Finding Hope in Hate

bananasAny opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and does not represent the opinions of Gather the Jews.

The signs the protestors held outside our synagogue on the eve of the second Pesach seder read “GOD HATES JEWS,” “JEWS KILLED JESUS (.com)” and “GOD HATES (their terrible word for homosexual people).”  My entire life, I have been a member of the Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, DC and it has become a family tradition to celebrate the seder with our community members on the second night of Passover.  But this year, the Westboro Baptist Church has also decided to make their presence known on this symbolic evening by attempting to sabotage our festive gathering.

That same day, the Westboro members demonstrated their vehement bigotry outside of the Supreme Court, where the justices are questioning the constitutionality of the “Defense of Marriage Act.”  There they picketed with “SAME SEX MARRIAGE DOOMS OUR NATION,” “GAY RIGHTS: AIDS HELL,” and their favorite fallback “GOD HATES (again, derogatory slur for homosexuals).”  They told reporters that “every leader at every level of this nation has some powerful f** influence right outside their door.”  They spent the day spewing hatred and intolerance on the subject of gay marriage (also towards “BLOODY OBAMA” and “THANK GOD FOR DEAD SOLDIERS”) and then traveled all the way across town to spend the twilight hours disseminating their terrible messages outside our shul.

By this point, the Westboro Baptist Church is internationally known as a group of hate-mongers who have almost no credibility whatsoever (and yet, they did win their Supreme Court appeal over funeral protests).  But, even so, it is frustrating and disheartening to be reminded that people with such prejudice, who continually go out of their way to discriminate and promote their narrow-mindedness, exist and propagate and have a voice that is seen and heard.

There is a popular joke that every Jewish holiday can be summed up in three phrases: They tried to kill us.  We survived.  Let’s eat.  Before the seder began, the reaction to these crusaders of hate ranged from sarcastic indifference (“People hate Jews?  Quelle surprise!”) to bewilderment (“God hates Jews?”) to outrage (“I can barely stomach this gefilte fish I’m so angry!”)  But once we commenced our journey into reliving the story of the Exodus, once we were provoked into insightful discussion by thoughtfully prepared questions such as “Has any bitter experience in your own life been the springboard for something sweet?” and once we began to celebrate our surviving and thriving as a religion, a culture, an ethnicity, a people, the instigators of intolerance faded from our lives.  We focused on the hope that Passover inspires, the freedom that we rejoice in, and the sense of community that we cherish.

Our Rabbi, the brilliant Gil Steinlauf, did take a moment to recognize the impact and significance that the picketing represented.  “Our Haggadah tells us that in every generation there are those who seek to destroy us. We have a literal reminder of that reality outside, as members of the Westboro Baptist Church seek to spew hatred upon us and our LGBT brothers and sisters.  Their presence is a reminder to us all that our celebration of freedom brings with it responsibilities.  Even in our day, there are those who are not free from the oppression of those who hate.  Tonight is a literal reminder that our work for justice in this world is not yet done. May we draw inspiration from our story tonight in our work that lays ahead for us in liberating all the oppressed peoples of the world.”

The gay rights movement was a constant subject matter throughout our seder discussion.  Freedom, equality, and struggle are all themes that are intrinsic to Passover and are dealt with and explored during the seders.  And the symbolism of the maror, the bitterness, mixed with the charoset, the mortar that keeps everything together, seemed particularly pertinent given the current battle for human rights.  The success of nine states (and D.C.! Can’t forget us here) legalizing same-sex marriage mixed with the DOMA requiring inter-state marriage recognition only to opposite-sex marriage is inherently bittersweet.

But the Passover holiday reminds us of many lessons.  Through the darkest times comes light.  Through despair comes hope.  Through struggle comes triumph.  Through hate comes love.  And for all our LGBT brothers and sisters fighting for their right to equality in love, I eagerly await the day where we can celebrate together at your weddings and lift my glass to you to say “L’chaim.”


GTJ Satirist Brian F. – National Archives Condemned and Evicted for Excessive Hoarding

archivesWASHINGTON, DC – (FACEBOOK:  The Comedy News) – Health inspectors have condemned and evicted the National Archives Building in Washington, DC due to excessive hoarding.

“When we walked in the Archives building, it smelled like mothballs and gymsocks,” said DC Health Inspector Daniel Tanner.  “Everywhere you look, there were black and white photographs of Civil War-era debutantes, to-do lists dating back to 1776—and an irrationally elaborate security system to keep anyone from stealing this old, stinky, faded junk—it was sad and with all due respect, pathetic, to see such rampant hoarding.”

A team of health inspectors in haz-mat suits reported that over 4.5 million documents, microfilms, and photographs were being hoarded in the 76-year-old building.

“Ever wonder what happens when the Congress passes a bill?” Questioned Health Inspector Tanner. “Those piles of paper come to this building to just sit, collect dust, and rot.  Although not very many Acts of Congress have been added to the pile of hoarded paper in the last 10 or so years, the Archives staff seem be delusional enough to think that people actually have a use for all this Government junk —all saved up in this here building.”

A 30-by-30-foot orange banner was hanged from the Corinthian pillars at the Constitution Avenue entrance of the National Archives.  It reads, “Eviction Notice—Warning Some of the Rotting Contents within These Premises Are Almost 800 Years Old.  Do Not Enter.”

According to the deranged curator of the condemned Archives building, somewhere in the pile of hoarded Government documents is a very significant document about a conspiracy to assassinate President John F. Kennedy which he refused to show anyone until the year 2017.

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


Online Dating Usernames – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (No. 63)


If I gave you these four JDate usernames (all made up, of course), whose profile do you think you’d click on first?  I’d venture to say #3 or #4.  Am I right?  While the username is sometimes an afterthought for online daters, I encourage you to think of it more as an executive summary.  It is one additional chance to share an extra tidbit about yourself in JDate- or OKCupid-land.  Using the computer-generated number is analogous to wearing a black suit and white shirt amidst a line of others in a black suit and white shirt.  Having a fun, clever username adds some flair, like a pink scarf or a purple tie.

Let’s say you walked into a bookstore, and there was a book called, “The Scientific Answer to Your Most Common Questions.”  Would you buy it?  Now, what if it was instead “Why Do Men Have Nipples?: Hundreds of Questions You’d Only Ask a Doctor After Your Third Martini” that graced the shelf?  Perhaps some of us, solely out of embarrassment, would opt for the first choice, but I’m guessing that more of us would at least be intrigued by the scandalous title of the second choice.  (And for the record, this is a real book.  I own it.  Don’t judge.)

Now, back to usernames…

When online dating, one objective is to catch someone’s attention quickly.  There are so many options out there that it’s important to take every opportunity to differentiate yourself.  As an exercise, think of two or three words that really define you – nouns, verbs, adjectives, anything.  Then, try to string them together into a username.  For example, mine used to be “LovesLifeDC.”  For anyone who knows me, you know it’s rare to see me without a smile on my face.  Another former username of mine was “SmartandSassy.”  You get the gist.  I’d much rather date a “KidTestedBubbeApproved” over a “283017390” any day.  If anything, your potential matches know that you put in the extra time and effort to come up with something creative, even if it only takes a minute.  Let’s also try to avoid anything negative, like “JustGotDumped” or “NotIntoOnlineDating.”

Before you take the leap and post your username, though, make sure it doesn’t have any undesired meanings that you didn’t intend.  For example, I’m pretty sure the buyer at Macy’s didn’t mean “NiceRack” in the way it comes off.  Or how about “buttongirl,” who loves her collection of vintage buttons and brooches?  It’s probably best to leave anything that might be misconstrued as a body part out of your name.  And lastly – the pièce de résistance – don’t make your username TossedSalad.  Ever.  This may happen to you.

Erika Ettin is the Founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps people stand out from the online dating crowd and have a rewarding experience. An archive of all of Erika’s columns is also available.  Want to connect with Erika?  Join her newsletter for updates and tips.


The DC Alumni Leadership Mission and Why I Decided to Go

b1Applications for the NEXT DC Alumni Leadership Mission are now open.  Space is limited so apply here today.  Check out pictures from last year’s trip here.

I applied to the trip on a whim.  An acquaintance of a friend who I ran into on the metro one night mentioned in passing that the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington sponsored a trip for Birthright alumni to return to Israel.  The trip was solely for young professionals living in the DC area who had been on Birthright before and had an interest in impacting the DC Jewish community in some way.  At the time, I was on the cusp of connecting in a more meaningful way to my Judaism and felt pretty removed socially from the Jewish scene in DC.  I had just been on Birthright the year before and welcomed the chance to return to Israel, but I didn’t really know what the Federation was or what my impact in the community here might be.  That night though, when I got home and thought some more about the chance encounter, I decided to apply for the trip.

B2When I was accepted, I was shocked and slightly terrified.  I went to the first in-person, pre-trip meeting with hesitation and a little bit of anxiety – everyone but me seemed to know at least one other person well enough to be sharing inside jokes, referencing the same mutual friends and being involved in the same Jewish programs.  But once we got through the first awkward ice breaker, my trepidation was quite quickly replaced with awe.  I was sitting in a room with 25 people in their 20s and 30s, who were Jewish, and all within them some core connection to their faith that in turn drove them outward to connect with other young people and enrich the community that brought them together in the first place.

Before applying for the trip, I knew not a single one of them.  Now, we’ve carved out our own little sub-community, sharing Shabbats together, celebrating each other’s birthdays, and supporting each other’s work.  The beauty of the trip is that the end result leaves you with a solid group of friends and supporters who share the same interest in leadership and community and who live in the same city as you.  Upon returning from the trip, you create an “impact project” that does just that; impacts the DC Jewish community based on something you experienced or were inspired by in Israel.  In our group alone, we have a diverse mix of projects in the works ranging from a comedy show that fosters coexistence dialogue through shared humor to an online forum to recognize the vibrancy of community influencers.b3

The trip itself is also its own humbling and enriching experience – on our trip, we attended a conference hosted by the President of Israel, planted fruit-bearing trees alongside the families whose yards they were growing in, and helped open a bomb shelter turned youth center for an Ethiopian Jewish community.  We spoke to young Muslim, Jewish, and Christian girls involved in a soccer program together and heard from the leaders of a nonprofit aimed at fostering social entrepreneurship.  We rang in Shabbat outside overlooking the hills of Jerusalem, we visited an Israeli micro-brewery, and we engaged in a rich dialogue about coexistence and tolerance in Beit Shemesh with members of the Haredi community that I still remember as vividly as if it happened yesterday.  In short, we experienced Israel through the lens of the people who live, work, and lead there, and we were challenged to find new connections between who we met and what we can bring back to DC.

I was asked to co-lead this year’s alumni mission trip as a lay leader, an opportunity that this time last year I would not have even known existed, and one I am honored to take on.  I hope the words I write here and my experience of coming in somewhat as an outsider will encourage you all to apply for this year’s trip, which takes place in November and coincides with the Jewish Federation of North America’s General Assembly.b4

Whether you went to Birthright in college, last year, or last month, apply.  Whether you feel disconnected from the young leadership network and aren’t sure how you’d fit in or whether you are already immersed in Jewish programs and activities, apply.  Whether you’ve been to Israel a dozen times since Birthright or none, apply.  And if you don’t really know what’s intriguing you about the trip but you sense something is missing from the way you’re currently experiencing the DC Jewish community, apply.

I went into the trip last year feeling very much like an outsider and not quite sure what I wanted to get out of it, and I emerged with a renewed appreciation for the community we’re in here in DC, and with a clearer vision of how I might play a part in it.  I hope you’ll find the same by taking a chance and applying to go on this year’s leadership mission.  You’ll have a whole community of people ready to welcome you.


10 Reasons Why You Should Come to the Gather the Jews April Happy Hour

jtgThe GTJ April Happy Hour is on April 29th from 6 to 9 pm at Penn Social. RSVP on Facebook today! Check out photos from the last happy hour here.

10. Awesome drink specials!

9. We’re raffling off a $50 Amazon gift card.

8. The last happy hour had 450 Jews– a GTJ record!

7. You might see some of Brian F.’s 21 People that You’ll meet at a Jewish Happy Hour.

6. The cover goes towards supporting your favorite hyperlocal Jewish news source (we can’t gather without your support!).

5. What else do you have to do on Monday night when it’s not football season?

4. You’ll have a chance to meet other Jewish Young Professionals.

3. You can vote for the new Jewish Guy and Girl of the Year!

2. Penn Social is located only a few blocks from all five metro lines, so it’s easy to get to.

1. It’s going to be amazing!

See you there!

See you there!



Danny’s Heroes

Danny's Heroes

Danny’s Heroes


The Israeli Embassy Gathered Young Professionals to Observe Yom HaShoah

Monday, April 8 marked Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. This year, the Embassy of Israel hosted an event for young professionals to gather and remember together.

After some opening remarks, the mood was set by showing a video of the Yom HaShoah siren in Israel.  In Israel, Yom HaShoah is a national day of remembrance on the 27th of Nisan signed into law in 1953 by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi.  At 10:00 am, a two long siren is sounded throughout Israel.  The entire country comes to a standstill during the two minutes as silent tribute is paid to the dead.



Following the video, Lt. Col. Dado Barklalifa of the IDF sang the mournful notes of El Male Rachamim.  El Male Rachamim is a funeral prayer sung by Ashkenazi Jews and is sung on occasions when remembering those who have passed away.  El Male Rachamim was followed by another song, the original Yiddish of “Undzer shtetl brent” or “Our Town is Burning,”  Written by Mordecai Gebirtig following a pogrom in the Polish town of Przytyk, it became popular in ghettos and camps and inspired young people to take up arms against the Nazis.  Gebirtig was murdered by the Nazis in 1942 during a round up for deportation from the Krakow Ghetto.

Survivor David Bayer shared his story with us.  Only 16 years old when the Germans came to his Polish town, Bayer was able to survive ghettos, work assignments, Auschwitz, and a death march.  Now 90 years old, Bayer reminded us of the unthinkable horrors the victims of the Holocaust endured.  Bayer volunteers on Wednesdays at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum where he continues to share his story.

Finally, Rabbi Shira Stutman spoke on the Hebrew word “zachor,” which translates to “remember” in English.  However, the English does not do the Hebrew justice.  Zachor means more than just “remember”, it is more accurately translated as “remember so that”.  We need to remember the Holocaust so that we can make a better world.  We need to remember the Holocaust so that it never happens again.

The event concluded with the singing of Hatikvah.


GTJ Satirist Brian F. – Japan Admits Cherry Blossoms Were Just a Scheme to Flare-up Americans’ Allergies

cherryWASHINGTON, DC – (@The Comedy News) – Officials in Tokyo, Japan admitted today that the gift of Cherry Blossoms to the city of Washington, DC in 1912 was only a scheme to agitate Americans’ allergies.

“Yes, the gift of 2000 Cherry Blossoms to Washington, DC one-hundred years ago today was only a deceptive trick to make Americans sick and miserable,” a Tokyo city official announced.  “We are not saying we are sorry, we’re just taking credit for this hilarious Trojan horse you all can’t seem to get enough of.”

The tree pollen emitted by the Cherry Blossom trees has wreaked havoc on DC inhabitants and the millions of visitors who flock in droves each spring to see the pink cherry blossom trees in bloom.

For decades, some people have suspected that Japan’s “generous gift” of cherry blossoms to the United States in the Spring of 1912 was indeed a deceptive means to make Americans miserable and sick.  Now that those rumors have been confirmed, historians are suspecting that President Harry S. Truman authorized the atomic bomb-dropping on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as payback for Japan’s snotty prank.

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



Survivor Initiative Happy Hour Raised Over $2000 for Holocaust Survivors

SILast Wednesday, The Survivor Initiative held a happy hour at The Laughing Man to raise money for the 200 local Holocaust survivors living in poverty.  The Survivor Initiative is a volunteer-led national effort that reaches across generations to raise awareness and funds for Holocaust survivors living in poverty.  Tens of Thousands of Holocaust survivors in the United States are living below the national poverty line of $11,170/year.  One hundred percent of funds raised go to strengthening the capacity of the agencies that care for Holocaust survivors in need.  In Washington these funds support the work of the Jewish Social Service Agency (JSSA) and its critical 20-year old Holocaust Survivor Program.  At the happy hour last Wednesday, The Survivor Initiative raised over $2000 for survivors.

The Survivor Initiative was founded in the summer of 2012 by a small group of volunteers who were shocked to learn of the significant funding shortfalls for programs that support Holocaust survivors living below the national poverty line.

Historically, social services for Holocaust survivors in need have been funded by grants from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany with assistance from local Jewish Federations, agencies and private donors.  Recently, a decrease in funding from these traditional revenue sources combined with a substantial increase in aging survivors applying for more intensive services has placed local and national survivor support programs in jeopardy.

The Survivor Initiative seeks to raise awareness and funds to assure survivors live their remaining years in dignity.

The next Survivor Initiative event will be May 22nd at 7pm at the National Press Club.  More information, can be found on  You can also follow SI on twitter @surviviorinit and on facebook at

If you would like to speak to someone about volunteering or donations, please email Rachel at


Be the Match, Save a Life at the GTJ April Happy Hour

be the matchBe the Match will be having a stem cell and bone marrow registry drive at the Gather the Jews April Happy Hour on April 29th. For more information, check out the registry drive Facebook Event.

My father was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) three days before New Years in 2009. Instead of embarking on my planned trip to Vegas, we checked my father into the hospital the very next day to begin treatment.  We were told that his cancer was progressing quickly and the only way to save his life was by finding a match to donate adult stem cells.  We had one year to do so before the cancer would spread beyond treatment.

Finding a match is not an easy task considering that the odds are that 1 in 20,000 will be a match. Every year, more than 12,000 patients in the US are diagnosed with life threatening diseases such as leukemia or lymphoma and about70% of those patients will not find a match in their family. My dad’s three sisters were tested, but none of them were a match.  The next step was to search the registry.  In 2010, my family hosted over ten drives which added hundreds of new potential donors to the registry.  Two of those drives found matches for two people which saved their lives and kept their families together.

What is the cost to the donor for saving a life?

All medical costs for the donation procedure are covered by the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP), which operates the Be The Match Registry, or by the patient’s medical insurance, as are travel expenses and other non-medical costs.  Many people are hesitant to join the registry because of the possible discomfort of contributing bone marrow.  During the procedure the donor is given anesthesia and in most cases returns home that day or the very next morning.  Furthermore, side effects are limited to discomfort for up to a few weeks. Stem cell transplants do not involve being put under anesthesia and donors usually report less discomfort. In addition, the discomfort you may feel will be little in comparison to the discomfort a family would feel losing a loved one.  To read more regarding procedures please visit

Hosting a drive this time of year is particularly special for me.  In March of 2010, right before Passover, we got news that my father’s life would be saved.  We had found a match in Israel!  The Stem Cells were collected in Israel and flown into the US. The donor was a young man at the time 23 years old who did not hesitate to donate the moment he found out he was a match. In May of this year, I will be going home to California to meet the young man who saved my father’s life.  An interesting fact, Israel is the largest contributor of stem cells and bone marrow in the world.

I am now urging all of you to be courageous and join the registry with the hopes that you can bring joy back to a family like mine.  On April 29th, at the Gather the Jews Happy hour we will be hosting a drive. The process will take 10-15 minutes. It involves filling out a form and conducting a check swab which you do yourself.  Help save a life.


Why We Need a Maharat

Germany's Biggest Synagogue ReopensOn the last day of Pesach it is a custom to recite Yizkor, the prayer in which we remember our loved ones. One of the many great challenges of life is how to remain connected to our loved ones without stunting our own growth. How do we always keep our loved ones in our hearts and minds and yet still live our life with freshness and excitement, with joy and renewal?

This challenge is very much an individual challenge but it is also a communal challenge. We are an Orthodox community. This means we live for tradition. Our faith is predicated on our link to our ancestors.

How many Orthodox rabbis does it take to change a light bulb? Change???

We are adverse to change because we know that our tradition is our strongest teaching and tradition is our brightest light through the darkness of life.

Yet, if we are too connected to the past we run the very real danger of stultifying our lives and hindering our spirituality. If we are wrapped in the past we run the risk of losing our future.

How do we balance this difficult tension between a slavish commitment to tradition and a need to embrace the present and the future?

I saw a beautiful teaching about the Haftorah for the last day of Pesach from Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, the Chancellor of Yeshiva University. This teaching encapsulated what I was feeling and I thought it appropriate to share with everyone.

The Haftorah for the last day of Pesach comes from the prophecy of Yeshaya. It is a messianic vision where he imagines what the world can be one day. It is most famous for its irenic imagery and utopian vision: “Ve-gar ze’ev im keves, A wolf shall live with a lamb, and a calf and a lion cub and a fatling shall lie together, and a small child shall lead them…and a lion like a cattle shall eat straw” (Isaiah 11:6-7).

Rabbi Lamm focuses on a different verse from the Haftorah:

“Ve-hayah ba-yom ha-hu yosif Hashem shenit yado liknot et she’ar ammo, And it shall be on that day that Hashem shall set His hand again for a second time to recover the remnant of the people” (Is. 11: 11).

Yeshaya is speaking about the she’ar ammo, literally translated as the “remnants of the people”, who are specifically being redeemed by Hashem. But the Zohar adds an additional meaning to the literal meaning.

The Zohar (Beshalach) says that this phrase refers to tzadikim, the righteous people of the world: “The world exists only by virtue of those who regard themselves as remnants (shirayim).”

Why are tzadikim called remnants? Here is the explanation of Rabbi Lamm. (Found in Festivals of Faith 238-240.)

“The truly righteous consider themselves shirayim in the sense of being “creative remnants.” For shirayim have yet another function, perhaps inappropriate to the festival of Passover, but possibly excusable on this eighth day of the holiday, when we make the transition to a weekday…. The baker would take the remnant of one batch of dough and use it to sour the new batter, to initiate new fermentation…. So that shirayim are those remnants which create new and healthy loaves. The tzaddikim, therefore symbolize a past that is great and glorious, but without the self-deprecation suggested by the term “left-overs,” and without the pessimism implied by the word “relics.” Rather, they regard themselves as the ferment that will re-create past glory in the present and transmit its creative leavening into the future.”

Some people consider the past to be best left in the past and visited in museums on occasions. For others they yearn to live in the past. They try to wear the same clothing that their ancestors wore and speak the same language, simply because their ancestors spoke it. But Rabbi Lamm argues for a third approach:

“We who are loyal to Torah may today be numerically only a remnant, but we must remain a creative remnant. Ours is the duty of bringing the ferment of the past into the present in order to re-create a great future which will rival the past…. Those who ignore the new world cannot hope to influence it…. It is we who refuse to close our eyes to new conditions and new problems and new currents, and yet are determined to remain utterly loyal to the Jewish tradition and the greatness of the past without compromise—it is we who have the God-given opportunity to become the shirayim, the creative remnant that will ferment the batter of the present with the blessings of the past in order to create a better future.”

Rabbi Lamm wrote these words in 1966. But this approach of Rabbi Lamm was something that I heard from him in one form or another when I was a student at Yeshiva University.

Without creativity the world cannot continue to exist. Without creativity spirituality can also not exist.

Pesach is the tension between the slavish commitment to tradition and to transforming that tradition into a new and exciting future.

The holiday of Pesach is all about remembering the Exodus—zecher yetziat mitzrayim. But the Exodus story begins with the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh. This is the reading that speaks of the first day of Pesach. “Hachodesh hazeh lachem” (Exodus 12:1). “This month shall be for you the beginning of all months.”

Chodesh is basically the same word as chadash, newness. In order for our faith to succeed there has to be a freshness connected to an ancient heritage.

This is not an easy tension to navigate, but it is the mandate that we have.

Bechol dor vedor chayav adam lirot et atsmo ke-ilu hu yatzah mi-mitzrayim. We say in the Haggadah that every generation has to look at themselves as though they left Egypt.

This means that every generation has a unique challenge to struggle with and navigate. It is not only every generation but also every community and every congregation. No two communities are alike, and no two congregations are alike.

For many people in our congregation the challenge today to their orthodoxy and their commitment rests upon the inclusion of the role of women in a traditional, spiritual environment.

For some the texts of our rabbis and our halakhah are overwhelmingly beautiful and meaningful but sometimes fall short in areas that discuss women and rituals.

Let’s take an example from a mitzvah that we are all involved in today.

In our shul the women all have the custom of counting the Omer. We teach our boys and our girls to count the date of the Omer before going to sleep. We even give them their own personalized Omer Counters.

But this is how the great Chofetz Chayim rules in his classic work, Mishnah Berurah. The Mishnah Berurah was published in the early twentieth century and is the primary source of halakhah for Orthodox Jews. He states (489:3):

“Women are exempt from the mitzvah since it is a time-bound positive commandment. And Magen Avraham writes: ‘and they have accepted it upon themselves as an obligation.’ And it seems to me that in our areas the women do not have the practice to count at all. And the work Shulchan Shlomoh writes that in any event women should not make a blessing when counting, for they will certainly make a mistake when counting and also most of them do not understand the meaning of the words.”

Our challenge is to show respect and commitment to the Mishnah Berurah but also to make clear that this opinion does not reflect the reality of our own congregation. Many women in our own world have a better chance of not making a mistake than certain men, and many women understand the meaning of the blessings more than the men do. It is for this reason that in our congregation we choose to rely on the opinion of others, like Aruch Hashulchan (489:4), who encourages women to count the Omer with a blessing.

The Mishnah Berurah is a great work. We need to recognize that every single day of our lives. But we also need to recognize when the facts on which he bases his opinion are no longer applicable, and when there are other great authorities who argue with his legal ruling, so that we can adjust accordingly for our congregation.

In this context I want to share with you what our congregation is doing this coming Shabbat, why we are doing it, and what we are hoping to accomplish.

This coming Shabbat, our congregation is hosting a Maharat to explore the possibility of our hiring a Maharat to serve the shul in a spiritual capacity.

What is a Maharat? A Maharat is a graduate of a new institution that will be graduating three students in their first graduating class this May. Here is a description from their website (

Yeshivat Maharat is the first institution to train Orthodox women as spiritual leaders and halakhic authorities…. Through a rigorous curriculum of Talmud, halakhic decision-making (psak), pastoral counseling, leadership development, and internship experiences, our graduates will be prepared to assume the responsibility and authority to be poskot (legal arbiters) for the community. Maharat is a Hebrew acronym for Manhiga Hilkhatit Rukhanit Toranit, one who is teacher of Jewish law and spirituality.

A Maharat is not a female rabbi. It is a new concept – a new type of spiritual leader for our time. A Maharat recognizes that there is a need for female spiritual leadership in Orthodox synagogues. A Maharat undergoes the same training as rabbis do, but she is uniquely situated to help not only men, but also women. In my opinion a Maharat can only enhance our community as she serves as a role model to our girls, and our boys, and our women and our men, and shows us that Orthodoxy is about that imagery of shirayim: clinging to the past but forging a new future.

Our decision to consider a Maharat for our congregation comes after the issue was raised by women and men in our shul and was discussed with the lay leadership of our shul.

A Maharat is on the one hand a role that is forging new ground and on the other hand it is entirely consistent with our tradition. In this respect it is rooted in the past but looking towards the future.

I don’t see our shul hiring a Maharat as breaking any new Halakhic ground; but I do see it as forging a new public policy path.

It breaks new ground in some respects because although there have been women scholars in leadership roles in other congregations they were either 1) very limited in scope (like yoetzet halakhah, women who are experts on matters of Niddah); or 2)very clearly non-rabbinic roles, like experts on adult education.  What the Maharat adds is the fact that she has gone through the same institutional training and curriculum that a rabbi goes through.  This qualifies her in many ways in the same way a rabbi is qualified to teach, counsel, and provide Halakhic rulings.

In many ways, the Maharat is continuing a strong tradition of having a female spiritual leadership role in the community. This role was sometimes traditionally filled by a Rebbetzin, who in the past was able and willing to transmit the Mesorah that she received from her parents who themselves were often great Torah scholars. The traditional Rebbetzin was – and still is in some communities — often a resource for the community, teaching Torah on a daily basis, even if not always in classroom settings. To my mind, the Maharat should not be a resource for women only. It is my hope that she will become a resource for both men and women in the same way that many congregations have more than one clergy member who can inspire different members of the community in their own unique way.

I don’t view a Maharat as a rabbi because I don’t think it is necessary or appropriate for women to have the same roles as men.

I want to be clear: Halakhah is not egalitarian. There are many overlapping roles, but there are also particular areas where there are clear distinctions between men and women.  Women are unique and have unique spiritual skills.  I see a new path for women’s spiritual leadership in the Orthodox community.  The Maharat, for example, will be limited in some areas and not be able to fulfill some of the traditional roles of an Orthodox rabbi: e.g. reciting certain berachot and leading the congregation in prayers which Halakhah requires a man to lead.  In other areas a Maharat will have natural advantages. A Maharat by virtue of her feminine perspective will bring a unique approach to spiritual leadership. Can you imagine if the Mishnah Berurah’s daughter was a Maharat? Would he have written that women do not understand the words of the blessings? Can you imagine if the Mishnah Berurah itself was written by a Maharat? Would it contain the sentence that women cannot be trusted to complete the full 49 day count?

Additionally, there are Halakhic barriers that hinder an Orthodox rabbi’s ability to connect spiritually with a female congregant. For example, it is not appropriate for a rabbi to embrace a female congregant at a Shiva home or dance with her at a wedding or even study Torah together in a chavruta. And of course, only a Maharat, and not a rabbi, can be fully present when a female convert immerses in the mikvah. There is a gap in our spiritual community which can be filled by a Maharat. I suggest we focus on the uniqueness of the new path that she will be forging and not expect the Maharat role to mimic the rabbinate.

We can draw inspiration from that same prophetic vision of Yeshaya that we cited earlier.

The Haftorah for the eighth day of Pesach begins with the verse, “Od hayom benov yaamod, Still today he is standing in Nov; he waves his hand toward the Mountain of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem.”

The rabbis explain that this verse is a reference to Sancheirev, the king of Assyria. He came to the city of Nov and he was told that if he attacked that day he would be victorious. But when he got there he was lackadaisical. Od hayom. Sancheirev thinks, there is still time to stand in Nov. He didn’t seize the moment. He stood there and merely waved his hand. And so he lost his opportunity. He has to retreat in defeat.

We must embrace the moment and not take a lackadaisical approach to life.

Yeshaya continues and declares that on that day (Isaiah 11:12):
Veasaf nidchei Yisrael, unefutzot Yehudah yikabetz mei-arbah kanfot ha-aretz, He shall gather the lost of Israel, and the scattered ones of Judah, He shall gather from the four corners of the earth.

This is the vision of Isaiah. It is a vision of reaching out and bringing in all the Jews who are scattered around the corners of the earth. To do this we cannot be lackadaisical. We need to be aggressive and creative. We need to be inspirational and rooted in tradition. And we need all the help we can get. A Maharat can only help our community in this mission.

Shmuel Herzfeld is Rabbi of Ohev Sholom, an Orthodox synagogue in Washington D.C. He can be reached via and


GTJ Satirist Brian F. – 13 Thoughts That Will Make You Feel Old at a Bar/Bat Mitzvah in 2013

batmWASHINGTON, DC – (@The Comedy News)  Going to a bar or bat Mitzvah this year?  The kid reading from the Torah was likely born in the year 2000 or 2001.  To put that into perspective, here are 13 thoughts you might have that will make you feel a bit old and grizzled:

1. “Those sexy dancers and shiny-vest DJs I fawned over at my friends’ bar/bat mitzvahs?  They’re approaching 40.”

2. “The bar/bat mitzvah kid never practiced their Haftorah using a tape recorder—they haven’t even heard of one.”

3. “‘Gangnam Style’, ‘Dougie’, ‘Crank That Soulja Boy’?  In my day, we did ‘The Macarana’, ‘The Electric Slide’, and ‘Achy Breaky Heart’.”

4. “If I were that kid’s parent, I would never let them wear those skimpy sequined hotpants.”

5. “Titanic had already been released for 3 years by time the bar/bat Mitzvah kid was born.”

6. “It will be the year 2024 by time the bar/bat Mitzvah kid graduates college.  And it will cost $200,000 per year just for public school.”

7. “None of the kids can remember the release of any of the Harry Potter books.”

8. “YouTube video invitations?  I remember trying to pick out the coolest postage stamps for my invitations.”

9. “I don’t have a single digital photo from my bar/bat mitzvah.  All of mine are printed in photo albums.”

10. “When the bar/bat Mitzvah kid was born, Bill Clinton was just leaving the White House and Ariel Sharon had just taken power in Israel.”

11. “I’m tired and sick of talking about my job.  I need to get home to feed my cats.”

12. “Are the people at my table talking about Bed Bath and Beyond?  I should tell them that I’ll be there too on Sunday, shopping for lamps.”

13. “Oh wait I know this song!  Madonna!  Aw dammit, it was just a 30-second snippet in some crappy Skrillex dubstep remix.  I wish they would turn the volume down.”

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


Being in the Red Can be a Good Thing?! – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (No. 62)

red shirtIs red the new black?  When online dating is concerned, the answer is a resounding YES!  Two weeks ago, Slate published an article saying that you should wear a red shirt in your online dating profile to get more responses.  For women, “Twenty-one percent of their emails arrived when they wore red, whereas the other colors – black, white, yellow, green, and blue – attracted 14 to 17 percent of the total.”  Pretty impressive!

Why red?  The study has two explanations.

  1. Red is associated with love – plain and simple.
  2. People flush red when they are sexually receptive, thus associating the color with attraction for the other person.

That’s quite the correlation!  They say the same is true for both men and women, so start stocking up on red clothes.  But before you go on that red shirt shopping spree, remember that simply posting a picture in your brand spankin’ new red shirt is not the golden ticket to getting you a date every night of the week.  The most important part of the picture is still you, and only you.

Don’t forget these five rules of thumb for your online dating profile pictures:

1. The main profile picture should be a clear headshot of yourself

If you don’t have at least one clear headshot as your main picture (it’s either blurry or too far away), it will look like you’re hiding something. You don’t want someone to click right past you because he or she can’t see what you look like, automatically assuming the worst.

2. Less is more

Believe it or not, allows a whopping 26 photos in your profile. That sounds more like a Facebook album! I have no doubt that the pictures from your trip to Paris are amazing… just remember, there’s a time and a place for them, and that place is not an online dating site.  People have a tendency to look though all of your photos and dismiss you simply because they see just one they don’t like.

3. Be by yourself in the shot

This says it all.

4. Have one “interesting” picture

It’s hard to know what to say to someone in that first email, isn’t it?  This is why we need to provide some “e-mail bait” – something to catch someone’s attention and generate questions.  For example, if you have a picture of yourself with a gold medal around your neck, it automatically raises the question, “How did you get that?”

5. Be accurate

The point of doing online dating is to get offline.  Don’t lie about your looks – people will always find out the truth in the end.

Now, with these rules of thumb in mind, feel free to break out the red (we’re still talking shirts here), and post away.  And then when you have too many dates to count, you can break out the red again… this time perhaps a nice bottle of merlot.

Erika Ettin is the Founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps people stand out from the online dating crowd and have a rewarding experience. An archive of all of Erika’s columns is also available.  Want to connect with Erika?  Join her newsletter for updates and tips.


GTJ Satirist Brian F. – Filet-o-Matzah, Big Matzah Mac to Debut At McDonalds For One Week this Spring

mat burgBOROUGH PARK, NY (@The Comedy News) – To coincide with the Jewish holiday of Passover, McDonalds is introducing two special burgers for one week only.

The Filet-O-Matzah and the Big Matzah Mac will debut at sundown on Monday, March 25, 2013.

The main feature of the new temporary burgers will be the buns made from matzah—an unleavened, crunchy flatbrad made solely from water and flour.

For the Big Matzah Mac, the matzah buns will be in lieu of the traditional Big Mac sesame seed buns that are forbidden by Jewish law for the week-long holiday celebrating the Jews’ freedom from bondage in Egypt 5,000 years ago.

Since the traditional Special Sauce on the Big Mac will be unkosher for Passover, the Big Matzah Mac will feature a “Schpecial Schmear” between the two all-beef patties, along with lettuce, pickles, and onion.

“We are proud to introduce our latest line of kosher-for-Passover burgers that will ensure that McDonalds’ devout Jewish customers can still enjoy their favorite McDonalds meal during their holidays,” announced a McDonalds spokesman.  “From sundown March 25 through sundown April 2, McDonalds at select locations in New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and Boston will be ditching the chametz and pitching some matzah burgers.”

The second McDonalds Passover burger, the Filet-O-Matzah, will feature a hunk of raw matzah dough flanked by two matzah flatbread slices.

During the week of Passover, McDonalds will also be promoting the “happykomen”.  The happykomen is a McDonalds version of the traditional Passover game “afikomen”.  For the price of $3.99, children will be encouraged search for traces of the pink slime goo paste that has been forbidden from McDonalds food since late 2011.  The first child to find a trace of the pink slime goo paste gets their choice of a free Big Matzah Mac or a Fliet-O-Matzah.  All participating children will get a free dreidel.

The official celebrity spokesman for McDonalds’ new kosher-for-Passover slogan, “Ditch the Chametz, Pitch some Matzah Burgers”, will be the reclusive Baseball Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax.

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



Key Lime Bars

photo (3)Good Passover desserts are hard to come by, especially when you try to make them with matzah meal.  I tend to avoid the matzah issue altogether and make a lot of desserts with nut flours.  I’ve made this recipe in the past as a pie but, well, my mom asked for cookies this year.  If you go the pie route, simply top with whipped cream and serve.  The crust works well for other kinds of pies, too.  Chag sameach!

Total time: 1 hour, plus chilling time

Yield: 36-64 bars (depending on how big you cut them)

Level: Moderate


  • 1 1/2 cups almond meal/flour
  • 3/8 cup powdered sugar*
  • 3 tbsp chilled butter, cut into bits
  • 2 1/4 tbsp cream
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 c bottled key lime juice or fresh lime juice (about 3 limes)
  • 1/3 c sugar


  1. Blend the first four ingredients in a food processor until dough clumps together.  Chill for 15 minutes. 
  2. Press dough into greased 8”x8” baking dish using wet hands.  Bake at 350 degrees on the center rack for 10 minutes or until browned lightly.  Set aside to cool.
  3. While the crust is cooling, beat the yolks, sugar, and condensed milk together in a large bowl.  Gradually beat in the lime juice on low speed.
  4. Spread the filling over the top of the cooled crust and bake for 15 minutes, or until set.
  5. Allow bars to cool a before refrigerating for 1-2 hours.  Slice and serve. 

* Regular powdered sugar is made with corn starch, which is not kosher for Passover under Ashkenazi rules.  You can buy kosher for Passover powdered sugar.  I used some that I found in the organic section that was made with tapioca starch.  You can also make your own in the food processor with granulated sugar and potato starch.

© Courtney Weiner.  All Rights Reserved.

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