EntryPointDC designed a workshop for those of you trying to survive and thrive for the High Holidays on a tight budget


Stamp Your Passport: Learn About International Travel and Service Opportunities for Young Jewish Professionals

In 1999, a small group of American college students boarded the first Taglit-Birthright bus in Israel. Today they are part of a network of 500,000 young Jewish adult alumni that have experienced the gift of Birthright.

Washington’s own Rachel Cohen Gerrol was on that first bus. Today she serves as a board member of the Birthright Israel Foundation. She staffed the first Jewish Federation of Greater Washington Birthright Alumni Leadership Mission, in which I participated. The next annual delegation of Washingtonian alumni of Taglit-Birthright will be heading back to Israel this fall (October 24 – November 1).

DC is a very international city. You can’t get lost in Dupont Circle without accidentally walking by an embassy. But DC offers far more than visiting an international territory and sovereign land of another nation just at these embassies. It offers more than scrolling through Expedia or Hotline before booking a flight from BWI or IAD to head overseas. Many organizations provide opportunities to travel the world and many are some of our community’s best kept secrets.

I hope every Jewish young professional between 18-26 reading this blog strongly considers applying to attend Taglit-Birthright, but what you may not know is that your options are only getting started with Taglit when it comes to seeing the world and servicing it through your own flavor of tikkun olam.

The headquarters of Peace Corps are down at 19th Street and L Street NW. According to, “as a Peace Corps Volunteer, you work directly with communities on their most pressing issues while gaining a competitive advantage in today’s global economy with international experience, cross-cultural understanding, and fluency in a foreign language.” The length of service is two years and if you are considering applying to volunteer with the Peace Corps, you should start the process about nine months before your target date to head abroad.

So if Taglit is 10 days in Israel and Peace Corps is two years, what is in between and what other opportunities are available to you as a young Jewish Washingtonian reading Gather the Jews?

JDC honorary executive vice president Ralph I. Goldman famously said many years ago that “there is a single Jewish world: intertwined, interconnected.”  So, what is in-between? JDC Entwine is one of the hidden gems that is in-between.

Programs are designed for 20 and 30 somethings. You can participate in a Global Jewish Service Corps for 4-8 weeks or one year or shorter Insider Trips for Young Professionals. The 2016 program schedule will be made public soon. And the application period for the next one year service program will also be open soon.

JDC_Flyer2015 shorter programs included India (Jan 18-27), Morocco (Feb 8-16), Turkey (Mar 1-8), the Philippines (Apr 26 – May 4), Greece & Bulgaria (Jun 21-29), Georgia (Jun 28 – Jul 5), Argentina (Aug 2-9), Rwanda (Aug 30 – Sept 8), Cuba (Sept 3-7 / Sept 17-21), Sarajevo (Sept 30 – Oct 7), Morocco (Oct 7-15), Ethiopia (Oct 11-20), India (Oct 18-26), China (Fall 2015), and Argentina & Uruguay (Dec 6-14).

Today, JDC Entwine Global Jewish Service Corps fellows are servicing the needs of local communities in Argentina, China, Estonia, Ethiopia, Germany, Haiti, India, Israel, Latvia, Poland, Rwanda, Turkey, and Ukraine.

We share a common history. We share a common religion. We share common traditions. We may identify in different ways – secular, reform, orthodox, modern-orthodox, Lubavitch, etc – or we may be Ashkenazi or Sephardic, but we are intertwined and interconnected.

Jewish young professionals in America may be Democrats, Republicans, Independents, or other.

Jewish young professionals in America may be tall or short. Probably short.

Jewish young professionals in America may have different views about Israel’s leaders and the policies of the Israeli government.

Some may stay kosher and others perhaps enjoy a BBQ bacon cheeseburger at Five Guys (or Shake Shack).

But all are Jewish and all are welcome to apply to JDC’s programs.


On July 20, JDC Entwine’s East Coast Director Jen Berman was in town for an event with the most creative name of anything I’ve seen in awhile at the Hillel International office in Chinatown. “From Shtetl to Selfie” highlighted the work of JDC in Eastern Europe and provided an updated on the crisis in Ukraine. It was one of a series of opportunities that JDC Entwine will be delivering to Russian speaking Jews based on their work and partnership with the Genesis Philanthropy Group.

“Until I discovered JDC Entwine, I wasn’t involved in the Washington, DC Jewish community. Through JDC Entwine, my Judaism has once again become a central part of my life. Learning about JDC’s international work, and making friends through Entwine with a diverse group of young Jews in my local community and around the world, makes me excited and proud of my Jewish heritage,” said Jessica Nysenbaum, co-chair of the JDC Entwine network in DC.

If you are looking for a different kind of service opportunity or a different kind of way to head back to Israel, JNFuture just began to promote an innovative program this winter. While your office may be closed and other families are celebrating Christmas (and some of your friends may be partying like it is 1999), you can be volunteering in southern Israel. From December 26, 2015, to January 3, 2016, the JNFuture Volunteer Vacation to Israel is taking place.

JNF is advertising this trip as “an incredible opportunity to volunteer in Israel and do something you would not do on an ordinary trip. Join JNFuture and other Jewish young adults, ages 25-35, for a week of community service in Southern Israel and connect to the land and people of Israel in a meaningful way.”

The trip is free to attend, but will require participants to fundraise or friend-raise $1,800 to participate.

Masa Israel Journey offers over 200 study, internship, and volunteer opportunities all over Israel lasting between five and twelve months for young Jewish professionals between 18-30.

An August 4, 2015, Times of Israel story said “Masa is now shooting for an annual 20,000 participation figure.”

In a recent “You Should Know” column in the Washington Jewish Week, DC’s Tami Wolf, described how “After grad school, she wanted to work in museum education, but her life and career took a different turn when she participated in the Masa Israel Teaching Fellows program. She lived in Netanya for 10 months, extending the trip to study at a Jerusalem yeshiva.”

Wolf said, “There are no words for Masa, at least for my Masa experience. It is one thing to visit a place, and it’s another thing to really get the chance to live there and become a part of the community and get to know the kids in school and about their lives and their families.”

With 200 programs you could basically find any kind of program that would best meet your interests.

But if your interests may lie outside of Israel or of service, perhaps you should look at the Germany Close Up or on an upcoming B’nai B’rith Cuban Jewish Relief Project Mission.

Germany Close Up – American Jews Meet Modern Germany is a youth encounter program for Jewish North American students and young professionals. The program was established in October 2007 and is currently administered by Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste e.V. (Action Reconciliation Service for Peace) in cooperation with the New Synagogue Berlin – Centrum Judaicum Foundation.

Germany Close Up has been a popular program from a number of DC young professionals and friends. I’m personally planning to attend one – hopefully in 2016. It is funded by a grant from the German Government’s Transatlantic Program to “encourage German-Jewish-North American dialogue as well as to strengthen the involvement of the North American Jewish community in transatlantic relations.”

JDC Entwine had such demand for its Cuba trip in 2015 that they opted to hold two. Another opportunity to visit Cuba to learn about the Cuban Jewish community and support the Cuban Jewish community comes with B’nai B’rith International. The 172 year young organization has an upcoming delegation planned for December 12-20.

The B’nai B’rith Cuban Jewish Relief Project has been building personal connections in Cuba for nearly 20 years. Leaving from the Miami airport, the delegation will visit and support the Jewish communities in Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Sancti Spiritus, Santa Clara, and Havana.

Additional private travel and private Jewish travel programs are also widely available and can be found on the Google and through many synagogues.


Are you a Bad Jew?

When Aaron calls everyone a Bad JewOn Tuesday night, at my debut event since becoming the rabbi for Gather the Jews, I just wanted to make a good first impression. And then I called everyone in the room a Bad Jew.

Let me explain.

I was asked to speak on a panel with Rabbi Aaron Miller of 2239 and Sarah Tasman of InterfaithFamiliesDC about “Bad Jews.” It’s obviously an extremely loaded term that can cause a lot of hurt. Given that, my thoughts could have gone like this: “Calling people ‘Bad Jews’ is bad, Jews.” Not wanting my debut to be so boring, I decided to ponder the phrase a bit more.

I realized that the term is so hurtful because it is often misunderstood as a moral judgment or a ruling on someone’s status as a Jew. There are interesting conversations to be had about what makes someone a bad person and what makes someone a part of the Jewish people. But the term “Bad Jew” is a judgement about the way someone expresses his or her particular Jewish identity and thus is irrelevant in those conversations. Calling someone a bad Jew is not the same as calling someone a bad person, nor is it the same as calling someone not Jewish.

The challenge with the phrase “Bad Jew” is that it assumes a standard for what Jews should (or should not) do or believe. The question then becomes: what is that standard, and to whom does it apply?

According to the Passover Haggadah, the Rasha, the wicked child, the “Bad Jew,” is one who questions the meaning and relevance of Judaism. Today the phrase is often used to convey a lack of strict observance around ritual laws like keeping kosher. These standards reduce Judaism to a closed-minded and detail-oriented religion and can make one want to write off the very idea of defining standards. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people, afraid of sounding judgmental, say: “It doesn’t matter what you do – all that matters is that you’re Jewish.”

But by eliminating any standard for Judaism, we reduce Judaism to an ethnicity or a descriptive attribute, like having brown eyes. Without anything to aspire to, it becomes a stagnant identity that doesn’t inspire personal growth. We also eliminate the conversation about what it means to be Jewish. If we can’t express opinions about different forms of Judaism, if there are no red lines, if there are no shared beliefs or practices – then we relegate Judaism to the private sphere and lose the idea of “the Jewish people.” Perhaps the one thing left to connect us is our ability to discuss and argue about what we think it means to be Jewish.

This is why I called everyone a Bad Jew. I want all Jews, including me, to see themselves as Bad Jews – as having their own personal, aspirational standards for what it means to be Jewish. If you’re content in your Jewish life, you’re doing it wrong. What if every Jew felt there was something about their Jewishness they wanted to work on? “I’m a Bad Jew” could simply mean: “I’m not satisfied.”

With this approach to Judaism, we might even start to develop some objective standards for the Jewish people more broadly. At the very least, we’ll be able to engage with others who do have such standards. Through this lens, the term “Bad Jew” becomes an opinion about Judaism instead of a personal attack. When someone says: “I think you’re a bad Jew because of X” or “I’m a bad Jew because X…”, we can choose to hear: “My understanding of Judaism is X – what’s yours?” If someone thinks you’re a bad Jew because you don’t believe in God, that means he or she defines Judaism as a religion. If someone calls you a bad Jew because you don’t support Israel’s policies, that means he or she defines Judaism as a national movement with a specific political position.

We don’t need to agree to an objective standard (and knowing Jews, we won’t). But we should have our own personal standards and even collectively wonder about broader standards for each other. Together, we can explore what Judaism is and should be. These encounters will both enrich our personal Jewish identities and help us feel a part of, and not apart from, the Jewish people.


What is Elul?

This past weekend we celebrated the beginning of the Jewish month of Elul. As opposed to the months in our Gregorian calendar, months in the Jewish calendar are determined by the moon. Each new moon/month is a time to turn inward, and this is especially true for Elul, the month immediately preceding Rosh Hashana. For this reason, many Jews blow the shofar each morning during Elul, a “wake up” call that encourages us to begin serious personal introspection and our dogs to freak out.


There are many other opportunities that can help get you in the reflective mood in preparation for the new year – below are a few daily opportunities. For those who are more spontaneous/afraid of commitment/lazy, this is a time to basically just ask yourself: how did you grow last year, and how do you want to grow this upcoming year. It’s no coincidence we base our calendar on the moon – something that is always changing, never constant.


Fun Elul Resources:


The Intro Says it All

When you go to a bookstore (do people still go to bookstores??), would you rather buy the book with the line on the back cover, “This book is about a woman’s adventure and coming of age,” or the one with the line, “Read a rare tale about a woman’s 14-month trek through the Amazon to learn about love, hope, passion, and, most importantly, herself?” I know which I’d buy, and I’d venture to say that you would, too.

Let’s say you walk into that same bookstore (the one that somehow managed to stay in business), and there was a book called, “The Scientific Answer to Your Most Common Questions.”  Snoozefest. Now, what if the title “Why Do Men Have Nipples? Hundreds of Questions You’d Only Ask a Doctor After Your Third Martini” graced the shelf instead?  Perhaps some of us, out of sheer embarrassment, would opt for the first choice, but I’m guessing that more of us would at least be intrigued by the second … and then maybe go home and buy it online so no one can tell just how intrigued we are.  (And for the record, this is a real book.  I own it.  Don’t judge.)  

Believe it or not, when perusing online dating profiles, people are often using the same criteria as those from the bookstore. You should consider the first line of your profile, even on an app, as a “hook.” It should be something to draw people in. With so many people using dating sites and so many profiles to weed through, it’s best to take that one extra step to make sure you’re catching someone’s eye.

Below are some real examples from popular online dating sites of not-very-exciting opening lines. And then I’ll show a few examples that make the cut.

  • Yes, I am single. I am throwing it out there!

I sure hope you’re single if you’re on here! (And no—we are not talking about Ashley Madison.)

  • For the past few years, I’ve lived under the assumption that I’d meet someone in my normal circles of work, friends, and activities.

La di da.

  • I’m new to this online dating thing, and I’m still on the fence about it.

This one is not only boring, but it’s also negative.

  • I enjoy life and like to have fun.

Raise your hand if you don’t enjoy life and like to have fun. My point exactly.

And here are some examples of clever, attention-grabbing intros:

  • Being an engineer, the last time I wrote this profile, I approached it like a car engine… it functioned okay and got 32 miles/gallon, but it didn’t attract women. (Kind of a problem.)

He’s able to make fun of himself. Bonus.

  • I like extra salted buttered popcorn and malt balls at the movies.

She sounds like fun. Heck—I want to get to know her!

  • Most people say that they don’t want drama in a relationship, right? But what if your partner’s a theater teacher? I think I just found the loophole.

This is hysterical. Not only is it a commentary on dating, but it also shares what she does for a living and shows that she has a clever sense of humor.

Don’t let people pass you by simply because your first line bored them to sleep.

As an added bonus, even if and when you do get someone to click on you or swipe right, the intro message is the next most important step. If I had a nickel for every “Hey, what’s up?” or “How’s it going?” message I’ve gotten on JSwipe or Tinder, I’d be a very rich woman. Try to make your first message stand out. Saying something (anything!) specific to someone’s profile is always better than they generic “hey” message. Actually, my favorite that I ever received on a dating app, only because it caught me off guard was, “Erika!” I thought we knew each other, but it turned out that was just his way of getting my attention. (Use it sparingly, though. I don’t want to be the cause of a JSwipe Apocolypse.)

So remember: When potential dates go to the online dating bookstore, you want them to leave with your profile.


Jewish Public Historian of the Week – Jason

Jackie: What first brought you to D.C.?

Jason: I went to college here, spending fours years at The George Washington University. I then moved back to New York, where I’m from, and worked for seven years in the museum field, as a curator, archivist and consultant. In 2009 I gave a lecture at the Library of Congress and learned about the Library’s Veterans History Project (VHP). I applied for a job, and in October of that year I was hired. I moved here on December 1, 2009, and have worked at the Library of Congress ever since.

Jackie: Can you tell us about your work with Library of Congress?

Jason: When I began at VHP, my job was to help collect and preserve the stories of America’s war veterans. I worked with organizations and volunteers nationwide to record the stories of veterans and donate them to the Library. After two and a half years, I moved into the Library’s John W. Kluge Center, where I am today. The Kluge Center brings scholars from around the world to the Library to conduct research and shares their research with policymakers and the public. I manage the public-facing side of the Center: our web content, our blog, our social media, our public programming, media relations, Congressional relations, and strategy. It’s a fun challenge, as I get to absorb all the research done by top scholars in multiple disciplines and distill it into digestible forms for the public. It’s a great job, and I think one of the best in Washington. But I’m biased.

Jackie: Tell us about your concept of History Communicators? How are you implementing this idea?

Jason: Just as science has Science Communicators, I’ve argued that history needs History Communicators. History, like science, can often come across to those outside the field as impenetrable, full of jargon, perhaps even boring. It is anything but. Over the past three years I’ve worked with many historians at the Kluge Center to make their research more accessible and show its relevance to a wider audience. History Communicators is the next step in that work, a new way to communicate history to non-experts in the digital age. I’m working with leaders in the history profession and beyond to train future historians for this work. As a historian by training, specifically a Public Historian—a historian whose work is targeted toward a general audience—the concept of History Communicators is one I am very passionate about seeing come to fruition. More news about it will be coming soon!

Jackie: Where is your favorite place to spend time in D.C.?

Jason: Indoors, it’s probably the National Gallery. I love wandering the different rooms, and I’m a sucker for landscape paintings—Turner, Constable, the old Dutch masters. Outdoors, it’d be Meridian Hill Park. I love to play football, Frisbee, or just sit under a tree and read.

Jackie: Can you tell us about your passion for music? Can we see you play anywhere in D.C.?

Jason: Music has alwaySB1s been a big part of my life. My dad played guitar, and growing up we always had instruments in the house. My parents also had an impressive record collection. I began playing guitar in high school and have been in several different bands over the years. The most recent was a two-person blues rock band called The Grey Area. We were fortunate to make two music videos, one of which is on, to tour the west coast and play at SxSW. At this point, though, we are not actively performing.

Jackie: What is your favorite Jewish Food?

Jason: Nothing beats Jewish deli: corned beef, turkey breast, rye bread, and cole slaw, washed down by Dr. Brown’s. 

Jackie: Who is your favorite Jew?

Jason: Probably a tie between George Gershwin and Jerry Seinfeld. Gershwin is something of an icon in my family: a Jewish kid from New York who was arguably the most gifted composer of the 20th century. My grandma still knows all the lyrics to his songs. Jerry Seinfeld is, for me, the funniest comedian alive today. His sensibility and humor are exactly to my taste: random observations, analyzing and debating the minutiae of life. Years ago I wrote a parody of Seinfeld using some of my best friends as the main characters. His fictional life on the show almost exactly resembled my real life in New York as a young adult.

JackieWhat is your favorite way to spend Shabbat?

Jason: Either reading a book or catching up on The New Yorker.

Finish the sentence: When the Jews gather…

Jason: we play Balderdash! I just got back from a family reunion, and it’s a tradition in our family to play Balderdash when we get together. We play for hours and at the end of the night we save the best answers for our Balderdash Hall of Fame. Nerdy? Yes. Fun? Absolutely.



Jewish Foodie of the Week Dave!

Untitled design (14)Jackie: We heard you have a job by day and another passion on the weekend, can you tell us about the two hats you wear?

Dave: Over the last two years, I worked at an IT government contracting company by day and ran my culinary walking tour business, Mangia DC Food Tours, in the evenings and on weekends. I haven’t had much downtime, but I’m pursuing my dream of building my own business, so that has kept me motivated.

However, I recently made the transition to working on the tour as my full time hobby. I say hobby because it’s impossible to call this a job…I’m having way too much fun!

Jackie: What’s a culinary walking tour and what inspired you to start it?

Dave: A culinary walking tour is similar to a historic sightseeing tour, except that in addition to learning about history and architecture, you’re also stopping at some of the best and most unique local restaurants for tastings. The guide weaves the story of the food and the restaurants into the larger history of the city.

Indonesia Embassy Pic 9-7-2014I’ve always wanted to run my own business and I love food and travel and cultural experiences. About five years ago I went on a food tour in Barcelona and enjoyed every minute of it. Plus, I’ve worked as a tour guide and have a marketing background – so it seemed like the perfect way to combine all of my passions into a business. When the idea hit me, it felt a light bulb pop up over my head like in cartoons. It took me two years of thinking about it before taking the leap to make it happen, but finally did it! The rest is history.

Jackie: What makes your food tour so unique?

Dave: Mangia DC takes its name from the Italian interjection Mangia! which translates to both “Eat!” and “Enjoy!” This Italian Food Tour pays tribute to DC’s original Italian population that resided here in DC in the late 1800s. We explore the historic Dupont and Logan Circle neighborhoods by foot and stop along the way to sample dishes from local family-owned eateries and learn about the city’s unique cultural heritage. There is no other Italian food tour like it in the city.

pepper funny momentJackie: What are your favorite types of groups to lead? Any funny moments from food tours you can share?  

Dave: I love working with both tourists and locals who are interested in trying something different and experiencing the city in a new way. We have a great time. A funny moment happened on one of our tours. A server offered the group pepper and then came out with a 4-foot-long pepper mill! It was quite the ice breaker as we all could not stop laughing.

Jackie: I hear you are a new home owner for all the renters out there can you tell us what are some of the joys and challenges of a new place?

Dave: It’s great because I don’t have to worry about my rent going up like I did when I lived in an apartment! However, there’s a lot of work involved in maintaining the home and yard. We’ll see how that goes.


Jackie: What is your favorite Jewish Food?

Dave: Kugel – so good!

Jackie: Who is your favorite Jew?

Dave: My dad. My dad instilled the values of honesty, integrity, and an entrepreneurial mind set in me, which I believe is why I’ve had success as a small business owner.  He’s taught me that hard work pays off.

Finish the sentence: When the Jews gather…

Dave: we eat oh so well!


Grab Coffee with Gather! Learn more about Jewish life in DC and meet a new friendly face!


Monthly Mussar: Cultivating Patience One Parked Car at a Time

Joelle Photo - CroppedI could see my destination ahead of me, but I was thwarted. So close, and yet, nothing more than a car with a mediocre and/or distracted driver looking for parking, coasting at 5MPH through the bike lane, was preventing me being on my way. I was hot and sweaty on a typical DC summer day, and I was getting more frustrated and angry by the second.

I was ready to at least mutter if not yell some obscenities and make some hand gestures reflecting just how appalled I was at this person’s inability to follow traffic laws, but then I thought better of it. This was, after all, the first month of my 13-month-long endeavor in Mussar, this month focused on patience.

The concepts of Mussar, as I understand them, promote finding a middle ground, in this case, between too much and not enough patience. As I might have alluded earlier in the year, I have struggled with the latter, so cultivating more patience was my challenge for the month. Even though I had previously specifically worked on increasing my capacity for patience, and I thought that I’d come a long way, as I sat, stuck, on my bike, blockaded by this car, I realized that I still had a way to go.

Throughout this month, as I looked back on each day, I was surprised to find how many problematic instances could have been less cumbersome if I only could have mustered more patience. Some conflicts were small, like waiting for the car to get out of the bike lane or having to wait on a co-worker to move forward on a project. The result of these encounters was feeling frustrated, but at least with no longer term consequences than raising my blood pressure in the moment. But, at least on an intellectual level, I could see how cultivating more patience could save me from feeling the frustration in the first place.

But some instances were bigger and more problematic. This mostly came when I happened to receive some exceptionally good news that I had been waiting on for several months. Now that I had finally heard back, I felt ecstatic and wanted more than anything to be able to celebrate this news with friends. But to my dismay, the people I most wanted to share my excitement with were all out of town or otherwise pre-disposed. I knew that I did have people I could celebrate with and that I’d be able to celebrate this news eventually. But the prospect of having to wait even longer than I already had to find out about the news in the first place left me feeling overwhelmingly sad.

Reflecting on these experiences, I think what they have in common is a discomfort with a world that falls short of what I might have hoped for. We live in an imperfect world filled with imperfect people. And despite being able to envision a world of always unencumbered bike lanes and always supportive and always available friends, it is not the one that we inhabit.

My take on the Mussar take-away from this situation is to see the divine (or humanity, if that’s what you’re more comfortable with) in this imperfection. Expecting everyone to act with complete competence and consideration is ultimately unrealistic, and as a result, frustrating most of the time. So I thought it was worth a try to channel the opposite, acknowledging the world as it is rather than the way I think it should be. If people are going to drive cars, they should be good drivers, but that doesn’t mean that they are. And even if they are, they could have just gotten broken up with or lost their job, and attentive driving might not be their first priority in that moment. Likewise, even though I would like my friends to plan their lives around when I may or may not hear back about my achievements, and I would like them to be just as excited about my achievements as I am, that is obviously not how the world works. And so, while I may still believe that my vision of the world as it should be would be better, embracing the world as it is has the potential to be a lot less frustrating.

In my first attempts, I have found this to be extremely difficult. Imagining the humanity of the person driving the car that just cut me off is certainly not my natural response. But as I practice each time an opportunity arises – when I have a trying experience when riding my bike (of which there are many), or rushing for the next metro or elevator or while food shopping – I do find that it becomes a little easier each time. And as it gets easier, I become less exasperated, and actually, in a better mood and a little bit more hopeful about humanity in general.

This past month, I had envisioned taking drastic measures to become a more patient person. Instead, I spent a lot of time thinking about the opportunities for patience in my life, and took some small steps that I hope to continue in the future. While it sounds less exciting, I think it has the potential to get me going in the right direction. This coming month, I will explore gratitude, a topic on which both The New York Times and The Atlantic have recently provided some food for thought. While I’ve been less challenged in feeling gratitude than I have with patience, expressing gratitude to others has never been a strong suit of mine, so that is what I will focus on. I invite you to join me on this journey.

How do you express gratitude? Please share in the comments below…


Drinking in the Moment

IMG_7809I should have anticipated it, but I’ve been doing a good amount of drinking since I started this job a week ago. I started off strong with the Gather the Jews Happy Hour last Thursday. Followed by Shabbat dinner with friends the following night. And then a bottle of wine with the Gather Team to celebrate the move into our new office.

Jews mark important moments of time – both in the Jewish calendar (like Shabbat) and in one’s personal life (like a wedding) – with wine. Of course, one can and should provide a non-alcoholic option, but there does seem to be something important about using wine. Why?

As with many practices in Judaism, a clear answer is not given. So, as with many practices in Judaism, it’s up to each of us to provide a reason that is relevant and meaningful.

I’d like to suggest two ideas. First, making wine is a long process. I learned all about that process at a private winery tour in Zichron Yaakov, Israel a couple of weeks ago (by “private” I mean that no one else came to it). Perhaps by blessing wine at important moments we sensitize ourselves to the journey that inevitably precedes any such occasion. Through this, we allow ourselves to sanctify and celebrate not just the exciting moment but also the hard work that led to it.

Second, transitions can be an emotional time. We can feel nervous, excited or overwhelmed about the unknown future; we can feel nostalgic, resentful or confused about the past we’re leaving behind. By marking those transitions with wine, we affirm the joyousness of the moment. Not to sweep away the hard parts, but to ensure that we remember to embrace life in all its up and downs. That’s why we call it a “L’chayim” – to life.

As I conclude my first week in a new city and at a new job, those “l’chayims” have helped me appreciate those moments and connect them to my larger journey.



Jewish Community Builder of the Week – Tiffany

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It has been a while but we are back with Gather’s weekly feature. We will continue to highlight the diverse and accomplished members of our community, only with a new name! Check out our post on the change and meet Tiffany -a community builder locally and abroad!

Jackie: Before moving to DC you lived in Israel, what was your favorite place to spend time in Israel?

Tiffany: Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, swimming without a wetsuit was always a traumatic. The ocean water was always dark, freezing, and full of seaweed. When I lived in Tel Aviv, I took full advantage of the 8.7 mile stretch of beautiful beaches. I lived in the city center, just two blocks away from Bograshov beach, so I would surf or swim in the mornings before class or work.


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Jackie: Where were you stationed for the Peace Corps and what do you do for them now?

Tiffany: I spent 27 months as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco. I lived in a tiny village of about 200 people on the Anti-Atlas Mountains near the border of the Western Sahara. I learned to speak Berber (Tashleheet) and Moroccan Arabic. As a Rural Community Health Volunteer, I started out teaching handwashing lessons. I worked on a few different projects, but my proudest moments were during my midwife training programs, a mobile vaccination campaign, HIV/AIDS prevention and education, and building latrines in my village. I am currently working as the Placement Specialist for Peace Corps’ Senegal and Sierra Leone Programs, so now I work with applicants and invitees as they embark on the same journey I took 5 years ago. It’s incredibly meaningful and rewarding.


10295690_10100118121231225_8119365895849560506_n (1)Jackie: I know you live in Moishe House, any great Moishe House events we need to have on our calendar?

Tiffany: They should all be on the calendar, since they’re all amazing (biased) 😉 On 8/9/2015 we have our August Picnic at Malcolm X/Meridian Hill Park. The picnics are one of my favorite events that we do. We buy a bunch of food, bring tons of sheets/blankets, and games, and basically vege out with our community members. There’s always a great turn out, and we meet a lot of new people throughout the event. I am also excited for the 8/15/2015Havdallah Ride with Lisa Kaneff, another Open Doors Fellow. These rides are so fun. It’s a critical mass style ride, open to all levels. Even people who don’t bike come for Havdallah and the post ride happy hour.

Jackie: As part on the Open Doors Fellowship you created the Website You Don’t Look can you talk about what motivated you to create that website and what you hope people will get from it?

Tiffany: I was so honored to be a member of the first cohort of10526130_10100115532588885_252124763551598016_n Fellows in Gather the Jews Open Doors Fellowship. Getting to know Jackie, Rachel and the other Fellows was a real treat. The experience of the fellowship helped me discover not just the special nuances in our community, but also some of the needs and shortcomings. I felt very disturbed by the recent coverage of the various Police Shootings and Brutality. I thought about the ways in which African Americans and other out groups are disenfranchised and although, I had never really addressed racial macroaggressions publically, or the way they affect me personally, I wanted to address the subconscious attitudes that our community (the Jewish Community) sometimes holds toward out-groups, specifically diverse Jews. For instance, when one imagines a Jewish person, we think of someone akin to Woody Alan; and a religious Jew? Black hat, beard, and, most importantly: white as a sheet. Simply put: Jews are stereotyped. But we all know that Jews come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and orientations. So I wanted to create a space where people can see and interact with Jews of color, or people of color in general. I want our community to be able see diverse Jews and to attend our events because when you see and know Jews of color you can begin building the kinds of relationships that cause you to see the whole person that goes against the stereotypes.

Jackie: Who is your favorite Jew?

Tiffany: I have too many to choose just one. Honorable mentions to David Cygielman and Jordan Fruchtman, the visionary masterminds behind Moishe House and my mom, of course! Ambassador Uri Savir, is my dear friend and mentor. He was the Chief Negotiator of the Oslo Accords. He served in the Knesset, he founded the Glocal Forum, he is the president of the Peres Center for Peace, and he is the founder of Yala Young Leaders. I have an incredible amount of respect for Uri because he driven, incredibly intelligent, and a rebel. He spent his professional life on the frontline of development and peacemaking in Israel.

530864_706544921475_1490047053_nJackie: What is your favorite way to spend Shabbat?

Tiffany: I love hosting Shabbat Dinners at Moishe House. After the time spent planning, shopping, cooking, and preparing, our community members arrive excited for the weekend, ready to let loose and stay late. Our dinners go well into the early morning hours. I love the company and the conversations people bring.

Jackie: Finish the sentence: When the Jews Gather…

Tiffany: the Mesiba (Party) begins!


Your Jewish People of the Week Are Back!

GATHER'S (1)The Jewish Guy and Girl of the Week feature has been a staple of Gather the Jews since its inception in 2010. It has been an important and fun way to showcase exemplary community members who are doing amazing things in and across the DC area – 312 of you to be exact! As we enter the next stage of Gather, we wish to continue that mission…just with a different name.

With thanks to the hundreds of you who provided valuable feedback in our Community Survey, we are excited to share the new name and expand the brilliant idea that goes back to almost the beginning of Gather. We will continue to honor diverse and impressive faces of our community with our new, inclusive, gender-neutral and dynamic title: Jewish ____of the Week – J_OTW. This feature will look a little different each week based on why that individual is highlighted. For example, we will have Jewish Innovators of the Week who might be creating their own business or dynamic programming, or Jewish Foodies of the Week for the Jew who cooks up a storm or who leads culinary tours, etc. And we will continue to celebrate all of our Jews of the Week at the end of the year in a special way.

At this moment of transition, we would like to honor all previous Jewish Guys and Girls of the Weeks by naming a t-shirt just for you! FOR A LIMITED TIME, anyone can purchase a Jewish Guy or Girl of the Year T-shirt for only $10!

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We would also like to specifically remember our “Adam and Eve” of the Jewish Guy and Girl of Week feature who kicked it all off. Our first ever Gather Jewish Girl of the Week was Aliyah, and first ever Jewish Guy of the Week was Eddy! We’ll try to do a “where are they now” in the year ahead! Gather has changed a lot since 2010 and we hope to always be improving to better serve our community. But one thing we don’t ever want to change is our commitment to recognizing and sharing the amazing stories and individual members of this Tribe.

To keep identifying these incredible Jews within our midst, we need your help! Nominate your awesome, friends, colleagues, (selves!), who are cool people doing cool things in our community. You can read here about our first ever Jewish Connector of the Week, Tiffany!

Keep on Gathering On…



Top 5 Things Not to Ask Your Single Friends

Hello I am singleDo you remember that, right before Passover this year, I discussed some of the awkward questions Aunt Mildred might ask you at the Seder table? (If not, feel free to take a peek here. I’ll wait…)

It’s funny how things can change so quickly. We all have that friend who is perpetually single, and then one day he or she meets the new love of his or her life, and the next thing you know—boom—they become a “we” rather than an “I” plus “I.” And so many times, these newly coupled friends forget what it’s like to be on the other end—single and looking.

Wherever you are in your relationship, it’s important to remember that everyone is on his or her own journey, and some people spend more time in certain stages of their lives than others. In addition, there isn’t one “right path to choose. I’m here to remind the happy couples that there are certain things you can say or ask your single friends that will likely rub them the wrong way. I want to share the top five things that you should not ask your single friends:

  1. You're a Catch!You’re such a catch! How hasn’t anyone snatched you up yet?

As I walked into the restaurant of a party my company recently sponsored, this older gentleman who knew absolutely nothing about me said, “You’re too beautiful to be single.” While on the surface this may seem like a compliment (I said a polite “thanks”), the actual implication is, “Why are you single? What’s wrong with you?” No one likes being put on the defensive. If you want to give a real compliment, instead say, “I feel lucky to have you in my life” or simply, “You’re beautiful.”

  1. Do you think you’re too picky or you don’t give people a chance?

Everyone has standards. It’s up to your friend to decide what his or her non-negotiables are. There are nicer ways to ask this question, like “What are you looking for in a partner?”

Still Single3. Why are you still single?

It’s the word “still” here that bothers me the most. Adding the word “still” makes this question sound like there is only one thing in life that people aspire to—not being single. There are so many singles out there who want nothing more than to be independent, and a relationship is the furthest thing from their mind. That’s a choice that I truly respect, and no one should make you feel guilty or sub-par for making it. Let’s remove the word “still” from single. Always. Period.


  1. Do you think you’re afraid of commitment?

If the answer is “yes,” then what do you say next? Do you have a solution? And if it’s “no,” then it just makes the person feel worse. Plus, the question may bring up painful issues from the past.

  1. Maybe love will come when you least expect it?

I have to refute this one. Dating isn’t easy, which many people don’t realize. For example, when it comes to online dating, many people think they can just throw a profile up there and wait. That’s like signing up for a gym but never setting your tuchus down on a bike. It’s just not going to work. Most things that matter in life—jobs, fitness, and even the pursuit of love—take work. It’s always worth it to give something the old college try.

So, if you’re in coupled bliss, enjoy it! Heck, revel in it! But when it comes to your friends and loved ones, remember that everyone moves at a different pace, and everyone makes different decisions about how to spend their lives. There’s no one “right” choice. You simply make the choice that’s best for you. Respect that in others, and hopefully they’ll do the same for you.



Meet Gather’s Newest Team Member Aaron Potek!

c3cc58e5-222e-4db9-92e3-191101e4cb49Jackie: Tell us about yourself and what you’ve been up to until now…

Aaron: I’m from Saint Louis Park, MN, and I loved growing up there. I was a fat baby. Too much detail? It feels important. Jewishly I grew up confused – my family wasn’t all that observant but they sent us (me and my younger brother and sister) to an Orthodox day school called Torah Academy. I then went to public high school and started to explore what being Jewish and engaged in the world might look like. At the University of Michigan I majored in Industrial and Operations Engineering. No, it has nothing to do with being a rabbi, and yes, it was boring. I moved to Israel for a couple of years and studied Jewish texts there on the road to becoming a rabbi. I was ordained from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in Riverdale, NY, and for the past two years I served as the Campus Rabbi at Northwestern University’s Hillel. I loved being on campus and am excited to start working with people in the next stage of life. In some ways I’m what you’d expect a rabbi to be – I like connecting to people, talking about meaningful things and trying to do some good. But I also don’t like boxes very much and hope I won’t be defined by expectations of what a rabbi is or should be. Outside of work I like to hike, watch movies, do all things comedy, and play tennis, to name a few.

aaron 3Jackie: What are you most excited about as you start with Gather the Jews?

Aaron: I’m excited to discover and help create a Judaism that is meaningful for Jews in their 20s and 30s. And I’m excited for that to be a collaborative process. I believe there is something of value in this rich tradition for everybody, or at the least I believe it’s worth exploring whether or not that’s true.

Jackie: If your primary role won’t be programming, what will you spend most of your time doing as Gather Rabbi?

Aaron: Hopefully having lots of conversations with people about Jewish identity, the meaning of life, core values… that sort of stuff. And hopefully facilitating learning communities for people to grow personally while connecting to others.

Jackie: We heard you gave an awesome Moth story. What was that experience like? Would you do it again?

Aaron: It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. It’s a feeling I’ve only experienced a few times – this feeling that all these different and random parts of your life have been leading you to this very moment. It was honestly a transcendent experience. I’ve told the story again to other audiences, and I hope I can keep telling it, but I don’t think I’ll ever feel the rush that I did that night at the Williamsburg Music Hall.

Jackie: What do you love about being a Rabbi?

Aaron: I have the best job ever. I literally get paid to talk to people about their values, their passions, their dreams… and then I get to help them explore how Judaism might inform, challenge and shape those things. I love being able to be there for people in whatever way I can in order to help them grow as human beings.

Jackie: You are originally from the Midwest, what are you going to miss the most? What are you most excited about living in DC?

Aaron: I love the Midwest. I’m really going to miss how everyone is so nice and friendly, the down-to-earthness (is that a noun?), and the chill pace of life. But after living in NYC I am much more comfortable on the east coast, and I’ve heard from everyone that DC is an incredible place to live. I’m probably most excited for all the free museums!

Jackie: You are brand new to the city, how do you plan to get a lay of the land?

Aaron: Oh gosh, transitions are hard. No one warned me about how hard it is to settle into a new city. I like running around neighborhoods. I like going to random things. And I’ll probably try to get involved in random groups, like improv. And I have a few friends in DC that I hope will show me the ropes. Or at least explain to me the public transportation situation.

Jackie: What’s your favorite part about being Jewish?

Aaron: The non-conformity. The being different. The questioning everything. It’s allowed me to see the world and myself in a complex way.

Jackie: Funniest hebrew word?

Aaron: Floats. Once in Israel I tried to order root beer floats and guessed that the word in Hebrew was the same as in English. It’s not.

aaronJackie: What’s keeps you up at night?

Aaron: Honestly, I have trouble sleeping – so a lot. Why Judaism matters. How to live a meaningful life. How to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. How to make America more just. How to stop thinking so much. It’s a miracle I fall asleep at all.

Jackie: How do you re-energize?

Aaron: Journaling is my way of being present with my thoughts and feelings. That usually re-energizes me. Otherwise, youtube clips of the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

Jackie: When the Jews gather…

Aaron: … there’s serious potential for connection, inspiration, and growth. If nothing else there will probably be food and some arguing.

E-mail Aaron to grab a coffee and share what you’re looking to explore in DC!  



10 Things That I Worry About Literally Every Single Time I Am Forced To Socialize

I have an uncanny ability to seem like I can handle social situations, until you put me in a room with a lot of new people, and I start to breathe like I forgot how to close my mouth, my shoulders fold in on themselves, and my torso gets all scrunchy. If I begin to get wide-eyed and blink a lot, it’s over. You might as well give me a beer to hold, stick me in the corner and hope that no one tries to talk to me. The following are some things that go through my head when I’m out being forced to socialize.

  1. Is literally everyone looking at me?
  1. Why is that guy looking at me and is it because there is something weird on my face, no I mean on my shirt, no I mean in my hair, no it must be my actual face – he hates my face, crap crap crap I’M STARING AT HIM.


  1. This conversation is not turning out the same way it did when I acted it out in the shower.
  1. I wonder how many emotions I can feel at the same time.
    1. Happiness
    2. Fear
    3. Confusion
    4. Delight
    5. Trepidation
    6. Hmm, maybe I should leave this corner and try talking to people.
  1. I’m really hungry, but I don’t want to go to the buffet because I’m pretty sure that I will drop my plate. Even if I don’t drop my plate, what if I get too much and look like a glutton? What if I don’t get enough and look like I’m trying to look like I’m not taking too much? What if I sneeze and then someone hears me sneeze, but doesn’t see me cover my face, and then thinks that I’m the kind of person who will sneeze right into a buffet? I should have packed a granola bar.
  1. ARE THERE GOING TO BE BALLONS AT THIS PARTY? I hate balloons – they pop.Untitled5
  1. Oh, you went to the same school as me? I’m sure we didn’t see each other, or know any of the same people. Mostly because my friend were all named West Grace. Yes that’s a weird name. Yes, that’s the name my dorm building. Yes, I just stayed in my room. Okay, bye!
  1. Are there too many people in this room? I think the floors might give. I’m just going to go outside for like five to 190 minutes.
  1. Did I tell the girl who is throwing this party that I’m allergic to cats? What if she has a cat and I show up and I have to leave right away? She is going to think that I hate her and then she will never invite me to do anything aga- I hope she has a cat.
  1. Hi, my name is Michdsfjer… Michele. I’m… words. I can words.


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