Blog

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The state of GTJ at 100 weeks

Aaron sends me about 10 emails every day.  But one in particular caused me pause yesterday:  a copy of our very first Gather the Jews newsletter.

  • It didn’t have a full listing of Shabbat dinners.
  • It didn’t have original articles on the DC Jewish community.
  • It didn’t have a long list of awesome DC Jewish events.
  • And it didn’t have the picture of a new Jewish Guy and Girl of the Week.
We’ve come a long way in 100 weeks.  Since March 1, 2010, Gather the Jews has:
  • Grown our weekly newsletter from 75 subscribers to 2,700 subscribers.
  • Received 187,125 visits to our website.
  • Welcomed 96,894 unique visitors.
  • Amassed 469,535 page views.
  • Written 1,003 blog posts.
  • Featured over 75 Jewish guys.
  • Featured over 75 Jewish girls.
  • Hosted 9 public events for over 1,600 guests.
  • Promoted the events of over 60 different Jewish organizations.
  • Found jobs for over 15 community members.
  • Found boyfriends/girlfriends for over 10 community members.
In short, the state of the GTJ union is good.  And we plan to keep it that way.
So thanks for reading, and thanks for being part of a vibrant DC Jewish community.

If you wish to help Gather the Jews, please consider either:

  1. Writing us a letter telling us what we’re doing well, poorly, or what you might suggest.
  2. Consider joining the GTJ staff (meeting this Sunday). 
  3. Consider making a donation to GTJ. 
Again, thanks, and here’s to another 100 weeks of GTJ!
Stephen
President, Co-Founder
Gather the Jews

Other GTJ resources

2

A New Reform Minyan Joins the DC Scene

DC has one of the largest young professional communities in the country, but unless someone is comfortable with traditional prayer servicesor being the youngest person in the congregation (besides the bar mitzvah boy), there isn’t much for this age group.  There are plenty of local minyanim that cater to Orthodox and Conservative Jews (DC Minyan, Adas Israel’s Shir Delight, Tikkun Leil Shabbat, 6th St. Minyan, Mesorah DC, Downtown Shabbat, just to name a few), but for the 76% of DC’s younger adults who identify as “Reform,” there are few age-appropriate options.

Yes, Sixth & I offers a 6th in the City service once a month featuring Rick Recht, Temple Micah organizes small Shabbat meals in people’s homes, and TLS hosts some minyanim with instruments, but Metro Minyan brings something much-needed and new to the DC Reform scene.

The Idea

Metro Minyan is Washington Hebrew Congregation’s avenue to provide DC’s young professional Jewish community with an informal, musical, come-as-you-are Shabbat experience. Once a month, Metro Minyan will get together for a Shabbat service and dinner in different places along DC’s Metro. The organizers originally envisioned thirty to forty young Jews coming together in small community settings. After running a pilot a few months ago at WHC, which drew over 60 people (despite participants needing a car to get here), they knew they were on to something. This past Friday confirmed that, big time.

The Launch

The first Metro Minyan drew over 140 people. The service was geared toward all Jewish backgrounds, using familiar melodies from niggunim to Jewish summer camp favorites with guitar to traditional Hebrew chanting. Following kiddush and motzi over challah, participants lined up for dinner and dessert provided by New Course Catering, a non-profit catering company that provides chronically unemployed people with restaurant and catering skills. The night ended with a rousing birchat ha’mazon, and people socialized for over an hour before getting back on the Metro to continue their night with friends.

“Metro Minyan was a great occasion to get together with friends and celebrate Shabbos,” said participant David Michaelson. “Rabbi Miller’s enthusiasm and excitement about Metro Minyan, particularly the huge turnout and exciting prospects, were contagious. It was also nice to bring the Jewish community to a
part of DC that does not usually host a congregation or services.”

The Future of Metro Minyan

The next Metro Minyan will take place on February 17.  Needless to say, the folks at WHC are getting excited.

“We never imagined Metro Minyan would generate so much enthusiasm so quickly,” said Rabbi Aaron Miller. “Now we are recalibrating how we might grow the model into something bigger without Metro Minyan becoming “too big.” Over time, we hope to train and empower the community’s 20’s and 30′s leadership to host and lead their own services. On months between our large gatherings, these service leaders will be able to lead Metro Minyanim in peoples’ homes and apartment buildings on each of DC’s Metro lines. This will not only foster a smaller, more intimate feeling, but encourage these lay leaders to invite their friends to support them as they help bring an ever-growing circle of participants into the Metro Minyan community.”

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Help 2239 As They Help Tornado Victims

It feels like just yesterday when I stood on soil completely destroyed by the massive tornados that struck Birmingham, Alabama on April 27, 2011. Two weeks ago, over MLK holiday weekend a group of 22 young professionals were led by Washington Hebrew Congregation’s, Rabbi Aaron Miller and Stacey Black to rebuild houses with 2239’s new initiative called ARK (Acts of Religious Kindness). ARK is a program for 20s and 30s to embark on organized service trips all over the country and to do some local Tikkun Olam (Hebrew for “repairing the world”) in the DC area.

The Alabama tornado took the lives of 238 individuals just over nine months ago. Our group was stationed in Pratt City, Alabama in Jefferson County where nearly all houses are piles of rubble in what is now a suburban wasteland. Other than a few streets where new construction is beginning, the remainder of the area is  entirely desolate.

Development appears to be very slow. Numerous plots of land lie abandoned, waiting for a dumpster pick-up and for builders to purchase the valueless land. It costs around $80,000 to clear a damaged property, which is far more than the land is actually worth

We spent two days helping rebuild the home of Ms. Evelyn Lewis, which had devastating damage following the tornado. Rabbi Aaron Miller reflected on his experience, “ARK was life-changing, both for Evelyn Lewis, whose house we helped to rebuild, and for our 22 volunteers who flew down to Birmingham, AL to help. We roofed Evelyn’s house, gutted her kitchen, installed doors and windows, ventilated the attic, sanded, painted and completed countless other restoration projects. We helped to create a better world, and I think in the process we all became better Jews.”

As you can see from the below photos, the home is nearing completion and when rebuilt Ms. Evelyn Lewis will live with her son and three year old grandson. However, the floors in the house have sustained large amounts of water damage as a result of the storm. All work is being done by volunteer labors on a limited budget and they anticipate the repair of the floor to cost $2,500. Our group has committed to helping complete the house not just by offering our time, by committing to raise the funds needed to finish this final project.

Jennifer Nannes, the chair of Washington Hebrew Congregation’s group 2239 said, “In the true spirit of Tikkun Olam, this experience made us cognizant of the devastating damage that still exists in the Birmingham community. As a group, we pledged to raise money to fund further efforts to help rebuild their community.”

We launched a campaign to raise $2,500 to repair the floor. We need YOU to join us in helping ensure that her grandson can grow up in a safe home. A gift of $18 would make a world of difference in helping us hit our goal to complete the home.

PLEASE MAKE A DONATION BY CLICKING HERE.

To learn more about 2239 and see the events calendar, click here.

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When Is It Ok To Be Happy? GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (week 26)

Maybe a little less sharing...

As we all know, dating is hard, so when you finally find someone who makes you happy, you want to shout it from the rooftop.  But if you have single friends who are still in the muck of it all, struggling to meet just one normal person (let alone “the one”), it’s hard to know how much of your excitement to reveal.  The reality of it is that while friends will love you and hope for your well-being, inevitably jealousy can occasionally rear its ugly head, and those friends who are supposed to love you unconditionally start acting distant.

I met Jeremy in December of 2009, and I had a vacation planned with some girlfriends for New Year’s Eve that year.  When we booked the trip, all of us were single, but by the time our cruise sailed off, I was the one with the boyfriend (yes – we had already DTR’ed it).  I was darn happy about it, but did I want to share my newfound happiness with three people who expected me to be single and ready to mingle?  And on top of it all, one friend had just ended a relationship with someone she thought could go the distance.  I kept my Jeremy-talk to a minimum, which was hard since that’s the last thing you want to do when you’re starting a new relationship.  You just want to yell, “I finally found him!”

When it comes to starting a new relationship, while all of your friends should be happy for you, it’s best to come up with some sort of selective sharing.  The people who will be most excited for you (besides your parents) are the ones who are in the same place you are – happy.  They say misery loves company, but so does happiness.  Tell your friend who just got the promotion that your new boyfriend sent you flowers.  Tell your other friend who just had her fourth date with a guy she really likes that your new guy said, “I love you” for the first time.  I’m not saying you can’t share your good news with your single friends, but be sensitive to the fact that while they are likely content enough on their own, you’ve gotten the brass ring, and they’re still riding the horse empty-handed.

Of course it’s okay to be happy, but just be aware that friendships are not always on pace with each other, and certain people may be better choices to share the cute little details of your new relationship.  And if all else fails, you can tell your friend who’s tried and true – your journal.

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.

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Star & Shamrock — A restaurant that unites my peoples! (redheads and Jews)*

All mediocre photography is the fault of Stephen I. Richer.

The number of meals I have at Jewish-themed restaurants is sometimes overwhelming (2 in the past 55 days…).

On November 30, 2011, I took my Canadian date to a sumptuous meal at DISTRIKT Bistro — DC’s newest kosher restaurant (see my review here).

Unfazed by this Jewish culinary outing, I lunched on Sunday at Star and Shamrock Tavern and Deli, 1341 H Street, NE.

I’ve been meaning to try Star and Shamrock for a long time.  It opened in early 2011, but my interest was really piqued when the Washington Post mentioned both Star and Shamrock and GTJ in this December article on young DC Jews.

Better late than never!

……..

From the outside, Star and Shamrock could not be better.  A tavern-style sign bears a giant Star of David with an Irish clover in the middle.  If that doesn’t draw your attention, then the restaurant’s storefront title surely will:  “Star” — written in what looks like Irish characters — and “Shamrock” — written in what looks like Hebrew characters.  So great.

Almost by definition, the inside couldn’t be as good as the outside, but it was still pretty solid.  The restaurant features a Jewish-style deli and an Irish-style pub.  All of your favorite deli sandwiches are there: Corned beef, pastrami, beef brisket, liverwurst, etc.  Other Jewish staples also make appearances throughout the menu: Latkes, reubens, Hebrew National franks, Jewish rye bread, etc.  (see the menu here)

Lame as I am, I went with a tuna sandwich, but my date — a tall brunette (**) with an obsession for yogurt, tennis, and model rockets — was a bit more adventuresome and ordered the Latke Madness: “3 potato pancakes, hot corned beef, griddle sauerkraut, swiss.”

I finished my sandwich quickly in the hopes of trying a bit of the Latke Madness.  It worked.  I got to try it.  “And it was good.”  (Genesis 1:31)  My date, admittedly a picky eater, praised the food in less divine terms, but still gave it a thumbs up.

……

Beyond the deli sandwiches, Star and Shamrock is also a place to drink (drink menu), watch sports (lots of TVs), and socialize.  On Monday nights, S&S hosts a trivia night; Tuesday night is kids eat free night (defined by age, not maturity level… damn!); and Thursday night has live music (see full “Happenings” list).

……

You may not be able to see it, but trust me, it's a picture of a menorah on a mantel.

I would have liked a stronger Jewish theme to the restaurant.  As it is, Judaism is limited to the exterior, the menu, and the menorahs on the mantel.  Perhaps this is best for attracting the non-Jewish customer, but I was definitely disappointed when I got a “no” upon asking the waiter if I could answer Jewish trivia for a discount (I guess that’s the Mr. Yogato in me).   There’s also the fact that the restaurant is NOT kosher, which of course detracts from the Jewishness of the place, though I can hardly blame the owners given my own experience with the Kosher process.  (Speaking of kosher food… Maoz recently closed, so we’re back to just two NW kosher restaurants)

The other problem is the obvious one: location.  I can count the number of times I’ve been to NE on two hands, and most GTJ readers are similarly ensconced in NW.  I haven’t explored how to get around the metro limitation — I would imagine Mike Weinberg knows of a bus that goes to H Street, NE — so for now, the only times I’ll go to S&S are when I can bum a ride.

But overall, the restaurant is very solid and definitely worth checking out if you’re on H Street, NE.

……

Souvenir S&S t-shirts.

Our meal, with tip, wound up costing $30 — probably about average for a $10 sandwich shop.

In true Twenty First Century fashion, we split the bill.

……….

To learn more about the restaurant and the owners Jewish/Irish background, see this Washington Post review.

I emailed the owner to get more information on the restaurant and to see if GTJ readers can have a discount, but I am impatient and didn’t want to wait to post this.  I will update the post when he replies.

(*) Though I am a redheaded Jew, I’m only 1/8 Irish, and the red hair probably doesn’t come from that side of the family…

(**) My date’s self-described hair color:  “A luxurious blend of mahogany and chestnut.”

 

 

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The “One and Only” Jonathan Horowitz – Now Published

GTJ’s very own sports columnist, Jonathan Horowitz, is now a published author!  The set of sports trivia cards he’s been writing, entitled The One and Only: A Sports Quiz Deck of Definitive Games, Teams, Players, and Events, has been released by Pomegranate Communications, Inc.  Click here to check them out.

The collection lists 48 teams, games, plays, and players so amazing that they’ve earned unique labels by sports enthusiasts. Each card challenges users to name the person, place, or moment that is the “One and Only.” In addition to the answers, the backs of the cards provide fun facts about why these monikers have survived years of debate among fans.

Sample questions include:

  • What was the Shot Heard ‘Round the World?
  • What Was the Battle of the Sexes?
  • Who was The Great One?

Gather the Jews member Jonathan Horowitz (www.jjhorowitz.com) is the horse race announcer at Arapahoe Park and host of the show “A Day at the Races” on Altitude Sports TV in Denver. He also has authored The ONE and ONLY: A Sports Quiz Deck of Definitive Games, Teams, Players, and Events that will be published by Pomegranate Publishers in January 2012. If you would like to purchase a personal copy ($9.95), please contact him at jjhorowitz@gmail.com for details.

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Transcending Our Limitations

This week we read Parshat Vaeira, the Torah portion in which the Egyptians are struck by the first seven of the ten plagues recalled each year during the Passover Seder. Each plague could be discussed at length and in great detail and perhaps we will take a closer look at them during Passover. However, for now, we will look at how this week’s Torah portion teaches us to break free from our own individual ‘Egypt.’

At the beginning of Parshat Veira, G-d replies to a question Moshe (Moses) raised at the end of last week’s parsha. Last week after Pharaoh increased the manual labor of his Hebrew slaves, Moshe confronted G-d asking: “Why have you mistreated this people?” (Shemot 5:22). In our Torah portion G-d replies to Moshe by saying to him: “I am G-d. I revealed Myself to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov with the name Almighty G-d (Kel Shadai), but with My name “Havayeh” [the name for G-d spelled yud, hey, vav, hey, which is not pronounced], I did not become known to them.”

The first thing that must be addressed is Moshe’s question. Chassidut (the esoteric secrets of Torah) explains that the question Moshe asked of G-d was not inappropriate or disrespectful. Moshe sought to understand G-d’s actions, because he served G-d primarily through his intellect. This is why the Torah – the wisdom of G-d – was transmitted through him. By contrast, the patriarchs (Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov) served G-d primarily through emotion, intuiting G-d’s will before the Torah was given. Since the primary emphasis of the Divine service of the patriarchs was not intellectual, they never questioned G-d or challenged Him for an explanation of His actions. Only Moshe did this, asking G-d, “Why have you mistreated this people?” In light of our understanding that Moshe primarily served G-d through intellect, it is easy to see that Moshe was not being insolent in asking this question. By asking this question, Moshe sought to come closer to G-d and to forge a stronger bond between himself and the Creator. Lacking understanding of G-d’s actions weakened Moshe’s intellectual bond with G-d and by asking this question he attempted to strengthen it.[1]

G-d responded to Moshe by saying that He never revealed Himself to the patriarchs by His name, ‘Havayeh’ (His true name). This name for G-d denotes transcending limitations. In essence, G-d was telling Moshe not to serve Him through intellect alone. By combining his service of G-d through intellect with that of the patriarchs – emotion and faith – Moshe would be able to serve G-d without limitation.[2]

The intellect can enable a person to understand Torah and to appreciate the greatness and majesty of G-d. It can also help a person recognize the Creator. However, the intellect on its own is cold and lifeless. G-d must also be served through the heart. A Jew must serve G-d even when he/she does not understand G-d’s actions and a Jew must serve G-d with joy, gladness, and passion. No matter how much one may think one understands G-d’s Torah, a person must realize that he/she is a fallible human being with a limited intellect. Compared to G-d “the wise [are] as if without knowledge and the men of understanding [are] as if [they are] without knowledge.”[3] It may seem counterintuitive, but by recognizing our own smallness we can connect with the Infinite and transcend the limitations of own shortcomings.

In connection to this week’s parsha and its message of transcending limitations, the Rebbe Rayatz (1880-1950) said in the name of his father, the Rebbe Rashab (1860-1920) that “the exodus from Egypt foreshadows every individual’s personal departure from limits and boundaries…Undergoing a personal spiritual ‘exodus from Egypt’ involves liberating oneself from the limits and boundaries of the world, while remaining in the world. In other words, while being involved in the world, one ought to constantly aspire to be outside its bounds. One must remove the confinements and perceive the truth – that the world itself is in fact good, for after all, this is what G-d willed.”[4]



[1] The Gutnik Edition Chumash. 33

[2] Ibid.

[3] Siddur Tehillat Hashem Morning Prayer

[4] HaYom Yom 25 Teves

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Blacks and Jews: Best friends forever?

The following post reflects only the opinion of Stephen Richer.

………….

Like Jason, I went to Sixth & I’s MLK Shabbat on Friday, January 14.

Like Jason, I enjoyed the event – you can’t go wrong with singing and dancing (Step Up 3 and Stomp The Yard are two of my favorite movies).  I also got to sit next to a whole bunch of high schoolers from BBYO.  Win!

Perhaps unlike Jason, however, I questioned the kumbaya nature of the event.  It seemed to suggest that American blacks and Jews are best friends, and that the only problems we have to deal with are external. I don’t think that’s true.  Perhaps even the opposite.  This skepticism doesn’t stem from a personal experience, but simply from a few statistics and a few lessons in recent American Jewish history that I have a hard time overlooking.

I’m not going out on a limb here.  The decline of black-Jewish relations is the subject of many books.  Time Magazine ran a cover story on the topic as far back as 1969, and in 2008, President Obama addressed black anti-Semitism in a speech on MLK day.  (Huffington Post)  If you want book suggestions, just let me know, but here’s just a quick sample of what I’m talking about:

General anti-Semitism / anti-Israel:

  • In a 2002 study, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) found that 35% of blacks are “strongly anti-Semitic.”  This same study found the national rate to be 17%.
  • In 2009 and 2011, the ADL estimated black anti-Semitism to be at 28% and 29%, compared to 12% and 15% nationally.  (Page 32 of ADL study)
  • Black Americans are far more likely to side with Palestinians over Israelis than the average American.

Physical strife

  • 1991 Crown Heights Riot.  A Lubavitch Jew accidentally spun his car out of control and killed one black child and injured another.  Angry black residents beat the driver.  A group of 10 to 15 black teens stabbed and killed an Orthodox Jew.  “For three days Jewish resident of Crown Heights and reporters were beaten, cars overturned and set afire, and stores looted and firebombed by angered black residents.”  (PBS)
  • 1968 Ocean-Hill/Brownsville teachers’ strike placed black community activists against the heavily Jewish teachers’ union.

Black leaders

  • In the 1990s, Professor Leonard Jeffries – a leading black academic – falsely advanced the idea that the Jews were responsible for the slave trade.
  • Reverend Jesse Jackson – calling New York City “Hymie-town” and supporting Yasser Arafat. (WND)
  • Al Sharpton accusing American Jews of all being diamond merchants that benefitted from the blood of blacks.

Etc., etc.

It’s of course sad.  It’s not how it used to be.  In 1964, northern whites went to Mississippi to help register blacks to vote.  Three-quarter of the helpers were Jewish.  At Sixth & I we heard much about Rabbi Abraham Heschel who marched next to Martin Luther King at Selma.  That pairing was fairly representative of the solidarity between blacks and Jews in the civil rights movement.

But that is no longer.  There is real tension.  We should of course continue to hold events like the one hosted by Sixth & I on Friday, but at these gatherings, there should be fewer fanciful proclamations about our amazing friendship and more assessments of why roughly 30% of black Americans are “strongly anti-Semitic.”

 

*Note:  I realize that black and Jewish are not mutually exclusive (I’ve seen this video).  But it’s a very small group.

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Fight Piracy, Not Internet Users: Stop the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)

One of the oldest jokes about Jews is if you ask three of us a question, you may get seven different answers. The discussion of ideas, the interpretation of laws and values is a central tenet to Judaism. It is also a fundamental part of why this blog, and countless blogs on other topics across the country, are successful. But what if the ability to freely share ideas were taken away? Normally this question would be followed by comments about the latest crackdown on citizens in Iran, Syria or North Korea. Unfortunately, this time a piece of US legislation is the culprit.

There is legislation pending in congress, called the Stop Online Piracy Act, and sister legislation in the Senate called the Protect IP Act, which both implement draconian measures to attempt to reduce piracy on the Internet.  The side effects of even attempting to reduce piracy via this legislation would come at tremendous cost. The legislation in its initial form breaks the internet, restricts free speech, threatens cute kittens, and violates due process.  Regardless of whether you are a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent, or someone who just wants to be left alone, below are the reasons to be alarmed by SOPA.

In its original form, SOPA literally breaks the internet. The website names in the address bar are translated to numbers through a process called DNS.  Mainly because it’s a lot easier to remember google.com than its IP address of 74.125.113.106.  SOPA wants to block US internet providers from forwarding on to sites associated with piracy. The problem is that any attempts to redirect traffic to anywhere other than the requested destination is treated by both software and hardware as an attack. There is no way to teach our computers the difference between a good redirection and a bad one. Worse, the bill wants to ban a new technology created by the US government called DNSSEC, which was developed specifically to prevent DNS redirections. The bottom line is that the internet would be considerably less safe, and everything from businesses to national security would be affected.

 Note: SOPA and its sister act PIPA are currently undergoing major review in this capacity, with a promise from the House, Senate, and White House that they will not break the internet to try to block piracy. However Congress has reserved the right to add this back in after “further investigation.”

Due process for sites accused of piracy is ignored. Currently blogs, and other content providers, as well as search engines are protected from what users post by what is called the “Safe Harbor” Clause in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Basically if a user posts a copyrighted video in the comments section of the blog, the owner of that copyright has to file a formal complaint, and then the website owner is required to research the request and take any appropriate action. The owner of the website can only be sued if they are negligent in responding to the request. However, under SOPA, these protections are abandoned. Worse, there is no real burden of proof to sue the website and the original version of the bill allowed ex parte proceedings, which according to an article in the Stanford Law Review means that “only one side (the prosecutor or even a private plaintiff) need present evidence and the operator of the allegedly infringing site need not be present nor even made aware that the action was pending against his or her “property.” The bottom line is those accused could be found guilty of copyright infringement for actions they were not responsible for and without an opportunity to even defend themselves.

It hurts social media and job growth. Because the law does not clearly define what copyright infringement is, people could potentially be fined or thrown in jail for a traditionally acceptable action, for example lip syncing a song on Youtube. Forbes recently quoted a venture capitalist saying that  they would no longer fund social media startups (one of the fastest growing areas of the tech world and the economy in general) if this new legislation happened, because of the massive risk from lawsuits.

Numerous sites have also correctly claimed that SOPA & PIPA would infringe on our country’s rich history of freedom of speech.

SOPA is an extremely damaging piece of legislation. It rocks the very core of American society, decreasing our security, changing the burden of proof onto the accused, and hurting our economy.

Opposition to this bill has been overwhelming and bipartisan. Republican Senators Charles Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Jeff Sessions, John Cornyn, Mike Lee, and Tom Coburn have signed a letter against PIPA. Across the aisle, Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Maria Cantwell (who are co-sponsors of alternate anti-piracy legislation, along with Republican Jerry Moran) have also opposed the bill, as has Ben Cardin. In the House, Darren Issa, Nancy Pelosi, and Paul Ryan are leading the anti-SOPA efforts. Even members of the Obama administration have emphasized that they “ will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.”

In the private sector, the opposition has been even more overwhelming. The Net Coalition, which represents leading global Internet and technology companies, including Google, Yahoo!, Amazon.com, eBay, and Wikipedia, to name a few, has undertaken a number of civil and lobbying efforts to block the legislation (see a statement here).

Google has launched a petition on its website. Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales, went so far as to have a 24-hour blackout of his website on January 18, in protest of the legislation.

But this preliminary opposition, while important, is not enough. More individual voters need to get involved, too. Remember, there are hundreds of ways that SOPA could affect you daily. So read up on the legislation and, even better, contact your elected representative about this issue and let them know you will not see the internet ruined in your name.  Copyright owners have a right to protect their content, but not at the costs society would pay from either SOPA or PIPA.

Hopefully the OPEN Act, a recently proposed bipartisan alternative to SOPA/PIPA, will allow copyright owner to be protect without ruining the internet.

Thank you,

Jon Halperin

0

Bicontinental Sephardic Shabbat

DC Jews keeping up with news from the Holy Land may have heard about the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh in recent weeks. This suburb of Jerusalem was in the news after acts of religious extremism triggered widespread national protests.  These events, which sparked debates about the meaning of Jewish faith and practice across Israel, also provoked discussions in Jewish communities in DC (see, for example, here.)

This weekend, local Jews will have an opportunity to explore a new angle of Beit Shemesh, when YAD-MD hosts a diverse group of Beit Shemesh residents at a two-night Celebration of Middle Eastern Food & Music at the Magen David Sephardic Synagogue in Rockville, MD.

Friday, January 20th: Shabbat Services and Dinner

Saturday night, January 21st: Hafla. Celebrate the Sephardi cultural traditions of Israel in a night of music and culinary tastings presented by a delegation of Israeli musicians and cooks from Mateh Yehuda-Beit Shemesh. You will enjoy sampling appetizers and desserts, with a musical program that includes a mix of modern, ethnic, and traditional Israeli music. Open Wine Bar included.

Address: 11215 Woodglen Dr, Rockville, MD

Sponsored by MDSC and the Jewish Federation’s Partnership2Gether project of the Jewish Agency

 

1

Corn Chowder

When the weather is cold like this, nothing quite hits the spot like a bowl of thick, creamy soup.  But most of the chowders out there are either shellfish or chicken based.  Since the soups are milk-based, neither one of those works so well for a kosher meal.  So, here’s a corn chowder recipe guaranteed to warm you up even when the temperature gets below the freezing mark.

© Courtney Weiner.  All Rights Reserved.

Total time: 40 min.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Level: Easy

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped celery
  • 1 small can green chiles
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 15 oz. can corn
  • 2 15 oz. cans cream style corn
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh or ¼ tsp dried thyme
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
  • ¼ tsp salt, plus more to taste

Directions

Melt butter in a heavy pot over medium heat.  Add onion, celery, and chiles.  Cook for 3 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently.  Add flour.  Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine.   Bring to a boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until thick.  (The cooking time will be at the shorter end for higher-fat milk, longer for skim milk.)

1

Reflections on The MLK Shabbat – Visions of Freedom and Justice

Today is Martin Luther King Jr Day.  It is a crisp 40-degrees outside.  There are tourists — bundled up in winter coats — visiting his new memorial, which overlooks the Tidal Basin in Southwest DC.

The History Channel is on my TV.  Tom Brokaw is narrating “King,” a special dedicated to the Civil Rights leader.

Many local residents, including myself, are home from work reflecting on the change that this man delivered (and relaxing after four incredible NFL playoff games this weekend).

Many local residents, including myself, on Friday attended the 8th Annual MLK Shabbat, Visions of Freedom and Justice, hosted by the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue and Turner Memorial AME Church.  My first in the annual series, but one of many visits to Sixth & I and Rabbi Shira’s services.

Going into the event I had a basic understanding of the connection between Dr. King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heshel.  Leaving, I had a finer appreciation.  Cantor Larry Paul spoke the words of Rabbi Heshel.  Borrowing the words from Heshel’s No Religion is an Island, the Cantor said “There is no monopoly on holiness…God is near to all who call upon him in truth.”  These words resonated with me, especially as they came a week after the passing of Jerzy Kluger, the childhood best friend of Pope John Paul II, who helped to establish diplomatic relations between The State of Israel and The Vatican.

Pastor William H. Lamar IV, of Turner Memorial, provided a rousing keynote speech.  Why?  The history of Sixth & I dates back to 1908 when Adas Israel Congregation dedicated the building.  As Adas moved to a new, larger, home in Cleveland Park, Turner Memorial acquired the building in 1951.  In 2002, when the building I sat in on Friday almost became a nightclub, it was saved by three developers and rededicated in 2004 as the pluralistic home for religion, culture, and community that it stands today.

The Pastor’s powerful words spoke of how he was torn.  How he saw King’s memorial and was neither hot nor cold about it.  He told us about how he personally connected with Dr. King and how he, as a child, aspired to follow his footsteps.  But he also spoke about the role of King.  How if he he was not shot down in 1968 and if he lived today, what would he think and say about the current state of affairs of this country and its people.  Would he sit idle as racism, intolerance, and the socio-economic disparities amongst minorities continued?  As the middle class shrinks and as politics, perhaps, plays a greater role than policy to some in power in this town?  He would not.

Like many services at Sixth & I, music followed spoken word and prayer.  But instead of singing along to Rick Recht, the Howard University Gospel Choir’s song reverberated off of the star-filled dome.

Like many services at Sixth & I, dance flowed from spoken word and prayer.  But instead of doing the hora to Salaam (od yavo shalom aleinu), the Agape Liturgical Dancers from Turner Memorial filled the space in front of the stage.

For those that have not been to MLK Shabbat, I’d encourage you to next year.  It is an experience.

For those that have not been to Sixth & I, I’d encourage you to visit regularly.  It is a place that would welcome you.

And for all, I hope you take this day and reflect on who Dr. King was.  And what he means to you.  And what he means to the Jewish people.  And what it means to have forests dedicated in southern and northern Israel based on the Kings.

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Advance Screening: In Darkness

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum‘s Washington Next Generation Board of the Wings of Memory Society will host a private advance screening of In Darkness, a film by acclaimed director, Agnieszka Holland.

In Darkness depicts the true story of Leopold Socha, a sewer worker and petty thief in Lvov, a Nazi-occupied city in Poland, who encounters a group of Jews trying to escape the liquidation of the ghetto and hides them. The film has been selected as the Polish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards.

The screening will be followed by a Q&A with Ms. Holland, who also directed the 1990 German-language film, Europa, Europa.

WHEN: Wednesday, January 18, 6:30pm

WHERE: Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Theater, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 100 15th Street Southwest

There is no charge to attend this event. Please respond by Tuesday, January 17 at www.ushmm.org/events/indarkness, or by contacting Taylor Lescallette at 202.314.7877 or tlescallette@ushmm.org. For questions, please contact Michael Greenwald.

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The Heroines of the Exodus

This week we began the second book of the Torah known as Shemot or Exodus.[1] Everyone is familiar with the hero of this story, Moshe (Moses) and his brother Aharon. Sadly many are unaware of the instrumental role Jewish women played in the redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt.

The Torah tells us that Pharaoh issued a cruel edict to the Hebrew midwives that they must murder every male child born to the Hebrew women. However, in one of the earliest recordings of civil disobedience, we see that the Hebrew midwives, Shifrah and Puah, disobeyed the royal decree. The Torah tells us that “the midwives feared G-d and they did not do as the king of Egypt spoke to them, and they caused the boys to live” (Shemot 1:17).  Rabbi Joseph Telushkin points out that one who fears G-d fears no one else – not even powerful people like Pharaoh – and one who fears G-d has the courage to do the right thing even in extraordinary circumstances.

The famous medieval commentator, Rashi (1040-1105), writes that Shifrah was in fact, Yocheved, the mother of Moshe, and Puah was Miryam, Moshe’s sister. He explains that Yocheved was called Shifrah (beautiful), because she used to beautify the infants and smooth their limbs. Miryam was called Puah (a word that denotes calling out) because she cooed and whispered to the infants.

Rabbi Yissochar Frand asks why the Torah chooses to call these two women by names that memorialize the care they showed the infants. These women saved lives! Shouldn’t they have been given names that memorialize their heroic rescue of Jewish children? Rabbi Frand answers that true greatness is measured by the little things we do and the good deeds we perform when no one is watching. It’s the small acts of kindness that reveal the depth of our character. Many ordinary people can occasionally have a moment of heroism by performing an act of greatness. However, after the headlines are made and the cameras have stopped flashing, the person goes right back to being an average person. Such greatness is superficial. After such an achievement, a person can pat themselves on the back for a deed well-done and carry on with the rest of their lives as if nothing had happened. Rather, it is small but extraordinary deeds that reveal one’s greatness. Shifrah and Puah were bravely saving lives yet they still had the sensitivity and thoughtfulness to care for the babies by beautifying and soothing them.[2]

The Talmud tells us that during the time of Pharaoh’s decree against the baby boys, the Jewish men decided to stop having children altogether. The men reasoned that there was no point in having children if the children were destined to be killed. It was the righteous Jewish women of that generation who convinced their husbands otherwise by beautifying themselves and seducing them into having relations. While the men despaired, the women remained cognizant that their sole obligation was to follow G-d’s commandments and trust that G-d would take care of the rest. They decided to continue following the commandment of bringing children into the world all the while trusting that G-d would soon mete out punishment to the Egyptians and redeem the Jewish people.[3] It is for this reason that the Talmud teaches: “In the merit of the righteous women of that generation, our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt” (Sotah 11b).



[1] The word, “Shemot” bears no similarity in translation to the English word, “Exodus.” In English ‘shemot’ means ‘names.’

[2] Rabbi Frand on the Parshah. Artscroll Series, 87-88

[3] http://www.chabad.org/multimedia/media_cdo/aid/618031/jewish/Shemot-Let-the-Girls-Live.htm

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Enjoying Israel in DC

Bringing a bit of Israel to DC

I’ve been bitten by the bug prematurely. That is, the Israel bug. This week I’ll be fortunate enough to go to Israel (shout out to the SH-25-79 crew), and could not be more grateful for the chance. Being in DC has tremendously helped pave the way for the opportunity to go at last. If you haven’t gone yet, take the time while you’re in DC to find a participating group. There are plenty here, and you won’t be sorry.

In the meanwhile, I’m counting down the days, not being efficient at work anymore, stocking up on SPF 100 [Editor's note: Rachel is a ginger. Others should feel free to use lower SPF sun protection] and starting a movie marathon of films that feature Israel and similarly arid destinations. If you’re also in need of an Israel fix, there are several DC area events in the upcoming weeks that might hit the spot.

The Washington DCJCC has a new exhibit opening Jan. 19 that runs through April 6. The exhibition, called “Walking Tel Aviv: Photographs by David Bergholz” features snippets and images of the city often not seen by tourists. The opening reception at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 19 will feature Bergholz himself as he talks about the series. Check out the JCC’s website  for details.

If you’re looking for a night of good music, Israeli guitarist Mia Pomerantz and her husband Jorge Amaral will be performing in Bethesda at the Westmoreland Congregational Church as part of the Marlow Guitar Series. Music starts at 8 p.m. on Jan. 21.

The Avalon Theatre is showing “Salsa Tel Aviv” on Jan. 25, as part of the Embassy of Israel’s ReelIsraelDC monthly film series. The movie is a romantic comedy about a single mom/salsa dancer who flies to Israel disguised as a nun to work.  Sounds slightly “Dirty Dancing”-esque, which could be amusing. Check out the trailer and details here.

Listen to the songs of two popular Israeli singers, Arik Einstein and Shalom Chanoch, as sung by the Israeli Scouts of Rockville on Jan. 28. The performance will be held at the JCC of Greater Washington in Rockville from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., and tickets are $10. See details here.

Enjoy, and see you on the other side of the two-week stint in the Holy Land. Unless the bug totally consumes me. Then the next post will be from Israel.

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