Support a GTJ Staffer — Support Dance in the Circle!

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For the past year, GTJ staffer Michael Lipin and his friend Daniel Kramer have been volunteering their time to produce an first-of-its-kind dance festival in Dupont Circle Park – one bringing together 11 local-area dance companies to perform & instruct in a variety of styles on a dance floor next to the Circle’s iconic fountain. “Dance in the Circle” (DITC) is a follow-up to their co-production of June 2010’s “Soccer in the Circle”, which brought thousands of people to the same park for the first World Cup fan festival in the Nation’s Capital, an event that drew international news coverage.

DITC will feature performances of modern, jazz, tap, flamenco, hip hop & house dance and instructional sessions for the public, with an Urban Artistry DJ supplying the music. Planning the festival has been a big challenge for Michael and Daniel, with a long list of tasks to complete, from inviting dance companies to participate, recruiting a talented designer, Alex Emmerman, to put together the official website, winning the support of a local non-profit group (Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets) to provide insurance and a bank account for collecting tax-deductible donations, and working with the National Park Service to obtain a permit for using the park. The last major task is securing money (several thousand dollars) from individuals and local businesses to pay for equipment such as the dance floor, sound system, lights and a generator. You can help them to raise the needed funds by joining them at a happy hour at Mad Hatter DC on Thursday, March 29th from 6pm to 9pm, when you’ll be able to meet some of the dancers and sample some of Mad Hatter’s special drink offers and food. You can also support DITC with a tax-deducible PayPal donation of any mount via the PayPal button our website’s front page. More details about the happy hour on its Facebook page. See you at the Circle – and bring your dancing shoes!


Transcendence through Self-Sacrifice

This post is dedicated to Rabbi Jonathan, Aryeh, and Gavriel Sendler and Miriam Monsonego, z”l, who were brutally murdered in Toulouse earlier this week.

Welcome to Vayikra (Leviticus), the third installment of the Torah, which we began this week. The book of Vayikra is quite a challenging read, prompting the Medieval Talmud commentators known as Tosofot to comment that Vayikra is “the most difficult of the Five Books of Moses.”[1]  This volume of the Torah is chock-full of laws and it begins with those dealing with animal sacrifices in the Sanctuary (the Tabernacle in the wilderness and later the Holy Temple in Jerusalem).

For now let us put aside whatever personal feelings we may have regarding animal sacrifices[2] and try to make sense of how to apply these rituals, which we don’t seem to practice in this day and age (G-d willing we will again soon with the rebuilding of the Holy Temple!), to our daily lives. The classic Torah commentators offer varying opinions speculating as to why G-d commanded animal sacrifices, Ibn Ezra writing: “Heaven forfend to say that G-d actually needs animals to be burned! Rather the significance here is a mystical one.”[3] Indeed an in-depth study of commandments of sacrifices provides many lessons about self-growth and coming closer to G-d.

The opening line of this week’s Torah portion, which bares the same title as the third book in the Torah, begins with G-d commanding Moses (Moshe) concerning the sacrifices saying: “Adam ki-yakriv meekem korban”  – “When any person of you will offer a sacrifice…” However, a more literal translation of the Hebrew reads as follows: “When any person will offer a sacrifice of you.” The famous Chassidic interpretation understands this to be a commentary on the whole nature of sacrifice.[4] The term korban (sacrifice) derives from the word, karov (to approach; to come near). Thus, the verse is teaching us that when any person desires to draw close to G-d, they must make a sacrifice of themselves.[5] They must negate their own ego that keeps them far from attaining closeness with the Creator.

What does it mean to sacrifice oneself in order to come closer to G-d? Chassidic philosophy teaches that every Jew has both a G-dly Soul and an Animal Soul. The Animal Soul prefers physical pleasures and comfort while the G-dly Soul prefers spirituality and doing G-d’s will. The animal inside all of us (our animal nature) can be sacrificed by redirecting its passions and drives in a way that enables us to serve G-d with vitality. We do not do away with physical acts, but we redirect all of them toward a spiritual purpose. Several examples include sanctifying eating and drinking by making the proper blessings before and after eating, using physical wool in tzitzit (ritual fringes) and using physical leather in tefillin (phylacteries).[6] By elevating ourselves and the world around us we reveal the innate G-dliness hidden within it. By engaging our animalistic drives and utilizing them in the service of G-d, we are able to reach a higher level of closeness with G-d than we could by only tapping into the more ‘spiritual’ aspects of ourselves.[7]

Lest one think that one is too flawed to be able to offer him/herself up as a sacrifice to G-d (spiritually speaking of course!), the Rebbe Rayatz points out that the sacrifice is not only of ‘you’; it depends on ‘you.’ It is within the scope of every Jew, whatever his/her present or past…Every Jew has the right to ask themselves: “When will my acts be like the acts of my fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?”[8] Before a sacrifice could be offered upon the altar, the animal had to be checked to make sure it did not have any blemishes. The first step in coming closer to G-d is to do a self-examination, also known as a cheshbon hanefesh (accounting of the soul), and resolve to put right our faults. [9] Once we discover our individual strengths and weaknesses, we will be propelled to work on ourselves, grow, and actualize our spiritual potential. When we reveal the G-dliness within ourselves and our world we make ourselves and the world a dwelling place for G-d.

[1] Chumash. The Gutnick Edition, 619

[2] I will note that many of you have no problem killing an animal for its food. If you will kill an animal in order to satisfy your physical urge for food, certainly there is nothing wrong with killing an animal (which likely would have been eaten anyway) for the holy purpose of fulfilling G-d’s will.

[3] Chumash. The Gutnick Edition, 620

[4] Torah Studies. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, adaptions of talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, 151

[5] Living with Moshiach. Rabbi Immanuel Schochet, 80

[6] Torah Studies. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, adaptions of talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, 155

[7] Ibid., 153

[8] Ibid., 154

[9] Ibid., 153


Good Deeds Day! Register Today!






On Sunday, March 25 the Jewish community of Greater Washington will join thousands of volunteers from around the world in an international day of community service.

There are dozens of projects to choose from, and projects designated specifically for those in their 20s and 30s:

For a full list of volunteer sites, visit

Here’s a few we recommend:






New American Haggadah: A Review

I’ll confess that when I first picked up my copy of New American Haggadah, edited by Jonathan Safran Foer with translation by Nathan Englander, I was most excited to crack open another book with Jonathan Safran Foer’s name on the cover, and the fact that I was about to read through an actual haggadah was, well, secondary.  Up to this point, actually sitting down and opening up a haggadah outside the familiar parameters of the Passover table was a first for me.

Initially, I was skeptical.  Despite my documented love for Jonathan Safran Foer, as I flipped through the pages of the book, it looked to me like…just a haggadah. From the outside though, the book is not your run-of-the-mill haggadah in that it is large, hardcover, and more resembles a coffee table book than the flimsy pamphet of a Maxwell House haggadah that I grew up with.  This presents the logistical issue of how a copy of the large and in reality slightly cumbersome New American Haggadah could be provided to every attendee at the Passover table, or even every other attendee.  And this is not even considering the $29.99 a pop list price.  I plan to bring a copy home with me when I visit my parents’ house in Pennsylvania for the seders this year.  I can already envision the family using the Maxwell house pamphlets during the actual seder (beloved as they are) while the New American Haggadah takes its esteemed place…on the coffee table in the living room.

Logistical questions aside, as I started to read through the New American Haggadah, it became clear to me why this haggadah was special.  The English translation was simple and beautiful, and the text was laid out on the pages, sometimes more sparsely and sometimes more densely, in a way that was pleasing to the eye and that was almost zen-like.  In reading through the pages, the layout also provided something of a rhythm to the text, a clean and beautiful backdrop to the rituals of the seder embedded within.  I could quickly tell that reading this hagaddah was more of an experience than merely reading the text on the pages, that even went beyond the imagery of the Exodus from Egypt evoked by the text.  The actual layout of the book itself carries you on an independent experience and personal journey.   A high feat for a haggadah, if you think about it.

I went to hear Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander speak about the New American Haggadah project at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue this past Monday (and was probably accompanied by many of you, since the place was packed).  From their descriptions, I actually learned that much of the layout of the book was deliberate.  Something that stands out most when you read through the haggadah is the colorful, abstract, watercolor-looking patterns that are somehow fittingly interspersed throughout the pages.  The images aren’t so overwhelming that they detract from the seriousness of the seder, but are enough provide some backdrop of beauty to the important words on the page.

What I learned at the talk, though, was that what I thought to be abstract art on the pages actually is actually a depiction of Hebrew lettering throughout time.  Additionally, running along the top of each page is a timeline, starting with 1250-1200 BCE and running to the present, that chronicles how the story of the Exodus appears throughout history.  An interesting added dynamic, if you feel like turning the book sideways and reading the fine print.  I also learned that the time period of the colorful artistic text on the pages matches the date on the timeline running along the top.  Kinda cool.

A theme of the talk was that the New American Haggadah was created as an open space for the reader, the seder-goer, to engage in their own individual experience of the story of Passover, which is in effect an experience of the Exodus.  I already mentioned what the structure and layout of the haggadah itself managed to conjure up in the way of an individual journey.  But to me, what makes this haggadah truly different from – you know, all other haggadahs – are the pages of commentary that are sprinkled throughout the book and its seder story experience.  These pages, which highlight different aspects of the Passover story, including elements like “Kiddush,” “Poor Man’s Bread,” and “Ten Plagues,” are where the true meat of the haggadah lies.  Each series of pages of commentary – which are printed horizontally on vertical pages, in relatively digestible bites of wisdom – includes categories, the descriptions of which I learned from the talk: Nation, which addresses political questions; Library, which presents literary/psychological questions; House of Study, which brings the traditional Rabbinical perspective, and finally Playground, which is targeted toward younger readers.

These pages of commentary, for me, took the experience beyond just the book, beyond just the text, beyond the story itself, and even beyond my own personal experience in reading it.  The commentary more broadly raised important questions regarding the rituals that we perform on Passover, spirituality in general, the state of Jews in the world today, and other pressing and political world matters that can be related to the experience of the Jewish people in the story of Passover.  As an example, the first page of commentary describes the importance that Judaism places on laws, but then goes on to say that not all laws are holy, but rather must be tested to assess whether or not they conform to moral law.   In reading this, my mind immediately jumped to abhorrent laws that have existed over time – anti-miscegenation laws, for example, that in the (disturbingly recent) past in our country criminalized marriage between spouses of different races, and the current laws, or lack of laws, that prohibit gays and lesbians from legally marrying in most places in the US.  After my mind went on this civil rights tangent, I saw that, sure enough, the commentary included a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. (another moment when I realized that this haggadah was not your ordinary haggadah, and was actually pretty cool).  Part of the MLK quote, written from the Birmingham city jail, was “an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.  Any law that uplifts human personality is just.”

The point is, within its first 12 pages, the New American Haggadah had me looking and thinking outside the haggadah-box.  It had me contemplating basic questions about law and morality that both directly related to the Passover experience and also more broadly to my own personal experience and the world around me.  So, if you are someone who does not like to merely take the information that is fed to you at face value – in this case, the story of Passover and the seder rituals – but would rather put that information in context — personally, historically, and globally — then you should pick up a copy of the New American Haggadah.  Or, at the least, bring a copy to whoever hosts you for seder, understanding that it may or may not end up on their coffee table.  Then, when you are lounging after the large seder meal, flip through to the commentary and ask yourself the difficult questions about why we do what we do as Jews, as well as why that night is truly different from all other nights.


Pistachio Cake with Pomegranate Sauce

One of the challenges of Passover is always the desserts.  There is the sponge cake that is rarely spongy, chocolate covered matzah that is, well, still matzah, and those strange fruit jelly things.  I am a firm believer that the key to keeping Passover with both a happy palate and stomach is to avoid Passover-specific ingredient.  This seder-appropriate Middle Eastern- inspired dessert is simple but delicious any time of year (and useful if you have friends who can’t have gluten).

Total time: about 2 ½ hours (including cooling time)

Yield: 12

Level: Moderate


© Courtney Weiner.  All Rights Reserved.


  • 6 eggs, separated
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 3 c pistachios, finely ground in the food processor
  • 16 oz. pomegranate juice
  • ½ cinnamon stick
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 3 cardamom pods, partially crushed


Grease a 10” spring form pan well and set aside.  Preheat oven to 325º.

In a large bowl, beat together egg yolks and sugar until lemon-colored.  Gradually add in the pistachios.

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with salt until they form stiff peaks.  Carefully fold into pistachio mixture.  The whites should be incorporated, but it’s ok if the batter is not completely uniform.  Note that if the pistachio mixture is too hard to mix, you can first mix in about 1/3 of the whites to soften it before folding in the remaining whites.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake for 1 hour without opening the oven door.  After an hour, turn off the heat and leave the oven door ajar for 10-15 minutes.  Remove pan from the oven and invert over a cooling rack until completely cool.  Remove outer ring of pan.  Use a knife and/or a spatula to separate the cake from the bottom of the pan.  Invert onto a plate.  Reinvert onto another plate to the top of the cake is up.

While the cake is baking, make the sauce: add the pomegranate juice, sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom to a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves then stirring occasionally.  Simmer for about 25-30 minutes, or until volume has reduced by about half.

When serving, you can poke small holes in the cake and pour the sauce over the top, or you can spoon over individual pieces.


What Not To Do – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (week 32)

Throughout the course of my articles, I have doled out advice and tips for profile-writing, so when a rare gem comes across that’s so good (and by good, I actually mean bad) and actually goes against any piece of advice I could ever give, I feel that it’s my duty to share.  Remember, this is an example of what not to do.  (I’ve even taken out a whole paragraph’s worth of writing from it.)

I’m more of a “journey” than a “destination” sort of guy so let me kick this off with a little narrative snapshot of what went down during the past couple of months in my world so you can get a sense of what made me the man I am today. In October, I moved [here] to start my first real job ever: baby corporate lawyer at a giant, multi-national law firm. The expectation was that I’d order dinner into the office and take dial cars home with alarming frequency because I’d be working so hard. I wasn’t exactly happy about this, but I was also excited to take on the challenge of actual responsibility after so many years studying things that were supposed to prepare me for it. I saw no reason to give up on finding some sort of work/life balance before I’d even tried. After all, lots of lawyers (not to mention other professionals) have worked that hard before and continue to do so routinely. Total immersion in whatever it is you happen to be doing teaches you things about the structure and implications of that would never register during a mere dalliance. I was genuinely looking forward to learning all these secrets about how the world works and contributing to something larger than myself, and maybe figuring what I might like to do with the rest of my life (or just the next couple of years) in the process. I always try to accentuate the positive.

Anyway, it really didn’t work out. Because of forces beyond my control or comprehension, I spent most of those first few months sitting on my ass and reading on the internet about the outside world where people actually did things for a living. I also played a lot of facebook scrabble… Things are starting to pick up a little now, but it also turns out that corporate law is nowhere near as cool as I hoped it might be and it doesn’t look like there’s much I can do about it if I work harder. Oh well. Sometimes things don’t go as planned, but that’s part of the fun!

I also had a girlfriend for most of the period described above and my relationship with her was much more important than any frustrations I felt about the futility of my job. We have since parted ways amicably. Hence,

It just took me, like, 1000 characters to draw the profound confusion that I joined an on-line dating site to try and meet girls. Amazing. In my defense, I studied literature in college and wanted to be a writer when I was younger (who can remember?) so I sometimes make things a little more complicated and overwrought than they need to be. I’m no drama king, though. It’s only for the aesthetics… did I make you smile?

The main problems:

  • Too long

As a general rule of thumb, a few sentences are not enough, but anything over three paragraphs is way too long.  People will simply see the length and think, “I don’t have time to read this,” and click on someone else’s profile.  No need to tell your life story.  Save it for the date… and even then, use discretion!

  • Too negative

No one wants to date a Negative Nellie, so stay away from talking about bad times in your life and ex-girlfriends or -boyfriends.  People will think, “You hate your job and you just broke up with your girlfriend.  What’s next?”

  • Too busy

We all have busy jobs, but leading with this is not the way to go because it only leads to one question: Does he even have time to date?

Profiles are not supposed to be a stream of consciousness narrative about your life story.  He would have even been better off using the worst line out there, “I love to laugh and have fun,” and nothing else.

Erika Ettin is the Founder of A Little Nudge, where she offers services from online dating profile-writing to e-mailing potential matches to planning dates. An archive of all of Erika’s columns is also available. Want to connect with Erika? Join her newsletter for updates and tips.

Got burning questions you’d like answered in a future post?


Building Together

Jews... Gathering... To build, and then carry, the ark.

Zev “Will” Gotkin is a GTJ staff writer.  The opinions expressed in this piece belong solely to the author.

Gather the Jews is an organization whose title is rather self-explanatory. Gathering our fellow Jews and enabling them to work together in a spirit of love and brotherhood is actually the key that will unlock the door to the Messianic age for which the Jewish people have long been praying. The era of the Messiah, or Moshiach, will be a time of universal peace among nations in which all peoples will share a common recognition of G-d as the only master of the universe. In the times of Moshicah, G-d’s glory will again be openly revealed within our physical world.[1] We can hasten the coming of Moshiach through working together and building a world ready to receive the Divine Presence. Our combined Parshiyot (Torah readings) of this week, Vayakhel-Pekudei along with the commentary of the Chassidic masters help us to understand this concept.

The four parshiyot, Terumah, Tetzaveh, Vayakhel, and Pekudei are concerned with the construction of the Mishkan (the Sanctuary in which G-d’s presence will dwell among the Jewish people during their travels in the desert). The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches that these four parshiyot detail a sequence of events leading up to a flow of Divine inspiration to the Jewish people.[2] Parshiyot Terumah and Tetzaveh discuss the fashioning of the Mishkan, its vessels, and the garb to be worn by the priesthood, or Kohanim. In Vayakhel, Moses (Moshe) transmits G-d’s commands dealing with these subjects to the Jewish people who then implement them. Finally, in Parshat Pekudei, G-d’s glory fills the Mishkan (Shemot 40:34).[3] It is an oft-repeated concept in Chassidic philosophy that our Divine service (Torah study and observance of mitzvoth and good deeds) below i.e. in this physical world, leads to a revelation of G-d’s presence from above. Through these four parshiyot we see that the work done by the Jewish people to build a Mishkan was reciprocated with G-d’s emanation of Divine Light from Heaven to earth.[4]

In Parshat Pekudei the Torah tells us that “Betzalel…did all that G-d commanded Moshe” (Shemos 38:22). Rashi explains that Betzalel is singled out here in order to indicate that he was on such a high spiritual level that he could even intuit those instructions G-d gave to Moshe on Mount Sinai that were not taught over to him. The Sfas Emes teaches that Betzalel’s ability to intuit G-d’s will without directly hearing the commandments symbolizes the entire Jewish nation. According to the Sfas Emes, the Jewish people can intuitively sense the will of their Father in Hevaven more than any of the prophets.[5] Or HaChaim makes a similar point and cites the following verse in the Torah as proof: “The Israelites did all that G-d had commanded Moshe” (Shemot 39:32). In this light, the building of the Mishkan is a metaphor for serving G-d. Building the Mishkan united the Jewish people. So too, Jewish people working to help one another in serving G-d through studying Torah and doing mitzvot and good deeds also unifies the Jewish people. “In Torah observance,” Or HaChaim explains, “G-d created a bond to link the entire Jewish people. He showed them that that every Jew can bring merit to his fellow Jews, for the Torah can only be fulfilled by the entire Jewish people working together. If all Jews do what they can, they will bring one another merit.”[6]

Judaism teaches us that our neighbor’s welfare should be just as important to us as our own (See Vayikra 19:18). There are 613 commandments in the Torah, but it is impossible for any one person to fulfill them all. Some of them can only be performed by Kohanim or Leviim. Others can only be done by women and still others can only be performed in the land of Israel. It should bring us comfort that when we each do our job and play our respective roles we bring merit to the entire Jewish people. When we work together in peace and harmony to make this world into a dwelling to receive G-d’s presence we make G-d more willing to reveal Himself and thus, bring G-dliness into the world.[7]

I’ll close this discussion with an inspiring thought from Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (1740-1809), a sage and mystic who had a passionate love for every Jew. He consistently pleaded with the Master of the Universe to overlook the misdeeds of his fellow Jews, and he was famous for always being able to see the good in others. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak taught that since our current exile was brought about by the hatred that existed among Jews, the only way to bring about the Redemption is through mutual love. This love is only possible when all people unify themselves with G-d, the Root of all unity. He stressed that even admonishment and correction should not be done in order to shame the recipient, but to convince the person how lofty is their soul and how beloved they are by G-d.[8] Through helping, loving, and respecting one another may we finally merit the rebuilding of the Sanctuary and the revelation of G-d’s presence in the world.

[1] era of moshiach

[2] “Studies in the Weekly Parsha” Sh’mos, Y. Nachshoni, Artscroll. 584

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 615

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Chassidic Masters. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan


Jews and diplomats gather for ACCESS DC

EMD and others at ACCESS DC.

Gather the Jews promoted this event — which went off to much success last night — throughout March.  If you would like to have GTJ promote your event, please email


Rachel Arenstein is a GTJ contributor.

Last night, young Jewish adults joined diplomats representing 39 embassies for ACCESS DC’s Eleventh Annual Young Diplomats Reception.  By my judgement, the event was a big success owing to the variety of delicious refreshments.  But for those who evaluate events by other standards, here are a few non-gastronomical details:

This year’s program The Arab Awakening: The Changing Face of the Middle East featured speakers who were not only renowned experts on Middle East policy, but who are active participants in the political processes of their respective countries — Egypt and Syria — and have fought  in the past years for democracy in their countries.  Both speakers acknowledged the challenges facing their countries as they transition from oppressive regimes to functioning democracies, but both are hopeful that they can create governments that are inclusive and transparent.

The program concluded with a brief Q&A during which intelligent questions were posed by attendees — including GTJ’s own food writer Courtney Weiner.

You know who might be one of my favorite people in the whole world? Gene Ge... (Stephen R.)

To learn more about AJC’s ACCESS, and how you can get involved, visit this website, or email Jamie Kamlet (














2nd Annual Jewish Guy/Girl of Year Competition

Uri and Rachel -- Last year's winners.

Gather the Jews is proud to announce its Second Annual Jewish Guy and Girl of the Year Competition.

The festivities will launch on Tuesday, March 27, at Public Bar (See Facebook event here).

The competition will then proceed as follows (hopefully this is clear and succinct enough that even Steve Davis would consider it legitimate):

  • Voting will begin at 12:01 AM on Wednesday, March 28.
  • Visitors will be allowed to vote for two guys and two girls per day for each day of the week.
  • The top vote-earners will advance to the second round
  • The second round will consist of Jewish-style interview with yours-truly, Stephen Richer.
  • This videos will be judged by our esteemed panel of judges.
  • The votes of these judges will be tallied and winners will be crowned.

Specific instructions will be sent shortly to all eligible contenders.

Last year’s crown recipients were Uri M. and Rachel G. (featured here).

Good luck to all!  (And, more importantly: have fun!)




We Gathered Idan Raichel!

That's right. She brought him a shirt.

Last week, Idan Raichel, the Israeli singer well known around the world thanks to his international music, was in DC. As a staff member of GTJ, I followed his stay in the nation’s capital and obtained an exclusive interview for the GTJ website.

Idan’s experience in Washington started at the AIPAC Policy Conference, where he performed at the Monday night Gala event. Preceded by Rick Recht and the Maccabeats, The Idan Raichel Project played several songs before a diverse audience ranging from young students to veteran AIPAC donors. However, their most heartfelt performance was later in the night when IRP member Maya Avraham sang Hatikva—accompanied only by the poignant notes of Idan’s keyboard and the over 13,000 people in attendance.

After the concert, Raichel had an entire pavilion in the AIPAC village to himself where he spoke with fans and signed the group’s newest CD Traveling Home. Of course, I was there ready with my brand new CD and an extra copy for dad ;)

In spite of his hectic schedule, which included a backstage meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a small concert and Q&A with students at American University, Idan agreed to be interviewed by GTJ.

And here is what he had to say!

DE: Your new CD, Traveling Home, is a great success and is also the group’s first album to be recorded live. Were the concerts on the new CD recorded in Israel or around the world? How did you choose the title? It seems like Israel is the point of beginning and the point of return.

IR: It’s called Traveling Home because while we are traveling around the world we are actually [always] traveling back home—because the last destination is always Tel Aviv. So even if we go around the world, at the end of the day we are always traveling home.

DE: One of your most recent international collaborations is with the African musician Ali Farka Touré, with whom you founded The Touré Raichel Collective. Is this a totally new project or can it be considered to be an extension of the Idan Raichel philosophy?

IR: I always continue to work with the Idan Raichel Project on the road, but it’s important for me to do things that will move me, and interesting things career-wise and music-wise. So I started this album with the Collective, with Ali Farka Touré. It is a totally new collaboration.
[It is important to me] especially because I share the stage and the studio with a great musician that I believe in [Ali Farka Touré]. Also, in the past year I was touring with the Grammy award winning India Arie. [All of these] are just extensions of what I do with the Idan Raichel Project.

DE: I was just going to ask you about India Arie! What did it mean to perform with her at the Nobel Prize concert? How was it to collaborate with this extraordinary African American soul singer and to tour with her for the Open Door Project?

IR: It was a great honor to perform with such a great, very spiritual poet and composer. It was called the Open Door Project. People that came to see us live saw a beautiful collaboration which was based on the spirituality of two worlds: the Jewish/Hebrew world and the Afro/American world of India [Arie].

DE: India Arie and Ali Farka Touré are just two of the hundreds of international musicians you have played with. Among all of these, who is the artist you enjoyed collaborating with the most? Who is the artist you would like to collaborate with and haven’t yet?

IR: I have no specific dream to collaborate with a particular artist or another. I just like to be surprised by the doors that the world opens. I didn’t plan to work with Ali Farka Touré or the Colombian singer Marta Gomez or India Arie. It is just when you don’t expect it that the world sends you surprises.

Idan confessed that sometimes the ideas for new collaborations come from advice that his fans write on his  Facebook and Twitter pages [idanraichel1]. Visiting those pages can serve as a daily resource for information about the Israeli social and musical scene.

DE: Your songs are written in a wide range of languages — Hebrew, Spanish, English, Amharic, and Hindi just to name a few. How do you choose the language of any particular song? How do you understand which language is right for a particular song?

IR: It is just some instinct. Sometimes there are jokes that can be understood only in Spanish and love songs that sound better in Arabic. Sometimes it’s just the color of the song.

In spite of his reluctance to answer political questions, when it came to talk about Israel Idan showed the same openness and forthcoming spirit as when we spoke about his music and collaborations. I asked him about the changes that are happening in Israel, its current President, as well as its two main cities—both of which I discovered have a place in the singer’s heart.

DE: Israel is changing. Which of these changes do you like and which don’t you like? What should continue to change?

IR: Our country always changes. There is a social movement these days, the youth of Israel is rising up demanding more of what they think should be obvious in our country. I think time will tell what will happen—but it’s all a positive movement.

Speaking about Israeli president Shimon Peres, who just few days before gave an emotional speech at the AIPAC Policy Conference, Idan said: “I think we have an amazing president in Israel. Shimon Peres is the greatest president ever. I hope that all the other presidents of Israel will be as loyal and representative as him.”

DE: While living in Israel there was a question that I used to ask all Israelis—each time receiving a different answer. Do you prefer Jerusalem or Tel Aviv?

IR: I can’t say what I prefer. Tel Aviv is my home and Jerusalem is one of the most spiritual places in the world. If you live in Israel you don’t really need to choose—it’s just 45 minutes of distance. Lucky for us, you don’t need to choose.

Talking with Idan in the morning was as amazing an experience as going to listen to his concert that evening at Sixth & I. The Synagogue was transformed into a temple of music. After the first song, during which some of the band members wore Purim masks, all the audience stood up, singing and dancing to the engaging rhythm of the music. People were happy to hear both old hits and new songs in the mix of languages that always accompanies the band’s concerts. I met Idan again after the concert and presented him with an official gift from his GTJ fans: our super-cool GTJ t-shirt! He was happy and thanked the GTJ team and all of you for the great interest demonstrated and, of course, for the t-shirt!

There was nothing left to say but, “Idan…Lehitra’ot be qarov!”.


Living Conversation to Conversation – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (week 31)

Isn’t it exciting when you meet someone and you finally feel that long sought-after connection that you were beginning to think was rarer than a solar eclipse?  The first date went great — there’s no question about that.  But after the first date, we start to question ourselves.  Did she think it went as well as I thought it did?  Did he just laugh at my cheesy pun about the laptop docking station to be nice?  Did she only order that second glass of Chardonnay to help take the edge off of the painfully awkward silences?

There’s only one antidote to these concerns, and it’s not a therapist… it’s communication.

I remember back in the day, I went out with a guy I really liked who we’ll call Dave.  We had a few good dates, but when I left each one, I was always unclear about where I stood.  I even remember leaving him a voicemail after about the third date and kicking myself afterwards for it being too long and rambling.  Did I even say who was calling?  And what if he thought, “How can I date a girl who can’t even leave a coherent voicemail?”  And the kicker was that I didn’t hear from him for a day or two after I had left the message.  I had already talked myself out of the relationship when he had called back and, lo and behold, asked me out again.  It was a vicious cycle of living conversation to conversation and always being on edge until the next time we talked.

I knew that my first date with Jeremy (my current and wonderful boyfriend) went well.  We grabbed drinks and then dinner (we added it but didn’t plan on it) and then another drink.  In my opinion, there was no way this guy didn’t like me.  And before I had time to over-analyze the situation, I had an e-mail in my inbox the next day saying what a great time he had and asking me out again.  No questions there.  And so we continued, date after date, communicating and setting up the next date at the end of our last.  I had no reason to worry, and that’s how it should be.  As my mom always used to tell me, “Erika, when someone likes you, you’ll know.” As much as I hate to admit it, Mom, you were right again.

Living conversation to conversation, getting stressed and then put at ease, worried and then relieved, is no way to live.  When someone likes you, there are no guessing games.  Well, there may be some, but they’ll be fun ones, like, “Where did you pick for us to go to dinner tonight?”  As we get older and more mature, playing hard-to-get becomes over-rated.  What’s the big deal if you let someone know you like him or her?  Nothing!  And if you don’t, please be so kind as to let the other person know so the soon-to-be disappointed party doesn’t have to go through the ups and downs that living conversation to conversation causes.

Erika Ettin is the Founder of A Little Nudge, where she offers services from online dating profile-writing to e-mailing potential matches to planning dates. An archive of all of Erika’s columns is also available. Want to connect with Erika? Join her newsletter for updates and tips.

Got burning questions you’d like answered in a future post?


Obama’s Troubling Words — and Omissions — at AIPAC Conference

The following is a response to President Obama’s AIPAC speech this past weekend. It was written by a DC community member who, for professional reasons, asked to remain anonymous. This piece represents his own opinion and is not a GTJ institutional stance. For an alternate view point, see Leora Itman’s piece here.  To read Stephen’s summary of four years at AIPAC Policy Conference, click here.


Barack Obama’s speech to AIPAC on Sunday is deeply troubling not only for what he said about Iran and the Mideast peace process, but also for what he didn’t say on both topics.

On Iran, Obama tried to reassure us by saying Iran “should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs.” But he also had a not-too-subtle warning for Israel: “too much loose talk of war” and “bluster” actually benefits Iran by driving up the price of oil exports that fund the Iranian nuclear program. Obama did not link Israel explicitly to such rhetoric, but whom else could he be referring to? His Republican presidential challengers? None have urged Israel to strike Iran. Israeli officials, on the other hand, have recently become more vocal about the potential need for military action to stop Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon capability. Ehud Barak’s speech to the Annual Herzliya Conference last month is a case in point.

Here’s the problem with Obama’s mixed message to Israel. Iran’s Supreme Leader also heard it. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei heard Obama slapping Israel on the wrist for “loose talk of war” and declaring a firm belief that “an opportunity still remains for diplomacy backed by pressure.” Khamenei has heard that message from Obama for years and always has reacted the same way: by enriching uranium – a key nuclear weapon ingredient – at full speed.

Just as problematic is what Obama did not say on Iran. He made no mention of a need to stop Iran from obtaining the capability to assemble an atomic bomb – a red line for Israel. Obama only spoke of a need to give Iran an “opportunity … to make a decision to forsake nuclear weapons.” Israel says waiting for such a decision is a bad idea, because Iran is just several months away from being able to position the components of a nuclear bomb in places where they cannot be destroyed.

On the Mideast peace process, Obama made “no apologies” for pursuing a strategy that has left the Israel and the Palestinians even farther from peace than they were when he took office. Obama’s unusually harsh demand for Israel to stop all construction in West Bank settlements and east Jerusalem caused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to make that a precondition for peace talks. Abbas said as much to Newsweek magazine last year. And when Abbas added another pre-condition by saying Israel had to agree to a Palestinian state comprising all of the West Bank territory captured in the 1967 war (with possible “land swaps” to “allow” Israel to keep some settlements in return for giving up parts of its pre-1967 territory), Obama liked the idea so much that he made it U.S. policy last year, effectively siding with the Palestinians on a core issue of the conflict with Israel.

Under previous U.S. administrations, the Palestinians negotiated with Israel without any such preconditions. Under Obama, Israel’s negotiating position has weakened.

And here’s the problem with what Obama didn’t say about Mideast peace. No mention of Abbas and the Palestinian Authority needing to sit down with Israel to negotiate peace unconditionally – something Israel has long tried to do. No demand for Abbas to stop his official media and a senior cleric from glorifying the killing of Jews. Just a bland reminder to the Palestinians to “recognize Israel’s right to exist, reject violence and adhere to previous agreements.”

“If you want to know where my heart lies, look no further than what I have done,” said Obama to AIPAC. Here’s what Obama has done: his administration “condemned” Israel for deciding to build homes in its own capital, he joined French President Nicolas Sarkozy in whining about having to work with Israel’s prime minister, and he traveled to several Muslim nations hostile to Israel after taking office while neglecting to visit the Jewish state itself. Enough said.


Obama to Israel and Jewish Voters: “I Have Your Back,” But Diplomacy First, Please

Stephen Richer (left) with Leora Itman (middle) and her brother Aaron. AIPAC Policy Conference 2012.

Leora Itman is the President of TC Jewfolk, a commentary site that also aggregates events for Jewish young adults in Twin Cities, Minnesota.   Leora and GTJ president, Stephen Richer, have chatted many times about common experiences and finally got a chance to meet at AIPAC Policy Conference.   The following is Leora’s response to President Obama’s speech and does not reflect a GTJ stance. For an alternate piece on the speech, click here.  To read Stephen’s summary of four years at AIPAC Policy Conference, click here.


President Obama had two strong messages in his speech this morning before the AIPAC Policy Conference. First, that his words and deeds show him as a strong and consistent supporter of Israel, and second, that despite this truth, he favors diplomacy with Iran and not a jump to war and aggression to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon that could destroy Israel and/or America, and the safety of the world.

The second message, of course, got far less applause than the first.

But it was necessary for us to hear.

Because, as President Obama stated, in more ways than one, he has a “deeply held preference for peace over war. I have sent men and women into harm’s way. I have seen the consequences of those decisions in those who come home deeply wounded, and in those who don’t make it home. For this reason, as part of my solemn obligation to the American people, I will only use force when the time and circumstances demand it.”

He also recognized that peace and diplomacy are in Israel’s interests, for Israel knows the pains of war as America does, and acts not on such decisions lightly. He told us, “Israel’s own leaders understand the necessity of pursuing peace.”

Peace and diplomacy are ideals, but President Obama was not timid in saying that “as I have made clear time and again, I will not hesitate to use force when necessary to defend the United States and its interests.”

And he recognized that it was a “basic truth” that “no Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a government that sponsors terrorist groups commitment to Israel’s destruction that threatens to wipe Israel off the map.”  However, a nuclear-armed Iran is not just a danger to Israel and “completely counter to Israel’s security interests” but also “counter to the national security interests of the United States.”

Which brings us to the second main theme of President Obama’s speech: America’s unwavering commitment to Israel, and not just because the “United States and Israel share interests” but also because “we also share those human values that Shimon [Peres] spoke about. A commitment to human dignity. A belief that freedom is a right that is given to all of God’s children. An experience that shows us that democracy is the one and only form of government that can be truly responsive to the aspirations of citizens.” And that is why “America’s commitment [to Israel] has prevailed under leadership by both parties.”

Thus, ”when the chips are down,” President Obama said, “I have Israel’s back.”  President Obama emphasized that “as you examine my commitment [to Israel], you don’t just have to count on my words. count on my deeds…. Because over the last three years, as President of the United States, I have kept my commitments to the state of Israel. At every crucial juncture – at every fork in the road – we have been there for Israel. Every single time.”

He went on, to continued applause:

“The fact is, my Administration’s commitment to Israel’s security has been unprecedented. Our military and intelligence cooperation has never been closer. Our joint exercises and training have never been more robust. Despite a tough budget environment, our security assistance has increased every year. We are investing in new capabilities. We’re providing Israel with more advanced technology – the type of products and systems that only go to our closest friends and allies. And make no mistake: we will do what it takes to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge – because Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”

It was clear who President Obama was speaking to at that point. Not just to AIPAC. But to Jewish voters. To those doubting his support for Israel. To those concerned about his commitment.

“Just as we’ve been there with our security assistance, we have been there through our diplomacy. When the Goldstone report unfairly singled out Israel for criticism, we challenged it. When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the flotilla incident, we supported them. When the Durban conference was commemorated, we boycotted it, and we will always reject the notion that Zionism is racism. When one-sided resolutions are brought up at the Human Rights Council, we oppose them. When Israeli diplomats feared for their lives in Cairo, we intervened to help save them. When there are efforts to boycott or divest from Israel, we will stand against them. And whenever an effort is made to de-legitimize the state of Israel, my Administration has opposed them…. So if during this political season you hear some question my Administration’s support for Israel, remember that it’s not backed up by the facts.”

And yet, the AIPAC Conference was not about which Democrat or Republican supported Israel more. It was about our UNITED support for Israel. President Obama declared to a standing ovation: “The U.S.-Israel relationship is simply too important to be distorted by partisan politics. America’s national security is too important. Israel’s security is too important.”

And while Israel and America “may not agree on every single issue, no two nations do. But we agree on the big things – the things that matter.” And to wild applause, he concluded his Jewish American reelection speech.

Interested in reading more? Leora also penned the following articles during her stay at AIPAC Policy Conference:

Be sure to check out TCJewfolk if you’re looking for another Jewish read, or if you’re moving to Minnesota.





AIPAC Policy Conference: Four years, four conferences

From "The Times of Israel" ... yes, the same one that I mention in point 11

Stephen Richer is President of Gather the Jews.  To see two other pieces on AIPAC Policy Conference — on President Obama’s Speech — please click here.


Since moving to DC, I’m 4/4 on AIPAC Policy Conference.  That adds up to 12 days, approximately 40,000 Israel supporters, 5,000 media members, 20,000 Ivy League degrees, and 50,000 Prada bags.  It’s a bit overwhelming, but I’ve done my best to do it all:

  1. I’ve heard Obama speak;
  2. I’ve heard Netanyahu speak (twice);
  3. I’ve heard over 25 members of Congress speak;
  4. I’ve gone to breakout sessions on China  led by Marvin Feuer (father of Danny, The Hero);
  5. I’ve scored a record-setting 12 points on my self-invented “Iran Game” (Game rules:  go to a breakout session, stay until one speaker says Iran.  Then can go to another breakout session.  Repeat.  Try to get to as many sessions as you can in one hour);
  6. I’ve gone to at least five speeches by three Makovskys (David) (Michael) (Alan);
  7. I’ve discussed Israel with the outside protesters;
  8. I’ve sung Hebrew songs loudly at the outside protesters;
  9. I’ve run through big groups of protesters and been punched at while stealing their biggest “Israeli Apartheid” flags… only to feel bad later about property theft (asinine protesters have property rights too!  My apologies.)
  10. I’ve been the guy who tried to ask speakers “the question” in breakout sessions;
  11. I’ve sat in the media section and pretended that not only did I know The Times of Israel existed, but that I read it on a regular basis;
  12. I’ve tried to look “unassailably qualified” when checking into the media registration without a pen or laptop;
  13. I’ve learned what a hashtag is and used it (#IAmProIsrael this year);
  14. I’ve live-tweeted speeches to keep me awake (e.g. Harry Reid);
  15. I’ve sat through the abysmally long “roll call” just to cheer for Utah’s congressmen (there are no female Representatives or Senators from Utah);
  16. I’ve paid $5 for a bagel.
  17. I’ve eaten six sumptuous free banquet dinners (AIPAC served dinners in 2009, 2010, and 2011 …  It got too crowded in 2012 … But at each of the three previous dinners there was always somebody at my table who didn’t feel like eating, and the food eventually made its way to me).
  18. I’ve gone to receptions meant for Floridians and Californians, two states I’ve never lived in;
  19. I’ve gone to college parties and told people I was still a student at University of Chicago (but haven’t done since I was 23!);
  20. I’ve seen the Maccabeats perform live at AIPAC twice, but I’m still looking for the guys that sang this Candelight song – they can’t be the same Maccabeats;
  21. I’ve sparked an AIPAC romance;
  22. I’ve made up with an ex-girlfriend over pro-Israel stuff;
  23. I’ve outdanced 90% of a bar’s attendants… At an AIPAC young professional after party (Park, 2010);
  24. I’ve counted out the 5:1 male/female ratio at the Lux afterparty the past two years;
  25. I’ve said “Oh hey man!  How’s it going?” only to walk past somebody at least 100 times;
  26. Etc.

Seeming chaos. But brilliantly ordered actually.

Have I done it all?  No.  Of course not.   AIPAC is so huge and it’s such a flurry of activity that it’s impossible to capture its entirety in 26 simple bullet points (and that’s about all my brain can manage).

But that’s why you have to go.  At least once.  No matter what you think of AIPAC’s policies.   It will maybe be the largest Gathering of Jews under one roof that you ever witness (13,000 attendees this year, probably at least 9,000 Jews), and AIPAC does such a phenomenal job creating its own world inside the Convention Center that by the time you leave hours later, you feel like you’ve just left a casino or opium den, and you have to, disappointingly, step back into reality.

If you missed this year’s event, then check out any major newspaper.  Or check out the writings of community members such as Adam Kredo, Alana Goodman, Phil Klein, etc.  But like I said, you can’t really be told what Policy Conference is – you have to see it for yourself.

This may be my last Policy Conference for a while — leaving DC :( — but it’s been a wonderful run.  Exhausting, certainly, but well worth it.  Thanks to the good people at AIPAC for strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship; thanks to Lynn Schusterman for paying for some of my conferences; and thanks to Gather the Jews and Forbes for giving me the media gravitas needed to get me in at later conferences.

Haters gonna hate.

















Kosher “Butter” Chicken

I recently attended a Metro Minyan shabbat dinner, at which an Indian buffet dinner was served.  As I was waiting in line, the person behind me commented, “This food looks fantastic, but it’s too bad they can’t serve butter chicken.  That’s my favorite.”  Challenge accepted.

Replacing butter as the key ingredient of a dish like this was, in fact, a bit of a challenge.  I wanted to preserve the richness and the creaminess and not just end up with an oily mess.  I settled on coconut oil as a butter substitute for its luxurious flavor.  Since butter contains natural emulsifiers, I added a bit of cornstarch.  Instead of marinating the chicken in yogurt, I used lemon juice to make it tender.  Finally, I used coconut creamer instead of heavy cream to round out the dish.  It’s not quite the same as the original, but it’s pretty close!

Total time: 50 min.

Yield: 2 servings

Level: Easy


© Courtney Weiner.  All Rights Reserved.


  • 3 medium skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp ginger, mashed
  • 1 tsp garlic, mashed
  • 3 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken into 2 pieces
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 3 cardamom pods, partially crushed
  • 1 ½ cups tomato puree
  • 1 tbsp corn starch
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 4 tsps dry fenugreek leaves, finely crushed*
  • 2 tsps coconut creamer
  • Salt to taste


Cut chicken into 2” pieces.  Mix ginger, garlic, and lemon juice and pour over chicken, making sure all pieces have some of the marinade.  Set aside for ½ an hour.

When the chicken is ready, heat the coconut oil in a 3-quart pot over medium heat.  When it begins to warm, add the cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom.  Saute for about 1 minute.

Add the chicken pieces, along with the marinade, to the pot and cook for 5 minutes, stirring every minute.

Pre-mix the cornstarch with the water.  Add that and the tomato puree to the pot.  Cover and cook for 5 minutes, stirring once.

Stir in the creamer, fenugreek, and salt.  Cook covered for another 5 minutes.  This dish works well served over basmati rice.


*Fenugreek is the most important ingredient of this dish.  If you can’t find it in a regular supermarket or Whole Foods, try an Indian specialty store or online.

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