, salt and pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes. Make sure to taste the sauce, ideally you’re looking for a sweet/sour tomato sauce, feel free to add more honey, tamarind, salt or tomato sauce per your taste preferences.

Keep in mind that traditionally mehshi are cooked in a pot, I like to make mine in the oven because I think it’s a bit easier to cook it that way and it reduces the risk that your mehshi will burn, tear, or get too overcooked.

5. Pour the sauce mixture on top of the zucchinis, ideally covering them almost completely. If you find that there isn’t enough sauce to do that, just add a bit more water to the sauce.

6. Cover with tin foil and bake the zucchinis for about an hour and a half at 350 degrees. Make sure to check your mehshi before you serve to ensure the rice and beef mixture is fully cooked, if it’s not fully cooked, bake for another 15-20 minutes in
the oven.

7. Let sit for about 10 minutes and then serve!

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Jewish Foodie of the Week – Rachel

Rachel came to DC for grad school at George Washington University in 2014. She was a part of our inaugural cohort of Open Doors Fellows. Since then, she has graduated, taken part in Gather’s inaugural Beyond the Tent Retreat, and recently returned from a trip to Japan! She is a friendly face at any Jewish community event, walking up to everyone and anyone. She spoke with us about her passion for health, wellness and organizing community.

Nominate someone to be Jew of the week!

Jackie: Over the years, you have become interested in food and wellness. Can you tell us about your approach to this?

Rachel: I grew up in a pretty healthy household. My parents always cooked and tried to teach me what foods are nutritious and why. Don’t get me wrong, we definitely indulged and had treats. I was just able to read a nutrition label and understand what ingredients are in the foods I eat at a pretty early age, compared to most I think. Now, I feel lucky that I grew up with the knowledge and ability to make informed choices, because once I started college and had my own kitchen, I just wanted to experiment. My mom is going to be so happy when she reads this! Since then, I’ve been getting into different types of food-ing. I spiralize (transforming vegetables into noodle shapes). And started brewing kombucha, sprouting and fermenting vegetables. Those who follow me on Snapchat know!

Jackie: What has been the most interesting thing you’ve learned through food-ing?

Rachel: I learned that everything is connected, from the food that’s grown in farms, to what goes on your plate, to your hormones, your energy, mood, back pain and to that annoying pimple that pops up in the same place every once in a while. It’s all holistic. Your body is one and what you put in it matters. Just call me your wannabe stereotypical yogi!

Jackie: You recently facilitated a discussion on menstruation. Can you tell us more about that event and what prompted you to organize it?

Rachel K eventRachel: It goes back to the idea of holistic wellness. I wanted to have a conversation about the woman’s cycle since it’s something every woman encounters in her life, but each in a different way. I wanted to explore how menstruation is (or isn’t) connected to Judaism, to the rest of the body and to our daily lives. I was amazed by how open and inspiring each woman was sitting in my living room talking about periods! It was probably one of the most freeing conversations I’ve ever had.


Jackie: What advice do you have for someone who wants to run their own program?

Rachel: Never think an idea is too far fetched. Start bringing it up in daily conversations and you’ll get a gist of how you want to approach the subject. You may find like-minded people who are just as into it as you and others who gawk and walk away. Both will help you realize what you hope to achieve with your program. Yes, I was sliding menstruation into random conversations at happy hours and in my Uber pools.

RachelK_yogaJackie: What is your favorite Jewish food?

Rachel: Sweet kugel. Oh, and babka, chocolate babka. I’m addicted to chocolate and I’m really open about it.

Jackie: What drew you to be a part of the DC Jewish community?

Rachel: At first, I moved to DC and wanted to meet new people. Ever heard that one before?

Shortly after, I realized that the DC Jewish community is a highway for deep connections to amazing people who do amazing things and will take me along for the ride if I ask; for opportunities to bring internal passions to life with ample resources and support; and for Friday night Shabbat every week!

Finish the sentence: When the Jews Gather….They cook!

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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

gather-the-jews

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

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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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