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Meet our new intern, Mollie!

Jackie: What brought you to D.C.?

Mollie: I came to D.C. for school; I’m a rising senior at the George Washington University.  Most of my friends stayed close to home–in Georgia–for college, but there seemed to be so much exciting opportunity here in Washington and even though I didn’t know a soul, I decided to push the limits of my comfort zone and come to this amazing city.

Jackie: What do you study?

10689721_10205821537160253_7944580767640445103_nMollie: One of the main reasons I love D.C. and GW so much is because of what I get to study and where I get to do it.  I’m currently enrolled in a combined degree program to get my B.A. in Political Communication and my M.A. in Media and Strategic Communication.  It’s so exciting to study for these degrees in the peak of the digital information age, and also in the city where the national news is the local news–in the city that actually sets the news agenda.

Jackie: What are you most excited about for your summer with Gather the Jews?

Mollie: I’m most looking forward to meeting new people!  It’s going to be fun to combine my love of Judaism with my affinity for engagement and outreach, and I hope to meet tons of Jewish interns and young professionals and help enhance their own D.C. Jewish experiences!

Jackie: What are you most excited about for your first summer in D.C.?

Mollie: I’ve only ever been here as a student, and my semesters have been so busy.  I’m really excited about having some extra time to play tourist and to check out some new neighborhoods in D.C. that I don’t usually get to spend time in.  I went pedal boating at the Tidal Basin (total tourist move) last week and to a filming of The Kalb Report at the National Press Club last night–the perfect way to kick off my summer!

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Jackie: Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

Mollie: Before I started with Gather I interned at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.  It was amazing to see the Executive Office of the President working towards helping citizens, and I loved being a part of that team!  It was a very “only in D.C.” experience for me.

Jackie:What is your favorite Jewish food?

Mollie: Oh man…I have a soft spot for a good reuben…really hits the spot.

Jackie: Who is your favorite Jew?

Mollie: This superlative definitely goes to my mom.  Without her love and sacrifices, I wouldn’t be half the person I am today.  When I was gr11329937_10205431934411364_5917882496229342657_nowing up, she always made sure being Jewish was fun, ensuring that I’d realize the importance of Judaism in my own life.  We had Shabbat dinner every Friday night with ten or fifteen of my family members over, and because of it I still always crave spirituality and family time every Shabbat.  She made being Jewish special and enjoyable, so I grew up to love my Jewish identity.

Jackie: How do you like to spend Shabbat?

Mollie: I think fundamental Shabbat is beautiful–the idea of taking one day of your week and devoting it entirely to rejuvenation and reflection can change your life.  I spent some time in Israel last year, and we observed every Shabbat on my trip.  It was amazing that everyone could prioritize their Saturdays to self-improvement and spirituality.  While it’s challenging to incorporate that lifestyle into my college routine, I try to maintain the separation of Shabbat at least a little bit–whether that’s lighting the candles before I go out, not checking my email for the day, or making goals for the next week before Shabbat ends, it’s important to me to maintain some semblance of Shabbat in my secular and incredibly busy life.

Jackie: Finish the sentence: when Jews Gather…

Mollie: amazing things can happen.

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Speaking Your Mind Could Win You $100

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We want to hear from you!

It has been an exciting year for Gather the Jews. With new staffing, a new logo, a new Fellowship, and new and returning faces to the Gather Happy Hours and online community, we want to take a moment to check in.  

This community – each of you – has built Gather the Jews.  So please take a few minutes to tell us:  

 How are we doing? How are we meeting your needs? What value do we add to your Jewish experience in and around DC? Is there anything new with you we should know about or more that you’re looking for from us?

We also need your help picking a new name for Jewish Guy and Girl of the Week! This (semi) weekly feature has become a hugely popular staple of the Gather newsletter and website. With the evolution of Gather, it is time for a new name, to continue to highlight the incredible individuals who make up this awesome community.  (Click HERE to learn more about how to nominate someone for this honor!)

Gather the Jews began as a grassroots project among friends in 2010. We are still a small committed group of people working to better the Jewish young adult community of DC, but we are also trying to take Gather to the next level. This year:

  • We launched our first cohort of Open Doors Fellows in February and will begin the search for the next cohort soon. (Email us if you’re interested!)
  • Gather is collaborating with local Jewish Organizations to best highlight their offerings, and also create a young Jewish Professionals network.
  • We are creating a New Website, and we continue to try to improve our Weekly Newsletter to bring you the most up to date information about what’s happening in the DC Jewish Community.

We look forward to continuing to grow, and to providing information and building community for young Jews in DC.  Thank you for your feedback!

 Participants who complete the survey have an opportunity enter to win a $100 gift card!

 

Your humbled Gather Staff,

Rachel Gildiner, Gather Director

Jackie Zais, Gather Associate

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So, what DOES Jewish Look Like?

IMG_6951On Tuesday afternoon, I saw Dr. Helen Kim address a room full of Jews and Peace Corps staff about her experience with the phrase, “Funny, you don’t look Jewish.” Since attending Episcopalian school in the Bay Area, Dr. Kim (who prefers to be called “Helen”), was often “other-ized” by her peers. She strived to fit in by assimilating to the majority culture. But Helen was never fully accepted, she explained, because she looked different from her white peers. Helen also struggled to fit in at home where she was raised by Korean immigrant parents. To encourage her quick assimilation, her parents refused to teach Helen Korean culture, which they stopped practicing altogether, or language, which they still spoke to one another. Helen felt like an outsider at home and at school. She described this experience as, “I don’t fit in here, and I don’t fit in there. Holy crap, where the hell do I fit!?”

Helen continued to struggle with these issues as she grew up and attended college. In graduate school Helen met and later married a Jewish man and decided to live a Jewish life. Together, they have two children, Ari and Talia, whom they are raising Jewish. Helen, already a member of a minority ethnicity, has chosen to join another minority group. Despite these personal and intentional decisions and commitments, her physical appearance leads people to question her identity, this time as a Jew, and “other-ize” her.   For Helen, the phrase, “Funny, you don’t look Jewish” isn’t funny at all.

Does this sound familiar to anyone else as they try to navigate their own Jewish identity today? How do you keep trying to engage if you’re getting messages from everyone around you that you just don’t fit in, or you only “half” fit in? And then what do you do?

I left this event, hosted by Open Doors Fellow Tiffany Harris, thinking to myself, so what DOES Jewish look like? Why, in a world of such diversity, multiculturalism, and global exposure, is the Jewish community failing to recognize and embrace our diversity? My gut says it’s because we are not frequently enough in situations where we can have meaningful encounters with Jews (or non-Jews for that matter) who look different from ourselves. And often, when we do encounter difference, we dismiss the otherness, stay in our own comfortable Jewish mental paradigms, and move on.

Fortunately, Helen’s academic research, and her experience raising her own family, offer hope for what it might mean to “look Jewish” in the future. Helen encourages Jews to make connections and find commonalities in all of our Jewish stories, whatever they may be. So many of us feel “half” or “partial”, whether it’s Jewishly or in other parts of our lives. How can we, on a daily basis, allow and encourage people and Jews of all races and backgrounds, to bring their entire selves to the table?

In addition to the work we can all do more of on a daily basis, I am excited to learn about, and now share, other initiatives and people, both national and local, that are working to create more inclusive Jewish environments for Jews of color and other ethnicities and backgrounds. Please see below for more info, and as always, reach out to Rachel or Jackie at info@gatherthejews.com if you’re interested in learning more, OR if you have ideas about how to create these inclusive spaces here in our own community:

  • Here is a recent NPR Article about Dr. Helen Kim and her work.
  • Learn about Rabbi Angela Buchdal, the first woman to be ordained as both a cantor and a rabbi, who is also believed to be the first Asian-American to obtain either post.
  • Two of our own Open Doors Fellows, Tiffany Harris and Georgia Mu, are each creating a unique project to highlight the amazing diversity of Jews in the DC area with their Capstone Projects – FunnyYouDon’tLookJewish.com and #MyJewishDC, respectively. More info on both of these projects will be posted on Gatherthejews.com in the coming weeks. If you want to be part of the videos or website s associated with these initiatives please email info@gatherthejews.com.
  • Find out about B’Chol Lashon (In Every Tongue), an organization in the Bay Area trying to literally change the face of Judaism.
  • Participate in The Race Card Project by Michele Norris on NPR, by submitting your own six word essay.

This week we read the Torah portion Naso, which details the headcount of the Children of Israel in the Sinai Desert. Those who are counted will be the ones to build and then carry the tabernacle (or mishkan) that contains God’s holy presence. In our lives today, may we remember to count all Jews, all of the Israel’s children, even those who might not all look the same, but who still possess and carry God’s holy presence and make us a stronger people because of our beautiful differences.

Shabbat Shalom to all.

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Global Jewish Advocacy in Action: the AJC ACCESS Summit

“Last summer, I attended my first AJC ACCESS Summit, which has proven to be a life-changing experience. In just two jam-packed days, I met so many young, impressive Jews who care not only about Israel, but international issues at large. We discussed the Middle East, Ukraine, and anti-Semitism in France. I established new contacts and friends, several of whom I now see regularly here in D.C. During the conference, I met a young Polish man who later became my entry-point into the young Jewish community in Poland, where I served as an AJC Goldman Fellow in June and July of 2014. While conversations with the ACCESS Summit participants were perhaps most inspirational, I also appreciated what I learned at break-out sessions, workshops, and formal talks, because they allowed for open dialogue and even respectful disagreements. Engaging in such high-level, nuanced conversations about global problems convinced me that I had to be more involved in the AJC, and immediately after the conference I applied to join the ACCESS DC board. Unsurprisingly, I cannot wait for this year’s summit!”

ACCESS DC Board Member, Hannah Morris, shared the above testimonial about how her experience with ACCESS Summit led her to become an ACCESS leader here in Washington, DC.

Are you interested in joining a community of global Jewish advocates who influence policy and engage with representatives from over 55 countries , participating in an intimate conference and showing up to represent the Washington Jewish Community? Now is your opportunity. Join the ACCESS DC Board and Supporters for the premier global Jewish conference for young professionals at AJC’s annual ACCESS Summit Friday June 5th through Sunday June 7th at the Washington Hilton.

At this year’s ACCESS Summit, representatives from over 55 countries will join AJC ACCESS in Washington DC to discuss and learn about diplomacy, United States Israel policy, how to combat anti-Semitism in Europe, the P5+1 negotiations with Iran, Israel’s place among nations, Muslim-Jewish partnerships, and German-Jewish Relations. In the intimate setting of the ACCESS Summit, you will sit next to diplomats at dinner, form ties with Jewish peers from Latin America, Europe, or Israel, and learn about opportunities to travel on an ACCESS mission around the world. Speakers include AJC experts from around the world as well as academics and world leaders such as Rabbi Ephraim Gabbai, AJC’s Assistant Director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations; Irshad Manji, the Founder and Director of the Moral Courage Project; and H.E. Daniel Taub, Ambassador of Israel to the Court of St. James’s. Find the full list of speakers here.

The Summit fee is $500 for the weekend which includes all meals and drinks. $500, ah! Sounds a little out of your budget? While the ACCESS Summit experience is priceless…have no fear, there are significant discount opportunities. For example, it’s 50% off for first-time attendees, 50% for ACCESS donors, 85% for students, and 100% for rabbis and Jewish educators. Interested in attending and receiving a discount? Can’t make it to the whole conference? No problem, for $50 you can attend the Summit Gala on the evening of June 6th. For more information about ACCESS Summit, contact Cassie Chesley at chesleyc.fellow@ajc.org.

This June is your chance to be a global Jewish advocate. What are you waiting for?

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Jewish Girl of the Year Sasha’s Acceptance Speech

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Dear Gather the Jews Community, Friends, and Family,

I am honored and excited to have been chosen as Jewish Girl of the Year for 2015 on behalf of Gather the Jews.

Gather the Jews has been such a warm and welcoming community and has truly helped shape my life in D.C. I can’t believe it was just a year ago that I was moving here from San Diego, knowing only a handful of people.

I remember my first Gather the Jews event. I came alone. I barely knew anyone in the city and was excited to make new friends, so I thought I’d give Gather the Jews a try. I saw another girl who looked like she was alone but I thought, “I can’t just go over to her, that would be weird.” After 20 minutes of awkward conversation and feeling uncomfortable, I decided it was time to go. I gathered my stuff and was ready to leave. But then, I stopped and said to myself, “Wait a minute, I came here to make friends and that’s what I am going to do.” I turned around and introduced myself to that girl. Despite feeling nervous and awkward, I turned around and introduced myself to a girl standing alone, who I know consider one of my best friends here in D.C.

GTJ520_082I decided to apply to be an Open Door Fellow for Gather the Jews because it is my nature to talk to the person standing by themselves, and I wanted to have the opportunity to reach out to new Jews in the D.C. area. I love the diverse group of people I have met through this fellowship, and as it comes to an end, I hope to continue to be an ambassador for the Jewish community as Jewish Girl of the Year, connecting those around me and fostering a stronger Jewish community for young people in D.C.

By being both a fellow for Gather the Jews and coordinator of JWI’s Young Women’s Leadership Network, I have the opportunity to meet amazing young men and women every day. I urge everyone to go to Gather the Jews events and every Jewish event possible. You may surprise yourself and leave with friends and opportunities, as I have.

Thank you to Rachel and Jackie for being so kind and for all of your hard work planning GTJ events. A big thank you to everyone who voted in person or online and all my friends who came to support me.

Best,

Sasha (Challah Back Girl)

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Jewish Guy of the Year Marc’s Acceptance Speech

GTJ520_065Every year, I am truly awed by the Washington, D.C. Young professional Jewish Community. Where else are you able to have so many great organizations working to support Jewish Young Professionals on their Jewish journey? As Rabbi Aaron Miller from 2239 said in a recent article in eJewish Philanthropy discussing 2239’s work with other organizations, “We care about each other’s success, respect each other’s calendars, and some of our best events are collaborations between organizations.” There are fantastic organizations each adding to DC’s 20’s and 30’s Jewish experience, and Gather the Jews is a part of the glue that holds us all together.

GTJ520_045D.C. doesn’t just have great Jewish organizations, but I have found that D.C. has amazing Jews. I believe that it is the power and the passion of each member of our community that drives these organizations to create unique Jewish experiences. D.C.’s Jews are passionate. During this campaign, I had the opportunity to talk to so many individuals who have a deep commitment to the issues that they care about, whether that is through Jewish organizations or through non- profits or even political campaigns. And it is this passion that I think makes the Jewish community in D.C. truly special.

I was never the cool kid in high school, and let’s face it, even though I’m Gather the Jews’ JGOTY, I’m barely cooler now. But I care about Judaism, I care about D.C.’s Jews, and in some small way, I want everyone in DC to find and then build up whatever is the meaningful Jewish place for them, whether that is a religious experience, social justice work, Torah studying or just hanging out with other Jews. As I take a moment to think about my own small place in this community, I wonder how as a broad community we can help support each and every person’s passion. How as a community can we make the various D.C. communities a better place than when we arrived? How can we make D.C. our Jewish home?

GTJ520_057Lastly, I want to thank all the people who voted for me, thank my parents and sisters for all their love and support and to all my dear friends who helped me throughout. I also want to provide a shout out to Nathaniel for an amazing video that highlights many great Jewish organizations in D.C. (definitely check them all out) and Gabe for making an excellent House of Cards spoof. I also want to thank 2239, in particular Metro Minyan,the RAC and JUFJ for helping me on my Jewish journey.

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“An Honorary Member of the Tribe” – President Barack Obama at Adas Israel

IMG_4673I haven’t even lived a full year in the District and I already passed one of DC’s most notable steps of initiation (along with a happy hour at Founding Farmers and paddling along the Potomac): seeing President Barack Obama speak. Not only was I in the same room as the President, but the event was held at Adas Israel Congregation, an exciting and historic place to hold the event since only three other sitting presidents have ever spoken at a U.S. synagogue.

President Obama was welcomed wholeheartedly by Rabbi Gil Steinlauf and with a long standing ovation by the audience. Once everyone was reseated, Obama opened with lighthearted banter about his faith and a humorous anecdote, in which he was dubbed “The first Jewish President” and, my personal favorite, “An Honorary Member of the Tribe.” After a few more mentions of his involvement with Jewish culture – seven White House Passover Seders and two Jewish chiefs of staff – the President was clearly connecting with the audience before getting into the nitty gritty of his message.

Obama sought to reassure American Jews that he fully supports the state of Israel, reiterating the need for a two-state solution, all while reaffirming support for Jews amid rising anti-Semitism. With all the turmoil and conflict over the Iran nuclear deal, it was uplifting to hear Obama say directly to the Jewish people that no matter what happens, “The people of Israel must always know that America has its back.” While he revealed no definitive plan or any new information on the subject, a glimpse of hope is nothing to denounce.

The speech fell on the culmination of Jewish American Heritage Month and on the night before Shavuot, great timing in my opinion. At a time when the politics of U.S. support for Israel have become increasingly polarized – with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking out to Congress against Obama’s Iran policy in March, followed by Obama’s criticism of Netanyahu’s reelection campaign tactics – Adas Israel stood out that Friday morning as a place of unity among the Jewish community.

Obama’s presence at Adas was an attempt to repair his image to the Jewish people and reaffirm his staunch support for the state of Israel. But in addition, he really wanted to forge an emotional connection with the Jewish people, and I think he succeeded.

Watch the Presidents full remarks here.

Read about the Presidents chavruta with Rabbi Gil Steinlauf

Washington Jewish Weeks Coverage of the Event: Obama speaks of love for Israel while continuing criticism

Time’s coverage of the Event

 

Gather the Jews highlight the multiple voices of our community therefore does not endorse any of the held opinions of our writers. 

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From Crust Punk to Community Lay-Leader

I have something to admit.

I never went to sleepaway camp.

I was a sheltered child and spent my summers with my little brother in our rec room reading books and painting watercolor pictures of what I imagined other children were allowed to do outside. When I first campheard the song Camp Granada, I became obsessed. This must be what it is like to have community, I thought. Getting ptomaine poisoning with fellow campers is how I thought the leaders of our future were shaped.

As an adult, I found myself in a constant search for a space and a group of people who I could call mine. First there was art school, and I found friends, but we were all lone soldiers. It is difficult to make a true community with a gaggle of unique snowflakes who would just as quickly sell you to a gallery owner if it meant a solo show.

Next, I found the crust punk train riding musicians. Again, I made some brilliant friends, dreaded my hair and dyed it pink, spent a lot of nights along the James River watching the moon, but this community was not mine. I could not play the banjo or the ukulele (although I still own one), and while I learned quite a bit about living sustainably, love, and rode a few trains too, I was a fringe member of their circles and when I faded away, was most likely not terribly missed.

art schoolEventually, after a short stint spending frummy Shabbats with a wonderful chabad chapter in Tysons Corner, and then some long, lonely years in New York, I found myself in D.C. with no idea where to go to make new friends. I was lucky that I had a number of good, old friends in the area, but I wanted some new faces, and I wanted a place to go for Shabbat.

An old friend brought me to an event at Moishe House Adams Morgan (now Moishe House Columbia Heights) and I instantly fell in love. This was a mash-up reminiscent of both my progressive crust punk days spent in old victorian-era houses and of chabad. I was intrigued.

As the months went on, I spent more time in the D.C. area Moishe Houses, and at Sixth in the City, Adas Israel Return Again Shabbat, Gather the Jews happy hours, 2239 events and Metro Minyon. At each of those events, I met more people and started forming a loose circle of friends out of the Jew-soup that seemed to flow through D.C. But at many of these events, I found that people tended to congregate around those who they already knew. Since I knew no one, I made it my mission to bounce around and weave people together. People began to ask me if I lived in Moishe House MoCo whenever I was there. I was always washing dishes, or cooking, or (probably too loudly) suggesting a new event idea to the actual residents.

In September, I was at a Shabbat dinner, and I was talking with some people who I knew, and some new ones about the state of Shabbos dinner in D.C. We are never want for a place to go, however a common theme of the conversation was a desire for more intimate Shabbats. There is something truly magical about going to synagogue with 300 other 20-35 year-olds, but it also feels very Hillel 2.0. We wanted a place where we could invite our friends, and they could invite their friends – and then we all could have a real conversation. We wanted our circles of actual, human interaction to repeat themselves over time and develop into sustainable friendships. We were getting sick of I know I have seen him before… Oh goodness was it at Yom Kippur, or was it at a happy hour? I think we actually talked to each other. Crap! I can’t remember his name. We wanted opportunities to make new friends and keep them.

breadSo I created a Shabbat havurah.

Shabbat Schmooze now has almost 100 people in it, but we have found that our dinners still usually stay between 7-15 people per Shabbat. We organize through Facebook and rotate whose house dinner is at. Anyone can host, and whoever hosts chooses how they want to hold Shabbat. We have had musical Shabbats, full services, Shabbats with a lot of non-Jews, too, porch parties, cook-outs, potlucks with babies… We have a dinner between twice a month and weekly. Different people show up to each dinner, but no matter who is there, you can connect directly for an evening, and more than likely you will see them over again.

I have also become involved in Moishe House Without Walls, which is intrinsically connected to this idea of creating an accessible community. Moishe House Without Walls is similar to “regular” Moishe House, in that it is a global network of community organizers who seek to create Jewish programming that makes Judaism meaningful in a modern world. We are a pluralistic, non-affiliated group whose events encompass fun, thought-provoking, and spiritual aspects alike. However, each host is independent, and does not live in a group Moishe House.

While MHWOW has been around for some time, there was recently an influx of new hosts (I was one of them), and we have taken on a new initiative. We started a Facebook page (Join here for event updates!). We are working to make individual MHWOW hosts’ events more known to the community, as well as collaborating once a month to bring something unique as a group to the D.C. community. Last month we had a house-hopping Shabbat dinner as our launch event. Keep a look out in June for an all-day Limmud-style learning event, and hopefully a huge camping trip in July.

11194494_10153321182253688_3259972291127348496_o11165256_10153321182263688_2564195049942185091_nA really big idea that we are working on in MHWOW is how to create events that help people find out who lives in their neighborhood. If you have ideas for this, I would love if you left a comment below this article! Something that I have found really valuable is realizing that I have a number of (fairly new!) friends who live within a couple blocks of me who I can call on Friday and see what they are doing for Shabbat.

On Shavuot, a couple of us from the neighborhood gathered for some ad-hoc late-night learning. We chose to analyze some of the Pirkei Avot – Ethics of the Fathers, in which this line, “Hillel said: Do not separate yourself from the community” stood out to us. We got to talking about what community means to us here in D.C. and I asked the group what they wanted, on a higher level, from the Jewish community here. It turns out that we have community on a large scale, and want communal support on a microscale. Joe Brophy said something great, “I want a community that embraces the struggle, and also the action of not knowing where I will be from week to week.” We want a community that understands that sometimes we are going to go to services on Shabbat and it will be wonderful. And sometimes, we will stay home and eat Laotian takeout with our significant other, or roommates, or dog, and that will be just as amazing. We want a community that gets us as an individual.

If you have ideas about ways to make our community better, are looking for support for events, or just someone to bounce ideas off of, or are interested in connecting our Jewish community with our local community (outreach / activism!), please feel free to email me, or leave a comment below.

Next week: Jews and tattoos. I have tattoos. You might have them, too. Is your mom as angry as mine is?

Michele is the founder of Chopping Block Copy, where she is a full-service copywriter / editor / designer. She gets overexcited about bio-luminescence, corduroy, the roller derby, sustainability, people who can compose a proper sentence, and Grumbacher titanium white oil paint and drinks her whiskey neat, because that’s the only way.

Michele is the community leader for Moishe House Without Walls, D.C. which is a global network of community organizers who seek to create pluralistic Jewish programming that makes Judaism meaningful in a modern world. Find them on Facebook!

Check out more of her writing at writteninthemargins.com and email her at writteninthemargins@gmail.com.

 

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Silent Auction. Gourmet Food. Open Bar.

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On June 5-7, 2015 ACCESS Global will host the annual conference ACCESS Summit for Jewish young professionals and activists from around the world!

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Rediscovering and Reinventing Judaism

kelleyWhen I began my time as an Open Doors Fellow, I was drawn in two directions. I wanted to create space in DC’s Jewish community where Jewish people could do any of the various things they loved together. My dream was for there to be a Jewish community engaging in the incredible diversity of activities and learning opportunities that DC has to offer. Whether or not their engagement explicitly centered itself in Judaism was irrelevant to me. I wanted a Jewish community where Jews were able to engage other elements of their identity, but do so together. I also wanted to allow for the possibility of in depth Jewish learning for those who had not had access to it in their earlier Jewish life, or who did not feel at home in learning spaces that exist now. Early on in my Fellowship, I discovered Minyan of Thinkers, which allowed me to explore more deeply why these things matter to me and how they’re connected. Minyan of Thinkers provided a spark of hope for my Judaism when I didn’t know where to turn to rejuvenate it.

The Minyan of Thinkers is a dialogue-based group that creates an intellectually open and safe space that allows us, the ten members, to come up with new approaches to challenges facing the Jewish community. Just as traditional Judaism uses a quorum of ten for public prayer, we build on the collective spiritual and intellectual energy of our members to create positive social change. We meet monthly to grapple with scholarly articles on a major Jewish topic and develop new ideas that we share with the larger community via written reflection pieces and public events. This year, Minyan of Thinkers has been discussing the Pew Study, Jewish identity, and the future of the Jewish Community. In that conversation, I have been given the opportunity to explore why I think it matters that Jews be able to connect about the multi-faceted elements of their identity and also deeply engage their Judaism so that it is as fulfilling and meaningful as they want it to be.


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We have spent a good deal of time considering what it actually means for the Jewish community that intermarriage is on the rise while birth rates decline, and affiliation with Jews and Jewish organization become less numerically prevalent. We discussed the fact that this must be viewed in the larger context of American religious affiliation in general, as well as American “melting pot” culture. We also acknowledged that our anecdotal evidence, while anecdotal, leads us to believe that the PEW study data at best overstates the problem, and at worst fails to grasp the complexity of modern Jewish identity. This led us towards discussion of what does constitute a modern and American Jewish identity. Perhaps, we posited, one element of the problem is that the metrics used by the PEW study are the structures in Jewish life that are no longer practical or resonant, so to measure them will show us that what we have lost is what we know is no longer working. How, then, do we construct metrics that measure for the quiet, internal, less institutional and traditional elements of Jewish identity–the personal but deeply important ways that people view their lives through a Jewish lens? And, perhaps more important than measuring, how do we create Jewish life that speaks to those pieces in new ways?

There exist structures–camp, day school, Hillel–that get it right, but how do we create those opportunities for people who are older and still in search of their Jewish identity? How do we continue to excite people in the way that those institutions do? How do we transform what does exist to meet these new needs, and expand the lens of Judaism’s meaning outward into the modern, complex, busy lives of the modern day Jew? How do we allow Jews to connect to one another in a way that includes both meaningful Judaism and also allows for the importance of other pieces of who we are?

Minyan of Thinkers has allowed me to really dig into these questions, and Open Doors has allowed us to act on them. On May 31, Minyan of Thinkers and Open Doors Fellow David Miller will present a public opportunity to explore Jewish Identity in a new way. Inspired by what it feels like to exist on the margins of Judaism in any way, this event invites participants to explore the edges of Judaism and discover and engage more deeply with the ways they do connect. Senior Rabbi Gil Steinlauf of Adas Israel will be an educator and facilitator in our discussion.
Later, on June 20, Open Doors Fellow Kelley Kidd will partner with Minyan of Thinkers and Next Dor present an opportunity for people to specifically delve into their relationship to Shabbat, and build a deeper, more personal one. It is thrilling to see the way that partnership, growth, and learning can emerge when we gather together to discover what we’re all looking for.

The Minyan of Thinkers is a sustained Jewish learning group that meets monthly to grapple with scholarly articles on a major Jewish topic. Contact them to learn more or get involved.

To learn more about the Open Doors Fellows and their projects email Gather the Jews.

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It’s Time to Move Back Home When You Want to Kill The Tourists

MicheleHi there.

I’m Michele.

I have an irrational fear of balloons, am a violently competitive Scrabble-er, and relocated (back home) to D.C. from Brooklyn about two years ago.

Living in New York City is like having Stockholm Syndrome. I inexplicably miss the smell of The City, which is certifiably insane, as the signature scent of NYC is human urine. I miss the metal glint of the warehouses in the Williamsburg skyline (pre-2010 condo revolution), and I miss the way Bushwick makes me feel in the summer when I can hear Puerto Rican dance music for miles and I’d give my right shoe for central A/C.

I regularly yearn for all those things, but New York drove me slowly mad. It took me in its mouth, c
hewed up my soul, and spat me out, a shadow of my former self. When you live in New York City, you nearly forget that the rest of the world exists.

A dear friend shared an essay with me by Joan Didion called, “Goodbye to All That,” which is a perfectly written account of how one comes to New York, falls in, and has to leave to stay whole. The intensity, the beauty, the revelry of The City is so real and so immediate that those first months, and even those first years are glorious. Even if you are poor, and broken, and someone gets shot on your doorstep in Bed-Stuy (true story), even then, The City retains its magic.

unnamed (2)But one day, that magic stops. Perhaps it happens slowly, but you realize it suddenly. One day, the intensity of The City stops being a gift and becomes a curse. That realization hits you with the force of a thousand disappointments:

The rats don’t even bother me anymore.

There are just too many hipsters/scenesters/post-punks/tweens/tourists/people.

Restaurants, restaurants, everywhere, yet I can’t afford to eat?

Didion writes, “I enter a revolving door at twenty and come out a good deal older, and on a different street. But most particularly I want to explain to you, and in the process perhaps to myself, why I no longer live in New York. It is often said that New York is a city for only the very rich and the very poor. It is less often said that New York is also, at least for those of us who came there from somewhere else, a city only for the very young.”

And it’s true.

I moved to NYC at 22. And for me, I began to understand that sentiment when it all became very bad at about 25. Every overheard conversation, every bit of glowing dialogue between friends – I felt I had heard before. The words, “Let’s take the L to that warehouse party.” made me so angry I could kill kittens. I avoided art shows, restaurants, the grocery store. I wouldn’t go to Central Park, or Alphabet City, or different train lines at certain times of day, because I was staunchly opposed to the different kinds of awful people there. Those people were my friends. I was becoming a monster.

girl-good-morning-lonely-morning-new-york-favim-com-191682Perhaps I lashed out, maybe I acted a bit burned-out, but what I craved was real community. I didn’t want to live in a shell surrounded by 10 million other single-serve people on their way to whatever-the-heck anymore. I was so tired of everyone’s displays of culture that lacked a framework of human connection. The City was too big for its britches, and I wasn’t enthralled by all the pretty, shiny stuff that it had to offer anymore, either.

Eventually, I decided to leave. That was about two years ago, and I still have fever dreams where I wake up and think I’m on the subway in deep Brooklyn. I have deep, unearlthy cravings for real bagels, and I walk faster than the crosstown bus. Any time someone finds out that I spent a number of years in New York, and asks me if (s)he should move there, my first reaction is to try to save them. Instead, I tell them to make sure that they have all their vaccinations, and to hold on for the ride of their lives.

I am sure that if I had the energy, I could have found a way to start building community in NYC, but I have come to terms with the fact that that city ate me up. I want a city with a little more heart, and a lot more soul. Granted, I’ll miss the street corn and the attitude of NYC, but I definitely traded up for the front porches and friendly neighbors of D.C.

Next Week: Building Community in D.C.

Michele Grossman

Michele is the founder of Chopping Block Copy, where she is a full-service copywriter / editor / designer. She gets overexcited about bio-luminescence, corduroy, the roller derby, sustainability, people who can compose a proper sentence, and Grumbacher titanium white oil paint and drinks her whiskey neat, because that’s the only way.

Michele is the community leader for Moishe House Without Walls, D.C. which is a global network of community organizers who seek to create pluralistic Jewish programming that makes Judaism meaningful in a modern world. Find them on Facebook!
Check out more of her writing at writteninthemargins.com.
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Celebrate Israel’s 67th birthday with a BBQ that brings the best of Israel to DC!

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Shavuot Guide 2015/5775

shavuos-banner2Shavuot is the second of three Biblical pilgrimage and agricultural holidays (the others being Passover and Sukkot) but the lesser known of the three. So what exactly is Shavout? It is the Festival of Weeks, the holiday’s date is determined by counting seven weeks after the end of Passover. Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. It is customary to stay up all night and study Torah and to eat dairy foods (especially cheesecake!)

There will be several opportunities to participate in Shavuot celebrations all over DC and we will update the list as the events are announced! Did we miss anything? Submit Events Here.

Tuesday May 19th

Wednesday May 20th

Saturday May 23rd

Recipes for Shavuot:ChocolateCheesecake-230x150Try this Chocolate Cheesecake & Challah Recipe from Aish.com

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Cooking these Cheese Blintzes, recipe from Chabad.org, will make your roommates love you!

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These Spinach Tidbits from About.com make a great appetizer, or whole meal if you have no portion control!

Other Shavuot Resources:

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Giving You a Nudge NOT to Fudge

456900443A new study came out this week discussing what happens when people enhance (aka fudge) their profile pictures on popular online dating sites and apps. The most interesting part of the findings was that they differed between men and women.

Researchers at the University of Connecticut have revealed that when men viewed enhanced photos of women, they perceived the women to be more attractive but less trustworthy.  (This seems to make sense.) Women, however, found enhanced photos of men both increased attractiveness and increased trustworthiness.  This one, I’m not so sure about…

They go on to say, “Our research also found that males found the beautified profile as more attractive and had a higher desire to date the person in the picture despite the lower degree of trustworthiness they reported,” the authors noted.  “In our sample, attraction seems to be more important than trust.”

So, basically, men like hot women. That’s not news.

Here’s how the research went down:
This team of researchers performed a study that followed more than 300 heterosexual men and women aged 17 to 36 from different online dating sites. Men were asked several questions regarding different profiles of women and were then asked to rate the profiles under categories like attractiveness and trust. The images had been previously chosen so as to feature two distinct image types. One had been edited (including lighting, make-up, hair) while the other represented a “non-beautified” image. Then the women were questioned regarding male profiles that had undergone the same type of phf9f8a20eba603fda0be0e604637409f2oto alterations.

Before I discuss the study’s implications, it’s important to take the results with a grain of salt for the following reasons:

  1. It’s not statistically significant.
  2. The age range is not representative of the average age of all online daters. (OkCupid’s reported median age last year was 29.)
  3. Those studied may have known—or figured out—what kind of study this was, thereby impacting the results.

What does this study actually mean? I read the results as a sign that when men see an exceptionally attractive picture, while they may see the woman in it as being less trustworthy, her superior looks overshadow that lack of trust. On the other hand, women see the better-looking picture of a man and actually think he’s more trustworthy. It is true that men just want looks, and women are able to rationalize things when they find someone attractive? Like, if he’s that good-looking, he must be smart and trustworthy and successful, too.

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I know that since catfishing abounds, such information can be useful. But the best advice I can give is to use a real, unenhanced photo. When you show up on the date, you want to look just like your photos so 1) you can be recognized and 2) you can be truthful. Enhancing your photos—or otherwise lying in your profile—shows a lack of confidence, and you’re wasting your date’s time by making him or her agree to meet you only to realize it’s not the real you.

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