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Basic Instinct – Rabbi B. on this Week’s Torah Portion

TorahScrollNo, this is not a movie review and, no, I don’t think I ever saw it either!

This week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, does challenge us to contemplate: What are our basic instincts as Jews?

Moses presents the Torah to the Jewish people who famously respond with the words “ naseh v’nishma,”  “we will do, then we will listen.”  Seemingly we are pledging that we first accept the Torah unconditionally, no matter what may be written within.  After making that commitment we are ready to hear the Torah’s content.   A quite noble statement, but is that what the words really mean?

Taking the words literally, how exactly is it possible to do anything before first knowing what to do?  Before beginning any task, we have to at least know what the task is.  If not where would we start?  This is really what our words as a people are: “We will do, then, we will listen.”  We seem positioned ready to act.  How, if we don’t know yet what to do?

Let’s examine basic, natural human instincts.  When a person feels hunger, thirst, or really any desire, does the person first think “I need to eat” then begin a thought process of what to eat, when to eat, do I need hot sauce?  What really happens is that, first, we instinctively feel hungry or thirsty.  Only then does our thought process begin for “how will I fulfill my need?”  The actual hunger pang is a natural instinctual occurrence by which our bodies tell us it is time to eat.  We see that the process of eating really begins well before we intellectually think about the fact that we are hungry.

Upon receiving the Torah, we as Jews not only committed to unconditionally accept its priceless lessons, but we pledged to weave the Torah into the very fabric of our being.   Living by the Torah’s word became a very basic instinct of the Jewish people.

Just as we feel a pang of hunger or a sudden thirst, if we listen closely, we can also hear the calling of our souls telling us that our spiritual needs cannot be forgotten.

Something to ponder.  Shabbat Shalom!

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Be Yourself… Everyone Else is Taken – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (No. 58)

online-datingDue to popular demand, Erika E’s dating column will go back to appearing bi-weekly.

It’s hard to write your online dating profile, isn’t it?  Even if you’re a professional writer, when it comes to putting pen to paper about yourself (or fingers to keyboard, as the case may be), that’s where things get a bit trickier.

Many people immediately think to themselves, “I should write what I think people want to hear.  I want lots of people to be interested in me, after all!”  I beg to differ.  While, of course, it’s nice to be liked, you don’t want to lose yourself in the process of trying to fit into some arbitrary mold that you think others want to see.  Take for example the lines, “I’m just as comfortable in a black dress and heels as I am in a t-shirt and jeans,” or “I’m just as happy out on the town as I am at home with a movie and a glass of wine.”  Do these lines actually tell us anything?  No.  They simply cover all the bases.  To me, it reads, “I am trying to show you that I’m versatile so that I don’t exclude anyone or turn anyone off.”

While it may seem counterintuitive, I’ll come right out and say it: It’s okay to turn people off in your profile!  It’s more important to be the real you… not the version of yourself you think people want to see, and not the version of yourself who attempts to appeal to every single person on the site.  Just be yourself.  That way, you know when someone shows interest, it’s because he or she likes the actual things you said, not just that fact that you were being inclusive.

It’s okay if you don’t run marathons, ski, travel to Antarctica, skydive, or camp.  I don’t!  I personally would choose playing trivia, riding the stationary bike at the gym, shopping online for shoes, or even doing crossword puzzles over camping any day of the week.  A bit nerdy?  Maybe.  The real me?  Absolutely!  So if someone out there is a hard-core camper and wants to go every weekend, then we wouldn’t be a good fit, and I’d rather them know that at the get-go.

I have a challenge for you: If you’re currently on an online dating site and your profile contains one of the “all-inclusive” lines, change it into something that better represents who you actually are.  And if you’re thinking about joining an online dating site, remember that it’s okay to share your interests in bird-watching, chess-playing, beer-making, and whatever else you do for fun.  Yes, you may turn someone off. But you may also turn just exactly the right people on.  And you know what? That’s okay.

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.

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How to View an Open House Like A Realtor

I strongly recommend that anyone considering a home purchase contact a buyer’s agent early in the home search process to help them clarify goals, formulate a plan, access competent professional resources (i.e. lenders, inspectors, settlement companies, & contractors), and to gain access to the most accurate information available about the marketplace (if you’re using Zestimates from Zillow you’re looking for trouble!).

An exceptional buyer’s agent should not only be an unwavering advocate with a fiduciary responsibility to you, but he or she should also be an effective foil in your home search process.  A Watson to your Holmes.   A Sancho Panza to your Don Quixote.   That being said, I have clients that come to me all the time who have been “casually” popping into open houses for months (or years!) before they feel they are ready to engage an agent.

With smart phones and real estate apps galore it is easier than ever to check out what is on the market in your desired neighborhood.  With this reality in mind, the following are a few factors to consider that I believe will help you view properties with a more critical eye when you feel like being a weekend real estate warrior.  Hopefully, my awesome/awful aptitude for alliteration and poetry will make these memorable!  Just remember, these tips are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to doing your due diligence.  Consulting a buyer’s agent is the smartest advice I can give you!

Sherlock Holmes

1. Ignore the Decor

One of the biggest issues that prospective home buyers have is being entranced or repulsed by a home solely based on the way it is furnished and decorated.  Upon entering a home, we often have an instantaneous reaction to the environment that we have just walked into.  In my opinion, the key to being a discerning buyer is the ability to acknowledge our initial reaction but still have the ability to dig deeper in order to understand what we are really reacting to.

Ask yourself, “Does the property make me smile because it is exquisitely furnished, filled with great art, or painted in my favorite color?”  If the answer is “yes”, try to envision the space empty or with your furniture.  Does that change the way you see the space?  Remember, the opposite can also true.  Clients often discount properties due to strictly cosmetic issues that are fairly inexpensive to change.  Having the “vision” to look beyond what you see to what a space could become may be the key to spotting a diamond in the rough.

Ignore the Decor 1Ignore the Decor 2

2. Focus on the Flow

Are the rooms configured in a way that would meet your needs?  Does the floor plan make sense?  Is space wasted or well used?  Are there walls that you can remove to reconfigure the space to better meet your needs?  Think about what matters to you.

Whether it is cooking or entertaining guests, being able to keep an eye on little kids or watching the big game, it is important to ask yourself if the layout of the house would help or hinder those activities.  While I have yet to see a house that can do everything, it is important to know what trade-offs you are willing to make and what the property’s “capacity” is to accommodate the way you envision your lifestyle being.

Focus on the flow

3. Look for Light

Does the house get good natural light or does it feel dark?  Realtors often turn on every light in the house to add as much light as possible so it is important to separate natural light from artificial light. Understanding the orientation of the house (i.e. which sides of the property face N, S, E, & W) will also help you picture which rooms will get more or less light during different times of the day.

Most open houses are from 1pm-4pm so do not forget to consider what the property will look like in the morning light.  While everyone has a different sensitivity or need for light (my sister lives in Portland, Oregon and doesn’t mind not seeing the sun for a month at a time…I would go crazy!), a general rule is more light is always better than less.

Look for light

4. Don’t be Shy! (Okay, this one doesn’t have a snappy title)

Don’t be afraid to ask questions!  Admittedly, it can be awkward to walk through someone else’s house with their family photos on the wall and their clothes in the closets, but don’t let that stop you from getting the information that you need about the house in question.  This is another area where a buyer’s agent can be very helpful.  Knowing the right questions to ask, how to ask them, and being able to verify the authenticity of the answers (remember…trust, but verify!)  is an important part of our role.

Finally, neighbors are often the best source for getting the real scoop on a neighborhood or building.  While I wouldn’t recommend knocking on everyone’s door and interrogating them, if you see a neighbor in the yard, walking their dog, in the elevator, or in a common area I have found that the vast majority of neighbors are more than happy to talk about the positive and negative aspects of where they live.  No realtor will know a building or a neighborhood as well as someone who has lived there.  Don’t be afraid to get the inside scoop.

David 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 Koitz Group (www.koitzgroup.com) at Keller Williams Capital Properties. David is licensed in DC, MD, & VA.  You can also check out his blog at www.thecapitalline.blogspot.com for more info on DC real estate.

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Renewable Energy is National Security

576595_977391527455_1719112162_nAny opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and does not reflect the opinions of Gather the Jews.

Last week a new liquefied natural gas buoy opened off the coast of Israel.  It is being touted by the Israeli government as a energy lifeline until the Tamar oil field is functioning this April, after Egypt cancelled its trade agreement to supply natural gas last year.  The $134 million dollars spent by the government (and ultimately Israeli taxpayers) building the buoy is expensive, and ultimately makes the typically less expensive natural gas just as costly as the diesel fuel currently being burned in its stead.  Although a financial draw, this was money wasted that could have ultimately lead to more reliable and less expensive sources of renewable energy for the country.

Israel’s continued reliance on fossil fuels is a national security liability that also puts an undue economic hardship on its people.  Israel’s search for countries to buy petrol fuel from ends up being much more than a simple trade agreement, and costing the country more than it thinks in the long run.  For a country that has show it’s capacity for developing and implementing revolutionary technology, there is no reason why we should still be relying on hostile nations for power, or finite sources of energy.

Strategic Partnerships

A recently inked agreement to import oil from the newly created South Sudan has deeper strategic implications.  Israel was one of the first countries to recognize South Sudan when it announced itself as an independent country in July of 2011, and quickly began developing diplomatic ties.  But, Israel’s friendship with South Sudan is more than that of another small country, emerging from impossible odds to exist.  The fact is, its northern neighbor Sudan harbors a very real security threat to Israel.

Israel has bombed weapons being produced and trafficked from Sudan.  Not out of any altruistic desire to keep illegal arms off the streets, but because they were headed for Hamas in Gaza.  Sudan was the home base of Osama Bin Laden until 1996, and its government’s support of Hamas necessitates Israel keep an eye on its actions

Geopolitically, Israel’s investment in new infrastructure to circumvent Sudan and bring oil to the Indian ocean gives them a legitimate reason for being in the area.  However, with the pipeline’s expected price tag of $2 billion dollars, it’s hard to see how it is economically worthwhile.

Currently Israel imports most of it’s oil from Azerbaijan.  What, on the surface, seems like a simple trade relationship between two nations, was revealed last year to actually have deeper implications.  Both countries share a common interest in keeping Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, which motivated the Azerbaijani government to discuss potentially allowing Israeli planes to launch an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities from Azerbaijani soil.  However, having a common enemy today doesn’t ensure they will be your ally tomorrow.

Dependence on Neighboring Countries

As we saw with Egypt, governments and alliances can change very quickly.

In 2005, after many years of negotiations, Israel signed a deal with Egypt to import natural gas, supplying Israel with 40% of the gas used by the country.  After Hosni Mubarak ousting, the pipeline was bombed 14 times until Egypt finally announced it was terminating the contract.  They claimed that Israel was exploiting them, paying far below market share for the gas it was importing.  While it could be that the new military government was simply looking for an excuse to end the agreement signed under Mubarak, as a former shopper of Costco, I thought the whole idea of buying in bulk was to get a discounted rate.  Israeli citizens were also left to suffer higher electricity costs, since the country had to start using more expensive diesel fuel every time the natural gas flow stopped.

If a country who after 30 years of peace was so quick to end such an otherwise valuable trade agreement, which brought in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, Israel must recognize that any trade agreement it has, whether to import energy or other resources, could be likewise cancelled.

The Case for Renewable Energy

Unlike people, renewable energy is reliable.  Tel Aviv alone has an average of 318 sunny days per year.  Unless the clouds are suddenly overthrown and replaced over by a new regime that threatens to block out the sun, solar power is a reliable source of energy worth investing in.  The the cost of production of photovoltaic cells has decreased dramatically over the past 30 years.  There is no need to worry about ‘peak solar‘, with the energy harder to extract once we reach a tipping point.

Israel also has the ability to get more out of the resources it already has- with over 200,000 wind turbines already connected to its grid, the Israeli company Leviathan Energy has devised a way to get up to 40% more energy production from each turbine.  There are also Better Place battery changing stations all over the country, so you can still road trip throughout Israel without supporting hostile nations.  Because, let’s face it, even if Israel is buying oil from countries who aren’t actively trying to destroy the ‘Zionist Cancer’, the oil market is international, and as long as Israel is buying from someone, it effectively puts money in everyone’s pocket by increasing the demand.

Of course, Israel should continue to develop the Tamar and Leviathan deposits – but they should be for export.  Use part of the revenue to invest in increasing the installed PV and wind power capacity, or anything else as long as it doesn’t have to buy it from another country.  The more Israel invests in its own capacity, the better technology they’ll be able to generate and export.  Israel should do the world a favor by being an energy exporter they can rely on, without having to rely on common enemies.

This article was also published in the Times of Israel.

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 Health Series: What the F(lu)? How to Prevent Getting the Flu this Winter

fluThe contents of this article are for informational purposes only.  The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

It’s that time again: The sniffling coworker, the fellow metro rider who will cough all over you, and even the cute little baby who can’t help but be a ready to rub who-know-what in your direction.  It’s flu season and here at GTJ we are ready to give you 5 tips to keep this evil virus away.

Step One: Get Vaccinated

Get vaccinated.  It’s that simple.  Every year the CDC and other organizations work to track the most common flu strains affecting the rest of the world (and especially Asia) the spring/summer before our flu season.  They then create a vaccine that covers these most common strains and deliver it as a vaccine for our use.  This is your best way of preventing the flu.

Does the vaccine cover all forms of the flu?  No, but it does cover most of those that are most likely to affect us in the US.

Does the vaccine prevent the flu in all cases?  No, but it can prevent and will often lessen the effect of the flu.  In general, vaccines provide a 50-75% reduction in risk of getting the flu.

Step Two: Get Sleep, Exercise, and Eat a Well-balanced Diet

Like my previous column described, there are countless advantages to healthy eating, sleeping, and exercising.  Eating, sleeping, and excising will help boost the strength of your immune system and keep you from getting sick.

Step Three: Avoid Sick Contacts

Avoid interacting with people who are sick.  Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.  These areas are full of mucous membranes that are routes for the flu to enter your system.  Disinfect surfaces at home and work that may be contaminated with the flu.

Step Four: Wash Your Hands

Wash your hands before and after you eat, use the bathroom.  Soap and water work best, but an alcohol-based hand sanitizer also works. If you shake a lot of hands at work or events, bring a bottle of hand sanitizer to use periodically.

Step Five: Stay Home if You’re Sick

If you are feeling sick, stay home.  Rest, see the doctor, and avoid going back to school/work until your fever has been gone for at least 24 hours.  Avoid close contact with others to prevent the spread.  Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze with a tissue.  If you are feeling particularly under the weather, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Next Column:  Alex will share his reflections on his month long medical/research rotation in Tel Aviv!

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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Are You Destined to be an International Singing Sensation?

singingSo you can think you can sing (and you’re Jewish and between the ages of 18 and 30)?  Then prove it.  The Hallelujah-Global Jewish singing contest is now open, so submit your entry today.

Hallelujah is much more than a singing contest.  It is a 19 days program that takes young Jewish adults through a musical journey in Israel.  It’s like an American Idol with a twist of Birthright!  Hallelujah aims to reach Jewish populations spread around the world and unite them to Israel through one simple thing: Israeli music.

The Hallelujah 2012 Contest was a great success and the winner, Evan Malach from Canada, recorded a duet with a known Israeli singer, Dudu Fisher.  Take a quick look into the 2012 program in Israel watching the “Hallelu Hallujah” clip, featuring the 2012 participants, Evan Malach and Dudu Fisher.

To learn more, visit Hallelujah’s website, Facebook, or Youtube.

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What in the World is That Noise? – Rabbi B. on this Week’s Torah Portion

EPSON scanner imageAn unassuming villager, who had never before seen or even heard of a train, once wandered out of town all the way to the edge of a large city.  In the village, people traveled on donkeys, and farmers used cows to plow their fields.  The very idea of large machines for transport or work was absolutely foreign.

As the villager came close to the city, he came across long rows of steel rods.  He couldn’t see the beginning nor the end of the rows.  Even more strange,  every couple of fee, there were these boards laying across the steel rods with these hug nails stuck into them.

The fellow stood for a moment to ponder his discovery, then, being tired from his journey, he decided to take a brief rest on these boards before returning home.  The man fell asleep.

After a short while a train was coming down the tracks.  As the train approached, the conductor noticed a person resting on the tracks and began to send warning signals.  He blew his whistle, rang his bell, and sounded any alarm he could possibly reach.  Finally, all the noise awoke the poor villager who was now perplexed as to where all of these sounds were coming from.  “Bells, whistles” he thought, “it sounds like a band.”  Then the man looked up and saw lots of lights coming at him from a distance.  The whole scene reminded the fellow of the village band and the special carriage used to escort a bride and groom on their wedding day.  “There must be a wedding coming my way” and our villager friend stood up and began to dance in the middle of the tracks.
Imagine the thoughts of a bystander watching the scene: Is this guy deaf?  Maybe he can’t hear the train coming his way?  The truth, is that he heard very well, he just didn’t know what he was listening too!

This week’s Torah portion tells us that Yitro heard all that happened to the Jews as they were leaving Egypt.  He was so inspired that he came to join the nation.  Why do we have to be told that Yitro heard?  He was not the only one that heard, in fact the whole world heard.  Yitro was just the only one who reacted.  Why?

The Torah is teaching us that even though the whole world heard about the miracles that had occurred, Yitro was the only person who was impacted because he was the only one listening and open to what he was hearing.  Yitro was a seeker of truth and when he heard it, he internalized the message and responded accordingly.

What a powerful message.  Every day of our lives we encounter “messages.”  God is constantly involved in our lives, and sometimes makes it loud and clear.  Sometimes the bells and whistles are even sounded.  Often though, we don’t even realize.  We go on with our lives as if nothing had happened at all.

The messages are loud and clear.  The question is: are we listening?

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Chosen Ones: The Dinner Club

maniFor more info on the Craigslist post, check out this article on the Huffington Post.

A friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend showed me an ad they had seen on Craigslist titled “Seven Single White Jewish Males Looking to Host Seven Single Females for Shabbat Dinner.”  Now, I’m not one to actively seek out internet friends, but the contents of this particular ad were too funny/good to pass up.  So, duh I responded, duh I got picked, and duh I went. Only after the fact did I learn that the ad had gone viral, and the boys had received responses from all over the world.

I arrived at the designated meeting place to find confused looking girls who could only have also been respondents.  We look at each other, thinking we are about to meet our future husbands, make a friend or two, have dinner, or wind up dead and chopped up in a closet.  Either way, it will be a good story.

It was then that one of the seven single white Jewish males comes out with a ‘How to Talk to Girls’ book, and we know it’s going to be a memorable night.  He leads us to a room, where we find a beautifully set Shabbat dinner table, and I imagine the synchronized voices of Jewish mothers everywhere cooing, “Ooooh what menches!”  The boys take our coats to hang and one girl comments on mine.  “Thanks, it’s my Nana’s,” I say.  She smiles because she’s wearing her Nana’s too.  We sit boy girl boy girl.

Two boys are missing because one is sick and one has to work.  One girl doesn’t show.  I guess the prospect of getting chopped up into little (Jewish) pieces isn’t appealing to everyone?  We all have our differences.  But five boys and six girls is enough to dance the Hora.

I look around at the other ladies.  The “Chosen” of the “Chosen Ones.”  The “Sensational Six.”  The “Dinner Club.”  I am more excited to meet them than the boys.  They must have been handpicked for a reason, and I want to find out why.  Surrounded by strangers, but everyone is oddly familiar and I feel like I’m with family.  Awkwardness offset by flowing Manischewitz, and stomachs filled with challah, salmon, and guacamole (not in that order), the night goes swimmingly.

We talk about our backgrounds, how we found the ad (none of us had originally seen it on Craigslist), best case scenario for the night (this), worst case scenario (chopped up in a closet), and laugh and laugh.  Pass the Manischewitz please.  We share family stories and find that some of us know each other, some know family members of others, and some have mutual friends.  I’m not surprised: The Jewish community is small, and it makes me feel at home in a city I am new to.

The dinner continues with stories, games and even a dreidel, and the theme of the night is: Weird that this is so normal.  TOO normal.  Waiting for someone to break out the strip twister while blasting klezmer, but it never happens.  Pass the Manischewitz please.  We bond in the unique experience, but it is clear no one is actually seeking a date.  We stay past 1am and wonder why the ad got the reception it did.  Was it a Jewish thing?  Was it a DC thing?  Was it a DC Jewish thing?  Whatever it was, it feels like a double mitzvah.  The night winds down.  One more glass of Manischewitz please.

So while I did not meet my Jewish husband, friends were still made and information was exchanged.  This is a night we will always have and remember and it made me grateful to be Jewish, but even more grateful for Craigslist.

PS. The “Sensational Six” women have since been invited to a SECOND dinner by an entirely different group of six men that will happen sometime in February.  Updates to come.

The story continues! Read Part II here.

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The Shabbat Service Game Changer @ Adas Israel

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAReturn Again to Shabbat.  Nearly four hundred spiritual seekers descended on Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, DC this past Friday night for a new kind of Jewish experience.  It was a Shabbat service – with a twist.  The ritual team at Adas Israel called the service Return Again to Shabbat.  It was modeled on Adas Israel’s highly successful outdoor Yom Kippur evening service, which hosted over 600 people this past year on the front plaza of the 143 year-old synagogue.  It was a reflective, musical High Holy Day “journey,” which the community has been demanding more of ever since.  Using this inventive new model and a combination of reflective music, eastern sounds, and an enormous Israeli tapas-style feast, Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt and Elie Greenberg of Adas Israel have left their mark on what it means to create a community Shabbat experience within a conventional synagogue setting.

Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, is historically marked by the treasured traditions of singing a series of psalms, the lighting of candles, and the eating of Challah bread.  This service took all of the successful ingredients of a standard Jewish Shabbat experience and added a new spice: just a touch of “soul.”  Rabbi Holtzblatt and Elie Greenberg of Adas Israel led the service with seating in-the-round and featured a group of seasoned musicians.  They employed reflective music, eastern sounds, and meditative remarks to infuse the service with modern meaning and spirituality.  The goal was to bring the DC Jewish community together for a profound and moving experience, while providing something easily accessible for Jewish beginners.

“We want to use the experience of Shabbat to make deep meaningful connections to each other as a community,” says Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt.  “We seek to provide an engaging environment in which our 4,000 year old traditions can come alive and the community can use them to find personal significance within a modern context.”

This innovative new Shabbat experience was the first of its kind for a large, conventional synagogue like Adas Israel.  The clergy, staff, and board of directors embraced it with open arms and see it as the first of many new and engaging programs of the Adas Israel Vision of Renewal – a multi-million dollar building and programming renovation aimed at changing the experience of synagogue life in the 21st century.

“I am so proud of the creative team behind the Return Again Shabbat service,” says Adas Israel Senior Rabbi Gil Steinlauf.  “There was a profound feeling of warmth and unity in the room.  I looked out at almost 400 hundred individuals who had all braved a cold and snowy DC night to come and rejoice with us in the power of Shabbat.  It felt like a congregation should; there were representatives from every community within our community: Hundreds of Young Professionals singing and feasting side-by-side with senior members, parents with young children, and everyone and anyone in between.”

On an average Friday night, most Young Professionals in Washington, DC can be found making their way to a bar or a club.  However, the buzz around this Shabbat service began weeks before it debuted.  It was the conversation of all the local community calendars and Social Media waves.  And the results were plain: More than half of the attendees of this unique Shabbat experience were in their twenties and thirties.  Partnering with the Jewish Mindfulness Center of Washington and Shabbat Hoppin’ – a Jewish Federation sponsored program for Birthright Alumni, Adas Israel continued to demonstrate leadership in the area of young people’s engagement by creating something new, rather than repeating something stale.

The implication is that rather than seeking to water down Jewish tradition in order to reach an under-served demographic, the staff of Adas Israel have put their creative minds together to build a series of authentic bridges into the community, so that each person can carve for themselves their own unique place within the synagogue and with Jewish practice itself.

“Engaging this next generation of Jewish Young Professionals is no easy task, and yet Adas Israel has risen to the challenge beautifully,” says synagogue President Johanna Chanin. “DC Young Professionals take leadership positions on building musical experiences, community-led holiday services, happy hours, and personal connections to the clergy and staff at Adas Israel. They have even developed a $99 full membership plan for people under the age of thirty – a first for any large conventional Jewish institution.”

Despite declining numbers in religious affiliation in America, general research indicates that cohorts of all generations are indeed seeking a deeper level of connection to their Jewish identity, and even their sense of Jewish spirituality. Adas Israel’s Jewish meditation sessions and yoga, new learning experiences, re-renovated worship spaces, and spiritually elevating Shabbat services like Return Again are all key components in the process of providing something just a touch off-center, new, and engaging for an emerging generation of Jews.

Adas Israel, a historic Jewish landmark for the nation’s capital, with its acceptance of musical holiday services, interfaith families, LGBT marriages, and mindful spiritual practices, is amongst the first prominent, American, Conservative synagogues to take these important initiatives to rebuild a currently dwindling population of affiliated Jews.

Return Again is a service that will likely go down in modern Jewish history as a game-changer for the Conservative movement’s understanding of what a congregational experience is. All signs point to it as step one on a path towards the renewal of the American Jewish community in the 21st century.

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GTJ Satirist Brian F. – Were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Jewish?

turtlesSociologists and Rabbis around the world are beginning to question whether the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were Jewish.  The jury is still out, but draw your own conclusions from the evidence below:

Evidence that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were Jewish:
They lived in New York.
They all wore headwear.
They all had weapons, yet none owned a gun.
They took wisdom from an elder who told long drawn-out stories and was covered in facial hair.
They ordered pizza but never seemed to order pepperoni.
They did pro-bono work for the good of their neighbors.
They had the hots for a redheaded shicksa from the local news.
With names like Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo—they were all named after a person from antiquity who lived on the shores of the Mediterranean.
They’re already showing signs of balding.
One of them was vilified throughout the film for making bad jokes.
The purple one was into science, the blue one was a born leader, the orange one was a goofy jokester that laughed at his own jokes, and the red one was a nebbish complainer.

Evidence that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were NOT Jewish:
They never talked about their Mom.
They always were getting into physical fights—and encouraged to do so by their caretaker.
They didn’t live in the Upper West Side, rather a low-rent shithole in the sewer.
They still ate pizza on passover.
Have you ever met a Jew that says “cowabunga”?
They were in their teens and never mentioned their Bar Mitzvahs.
They’re boys and they can dance.
None of their names are Dovid, Moshe, Yoni, or Judah.
They did most of their work after sundown.
None of em ever got laid.
They never used profanity.
There is indisputable video evidence of them doing Buddhist meditation.
No evidence of excessive chest hair.
They never ventured into the Bergen County New Jersey suburbs, Long Island, or Brooklyn.
They never mentioned summer camp in the Poconos.
They’re turtles.

What do you think?  Tell us in the comments!

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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GTJ’s Satirist Brian F.- 13-year-old 21st Century Celebrates Bar Mitzvah Last Weekend

barmCHARLOTTE, NC – (@The Comedy News) – Shortly after turning 13-years-old on January 1st, the 21st Century was called to the Torah as a Bar Mitzvah on Saturday.

Sporting a blue Yamaka, his father’s Talit, and the most adorable case of teenage acne, 21st Century led a beautiful service and gave a heartfelt Bar Mitzvah torah portion sermon.

“This was a huge thrill for me”, said the 21st Century after the ceremony.  “I always dreaded turning 13, ya know, because I have stage fright.  And learning Hebrew was no cake walk either, especially having to go to Hebrew school two days a week with all of my rambunctious pals.”

The theme for the 21st Century’s Bar Mitzvah was “Time Flies”.  The tables for the luncheon were themed with time travel-based films and books.  21st Century sat at the “Back to the Future” table, while his parents and grandparents sat at the HG Wells “The Time Machine” table.

A rumor went around that the Bar Mitzvah boy’s ‘obligated invites table’ (commonly known as the “reject table”) was the “Groundhog Day” table.  This came as a surprise since 21st Century’s sister and her atheist fiance sat at the “Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure” table.  Apparently, the atheist fiance complained about the perils of organized religion the entire time, alienating everyone within shouting distance.

21st Century’s obnoxious Aunt and Uncle were seen complaining about how the food was not served fast enough, and then spent the remainder of the luncheon estimating how much money the entire Bar Mitzvah likely cost 21st Century’s family.  Estimates were as low as $24.53 and as high as $34,000.

At the dance party later that evening, 21st Century and all of his friends rocked out to some of the following songs:

“1999″ — Prince
“Time After Time” — Cyndi Lauper
“Back in Time” — Huey Lewis and the News
*****”I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” — Aerosmith
“Back in Time” — Pitbull
“Dick in a Box” — Justin Timberlake
“Gangnam Style” — Psy
“Some Nights” — fun.

Nobody slow danced except for 21st Century’s older sister and her atheist fiance.

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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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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