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“Did you see what they fished out from the Dead Sea?”

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

Some friends and I decided to celebrate Rosh Chodesh Adar at the Dead Sea.  While laying on the sand in the women’s beach, we noticed observant school girls starting to file in.  Soon, the already busy shore was bustling with pre-teens enjoying a special holiday tiyul.  Most of them just looked at the water, some went in still dressed in their shoes and stockings and long skirts.  A few of them wandered over to us – as entranced by our one-piece bathing suits and exposed shoulders and thighs as we were by their rather unorthodox swimming attire.  The girls were excited to try out their English on some actual Anglos.  After a few minutes of small talk about where everyone was from, and wasn’t it such nice weather, their teacher pulled them away.

I put my head down and was drifting off when I heard someone shouting my name.  One of my friends was excitedly brandishing two fists full of plastic bags and empty Bamba packages.  I’m easily aggravated by litter, organizing clean ups once a month in my neighborhood in Jerusalem, and picking up plastic cups and other debris I see when I’m walking around, so it’s nothing new for them to tease me with garbage.

But this was different.  This was garbage carelessly thrown into the Dead Sea by observant students with garbage bins not 10 meters away from them, and their teachers are standing right there, completely unconcerned by their actions.  I couldn’t understand these teachers – didn’t they care that their students were throwing garbage in one of the most famous bodies of water in the world?

I’ve been around this country and have seen Israelis of various ages, genders, and religious observance tossing garbage on the ground, so I know everyone participates in this behavior.  Still, there is something about seeing these actions done by observant Jews that I find to be especially distressing – haven’t we been desperately praying to G-d for the past 2,000 to be able to return to Eretz Yisrael? Now that we are allowed back they show their gratitude by throwing garbage on the ground?

I’m aware it isn’t realistic to expect that every observant Jew should be motivated to keep the environment in Israel clean as part of their overall desire to serve G-d.  However, as an observant Jew myself, I think it is completely reasonable to expect that everyone have the decency to refrain from throwing garbage on the ground, especially when it isn’t difficult to put it in a trash bin.  But, if the teachers don’t have the derech eretz to find this behavior abhorrent, how can we expect anything more from their students?

I do think there is the potential to change this environmental apathy.  Israel previously launched a program to increase environmental awareness, with extremely successful results.  Wildflowers are a fixture of the Israeli landscape, but not long after the birth of the State, they were being picked to the point that their populations were threatened.  In the 1960s, the Ministry of Agriculture worked with the environmental advocacy group the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, to inform Israelis about the new law that made picking wildflowers illegal.  A special emphasis was made to educate kindergartners, who in turn would correct their parents if they began to bend down and pluck a flower.  Having your 5 year old remind you not to do something illegal seemed to be an effective method of prevention, as the campaign worked and wildflowers can be found in abundance all over Israel.

So we see, that when something becomes a priority for Israel, they are able to successfully disseminate information to the people, as well as motivate them to comply.  With this in mind, I think the time has come to launch a new campaign reminding people not to litter with a special emphasis put on educating students.  My Hebrew isn’t good enough yet to think of the Israeli equivalent of ‘Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute’, but I’m open to suggestions.  With the right outreach and education, I am confident that in a few years we have the potential to see students reminding their teachers not to litter.

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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Practice Makes… Better – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (No. 59)

practiceWhen I was younger, I took piano lessons.  Did I practice?  Nope.  Can I play the piano today?  Not really.  I still have to think about “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” and “Good Boys Do Fine Always,” or “Great Big Dogs Fight Animals,” as my teacher taught me.  (For those not so musically inclined or who just have no idea what I’m talking about, those are the notes on the treble and bass clef, respectively.)

Later in life, when I decided that I wanted to sing, which is something I really love, I wished I had actually listened to my teacher and parents (don’t tell them I said that).  While I certainly never had any desire to be a concert pianist or anything, practicing would have helped me later when I discovered which form of music I wanted to pursue.

You’re probably thinking, “I thought I was reading a dating column.  What does practicing the piano have to do with dating?”  In life, practicing makes you better for when that thing comes along that you really want to pursue.  And in this case, that thing is a future date.

A friend once wrote to me, “So… I just took down my JDate profile because I started dating someone a few weeks ago and we DTRed last night.  I didn’t meet him on JDate but I do think that I was a lot more comfortable going on dates with him because I’d been getting a lot of practice on JDate, figuring out how to be slightly less awkward at ending dates, and really identifying what was important to me and which behaviors to look for that signaled that the person had the characteristics that I was looking for.  Everyone knows the old adage that ‘practice makes perfect,’ but I don’t know if a lot of people really think about how much that can be applied to date-like interactions, which can be really complex.  I really do think it helped build up my confidence and comfort level with guys.”

I couldn’t agree more.  Now, I’m not saying to go out with just anyone to get some practice, but it’s important to remember that going on dates can only help define what you’re looking for in a partner.  It can also, as my friend pointed out, help you hone your conversational skills.  While every date may not lead to a trip down the aisle, each will fill your toolbox with useful skills to apply next time.

I see many people peek into speed-dating events or quickly scan a page of JDate for 30 seconds only to decide on the spot that no one there interests them.  If you’ve likely already committed the time (and often money), it’s worth joining and meeting new people (even if only to become friends), while practicing the art of flirting, engaging in witty banter, and making conversation with a broad range of people.  And when you come face-to-face with the guy or girl who you’ve had your eye on for a while, you’ll know that you’re fully equipped to make a great impression.

So take it one date at a time.  Practice will never make it perfect.  (We’re still talking about dating here, so there’s always going to be an element of awkwardness!)  But practice will make it better, for sure.

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.

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

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A Young Doctor’s Journey in Israel Part I: Arriving in the Holy Land

Alex is spending the month in Tel Aviv as an International Fellow at the Gertner Health Policy Institute.  Over his next few columns he will share his adventures in Israel with us.

After a comfortable transatlantic flight we approached Israel.  For miles I had been flying over small Greek Isles that studded the vast ocean like a few raisins might a large, hot bowl of oatmeal.  From the air you can appreciate the increasing frequency of crashing waves and the appearance of small reefs and rock outcroppings below the tranquil blue waters.  After several minutes of starring anxiously out the plane window, the coast line of Israel appears suddenly.  I was immediately taken by a sense of welcome and of home.

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As more of the coast became visible, I noticed quite to my surprise how I recognized the beach and buildings.  In fact, after studying the map of Tel Aviv over the previous weeks (and especially last weekend with my Israeli friends), seeing it all from the bird’s eye view was breathtaking.  More landmarks came into view, from Hilton Beach to the Yarkon River, which separates the Northern Port of Tel Aviv (with the Sackler School of Medicine) from the main part of Tel Aviv (where I will live).  The circle of Kikar Hamedina was easily visible and then I saw the Azrieli towers with their trifecta of buildings: one shaped like a triangle, one like a square, and one circular rising up from Tel Aviv.  The flight continued from the sun-soaked Bauhaus architecture of Tel Aviv to inland Israel, passing over rolling countryside with evidence of farming below.  We landed without difficulty and I went about gathering my belongings, proceeding through customs and getting settled in Tel Aviv.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe area of center city Tel Aviv, where my apartment is, has been described by many as the center of all that is happening in Tel Aviv.  It is four blocks from the beach and a short walk to the Carmel Market (the shuk-but more on this later).  My street, Dizengoff, is studded with coffee shops, start-ups, and many shops and restaurants.  It is hard to compare this neighborhood to something in America.  It certainly has the tropical vegetation and precipitation of Miami, it has the start-up feel and walkability of San Francisco and it has the markets and narrow alleyways that remind me of New York, or even Paris.

I began to settle into my apartment and took a short walk around the neighborhood.  I then met up with Jeremy at the apartment.  Jeremy is a close friend from college (from France initially) who is a third year medical student at the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University.  Sackler is an American style medical school (4 years) in Israel that prepares its students to be resident applicants in the US.  They spend 4 months of their fourth year rotating in US hospitals and another two months interviewing at mostly Northeast US residencies.  This is in contrast to the Israeli system of medical training which takes their students directly out of military service for a 6 year program- all in Israel.  I had met several Sackler students during my interviews and they, along with Jeremy, love their program.  Sackler students rotate at 6 Tel Aviv hospitals and seem to get excellent didactic training.  Jeremy just came off Pediatrics and is enjoying living in downtown Tel Aviv.  Over the course of the evening I met a couple of Jeremy’s classmates who were also filled with enthusiasm for Israel and their program.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe took a nice walk throughout center city, along Frishman and Ben Yahuda streets until reaching Gordon Beach.  The view of the Mediterranean was wonderful and we continued our walk south as we discussed Jeremy’s experience in Israel.  We toured the Dizengoff square and shopping center and discussed plans for Shabbat tomorrow night.  We grabbed a quick meal of schnitzel and hummus and said our goodbyes.

Before my first Shabbat in Tel Aviv, I explored the pre-Shabbat Carmel Market (the Shuk).  As I entered, I took in the amazing colors of fresh strawberries, bananas, and all sorts of pastries.  There were stalls filled with everything you could imagine; flowers of exquisite colors and varieties.  One stall was devoted to olive oil and I enjoyed several samples.  The drizzle that had been falling throughout the afternoon quickened to a downpour so after buying an umbrella and seeing the stalls begin to close for Shabbat, I took off back to the apartment.  I got dressed for my first Shabbat in Israel, which will surely be an incredible experience!

Liked this article? Stay tuned for Alex’s next article on Israeli health policy, innovation, and clinical care.

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Weekly Evening Learning Opportunities in DC/MD/VA

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Pina Colada Hamantaschen

photo (1)I love hamantaschen, especially poppyseed.  But one of the best parts about them is that they can be filled with almost anything.  For this column, I tried to go outside the box with my fillings.  I tested three: pina colada, caramel popcorn, and pecan pie.  I thought the caramel popcorn ones would either turn out really well or really badly.  They weren’t so bad, actually, but nothing, as my family says, we’d serve to company.  The pecan pie hamantaschen have potential, but I had some serious technical difficulties with those.  Perhaps next year, I can post a recipe for pecan pie hamantaschen that did not have the filling leak out.  The last hamantaschen standing were the pina coladas: traditional fruit filling kicked up a notch.  And delicious.

Total time: about 1.5 hours

Yield: about 4 dozen

Level: Moderate

Ingredients

  • 1 cup crushed pineapple
  • ½ cup shredded coconut
  • 1-2 tbsp sugar (optional)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 stick butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp milk
  • 3 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 3 cups flour, plus extra for rolling

 Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. In a small bowl, sitr together pineapple, coconut, and 1-2 tbsp of sugar, to taste (if using unsweetened coconut and/or pineapple).  Set aside.
  3. In a mixing bowl, blend butter and sugar until creamy.  Mix in eggs and milk.
  4. In a separate bowl, stir together flour and baking powder.  Add to the other ingredients, mixing until combined.  (It may be easier to mix with your hands for this step.)
  5. Working in batches, roll out the dough between two pieces of well-floured parchment, to a thickness of ¼”.  You may need to add more flour as you roll.
  6. Using a 2-3” diameter cookie cutter or glass, cut circles out of the dough and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.
  7. Place a teaspoon of the pineapple mixture in the center of each circle.  Fold in three sides to make a triangle and tightly pinch the corners closed.
  8. Bake for 12-16 min, being careful not to brown them on top.

© Courtney Weiner.  All Rights Reserved.

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The Neverending Craigslist Shabbat Story

board-gamesRECAP: There was an ad titled “Seven Single White Jewish males Looking to Host Seven Single Women for Shabbat Dinner.”  I responded.  The ad went viral. I got picked.  I became a “chosen one.”  I went.  It was fun(ny).  Since this first dinner an entirely different group of mystery men invited the “Sensation Six” women (six because one girl didn’t show) to join them in a second Shabbat dinner.  Here is my account of Part II Craigslist Shabbat.  Read Part I here.

The “unofficial” invitation:

“All,

It is very humbling to email the Sensational Six, the amazing group selected to attend the infamous Craiglist Sabbath Dinner.  It is pretty awesome that you now have definitive proof that you are the 6 coolest girls in DC…

Given that, it would be an honor to invite you to a SECOND dinner. It will be tough to live up to the first one, but there will be some key differences:

  1. I don’t know how to cook. Nor do my friends. Thus, the meal will be catered.
  2. There will be 6 guys instead of 5. The guys will be pre-vetted by one of your own– and the guys will be in suits (subject to change).
  3. There will be board games.  And ping pong.”

Upon receiving this email, a feeling of ultimate satisfaction washes over me.  I had moved to the East Coast only months ago, not knowing a soul.  Now I was bell of the ball.  Had I suddenly become a DC Jewish socialite?  Would I be receiving a string of fancy dinner invites from mystery men from now until the end of time?  Hey, a Jewish girl can dream a Jewish dream, can’t she?

In preparation for dinner, each girl was instructed to answer a few questions: Three adjectives to describe themselves (my answer: Jew, Jewy and Jewess), two songs to add to the dinner mix (Prince – “Purple Rain” and Hall and Oates – “I Can’t Go for That”…pure groove, please).  On a scale of 1 to 10, rate your singing voice (–googleplex).  Entrance to the soiree would be denied without our “official” printed ticket.

Friday night.  7:30pm.  I am parked in front of said mystery apartment, crumpled ticket buried in the depths of my bag.  In my $15 Forever 21 dress and my $5 Forever 21 necklace, I feel…what’s the word?  ABFAB.  This is the second time I am putting myself in this type of situation, so my social anxiety is only revved up to half (instead of full) speed, but I still have to sit in my car for an extra ten minutes to mentally prepare.

I make my way to the door and someone is waiting with a list of names.  I present her with my golden ticket, and she leads me up the apartment and announces, “Please welcome Sarah the Jew, Jewy Jewess!”  Like good kosher hams, the boys are wearing matching black jackets with red shirts underneath.  A beautiful table is set, and a waiter (yes, a waiter) takes my coat.  I sit down, introductions are made, and there is a quick game of Taboo as the other girls trickle in.  I am happy to see their familiar faces and we know that we are in for a second night of pure hilarity.

“Dinner is served!”  Let the ridiculousness ensue.

The dinner is catered and the host has planned the play-by-play for the evening.  We sing the Shabbat prayers while Miley Cyrus parties in the USA in the background.  We make a toast to the host, who then pulls out a drawing that one of his friends created as a representation of The Sensational Six Sabbath 2013.  Yes, now this night has an artwork dedicated to it.

We go around the table and play two truths and a lie— list two true facts about yourself and one lie.  Let the group guess which is the lie.  Mine: I took swing dance classes with the Olsen twins; I hung out with the Wu Tang Clan one night; I have had a jam session with Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite.  Hint: the one you want to be true is true.

The game is interrupted when the host says, “Sorry, BUT the magician is here.”  Wait, what?  There is a magician, and suddenly this is the most magical night of all time.

The magician is wearing a black jacket and red shirt to match the boys.  He comes, does amazing things, leaves.  We open our Justin Bieber goodie bags to find special treats, including a custom wrapped chapstick labeled, “Soiree with The Sensational Six.”

Chattiness and smiles all around, and the raspberry lady cocktails don’t hurt.  I talk to some of the boys, and as usual (when I am nervous) I list every embarrassing/strange thing about myself in a row.

  1. I have face blindness.
  2. I like torture (What I MEANT to say was, I like a genre of campy gore horror movies.  EX. The Saw series…but I might have just stopped at…I like torture).

The Karaoke comes out.  One of the guys is a Shaggy impersonator.  ‘Nuff said.  Ping pong is played, and then a game of poker.  I win everything.  And by “win,” I mean “lose.”

And so the night winds down and we thank the host for having us.  I had a great time and the memories of these unique experiences will always stay with me.  Hopefully we will all meet again and the Craigslist Shabbat invites will keep rollin’ in, but mostly I hope to stay in touch with the other “Sensational Six” women because they are, what’s the word?….SENSATIONAL!

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How You Can Help Metro DC Holocaust Survivors

JSSA (Jewish Social Service Agency), the primary provider of safety-net services for the metro DC Holocaust survivor community for nearly 20 years, has created a video focused on community awareness and the critical need to raise funds to support this vulnerable population.

How you can help:        

  • Donate to Holocaust Survivor Program
  • Promote this video by sharing the link with friends, family and colleagues
    • “Like” the video on YouTube
    • Share the video on Facebook
    • Use the hashtags #ISeeThem #HolocaustSurvivorProgram on Twitter
    • Post the video on your blog
  • Become a community partner: Contact Shira Oler
    •  Please let JSSA know of any efforts or successes you experience so that the organization can properly thank you on its website, on Facebook, and through Twitter.
  • Collect funds or Giant Gift Cards
  • Learn more about the Holocaust Survivor Program: Educational Material

Why your help is needed:

JSSA supports several hundred increasingly frail survivors annually – many of whom are ill and require financial assistance.  As the Holocaust survivor population ages, JSSA is experiencing an unprecedented increase in applications for basic safety net services including personal care, homemaker, health, social services, and financial assistance. As a result, JSSA is currently experiencing a need that is outpacing available funding.

In addition, major changes in Claims Conference (CC) funding eligibility criteria, changing demographics, and the downturn in the economy have all contributed to this critical situation.

Many articles have been published about JSSA’s Holocaust Survivor Program by the Washington Jewish Week, Jewish Federation’s Connector, GathertheJews.com and more.

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The Great Debate – featuring GTJ’s Rachel G

SPECIAL GTJ Discount – email aaron@gatherthejews.com for details
Which tastes better, the latke or the hamentasch? Does the hamentasch contain the secret of the universe? Is the latke a threat to society?
Every year shortly before Purim, the Jewish Study Center and Adas Israel Congregation co-sponsor the famous Latke-Hamentasch Debate, in which scholars and leaders apply their various flavors of expertise to debating the urgent matter of comparing these two popular holiday foods.
This year’s Latke-Hamentash Debate will take place Wednesday, February 13, at Adas Israel Congregation, 2850 Quebec St. NW, in Washington, DC at 7 p.m.  Extensive audience research will follow with both latkes and hamentaschen available for sampling (and maybe some drinks).
The annual event, a display of what was traditionally known as “Purim Torah,” gets audiences in the mood for Purim by its elaborate use of mock scholarship and jokes. The University of Chicago pioneered the original “Latke-Hamentasch Symposium” more than 35 years ago; that event takes place in full academic regalia just before Hanukkah.
This year’s celebrity moderator is Laura Blumenfeld, bestselling author of Revenge: A Story of Hope.
 
Panelists include:
Gil Steinlauf, Senior Rabbi of Adas Israel, on “Why the Hamentasch Contains the Secret of the Universe.”
Russell Shaw, Head of School, Georgetown Day School
Rachel Giattino, Director of Operations, Gather the Jews
Maya Bernstein, privacy advocate, US Department of Health and Human Services
ASL translators: Paula Tucker and Rhea Kennedy, Gallaudet University
Admission: $12 for Adas and JSC members, $15 for non-members includes all the research materials you can eat! $5 off if you register beforehand at www.jewishstudycenter.org.
- Amy Schwartz
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GTJ Satirist Brian F. – US Postal Service to Become Shomer Shabbos

mailWASHINGTON, DC – (@The Comedy News) – John Goodman’s Jewish character in the cult classic film,”The Big Lebowski” refused to go bowling with his pals on Friday nights and Saturdays because he was “shomer [flipping] shabbos”.

Well move over, John Goodman, because the United States Postal Service (USPS) has gone Shomer Shabbos as well.

As of this week, the USPS has decided that it will no longer deliver mail on Saturdays due to its observance of Shabbat from sundown on Friday through sundown on Saturday.

“This brings us mailmen and mailwomen so much nachas,” announced the Postmaster General. “Our mail-carriers will finally be able to attend their first Bar and Bat Mitzvahs—after years of suffering the indignity of delivering thousands of obnoxiously large gaudy invitations to these simchas each week—- yet never being able to attend one themselves.”

The USPS is clearly excited about this opportunity to observe the sabbath day and sanctify it. As a side bonus, the USPS hopes that the extra day of rest and unpaid wages will help the United States Government balance their stupid [flipping] budget.

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

feedbackFirst, I would like to say thank you.  For those of you who do not know, GTJ applied to be listed as one of the most innovative Jewish organizations in North America in the Slingshot Guide.  As part of our application, we conducted a survey to measure the impact GTJ has on the DC community.  Two hundred people responded, and I want to thank each and every one of them for helping GTJ to know what we’re doing right and what we can improve upon, as well as boosting our ego a bit!

Here are some of the results:

  • 69.5% said we helped them meet a Jewish friend.
  • 29.5% found a Jewish guy/girl to date.
  • 31.1% found a community service event to attend through GTJ.
  • 58.9% have used GTJ to find Shabbat services, 38.9% to find High Holiday services, and 31.6% to find educational classes.
  • 86.5% said that GTJ has been “a little bit,” “somewhat,” or “very” instrumental in establishing their connection to the Jewish community in DC.  27.5% responded “very.”

Some of the comments we received (this is where our egos got a real boost):

“Love this site! They need an app!”

“GTJ is a one stop shop for me! Keep up the great work!”

“GTJ is an innovative and very necessary element in DC’s Jewish culture and I’m honored to be a part a part of the organization and some of its activities.”

“Fantastic resource. The DC Jewish community absolutely relies upon GTJ. Keep up the great work.”

“Love Gather the Jews happy hours!”

“So Jewtastic!”

“PLEASE DON’T STOP!!!”

“GTJ!”

While most of the comments were AMAZING, some comments contained suggestions on how to improve GTJ and we take that feedback seriously.  We want to incorporate your ideas and allow GTJ to continue to grow.

Several people suggested that the happy hours are too large and there should be smaller events that facilitate meeting new people better.  We agree.  It’s one of the reasons why we began community service events every other month.  Typically, an event is around 50 people, and we try to always begin this an ice breaker- it’s a great way to meet people while making a difference in the community.  However, community service events are much more difficult to plan than a happy hour and we’re still trying to steam line the process.

If you have an idea for a community service, or any other small scale event, let me know (rachelg@gatherthejews.com) and we can work together to make it happen!

Some people also asked for more Jewish and DC resources, such as a guide to DC neighborhoods and Jewish eateries.  This is something that we would love to do, but will take some time.  Something we’re working on in the short term is creating a new “forum” in which GTJ-ers can communicate directly with each other.  Use it to get advice on kosher restaurants.  Use it to create a Jewish intramural team.  Use it to find people to go to a trivia night at a bar with (P.S. I LOVE trivia and would happily join).

If you’re interested in helping create DC Jewish resource guides, let me know (rachelg@gatherthejews.com) and we’ll make it happen!

There we also a few comments about our name: Gather the Jews.  While we generally like our name and it’s based on the Purim story, we understand (when I tell someone who isn’t Jewish what I do, I typically get quite the uncomfortable look before I explain what GTJ is…).

If you have any other suggestions that I left out, or want to have a larger role in GTJ, come out to our next Volunteer Meeting on February 19th at 7 pm in Dupont Circle (exact location coming soon)!  Plus, there will be snacks!

Also, don’t forget to RSVP for the next GTJ Happy Hour at Buffalo Billiards- our biggest venue yet to accommodate our growing gatherings!

Gather on!

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GTJ Satirist Brian F. – World’s Healthiest Noodle Kugel Recipe Bombs at Shabbat Dinner Debut

kugelBERKELEY, CA – (@The Comedy News) – Julia Yalda spent all of Friday afternoon with her boyfriend Claude preparing to host some friends for a Shabbat dinner.

The cuisine was typical: challah bread, Manischewitz wine, felafel, and Israeli cucumber salad. The guests- fellow classmates from the University of California-Berkeley- were ready for a Friday night feast.

And the main dish Julia was most excited about serving was a recipe she concocted on her own: an organic, gluten-free, fat-free, lactose-free, vegan noodle kugel.

“Shabattie hotties and shalomie homies! I give you the healthiest noodle kugel the world has ever tasted!” Julia announced as she plopped square hunks of a wet yellow noodle kugel on her guests’ plates.

Unfortunately, none of Julia’s nine guests enjoyed the healthy kugel- including her boyfriend.

At first, the guests were put off by the pungent smell of the kugel as Julia walked from the kitchen-end of her studio apartment to the makeshift dinner table.

Lauren Sweiren, a friend of Julia’s since freshman year, sent a mass text to three other attendees: “WTF did Jules slaughter a cow in here???!”

After each guest was served a festering pile of Julia’s healthy noodle kugel, she sat intently staring with her eyes open, teeth showing, hands clasped on her boyfriend Claude’s shoulder.

“Oh Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” Shouted Julia’s friend Yoni Rosenblatt as he took his first bite.

Julia cut off Yoni and asked, “I know, right? Deelish! And so healthy too!”

Over the next 45 minutes, the nine guests sent a series of under-the-table text messages damning everything about Julia’s noodle kugel:

“I thought there’s supposed to be raisins in this, not edamame. Ick”
“I’d rather be obease than suffer the indignity of eating this JennyCraigKugelCrap.”
“Vom.”
“:( :( :(
“I’m breaking up with her, not kidding.”
“:))))) JK. Shld hav eatn taco bell.”

One guest, Shana Bloomquist suggested out loud that they all take a bite. A series of ankle kicks were sent her way from around the table.

Approximately 52 minutes after the first bite of kugel was eaten, all of the guests stood up in unison and left Julia’s apartment.

Not getting a clue at all, Julia wished all of her guests the best and a good shabbos.

Each of the nine guests, including her now ex-boyfriend Claude, went to a local tavern and did tequila shots until they got the taste of the world’s healthiest noodle kugel out of their bodies and memories.

World’s Healthiest Noodle Kugel Recipe
4 Vegan soy “egg” whites
16 ounces of fat-free sour cream
16 ounces of at-free cottage cheese
20 ounces of cooked vegan noodles made by the hippie commune in the alley behind the house—must NOT have FDA approval.
1 cup of Edamame
1 teaspoon of Rosemary
1 teaspoon of Curry powder
1) Grease 13x 9-inch pan with “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter—Vegan Gluten-Free edition”
2) Boil vegan noodles.
3) Combine all contents in pan.
4) Bake for one hour at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
5) Serve with plenty of napkins for spitting, and hair-ties for long-haired friends who are likely to regurgitate shortly after consuming.

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

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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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