DC Rabbi Named One the Most Inspiring Rabbis in America

shiraRabbi Shira Stutman, Director of Jewish Programming at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, was named one of the most inspiring Rabbis in America by The Jewish Daily Forward.  From the Sixth & I website:

“As Sixth & I’s Director of Jewish Programming, I’m here as a resource for you. My focus is to make Jewish meaning and build Jewish community. I strive to infuse Sixth & I’s diverse programs with Jewish context and content. I support a number of boutique communities, including workshops for those interested in joining the Jewish community. I graduated from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 2007, where I was a Wexner Graduate Fellow. I also graduated from Columbia University and the Charles E Smith Jewish Day School. I was the founding rabbi of Kesher Shalom Congregation in Abington, PA. And my favorite t-shirt reads: “This is what a real rabbi looks like.”

Read GTJ’s interview with Rabbi Shira from last summer.

From everyone at GTJ, mazel tov, Rabbi Shira!


Shabbat Clusters

290px-Shabbat_CandlesI feel safe saying that when Friday night finally rolls around, most of us are more than ready for it.  We’re ready to go out, to take a nap, to eat something delicious, or to celebrate that we have two whole days off ahead of us.  For many young Jewish professionals, it’s time to be social at one of the (crowded) eight monthly Shabbat services.  For others, it’s time to be with friends, or to go out and make new ones.  In any case, it’s almost always about doing something you didn’t do during the week.  It somehow make the time special.  Personally, the days are particularly special for me when I can get together with others for dinner.  And it is a love of good food and better conversation that makes Shabbat and EntryPointDC’s (EPDC) Shabbat Clusters an awesome opportunity.

Shabbat Clusters are small groups, usually about 10-12 people, organized by EPDC.  They’re peer-led and meet once a month for a pot-luck Shabbat dinner.  Registration and new groups happen twice a year, in the spring and the fall.  Each starts with a communal Kickoff Shabbat Dinner, free to all participants, so that when you have your first dinner you’re not showing up at a complete stranger’s door. (Whew!)

Shabbat offers us a weekly chance to take a second and breathe.  It’s an opportunity to take an hour or 25 and do something you want to do, something for yourself that will make the day different.  How you choose to do that is up to you, but maybe it is taking a couple hours to have a nice meal with other Jews at the start of your weekend.  There’s nothing you have to do before, during, or after.  Your Shabbat Cluster is a place for you to create a Jewish experience that is meaningful for you with other Jews, and the opportunity to really get to know them over time.

Over the past few months I have heard just about all there is to hear about Shabbat Clusters from current and former participants, and those stories let me know  that EPDC made a difference in people’s lives.  I’ve also discovered a fantastic partnership with Birthright NEXT, they like to give Birthright alumni money to host Shabbat dinners, and EPDC likes everyone to have Shabbat dinner! Perfect! (And they’re now offering grants for pot-luck meals, which is even better.)

Registration for Spring 2013 Shabbat Clusters is open until midnight, Friday, March 22. Click here for more information and to register.


The Curse of the Empty Adjective – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (No. 61)

adjI’m smart, funny, and attractive.

I’m humble, successful, and kind.

I’m romantic, thoughtful, and trustworthy.

I’m sexy, passionate, and fearless.

I’m compassionate, honest, and friendly.

How many times have we seen lines like these in online dating profiles?  If I had a nickel for every time I saw what I call an “empty adjective,” I’d be a very rich lady.  What is an empty adjective?  It’s a word that you use to describe yourself that can’t be proven until someone gets to know you.  For example, I might say that I’m funny, but how would you know if that’s the truth?  Maybe I’m funny to some people (the ones who love puns and wordplay) but not to others.  Or maybe my definition of honest is telling someone she has spinach in her teeth, but your definition is giving back the extra penny if they accidentally give it to you at Trader Joe’s.  A long time ago, I dated someone for six months who said in his JDate profile, “I’m really romantic.”  Was he?  Not in the least.  The curse of the empty adjective strikes again.

This is where the concept of “show, don’t tell” really comes into play.  For example, rather than saying that you’re funny, say something that you find funny.  That way, you’re not only getting your point across, but you’re differentiating yourself from everyone who simply states, “I’m funny,” or worse, “My friends tell me I’m funny.”  The latter is just a way to say the same thing while attempting to be humble.  Sadly, it doesn’t work.

Let’s think of a story for some of the adjectives above:

Friendly: I tend to walk into a room and immediately ask people’s names – the cashier at The Container Store, the doorman/woman at my building, the parking attendant at school, the baker at Safeway.  I may not remember them all, but I always ask!

Fearless: Despite my fear of flying, I knew I had to go to India as my culminating trip for business school.  I may or may not have hyperventilated a bit.  And then I realized, “I can do this!”  Since then, I’ve been to 12 countries in the last four years.

Trustworthy: It wasn’t until many years after college that I realized everyone on my dorm floor had put me down as their emergency contact.  They must have really trusted me… or knew I’d have nothing else going on. 😉

Funny: I’m a dog lover, especially when it comes to my wise old dachshund.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t enjoy dining out quite as much as I do (he likes the leftovers, though), he can’t read the subtitles of the documentaries I watch, he can’t help me with that pesky last letter of the crossword puzzle, and when it comes to dancing, well, he has two left feet… literally.

Words like attractive, sexy, young-looking, and fit don’t need to be stated at all because someone can decide that for him or herself simply from looking at your photos.

These empty adjectives will get glossed over and end up having the opposite effect of what you want – they’ll become meaningless.  Remember: Be sure to set yourself apart and not get caught in the… dun dun dun… curse of the empty adjective.

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.


What should I bring to Israel?

coatPassport, white coat, stethoscope, vaccines.  For most doctors/medical students going abroad on an international health initiative, these are the items that are required.  In preparation for my international medical fellowship, I collected these items and went through many standard steps.  I found a faculty sponsor, arranged for a local physician/mentor, submitted a proposal to the Office of International Activities, developed a project and aims (on improving maternal outcomes), and applied for funding.  I found local contacts, created a packing list (including my passport, white coat and stethoscope), and picked up local guidebooks. But in addition to all of these basic preparatory steps, I had additional challenges because of the location of my fellowship.

Israel is a complicated country whose history, religion, politics, and geography make it a lightning rod for conflict.  Navigating this conflict on a medical mission is challenging and my presence in Israel would require extensive planning. Back in the summer of 2012 when I was preparing for the fellowship I submitted an extensive statement of purpose with faculty sponsor and mission statement to apply for a special travel waiver from my medical school.  After I received permission, I worked with the US State Department and US Embassy in Israel to ensure proper contingencies.  At each step I was thoroughly warned about the risks and liabilities of living in Israel.

Despite the challenges of getting here, my experience in Israel has been profound and I am so grateful for the relative peace that has sustained throughout the month.  During the conflicts in November, this peace was far from assured.  In the winter, rockets arrived daily in Tel Aviv and surrounding cities from the Gaza strip.  Jeremy, a close friend from college and current medical student at Sackler in Tel Aviv, recalls his time in the hospitals then, struggling to ignore the sounds of rockets. “There was a feeling of helplessness,” he says “We often only had a minute warning before the rocket would land, and moving our patients would have been futile.”  Jeremy, like the thousands of health professionals in direct line of the Gaza missiles, felt a duty to protect and serve his patients, whether from their illnesses or the rockets.

Pedram, an Iranian-born medical student at Sackler, remembers his experience outside of the hospital.  Those that have been to Tel Aviv have warm memories of the beaches that cover the cities’ coast line.  Young couples, families, and groups of children frolic in the waves, play Frisbee, and enjoy picnics on the pristine sand.  One day in November, Pedram was walking with a friend along the beach when he heard the missile siren go off.  He and the other beachgoers snapped their heads as a rocket came into view not more than 100 yards in the air.  As it arced menacingly toward the beach, a second projectile coming from the opposite direction came into view and intercepted the first, causing a loud explosion.  This sight would be repeated an estimated 1,456 times in Tel Aviv and throughout Israel that winter as the Israeli missile defense system (Iron Dome) would intercept and destroy many incoming threats (reports cite 421 interceptions over Israel, 142 rockets which fell in Gaza, and 875 which fell harmlessly in open areas) .  Some (58), it did not.  Six Israelis were killed and hundreds injured from the rockets that made landfall in populated areas.  A commuter bus was bombed, injuring 28 Israelis on the way to work. Israel responded forcefully in Gaza.  In an incursion known as Operation Pillar of Defense, some 133 Palestinians were believed to be killed with hundreds more injured.  During the past month, I have met colleagues who cared for the injured on both sides.  They have watched as countless more have been lost.  As physicians, we are bound by an oath to do no harm, and often, in Israel, we are repairing the harm caused by others.

During the violence in November, I worked with my colleagues to develop alternative plans in case the violence continued. More importantly, I prayed for peace.  Lani, a dentist and close friend, was to be in Israel providing free dental work while I was there.  We spoke often over those weeks, sharing our fears and hopes for a resolution to the conflict.  While a tenuous ceasefire was being held, I reconfirmed my visit and mission for the fellowship.  The peace held and I arrived in Israel safely, finding purpose in my work and gratitude for peace.

Over the last week this peace has been shaken.  Protests in and around Jerusalem have led to violence with Palestinian youths throwing homemade rockets and Israeli soldiers firing back and severely injuring protesters. Last week I was at Hadassah, the premiere health care center in Jerusalem, working among those that cared for the young Palestinians who were injured.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYesterday evening I took a long run along the Mediterranean after work.  I ran on the beach, going south towards the ancient port city of Jaffa.  As I ran in the sand, I caught the sun setting over the tranquil blue waters.  When I got home, this peace was rattled by news that a rocket had landed in Ashkelon, a small town 100 km south of Tel Aviv.  This was the first such rocket attack since the November ceasefire.

I was to meet Jeremy later in the evening and as I walked the block to his house I got lost.  It is a route I have taken at least a dozen times since arriving in Israel.  But this night, I was lost in my thoughts.  I wandered a few blocks down the busy central district of Tel Aviv as I considered the rocket attack that day, the young Palestinians at Hadassah, and the lives lost in November.  I passed happy couples walking by hand-in-hand, a group of school children enjoying ice-cream by a large colorful fountain.  I leave in 10 days.  People that know me well know that I am always optimistic and upbeat.  I leave Israel hoping for lasting peace in 10 days, months, or years.

So this all brings me back to my question: what to pack?  How did I prepare for this experience?  The standard list is vital, but so much more is needed.  Of course I need a stethoscope to help hear hearts, a white coat to identify myself, a passport to get into the country, and vaccines to keep me well.  But what should I bring with me, really?  First, I brought my stethoscope, but also my heart.  I would need it to guide me during the challenges and successes of my experience.  Second, I brought my white coat, but also brought my identity.  This is who I am, my principles, and it would serve to center me during this journey.  Third, I brought my passport, but I also brought a curiosity to learn.  This curiosity granted me entrance to places and ideas that I would never have imagined.  Lastly, yes I got vaccinated.  But despite this I was not immune to new ideas and experiences that helped me grow into the compassionate doctor I am meant to be.  During my career I will bring life into the world, will save lives, and will see lives lost.  But I don’t forget to bring along what got me here, and have an open heart and a curious mind to discover what lies ahead.


Exile No More: A New Documentary Film

exile no moreFor decades, South Tel Aviv has been the first and last stop for all types of “second-class citizens” who cannot stand on their own and have been ignored by the government for far too long.  Today, South Tel Aviv’s Israeli residents are living with over 15,000 African asylum seekers unable to care for themselves, and even worse, in fear for their safety.  In the past year, violence between Africans and Israelis in South Tel Aviv and around the country has risen and many are afraid to walk the streets.

Deep in the heart of South Tel Aviv, seen through the eyes of Israeli residents and African asylum seekers, Exile No More documents what it means to live in exile, amongst your own.  This 30-minute film follows the story of African asylum seekers in Israel.  After traveling thousands of miles, many have found themselves without status, without jobs, and without homes in the most impoverished area of Tel Aviv.  Exile No More shares the story of African asylum seekers such as Kidane Isaacs, a 24-year-old Eritrean who has lived in Israel for more than 6 years now, without any form of refugee status.  The film follows his story as an African fleeing country after country, arriving in Israel, becoming a strong political leader, and inspiring his people to demand more.  Just across the road, Shula Keshet, a veteran Israeli in South Tel Aviv is making impressive progress in her efforts to bring together conservative Israelis living with a completely new population in Israel: African refugees.  These two story lines in Exile No More come together to represent an exiled people in their own community and the struggle for real change in their government.  Filmed over the period of eight months, the characters in this film represent the key political leaders at a time when asylum seekers in Israel are facing a true crossroad.

photo-mainFilmmaker Kady Buchanan has spent the last year and a half working on the film, and is currently in post-production readying the film for release.  In asking what drew her to the film, she says it seemed like such an important topic, one that, because of Israel’s history as a nation of refugees, would only become more and more relevant.  Buchanan filmed in the summer of 2012 when protests in South Tel Aviv were breaking out almost on a weekly basis.  Buchanan also chose to follow both Israelis and Africans because she wanted to show how feeling exiled or excommunicated from your community is not only a feeling felt by non-citizens.

Buchanan had launched a Kickstarter in an effort to raise the final funds needed for the film’s release.  With only six days left to go, they still have to fund $3,000.  If all funds aren’t received by March 26th, they get nothing.  To support the finishing of the funds by donating or sharing, visit the Kickstarter page here.


The Jewish Food Experience

JFE“Inspired by tradition.  Delivered with a twist.”

The Jewish Food Experience (JFE), a new DC-based site, provides a platform for the community to come together through food.  JFE brings Jewish food with a modern twist:  The project allows foodies, including chefs, restaurateurs, food critics and writers, to share recipes, stories, international flavors, news about the local Jewish food scene, and volunteer efforts to fight hunger.  Steven A. Rakitt, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, explains, “Food is a shared experience, and we expect this new project will provide opportunities for local Jews to not only experience food with family and friends old and new, but also engage the Jewish community in a deeper way.”  In addition to online activities, JFE will create shared moments around food through events and programs such as tastings, volunteer opportunities, book signings, cooking series, films, and more.

photo (2)

Chef Todd Gray giving a cooking demo at the JFE launch.

Susan Barocas, JFE Project Director, explains, “The Jewish Food Experience is the first of its kind – a project that combines an appetizing website chock full of stories, recipes, and resources with exciting programs and partnerships.  There is something so elemental and natural about exploring, discussing, cooking, tasting, and sharing food that brings people together in a way few things can do.  And food is also a way to bring memory and tradition together with innovation and creativity.  It’s exciting to think about the possibilities of connecting people through food and contributing to richer, more satisfying ways to connect to Jewish heritage and culture.”

JFE held it’s official launch party on Tuesday, March 12.  The morning began with a bit of schmoozing (in true Jewish fashion) and breakfast consisting of twists on traditional Jewish foods and new innovative recipes.  Fritatta of wild mushrooms and muenster cheese, poached salmon mousse with cucumber salad, and matzah brei with strawberry compote were some of the delicious foods that attendees munched on.  While enjoying the breakfast fare, Chef Todd Gray, co-author of The New Jewish Table and member of the JFE Advisory Council, treated us to a cooking demo.  All who attended left with satisfied bellies and excitement for the Jewish Food Experience.

Check out the The Jewish Food Experience today!


Passover Events!

155Looking for a seder? Something to do during the eight days without chometz? We’ve got you covered. If we left anything off, please email Rachel at

Tuesday, March 12th:

Sunday, March 17th:

Monday, March 18th:

Wednesday, March 20th:

Thursday, March 21st:

Saturday, March 23rd:

Monday, March 25th:

Tuesday, March 26th:

Friday, March 29th:

Sunday, March 31st:


GTJ Satirist Brian F. – “Fear Factor: The Jewish American Prince & Princess Edition”

fearNEW YORK, NY – (@The Comedy News)  – Executives at NBC are debuting a spinoff of the hit game show, Fear Factor, titled “Fear Factor:  The Jewish American Prince & Princess Edition”.  Hosted by Canadian Jew Seth Rogan, the latest installment of Fear Factor will test the patience,  neuroses, and basic cardio endurance of Jewish American Princes and Princesses.  The first four episodes will take place in Miami, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
The latest promotional advertisement features the 30-year-old actor speaking to the audience: “Hi I’m Seth Rogen, and this is ‘Fear Factor:  The Jewish American Prince and Princess Edition.’  The stunts you are about to see were all designed and supervised by trained professionals—specifically Doctors, Lawyers, Fundraisers, and Rabbis.  They are extremely dangerous and should not be attempted by anyone, anywhere, anytime.”
Below is a preview of each episode of the first season.PILOT EPISODE:  Miami Vices and Crises

Second Stunt:  Contestants will have to eat luke-warm, frozen store-bought bagels schmeared with Le Moche Chevre—- the world’s most bitter blue cream cheese.

Third Stunt:  The remaining Jewish American Princes and Princesses will be given a Lexus with four flat tires.  The fastest Jewish American Prince or Princess to change all four tires drives home with the Lexus.

EPISODE 2:  Dorks and Pork in New York

First Stunt:  Jewish American Princes and Princesses from the Midwest who have never visited New York will be challenged to travel from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn without asking anyone for directions in less than four hours.

Second Stunt:  Contestants will be forced to sit in a room filled with 613 open jars of Manaschevitz gefilte fish.  The temperature will be set at 90 degrees.  The first three to exit the room or throw up will be eliminated.

Third Stunt:  The remaining Jewish American Princes and Princesses will be forced to dine at New York’s most vilified restaurant, Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen and Bar.  None of the orders will be served timely or accurately.  The first contestant to heckle the waiter, chef, and Guy Fieri into running out of the restaurant crying and screaming hysterically wins—and gets to punch Guy Fieri in the balls.

EPISODE 3:  City of Angels (Even Though Jews Don’t Believe in Angels)

First Stunt:  Contestants will have their federal income tax returns audited.  Those with errors will be eliminated.

Second Stunt:  Contestants will be given $2,000 in cash and dropped off on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills during regular business hours.  Any contestant returning with less than $1,990 will be eliminated.

Third Stunt:  The remaining Jewish American Princes and Princesses will walk into the William Morris Endeavor talent agency, tell an original Aristocrats joke, and then act it out.  Whomever WME signs to an agent wins.

EPISODE 4:  Chicago White Sox with Sandles

First Stunt: The contestants will be treated to a marathon of Mel Gibson movies: Mad Max, What Women Want, Conspiracy Theory, and The Passion of the Christ.  The first three to walk out or shout obscenities at the screen will be eliminated.

Second Stunt: Contestants will spin a wheel labeled with the Ten Plagues of Egypt.  Whichever one of the plagues the wheel lands on, the contestants must eat—that includes darkness and firstborn.

Third Stunt:  The remaining Jewish American Princes and Princesses will do the Hora on the observation deck of the Sears Tower.  The contestant that goes the longest before their mother phones them to “get down from there because it is dangerous” wins.

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.


The Drive to Save Wendy

wendEvery day people wake up and hope they will be able to change the world.  Practically speaking it is impossible to change the whole world at once, however we all know how the “Butterfly effect” works, and therefore how every single act of kindness we do is a step closer to making the world a better place.

Last year, I heard something that changed my perspective on the power of the individual entirely.

During a lecture at the International Living Legacy Conference in Washington, DC, Rabbi Adin Even-Yisrael (Steinzaltz) said the following: “When one person stamps his foot in protest no one can hear unless they are really close, if ten people stamp their feet it’s a little more audible, if a thousand people stamp their feet together you will be able to feel the ground shake under you, ever so slightly.  If a million people stamp their feet at the same time it will be heard very far, if the whole world, close to seven billion people were to stamp their feet together the whole earth would shake.  That is the power of one human being, to be able to cause so much by one movement, when it’ s accompanied by others.”

Every person at some point or another in his life has dreamed of being a hero.  Especially children.  Whether it be Batman, Superman, or a Fire Fighter, a child dreams to be able to help people in need, to save people’s lives.

We all have this childhood dream still within us, and who would not do anything to save a person’s life, if we only could?  What if I told you all it takes is a cheek swab, and you can be a Hero, you can save a life?

Sir Winston Churchill said: “We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give”.

Many volunteers are surprised at how much fun it can be to help others.  Not every volunteer experience is the same, but I guarantee, you have a good chance of having fun while giving time.  There are many benefits that ensure from helping others.  Personal fulfillment, feeling a sense of accomplishment, meeting new people, and contributing to the community.

A community can only be as healthy, vibrant, and active as its members are willing to make it.  Volunteerism significantly improves the quality of life for ourselves and those we assist.

The Talmud states: “Whosoever that saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

Here is an opportunity to do just that, the impossible, to save the world!  And it all it takes is one cheek swab.

Let me explain.  Approximately 2 weeks ago, I heard the sad story of Wendy.   Wendy Siegel is a dear friend of a GW student, a wonderful woman living in NY.  A few months ago Wendy was diagnosed with Leukemia.  For her to live, she must find a perfect match and get a bone marrow transplant.

Young Professionals of DC, a project of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) and Gather the Jews, have joined together with “The Gift of Life” – a national bone marrow foundation – to run a drive at TheSHUL – Lubavitch Center (Chabad), located at 2110 Leroy Pl NW near Dupont Circle – to get as many people as possible to test if they are a match.

Testing as a potential donor is fast and painless, involving only a simple cheek swab.  That’s it – it takes 3 minutes.

A few days ago, someone wrote the following in response to our Facebook post about The Drive to Save Wendy:

“I am encouraging everyone to either register with the Gift of Life or Be a Match.  The Be A Match saved my life!  I would not be here today, living life to the fullest, without my volunteer donor, thank G-d!  Please be tested as it is a very simple process.  It is truly a great Mitzvah that one can give to another person to save their life!”

His wife immediately commented on his post: “And furthermore it also saves the whole family’s life!”

So what are you waiting for? Here’s your chance to save a life! Who knows if YOU might be the one!!



Former JGOTW Damien is Fencing in the World Maccabiah Games!

409654_276377985802155_544849008_nFormer Jewish Guy of the Week Damien is representing the USA in the 2013 Maccabiah Games.  GTJ at down with Damien to learn a little more about his fencing experiences.

Rachel: How did you get involved in fencing?
Damien: I started fencing when I was eight years old.  My best friend’s father was a champion level fencer in Sweden and introduced us to the sport at a young age.  I’ve had the same coach since I was eight (Janusz Smolenski) and I’m a sucker for consistency, so I don’t think I’ll be changing any time…ever!

Rachel: We heard you also coach. How has that been?
Damien: Coaching has been just as much a joy to me as much as fencing competitively.  I have had the privilege of mentoring a very motivated group of kids who love fencing and work their tails off.  One of my students (Suzanne Stettinius) qualified for the London 2012 Olympics, so I had the opportunity to travel over there with her and see her through to the big stage.  On the side, I run a website called and write a weekly fencing/fencing coaching column for the Washington Times.

Rachel: What is your proudest moment in fencing?400557_274331386006815_1242514897_n
Damien: Going to the Olympics and seeing a student compete gave me a feeling of joy that I can’t even put into words.  I’m no sap, but I may have gotten a little teary-eyed.  Three months after the Olympics, I joined three of my very good friends/teammates in winning the 2012 North American Cup Senior Men’s Epee Team.  I came in as the alternate.  We had a blast the entire day, didn’t take ourselves too seriously, and walked away with a gold medal.  All in all, 2012 was a great year full of many unforgettable fencing memories, and I’m hoping to continue this positive streak with the Maccabiah games!

Rachel: Are you excited to represent USA in the Maccabiah games? What are you looking forward to most?
Damien: Excited is an understatement!  To be selected for the Maccabiah games is humbling, unexpected, and the opportunity of a lifetime.  I embrace any opportunity to compete, and am thrilled to engage in combat with the best Jewish athletes in the world.  This will be my second trip to Israel, so I am excited to return.  I made some great friends on my Shorashim trip there last year, and am eager to reconnect with them.  Israel is one of the most beautiful countries in the world.  Who would not be psyched to return!

Damien needs to raise $5000 to finance his trip to the World Maccabiah Games. You can help him here.




Home Bais

IMG_20130305_201627_012“Welcome to Homehb Beis…You are in on the ground floor”.  These words spoken by Rabbi Zvi Teitelbaum began a new chapter in Jewish life in our nation’s capital. Home Beis: The Yisroel Lefkowitz Center for Advanced Jewish Studies, opened its doors this past Tuesday night in response to a resurgence in Washington D.C. of people willing to embrace and explore their Judaism in greater depth. The Beis, as in Beis (or Beit) Midrash, which is located just a few blocks from the White House provides an opportunity for young professionals to escape from the hectic lifestyle of Washington D.C. into the oasis of a yeshiva like environment.

IMG_20130305_212201_135On opening night, 18 men along with staff joined together to delve into the depths the Talmud. After Rabbi Teitelbaum’s introductory remarks, the group broke into chavrutot (study partners) or chose to participate in a small beginner’s level class on the Talmudic selection. Afterwards, the group joined back together for a brief, in depth, discussion of the ideas they had just studied followed by a short message about self development and personal growth.

The aim of Home Beis is to create a center for Torah study and growth in DC.  While the first program offered is the Tuesday night Beit Midrash program, the hope is to expand and provide more study opportunities to meet the demands of the growing community.  As Rabbi Teitelbaum mentioned, the goal is to help Washington DC flourish into a place where people can grow and embrace their Judaism.  He said: “we are not only here for ourselves, but also as a responsibility to our D.C. community.”  This is a community wide project not associated with any particular group or organization so that all Jews will feel welcome to participate.IMG_20130305_201724_540

Home Beis is generously dedicated by the Lefkowitz family as a tribute to the legacy of Mr. Yisroel Lekowitz.  Mr. Lefkowitz, the father of Rabbi Dovid Lefkowitz, was a visionary and an activist on behalf of the Jewish people. His acts of kindness and charity touched the lives of thousands.  Although he was an ordained Rabbi, Mr. Lefkowitz chose not to carry the title because he was not an acting rabbi.  The Lefkowitz family is confident that Mr. Lefkowitz would take great pride in his center playing a prominent role in the continuing development of the growing Jewish Washington DC community.

IMG_20130305_212907_348Much credit must be given to Manny Halberstam and Mark Donig for all of their work and the ownership they have taken in helping Home Beis and the Beit Midrash program get off the ground.

For more information about Home Beis please contact .


GTJ Satirist Brian F. – Fiddler in the Vatican: Cardinals Select First Jewish Pope

popVATICAN CITY – (@The Comedy News) – One-hundred-and-fifteen Cardinals have gathered in the Vatican City and selected the first Jewish Pope in the  two-thousand year history of Catholicism.

Woody Allen, a Jewish filmmaker from New York City, has been appointed the replacement for His Holiness Emeritus, Benedict XVI.

Although this is an unprecedented move by the Vatican, the first Pope, St. Peter, had a fairly positive relationship with the Jewish people during his reign, according to primary sources.

The world’s first Jewish Pope has selected his “Pope name”, which will be Pope Portnoy IX.
Pope Portnoy IX could not be reached for comment, because he was deeply engaged in a conversation with his Mother:

“For the last time, Ma, I’m not going to be a doctor,” Pope Portnoy IX screamed into his white iPhone 4S.  “No, Ma.  I’m sure she is a nice girl, but there’s no point in you introducing me.  Well, this new gig I got has some rules, goddammit.”

Pope Portnoy IX’s assistants have released a list of changes that he will embark upon for the remainder of his lifetime appointment as the first Jewish Pope:

  • Midnight Christmas Mass will be relocated from the Vatican to Katz’s Deli.  This will be followed by an early morning Christmas Day Chinese buffet lunch with the local Cardinals, and a Papal Mission to the nearest Regal Cinema.
  • Christmas will now focus less on Jesus’ birth, but rather, more on his Bar Mitzvah, twenty years before his death at age 33.
  • Pope Portnoy IX will donate his elaborate white outfit to charity, and instead wear a 20-year-old suit that spouts a plume of dust whenever a colleague pats him on the shoulder.
  • The trademark over-sized hat will be retired and replaced with a red over-sized Kippah full time.
  • In an Easter/Passover hybrid, the Afikomen will involve having bunnies find a hidden slice of Matzah.
  • The Communion cracker will come with lox and shmear.
  • All sex scandals will now involve Shiksas (18 and older) with tattoos.
  • The Pope Mobile upgraded to something safer, like a Volvo.

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.


Wanted: Roommate for Big White Beautiful House (rent TBD)

the_white_house_0Roommate wanted for luxurious, fully furnished neo-classical house located smack in the middle of DC!  Just three minutes from the national mall and a mere 2.5 miles away from hip places like Columbia Heights, Dupont, and the U street Corridor!  Seriously guys, this place is huge.  High ceilings, spacious rooms, and big beautiful windows letting in lots of natural light!

About us: My wife and I moved in four years ago with our two daughters and are looking for a chill roommate to help us with rent.  We travel a ton, and mostly just stick to our wing of the house so you won’t have to deal with us too much, but we enjoy sharing the occasional bottle of wine in the blue room if you’re down.  Your bedroom will be on the state floor in the newly constructed East Wing and comes with a queen sized bed, armoire, dresser, closet, chandelier and sconces.  For the most part, the house stays pretty quiet, but occasionally protesters like to make a raucous out front.  In fact, I can hear them screaming something about gun control right now.  Ear plugs.  Problem solved.  Now, if things get a little cray cray, don’t be afraid to head down to the situation room.

Our last roommate liked to rollerskate down the marble halls, while admiring the pre-civil war art collection on the walls.  Though we recognize the temptation to do this, please don’t.  It scratches the floors and they’re not easy to restore, to say the least.

We have a massive front and backyard so if you are into gardening, this place might be a perfect match for you.  I won’t say the grounds cover over 18 acres, but……………………………the grounds cover over 18 acres.  A little excessive, I know, and the cost to maintain it is a downer, but I swear it is worth it and our Christmas tree is huge.

MUST be okay with dogs.  Bo is super friendly and loves everyone, so you must love him back.  He’s kind of an attention whore, so no more pets please.

I feel I should give full disclosure.  This house is old, so history runs deep here.  With great history comes great responsibility, just kidding…what I meant to say was great hauntings.  Unfortunately, the house has been known to have a few stray poltergeists since it was built over a graveyard in 1800.  We only moved the headstones, but forgot to move the bodies…oops.  Anyway, they tend to just hang out in the basement in black rubber suits and lower rent significantly so they are actually a real asset.

Please respond via email with a little bit about yourself.  Try to be as dry and bureaucratic as possible.

Michelle and I are looking forward to a cool new roomie!


A Young Doctor’s Journey in Israel Part II: Israeli Health


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.

In addition to caring for Israelis in several diverse clinical settings and traveling throughout the region, during my month long fellowship in Israel I have had the privilege and honor of working with Israeli leaders in medicine and public health.

During my first week, I spent an afternoon meeting with Dr. Tami Shochat, the director of the Israeli Centers for Disease Control.  It was an honor to meet the women who leads this prestigious and important agency in Israel.  Like her colleague at our CDC, Dr. Thomas Friedman, Dr. Shochat is charged with setting the vision for prevention and disease management in Israel.  We discussed a number of her efforts, many of which centered around initiatives to collect population data on Israeli health.

Another leader who I met with was Dr. Ehud Davidson, Deputy Director General & Head of the Hospital Division at Clalit.  Clalit is Israel’s biggest health services provider and largest health insurer. For the last century, Clalit has provided care throughout Israel and now runs the largest network of hospitals in Israel.

During my conversations with Drs Shochat, Davidson and countless other clinicians and policy experts in Israel several interesting distinctions and features of the Israeli health system have come to light.

Health Care Delivery in Israel

In Israel health insurance is universal and provided for all by the government.  Through an approximately 5% tax on income, every citizen gets health insurance.  Since the 1995 National Health insurance Law, all Israeli citizens must then sign up with one of Israeli’s four HMOs (of which Clalit is the largest at 54% of all Israelis).  The HMOs pay physicians directly and in the case of Clalit, also own hospitals.

The Israeli government updates yearly its list of uniform benefits that are provided under the HMO.  No citizen can be denied these services or membership in any of the HMOs, regardless of race, age, gender, or level of health.  Israeli’s can purchase (70% do) supplementary insurance on top of their mandated plan that will allow them to see any doctor they wish and have additional available procedures and treatments beyond the uniform benefits.

pregnant_women_picturesFertility in Israel

One of the benefits of the universal health care system and the national pride in having large families is a generous infertility treatment benefit.  This is manifest in payments for in-vitro fertilization (IVF) for all women for up to two offspring.    This would be unheard of in the U.S. where each cycle of IVF can cost in the thousands and is rarely covered by insurance.

Challenges in the Israeli System

Several challenges exist in Israel in the coming years.

First, the population is getting older.  After the atrocities of the Holocaust in the mid 1940’s Jews fled to Israel seeking freedom and opportunity.  Soon afterwards they began having children and this group of ‘baby-boomers’ is now hitting the age of retirement.  As the population ages these next few years and this large group retires and becomes sicker there will be a decrease in the proportion of Israelis paying into the program compared to those using services at a higher rate.  This will create a financial challenge.  Israel uses 8% of its GDP on healthcare (compared to 18% in the US).  This rate, while very low, will likely change in the coming years as the population ages

The second issue facing Israel is providing effective care to the Arab and rural population.  Due to consanguinity (relations between blood relatives), a high proportion of Israeli Arabs have genetic illnesses.  These folks are sicker because of it and thus have a higher usage rate of health services.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA third health care issue in Israel is the capitation fee model.  Clalit and the other 3 HMOs in Israel receive a capitation sum for each enrollee.  A capitation fee is a fixed sum of money available to pay for health services for an individual.  In the US and worldwide, the capitation model has been tried with some success.  The model often puts the onus of cost control on the HMO (and thus the physician). For every dollar the HMO spends below the capitation sum, they can save and profit from the surplus.  In Israel the capitation is age adjusted to provide larger sums for older patients who will utilize a greater amount of health services, but only recently has the government provided additional sums per year for certain patients who have certain illnesses that require additional health care utilization.  The Israeli health ministry will be working hard over the next few years to refine this list and ensure an appropriate model for health care funding.

A fourth issue for the Israeli health system is electronic health records and quality.  In the US we have created several quality measures under the ACA (Obamacare), including bonus payments for providers meeting diabetes health indicators.  We have developed the Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) which allows for increased patient access with web portals to view test results and communicate directly with their doctor, greater drug adherence by allowing physicians to prescribe electronically and monitor prescription fill rates, and improved quality by allowing the creation of groups of patients with the same illness who can be monitored for meeting standard care measures.  The U.S. has also moved to the electronic medical record (EMR).  New initiatives in Israel encourage EMRs.

A fifth issue in Israel stems directly from the ageing population; a physician shortage.  As the population ages more doctors are needed.  In response Israel has opened a fifth medical school and is increasing the enrollment of the other four.  Despite these efforts, there will be a 10 year gap while the training occurs where Israel will have a great need for physicians.  Clalit and the other HMOs are trying innovative strategies to lure doctors to their facilities (Israeli doctors are notoriously underpaid).  This will be an emerging issue for Israel over the next decade.


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


First Date: Answer in the Form of a Question – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (No. 60)

quiz-graphicWhat are some questions you can ask on a first date?

First dates are hard.  There’s no denying that.  From the endless supply of sweat that you didn’t know your body could produce, to the awkward silences when you actually contemplate talking about how unseasonably cold it is outside (Snowquester, anyone?), to the question of who pays the bill, first dates are often fairly anxiety-inducing.  One thing that makes it even harder is not knowing the right questions to ask.

Now, we all hope that the conversation flows naturally on a first date, pinging and ponging like Zhang Jike in the London Olympics.  (Yes – I’m a total ping pong nerd!)  But inevitably, most of us, even those who think we could have a conversation with a piece of broccoli if we had to, will be stumped at some point or another.  Rather than running off to the restroom to plot your next conversation topic, it’s a good idea to have a few questions in your back pocket just in case the gulping of your drink doesn’t quite overpower the dreaded silence.

There are certainly no right or wrong questions to ask on a date, but the ones that have the most luck require more than a simple one-word answer.  You want to get the person thinking, showing them that you actually care.  For example, rather than asking, “What do you do?” (perhaps the most boring question in the book), you could ask, “What made you decide to get into exotic bird-watching for a living?” or “How do you enjoy your job as a (fill in the blank) analyst?  I imagine it must be very rewarding.”  The first question allows your date to simply say, “I’m a _____,” but the other two require a bit more thought and introspection, leading to a more thoughtful conversation… and perhaps a second date.

Other questions that might come in handy:

–          What do you generally like to do after work?

–          What made you decide to move to the DC area, and how do you enjoy it?

–          How was your day?  (Often overlooked, but a great conversation-starter.)

–          What kinds of things do you like to read for pleasure?  Have you read anything good lately that you would recommend?

–          What would be your perfect Sunday?

Remember that this is a date, not an interview, so try to avoid acting like you’re judging the other person based on his or her answers.  (Maybe you are, but keep that to yourself!)  It’s best to stay away from the stereotypical interview questions like, “What is the hardest thing you’ve ever accomplished?” or “Was there ever a time that you were challenged to do something you felt was wrong?”  These questions are scary, whether at an interview or a date.  Don’t put the person on the spot.  Rather, ask something that he or she already knows or can at least have a fun time thinking about.

Dating is about both talking and listening.  The date should be a give and take, with you asking some questions and your date asking some questions.  What you say is just as important as your ability to listen.  And what will you be listening to?  The answers to these fabulous questions you’ll ask!

Erika Ettin is, as the Washington Post has noted, a “modern day Cyrano.” She is the Founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps people with all aspects of online dating.  Check out her interview on NPR here. An archive of all of Erika’s columns is also available.  Want to connect with Erika?  Join her newsletter for updates and tips.

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