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.


Have fun and save a life… with the JDC

Have you ever been self-conscious about your Jewish nose? Or terrified that an El Al security guard might suspect that you’re a terrorist? Did your favorite Jewish holiday experience happen at a Christmas party?

Join JDC tonight for Speakeasy DC’s “My So Called Jewish Life” comedic performances about all things Jewish, not-so-Jewish, and wanna-be Jewish. Free drinks and appetizers included.
Click here to register for “Laughter is the Best Medicine.”

Last year I traveled on a service trip for Jewish young professionals to Ethiopia with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). While in Ethiopia, I
was privileged to contribute to JDC’s projects of construction of a rural school and medical treatment for children. I also learned about other JDC projects, including including scholarships for university and nursing degrees, water well construction to provide rural villages with potable water, and life-saving heart and spinal surgeries. This was truly a life-changing and unforgettable opportunity (to read more about it, see GTJ’s past blogpost).

Ethiopia has an epidemic of tuberculosis of the spine and the cases in Ethiopia are so severe that many die of a completely treatable disease. With the leadership of JDC’s medical director in Ethiopia, Dr. Rick Hodes, JDC has made it a mission to help children suffering from this disease by providing life saving spine surgery.

This event will raise money to provide a life saving surgery for Daguma, a 14-year old boy with severe spinal scoliosis. Help save a life!

Breaking Down the Purim Festivities

Purim is here! Let’s go crazy! (Or not.) It does stink that Purim falls in the middle of the week this year. For those of you who partake in Simchat Torah, Purim, or any other joyous holiday and don’t take off time from work or school that week, or you can keep going all the time, you’re amazing. Keep that socializing energy alive. For the rest of us, say you still want to get out and do something festive, but not go crazy.

We’ll break down this year’s Purim events (for a full list, click here) for you by craziness factor. Feel free to pick and choose, mix them up, decide to start off tame and end up walking into work with your Purim costume still half-on/calling out sick by the end of the holiday. Either way, here you go:

Able to attend work/class the next day but entertaining:

Moderately getting your hamantaschen on:

Prepare for a grogger-induced headache:

Stephen Richer-worthy/all-night fun:

Also, I found it adorable that Birthright Israel NEXT has a Pinterest page for Purim. Check it out when you can.


What Would You Do? – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (week 30)

Let’s say you meet someone online, on JDate for example, and things are going well.  So well, in fact, that you decide to become exclusive.  So well that you decide to move in together.  So well that you decide to get married.  When the Express or New York Times covers your wedding announcement, and they ask where you met, do you bite the bullet and be honest?  Announcing to the world, “We met on JDate,” is an exciting yet scary thing.

About six years ago, before JDate became mainstream and there were still stigmas abounding, I was invited to a wedding.  I knew the couple had met on JDate.  We all knew the couple had met on JDate.  The bride wasn’t shy about it, but the groom was.  When I was at the ceremony, and the rabbi said, “They met on a blind date,” we all snickered in our seats.  A blind date?  Ha!  They met online, and that’s all there was to it.  (I’ll never know if they lied to the rabbi or simply asked him to use “blind date.”)

Fast forward to about three years ago, when online dating seemed to pick up steam.  A couple I knew had their pending nuptials listed in the B.I.O. section of the Express.  (Reading those on Mondays tends to be the most exciting part of my day.)  Again, I knew they had met on JDate.  “Where did you meet?” asked the Express.  The response?  “Café Citron.”  Yes, that’s where they physically met, if you want to be literal, but c’mon – we all know what the question was asking.

In this day and age, things are changing.  Now, at least once a month, and oftentimes more frequently, one of the couples in the Express lists one of the online dating sites as the place they met.  In fact, just a few weeks ago, two out of three couples that were featured met online.  And I’m proud to say that I met my boyfriend online (which isn’t bad for business, of course).  But, in my opinion, it doesn’t matter where you meet your significant other, as long as he or she makes you happy.

I wonder if the couples I mentioned before would have been more honest today.  This leaves us the question: What would you do?

(Feel free to leave your comments below.)

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.


Connecting Purim to Shavuot, Yom Kippur, and Moshiach

Next week, Jews all around the world will be celebrating the festive holiday of Purim. On the surface, Purim appears to be a day of fun providing children with an excuse to dress in costumes and adults with an excuse to imbibe. However, in keeping with the theme of the Purim, there are many deep ideas beneath the mask of the joyous festivities.

Purim shares a connection to the holidays of Shavuot and Yom Kippur. It also is the holiday most associated with the era of Moshiach, the final redemption in which the world actualizes its potential for holiness and peace and unity reign. Let’s examine each connection individually.

Shavuot: This holiday celebrates the most momentous occasion in Jewish history and the event that made the Jewish people a nation – the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. However, the Talmud informs us that nearly one thousand years were to pass before our covenant with G?d was sealed.[1] The Torah teaches that prior to the revelation at Mount Sinai the Jewish people stood underneath the mountain (Shemot 19:17).

Why does the Torah say we stood underneath the mountain? The Talmud explains that G-d had to coerce the Jewish people to accept the Torah by literally holding the mountain over their heads and telling them that if they accept the Torah all will be well, but if they do not, the mountain will be dropped on them and they will all perish.

According to Jewish law, a contract is invalid if one of the parties agreed to it under duress. However, Megillat Esther (the book of Esther) tells us that “the Jews fulfilled and accepted upon themselves…to observe these days of Purim” (Esther 9:27). The Talmud in Shabbat 88a reads the verse as follows: they ‘fulfilled and accepted’- they fulfilled (on Purim) that which they had already accepted back then (at Sinai).[2] The events of the Purim story demonstrated that the Jewish people had willingly accepted upon themselves the Torah law without Divine coercion and thus proved the validity of the covenant.

Yom Kippur: A mystical play on the words, Yom Kippur can be read as saying: ‘A day like Purim.’ This implies that in some way Purim is in fact greater in holiness than Yom Kippur. What does this mean? We observe Yom Kippur through fasting, praying, and repenting. This sort of repentance, or teshuva is likened by our Sages to doing teshuva out of fear. Purim is celebrated in totally different manner – through feasting, drinking, and merrymaking.[3] This is representative of doing teshuva out of love. While the first mode of teshuva i.e. repenting out of fear and awe of G-d rectifies all our past misdeeds, the second approach to teshuva, repenting out of love for G-d is actually a higher form of repentance that has the power to not only cleanse us of our sins, but to transform them into mitzvot![4]

Moshiach: As stated above, Purim is celebrated by feasting, drinking, and merriment in contrast to the fasting and refraining from physical pleasures that constitute the observance of Yom Kippur. In this way Purim celebrates human involvement in the physical world. The highest actualization of G-d’s will is to be involved in the physical world and to spiritually elevate it.

There may be times when we have to withdraw from physicality in order to reorient ourselves toward more spiritual goals, but when we reveal G-dliness within physicality we fulfill G-d’s ultimate purpose in creating a physical universe. Purim is connected to the idea of Moshiach because, in the times of Moshiach, G-d and holiness will be openly revealed in our physical world. What was hidden for so long will again be revealed. Chasidic philosophy teaches that our job as Jews is to reveal the sparks of holiness within Creation in order that the inherent unity of G-d and His universe be revealed and G-dliness permeate every level of our existence. On Purim we enjoy physical things, but rather than get caught up in the façade that the universe operates independently of G-d, we remain cognizant that everything is in fact constantly being animated, recreated, and overseen by G-d.

Keeping these insights in mind should enable us to get more meaning out of Purim and to celebrate the day more joyfully. The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that the word, yismach (they will rejoice) shares the same Hebrew root as the word, Moshiach. On this he teaches that we will only be redeemed through serving G-d with joy. Have a freilechen (joyous) Purim and may the veil of Divine concealment of G-dliness be lifted now!

[1] “The Thousand Year Difference”

[2] Ibid.

[3] Living With Moshiach. “Purim” Rabbi J. Immanuel Shochet

[4] “The Holiest Day” Rabbi Lazer Brody,


GTJ president a hit at Adas Latke-Hamantash Debate

Yesterday, some of DC’s young Jewish professionals — including GTJ Director of Technology Mike Weinberg and last year’s Jewish Guy of the Year contender Steve Davis — met up at Adas Israel to listen to the 2012 Latke-Hamantash debate.

This debate, now in its 21st year in DC, actually dates back to 1946, when Jewish professors at the University of Chicago met for a mock academic debate about Jewish ethnic food.

Last night, four speakers from various professional corners of the DC Jewish (although not necessarily young) community came to discuss the relative merits of latkes and Hamantaschen. The event was sponsored by DC’s Jewish Study Center and MCed by local documentary filmmaker, Aviva Kempner.

Carmel Chiswick of George Washington University, speaking as both an economic historian and a Jewish mother, asked general questions about the historical development of both the latke and the hamantash.

Joel Cohen, a math professor from the University of Maryland, as well as the president of Tifereth Israel, was more pro-hamantash. He explained how the Purim dessert’s “orbifold” shape (i.e. three points, three sides) made it structurally superior to the latke.

Joshua Ford, Associate Executive Director of the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center, tried, like Chiswick, to avoid taking sides. Instead, he suggested “moving beyond the Latke-Hamantash conflict” and pointed out that latkes and hamantashen are so different that arguing about them was like “comparing the Boston Red Sox and the Grateful Dead.”

Finally, our very own Stephen Richer, president and co-founder of Gather the Jews, brought the house down with a hilarious presentation using GTJ’s business model to evaluate the two foods. Using the parameters of quantity, diversity, and streamlined organizational structure, he argued that hamantashen were superior in all respects.

Following the debate, the good folks at Adas provided copious amounts of both latkes and hamantaschen, allowing event participants to conduct their own research and draw their own conclusions about the two Jewish foods. All in all, a fun and tasty evening.

Stay tuned for video of this event!









And the winner of the second Jewish a cappella contest is…

The repeat champions, Tizmoret, of Queens College


For the second year in a row, the group “Tizmoret” of Queens College won the Annual Kol HaOlam National Jewish A Cappella Contest at Adas Israel.

“Kol Sasson” of University of Maryland also matched its previous year’s performance by placing second.  “Jewop” of University of Wisconsin grabbed third.  Ten Jewish a cappella groups in total competed.

The rankings were, in my humble opinion, spot on.  My two apartment-mates and I all agreed that Tizmoret was clearly the best group this year.  I also gave second place to Kol Sasson.

Wisconsin Party Rocking

But while Tizmoret and Kol Sasson wowed me for the second year in a row, I’m not sure the groups — in total — lived up to last year’s performances (see all of last year’s performances here).  Kol Sasson’s (UMaryland) first song from last year is still my all-time favorite from Kol HaOlam, and I think the best pop-song parody still belongs to Brandeis for last year’s “Today I am a Man” (Although I did greatly appreciate Wisconsin’s Jewish rendition of LMFAO’s “Party Rock” and Mezumenet’s Jewish parody of NSync’s “Bye, Bye, Bye”).

Elie Greenberg, head of Adas YP, rocking the Kol HaOlam t-shirt



The audience and costumes, however, met and surpassed last year’s performance.  Approximately 1,200 poured into Adas Israel’s main auditorium on Saturday night.  Elie Greenberg and the rest of the staff managed the crowd with seeming ease.  And I must also give a shoutout to volunteer ushers Steve Davis and Yang Ku for the part they played.  As for the costumes, groups seem to have gotten the memo from last year that black shirts with matching blue or red ties and/or suspenders can look pretty awesome, especially during coordinated movement sequences.

The Adas staff also made sure we were duly entertained while waiting for the judge’s results.  Jewish musician “Orthobox” treated me to the best beatboxing I’ve seen in my life (and I’ve live in New Orleans, Chicago … and Utah! … so I’ve seen some good beatboxing!)  And we were also treated to a beatbox performance from one member of University of Rochester’s much-celebrated “Yellowjackets” a cappella group.


I’m afraid I didn’t tape all of the performances as I did last year.  My iPhone had very little battery left, and because GTJ co-sponsored the event, we had such close seats that I wouldn’t have been able to capture the full stage as last year.  I have, however, tracked down some videos that others have posted, and I will continue to look for more.  Additionally, Adas Israel is going to release a more professional tape from the evening, and I will see about getting it up  here.  Please let me know if you know of other videos.  (

All in all, a really excellent night.  Definitely made me put karaoke on my calendar.  Who’s in?!

  • Tizmoret, Queens College (song)
  • Tizmoret, Queens College (song 2)
  • Hooshir, Indiana University (song)
  • Kol Sasson, Maryland (first song)
  • Kol Sasson, Maryland (song)
  • Staam, Washington University in St. Louis (song)

All the groups together at the end.















Ask Idan Raichel a Question…

As we wrote last week, Israeli music sensation Idan Raichel will be playing at Sixth & I next Wednesday. In possibly even more exciting news, GTJ Staff Writer Daniela Enriquez has managed to secure an interview with him!

Have a question you’ve always wished you could ask him about his music? Well now you can. Let us know (email noa at by March 5 and Daniela will pass it along.







A Conversation with the Next Generation

Ricki Meyer is a ConnectGens fellow.


It is striking how often similar conversations arise among Jews.  Perhaps this is due to the fact that Jews talk – a lot – and can’t remember what they’ve said to whom.  Or maybe as a Jewish young professional, my generation and I are starting to realize our responsibility in defining the future of Judaism.  How do we find meaningful involvement in our community? How do we grapple with the ever-present social and political issues while maintaining our love for and commitment to sustaining the Jewish state of Israel?  These questions pose a fundamental shift from those asked by our grandparents’ and parents’ generations, a shift from how do we form a Jewish state to how do we keep it flourishing as a democratic society within the confines of the Jewish religion (this could take a blog post of its own).

Politics aside, I want to delve into this concept of identity and how it continues to reappear in my own life.  If you scroll back up to my third sentence, you’ll see that I defined myself as a Jewish young professional.  The order of these three words is intentional.  In the second NeXus seminar, we explored with Dr. Erica Brown how we each define our identity.  As the Jewish people – based on a relatively homogeneous sample of 40 young professionals in DC, so not your ideal test group – we tend to attribute our identities to two things: parents and religion.  What is it about these two significant factors – albeit one more obvious than the other – that influence our upbringing and the ways we continue to self-identify once we enter the ‘real world’?

For me, all directions point to the notion of tikkun olam.  My parents have led by example, ultimately inspiring me to find my own path of repairing the world at each stage of my life thus far.  My sister and I have chosen professional paths that on the surface level seem quite different, though we ultimately each identified a population for which we want to dedicate our lives and efforts to impact in a positive way.  See, it really does come back to tikkun olam as it passes along the generations.

As a fellow in the ConnectGens Fellowship Program powered by PresenTense, I am privileged to meet with like-minded individuals who are driven to create change.  Each fellow has been accepted to the program in order to develop a venture into a reality, utilizing assets of the community – and most of all each other – to work through the challenges involved with social entrepreneurship.  The ventures range from activities to spur thought-provoking conversations in DC to providing an innovative lens through which the world can view the story of Israel today, capturing stories of anyone who is willing to share (keep reading for a personal plug below…). Though we don’t have all the answers, we are taking the opportunity to collaborate with one another and more importantly to challenge each other to think in different ways and ask difficult questions.

Though fellows and ventures vary across age, geographic location, and target audience, they all stem from the same foundation of closing a gap that exists in the broad Jewish community, in turn repairing the world in our own way.  Would it be fair to say that the desire to create positive change is part of our identities, of who we are as social entrepreneur fellows and as Jews, and from where we come? I am confident to say yes, as some of this year’s fellows have their own children and are rightfully setting the example of creating the change they long to see in the communities around them.

So yes, Jews talk – but we also listen. We listen to the needs of our community and the actions of those who came before us, and make the conscious decision to act in a way that will help others.  It is my hope that this is the example my generation continues to follow, and that we continue to talk – as we are already leading the path for others.

As promised, a few words about my venture. I am working with two friends – both participants of the 2011 Alumni Leadership Mission – to create the infrastructure to have agencies and organizations send packages to Lone Soldiers who serve in the Israeli army.  About 2,800 Lone Soldiers leave their homes and families all over the world to serve in the Israeli army each year.  Some of them have relatives on the ground in Israel, but most do not.  Our venture also includes a community building aspect to foster relationships between local Jewish communities and the Lone Soldiers in Israel. Please contact or @lonesoldierproj if you are interested in learning more about the project!




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