The Israeli Culture Program You Don’t Want to Miss

israel-arts-dc-600x600-israel-story-2The amount of conversation about Israel in the political sphere can be overwhelming and divisive. BDS, the UN, peace, foreign aid, rockets, and violence and politics come up in the news on a sometimes daily or weekly basis here the US. I don’t know about you, but I often ignore anything the media says, too tired to handle it all.

But engaging in Israel doesn’t have to be so stressful and politicized! The Edlavitch Washington DC Jewish Community Center wants to help you engage with and connect to Israel through culture and dance at the Israel Arts DC Festival, from November 6th-14th.

Whether you are interested in literature, dance, or storytelling, there is something for you.

Highlights of the festival include:

  • popular podcast Israel Story’s debut in Washington DC through a live, interactive multi-media performance
  • acclaimed author Meir Shalev
  • author and public speaker Dorit Sasson with filmmaker Yael Luttwak
  • a dance workshop and conversation with renowned (spell check this) Choreographer Ella Rothschild focusing on the Gaga style of modern dance and a retrospective of her work.

Immerse yourself in the diversity and richness of Israeli culture. Through words and movement, we can celebrate Israel together.

Jews and non-Jews of all walks of life, political belief, and ability are encouraged to attend. Special discounts for young professionals, with tickets as low as $10.

Israel Arts DC is made possible by a generous contribution from the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and through support from the Israel Embassy and Israeli House as well as IAC, Masa Israel and the Deborah Lerner Gross Jewish Cultural Arts Center at the Berman Hebrew Academy.

For more information about the events and to purchase tickets, visit our website here!


Our Religion is Political

Just days before the most contentious presidential election in our lifetime, it would be unwise for a DC rabbi like me to rant about anything political. I’d risk alienating people. I’d risk my organization’s tax-exempt status. And let’s be honest – the last thing anyone cares about is a rabbi’s thoughts on this election.

In America, politics and religion are separate and should stay that way. After all, that’s a foundational principle of our government.

But it’s not a foundational principle of the Jewish religion.

A central objective of the entire Torah is establishing a just government. Our religious scholars have written countless commentaries analyzing and developing Judaism’s political ideas and ideals. Granted, most of these texts were written when Jews had little political power and were not written about America. But would anyone really think our religious tradition of over 3,000 years has nothing to say about this current election?

Even regarding our government, the “separation of church and state” is often misunderstood. This separation means that America has no established religion. As a religious minority group in America, we should be deeply grateful for the religious freedom that we enjoy in this country – a freedom that we have so rarely experienced throughout our long history (see Passover, Purim, Channukah, the Crusades, etc.).

But this separation does not mean that church and state have no connection to each other, and this myth misrepresents the purview of both politics and religion. Both, at their core, are about values, morality, and visions for an ideal society. This shared essence is exactly why our government, at its founding, was profoundly influenced by Judaism. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes, “the United States is the only country today whose political discourse is framed by the idea of covenant.” To divorce politics or religion from conversations about values, to pretend our politics aren’t a reflection of our morality, to restrict religion to “praying to God,” ignores this intersection and makes religion sterile.

Of course your rabbi shouldn’t tell you who to vote for.

Of course America should not enforce any particular religious practice or ideology.

Of course it’s scary to think about religion having real implications in the real world.

But shouldn’t it? If religion has no effect in the world, then what’s the point?

Everything that is consequential is, in one way or another, “political.” If our religion has nothing to say about “politics,” we render religion inconsequential. When I hear rabbis say “I don’t like to talk about politics,” what I hear is: “I’m too afraid of alienating people to talk about anything meaningful.”

I won’t tell you how to vote. But I will tell you how to be religious. Or more precisely, how not to be religious. If your Judaism is only about singing songs in synagogue, about feeling proud, about getting together with friends and family… and yet has nothing to say about the world you live in or how to live in it, then you certainly aren’t fully realizing what it means to be a religious Jew.

So go vote. It’s not only what responsible citizens should do. It’s also what religious Jews should do.

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.


November in the City

30 in the City (1)

Novmeber is here and it is kinda, sometimes getting cold. Hillah is here to help you pick out some Jewish events for those who are 30 in the City!

Make History with Us: The 1876 Synagogue is Moving, Again

When: Thursday, November 3, at around 10:00 AM

Where: The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington (701 Third Street NW, Washington, DC)

What the organizers have to say about the event:

Bring your family and friends to witness the historic building make its SECOND move, an exciting step in our transformation. The move is estimated to take an hour. The Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum will move 30-40 feet into Third Street, NW. In a few years, the synagogue’s THIRD and final move — one block south to Third & F Streets, NW — will bring it to its permanent site, where it will become the heart of our new museum.
What makes this event cool?

It is not every day that you get to witness a building being picked up and moved a few feet, let alone a synagogue! For all history buffs and “everything Jewish” enthusiasts, this could be a once in a lifetime event. Also, it is down the street from the Building Museum, which makes it a perfect field trip for children!

Who should go?

You like history, architecture, and Transformers (they’re literally lifting up and moving an entire building)! If I could get out of work to watch this, I would be there in a heartbeat.

Cost: FREE

More Info: here


Get Out the Vote

vote`When: Tuesday, November 8. Shifts can be selected between 6:00 AM – 7:00 PM

Where: Sixth & I Historical Synagogue (600 I Street NW, Washington, DC)

What the organizers have to say about the event:

Looking to do more than cast your vote on Election Day? As part of a non-partisan Get Out the Vote effort, come volunteer with us through the Election Protection Coalition and its partner organization in Alexandria, VA. Help with various tasks including phone-banking, canvassing, or providing rides to the polls.

What makes this event cool?

Let’s talk for a second about what actually makes America great. America is great because we have the right to vote regardless of whether you’re a woman or man, black or white, Jewish or Muslim. All of our voices count. Helping others get to the voting booth on November 8 is probably one of the biggest mitzvahs you can do this year.

Who should go?

You are a political enthusiast, love volunteering, and don’t have to be at work that day. Also, if you have small children, this is a great opportunity to teach them about the democratic process.

Cost: FREE

Register: here



man-o-manischewitz_resizeWhen: Wednesday, November 9, 7:00 PM – 8:15 PM

Where: DCJCC (1529 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036)

What the organizers have to say about the event:

Kosher USA: How Coke Became Kosher and Other Tales of Modern Food traces how all-American products like Coca-Cola and Jell-O tried to become kosher, the debates among rabbis over the incorporation of modern science into Jewish law, and the story of how Manischewitz wine became the first kosher product to win over non-Jewish consumers.

What makes this event cool?

There is no better way to digest the 2016 election than by schmoozing over the history of food in America, especially when it is the countdown to Thanksgiving. Learn about what makes American food great and how it fits into your kosher pantry.

Who should go?

You like food – Check. You like to cook – Check. You love being around people and discussing food at the same time – CHECK!

Cost: FREE

Register: here


Pre-Conference Alex & Ani Event for the Young Women’s Leadership Conference

When: Thursday, November 10, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM

Where: Alex & Ani Georgetown (3068 M Street NW, Washington, DC 20007)

What the organizers have to say about the event:

Pre-Conference kick-off! This event, which precedes JWI’s annual Women to Watch celebration, is an opportunity for young professional women to interact with and learn from accomplished Jewish women in a variety of fields – technology, science, entertainment, philanthropy, business, spirituality, and more – and it is totally worth it. All of the featured speakers are current or former Women to Watch honorees who have made exceptional contributions in their professional lives and communities. After a series of workshops that will cover issues and topics important to women today, the conference will conclude with one-on-one sessions with the speakers in a speed networking event, followed by a wine and cheese reception.

What makes this event cool?

Ok, so this is a bit of an early plug (the JWI Conference is happening in December), but I know how fast December arrives on our doorsteps. It is not every day that you get to be upfront and personal with some dynamic and earth-shaking women. Some exceptional women will be at the conference, including Meryl Frank, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, and Ellen Stone, Executive Vice President of Marketing for Bravo and Oxygen Media. Go to the Pre-Conference Alex & Ani Event to learn more about the conference!

 Who should go?

You know there is more to do than just your job, you are meant to grow and become something bigger. You love being around pro-active women like yourself.

Cost: FREE




Personal Finance Resources for Beginners


In September, I spoke at the brunch portion of Bossed Up Bootcamp here in Washington, DC. It was an honor to be able to speak to the amazing women who had gathered together to be trained on how to craft sustainable careers and happy lives. Especially because I was literally in their seat last summer.

One of the questions I was asked was what resources I would recommend to someone who is just starting to sort out their financial life. It can be overwhelming trying to dive into the personal finance realm, and the breadth of information can be discouraging.

So, I wanted to share some of my favorite financial resources with you. I hope you find them as helpful as I do!


Smart Women Finish Rich: 9 Steps to Achieving Financial Security and Funding Your Dreams by David Bach

This is one of the first personal finance books I ever read. It was recommended to me by the “office mom” when I was a baby intern in DC, and I haven’t looked back. If you feel like this book won’t speak to you, don’t worry! David Bach has written many books about investing, debt, retirement, and more.

Financially Fearless by Alexa Von Tobel

I’ve been obsessed with LearnVest pretty much since they launched, and I was not disappointed by this book. It breaks down financial issues into digestible chunks, using compelling, understandable language.

Money: A Love Story by Kate Northrup

I read this book when I first decided to become a financial coach. The author spends a lot of time talking not just about money, but about your own personal relationship with money. I initially thought it was a little too “woo woo” for me, but I ended up loving it. I quote it on my social media all the time. You can’t fully address your financial problems until you understand the emotions behind them.

Sacred Success by Barbara Stanny

This book was recommended to me by my lovely friend and life coach, Jess Lyons. It shows women that they are able to achieve wealth and power on their own.

Don’t forget: to save money on books, you can always use your local library. There are plenty all over DC. They even let you rent books via your Kindle or other e-reader! If you like to own books and write in them, ThriftBooks has awesome, cheap used books.


Daily Worth

This company was founded by Amanda Steinberg because she didn’t feel like financial literature was in any way geared towards women. She, like me, aims to advance women’s financial confidence and wealth. This website is a good start for learning about personal finance, whether or not you’re a woman.

Mr. Money Mustache

I haven’t reach much of this site yet, but a few of my clients love it! He uses some tough love and personal experience to show readers how to get their finances under control.


I already mentioned LearnVest above when I recommended the book written by its CEO. But this business also publishes daily articles on many different financial issues. You can sign up to get them delivered directly to your inbox. Bonus: Like Mint, LearnVest also has a free budgeting program that you can use to have all of your financial information in one place.

The Financial Diet

I’ve been reading Chelsea Fagan’s work since she was at Thought Catalog, so I was excited to see that she founded a personal finance blog. You’ll find articles about pretty much every aspect of life (since money affects everything). And now, I’m actually a regular contributor to the website! Keep an eye out for my byline.


I am borderline obsessed with podcasts, but I’ll be honest – I don’t listen to many podcasts that deal with money. I focus mainly on history and entrepreneurship right now. However, I do know of some podcasts that you might find useful and interesting.

Her Money Matters: Money Talk for Women

Death, Sex and Money

Best Work/Best Life from Kathy and Mo

Profit. Power. Pursuit.

Bad With Money With Gaby Dunn


I would also like to offer myself up as a financial resource to those in Washington, DC (and beyond). I am a Certified Financial Education Instructor and financial coach. I mainly work with women, but I am excited to help anyone who wants to take control of their finances and live the life they’ve been dreaming of.

I work one-on-one as a coach, send out a weekly Money Monday newsletter, speak at events like The Art of the Side Hustle, and I host monthly Money Circle meetings in DC.

If you’d like to learn more, schedule a free discovery call with me!

Do you have any other financial resources that you’d like to recommend? Share with me on Twitter!


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.

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