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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chosen Ones: The Dinner Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The story continues! Read Part II here.


The Shabbat Service Game Changer @ Adas Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

What do you think?  Tell us in the comments!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Leaf it to Israel this Tu B’Shevat

306507_10100178496303845_1487209561_nAny opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and does not reflect the opinions of Gather the Jews.

This Friday night (Shabbat) marks the Jewish semi-holiday of Tu B’shevat.  Literally, the 15th of the month of Shevat is known mystically as the New Year of the Trees.

For people of a certain generation, Tu B’shevat evokes fond memories of donating spare change to the JNF – Jewish National Fund – to support their afforestation efforts in Israel.  Afforestation is the concept of planting trees where there were none before (reforestation is planting trees that had once stood, but were cut down).

Driving through the forests from Jerusalem to Beit Shemesh or around Arad, it’s easy to take for granted how successful JNF has been.  Less than 100 years before the creation of the state, Mark Twain visited the land of Israel in 1867 and wrote of, ” …[a] desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds-a silent mournful expanse…. There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere.  Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”

Twain would hardly recognize the land today, with 240 million new trees planted.  Notably, Israel is the only country in the past 100 years to have a net gain of trees.  Numerous countries around the globe are facing desertification – where unsustainably harvested forests suffer from the effects of erosion, which quickly turns into wasteland.  JNF’s guidance has been sought after by many other countries and international organizations looking for help with their efforts to curb desertification in their own land.

The trees were planted for many reasons: to curb mudslides in the mountainous north, as part of efforts to drain swamp land and make it suitable for agriculture, provide shade in the hot desert sun, and also just to give new immigrants flocking to the country in the first half of the 20th century something to do.

When it came down to what species of tree to plant, the decision on Aleppo pine wasn’t too controversial- it’s indigenous to the region and grows quickly in the rocky soil.  It wasn’t until many years later, after forest fires started to become a regular concern in the beginning of the 21st century, that the old, homogenous forests started to become a liability.

During the 2006 war with Lebanon, rockets fired by Hizbullah set fire to thousands of acres of trees in in north.  Four years later, a devastating fire that broke out on Mount Carmel  killed 44 people and consumed 5 million trees.  Many fires broke out around the country over the summer of 2012 that were attributed to arson.   Fires were never part of the natural forest ecology in this region, but with this new threat facing the land, how forests are planted here had to be rethought.

Efforts are being made by the Ministry of the Environment with the help of JNF to replant burned forest with a mixture of tree types to help guard against new wildfires sweeping through, as well as to promote the health of the forests in general.

*Bonus* Israeli election day fun fact! The first Knesset convened purposely on Tu B’shvat.

Samantha Hulkower, former Jewish Girl of the Week, is on sabbatical from DC in Israel. Her blog, Derech Eretz Israel, discusses environmental issues in Israel. Like her page on facebook to stay in the know. Comments and ideas for topics you’d like to see Samantha research are welcomed!


The Case for Being Alone… In Your Profile Picture – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (No. 57)

Online dating experts often give conflicting advice… 3 pictures versus 5 pictures, a long profile versus a short one, listing your salary range versus leaving it blank.  But there’s one online dating pointer that I think most experts can agree on: Be by yourself in your online dating pictures.  The last thing you want is to be compared to someone else in your own profile, or this could end up happening to you, too.

People have all kinds of reasons for including others in their photos, and I’m here to debunk them all… and then add two caveats for when it’s A-ok to share some screen time with someone else.

1. I want to show that I’m social.

If you’re trying to show that you’re social by including a picture of you with your friends, it often does the opposite – it looks like you’re trying too hard to show that you’re social. If you have an active social life, your profile should list some of the activities you do (kickball, mahjong, sailing club, etc.), and you’ll therefore have no need to show it in a picture.  And we don’t want to make anyone pause to wonder whose profile this is.  Remember – don’t let people compare you to your friends!

Whose profile is this anyway?

Whose profile is this anyway? 


Much better!

Much better!


2. I want to show that really attractive people (often of the opposite sex) are friends with me.

This picture is intimidating on many levels.  1) It makes the person looking at your profile compare him/herself to your picture-mates to determine whether he/she is attractive enough for you.  2) It looks a bit conceited, like you only befriend really attractive people.  3) It makes the person looking at your profile wonder if all of your friends are of the opposite sex.  Is there even room for someone else in your life?  Lose-lose-lose.

Look at me – I have hot friends. (And a side comment – that guy in the background is hilarious!)


I’m not so bad on my own, either.

I’m not so bad on my own, either.


3. I want to show how attractive my ex was so people can see who’s in my league.

This picture is also intimidating.  1) We compare ourselves.  2) We think you’re not over the ex if he/she still takes a prominent spot in your profile.  3) Even if you’re in a picture with just one other person of the opposite sex, we assume it’s an ex, even if it’s just a brother or sister.  Again, lose-lose-lose.

My ex and I used to play golf.


Turns out I can golf on my own, too.

Turns out I can golf on my own, too.


4. I want to show how good-looking I am compared to the rest of my friends.

This has the opposite effect of #1.  People may think that you’re only attracted to friends who aren’t as attractive as you are and wonder why.  Or, more likely, they’ll see right through it.  Shallow? Yes.  True? Yes.  (I’ll spare you a picture for this one.)

What are the two caveats?  Children and pets.  If you have children, it’s your choice whether to include a photo with them or not.  But if you do, one is sufficient and please add a caption saying that these are your kids.  For pets, again, one picture with Fido or Mittens the Kitten is plenty.  And remember, don’t just show a picture of your pet without you in it.  For all we know, you stopped some guy on the street and asked to take a picture of his pup!

The moral of the story?  Being alone is best… in your online dating profile picture, that is.

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

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.



Main Feature or Main Drag?

havaThe Washington DC Jewish Film Festival entered it’s 23rd year with a wealth of programming and variation.  Despite this depth, two of the main headlining films fell flat.

The festival emphasized three films.  The opening film was Paris Manhattan, a Woody Allen work (please note this film will not be reviewed in this article).  The centerpiece film was Dorfman which was shown on the centerpiece evening in conjunction with a moderated chat with the film’s biggest star, Elliott Gould, of M*A*S*H, Ocean’s Eleven, and Friends fame.  The closing film, Hava Nagila, is a documentary that traces the history of its namesake.

Dorfman, the centerpiece film was shown at the Avalon Theatre in Chevy Chase.  The line to get in was nearly peeking around the block, and the standby line was similarly comparable.  Prior to the show, Len Hill moderated a half hour conversation with Elliot Gould as best as he possibly could.  The looks in the audience were Instagram-worthy, as Gould would not answer, but respond to Hill’s questions with winding tangents.  The tangents all eventually wound to three places: a) Gould acknowledging others acknowledging his greatness, b) a wise statement Gould probably memorized from a fortune cookie, and c) the eventual nod back to a confused Hill to continue.  The audience, whose initial excitement for the actor was palpable, was visibly ready for the film to begin.

The film, similar to Gould’s answers, winded and rambled, though eventually led somewhere (even if you were not sure where).  Sara Rue, of Popular fame, is the frazzled, late-bloomer daughter of the recent widower, Burt.  While Rue finds herself caught in a predictable love triangle, Gould shines as the talent of the film.  His disgruntled, “woe is me” kvetching stands out among the other forced performances.  The film falls into the “cute” romantic comedy category, but barely- the writing acts as a somewhat disturbing vocal advocate for Jewish stereotypes.  The blatant “Jew-ish-ness” of the film makes it clear why it was chosen, but there are certainly better films among the other 55 films shown at the festival.   After the film, Gould reappeared to answer more questions.  The mass exodus that occurred at the film’s conclusion exemplified the lack of interest in further rambling.

The closing film, shown on the January 13th at the JCC in Dupont Circle, was Hava Nagila (The Movie).  The documentary, put together by a Los Angeles based team, starts off humorous and intriguing.  The picture begins as a collaboration of archival footage accompanied by witty dialogue, mixed with interviews of Jewish celebrities (among the likes of Leornard Nimoy and Regina Spektor).  The middle of the film eases into a presentation of historical data that bores more than it fascinates.  Hava Nagila eventually wraps back around to the charming film it began as.  The film ends achieves its intended goal: to make the audience realize the special bond the Jewish people have with the iconic song- and accompanying hora dance.

The Jewish Film Festival chose two films to highlight its existence by encouraging stereotypes and indulging popular knowledge.  At least two of the three highlights were mediocre, at best.  Despite this, the festival has been very well attended and appears diverse on paper.  Fourteen individual venues will host over 50 films representing fifteen different countries including Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Nigeria, Luxembourg, Poland, Russia, Serbia, the UK and the US.  More than 30 filmmaker guests attended throughout the course of the festival, and the lineup is sprinkled with variety from documentaries to dramas.  It is a festival worth attending and supporting, though some of the premiere features may be better off unseen.

More information on the festival can be found here. The festival concluded on January 13.


GTJ Satirist Brian F.- Clique That Went to Jewish Summer Camp Together Still, Won’t Shut Up About Jewish Summer Camp

summer camp jokes funny news jewish summer campDENVER, CO – (@The Comedy News) – Sarah, Moishe, Rachel, Jeremy, Eric, Stacy, David, and Sara: if you are so privileged to eclipse their exclusive circle of kinship, you will learn obnoxiously quickly that these eight 27-year-olds have been friends since Jewish summer camp.

Sarah, Moishe, Rachel, Jeremy, Eric, Stacy, David, and Sara—currently in their eighteenth year of inside jokes and incest—living together in squalor on the outskirts of a nauseatingly youthful Colorado ski-town.

The clique that calls themselves the “Excellent Eight” have known each other since what they have referred to as the “summer of love”, 1995.  That summer, they went to a Jewish summer camp called Camp Khazir, deep within the Ozarks of southern Missouri.  They still go back to Camp Khazir every year to re-live the glory days of when they were ten.

“Khazir!  Khazir!  My favorite time of year!  Khazir!  Khazir!  Excellent Eight we cheer!”  A few of the summer camp friends broke into song during the interview, unprovoked—making reporters visibly uncomfortable.

Outsiders that have had the misfortune of knowing this stubbornly secluded, self-righteous posse note that the Excellent Eight are always together.

“They took all of the same classes together at Colorado-Boulder.  Not sure if they even graduated, but they were definitely in the same classes,” describes a college classmate.

A former director of Camp Khazir notes that the Excellent Eight have made a name for themselves throughout the entire Jewish community.

“I once told someone while vacationing in Ethiopia that I did a summer at Camp Khazir back in 1997,” says the former camp director.  Without fail, the guy I was speaking to immediately asked, “Oh, so you know those Excellent Eight brats?”

Another camper describes their temperament.

“Just by looking at them, you can tell that they’ve all hooked up with each other,” describes a former co-Camper, who stopped attending camp in 1999.   “We confirmed that they just pass each other around.  When Eric or David or Jeremy or Moses or whoever, one of those caricatures of each other, pulled out an acoustic guitar on the lagoon pier and sang a song full of inside jokes about getting to third base, that’s when we knew for sure.  And who even talks about their bases anymore? New rule: if you’re old enough to drive a car, you may not refer to hooking up progress in terms of baseball hits.”

The song is supposedly on YouTube and will be featured on Tosh.O this spring.

A private investigator hired to study the Excellent Eight has concluded that none of the eight charter members have made any new friends outside of each other since the Clinton Administration.  And although no one is quite sure which member of the group is Sarah with an “H” and Sara without and “H”, they both can be identified by their frequent wearing of a puffy-painted tank-top shirt that reads “Sanctuary Sex”.  It is believed that the shirts are a reference to a sexual escapade that took place while neglecting their duties as senior counselors–jobs they resume every June.

Sarah, Moishe, Rachel, Jeremy, Eric, Stacy, David, and Sara: because there is plenty of endless drivel about Jewish summer camp to share, after all these years.

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


Go to Israel for FREE this summer or fall with the DC Community Birthright Trip!

Two American Jews on his back... The camel don't care. He don't give...

Two American Jews on his back… The camel don’t care. He don’t give…


This summer or fall, travel to Israel FOR FREE with fellow Washingtonians on the DC Community Birthright Trip!

Am I eligible?

  • Age 22-26 at the time of application (If you’re under the age of 22, visit to find the trip that’s right for you!)
  • Have not previously participated in a peer-orientated Israel trip
  • Local to or ties with the Greater Washington area

image002What are the perks?

  • Get on our VIP list for priority registration processing!
  • Greater chance of being accepted!
  • Enjoy exclusive pre-trip events!
  • Have direct access to your DC-based Birthright Israel staff!
  • Expand your local network!
  • Travel through Israel with Israeli peers during the ENTIRE trip!
  • Receive personalized follow-up upon your return!
  • The trip is FREE.

Important Dates:

There will be trips in June, August, and November. Registration for the trips opens…

  • Monday, February 11 at noon for returning applicants
  • Wednesday, February 13 at 10 AM for new applicants

image003How do I register?

To register, please visit and choose the “DC Community trip.”  From there, you will begin to prepare for an unforgettable experience.

Please know that the registration process can be very competitive and only remains open for about a week, so it’s very important to register on the opening date and pay your security deposit as soon as possible.  Once Shorashim receives your application, they will move forward with processing it and scheduling an interview.  Once this is complete, you will find out the dates of your trip and further details.

Have questions?

Interested in learning more? Join us Monday, January 28 at 6:30 at Drafting Table for a Birthright Recruitment Happy Hour!

To find out more about the Taglit-Birthright Israel: DC Community Trip (sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington) and get on our pre-registration VIP list, contact me at 301-230-7266 or at


Navigating by Moonlight – Rabbi B. on this Week’s Torah Portion

moonlightThere is always a light at the end of the tunnel, just sometimes the tunnel seems to extend miles and miles.  The sun will come up tomorrow (bet your bottom dollar), but sometimes tomorrow fells much more than a day away.  Often when we find ourselves in the darkest most difficult moments of life we feel hopeless and as if there is no way out of our pressing situation.  The Torah, however, teaches us that it is that very feeling of despair that allows us hope for better times ahead.

In this weeks parsha, Bo, we as Jews are given our first mitzvah (commandment) as a people.  What is the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people you may ask.  So many to choose from: Shabbat, Kosher?  Nope, the first Mitzvah the Torah commands us of is that of Rosh Chodesh: to bless each new month.

What is it that makes this mitzvah so significant that it should be our first charge?

The Jewish calendar is a lunar one, each month beginning with the new cycle of the moon.  Our story as a people is also compared to the cycle of the moon.  Towards the end of each month the moon’s light diminishes more and more until, in the final days, hardly a glimmer of light can be seen.  But just as much as that darkness is a sign of the end of a month, it is also a sign that a new month is about to begin.

So is the history of the Jews.  We have experienced many dark moments.  Each of those moments, though, also produces a glimmer of hope for brighter days in the future.  It is this message that in many ways defines us as Jews.  Therefore, God sees fit that our first mitzvah should be one that teaches the lesson of how to navigate life and live all the others.  Persevere and never give up because brighter days do lie ahead.


GTJ Health Series: What Obamacare Means for You

stethoscopeWith the Supreme Court decision in June 2012 upholding the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA or Obamacare) constitutionality, 2013 and 2014 will see the implementation of the remaining key portions of this landmark bill.  Already the act has provided additional protections for patients and increased access to health insurance and care.  In this column, I will highlights some of the upcoming changes to the ACA and provide a simple guide for young professionals and students to find health insurance coverage in the coming year.

An Insurance Policy You Can Understand

Trying to understand your health insurance policy can lead anyone to pull their hair out in frustration.  This year marks the start of a provision of the act which requires insurance providers to send you a standardized, four-page summary of benefits and coverage.  This summary will explain your health plan in plain English and will allow you to easily compare the plan you have to other available plans.

New Costs to You

While Medicare is the health insurance program for those over 65 years of age, as an American worker you pay into the program throughout your life. Two changes to these taxes will take effect this year.  Employers take out 7.65 percent of your salary of which 1.45 percent goes toward the portion of Medicare which covers hospital bills.  This year, the hospital portion will increase 0.9 percent for anyone who earns more than $200,000.  The second change is a new 3.8 percent tax on investment income that will go towards funding Medicare.

A Mandate to be Insured

Starting on January 1st 2014, you will be required to buy insurance or pay a penalty.  To help with this transition, several new avenues of coverage have been established, many with significant subsidies provided to consumers (see below).

Patient Rights and Protections

With the passage of the ACA, we are seeing several initiatives that will protect patient rights and improve care.  Beginning in 2014, health insurers will no longer be able to refuse coverage to the sick.  Patient out of pocket expenses for preventative services like pap smears and flu shots has been eliminated, and patients can no longer have their coverage dropped when they get sick or pregnant.  Women and people with pre-existing conditions cannot be charged higher premiums.  Minimum standards for health insurance policies are being established and caps to annual and lifetime insurance payouts are being eliminated.

Your Options for Health Insurance Coverage

You are . . . Where you can get health insurance The details
Employed Your employer Many employers provide health insurance coverage to their employees.  This includes federal employees as well as employees of businesses both large and small.
Under 26 years old Your parents Under the ACA you are eligible for coverage under your parents insurance until you are 26 years old. 
A student Your university Most universities offer their undergraduate, graduate, and professional student health insurance at a reduced rate.
Earn less than ~ $15,415 Medicaid The ACA will increase Medicaid coverage to those earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level ($15,415 in 2012) in 2014.  The federal government will pay 100% of the cost of coverage for new enrollees until 2016, where after the states will begin covering a small portion. Under the Supreme Court ruling last year, states can chose to implement this or not.  Maryland and DC are participating, while Virginia is leaning against participating.
Everyone Else Exchanges In 2014, the health insurance exchanges will open for business. A health insurance exchange is a regulated marketplace where the uninsured and small businesses can shop for coverage amongst several competing providers. If you earn 100-400% (~$43,000) of the federal poverty level you will be eligible for tax credits to help pay for insurance.  States can agree to provide a state based or partnership exchange.  If they decline to create an exchange the federal government will step in with a federal exchange.  Maryland and DC will have a state based exchange while Virginia will not.


Alex Berger, a new GTJ contributing columnist, is a native of the Washington DC Metropolitan Area.  He graduated in 2008 from the University of North Carolina and is currently in his last year of a combined MD/MPH program. He is excited to be back in the DC area and to share tips on nutrition, health, and fitness. He can be reached at


Where is the Israeli Al Gore?

487570_10100178490116245_1953285538_nAny opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and does not reflect the opinions of Gather the Jews.

Something I’ve been wondering while trying to follow the upcoming Israeli election: where is the discussion of energy and environmental issues? Is there no politician focused on this arena? Are the Israelis lacking an ‘Ozone Man‘?

I began my investigation by checking out the Likud party – the party currently in power, who is also expected to at least retain the Prime Minister position. The bulk of Likud’s platform is dedicated to Israel’s security, with some ideas for economic and social concerns at the bottom of the list. If the current front-runner for the Prime Minister position, along with the bulk of seats in the Knesset, doesn’t mention anything about the environment or energy – can it really be a priority for any of the parties?

Next, I tried to cast a wide net to see where the other major parties stand. The Jerusalem Post has a handy quiz to help you figure out which party is most in line with your values. It’s worth noting that not one of the 30 questions asked relates in any way to the environment. There are a few questions regarding social and economic concerns in the society. Ultimately, it seems that the environment isn’t anyone’s radar.

Professor Adi Wolfson, of the Shamoon College of Engineering Green Processes Center recently explained the silence to the fact that there are no disagreements. The idea being if everyone agrees, what is there to discuss? Professor Wolfson further reckons another, and perhaps more important reason it’s not discussed: because voters don’t really care. Whether the public doesn’t care because too much of their energy is spent on security concerns or due to a culture that just doesn’t place value on these ideas, we can hopefully explore at a later time.

Much to my delight, I eventually found that there is one party that explicitly promotes the need for an environmental blueprint for Israel – Tzippi Livni’s Hatunah party. Ms. Livini had previously helped to start the Kadima party in 2005, but left it last year. Her new party joined forces with the Green Movement Party and, unsurprisingly, its platform focuses on the environment.

While it can be expected that the Green Movement would advocate sustainability, Ms. Livni’s motivation seems to be from a more traditional political perspective: how her platform will create jobs, improve constituent quality of life, and strengthen Israel’s energy independence. These don’t need to be niche values only taken up by one party. Anyone serious about the welfare of the State of Israel and its people have no excuse not to include these points in their own party’s platform.

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!


GTJ’s Satirist Brian F.- HE’S BACK!: “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Jews”

indFifth installation of Indiana Jones series expected to be not nearly as bad as the fourth.


The fifth installment of Indiana Jones opens with a Passover seder at a South Florida retirement community in 1960.  Dr. Jones has been a resident here since becoming an archaeology professor emeritus at Princeton three years prior.

The retirement community staff organize an affikomen for the residents, which results in an action-packed cafeteria fight.  Indy reigns triumphant after neutralizing fellow curmudgeons, and locating the hidden matzah under a chess table.  Still, the offending residents are sent to the Temple of Jews, located in Key West, to undergo spiritual healing.

Rogue real-estate developer Donald Sorrentino receives intelligence that the Temple of Jews sits on top of the coveted Fountain of Youth, once sought by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce De León.  Meanwhile, all of the congregants at the Temple of Jews seem young in mind, body, and spirit, further confirming Sorrentino’s suspicions.

And as Indy and his fellow retirees start to embrace the spiritual healing process, he discovers Sorrentino’s plan to buy-off city planners, plant Burmese pythons on the grounds, and demolish the Temple of Jews to turn the purported Fountain of Youth into a theme park.

Indiana Jones dusts off his fedora and tears out what little hair he has left as he and his fellow congregants go to biblical lengths to stop Sorrentino from razing the Temple of Jews.

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, and enjoy his late-night jokes Join The Comedy News’ Facebook page for updates.


Moses and Me – Rabbi B. on this Week’s Torah Portion

rabbi-berkmanPonder this: “Every person can be as righteous as Moses.”  Sounds profound, right?  Is it true though?  Is it possible for you and I, regular old people, to be as righteous as the greatest leader of the Jewish people?

The words are not my own, but rather a statement made by Mimomodees.  But what does he mean that every person can be as righteous as Moses?  He was the greatest prophet to ever live.  He spoke to God face to face.  Who am I?

The Torah tells us that while Moshe was the leader of the Jews he was not a man of words.  Therefore, he partnered with his brother Aharon to lead the Jews out of Egypt.  Moshe was the leader, Aharon did the talking.  It is curious though that throughout the Torah, when Moses and Aharon are mentioned together, sometimes Moses’ name comes first and sometimes Aharon is mentioned first.  Rashi, one of our foremost commentators, explains that this is done to show that Moshe and Aharon were equals.  Really?  Aharon was great, but equal to Moses?  The Torah clearly tells us that Moses was the leader of the two.

The truth is that Moses was indeed “greater” than Aharon, but they were on a mission together and on that mission Aharon did exactly what was asked of him to the best that his abilities would allow him to.  He realized his role, accepted his role, and filled it with maximum effort.  Although he may not have been on as high as a spiritual level or possessed the same traits as Moses, it was Aharon’s approach to his role that made him considered as great as his brother.

We will never be Moses, and, truthfully, we are not expected to be.  We can though attain our own level of greatness.  We learn from Aharon that if we search for who we are, realize our own strengths and weaknesses, and strive to reach our potential, we may be surprised to see how great we really can be.

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