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Patience and My Path to Self-Improvement

“I would never do something like that,” I have thought to myself, probably at least a thousand times. Whether it was small,images-2 like not following up, or something big, like lying and cheating, there have been too many occasions on which I’ve been severely let down or deceived or hurt. But of course, that was only everyone else. I had never done anything – ever – even remotely related to what those people had done. Except, you know, maybe that one time, but that was different. And, OK, so maybe I did, and OK, so maybe it was more than once.

So while I could go on for a long time about everyone else I think should change in some way, I realize that the only person I can change is myself, so that’s probably the place to start.

For someone looking to be a better person, there are a million and one books, programs, philosophies, etc. offering paths to self-improvement and/or finding happiness. You can go on a soul-finding trip across the world, you can take up a new hobby, go to bed earlier, and get more exercise, you can do yoga and meditate. And any of those might work for you, but I wanted to seek a different approach.

And at the same time, I felt somewhat perplexed about why the question of becoming a better person wasn’t more of the purview of the Judaism I participated in. Sure, there are prescribed mitzvot to do, and by doing them I should make a positive change in the world, but at least in my daily life, I didn’t feel like praying at shabbat services and keeping kosher was making me kinder, nor was mingling at Jewish happy hours making me more compassionate. And I started to think, was there really no facet of Judaism that spoke to what I felt?

mussar 1&2 transliteratedBut then I discovered that there was: a movement called Mussar. The basic premise of Mussar is to refine a number of traits. What makes it Jewish is that it is based on finding and cultivating the characteristics of the divine that we are imbued with within ourselves with the goal of eventually projecting them outward, to reach our fullest potential, as we were created to by the divine. For each trait, there is a spectrum, and the goal is to find the middle path, between either extreme.

Having discovered this approach, I’ve decided it is time for me to take it on and see what I learn from my experiences. And, dear readers, you too will get to learn from my endeavor, as I will be sharing my experiences as I endeavor on them. The prescribed approach is to pick 13 traits that are particularly problematic for you and focus on each for one week. In the interest of having time to write, I will do one per month. Along with each trait, I will identify tasks, and I will journal to try to see how that trait plays out in my daily life. The prescribed approach also calls for meditation, which is beyond my capacity at the moment, as well as supplementary reading and study, and I’ll do my best on that front.

The traits that I plan to tackle are: patience, gratitude, compassion, equanimity, honor, simplicity, enthusiasm, silence, generosity, truth, loving kindness, trust, and faith.

Patience

For this coming month, I will focus on patience. Taking a cue from Alan Morinis in his book on Mussar, Everyday Holiness, I seek to, “…walk a middle path, not leaning to the one extreme of being inactive and fatalistic – because that way I negate the powers I do have, limited though they might be – nor veering to the other, where impatience reigns.” To start, I’ll try to not freak out when I don’t get responses to emails. And I’ll try to refrain from running red lights and stop signs while biking, and maybe even from yelling obscenities at cars and pedestrians who happen to be blocking my way. But I’m curious to see where I find opportunities for patience pop up once I’m looking for them.

I’ll be back next month to let you know how that goes. In the meantime, what could you be more patient about?

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Hi Mom, I Got a Tattoo!

Hi Mom,

2015-06-20 15.13.51 (1)Please sit so you don’t keel when you read this, and remember to inhale and then exhale, in that order: I got another tattoo.

I know you thought my final would be the survivor tumor tattoo I received three years ago, or even the tattoo dots I received before my radiation 14 years ago. I know that you, Dad, and ten percent of women like me exactly how I am. Please let me explain my tattoo and then you will love it like I do.

In Judaism, we use trees to celebrate holidays, weddings and births. I love consuming food and booze on holidays, and Mom, your other son just got married and maybe he’ll have a child. (No pressure, JD.)

Rabbis debate the species of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. One opinion is that the Tree of Knowledge was a fig tree and that after the sin, Adam and Eve knew they were naked and sewed fig leaves to make girdles, meaning they used the very object that caused their downfall to correct the mistake. The very drug—Cytoxan—that killed my first cancer caused my second cancer, and then killed the second cancer, too.

We attain wisdom by learning intellectually or through life experience. I hate myself when I make a mistake: make the wrong decision, say the wrong thing, fail to approach a woman because I fear rejection, eat a single chocolate when I hadn’t planned to. The fig tree symbolizes that I can make a mistake and bounce back and grow from it. Very few mistakes cannot be reversed (besides getting a bad tattoo).

Trees clean the world by giving us oxygen; giving us life. I think that the best thing in life is health and when I feel clean I feel healthy; I feel alive. Water also cleans the world. I drink a gallon of water every day. I like to think that saturating my cells with water, along with watching Arnold Schwarzenegger films and eating greens, will prevent a third cancer.

2015-05-18 18.41.53 (1)Mom, when you and I walked out of the single hospital room I inhabited for 65 consecutive days after my umbilical cord stem cell transplant, we pushed the rotating door and stepped outside. The sky was overcast on that peaceful June afternoon in Minneapolis. We faced Dad in front of his beloved minivan ready to sweep me to safety, and we faced trees. Enormous trees with leaves so bright and beautiful and green. I removed my protective mask and inhaled deeply, held it, and exhaled slowly. That was the single happiest moment in my life.

Mom, I got this tattoo of a saturated fig tree dripping with the waters of health. It reminds me to live healthy and clean, that I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t err, and that I am resilient and can use my mistakes to improve myself. The tree is upright and strongest when I reach high, and so I will.

I bet you love it now. And if you don’t, then JD, let’s get that kid started ASAP.

Benjamin writes about health and faking adulthood. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook. You can also subscribe to cancerslayerblog.

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Measuring Success through DC Volunteerism

Conversion Rate: A Monthly Column from a DC Young Professional on the Israeli Economy (and other Misc thoughts…)image-3

Sometimes you start a monthly column on GTJ and then you get a new job. And sometimes that new job is a bit demanding of your time and that monthly column needs to be restarted a year later. Sometimes is now.

Welcome (back) to the New Conversion Rate…

I was driving up to the Jersey Shore with a couple of friends for Father’s Day weekend. As we are all active Jewish young professionals, we do what active young Jewish professionals do – start talking about upcoming marquee Jewish events in DC and which ones we’re going to go to. IMPACT? Falafel Frenzy? JNFuture’s Anchor DC Boat Cruise? GTJ’s next HH? AIPAC Policy Conference? Hanukkah on the Hill? Etc.

We weigh the options at hand by discussing cost vs. value, big events vs. small events, and more.

Our conversation steers from who is going to these events to how do we measure their success? Is it purely the amount of revenue raised, the amount of people that attend, did it sell out, did it make a profit, did it cultivate a passive volunteer to become an active leader, or can we gauge success on another metric?

We learn that a recent large Jewish event lost money, but everyone there had a great time. Is that still success?

We discussed the experience of a first time visitor of another large Jewish event being turned away at the door after schlepping from Montgomery County into DC for an open/free event that was “sold out.” The person was trying to get in and was seeing people walk out of the door but he wasn’t allowed in regardless. And the staffers of the organization were giving him a bit of attitude. He’s never attending any event from that group again and others who heard his story were disappointed in how the situation was handled. Apparently it didn’t need to be a situation. (And yes, I used situation twice there because as I earlier mentioned – we were on our way to the Jersey Shore.) So was this sold-out event a success to this individual? Was it a success to the organization?

Measuring success might seem to be more science based but sometimes it is an art-form, or maybe at the least a social science.

langsner_schwartz_presidentSo here’s an alternative measure of success. Over the last few years in DC I have volunteered my time for a number of groups whose missions I value. I’m not as active as I used to be across the board but I do what I feel I can, where I think I can, without diluting my volunteerism. I want to see a direct return on investment (ROI) of my time and treasure that I donate to a cause – whether it be a Jewish cause, a pro-Israel cause, or another cause. I often find the scarcity of my available time to be a higher treasure than making a meaningful financial gift. We all have $18, $36, $100, or more sitting around that could either go to a good cause rather than a night out on any given day.

These days I split my time between Israel Bonds and JNFutures because I can see, feel, and comprehend the direct impact that those groups make in advancing a cause that I am passionate about – literally and figuratively growing Israel.

I’m a new JNFuture member and I’m excited for what will be my first official responsibility this summer. I’m proud to support and bring recognition to the great work of JNF in advancing Israel’s clean water programs and of course in its historic work in planting 250 million trees across Israel. 250 MILLION!!! That is ROI. That is a return on investment in time and treasure. We’ll be celebrating how the Jewish National Fund is responsible for over 12 percent of Israel’s water capabilities (i.e. storage,Ad Photo reservoirs, sustainability technology) on a night on the Potomac River via a cruise for 300 young Jewish professionals on July 18.  I recently learned that JNF was more than just trees and although this will be my first JNF event, it certainly will not be my last.

I am passionate about supporting Israel and helping to advance Israel’s economy and Israel’s prosperity. That is why I started Conversion Rate on GTJ, why I blog for The Times of Israel, and why I want you to join me on the Potomac this month.

Conversion Rate represents the views of Jason Langsner.  Langsner has been active in the DC Jewish community for over 10 years.  He formerly drove the digital strategy for B’nai B’rith International.  He is an active volunteer leader in a number of Jewish communal organizations at local and national levels. He has staffed a Taglit-Birthright trip and is a former runner-up to GTJ’s Jewish Guy of the Year.

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Can We Now Take Marriage for Granted?

There is an old joke that all of our parents have told at some point about how when they were young, they had to walk to school, in the snow, uphill both ways. Though, I never believed it was exactly true, I do remember always being amazed at the types of things my parents really didn’t have that I always took for granted. Color TV, seat belts in cars, and microwave ovens are all things that I have taken for granted my entire life.

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In a roundabout way, I was reminded of this last Friday, when the Supreme Court announced its decision to guarantee marriage as a right for all citizens. I have a one year old son, and it occurred to me, that along with things like smart phones, electric cars and social media my son will never know a world without marriage equality in the United States. As many have been saying already, for him there will be no Gay-Marriage because there will just simply be marriage for everyone.

As my Facebook feed turned to rainbows last Friday, I also found more challenging posts reminding me that there is still more work to be done for GLBT equality and many other minorities as well. Really, I thought, can’t we just celebrate this moment and take the week off from beating the drums for social justice?

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After thinking about it more over the weekend, as a father, an American and of course a Jew, the answer must be yes and no. In fact, in the same moment that thousands of celebrations erupted all over the country after the announcement on the steps of the Supreme Court, thousands of people were in mourning as Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was being eulogized in South Carolina. Neither action was any less wrong or appropriate, given the context.

Judaism has a special blessing that is said for the types of celebrations that don’t happen every day. Most Jewish Holidays include this prayer and I have also heard it said at weddings and bar mitzvahs. It is called the Shehecheyanu and in English the prayer translates to mean:

Blessed are you Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.

image-29-06-15-10-02-3When we lit our Shabbat candles last Friday, next to a rainbow flag we that we waved at Pride Parade, we added the Shehecheyanu to mark the occasion of marriage equality.

There is also a quote in Judaism from one of the ancient Rabbis that says:

It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.

While there are many things that my son will take for granted, there are many injustices in the world things that have yet to be resolved. Working through organizations like Jews United for Justice and American Jewish World Service, to name a couple, I will continue to work on them. I hope he follows that example and works to bring about change for the causes for which he cares most. I also hope he gets to celebrate many moments of Shehecheyanu along the way.

Andy Kirschner is a life coach at 100 Reasons to Win, helping professionals take action in order to achieve their health and/or career goals. He’s been in the DC area for 4 years. When he isn’t coaching individuals or facilitating groups, he can be found running long distances through Rock Creek Park, volunteering for social justice minded organizations or spending time with his wife and one year old son. 

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The Lady Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a Shakespeare buff. I vaguely remember reading Romeo & Juliet in school, but that’s really the extent of my knowledge. (However, I did used to think it was interesting that female parts were played by men for a period of time.) At any rate, there is a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet that I seem to use over and over again when it comes to dating: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” As our good friend Wikipedia shares, this phrase is often used as a figure of speech, to indicate that a person’s overly frequent or vehement attempts to convince others of something have ironically helped to convince others that the opposite is true, by making the person look insincere and defensive. For example, if your friend who keeps kosher says over and over again at dinner, “Of course I don’t care if you want to order the bacon-wrapped scallops,” then the number of times he says that often directly correlates to how much he actually does care.

Why the lesson in 17th century literature, you might ask? Well, as it relates to dating, people are often very quick to say something about themselves as a defense mechanism, when the reality of it is that without that defense, no one would make the very assumption that this person is denying.

images-1I was perusing Match.com recently, looking for women of interest for a client of mine in North Carolina (always fun for me to look at women’s profiles), and I came across this profile:

 “I am a busy person who thinks she is easygoing. I like to do things like clean and organize but I’m not OCD. I’m happiest when I’ve tackled a project and then can sit back when I’m done and en
joy the accomplishment.”

Not only is it perhaps one of the most boring profiles on the site, but it also says, “I like to do things like clean and organize but I’m not OCD.” Hmm… The first thing I immediately think is, “This woman is OCD, but she’s trying to hide it… very poorly.” If you’re not, then don’t call attention to it. And if you are, own it. Either choice is better than the one she made. Saying, “I love coming home to a clean, organized house,” gets the same point across without any judgment, either from the reader or the profile writer herself.

Let’s take a look at another excerpt from a Match.com profile (copied verbatim):

images“No, I’m not full of myself as I know where I came from and ‘I’m not a player’ and I should say I don’t have time for games or flakes as I have a lot o offer the right woman. I’m a miner, I’m also a bit of a bad man in a ‘good way’ with a wild side I guess I’m like a M and M a tough hard exterior on the outside soft and sweet on the inside once you get to know me.”

Besides being a very poor writer, this gentleman starts out by making two claims: “I’m not full of myself” and “I’m not a player.” Most women will read this as, “I’m a player, and I’m full of myself.”

In court, you’re innocent until proven guilty. It’s the same thing with online dating. There’s no need to compensate for something that should be considered the baseline, or the innocence, if you will. Unless told otherwise, the baseline is that you’re honest and nice and everything else good in the world. You’re starting at 100%. It’s when you start to refute things that should be the baseline that people will start to question you.

So speak the truth, don’t cover things up, and if you’re tempted to say something in a defensive manner to dispel someone’s thoughts that you’re a certain way, it’s time to think again. The reader most likely won’t notice until it’s pointed out.

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Local Scene: Near Northeast Plays Capital Fringe

Near NortheastThe first time I heard Near Northeast play was in a crowded house show here in D.C. So crowded that I wiggled through the bodies to get to the stairs so that I could see and hear the four-piece band above the sweating throb of Columbia Heightians.

Run on through the grass with me

We’ll be such a sight to see

Oh the questions they will ask

When our bones are under glass

(Impala)

With Avy Mallik on guitar, Austin Blanton on bass, Alex Pio on cajón and drum kit, and Kelly Servick on vocals, violin, and ukulele, Near Northeast is a powerhouse of fresh indie spirit built on a backbone of Americana folk with world music influences.

Their lyrics are utterly sing-along-able, yet dark. Kelly’s voice one of the sweetest that I have ever heard, and when she sings, your smile, I wanna paint it on a sign, bad weather’s gonna break your teeth in time, it’s like a pretty little bruise blooming against soft percussion and deep strings.

Their songs pin down the emotions that you thought you left back in middle school, while telling very adult stories of existential crises. Kelly’s ethereal voice and the band’s quivering strings pierce right through your ego, and speak straight to your id. Near Northeast doesn’t seek to make sense of the world with their music, but to undo it.

I had hit my stride

had a heart for a guide

and so I leaned over the side

just to see, just to try.

Would someone let me off the ride

now it’s gone too high

(Rogue and Vagabond)

While I am initially inclined to describe Near Northeast in softer tones, they live in the the same unique indie-folk-rock space as bands such as Hop Along and Saintseneca. While they are definitely folky, and often quieter, certain tracks on ‘Curios’ open up into a brilliant cacophony of percussion and amped-up guitar riffs.

Overall, this album blends beautifully from track to track, from inky poetry-heavy lyrics, to plucky strings, to the kind of edgy composition that bored young listeners have come to expect from anything worth their time. ‘Curios’ is the kind of music that you want to listen to at the end of a party when you’re too tired to dance, but not too tired to sway and still want to feel all the feels. It’s good. It’s really, really good.

Near Northeast is playing an album release show THIS FRIDAY (event details here!) at Capital Fringe (Logan Fringe Arts Space 1358-1360 Florida Ave NE) with Andrew Grossman from The North Country, Takunda, and Lenclair.

 

You can snag a preorder of Curios here.

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New location, same fun!

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Meet Our New Intern, Laura!


Jackie: This is your first summer interning in DC, but you are from the area, what are you most excited about spending time in DC?

Laura: I am from the suburbs, so I am most excited about being in a city environment and trying out some of the restaurants in the area. I am also on a mission to try out as many food trucks as I can!

Jackie: What do you study?

Laura: I am transferring to the University of Virginia in the fall, where I plan on majoring in Media Studies with a concentration in film production.

Jackie: What are you most excited for with you summer with Gather the Jews? 

Laura: I am really excited about helping redesign the Gather the Jews website and planning happy hours for them. I am also looking forward to meeting new people and other interns working in D.C.!gather1

Jackie: Any fun facts about yourself?

Laura: I am a vegetarian! I also work an organic food store in the area and have a passion for healthy food and sustainability! Also, I just returned from my fifth trip to Israel.

Jackie: What is your favorite place in Israel?

Laura: Tel Aviv, because of its beachy-city feel. The food, the people, and the vibes are amazing in Tel Aviv!

Jackie: What is your favorite Jewish food?

Laura: I love a good falafel sandwich with hummus and Israeli salad.

Jackie: Who is your favorite Jew?

Laura: Adam Sandler. “Don’t Mess With The Zohan” had me laughing so hard at all the Israel references and random Hebrew mixed in.

Jackie: Finish the sentence: When the Jews gather…

Laura: It’s a party!

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Help: My Swiping Thumb is Cramping Up!

As a dating coach, I get this question a lot: How much time should I devote to online dating? This is obviously a broad question, given that people are on traditional sites like JDate and Match.com, in addition to apps like JSwipe, Tinder, and one I recently learned is quite fun, Bumble.

Just like I could never tell anyone how much time to spend at the gym, in the shower, or in bed before throwing the alarm clock *ahem* iPhone across the room, I could also never predict the “right” amount of time for anyone to devote to online dating per week. The one thing I can tell you, though, is that you have to devote some amount of time greater than zero.

Let’s say it’s January 1st and you sign up for the gym, as so many people do. Yes, you’re paying for it every month. And yes, you went to Lululemon and bought the $98 pair of yoga pants that you had to have. But are you losing any weight? Not if you don’t set foot in the gym other than to work your finger muscles at the water fountain. In this case, it’s unreasonable to say, “The gym doesn’t work.” The gym does work, but you just didn’t use it properly. The gym is simply a tool to help you reach your goals.

Why, then, do so many people think that online dating works any differently from the gym? No, the goal here is not to fit into a size 2 by Rosh Hashanah. The goal is even greater—to find a partner… for one night, one month, or more often, for the rest of your life.

The evening might go like this:

  • Friends having a glass of wine together.
  • Friend #1 encourages Friend #2 to create an OkCupid profile.
  • Friend #2 has had just enough wine to oblige.
  • The friends then craft a very generic profile consisting of one of the 10 phrases you should delete from your JDate profile.
  • A week later, Friend #2 proclaims, “Online dating doesn’t work!!!!!”

When pressed, we find out that not only hasn’t she fixed up her profile a bit, but she used her most recent Facebook photos which are less than flattering, and she didn’t reach out to a single person in that week. Not to mention that a week is no time at all! You wouldn’t expect to achieve your fitness goal in a week, so why should you find a potential life partner in that short timeframe?

Again, while I can’t tell you exactly how many hours to spend on an online dating site per week or how many emails to send, here are my recommendations as a start:

On the traditional sites:

Do 15 minutes a day, at night when you’re relaxed. On one night, find the people you’d like to email, and on the next, email them.  It’s much smoother and less stressful that way if you’re not both searching and writing at the same time. In terms of how many emails to send, as a baseline, my Package 2 clients send five a week.  I would recommend five to 10… or more, of course. Online dating is a numbers game.

On the apps:

It’s almost too easy. Swipe in bed, swipe in the bathroom (and “wipe,” I guess?), swipe when you look like you’re engaged in note taking at a meeting, swipe, swipe, swipe. But what’s the point of all that swiping if you’re not actually engaging. Yes, it’s fun to play the game, but the real point is making a connection. If you get too swipe-happy, I recommend limiting yourself to a certain number of matches per day, say three. When you’ve matched with three people, stop swiping and start making some plans. As someone who is obsessed with keeping her inbox small and using Gmail labels like it’s my job (second career in organizing, perhaps?), I can assure you that this method works.

Just as some people prefer to work out in the morning and some prefer the evening (I’ve been known to do a midnight workout on occasion), everyone has their own method of making time for the things that are important to them. My recommendations are just a starting point. The real takeaway is that in order to get the results, you have to consider online dating a tool, and then put in the necessary time.

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Nice Jewish Girl in The City- Coffee Talk

11422702_10205186343593125_1813888299_nAs a nice Jewish girl with a caffeine habit, from Turkish coffee (known as botz), to Greek coffee, to my Uncle’s cuban coffee, as well as my love of the caffeine obsessed Gilmore Girls, I was looking at the “6th in the City: For 20s & 30s” events for something to do this past weekend. When I learned about “Coffee Talk,” I naturally wanted to attend the caffeine stimulated 6th and I Historic Synagogue event, consisting of an extensive coffee buffet from  different DC brewers like Qualia Coffee, La Colombe Coffee and Compass Coffee. The brewers and baristas participated in a panel discussion about the virtues of cold brew coffee and trends within the hip counterculture of coffee of nitro tap brewing. Max Zuckerman, who is somewhat of a coffee connoisseur, moderated the panel.

coffee_map[1]The question is: What’s the connection between Jews and coffee? The answer is: Jews have actually played a part in the history of coffee. Although Ethiopians essentially discovered coffee, it was actually a Jew who began exporting coffee to Europe, opening the first coffee house in Italy in 1632. By 1650, a Lebanese man known as “Jacob the Jew” founded the first English coffeehouse in Oxford. Sephardic Jews, many of whom also became coffee traders, soon joined with Armenian and Greek merchants to bring the coffeehouse to the Netherlands and France.

“But the going wasn’t always smooth. Observant Jews and Muslims, drank coffee  to stay alert for nightly devotions,” said Israeli Professor of History Elliott Horowitz in his article entitled, Coffee, Coffeehouses, and the Nocturnal Rituals of Early Modern Jewry. Horowitz continued,  “Coffee extended the range of possibilities for making use of the night hours, whether for purposes pious or profane.”

11419759_10205186343553124_142625293_n“Coffee Talk” was the ideal event for 20 and 30 something Jews with a caffeine habit. Thanks to Bethesda Bagel, a wonderful brunch of fruit salads and an array of veggie and olive cream cheeses were also provided for the “stimulating” event. Coffee, olive infused gourmet cream cheese and kibbitzing…What an ideal way to spend a Sunday! So, according to this nice Jewish girl in the city, 6th and I in the City definitely stayed on their grind with “Coffee Talk!” and I’m not just talking about grinding coffee beans.

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Glitter, Glitter, Everywhere: A Note on Pride

I am not exactly the poster child for the queer community, and while I have always been a strong ally to the LGBTQ world, I only came out officially last week. I struggle with a sense that I exist on the fringes of the queer world. In high school, I was in the gay-straight alliance, but it was easier to be an ally, because it was either pretend to be straight, or risk not being “gay enough.” One is certainly scarier than the other. As a bi-sexual person, I don’t fit into a box, even any of the boxes created by those who reinvented the boxes.

My brother is in the midst of a much, much more difficult and intense journey than mine, and in high school, he was my sister. He was my sister and he came out as a lesbian while I was silently bi. As silly as it is, when my younger sibling came out as a lesbian – which was enormously brave of him as a sixteen-year-old – it solidified my silence. When he came out as trans two years later, that cemented it. I thought, at the time, while he is going through such an incredible journey – one that actually puts his life at risk – who am I to complain when I can, and often do, live a happily heteronormative life?

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Recently, I changed my mind. I’m in my late 20s. I’ve dated. Okay, maybe not a lot, but I’ve dated. And it’s about time for me to be open with myself, and those around me in order to continue to grow as a healthy, introspective individual. So, this year I stopped saying that I’m straight and came out with the truth, on a small scale. If it came up in conversation, I treated the topic as if it was something that had always been out in the open. Those who met me recently may not know that I hid this from all but a few close friends until recently. And then, last week in honor of Pride, I came out… on Facebook… because that’s what we do.

I started writing this article before Pride.

My first Pride.

I knew that this would be a glorious, emotional, and stunning experience. I knew I would feel both out of place and affirmed. I did not know that there would be 150,000 people in the streets cheering and screaming and jumping up and down, celebrating with me and the beautiful souls around me. I did not know that I would break down, that the tears would come: glitter, makeup, joy, and a lifetime of relief streaming down my face. I did not know that now, trying to find words for this, I would find myself crying again. I cannot, will never, and do not expect to be able to do justice to the ultimate glory of thousands of people reaching over thresholds trying to hold our hands, yelling “Shabbat shalom” and “mazal tov.”

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This article isn’t really about me, and there’s no such thing as not being “queer enough” (although if you have experiences regarding this, please comment!); it’s about the power of support; the influence of love.

Even if I hadn’t come out, even if I didn’t participate in Pride as the sister of a transman, and as a bisexual woman, simply as a human being, I am beyond proud of our city for this incredible show of love.

Crap. I’m crying again.

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Vision, Twitter Victories, and V’Ahavta

Vision, Twitter Victories, and V’ahavta:
This month, we’re smack in the middle of two Jewish holidays; Shavuot was last month, where we celebrated receiving the Torah, and Tisha B’av is next month, where we commemorate the destruction of the first and second Temples, and more modernly the expulsion of Jews from Spain.  At the median of these two holidays, one that celebrates Mitzvot and one that condemns hatred and destruction, is the most appropriate time for Gather the Jews to examine the acceptance of all Jews.  Perfect that this weekend happens to be Capital Pride as well.

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Wordle featuring most prominent words used during Twitter chat

If you followed along with our Twitter chat today, you may have seen Jewish LGBTQ advocacy organizations cite places in the Torah and in our tradition that encourage inclusion.  Whatever your views on sexuality and gender identity, the lessons in Judaism about communal responsibility, about loving your neighbor as yourself, and about how we are all created in the same image teach us we owe it to each other to be kind, accepting, and welcoming.  The destruction of the Temples and the expulsion of Jews from many communities around the world reinforces the ever-trite golden rule: treat others the way you’d like to be treated.  As a people that has been excommunicated and shunned, Jews should have more of an understanding of what isolation feels like.  By excluding LGBTQ members from our Jewish communities, we perpetuate the type of behavior we ourselves will disdain this Tisha B’av.
Gather the Jews touts that we are “hyperlocal,” but LGBTQ inclusion should also be universal.  We hope that by moderating a Twitter chat with three Jewish, LGBTQ organizations just in D.C. we demonstrated the power of local engagement and how inclusion starts at the individual level.  It gave me chills to see the D.C. Jewish community so dedicated to inclusion and to making Jews of all sexual orientations and gender identities feel welcome and confident in Judaism.

More highly-used terms during our Twitter chat. We reached over 50,00 Twitter users during this conversation!

More highly-used terms during our Twitter chat. We reached over 50,00 Twitter users during this conversation!

In case you were busy during 1:00 and 2:00 today and couldn’t follow along with our Twitter chat, you can simply search Twitter for the hashtag #GatherChat to see what GLOEKeshet, and Bet Mishpachah are doing to promote the inclusion and acceptance of LGBTQ Jews in D.C.
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Wherever you go, there’s always someone Jewish

11350358_10204644506688358_2040870761_nYesterday I attended an event hosted by the Religious Action Center that was for Jewish interns staying in D.C. this summer.  The event, primarily for the students in the Machon-Kaplan Summer Internship Program, was a great opportunity to connect with Jewish students from colleges around the country, and to hear what interns are most excited about to live in D.C.

It’s easy to take for granted my own Washingtonian experience and the vibrant Jewish community I’ve found here.  As a student and young adult, I have abundant resources and support systems whether through GW Hillel and Meor, Shabbat dinners with my friends, or now through Gather the Jews.  Coming from a home where Judaism was always both a priority and a safe-haven, I naturally took advantage of the Jewish opportunities on my campus and in the D.C. community.  The fact that RAC offers that service to students who are here short-term provides these interns with more than just a hub for Jewish life; it gives students a community, and allows them to make D.C. their home.

11125617_10204644506808361_1233173538_nJewish organizations are natural home bases for local Jews, especially college students.  For those who identify with the religious and spiritual elements of Judaism, synagogues and study groups provide students with a place to continue enriching their spiritual connections and meet others who may be on the same path.  For students who identify exclusively as culturally Jewish, or who are still navigating what religion means to them, Jewish groups still serve as an epicenter of community and connection, inviting all Jewish young adults to create their own experiences.  For all college students, being in a new city with new people can be a tough transition–part of which requires students to find where they fit in.  Jewish organizations show all Jewish students that they fit in some
where, that wherever they go, there’s a place for them in Judaism.

11419992_10204644506768360_922725793_nAs a kid, I went to Friday night services with my mom every Shabbat, and sometimes during sermons I’d lose interest and peruse through the Siddurs and song books tucked into the pockets of the chairs in front of me.  To this day, there’s a song that still stands out: Wherever You Go, by Rabbi Larry Milder.  It has a catchy tune and silly lyrics about Jews still being Jews, whether they wear sombreros or live in pagodas, but it’s true: wherever you go, there’s always someone Jewish.  The RAC has the right idea–bring the Jewish interns together, and they’ll always remember Jews are never alone.

Wherever you go, there’s always someone Jewish
You’re never alone when
you say you’re a Jew
So, when you’re not home and you’re somewhere kind of newish
The odds are don’t look far, cause they’re Jewish too.

 

 

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Happy Hour June 24th!

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Where will you make your mark?

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