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February 28th, 2013 – Click here for more info!

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All but Observant Welcome

not kosh

Any opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and does not reflect the opinions of Gather the Jews. Read GTJ’s response here.

By profession, I am an officer in the United States Army.  My job has brought me all around the world.  I have both kept kosher and helped arrange Jewish servicemember events, always kosher, in locations as diverse as Seoul, Korea, Schweinfurt (Pig’s Crossing), Germany, and Baghdad, Iraq.  It perplexes me then why some Jewish organizations, which tout their inclusiveness, insist on the exclusion of observant Jews by serving non-kosher food.  At a time when far too many Jews are completely unaffiliated and totally disengaged from American Jewish communal life, Jewish organizations which have non-kosher events send a unmistakable “We don’t want you” message to observant Jews – a group which tends towards the most engagement, affiliation, and participation.   Jewish organizations of every ideological stripe, which claim to welcome the entire community, act in this exclusionary fashion.  A few examples:

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) is dedicated to “to work(ing) towards a world in which all peoples (are) accorded respect and dignity” by promoting “pluralistic and democratic societies.”  Apparently, observant Jews aren’t a part of this “pluralism,” or necessarily in line for “respect and dignity.”  Last month, the AJC held a Winter Access DC party at which it served non-kosher food and wine.  I asked Jason Harris, the Assistant Director of AJC’s Washington Office, why the AJC holds non-kosher events.  He responded by stating that the AJC serves “’kosher-style’ (food) when we host events at any bars or reception halls…” and that it is just too hard to find kosher food or catering in Washington.

J-Street claims that it is “rooted in commitment to Jewish values.”  Evidentially, kashrut isn’t a part of the “Jewish values” in which J-Street is rooted.  The 2011 J-Street National Conference featured only non-kosher food.  Google “J-Street kosher” and you can read about the experiences of observant participants who had nothing to eat for three days.  Benjamin Silverstein, New Media Associate with J-Street, states “the food at our events is at a minimum kosher style” and J-Street will “accomodate (sic) for specific needs.”  At least if the blogosphere is accurate, at the 2011 National Conference, BLTs and Turkey and Cheese sandwiches qualify as “kosher-style” and “accommodation” in J-Street parlance.

I went to a Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) Hanukah party and found waitresses strolling with (non-kosher) lamb appetizers and butter sauce.  I find this conduct distasteful, and stopped attending RJC functions.  Just recently, I got an email from an RJC staffer, asking me and other Jewish Republicans to come back to the organization.  I asked the RJC’s staffer whether the RJC had changed its practices.  She stated that the RJC tries “to keep our events as kosher (or kosher-style) as possible.”

“Too hard.”  “Accommodation.” “As kosher-style as possible.” Really?  To be clear, “kosher style” food is not kosher and has the same status under halacha (Jewish law) as bacon.  Observant Jews do not and cannot eat it.  Anyone who organizes a Jewish event is or should be completely conscious of the fact that he or she excludes a portion of our community by serving “kosher-style (ie non-kosher) food.   Why, then, do it?

Some argue “well, it is just too difficult” or “it costs too much” to have a kosher event.  I am unmoved by tepid demurrer concerning the logistical difficulties of obedience to basic Jewish law.  During my military career, adherence to Jewish law has not always been easy.  Sometimes, when organizing Jewish events, loyalty to Jewish standards has meant serving potato chips and soda.  Throwing hands-in-air, exclaiming “O well, too hard/too expensive,” and serving non-kosher food was never a thought – not for me, and not for the other participants, many of whom were not necessarily religious and did not keep kosher.  Such surrender would be to the collective denial of Judaism and to the individual exclusion of the observant members of the community who would be unable to participate (and yes, there are observant Jews in the American military).  If Jewish events can be kosher in Korea and Iraq- in the middle of a war- why not here, in Washington, where there are kosher caterers, kosher restaurants, and even non-Jewish venues with kosher kitchens?

There is no reason and no excuse for a non-kosher Jewish community event.  It can be done here, and can be done with relative ease.
DC-based Jewish organizations of both local and national reach, including The Jewish Federation of Washington, the DCJCC, Hillel, AIPAC, and Gather the Jews only sponsor events which are kosher and have policies against serving non-kosher food.  If these groups can do it, all can do it.

Others may ask “So you don’t eat… So what?”  I doubt very seriously that anyone in community leadership would dare organize a joint event with Muslims which featured a beer/wine guzzle, or propose a Catholic-Jewish symposium centered around a beef barbeque on Friday during Lent.  A liquor-based event would show profound disrespect to the sacred traditions of Islam.  A meat-centric event during Lent would send a highly offensive message to Catholics.  In both examples, Catholics or Muslims are consigned second-class status because they cannot fully participate and cannot eat.  The same leaders, however, are perfectly content to send the same offensive, exclusionary and disrespectful message to observant Jews when their organizations serve non-kosher food – the message that the religious traditions of our people are unimportant and may be whimsically disregarded.

I, and many others who are observant, decline the exclusionary attitude and second-class status offered by Jewish community organizations which serve non-kosher food at their events.  Members of these organizations should insist on change.  It can be “kosher-style” or it can be “inclusive,” but it can’t be both and we, the observant members of the community, will not participate in your organizations so long as your dismissive posture remains.

Note from the RJC: The author of this piece references an incident that occurred several years ago and the author is no longer affiliated with or involved with the RJC.  We would like to highlight a point omitted by the author that all the major events that the organization has hosted, including the Presidential Candidates Forum and events at the GOP convention in Tampa, were strictly kosher.

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GTJ Satirist Brian F. – 21 People You Meet at a Jewish Singles Happy Hour

jew hhThe Serial J-Daters:
Dressed in their bar/bat mitzvah best.  They haven’t seen your profile before, so they approach you and refuse to walk away until they find something in common so they can turn it into a date.  For example: “Oh so you’re drinking beer?  I like to drink beer, I know a great place where I can take you for a beer.”

The Harem of Girls Who Stand at the Bar in a Circle and Refuse to Mingle:
You know the group of girls who all go out together to meet guys, yet just complain amongst their friends about how they never meet any guys?  Yeah, its because they’re at the bar talking to each other with their arms crossed and their attitude full throttle.  Save the drama for your momma, and mingle with something single.

The Gaggle of Dudes Who Stand by the Bar and Refuse to Mingle:
Sour grapes who are certain that there is no one of quality to hit on at the bar.  After about two hours of this, they end up at an Irish Bar with the dudes they showed up with.

The Matchmaker:
Matchmaker, matchmaker, we just met, but you’re quite intent on setting me up with someone: “Oh my god, I have a friend who would be perfect for you.  He/she is single, and Jewish, and their dad and my dad were roommates at Brandeis!  Small world!  Just Facebook him/her, oh, and just be yourself.”

The Shark:
Doesn’t talk to anyone, just walks in circles and stalks his would-be prey like a balding Jaws in Gap khakis.  Harmless.

The “You Should Come Over To Shabbos” Guy:
World record holder for pushiness.  Just to throw him off, ask him if Shabbos is this Wednesday or next Tuesday.

The State School Booster:
Go team go!  Newsflash pal, being a devoted college football fan is not a major.  And how do you know so many people here tonight?

The Private School Elitist:
It takes four questions to find out where this un-humble snot went to college.
“What was your major?”
“I studied economics.”
“Oh where?
“Boston.”
“What part?”
“Cambridge.”
“Oh really? Which school?”
“Harvard.
“Never heard of it.”

The AEPi Recent Alumnus:
Drinks?  Drinks?  Anyone want a drink?  He is actually more interested in getting drunk than hitting on you tonight, so you’ve been warned.  For an interesting conversation, ask him about the brand of dogfood he had to eat during hell week.  At least he won’t give you a dead-fish handshake.

The AEPhi/SDT/Alphabet Soup Sorority Alumnus:
“Well on MY campus, your sorority is blah blah blah blah fat chicks and coke!”

Join my Kickball/Softball/Bocce Ball Guy:
“I think they’re hitting on me…wait no, they actually are serious about getting me to join their recreational sports team.”

The Jewish Geographer:
All of the matches end in one of three ways: I hate them, I haven’t seen them in 10 years, or endless drivel about some innocuous Bar Mitzvah/summer camp/shiva story.

The Consultant:
They work for Accenture/Booz Allen/Deloitte.  They can’t explain in less than five paragraphs what it is they do by day.  They swear they never go on Facebook because it’s blocked at work, yet post endless pictures from every vacation they won’t shut up about.  And you have got to be kidding.  You’re 22 and you are a consultant?  You are only qualified to audit my deliverables in the beer pong department.

The Hill Rat:
Works for a Senator.  Works for a Representative.  You know this because they mentioned it to you before formally introducing themselves.  To find out whether they’re a Democrat or a Republican, just say “Obama” and see if they scowl or start skipping.

The Intern:
Don’t worry, if they’re in the bar, they’re not under 21.  But they certainly don’t act like it.  They are likely not being compensated at work, so buy ‘em a drink.  Consider letting them crash on your futon.

The First-Year-Out-Of-Law School Lawyer:
Ah yes, what would be a Jewish singles event without a nice Jewish lawyer?  Acts as if the two greatest pick-up lines in the world are, “I have so little time these days” and “I hate my job.”

The Offensive New Yorker:
They act as if there is something seriously wrong with you if you are a Jew that did not grow up in Manhattan.  Likely complaining that there is no decent place in Washington, DC to get a perfect bagel and pastrami sandwich.

The West Coast Jew:
If you run out of things to say to them, just mention In-N-Out.  That’ll get them swooning.

Jersey Jew:
Not nearly as awful as MTV would like you to think.

The Just Back from Birthright-ers:
Inside jokes galore.  Be on the look-out for grievances about hiking Masada, Discotheque, Bombas, Schwarma, and trysts with furloughed IDF soldiers.

Your Bashert:
Somewhere in the list above.

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 Satirist Brian F. – Song-Clapping at Shabbat Services All Over the Damn Place

clappBRENTWOOD, CA – (TWITTER: @The Comedy News) – The congregants at Temple Beth Raash (בית רעש) in Brentwood, California have been running into some musical mishaps for the past few Friday nights: the congregants can’t seem to clap at the right moments.

“We have tried in vain to get our audience to clap together and on time,” lamented Rabbi Steven Zembrowsky.  “I have had three different Cantors quit on us in the past year.  One even stormed out shouting about how she should have never converted from southern Baptist.”

During song sessions, congregants singing along with the Rabbi and Cantor can hardly seem to clap at any of the right moments, rather, are just making lots of white noise that drowns out the amplified service-leaders.

Typically, the Rabbi will lead the service along with a Cantor strumming a guitar.  These days, however, the Beth Raash song-leaders can barely recruit a Cantor who can mash a tambourine without becoming frustrated with a beat-illiterate audience.

Temple Beth Raash has brought in consulting firm Booz and Company to study how the songleaders can get congregants to clap at the right moments.

After a three hour study, analysts concluded that the biggest musical gaffes tend to occur towards the end of services, particularly during the chanting of “Oseh Shalom”.

“Honestly, they’ve got a long way to go,” notes a senior Booz consultant specializing in Religious Song Cohesion.  “And according to an Apollo Theater-style survey, the only people that really care about this are the Rabbi, the Cantor, and five or six posturing musical has-beens in the audience.  Everyone else is quite jolly clapping off-beat and wrong.”

Still, Rabbi Zembrowsky is quite miffed by his congregation’s musical malignity.

“These days,” scowled the Rabbi, “I can barely do the eye-cover thing during the Shemah.  I just stand with my hands on my hips, head down—-embarrassed.”

EDITOR’S NOTE:
At the most recent Shabbat Service, Rabbi Zembrowsky stormed-out midway through the service yelling, “Yasher koach, you tone-deaf little shits!”

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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DC Purim EVENTS

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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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