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Leaf it to Israel this Tu B’Shevat

306507_10100178496303845_1487209561_nAny opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and does not reflect the opinions of Gather the Jews.

This Friday night (Shabbat) marks the Jewish semi-holiday of Tu B’shevat.  Literally, the 15th of the month of Shevat is known mystically as the New Year of the Trees.

For people of a certain generation, Tu B’shevat evokes fond memories of donating spare change to the JNF - Jewish National Fund - to support their afforestation efforts in Israel.  Afforestation is the concept of planting trees where there were none before (reforestation is planting trees that had once stood, but were cut down).

Driving through the forests from Jerusalem to Beit Shemesh or around Arad, it’s easy to take for granted how successful JNF has been.  Less than 100 years before the creation of the state, Mark Twain visited the land of Israel in 1867 and wrote of, ” …[a] desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds-a silent mournful expanse…. There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere.  Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”

Twain would hardly recognize the land today, with 240 million new trees planted.  Notably, Israel is the only country in the past 100 years to have a net gain of trees.  Numerous countries around the globe are facing desertification – where unsustainably harvested forests suffer from the effects of erosion, which quickly turns into wasteland.  JNF’s guidance has been sought after by many other countries and international organizations looking for help with their efforts to curb desertification in their own land.

The trees were planted for many reasons: to curb mudslides in the mountainous north, as part of efforts to drain swamp land and make it suitable for agriculture, provide shade in the hot desert sun, and also just to give new immigrants flocking to the country in the first half of the 20th century something to do.

When it came down to what species of tree to plant, the decision on Aleppo pine wasn’t too controversial- it’s indigenous to the region and grows quickly in the rocky soil.  It wasn’t until many years later, after forest fires started to become a regular concern in the beginning of the 21st century, that the old, homogenous forests started to become a liability.

During the 2006 war with Lebanon, rockets fired by Hizbullah set fire to thousands of acres of trees in in north.  Four years later, a devastating fire that broke out on Mount Carmel  killed 44 people and consumed 5 million trees.  Many fires broke out around the country over the summer of 2012 that were attributed to arson.   Fires were never part of the natural forest ecology in this region, but with this new threat facing the land, how forests are planted here had to be rethought.

Efforts are being made by the Ministry of the Environment with the help of JNF to replant burned forest with a mixture of tree types to help guard against new wildfires sweeping through, as well as to promote the health of the forests in general.

*Bonus* Israeli election day fun fact! The first Knesset convened purposely on Tu B’shvat.

Samantha Hulkower, former Jewish Girl of the Week, is on sabbatical from DC in Israel. Her blog, Derech Eretz Israel, discusses environmental issues in Israel. Like her page on facebook to stay in the know. Comments and ideas for topics you’d like to see Samantha research are welcomed!

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The Case for Being Alone… In Your Profile Picture – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (No. 57)

Online dating experts often give conflicting advice… 3 pictures versus 5 pictures, a long profile versus a short one, listing your salary range versus leaving it blank.  But there’s one online dating pointer that I think most experts can agree on: Be by yourself in your online dating pictures.  The last thing you want is to be compared to someone else in your own profile, or this could end up happening to you, too.

People have all kinds of reasons for including others in their photos, and I’m here to debunk them all… and then add two caveats for when it’s A-ok to share some screen time with someone else.

1. I want to show that I’m social.

If you’re trying to show that you’re social by including a picture of you with your friends, it often does the opposite – it looks like you’re trying too hard to show that you’re social. If you have an active social life, your profile should list some of the activities you do (kickball, mahjong, sailing club, etc.), and you’ll therefore have no need to show it in a picture.  And we don’t want to make anyone pause to wonder whose profile this is.  Remember – don’t let people compare you to your friends!

Whose profile is this anyway?

Whose profile is this anyway? 

 

Much better!

Much better!

 

2. I want to show that really attractive people (often of the opposite sex) are friends with me.

This picture is intimidating on many levels.  1) It makes the person looking at your profile compare him/herself to your picture-mates to determine whether he/she is attractive enough for you.  2) It looks a bit conceited, like you only befriend really attractive people.  3) It makes the person looking at your profile wonder if all of your friends are of the opposite sex.  Is there even room for someone else in your life?  Lose-lose-lose.

Look at me – I have hot friends. (And a side comment – that guy in the background is hilarious!)

 

I’m not so bad on my own, either.

I’m not so bad on my own, either.

 

3. I want to show how attractive my ex was so people can see who’s in my league.

This picture is also intimidating.  1) We compare ourselves.  2) We think you’re not over the ex if he/she still takes a prominent spot in your profile.  3) Even if you’re in a picture with just one other person of the opposite sex, we assume it’s an ex, even if it’s just a brother or sister.  Again, lose-lose-lose.

My ex and I used to play golf.

 

Turns out I can golf on my own, too.

Turns out I can golf on my own, too.

 

4. I want to show how good-looking I am compared to the rest of my friends.

This has the opposite effect of #1.  People may think that you’re only attracted to friends who aren’t as attractive as you are and wonder why.  Or, more likely, they’ll see right through it.  Shallow? Yes.  True? Yes.  (I’ll spare you a picture for this one.)

What are the two caveats?  Children and pets.  If you have children, it’s your choice whether to include a photo with them or not.  But if you do, one is sufficient and please add a caption saying that these are your kids.  For pets, again, one picture with Fido or Mittens the Kitten is plenty.  And remember, don’t just show a picture of your pet without you in it.  For all we know, you stopped some guy on the street and asked to take a picture of his pup!

The moral of the story?  Being alone is best… in your online dating profile picture, that is.

This article was also posted in JMag, the online magazine for JDate.com.

Erika Ettin is, as the Washington Post has noted, a “modern day Cyrano.” She is the Founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps people with all aspects of online dating.  Check out her interview on NPR here. An archive of all of Erika’s columns is also available.  Want to connect with Erika?  Join her newsletter for updates and tips.

 

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Main Feature or Main Drag?

havaThe Washington DC Jewish Film Festival entered it’s 23rd year with a wealth of programming and variation.  Despite this depth, two of the main headlining films fell flat.

The festival emphasized three films.  The opening film was Paris Manhattan, a Woody Allen work (please note this film will not be reviewed in this article).  The centerpiece film was Dorfman which was shown on the centerpiece evening in conjunction with a moderated chat with the film’s biggest star, Elliott Gould, of M*A*S*H, Ocean’s Eleven, and Friends fame.  The closing film, Hava Nagila, is a documentary that traces the history of its namesake.

Dorfman, the centerpiece film was shown at the Avalon Theatre in Chevy Chase.  The line to get in was nearly peeking around the block, and the standby line was similarly comparable.  Prior to the show, Len Hill moderated a half hour conversation with Elliot Gould as best as he possibly could.  The looks in the audience were Instagram-worthy, as Gould would not answer, but respond to Hill’s questions with winding tangents.  The tangents all eventually wound to three places: a) Gould acknowledging others acknowledging his greatness, b) a wise statement Gould probably memorized from a fortune cookie, and c) the eventual nod back to a confused Hill to continue.  The audience, whose initial excitement for the actor was palpable, was visibly ready for the film to begin.

The film, similar to Gould’s answers, winded and rambled, though eventually led somewhere (even if you were not sure where).  Sara Rue, of Popular fame, is the frazzled, late-bloomer daughter of the recent widower, Burt.  While Rue finds herself caught in a predictable love triangle, Gould shines as the talent of the film.  His disgruntled, “woe is me” kvetching stands out among the other forced performances.  The film falls into the “cute” romantic comedy category, but barely- the writing acts as a somewhat disturbing vocal advocate for Jewish stereotypes.  The blatant “Jew-ish-ness” of the film makes it clear why it was chosen, but there are certainly better films among the other 55 films shown at the festival.   After the film, Gould reappeared to answer more questions.  The mass exodus that occurred at the film’s conclusion exemplified the lack of interest in further rambling.

The closing film, shown on the January 13th at the JCC in Dupont Circle, was Hava Nagila (The Movie).  The documentary, put together by a Los Angeles based team, starts off humorous and intriguing.  The picture begins as a collaboration of archival footage accompanied by witty dialogue, mixed with interviews of Jewish celebrities (among the likes of Leornard Nimoy and Regina Spektor).  The middle of the film eases into a presentation of historical data that bores more than it fascinates.  Hava Nagila eventually wraps back around to the charming film it began as.  The film ends achieves its intended goal: to make the audience realize the special bond the Jewish people have with the iconic song- and accompanying hora dance.

The Jewish Film Festival chose two films to highlight its existence by encouraging stereotypes and indulging popular knowledge.  At least two of the three highlights were mediocre, at best.  Despite this, the festival has been very well attended and appears diverse on paper.  Fourteen individual venues will host over 50 films representing fifteen different countries including Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Nigeria, Luxembourg, Poland, Russia, Serbia, the UK and the US.  More than 30 filmmaker guests attended throughout the course of the festival, and the lineup is sprinkled with variety from documentaries to dramas.  It is a festival worth attending and supporting, though some of the premiere features may be better off unseen.

More information on the festival can be found here. The festival concluded on January 13.

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GTJ Satirist Brian F.- Clique That Went to Jewish Summer Camp Together Still, Won’t Shut Up About Jewish Summer Camp

summer camp jokes funny news jewish summer campDENVER, CO – (@The Comedy News) – Sarah, Moishe, Rachel, Jeremy, Eric, Stacy, David, and Sara: if you are so privileged to eclipse their exclusive circle of kinship, you will learn obnoxiously quickly that these eight 27-year-olds have been friends since Jewish summer camp.

Sarah, Moishe, Rachel, Jeremy, Eric, Stacy, David, and Sara—currently in their eighteenth year of inside jokes and incest—living together in squalor on the outskirts of a nauseatingly youthful Colorado ski-town.

The clique that calls themselves the “Excellent Eight” have known each other since what they have referred to as the “summer of love”, 1995.  That summer, they went to a Jewish summer camp called Camp Khazir, deep within the Ozarks of southern Missouri.  They still go back to Camp Khazir every year to re-live the glory days of when they were ten.

“Khazir!  Khazir!  My favorite time of year!  Khazir!  Khazir!  Excellent Eight we cheer!”  A few of the summer camp friends broke into song during the interview, unprovoked—making reporters visibly uncomfortable.

Outsiders that have had the misfortune of knowing this stubbornly secluded, self-righteous posse note that the Excellent Eight are always together.

“They took all of the same classes together at Colorado-Boulder.  Not sure if they even graduated, but they were definitely in the same classes,” describes a college classmate.

A former director of Camp Khazir notes that the Excellent Eight have made a name for themselves throughout the entire Jewish community.

“I once told someone while vacationing in Ethiopia that I did a summer at Camp Khazir back in 1997,” says the former camp director.  Without fail, the guy I was speaking to immediately asked, “Oh, so you know those Excellent Eight brats?”

Another camper describes their temperament.

“Just by looking at them, you can tell that they’ve all hooked up with each other,” describes a former co-Camper, who stopped attending camp in 1999.   “We confirmed that they just pass each other around.  When Eric or David or Jeremy or Moses or whoever, one of those caricatures of each other, pulled out an acoustic guitar on the lagoon pier and sang a song full of inside jokes about getting to third base, that’s when we knew for sure.  And who even talks about their bases anymore? New rule: if you’re old enough to drive a car, you may not refer to hooking up progress in terms of baseball hits.”

The song is supposedly on YouTube and will be featured on Tosh.O this spring.

A private investigator hired to study the Excellent Eight has concluded that none of the eight charter members have made any new friends outside of each other since the Clinton Administration.  And although no one is quite sure which member of the group is Sarah with an “H” and Sara without and “H”, they both can be identified by their frequent wearing of a puffy-painted tank-top shirt that reads “Sanctuary Sex”.  It is believed that the shirts are a reference to a sexual escapade that took place while neglecting their duties as senior counselors–jobs they resume every June.

Sarah, Moishe, Rachel, Jeremy, Eric, Stacy, David, and Sara: because there is plenty of endless drivel about Jewish summer camp to share, after all these years.

Brian Fishbach is a comedian, writer, political satirist, former GTJ JGOTW, and musician specializing in social and political commentary.  You can read Brian’s weekly satire news articles at www.TheComedyNews.com, and enjoy his late-night jokes at www.BrianFishbach.com.  Join The Comedy News’ Facebook page for updates.

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Go to Israel for FREE this summer or fall with the DC Community Birthright Trip!

Two American Jews on his back... The camel don't care. He don't give...

Two American Jews on his back… The camel don’t care. He don’t give…

 

This summer or fall, travel to Israel FOR FREE with fellow Washingtonians on the DC Community Birthright Trip!

Am I eligible?

  • Age 22-26 at the time of application (If you’re under the age of 22, visit www.birthrightisrael.com to find the trip that’s right for you!)
  • Have not previously participated in a peer-orientated Israel trip
  • Local to or ties with the Greater Washington area

image002What are the perks?

  • Get on our VIP list for priority registration processing!
  • Greater chance of being accepted!
  • Enjoy exclusive pre-trip events!
  • Have direct access to your DC-based Birthright Israel staff!
  • Expand your local network!
  • Travel through Israel with Israeli peers during the ENTIRE trip!
  • Receive personalized follow-up upon your return!
  • The trip is FREE.

Important Dates:

There will be trips in June, August, and November. Registration for the trips opens…

  • Monday, February 11 at noon for returning applicants
  • Wednesday, February 13 at 10 AM for new applicants

image003How do I register?

To register, please visit www.israelwithisraelis.com and choose the “DC Community trip.”  From there, you will begin to prepare for an unforgettable experience.

Please know that the registration process can be very competitive and only remains open for about a week, so it’s very important to register on the opening date and pay your security deposit as soon as possible.  Once Shorashim receives your application, they will move forward with processing it and scheduling an interview.  Once this is complete, you will find out the dates of your trip and further details.

Have questions?

Interested in learning more? Join us Monday, January 28 at 6:30 at Drafting Table for a Birthright Recruitment Happy Hour!

To find out more about the Taglit-Birthright Israel: DC Community Trip (sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington) and get on our pre-registration VIP list, contact me at 301-230-7266 or at sara.weiner@shalomdc.org.

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Navigating by Moonlight – Rabbi B. on this Week’s Torah Portion

moonlightThere is always a light at the end of the tunnel, just sometimes the tunnel seems to extend miles and miles.  The sun will come up tomorrow (bet your bottom dollar), but sometimes tomorrow fells much more than a day away.  Often when we find ourselves in the darkest most difficult moments of life we feel hopeless and as if there is no way out of our pressing situation.  The Torah, however, teaches us that it is that very feeling of despair that allows us hope for better times ahead.

In this weeks parsha, Bo, we as Jews are given our first mitzvah (commandment) as a people.  What is the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people you may ask.  So many to choose from: Shabbat, Kosher?  Nope, the first Mitzvah the Torah commands us of is that of Rosh Chodesh: to bless each new month.

What is it that makes this mitzvah so significant that it should be our first charge?

The Jewish calendar is a lunar one, each month beginning with the new cycle of the moon.  Our story as a people is also compared to the cycle of the moon.  Towards the end of each month the moon’s light diminishes more and more until, in the final days, hardly a glimmer of light can be seen.  But just as much as that darkness is a sign of the end of a month, it is also a sign that a new month is about to begin.

So is the history of the Jews.  We have experienced many dark moments.  Each of those moments, though, also produces a glimmer of hope for brighter days in the future.  It is this message that in many ways defines us as Jews.  Therefore, God sees fit that our first mitzvah should be one that teaches the lesson of how to navigate life and live all the others.  Persevere and never give up because brighter days do lie ahead.

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GTJ Health Series: What Obamacare Means for You

stethoscopeWith the Supreme Court decision in June 2012 upholding the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA or Obamacare) constitutionality, 2013 and 2014 will see the implementation of the remaining key portions of this landmark bill.  Already the act has provided additional protections for patients and increased access to health insurance and care.  In this column, I will highlights some of the upcoming changes to the ACA and provide a simple guide for young professionals and students to find health insurance coverage in the coming year.

An Insurance Policy You Can Understand

Trying to understand your health insurance policy can lead anyone to pull their hair out in frustration.  This year marks the start of a provision of the act which requires insurance providers to send you a standardized, four-page summary of benefits and coverage.  This summary will explain your health plan in plain English and will allow you to easily compare the plan you have to other available plans.

New Costs to You

While Medicare is the health insurance program for those over 65 years of age, as an American worker you pay into the program throughout your life. Two changes to these taxes will take effect this year.  Employers take out 7.65 percent of your salary of which 1.45 percent goes toward the portion of Medicare which covers hospital bills.  This year, the hospital portion will increase 0.9 percent for anyone who earns more than $200,000.  The second change is a new 3.8 percent tax on investment income that will go towards funding Medicare.

A Mandate to be Insured

Starting on January 1st 2014, you will be required to buy insurance or pay a penalty.  To help with this transition, several new avenues of coverage have been established, many with significant subsidies provided to consumers (see below).

Patient Rights and Protections

With the passage of the ACA, we are seeing several initiatives that will protect patient rights and improve care.  Beginning in 2014, health insurers will no longer be able to refuse coverage to the sick.  Patient out of pocket expenses for preventative services like pap smears and flu shots has been eliminated, and patients can no longer have their coverage dropped when they get sick or pregnant.  Women and people with pre-existing conditions cannot be charged higher premiums.  Minimum standards for health insurance policies are being established and caps to annual and lifetime insurance payouts are being eliminated.

Your Options for Health Insurance Coverage

You are . . . Where you can get health insurance The details
Employed Your employer Many employers provide health insurance coverage to their employees.  This includes federal employees as well as employees of businesses both large and small.
Under 26 years old Your parents Under the ACA you are eligible for coverage under your parents insurance until you are 26 years old. 
A student Your university Most universities offer their undergraduate, graduate, and professional student health insurance at a reduced rate.
Earn less than ~ $15,415 Medicaid The ACA will increase Medicaid coverage to those earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level ($15,415 in 2012) in 2014.  The federal government will pay 100% of the cost of coverage for new enrollees until 2016, where after the states will begin covering a small portion. Under the Supreme Court ruling last year, states can chose to implement this or not.  Maryland and DC are participating, while Virginia is leaning against participating.
Everyone Else Exchanges In 2014, the health insurance exchanges will open for business. A health insurance exchange is a regulated marketplace where the uninsured and small businesses can shop for coverage amongst several competing providers. If you earn 100-400% (~$43,000) of the federal poverty level you will be eligible for tax credits to help pay for insurance.  States can agree to provide a state based or partnership exchange.  If they decline to create an exchange the federal government will step in with a federal exchange.  Maryland and DC will have a state based exchange while Virginia will not.

 

Alex Berger, a new GTJ contributing columnist, is a native of the Washington DC Metropolitan Area.  He graduated in 2008 from the University of North Carolina and is currently in his last year of a combined MD/MPH program. He is excited to be back in the DC area and to share tips on nutrition, health, and fitness. He can be reached at Alexander_Berger@med.unc.edu.

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Where is the Israeli Al Gore?

487570_10100178490116245_1953285538_nAny opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and does not reflect the opinions of Gather the Jews.

Something I’ve been wondering while trying to follow the upcoming Israeli election: where is the discussion of energy and environmental issues? Is there no politician focused on this arena? Are the Israelis lacking an ‘Ozone Man‘?

I began my investigation by checking out the Likud party – the party currently in power, who is also expected to at least retain the Prime Minister position. The bulk of Likud’s platform is dedicated to Israel’s security, with some ideas for economic and social concerns at the bottom of the list. If the current front-runner for the Prime Minister position, along with the bulk of seats in the Knesset, doesn’t mention anything about the environment or energy – can it really be a priority for any of the parties?

Next, I tried to cast a wide net to see where the other major parties stand. The Jerusalem Post has a handy quiz to help you figure out which party is most in line with your values. It’s worth noting that not one of the 30 questions asked relates in any way to the environment. There are a few questions regarding social and economic concerns in the society. Ultimately, it seems that the environment isn’t anyone’s radar.

Professor Adi Wolfson, of the Shamoon College of Engineering Green Processes Center recently explained the silence to the fact that there are no disagreements. The idea being if everyone agrees, what is there to discuss? Professor Wolfson further reckons another, and perhaps more important reason it’s not discussed: because voters don’t really care. Whether the public doesn’t care because too much of their energy is spent on security concerns or due to a culture that just doesn’t place value on these ideas, we can hopefully explore at a later time.

Much to my delight, I eventually found that there is one party that explicitly promotes the need for an environmental blueprint for Israel – Tzippi Livni’s Hatunah party. Ms. Livini had previously helped to start the Kadima party in 2005, but left it last year. Her new party joined forces with the Green Movement Party and, unsurprisingly, its platform focuses on the environment.

While it can be expected that the Green Movement would advocate sustainability, Ms. Livni’s motivation seems to be from a more traditional political perspective: how her platform will create jobs, improve constituent quality of life, and strengthen Israel’s energy independence. These don’t need to be niche values only taken up by one party. Anyone serious about the welfare of the State of Israel and its people have no excuse not to include these points in their own party’s platform.

Samantha Hulkower, former Jewish Girl of the Week, is on sabbatical from DC in Israel. Her blog, Derech Eretz Israel, discusses environmental issues in Israel. Like her page on facebook to stay in the know. Comments and ideas for topics you’d like to see Samantha research are welcomed!

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GTJ’s Satirist Brian F.- HE’S BACK!: “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Jews”

indFifth installation of Indiana Jones series expected to be not nearly as bad as the fourth.

Synopsis:

The fifth installment of Indiana Jones opens with a Passover seder at a South Florida retirement community in 1960.  Dr. Jones has been a resident here since becoming an archaeology professor emeritus at Princeton three years prior.

The retirement community staff organize an affikomen for the residents, which results in an action-packed cafeteria fight.  Indy reigns triumphant after neutralizing fellow curmudgeons, and locating the hidden matzah under a chess table.  Still, the offending residents are sent to the Temple of Jews, located in Key West, to undergo spiritual healing.

Rogue real-estate developer Donald Sorrentino receives intelligence that the Temple of Jews sits on top of the coveted Fountain of Youth, once sought by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce De León.  Meanwhile, all of the congregants at the Temple of Jews seem young in mind, body, and spirit, further confirming Sorrentino’s suspicions.

And as Indy and his fellow retirees start to embrace the spiritual healing process, he discovers Sorrentino’s plan to buy-off city planners, plant Burmese pythons on the grounds, and demolish the Temple of Jews to turn the purported Fountain of Youth into a theme park.

Indiana Jones dusts off his fedora and tears out what little hair he has left as he and his fellow congregants go to biblical lengths to stop Sorrentino from razing the Temple of Jews.

Brian Fishbach is a comedian, writer, political satirist, former GTJ JGOTW, and musician specializing in social and political commentary. You can read Brian’s weekly satire news articles at www.TheComedyNews.com, and enjoy his late-night jokes atwww.BrianFishbach.com. Join The Comedy News’ Facebook page for updates.

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Moses and Me – Rabbi B. on this Week’s Torah Portion

rabbi-berkmanPonder this: “Every person can be as righteous as Moses.”  Sounds profound, right?  Is it true though?  Is it possible for you and I, regular old people, to be as righteous as the greatest leader of the Jewish people?

The words are not my own, but rather a statement made by Mimomodees.  But what does he mean that every person can be as righteous as Moses?  He was the greatest prophet to ever live.  He spoke to God face to face.  Who am I?

The Torah tells us that while Moshe was the leader of the Jews he was not a man of words.  Therefore, he partnered with his brother Aharon to lead the Jews out of Egypt.  Moshe was the leader, Aharon did the talking.  It is curious though that throughout the Torah, when Moses and Aharon are mentioned together, sometimes Moses’ name comes first and sometimes Aharon is mentioned first.  Rashi, one of our foremost commentators, explains that this is done to show that Moshe and Aharon were equals.  Really?  Aharon was great, but equal to Moses?  The Torah clearly tells us that Moses was the leader of the two.

The truth is that Moses was indeed “greater” than Aharon, but they were on a mission together and on that mission Aharon did exactly what was asked of him to the best that his abilities would allow him to.  He realized his role, accepted his role, and filled it with maximum effort.  Although he may not have been on as high as a spiritual level or possessed the same traits as Moses, it was Aharon’s approach to his role that made him considered as great as his brother.

We will never be Moses, and, truthfully, we are not expected to be.  We can though attain our own level of greatness.  We learn from Aharon that if we search for who we are, realize our own strengths and weaknesses, and strive to reach our potential, we may be surprised to see how great we really can be.

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Turkey Hoppin’ John

photo

If you’re from the South, or are close to someone who is, you’re familiar with the tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s for good luck in the coming year.  The most popular form is “hoppin’ john,” a smoky, sometimes spicy dish that, unfortunately for the kosher set, is based on a nice big ham hock.  We all deserve a little luck at the beginning of the year, so I made a version using smoked turkey.  All the luck; none of the treif.  Happy New Year!

Total time: 1.5 hours, plus soaking time

Yield: 10 servings

Level: Easy

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 smoked turkey legs
  • 1 large or 2 small ribs of celery, chopped
  • ½ medium green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 qt chicken broth (NOT low sodium)
  • 1 lb dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight in two changed of water and rinsed
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp salt, or more to taste
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper, or more to taste
  • ½ tsp black pepper, or more to taste
  • Green onions, chopped (optional)
  • Rice

 Directions

  1.  Heat oil in a dutch oven or heavy, wide pot.  Add the turkey legs and sear on all sides for 4 minutes.
  2. Add the onion, celery, green pepper, and garlic, cook for 4 minutes.
  3. Add the black-eyed peas, stock, bay leaf, thyme, and salt, black pepper, and cayenne. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes.  Stir occasionally, and turn the turkey legs once during the cooking.
  4. Remove turkey legs and the bay leaf from the pot.  Remove meat from the turkey legs.  Return meat to the pot and continue simmering for another 10 minutes, or until the peas are creamy and tender, stir occasionally.  If the liquid evaporates, add more water or stock. Adjust seasonings.
  5. Garnish with green onions, if desired.  Serve over rice.

 

Photograph by Hallie Burton

© Courtney Weiner.  All Rights Reserved.

 

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Not Getting Any Easier? – Rabbi B. on this Week’s Torah Portion

photo.1Welcome 2013!  A new year opens possibilities for new beginning.  A chance to reevaluate who we are and set new goals for the coming year is an opportunity not to let pass by.  The thought seemed really great over the holiday weekend, but I went back to work today and things seem more or less the same.  I already feel myself falling back into more or less the same old routine that I so much wanted to change!

This week’s Torah portion gives us advice as how to maneuver this challenge that so many of us are facing in this first week of the New Year.  The book of Shemot begins by telling us a count of the Jewish people that went down to Egypt.  Our commentators point out though that the Torah in fact just gave us the same exact count two weeks ago, to which many explain that then the Torah was counting the Jews as they went into Egypt and now we are being counted as we are going out.  This as a sign of how precious the Jewish people are to God as they are compared to stars that are counted by name as they come out at night, and again as they disappear in the morning.

A beautiful explanation, the only trouble is that the Jews are not yet coming out of Egypt.  In fact, right after we are told about the increased hardships the Jews face in Egypt.  What it the Torah telling us?

The truth is that this is the beginning of the exodus from Egypt, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be challenges and hardships along the way.  Although the process of redemption has begun, the suffering first becomes a bit more intense before the real relief is seen.

As we endeavor to make the new year different from last, we must understand that there may be challenges along the way.  We should persevere and realize that it is through those challenges that we will grow and ultimately reach our goals.

Wishing everyone a wonderful and prosperous 2013.  Shabbat Shalom

Please Join MesorahDC this Friday night.  Shabbat services, Cocktails and dinner!  Rsvp Now! 

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Mesorah Minute – Sh’mos – No Pain/No Gain

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2012 DC Real Estate Review: Growing Prosperity in the Middle East…of DC

2012 was a banner year for real estate in the District proving yet again that DC is one of the strongest markets in the country.  Let’s take a look inside the numbers to see the what, the where, and the why of DC Real Estate in 2012.

THE “WHAT”

Increased demand and dwindling supply was the story for DC real estate in 2012. On the demand side, steady population growth (especially among 24-35 year olds) thanks to DC’s strong economy and ever-increasing livability combined with historically low mortgage rates and dramatic rental rate increases to create a growing pool of potential buyers looking to become homeowners in 2012. On the supply side, inventory continued to decline throughout the year with active listings falling below 8,000, representing a 40% decrease in active listings from this time last year and a far cry from the peak activity that we witnessed in 2007 when the market topped 25,000 active listings. With demand outstripping supply, DC saw significant price appreciation in 2012, especially in the more affordable areas of the city where intrepid buyers increasingly engaged in bidding wars. High demand and reduced inventory also dramatically drove down average days on market resulting in a fast-paced market that both excited and exhausted prospective buyers seeking to get into choice areas before the market passed them by. While prospective buyers hope that a slew of new rental and condo construction projects (have you seen all the cranes in DC!) that are slated to hit the market in 2013 will increase inventory and slow price appreciation, many experts believe that increasing demand will continue to drive the DC market upwards in the New Year. That being said, added uncertainty due to the stalled fiscal cliff negotiations and the potential impact of mandatory federal spending cuts on the region’s economy makes predicting the path of the DC real estate market in 2013 considerably harder.

THE “WHERE”

DC 2012 DATA by ZIP
dc_zip_outlinePrevious posts have touched on the movement of young professionals and development dollars from West to East within the District.  As you can see from the data above, real estate values in upper NW DC (Georgetown, Chevy Chase, Cleveland Park, Palisades/Spring Valley, West End) remained the priciest in the city in 2012, well above the district average sale price of $546,000.  With the exception of Chevy Chase (20015), the highest growth in average sales price in 2012 was seen in neighborhoods bordering both sides of the Anacostia River where average home prices were some of the lowest in the city in 2012 (20018: $316,000 20024: $294,000; 20020: $182,000; 20019: $162,000).  From a sales activity perspective, real estate in what I will call Middle East DC was the real story of 2012.  When looking at a combination of indicators, including percentage increase in sales price for both condos and single-family homes (attached and detached), percentage reduction in days on market, average sales price to listing price ratio, and percentage of listings sold within ten days the real winners of 2012 were:

Real Winners of 2012
THE “WHY”

In previous blog posts, I have discussed some of the factors that have contributed to our market’s strength:

  • Population Growth: Recent estimates show as many as 1,100 new residents entering the District each month (70% of them under 35!)*. At a 2.7% growth rate, the DC Metro Area has grown faster than any major region in the country.
  • Expanding Wealth: Since 2007, while the overall economy has expanded a mere 3%, DC’s regional economy has grown a remarkable 14%. At 5.5%, DCs unemployment rate is close to the lowest for any major metropolitan area. Since 2010, DC’s middle-income job growth has expanded at four times the national average and the region now ranks fourth in that category. According to a recent Gallup poll, Washingtonians are the most optimistic in the country about improvements in the economy which is not surprising because DC boasts the region’s wealthiest and best-educated population.**
  • Mortgage Rates Reach Historic Lows: In November, the 30 year fixed rate mortgage hit a record low 3.31%. In 2007, a 30 year fixed mortgages averaged 6.34%. To put this dramatic drop in perspective, a $500,000 home purchased today with a 20% down payment and a mortgage rate of 3.31% rate would come to approximately $2300/month (PITI: principal, interest, taxes, and insurance). At 6.34%, the same home would cost approximately $3,000/month. That is a difference of $700 a month and over $260,000 in interest payments over the life of the loan!!
  • Rental Rates Outpace Purchase Market Increases: According to Zillow’s Rental Rate Index, rates district-wide increased 9.1% year over year making buying more attractive that renting in the area for individuals who are planning on being in their home more than 3.5 years***
  • Low Inventory Levels: Active listings dropped below 8,000 units for the first time since 2005 and new listings remain at their lowest level in over a decade.

*http://dcmud.blogspot.com/2012/10/micro-units-at-wharf-could-be-dcs-first.html
**The Expanding Wealth of Washington by Joel Kotkin. Forbes 3/19/2012
***Zillow Rent vs Buy Index


AbramsD - CopyDavid Abrams, 
a new GTJ contributing columnist, is a native of the Washington DC Metropolitan Area.  He received his M.B.A. from Emory University in 2009 and currently works as a realtor specializing in DC’s emerging neighborhoods with the BergerSandler+ team (www.bergersandlerplus.com) at Evers & Company Real Estate.  David is licensed in DC, MD, & VA.

 

 

 

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GTJ’s Satirist Brian F. – Teaching Bubbe To Text Not Going Very Well

BubbeBOCA RATON, FL – (@The Comedy News) – Dustin Kaiser thought a great way to spend Christmas Day would be to teach his 88-year-old Bubbe, Marsha how to send a text message on her new iPhone.

However, despite his pending Ph.D in social work from Cornell, Dustin’s efforts to teach Bubbe Marsha were futile.

“I’ve always known Bubbe to be a strong, smart idol of mine,” said Dustin.  “But watching her hit the ‘call end’ button over and over, and then turning off the phone when she wasn’t using it, made me flip my lid.”

Dustin’s patience wore thin as he hovered behind his Bubbe—who was perched in her favorite rocking chair.  After Bubbe Marsha asked where the “erase button” was [referring to 'delete'] Dustin snatched the phone away from her and called his confused Bubbe a “windpassing altacocker”.

Bubbe Marsha, a retired nurse who has been alive since the Calvin Coolidge administration, maintained her poise during the entire ordeal.

And despite her complete and total failure at attempting to send a text message, Bubbe Marsha did manage —all on her own— to learn how to shoot and upload sepia-faded photographs to Instagram.

Brian Fishbach is a comedian, writer, political satirist, former GTJ JGOTW, and musician specializing in social and political commentary. You can read Brian’s weekly satire news articles at www.TheComedyNews.com, and enjoy his late-night jokes at www.BrianFishbach.com. Join The Comedy News’ Facebook page for updates.

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