Elise Feldman discusses her amazing journey on a Taglit-Birthright Israel: DC Community Trip and how to sign up for your own!


These were the words chanted together at Ben Gurion International Airport as 48 jet-lagged American Taglit-Birthright members met the seven Israeli participants and Israeli guide they would be traveling with for the next 10 days. The chant echoed through the airport as we all held each other and jumped around in a circle. I could feel all of our exhaustion from the flight fade quickly into excitement. We were ready to start our 10-day journey in Israel – little did we know that each day would bring a new understanding and emotion to the words, “Achim Simcha,” which means “Brotherhood and Happiness.”

That night, we each explained why we decided to embark on Birthright. Each of us came from a different Jewish background. Some formally practiced Judaism, others explained that while culturally Jewish, they did not celebrate the holidays or rituals, yet identified with being Jewish. These descriptions also applied when we learned more about the seven Israelis that were on the trip. All were young adults like us who had either finished serving in the IDF, or were still in the IDF.

We traveled to Jerusalem on Shabbat. Before we entered the passage to the Western Wall, our guide, Iftah, stated that some of us were probably the first in our families to reach the Wall. I am not religious, and I am fortunate to say that I did not lose any of my immediate family in the Holocaust. However, going to the Western Wall for the first time brought out emotions that I had no idea ever existed inside of me. As I stepped away from the wall with uncontrollable tears coming out of my eyes, my Israeli friend wrapped her arms around me and said, “You are home.”

Towards the end of our trip, we sat looking out at Har Herzl’s monument. Iftah said to us, “I know all of you have different ways of being Jewish. Some of you say you are ‘half Jewish’, culturally Jewish, you barely identify with being a Jew – but whatever ‘Jewish’ you are, hold on to it.”

After my Bat Mitzvah, I completely stopped practicing Judaism. I stopped going to services or celebrating the High Holidays. It wasn’t until this last year that I decided to reconnect with my Jewish roots and take this trip. I have never been more physically, emotionally or mentally challenged in my entire life than I was in Israel. I don’t think I have ever cried and laughed so much in 10 days.

Israel answered a lot of questions I had, but I left with three times as many. So, I am now excited to try and answer these questions. The trip made me think about my own country in a different way and appreciate some aspects a little more than I had before. It certainly made me appreciate Israel in ways that I never thought I could.

I now have a brand new family of 57 members, and we already have plans to celebrate Shabbat together soon. I also can’t wait to celebrate the High Holidays this year and feel the love and happiness that I remember feeling as a child. That is what Israel means to me. I will never be the same because of this trip.


Want to have an experience with peers from DC like Elise? Then sign up for the DC Community Trip!

This winter, 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 to find a trip that’s right for you!)
  • Have not previously participated in a peer-orientated Israel trip
  • Local or ties with the Greater Washington area

Important Dates:

There will be trips in November, January and February. Exact dates will be confirmed soon. Registration for the trip opens…

  • Monday, September 9 at noon for returning applicants
  • Tuesday, September 10 at 10:00 a.m. for new applicants

How do I register?
To register, please visit 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?
To find out more about the Taglit-Birthright Israel: DC Community Trip (sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington), contact Sara Weiner at 301-230-7266 or



Is it Kosher to Date on Rosh Hashanah? – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (No. 73)

apples and honeyAs the weather turns from sweltering hot to a little cooler, and with the High Holidays upon us, it’s time to deal with a question that might arise: Is it kosher to date on Rosh Hashanah?

Now, I don’t mean that you should analyze whether it’s unkosher (perhaps literally) to grab some moo goo gai pan at the Chinese restaurant next door after Rosh Hashanah services if your stomach is growling during the shofar blowing.  What I mean is: What if you see a good-looking gal (or guy) at services?  Would it be sacrilegious to start a conversation and potentially ask for her contact information?  I’d venture to say no… but use plenty of caution and respect.

Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of a new year after all, and we’re supposed to fill it with sweet things, like apples and honey.  While common wisdom would have us believe that said honey should be viscous and come from a bee, what if there’s another form of something sweet at services, and instead she’s about 5’3 with honey brown hair, freckles on her face, and cherry red lipstick.  Should we deprive ourselves of one type of sweet new year to maintain respect for the other?

I used to have a friend (we’ll call her Diana) who moved to Baltimore and didn’t know anyone there.  Rather than driving down to DC to join me at services, she decided to attend services there by herself.  She was on the seat second from the end.  Just as the service started, a guy (we’ll call him Joey) sat down next to her, also by himself.  They exchanged pleasantries – name, job, the usual – and that was that.  Joey wanted to ask Diana out, but he was afraid that it went against all social and religious norms to do it in the synagogue, and on the holiest of holy days (this time Yom Kippur) at that.  So he waited a week, got creative, looked her up (these were pre-Facebook days!), and asked her out.  They are now married with a baby boy.

Now, I’m no religious guru, but my thought is: Would G-d want us to stop ourselves from “going for it” on the holiday?  While no one could ever know the answer to this question, what I recommend is that if you think someone might be worth talking to after services, it doesn’t hurt to strike up a conversation and end with some form of, “I really enjoyed talking to you.  Let’s definitely be in touch after the holidays.  May I get your number?”  A lighter alternative would be to ask for the other person’s business card… an easy peasy way to exchange information without using the line, “What’s your number?”

As we internalize the spirit of the High Holidays and try to enjoy the year 5774, remember that it’s ok to start off on a bold and exciting foot.  L’Shanah Tova!  I’ll be at the 6th in the City New Year’s Eve Party  tonight.  Hope to see you there!

Erika Ettin is the Founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps people stand out from the online dating crowd and have a rewarding experience. An archive of all of Erika’s columns is also available.  Want to connect with Erika?  Join her newsletter for updates and tips.


Masa Israel Featured Internship: Java Applications Development Internship, Citi

Citi is seeking a highly experienced and skilled Java software developer to contribute to the research & development of cutting-edge machine learning systems that interact with real world data in near real time. As an intern one of your responsibilities will include introducing new tools, frameworks and methodologies into the development process and environment.

Citi, the world’s leading financial enterprise, has recently launched its very own Technology Innovation Center here in Israel to capitalize on Israel’s vast technological talent to lead the financial industry into the future of technology.


What North American Schools Have the Largest Jewish Populations?

With Labor Day weekend just around the corner, millions of students in the United States are heading back to class at their respective colleges and universities.

And shortly thereafter, the Jewish students will be interrupting their study sessions, keg parties, football games by attending High Holidays services.

In that spirit, here is a list of which schools in North America have the most Jewish students and largest percentage of the student population that is Jewish.

A few takeaways:

  • University of Florida, University of Central Florida, and University of Maryland have the highest total number of Jewish students, each topping over 5,000.
  • The largest Jewish population at a school west of the Mississippi River is the University of Texas, University of Arizona, and UCLA, each topping over 3,000.
  • The Big Ten Conference is the most Jewish athletic conference represented on the top 60 list, with NorthwesternMaryland (in 2014), Rutgers (in 2014), Penn StateWisconsinMichiganIndianaOhio StateIllinois, and Michigan State, each with over 2,500 Jewish students.

(Facts courtesy of Reform Judaism Magazine and Hillel.

Full lists here:




Brian Fishbach is a writer and comedian.  You can read Brian’s weekly satire news articles at, and enjoy his late-night jokes at Join The Comedy News’ Facebook page for updates.


How a Stranger Learned to Welcome the Stranger

Citizenship-Graduates2-1024x719I am a most unlikely representative of the Jewish community. To say the least. I am the child of a Christmas baby. We have five boxes of Santa Claus-esque paraphernalia, gleaned over many decades, that we haul out every year in the same way you probably haul out your great-grandma’s menorah. But of course, we stop short of having a tree… because we’re Jewish. 😉 Once in my student teaching, I was asked to lead a lesson on Hannukah; I turned to the Internet. I never had a Bat Mitzvah. I’m pretty sure I knew more about Ramadan than Yom Kippur growing up…

Yep. Most. Unlikely. Representative.

Needless to say, HIAS did not attract me because it was a Jewish organization. It attracted me because of my shared passion for immigrants, refugees and underrepresented populations who need a voice. And according to the publicity I’d seen for that year’s HIAS Government Advocacy mission, this would provide a new way to explore and express that passion. Could’ve been Catholics, or Baha’i or anyone… just happened to be Jews!

But here I am, more than five years into one of the best—albeit biggest fluke—decisions I’ve ever made: joining HIAS Young Leaders! Five years into retooling my belief of what it means to—and all the different ways one can—be a Jew. Of understanding that it’s social justice, it’s welcoming the stranger, it’s forging friendships with those of my own religion, and it’s the opportunity to stand as one with them in our common ideal that we can, indeed, repair the world. And those beliefs I always held anyway happen to align very naturally with Jewish values in ways I’d never realized. For a basically secular Jew, it’s the first time in my life I’ve discovered such an outlet. (Funny what you find when you’re not even looking for it…)

And thus I have adopted this role as a HIAS Young Leader and embraced it more intensely as time goes on. This has meant opening my mind and taking stock of me. Or, frankly, allowing myself to let go of my own prejudices and perceived alienation from the Judaism I thought I knew and didn’t really like. And my reward has been the kind of inclusion and acceptance of a living, breathing Jewish community that I knew I was supposed to feel allegiance to before, yet never could begin to until now. And for this—my HYL friends and experiences that continue to “evolve” me—I am deeply grateful.

So how exactly does a Christmas-celebrating, disconnected 30-something Jew wander back to her flock?

Largely thanks to some wonderful Latinos. One of the HIAS-inspired activities I’m most proud of is a long-standing relationship with CARECEN (Central American Resource Center), an essentially one-stop-shop for social, legal and educational services for Latinos in DC’s Columbia Heights neighborhood. Our Young Leaders have been tutoring its ESL/Citizenship class bi-weekly for the last 4 years. Our work with CARECEN is primarily conversation exchange. It is informal but serves a crucial need for students hoping to pass their exams and become more confident in English overall. For many, class is their only chance to learn and practice English. We as native speakers (other than their teachers) allow them to put names and faces to “American culture.” Students are native Spanish-speaking adults, most of whom have been in the US for years. They are hard-working and motivated and appreciate everything we do. (“Me encanta when you come!” one woman declared).

For our part, tutors see in the trenches what it is to have to work for citizenship later in life, and appreciate the mere twist of fate that absolves us of this daunting task ourselves. Those students may appreciate us, but I have the utmost respect for them.

What does this have to do with promoting Judaism in particular? By serving immigrants through a HIAS-inspired endeavor, I directly represent the Jewish community. We make it very clear to the CARECEN population that we are a Jewish community who wants to build a bridge with them. We have hosted cultural exchange parties where kugel and falafel take their rightful places next to pupusas and tamales. The bond is not lost on anyone…

In general, I have the sense I’m personally carrying out a core HIAS (and Jewish) mandate to welcome the stranger. Except that somewhere along the way, these are no longer strangers. They become our friends, our extended community… people we care about and check up on in the weeks we’re not there. Whose accomplishments we celebrate first-hand.

The fact that we make the effort also draws other Jewish organizations to partner with us. A local Jewish fraternity has sent brothers to complete their community service requirement by joining us at CARECEN. In addition, a Jewish philanthropic organization funds us to subsidize the often prohibitive cost of citizenship tests for select students. We are supporting today’s new generation of immigrants as someone supported our grandparents or great-grandparents before us, completing a cycle and paying it forward. And we are the catalyst for connecting Jews to each other. And building bridges and educating non-Jews who tutor with us about Jewish core values. It is completely win-win!

So indeed… for this unlikely representative of the Jews, I have found myself in the place I am most likely to be. Yes, I’m keeping my Santa collection, but at least I’ve started to balance the equation of who I am.


Masa Featured Internship: Assistant Chef, Adom Restaurant

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Go Where No Jew Has Ever Gone Before: Up for Grabs…. Jewish Firsts that Have Yet To Happen

10341509_BG1Jews looking to pad their LinkedIn profiles with accomplishments still have a wide field of opportunity to become the first Jew to do something.Here’s a list of ten things you can still be the “first Jew” to do:

  • First Jew to walk on the moon.  (1)
  • First Jew to be President of the University of Notre Dame. (2)
  • First Jew to get stripped of a Grammy.  (3)
  • First Jew to win a gold medal in the equestrian events at the Summer Olympics. (4)
  • First Jew to play bass for the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  (5)
  • First Jew to lose five Super Bowls as head coach.  (6)
  • First Jew to play a villain opposite Mel Gibson in a Lethal Weapon movie.  (7)
  • First Jew to defeat Floyd Mayweather in the boxing ring.  (8)
  • First Jew to sleep with Pauly Shore.  (9)
  • First Jew to eat 80 matzo balls in 8 minutes.  (10)


(1)  Although a Jew has yet to walk on the Moon, the first Jewish American in Space was Judith Resnick in 1984.
(2)  Didn’t even bother to fact check this one.  Just assuming.
(3)  Still Rob and Fab from Mili Vanilli are the sole proprietors of this infamous title.
(4)  Although Jews have won gold medals in most Olympic events, no member of the tribe has won gold while on horseback.  Swimmer Dara Torres has the most Olympic medals for a Jew:  12.
(5)  The Red Hot Chili Peppers have had two Jewish guitarists:  The late Hillel Slovak and current Guitarist Josh Klinghoffer.
(6)  Coach Marv Levy is the only Jewish head coach to lose four Super Bowls—consecutively—with the Buffalo Bills (1991-1994).
(7)  Guaranteed to keep Mel Gibson out of show business forever.
(8)  Pretty Boy Mayweather is undefeated.
(9)  We are pretty sure he is still a virgin.
(10)  The current record is held by non-Jew Joey Chestnut:  78.

Brian Fishbach is a writer and comedian.  You can read Brian’s weekly satire news articles at, and enjoy his late-night jokes at Join The Comedy News’ Facebook page for updates.


Palestinians Must Agree on Nine Concepts Prior to Creation of Independent State

eightreportThe following is an opinion piece, and it should not be construed to reflect the ideas or position of GTJ as an organization.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel are engaging once again in peace negotiations. Disconcertingly, the Obama Administration pressured Israel to agree to the release of more 104 hardened terrorists as a presage to the commencement of these talks. These prisoners, prevented from harming more innocent people for more than 20 years, will now threaten lives once more. In the hope of peace, Israel agreed to this release. Now, it’s the PA’s turn to make some quite reasonable concessions. Without these 9 simple agreements, an independent Palestinian should not be created.

1. Cease providing moral and financial support to terrorists

The PA continues to celebrate and honor those who engage in terrorist acts. Furthermore, the PA provides payments to imprisoned terrorists in Israeli and PA prisons for engaging in terrorist activity. These policies condone and glamorize violence against Israelis and also financially incentivizes such acts.

2. Abandon on-going efforts to brainwash schoolchildren

Schools operated and controlled by the PA continue to poison the minds of young children with a hatred towards the nation of Israel and the Jewish people. In addition, the media promotes this racism by broadcasting children and personalities who communicate these views. These children are fed a steady diet of hatred and bias overtly sponsored by the government.

3. Recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state

The Palestinian Liberation Organization, of which the PA possesses its governing authority, still refuses to recognize the state of Israel as a Jewish state. In fact, the official charter seeks to eradicate the Jewish state not just from the West Bank but from the entire region:

Article 2: Palestine, with the boundaries it had during the British Mandate, is an indivisible territorial unit.

Prime Minister Abbas recently said, “Don’t order us to recognize a Jewish state. We won’t accept it.” If the PA genuinely desires peace, Abbas must change both his rhetoric and his actions.

4. Recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel

For centuries, the city of Jerusalem served as the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Israel. The focal point of the Jewish religion, the Temple, stood on the Temple Mount within the confines of the city. The importance of this city to the national identity of the Jewish people is paramount. Since obtaining control of the Old City following the Six Day War of 1967, Israel has respected and protected the rights of adherents to all religions within the city. Prior to this time, such religious liberty did not exist. The PA must recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital.

5. Accept that no blanket right of return exists

Following the 1947 UN partition resolution, many Arab residents of the soon to be formed Jewish state left the region. Following Israel’s declaration of independence, the exodus increased. This exodus was encouraged by Arab leaders although Israeli leadership repeatedly expressed a willingness to live in peace with Arab citizens. On the other hand, many Jewish people in Arab states were forced to flee regions in which their families lived for hundreds of years. More than 65 years later, neighboring Arab states still refuse to settle the refugees – and their descendants—of this war. Instead, they continue to demand Israel grant these refugees a right to become citizens and residents of Israel. A newly created Palestinian state must accept that this blanket “right of return” does not exist.

6. Accept the legitimacy of the Israeli “settlements”

The region of Judea and Samaria (historic homeland of the Jewish People) is more often referred to as the West Bank. Both Arabs and Jewish people have ancestral ties to this land. In fact, the tombs of the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah) are located in the ancient Jewish city of Hebron—within the West Bank. The tomb of Jacob’s son Joseph is also located within the West Bank. The site of the Jewish tabernacle in Shiloh lies in the region as well. The ancient Jewish tribes of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh settled this region thousands of years ago.

In modern times, the number of Jewish residents in the region of Judea and Samaria totals more than 350,000. Demanding that these settlers leave or cease expansion is thoroughly irrational. These are not colonialists or imperialists, as some suggest. Quite simple, these “settlers” are building homes and livelihoods in a region intrinsically connected to the Jewish people for thousands of years. Just as Israel does not seek to expunge Palestinians from this region, so the PA must understand that Jewish people also have a right to build a future in this region.

7. Agree to borders which do not include the entire “pre-1967” lines

The mantra from the PA and even from the Obama Administration often insists that the borders of an independent Palestinian state must adhere close to the “pre-1967” lines. “Land swaps” are suggested as a necessity for any deviations from this border. These demands are untenable.

Let’s recall exactly why the “lines” changed in 1967. Following the creation of the Jewish state in 1948, Arab nations attempted to annihilate Israel. Although Israel had agreed to the 1947 UN Partition proposal of the region, Israel’s Arab neighbors refused to accept the existence of a Jewish state in their midst. After winning this war of survival, the borders of the state of Israel differed somewhat from the original partition plan. In 1967, Israel fought what is known as the Six Day War—yet another war for survival. Following this war, Israel gained possession of the Old City of Jerusalem, its ancient capital. Israel also captured Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula.

Over the last few decades, Israel has relinquished sovereignty over the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. Israel has also expressed a willingness to forfeit a vast majority of the West Bank. A belief that Israel has no right to any portion of these territories captured as a result of the Six Day War is not based on fact. Israel may choose to relinquish a portion of the West Bank for the creation of an independent Palestinian state. However, to assume the “pre-1967 lines” as the standard for a fair outcome is preposterous, even if “land swaps” are factored in to the equation. Israel has a legal and historical right to this region. Israel may choose to concede sovereignty over portions of this area—but the PA has no rational basis under which to demand adherence to the “pre-1967 lines”.

8. Agree to a permanent Israeli military presence on the Jordan/ West Bank border

In order to protect Israel from an influx of arms from Jordan, the PA must allow a permanent Israeli military presence on the border between Jordan and the West Bank. Otherwise, illicit weapons imported into the region could threaten the stability of the PA government and also the lives of Israeli citizens. Keep in mind that Tel Aviv and the Ben Gurion International Airport is just 7.2 miles from Palestinian areas of the West Bank. This is within striking distance of rocket attacks.

9. Agree to being a non-militarized State

The PA must agree to be non-militarized. At its widest point, Israel is just 85 miles across. An agreement with Egypt ensures the Sinai Peninsula remains non-militarized to the south of Israel. The Golan Heights in the north provides a buffer against any invading force from Syria or Lebanon. Presently, the West Bank provides a zone of safety against any invading force from the East. Absent a non-militarization agreement, Israel’s populous regions would be threatened by the possibility of a massive attack carried to completion within hours. Israel’s neighbors attempted such a result in 1948, 1967, and 1973. Because of this threat, the PA must agree to not militarize its territory.

An independent Palestinian state is not a perquisite to peace; other avenues exist. And the world should be aware that Israel is neither morally nor legally obligated to agree to the creation of such a state. A peace negotiation requires BOTH parties working together. It’s time for the PA to make a good faith effort. Agreeing to these nine principles would be a start.


Young Jews from the former Soviet Union organize in Washington, DC

ussr_flagAssimilation and disconnection from the Jewish community are, unfortunately, higher in Jews from the Former Soviet Union who have immigrated to the United States than in many other American Jewish communities.  Disconnection from traditional practices due to decades of oppression, differences with the greater American Jewish community about Jewish expression, and a lack of formal structure to address the needs of the community have all played a role in this phenomenon.  As a result, many Jews from the Soviet Union, particularly the younger generation and the children of FSU immigrants, are often alienated from their Jewish identity.  To combat this issue, a new group called Druzya, the Russian word for “friends”, has recently formed in Washington, DC through the use of social media.  Formed by young Jewish professionals, the group aims to reconnect young Jews to their history, their culture, and each other.

Events that have been organized by the group have included Shabbat dinners, Passover seders, and Shavuot parties, as well as many social events.  Members of the group have also attended Limmud FSU, and plan to partner with this organization for future events.

For many members, a recent Shabbat dinner was the first time they heard the Kiddush blessing over wine.  For others, it was a typical Friday night, and they led the blessings in perfect Hebrew.  Some barely spoke Russian, trying out a few phrases they had picked up from their parents while growing up in American suburbia.  Others had, just a few weeks prior, disembarked from a plane out of Moscow.  Each had much to learn from the others, but a common history and culture united them. A community was born.

At a recent house party, Pugachova, the husky Russian songstress, echoed in the background as twenty and thirty-somethings chomped on home-made Plov and discussed everything from current events in Israel, to the uncanny ability of Russian Jews to imbibe gracefully on a weeknight, to the woes of finding a Jewish significant other in the city.  Later, after the obligatory photographs by the Israeli flag on the wall, someone pulled out a guitar and played songs in Russian that some had not heard since childhood, but that were remembered well enough (thanks to the imbibing) for a round of song and dance.  This was followed by another round, but with Birthright songs.

Most recently, the group has partnered with the National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ), also located in Washington, DC, to host the former American Ambassador to Ukraine, Steven Pifer, for an evening of conversation.  Topics of discussion included the human rights situation in Russia and Ukraine, particularly how it relates to the Jewish minority still living there, diplomatic strategies, and the potential political future of the region.

In the future, the organization hopes to continue to foster relationships with Jewish organizations, connect the young Russian-speaking Jewish diaspora in the United States and abroad, and foster the strengthening of a Jewish identity among its members.

While the organization is relatively new, there is great excitement and many close friendships have been born of the initiative.  This type of grassroots community building may, in fact, be the key to re-engaging young diaspora Jews, Russian-speaking or otherwise, as assimilation continues to increase among the younger generation.


How’s Your Jewdar? – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (No. 72)

SUS2D00ZFor most people on JDate, meeting someone Jewish is a top priority.  Maybe it’s because you felt inspired by your 5th grade Hebrew school teacher.  Maybe it’s because you love any excuse to get your hands on some homemade kreplach.  Or maybe it’s because you have a strong spiritual side and really value your relationship with G-d.  Whatever the reason, it led you to JDate.

Now, let’s say that you’re still that same spiritual, kreplach-loving person, but you meet someone in (gasp!) the real world – a happy hour, your apartment building’s pool, outside while walking your dog, etc.  You want to find out if your prospective new belle or beau is Jewish, but you don’t know how.  There are so many options.  Some are funny, some are clever, and some are just plain ridiculous.

1. Find out the last name.

This was the strategy my mom took when she met my dad.  My mom and dad used to live next door to each other, and my mom actually met my dad’s brother, my uncle, first.  (My dad was just the guy always sitting in the window studying.)  To my mom, it was important to marry someone Jewish, even though she didn’t grow up in a particularly Jewish area of North Jersey, so she asked my uncle his last name.  He told her that his last name was Ettin.  What he said and what she heard were two different things when she asked, “What kind of name is that?”  She thought she heard “Sicilian,” but what he really said was, “It’s silly!”  That got them to talking, then she met my dad, and the rest is history.  (As a side note, I sent my mom this article, and she said, “I went to great lengths to find someone Jewish, and I found a ‘silly/Sicilian’ guy right next door!”)

Another way to find out someone’s name is to ask for a business card.  I once briefly dated someone I met at jury duty (I was on the jury of a six-week murder trial!), and I was curious to know if he was Jewish, so I asked for his card.  The last name ended with “man.”  I was happy as a clam… ahem… happy as a kosher meatball.

2. Make sly references to Jewish things.

Maybe you’re walking down the street with your date, and you casually say, “I sometimes make my grandma’s amazing kugel recipe” to see if there’s any recognition.  Or throw in some Yiddish for good measure.  “I can’t believe my ferkakte car broke down again!  It’s such a schlep to get all the way out to the Mini Cooper dealership in Virginia.”  Your date will either look at you like you’re a little mashugana (and maybe you are!) or with a sense of appreciation and knowledge.

3. Ask his or her family background.

Maybe you ask where his or her ancestry is from.  Maybe you ask if the family came over on the Mayflower or through Ellis Island.  Maybe you ask where his or her grandparents lived.  These are all indirect ways to get to someone’s religion.

But, of course, none of these is a surefire way to find out.  And some ways could be fairly ignorant and obnoxious.  The name may be Davis, for example, which could have any background.  Plenty of Jewish people have blond hair and blue eyes.  And with so many people of mixed heritage, it’s such a melting pot that nothing is certain until you ask.  Now, am I saying to ask someone outright on a date whether he or she is an MOT?  Not in so many words.  But, like any other potential deal-breaker – education or age, for example – you are allowed to ask before you become too invested.  Make sure you’re asking in a nice, open way, though.  Rather than, “Are you Jewish?  If not, I can’t date you,” instead ask something like, “What’s your background, out of curiosity?  I’m Jewish, but I have a hard time telling what other people are these days, and I don’t like to assume anything!”  Or just go out, enjoy the date, and focus on whether you actually like the person before you decide if you’ll be having Jewish babies together. 😉

Erika Ettin is the Founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps people stand out from the online dating crowd and have a rewarding experience. An archive of all of Erika’s columns is also available.  Want to connect with Erika?  Join her newsletter for updates and tips.


Want to make friends and play kickball? Join the GTJ Kickball Team!

KickballNew to DC?  Or have been here for a while and are looking to make some new friends?  Join the Gather the Jews Kickball team!  We’re playing in the Wednesday night, glow-in-the-dark league of DC Kickball. Here’s how to register:

  1. Follow this link:
  2. Click the “register now” button
  3. Read the page about the league, then click “register for this season”
  4. Sign In/Create your account
  5. Click “Join an existing team” and choose “Kick Size Matters” (this is our team name!)
  6. Fill out the rest of the page, agree to the waiver, and go to the next page to pay ($57)
  7. Email the team captain, Alan, at to let him you joined so that he can approve you to the team.
  8. Play some kickball!

If you have any questions or concerns, email the team captain, Alan, at

Gather on!


Jewish Comedian Spotlight: Lewis Black

lewisblack2On the outside, Lewis Black features a gruff voice, thick-rimmed glasses, and gyrating neck jowls.  On the inside?  Insightful chaos.   Unlike many comedians, Black has shied away from humor intended to shock audiences, but rather leave them walking away with a sense of both irreverence and education.

Straight outta Silver Spring, Maryland, comedian Black epitomizes the word “curmudgeon”.  In his book, “Nothing’s Sacred”, the Jewish-raised comedian chastises the name of the town where he was Bar Mitzvahed in 1961 as lacking both “the seasonal spring” and a “single silver-miner”.  Small irritations such as these have led Black to have an enormous career in comedy that has spanned over thirty years.

His screaming commentary on American politics have been a favorite of Jon Stewart, who has featured Black’s rants countless times on “The Daily Show”.

And for two seasons, Black hosted his own television show on Comedy Central.  “The Root of All Evil”, which aired in 2008, pitted the pros and cons of topics such as Olympic Games vs. Drinking Games, NRA vs. PETA, and High School vs. American Idol.

In this 2008 video of Black at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in DC, he describes what it was like to be the first Jew his roommates had ever met at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill: (Warning, language is rated R)

He turns 65 years-old this High Holiday season.  While well-versed in the traditions of Judaism, Black has offered his own sermon for the community:  “There are things about the Jewish religion that I carry with me to this day. Chief among them is Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, as it’s so happily called. It had a profound effect on my innocent young mind. The service opens with the organ playing “Kol Nidre,” one of the spookiest pieces of music ever written. You hear it and literally are surprised bats and shit aren’t flying around.”

Perhaps a jazzy Kol Nidre melody would suit Black’s mood better (because despite all of his blood-pressure-raising anger, Black’s music of choice is not thrash metal, but contemporary Jazz.

He is almost always on tour.  Check out Lewis Black’s website for more information:

Brian Fishbach is a writer and comedian.  You can read Brian’s weekly satire news articles at, and enjoy his late-night jokes at Join The Comedy News’ Facebook page for updates.


Israeli Tactical School Offers Home and Self-Defense Courses in Rockville, MD

tactLearn more about classes here.

For decades the state of Israel has faced terrorist attacks on her own soil and abroad. These challenges pushed Israel to develop advanced counter-terrorism techniques widely recognized and adopted by her allies around the world.

One example of the perfection of the Israeli techniques can be found in the response to the Rome and Vienna International airports twin attacks carried out by eight members of the “Abu-Nidal” Palestinian terrorist organization in 1985. The attacks took place by the check-in counters of El-Al (Israel’s national airline). In the Rome incident, four of the terrorists, disguised as passengers, approached the check-in area carrying  AK-47 “Kalachnikov” and grenades in their suitcases. The attacks in Rome and Vienna were coordinated and started at the same time, killing Israelis and civilians from other countries. Hundreds of people scrambled; others lay on the floor wounded or worse. Still, not everyone ran away: three Italian policemen present on the scene returned fire using their beretta pistols. Unfortunately, they missed the terrorists and instead added more passengers to the list of casualties.

“Moshe”, an Israeli secret service agent stationed in Rome, noticed the shooting and immediately reacted.  It took him 20 seconds to kill three of the terrorists and seriously injure the remaining one. Other members from his team came running from other parts of the terminal to help out, but it was all over by the time they arrived.

After an autopsy was conducted, it became clear that the four terrorists had all been neutralized by this one single agent: only bullets fired by agent “Moshe” were found in the  bodies of the terrorists. In the bodies of passengers and other civilians, AK-47 bullets (used by the terrorists) and 9-caliber ones (used by the Italian policemen) were found. For more on this, read here.

Home and self-defense is a serious business, and if you don’t believe it, talk to Tomer, 39, a former Israeli secret service agent and commanding officer who served two decades as a team leader in the Israeli special forces and as chief security officer in the Israeli foreign office.  “Our Israeli counter-terrorism techniques fit perfectly with home and self-defense challenges and better than any other techniques available for civilians”. Tomer, who now teaches in Rockville, hopes to give his students the set of skills and mindset needed to avoid, prevent and react to any challenge and any scenario.

“Israeli tactical school classes are for responsible citizens who want to be sure they know what to do in case of a dangerous home or self-defense situation,” says Tomer, who especially enjoys teaching beginners.  ”I love showing them that they can do it.”

“We don’t just teach how to shoot without missing, we teach students the point-shooting technique, meaning: shooting without relying on eyesight,” says Tomer. “Even in the beginners class we implement the mindset and skills to fight and take the initiative; we teach to make correct decisions, how to surprise and deceive, and to attack only when the moment is right. We teach not to hesitate but to act aggressively. Constant repetition and skill reinforcement help develop the muscle memory and confidence required to react. You don’t need to be black-belt or a Navy seal to do that.”

Tomer says he teaches across the board. “I teach people in different age groups, men and women alike,” he says. “The program courses combine shooting and Krav Maga as one concept: if the gun is not effective, we use our hands, legs and any other object we have to protect ourselves and our loved ones. We offer a gun-disarm-and-use-it-against-the-attacker workshop, and you don’t need to have a gun to participate. For gun owners, we have a special program that takes them from beginner level to home and self-defense room clearing. We also train federal employees on how to defend themselves during missions in middle eastern countries, and we offer rape prevention and security consulting, training and assessments for private companies and law enforcement agencies.”

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Behind the Scenes of Renewal: A Film About Art and Ecology

Still Yael and Micha BOPWhether it be a dance concert at Tel Aviv’s sophisticated Suzanne Dellal Center or a folkdance jam under the stars in the fields of the Galilee, in Israel there is always something going on in the world of dance.

As a journalist with a passion for Jewish history, and a former contemporary dancer myself, I find the emergence of Israeli contemporary dance over the last two decades particularly thrilling. I have written extensively about Israeli choreographers and covered their work both in Israel and internationally. In 2010, I had the opportunity to meet Jerusalem’s Vertigo Dance Company.

Vertigo, like many Israeli dance groups, demonstrates an intense, visceral approach to movement. Grounded in a combination of folk, classical, and modern dance, these artists have created a distinctive canon of choreography and have a powerful desire to explore their complicated society through movement.

Noa in Rehearsal Day 3Vertigo is a family – literally. Noa Wertheim and Adi Sha’al the founders and co-directors are husband and wife, and the rehearsal director and Vertigo dancer Rina Wertheim Koren is Noa’s sister. Family dynamics bleed into the choreography, and the pieces often explore the themes of community, romantic relationships, and spirituality.

One of Vertigo’s most unique qualities is its interest in social issues. They have choreographed pieces about humanity and technology, the challenge of disability, and in recent years have made tremendous inroads toward environmental sustainability. In 2006, the company created the Vertigo Eco-Arts village, an arts center located on Kibbutz Netiv HaLamed Hei, where they and their families also reside.

P1010301Vertigo’s unique approach to environmental sustainability, blending dance and ecology, inspired me to make my documentary film Renewal. My film examines the connection between art and environmentalism, and explores Vertigo’s methods of dance, education, and social activism. In Israel, a country still going through so much cultural growth, Vertigo exemplifies the continued rejuvenation of art, culture, and the human spirit in the Holy Land.

I teamed up with Israeli dance cinematographer, Elad Debi, and we filmed Renewal last October on location in both Jerusalem and the Eco-Arts Village. Our schedule was both exhilarating and exhausting, many shooting days started before 6 am to capture the best angles of the sun, and did not finish until late into the evening.

P1010145Dance is particularly exciting to film – the movement can be short, quick, and punchy or unravel slowly. A slight alteration in the angle of the dancer can change the whole frame.

Shooting in Israel is a similarly unpredictable adventure. While we were lucky to film just two weeks before the November rocket attacks, one shoot was interrupted by a military drill and we had to be careful to film in between the sounds of overhead planes.

Dance is one of Israel’s most expressive art forms, and it engages people worldwide regardless of language. Renewal is an opportunity for new audiences to learn about a unique and powerful aspect of Israeli culture, and gain new perspectives on dance and environmentalism.

Click here to learn more about Renewal and see the trailer.





Silent Prayer Interrupted by Silent Daydreaming

AdobePhotoshopExpress_2013_08_07_09_50_19HIGHLAND PARK, Ill (@TheComedyNews) – Benjamin Feinberg’s experience at Friday night services at Congregation Beth Ra’ash began as any other— hand shakes and hugs with familiar friends, cookies and wine with the newcomers, and a seat in the center pews (not too close to the bimah, not too far).

Feinberg’s focus took a nose dive, however, about two thirds of the way through the service when the it was time for silent prayer.

“Please pray silently, and we will then continue on page 43,” the Rabbi announced.

Feinberg could only seem to pray for a good 8-10 seconds before he began to daydream random obscure thoughts.

“I pray for Bubbi to heal,” he said in his inner monologue. “I pray my sister gets accepted to Stanford Business school—gosh my ass really hurts.   These pews need to be renovated.  When my middle school was renovated, I smoked a cigarette with one of the construction workers during recess.”

Feinberg sighed and gazed around the sanctuary.

He continued silently, “for the Shabbat dinner, I really hope to sit at a table with Claire Birnbaum. She’s lookin cute.  Oy but I bet angry Mike will try to sit with me.  He’s always in a mood and complains about work. They better serve falafel here, but I don’t have any breath mints, maybe I should —-”

“Please join us on page 43,” announced the Rabbi, concluding the silent prayer part of the service.

Feinberg could only shake his head at another squandered opportunity to pray silently on Shabbat services.

Feinberg’s Bubbi made a full recovery from her hip surgery. His sister got wait-listed by Stanford Business School. Feinberg also finally got Claire’s phone number while they both shared a table with angry Mike.

Brian Fishbach is a writer and comedian.  You can read Brian’s weekly satire news articles at, and enjoy his late-night jokes at Join The Comedy News’ Facebook page for updates.

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