I’m sorry to report that Gather the Jews will delay — by one week — the vote for Jewish Girl and Guy of the Year.
We’re doing this because we’re just not quite ready, and we want to deliver as high-quality and fun a voting event as possible. There’s still some glitches in the voting, still some links broken, still some profiles waiting to be updated. As one who gets to take some of the credit for the awesomeness of GTJ, I also deserve the blame, so if you’re upset by this, or have any questions, email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
In the meantime, here’s a few responses to the question “Why should you be Jewish Guy/Girl of the Year?” Hopefully it will whet your appetite. If you’re a JGOTW and you haven’t sent us an answer, please do so ASAP.
We have one of the greatest cities in the world for young Jewish professionals. I’m that guy who’s always trying to connect people in the Jewish community and helping others out. There’s so much out there in this town and lots of great people to meet and network with and I’m always encouraging others to get involved because… I mean why not? I’m genuinely a good guy and a mensch.
When Ilir Zherka got to this country as a two-year-old Albanian immigrant, he didn’t speak a word of English. “Documented or undocumented, it’s hard to live somewhere and feel left out,” Zherka said at Jews United for Justice’s (JUFJ) annual Labor Seder – which remembers the ancient Jewish story of liberation from slavery in Egypt while connecting it to modern social justice struggles – on Sunday night.
“Immigrants really provide a lifeblood to this country,” said Zherka, who’s now Executive Director of DC Vote, the leading advocacy organization for voting rights in the nation’s capital. Like many of the over 300 attendees at the 11th annual gathering, Zherka had a powerful personal story that vividly brought to life the seder’s theme of “Immigrant Roots, Immigrant Rights.” Though they came from all walks of life – from first generation immigrants to Native American descendants, and from young students to longtime DC activists, artists and workers – the seder participants found a common path Sunday night.
JUFJ tweaked the seder format to the theme “Immigrant Roots, Immigrant Rights,” reworking the four questions, the traditional songs, and even the ten plagues to focus on and discuss the plight of local immigrants. Instead of blood, frogs, and pestilence, for example, the attendees contemplated oppression in countries of origin, poor access to education, and unemployment. The haggadah, the traditional Passover text, was reinterpreted to present information about local immigration issues, discussion topics, and personal stories of immigrants’ experiences.
One personal story, by Lizbeth Mateo, a Mexican immigrant who was the first in her family to go to college, offered the advice, “You are safer if you are out because others will step up for you and fight for you if the need arises. Just remember that you are not alone. We are not alone.”
The crowd also heard from speakers Prerna Lal, Co-founder of dreamactivist.org, and from Sarahi Uribe, the National Campaign Coordinator for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network – both of whom have experienced great hardship due to the United States immigration system. Lal bravely fights for immigrants in the public eye, despite the fact that she herself is undocumented. The DREAM Act in her home state of California made it so she could go to state university while paying in-state tuition, and she hasn’t looked back since. She’s now working to get the DREAM Act signed into law in Maryland.
Uribe grew up in Los Angeles, and had her father taken away from her early in her life when he was deported to Mexico. She says the Secure Communities program is making communities less safe because immigrants are now in danger of being deported for even reporting a crime – it has “essentially made every police officer in the country a gateway to deportation,” she said. She has introduced a bill to the DC City Council that would stop this program in DC.
At the end of the seder, participants took action by writing letters to local officials calling for more immigrant-friendly policies. Metro Council President Jos Williams, himself a first-generation immigrant who faced discrimination as a child in Little Rock, thanked JUFJ “for reminding me that I am not free as long as there are others around me who are not free.”
If you are interested in getting involved with Jews United for Justice, or to learn more about their efforts to make our region more equal and just (including for immigrants!), please visit www.jufj.org or email community organizer Monica Kamen at email@example.com. As we enter the month of Nissan, the season of our liberation, may we all be inspired to work for freedom in our own lives!
Pictured: Ambassador Girma Birru Geda speaking at the Save A Child’s Heart Gala
On March 24, the Israeli based non-profit Save A Child’s Heart (SACH) hosted a fundraiser at the Embassy of Ethiopia. The gala featured networking, traditional Ethiopian food, and comments by Ambassador Girma Birru Geda, Special Envoy, Ambassador Extra Ordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to the United States of America.
The young leadership volunteers of SACH echoed the theme of the night — Tikkun Olam – as they spoke with guests. Their efforts and all revenue supported one of the largest undertakings in the world that provides urgently needed pediatric heart surgery and follow-up care for indigent children from developing countries. A coffee table book was provided to dignitaries in the room with the photos of all of the children they have saved.
We’ve all heard the mitzvah that saving a single life is like saving an entire world. While looking at the smiles of these children and their families projected on a large screen, attendees felt the repairing of the world personified.
About 18 months ago, while in Israel, I visited an Ethiopian Absorption Center and a PACT (Parents and Children Together) School in Afula. There, I had my first experience with Jewish Ethiopians. A friend joined me last night. She just spent six months in Gedera, Israel, at one of these Absorption Centers. We both were moved by the event and would encourage you all to learn more about Save A Child’s Heart.
In almost every aspect of life, we go after the things we want. Not happy in a job? Search for a new one. Some recent weight gain getting you down? Up the ante during your workouts. Why is it, then, that in dating, we think happiness will just find us? It’s as if we think we have a sign on our foreheads flashing, “Single and ready to mingle.” Unfortunately, that’s just not how it works. In online dating, writing a great profile is only half the battle. To really be successful, you have to be proactive and e-mail people of interest.
First of all, when searching for a potential mate, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:
Try not to be too picky. In the long run, will it really matter if someone is 5’8 vs. 5’9?
Update your search periodically to include new people. Maybe Mr. or Ms. Right lives just five miles outside of your search radius.
Change how you sort your matches. Try sorting by newest members first, people last online, age, people closest to you, etc.
Now that you’ve found some potential matches, it’s time to send an e-mail. And women, it’s important for youto e-mail potential matches, too. Many women think that e-mailing a potential mate might make them lose the upper hand at the get-go or seem less feminine. Not true. Again, we need to go for what we want in life, and it starts here. Also, many people don’t take point number 2 above to heart, and their search criteria may not catch you. So if you don’t send the first e-mail, that perfect match you’ve noticed may never find you. And remember… I e-mailed Jeremy first, and seeing as how he’s sitting in the other room of our condo eating popcorn as I type this, I’d say I made out pretty well.
As for what to include in the e-mail, it’s actually pretty simple:
Something about his/her profile that caught your attention;
Something about you and how it relates to him/her; and
A question (to end the e-mail).
In terms of length, a few sentences are enough to get the ball rolling. No one wants to read your novel after a long day of work. And no form letters! It’s very clear when people copy and paste the same e-mail from person to person. That’s a surefire way to get zero responses.
Now that we know the rules, let’s look at a couple of sample e-mails that work:
Welcome to DC! Where were you before moving here? I actually moved here from the West Coast myself, so I think I have the best of the two worlds – a taste for both good wine and historical monuments.
I can help you with the difference between a note and a chord if you’ll tell me something about aeronautics and space. What exactly do you do in the field?
Looking forward to hearing from you,
And I thought I had a lot of degrees… Congratulations on getting your doctoral degree. What’s next? A Nobel Prize? haha I really appreciate when people value education as much as I do. I got my PhD in Physics before moving here three months ago.
Now for the fun stuff… it looks like we both love food. I just went to Graffiato the other day, and I liked it a lot. Do you have a #1 place that I have to try here?
In the end, you can’t win the lottery unless you play, so you might as well try your hand at the lottery of love to see what it has in store. Now, go forth and e-mail!
DITC will feature performances of modern, jazz, tap, flamenco, hip hop & house dance and instructional sessions for the public, with an Urban Artistry DJ supplying the music. Planning the festival has been a big challenge for Michael and Daniel, with a long list of tasks to complete, from inviting dance companies to participate, recruiting a talented designer, Alex Emmerman, to put together the official website, winning the support of a local non-profit group (Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets) to provide insurance and a bank account for collecting tax-deductible donations, and working with the National Park Service to obtain a permit for using the park. The last major task is securing money (several thousand dollars) from individuals and local businesses to pay for equipment such as the dance floor, sound system, lights and a generator. You can help them to raise the needed funds by joining them at a happy hour at Mad Hatter DC on Thursday, March 29th from 6pm to 9pm, when you’ll be able to meet some of the dancers and sample some of Mad Hatter’s special drink offers and food. You can also support DITC with a tax-deducible PayPal donation of any mount via the PayPal button our website’s front page. More details about the happy hour on its Facebook page. See you at the Circle – and bring your dancing shoes!
This post is dedicated to Rabbi Jonathan, Aryeh, and Gavriel Sendler and Miriam Monsonego, z”l, who were brutally murdered in Toulouse earlier this week.
Welcome to Vayikra (Leviticus), the third installment of the Torah, which we began this week. The book of Vayikra is quite a challenging read, prompting the Medieval Talmud commentators known as Tosofot to comment that Vayikra is “the most difficult of the Five Books of Moses.” This volume of the Torah is chock-full of laws and it begins with those dealing with animal sacrifices in the Sanctuary (the Tabernacle in the wilderness and later the Holy Temple in Jerusalem).
For now let us put aside whatever personal feelings we may have regarding animal sacrifices and try to make sense of how to apply these rituals, which we don’t seem to practice in this day and age (G-d willing we will again soon with the rebuilding of the Holy Temple!), to our daily lives. The classic Torah commentators offer varying opinions speculating as to why G-d commanded animal sacrifices, Ibn Ezra writing: “Heaven forfend to say that G-d actually needs animals to be burned! Rather the significance here is a mystical one.” Indeed an in-depth study of commandments of sacrifices provides many lessons about self-growth and coming closer to G-d.
The opening line of this week’s Torah portion, which bares the same title as the third book in the Torah, begins with G-d commanding Moses (Moshe) concerning the sacrifices saying: “Adam ki-yakriv meekem korban” – “When any person of you will offer a sacrifice…” However, a more literal translation of the Hebrew reads as follows: “When any person will offer a sacrifice of you.” The famous Chassidic interpretation understands this to be a commentary on the whole nature of sacrifice. The term korban (sacrifice) derives from the word, karov (to approach; to come near). Thus, the verse is teaching us that when any person desires to draw close to G-d, they must make a sacrifice of themselves. They must negate their own ego that keeps them far from attaining closeness with the Creator.
What does it mean to sacrifice oneself in order to come closer to G-d? Chassidic philosophy teaches that every Jew has both a G-dly Soul and an Animal Soul. The Animal Soul prefers physical pleasures and comfort while the G-dly Soul prefers spirituality and doing G-d’s will. The animal inside all of us (our animal nature) can be sacrificed by redirecting its passions and drives in a way that enables us to serve G-d with vitality. We do not do away with physical acts, but we redirect all of them toward a spiritual purpose. Several examples include sanctifying eating and drinking by making the proper blessings before and after eating, using physical wool in tzitzit (ritual fringes) and using physical leather in tefillin (phylacteries). By elevating ourselves and the world around us we reveal the innate G-dliness hidden within it. By engaging our animalistic drives and utilizing them in the service of G-d, we are able to reach a higher level of closeness with G-d than we could by only tapping into the more ‘spiritual’ aspects of ourselves.
Lest one think that one is too flawed to be able to offer him/herself up as a sacrifice to G-d (spiritually speaking of course!), the Rebbe Rayatz points out that the sacrifice is not only of ‘you’; it depends on ‘you.’ It is within the scope of every Jew, whatever his/her present or past…Every Jew has the right to ask themselves: “When will my acts be like the acts of my fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?” Before a sacrifice could be offered upon the altar, the animal had to be checked to make sure it did not have any blemishes. The first step in coming closer to G-d is to do a self-examination, also known as a cheshbon hanefesh (accounting of the soul), and resolve to put right our faults.  Once we discover our individual strengths and weaknesses, we will be propelled to work on ourselves, grow, and actualize our spiritual potential. When we reveal the G-dliness within ourselves and our world we make ourselves and the world a dwelling place for G-d.
 I will note that many of you have no problem killing an animal for its food. If you will kill an animal in order to satisfy your physical urge for food, certainly there is nothing wrong with killing an animal (which likely would have been eaten anyway) for the holy purpose of fulfilling G-d’s will.
I’ll confess that when I first picked up my copy of New American Haggadah, edited by Jonathan Safran Foer with translation by Nathan Englander, I was most excited to crack open another book with Jonathan Safran Foer’s name on the cover, and the fact that I was about to read through an actual haggadah was, well, secondary. Up to this point, actually sitting down and opening up a haggadah outside the familiar parameters of the Passover table was a first for me.
Initially, I was skeptical. Despite my documented love for Jonathan Safran Foer, as I flipped through the pages of the book, it looked to me like…just a haggadah. From the outside though, the book is not your run-of-the-mill haggadah in that it is large, hardcover, and more resembles a coffee table book than the flimsy pamphet of a Maxwell House haggadah that I grew up with. This presents the logistical issue of how a copy of the large and in reality slightly cumbersome New American Haggadah could be provided to every attendee at the Passover table, or even every other attendee. And this is not even considering the $29.99 a pop list price. I plan to bring a copy home with me when I visit my parents’ house in Pennsylvania for the seders this year. I can already envision the family using the Maxwell house pamphlets during the actual seder (beloved as they are) while the New American Haggadah takes its esteemed place…on the coffee table in the living room.
Logistical questions aside, as I started to read through the New American Haggadah, it became clear to me why this haggadah was special. The English translation was simple and beautiful, and the text was laid out on the pages, sometimes more sparsely and sometimes more densely, in a way that was pleasing to the eye and that was almost zen-like. In reading through the pages, the layout also provided something of a rhythm to the text, a clean and beautiful backdrop to the rituals of the seder embedded within. I could quickly tell that reading this hagaddah was more of an experience than merely reading the text on the pages, that even went beyond the imagery of the Exodus from Egypt evoked by the text. The actual layout of the book itself carries you on an independent experience and personal journey. A high feat for a haggadah, if you think about it.
I went to hear Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander speak about the New American Haggadah project at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue this past Monday (and was probably accompanied by many of you, since the place was packed). From their descriptions, I actually learned that much of the layout of the book was deliberate. Something that stands out most when you read through the haggadah is the colorful, abstract, watercolor-looking patterns that are somehow fittingly interspersed throughout the pages. The images aren’t so overwhelming that they detract from the seriousness of the seder, but are enough provide some backdrop of beauty to the important words on the page.
What I learned at the talk, though, was that what I thought to be abstract art on the pages actually is actually a depiction of Hebrew lettering throughout time. Additionally, running along the top of each page is a timeline, starting with 1250-1200 BCE and running to the present, that chronicles how the story of the Exodus appears throughout history. An interesting added dynamic, if you feel like turning the book sideways and reading the fine print. I also learned that the time period of the colorful artistic text on the pages matches the date on the timeline running along the top. Kinda cool.
A theme of the talk was that the New American Haggadah was created as an open space for the reader, the seder-goer, to engage in their own individual experience of the story of Passover, which is in effect an experience of the Exodus. I already mentioned what the structure and layout of the haggadah itself managed to conjure up in the way of an individual journey. But to me, what makes this haggadah truly different from – you know, all other haggadahs – are the pages of commentary that are sprinkled throughout the book and its seder story experience. These pages, which highlight different aspects of the Passover story, including elements like “Kiddush,” “Poor Man’s Bread,” and “Ten Plagues,” are where the true meat of the haggadah lies. Each series of pages of commentary – which are printed horizontally on vertical pages, in relatively digestible bites of wisdom – includes categories, the descriptions of which I learned from the talk: Nation, which addresses political questions; Library, which presents literary/psychological questions; House of Study, which brings the traditional Rabbinical perspective, and finally Playground, which is targeted toward younger readers.
These pages of commentary, for me, took the experience beyond just the book, beyond just the text, beyond the story itself, and even beyond my own personal experience in reading it. The commentary more broadly raised important questions regarding the rituals that we perform on Passover, spirituality in general, the state of Jews in the world today, and other pressing and political world matters that can be related to the experience of the Jewish people in the story of Passover. As an example, the first page of commentary describes the importance that Judaism places on laws, but then goes on to say that not all laws are holy, but rather must be tested to assess whether or not they conform to moral law. In reading this, my mind immediately jumped to abhorrent laws that have existed over time – anti-miscegenation laws, for example, that in the (disturbingly recent) past in our country criminalized marriage between spouses of different races, and the current laws, or lack of laws, that prohibit gays and lesbians from legally marrying in most places in the US. After my mind went on this civil rights tangent, I saw that, sure enough, the commentary included a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. (another moment when I realized that this haggadah was not your ordinary haggadah, and was actually pretty cool). Part of the MLK quote, written from the Birmingham city jail, was “an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just.”
The point is, within its first 12 pages, the New American Haggadah had me looking and thinking outside the haggadah-box. It had me contemplating basic questions about law and morality that both directly related to the Passover experience and also more broadly to my own personal experience and the world around me. So, if you are someone who does not like to merely take the information that is fed to you at face value – in this case, the story of Passover and the seder rituals – but would rather put that information in context — personally, historically, and globally — then you should pick up a copy of the New American Haggadah. Or, at the least, bring a copy to whoever hosts you for seder, understanding that it may or may not end up on their coffee table. Then, when you are lounging after the large seder meal, flip through to the commentary and ask yourself the difficult questions about why we do what we do as Jews, as well as why that night is truly different from all other nights.
One of the challenges of Passover is always the desserts. There is the sponge cake that is rarely spongy, chocolate covered matzah that is, well, still matzah, and those strange fruit jelly things. I am a firm believer that the key to keeping Passover with both a happy palate and stomach is to avoid Passover-specific ingredient. This seder-appropriate Middle Eastern- inspired dessert is simple but delicious any time of year (and useful if you have friends who can’t have gluten).
Total time: about 2 ½ hours (including cooling time)
3 c pistachios, finely ground in the food processor
16 oz. pomegranate juice
½ cinnamon stick
3 tbsp sugar
3 cardamom pods, partially crushed
Grease a 10” spring form pan well and set aside. Preheat oven to 325º.
In a large bowl, beat together egg yolks and sugar until lemon-colored. Gradually add in the pistachios.
In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with salt until they form stiff peaks. Carefully fold into pistachio mixture. The whites should be incorporated, but it’s ok if the batter is not completely uniform. Note that if the pistachio mixture is too hard to mix, you can first mix in about 1/3 of the whites to soften it before folding in the remaining whites.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour without opening the oven door. After an hour, turn off the heat and leave the oven door ajar for 10-15 minutes. Remove pan from the oven and invert over a cooling rack until completely cool. Remove outer ring of pan. Use a knife and/or a spatula to separate the cake from the bottom of the pan. Invert onto a plate. Reinvert onto another plate to the top of the cake is up.
While the cake is baking, make the sauce: add the pomegranate juice, sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves then stirring occasionally. Simmer for about 25-30 minutes, or until volume has reduced by about half.
When serving, you can poke small holes in the cake and pour the sauce over the top, or you can spoon over individual pieces.
Throughout the course of my articles, I have doled out advice and tips for profile-writing, so when a rare gem comes across that’s so good (and by good, I actually mean bad) and actually goes against any piece of advice I could ever give, I feel that it’s my duty to share. Remember, this is an example of what not to do. (I’ve even taken out a whole paragraph’s worth of writing from it.)
I’m more of a “journey” than a “destination” sort of guy so let me kick this off with a little narrative snapshot of what went down during the past couple of months in my world so you can get a sense of what made me the man I am today. In October, I moved [here] to start my first real job ever: baby corporate lawyer at a giant, multi-national law firm. The expectation was that I’d order dinner into the office and take dial cars home with alarming frequency because I’d be working so hard. I wasn’t exactly happy about this, but I was also excited to take on the challenge of actual responsibility after so many years studying things that were supposed to prepare me for it. I saw no reason to give up on finding some sort of work/life balance before I’d even tried. After all, lots of lawyers (not to mention other professionals) have worked that hard before and continue to do so routinely. Total immersion in whatever it is you happen to be doing teaches you things about the structure and implications of that would never register during a mere dalliance. I was genuinely looking forward to learning all these secrets about how the world works and contributing to something larger than myself, and maybe figuring what I might like to do with the rest of my life (or just the next couple of years) in the process. I always try to accentuate the positive.
Anyway, it really didn’t work out. Because of forces beyond my control or comprehension, I spent most of those first few months sitting on my ass and reading on the internet about the outside world where people actually did things for a living. I also played a lot of facebook scrabble… Things are starting to pick up a little now, but it also turns out that corporate law is nowhere near as cool as I hoped it might be and it doesn’t look like there’s much I can do about it if I work harder. Oh well. Sometimes things don’t go as planned, but that’s part of the fun!
I also had a girlfriend for most of the period described above and my relationship with her was much more important than any frustrations I felt about the futility of my job. We have since parted ways amicably. Hence, Match.com.
It just took me, like, 1000 characters to draw the profound confusion that I joined an on-line dating site to try and meet girls. Amazing. In my defense, I studied literature in college and wanted to be a writer when I was younger (who can remember?) so I sometimes make things a little more complicated and overwrought than they need to be. I’m no drama king, though. It’s only for the aesthetics… did I make you smile?
The main problems:
As a general rule of thumb, a few sentences are not enough, but anything over three paragraphs is way too long. People will simply see the length and think, “I don’t have time to read this,” and click on someone else’s profile. No need to tell your life story. Save it for the date… and even then, use discretion!
No one wants to date a Negative Nellie, so stay away from talking about bad times in your life and ex-girlfriends or -boyfriends. People will think, “You hate your job and you just broke up with your girlfriend. What’s next?”
We all have busy jobs, but leading with this is not the way to go because it only leads to one question: Does he even have time to date?
Profiles are not supposed to be a stream of consciousness narrative about your life story. He would have even been better off using the worst line out there, “I love to laugh and have fun,” and nothing else.
Jews... Gathering... To build, and then carry, the ark.
Zev “Will” Gotkin is a GTJ staff writer. The opinions expressed in this piece belong solely to the author.
Gather the Jews is an organization whose title is rather self-explanatory. Gathering our fellow Jews and enabling them to work together in a spirit of love and brotherhood is actually the key that will unlock the door to the Messianic age for which the Jewish people have long been praying. The era of the Messiah, or Moshiach, will be a time of universal peace among nations in which all peoples will share a common recognition of G-d as the only master of the universe. In the times of Moshicah, G-d’s glory will again be openly revealed within our physical world. We can hasten the coming of Moshiach through working together and building a world ready to receive the Divine Presence. Our combined Parshiyot (Torah readings) of this week, Vayakhel-Pekudei along with the commentary of the Chassidic masters help us to understand this concept.
The four parshiyot, Terumah, Tetzaveh, Vayakhel, and Pekudei are concerned with the construction of the Mishkan (the Sanctuary in which G-d’s presence will dwell among the Jewish people during their travels in the desert). The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches that these four parshiyot detail a sequence of events leading up to a flow of Divine inspiration to the Jewish people. Parshiyot Terumah and Tetzaveh discuss the fashioning of the Mishkan, its vessels, and the garb to be worn by the priesthood, or Kohanim. In Vayakhel, Moses (Moshe) transmits G-d’s commands dealing with these subjects to the Jewish people who then implement them. Finally, in Parshat Pekudei, G-d’s glory fills the Mishkan (Shemot 40:34). It is an oft-repeated concept in Chassidic philosophy that our Divine service (Torah study and observance of mitzvoth and good deeds) below i.e. in this physical world, leads to a revelation of G-d’s presence from above. Through these four parshiyot we see that the work done by the Jewish people to build a Mishkan was reciprocated with G-d’s emanation of Divine Light from Heaven to earth.
In Parshat Pekudei the Torah tells us that “Betzalel…did all that G-d commanded Moshe” (Shemos 38:22). Rashi explains that Betzalel is singled out here in order to indicate that he was on such a high spiritual level that he could even intuit those instructions G-d gave to Moshe on Mount Sinai that were not taught over to him. The Sfas Emes teaches that Betzalel’s ability to intuit G-d’s will without directly hearing the commandments symbolizes the entire Jewish nation. According to the Sfas Emes, the Jewish people can intuitively sense the will of their Father in Hevaven more than any of the prophets. Or HaChaim makes a similar point and cites the following verse in the Torah as proof: “The Israelites did all that G-d had commanded Moshe” (Shemot 39:32). In this light, the building of the Mishkan is a metaphor for serving G-d. Building the Mishkan united the Jewish people. So too, Jewish people working to help one another in serving G-d through studying Torah and doing mitzvot and good deeds also unifies the Jewish people. “In Torah observance,” Or HaChaim explains, “G-d created a bond to link the entire Jewish people. He showed them that that every Jew can bring merit to his fellow Jews, for the Torah can only be fulfilled by the entire Jewish people working together. If all Jews do what they can, they will bring one another merit.”
Judaism teaches us that our neighbor’s welfare should be just as important to us as our own (See Vayikra 19:18). There are 613 commandments in the Torah, but it is impossible for any one person to fulfill them all. Some of them can only be performed by Kohanim or Leviim. Others can only be done by women and still others can only be performed in the land of Israel. It should bring us comfort that when we each do our job and play our respective roles we bring merit to the entire Jewish people. When we work together in peace and harmony to make this world into a dwelling to receive G-d’s presence we make G-d more willing to reveal Himself and thus, bring G-dliness into the world.
I’ll close this discussion with an inspiring thought from Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (1740-1809), a sage and mystic who had a passionate love for every Jew. He consistently pleaded with the Master of the Universe to overlook the misdeeds of his fellow Jews, and he was famous for always being able to see the good in others. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak taught that since our current exile was brought about by the hatred that existed among Jews, the only way to bring about the Redemption is through mutual love. This love is only possible when all people unify themselves with G-d, the Root of all unity. He stressed that even admonishment and correction should not be done in order to shame the recipient, but to convince the person how lofty is their soul and how beloved they are by G-d. Through helping, loving, and respecting one another may we finally merit the rebuilding of the Sanctuary and the revelation of G-d’s presence in the world.
Gather the Jews promoted this event — which went off to much success last night — throughout March. If you would like to have GTJ promote your event, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rachel Arenstein is a GTJ contributor.
Last night, young Jewish adults joined diplomats representing 39 embassies for ACCESS DC’s Eleventh Annual Young Diplomats Reception. By my judgement, the event was a big success owing to the variety of delicious refreshments. But for those who evaluate events by other standards, here are a few non-gastronomical details:
This year’s program The Arab Awakening: The Changing Face of the Middle East featured speakers who were not only renowned experts on Middle East policy, but who are active participants in the political processes of their respective countries — Egypt and Syria — and have fought in the past years for democracy in their countries. Both speakers acknowledged the challenges facing their countries as they transition from oppressive regimes to functioning democracies, but both are hopeful that they can create governments that are inclusive and transparent.
The program concluded with a brief Q&A during which intelligent questions were posed by attendees — including GTJ’s own food writer Courtney Weiner.
You know who might be one of my favorite people in the whole world? Gene Ge... (Stephen R.)
To learn more about AJC’s ACCESS, and how you can get involved, visit this website, or email Jamie Kamlet (email@example.com).
Last week, Idan Raichel, the Israeli singer well known around the world thanks to his international music, was in DC. As a staff member of GTJ, I followed his stay in the nation’s capital and obtained an exclusive interview for the GTJ website.
Idan’s experience in Washington started at the AIPAC Policy Conference, where he performed at the Monday night Gala event. Preceded by Rick Recht and the Maccabeats, The Idan Raichel Project played several songs before a diverse audience ranging from young students to veteran AIPAC donors. However, their most heartfelt performance was later in the night when IRP member Maya Avraham sang Hatikva—accompanied only by the poignant notes of Idan’s keyboard and the over 13,000 people in attendance.
After the concert, Raichel had an entire pavilion in the AIPAC village to himself where he spoke with fans and signed the group’s newest CD Traveling Home. Of course, I was there ready with my brand new CD and an extra copy for dad
In spite of his hectic schedule, which included a backstage meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a small concert and Q&A with students at American University, Idan agreed to be interviewed by GTJ.
And here is what he had to say!
DE: Your new CD, Traveling Home, is a great success and is also the group’s first album to be recorded live. Were the concerts on the new CD recorded in Israel or around the world? How did you choose the title? It seems like Israel is the point of beginning and the point of return.
IR: It’s called Traveling Home because while we are traveling around the world we are actually [always] traveling back home—because the last destination is always Tel Aviv. So even if we go around the world, at the end of the day we are always traveling home.
DE: One of your most recent international collaborations is with the African musician Ali Farka Touré, with whom you founded The Touré Raichel Collective. Is this a totally new project or can it be considered to be an extension of the Idan Raichel philosophy?
IR: I always continue to work with the Idan Raichel Project on the road, but it’s important for me to do things that will move me, and interesting things career-wise and music-wise. So I started this album with the Collective, with Ali Farka Touré. It is a totally new collaboration.
[It is important to me] especially because I share the stage and the studio with a great musician that I believe in [Ali Farka Touré]. Also, in the past year I was touring with the Grammy award winning India Arie. [All of these] are just extensions of what I do with the Idan Raichel Project.
DE: I was just going to ask you about India Arie! What did it mean to perform with her at the Nobel Prize concert? How was it to collaborate with this extraordinary African American soul singer and to tour with her for the Open Door Project?
IR: It was a great honor to perform with such a great, very spiritual poet and composer. It was called the Open Door Project. People that came to see us live saw a beautiful collaboration which was based on the spirituality of two worlds: the Jewish/Hebrew world and the Afro/American world of India [Arie].
DE: India Arie and Ali Farka Touré are just two of the hundreds of international musicians you have played with. Among all of these, who is the artist you enjoyed collaborating with the most? Who is the artist you would like to collaborate with and haven’t yet?
IR: I have no specific dream to collaborate with a particular artist or another. I just like to be surprised by the doors that the world opens. I didn’t plan to work with Ali Farka Touré or the Colombian singer Marta Gomez or India Arie. It is just when you don’t expect it that the world sends you surprises.
Idan confessed that sometimes the ideas for new collaborations come from advice that his fans write on his Facebook and Twitter pages [idanraichel1]. Visiting those pages can serve as a daily resource for information about the Israeli social and musical scene.
DE: Your songs are written in a wide range of languages — Hebrew, Spanish, English, Amharic, and Hindi just to name a few. How do you choose the language of any particular song? How do you understand which language is right for a particular song?
IR: It is just some instinct. Sometimes there are jokes that can be understood only in Spanish and love songs that sound better in Arabic. Sometimes it’s just the color of the song.
In spite of his reluctance to answer political questions, when it came to talk about Israel Idan showed the same openness and forthcoming spirit as when we spoke about his music and collaborations. I asked him about the changes that are happening in Israel, its current President, as well as its two main cities—both of which I discovered have a place in the singer’s heart.
DE: Israel is changing. Which of these changes do you like and which don’t you like? What should continue to change?
IR: Our country always changes. There is a social movement these days, the youth of Israel is rising up demanding more of what they think should be obvious in our country. I think time will tell what will happen—but it’s all a positive movement.
Speaking about Israeli president Shimon Peres, who just few days before gave an emotional speech at the AIPAC Policy Conference, Idan said: “I think we have an amazing president in Israel. Shimon Peres is the greatest president ever. I hope that all the other presidents of Israel will be as loyal and representative as him.”
DE: While living in Israel there was a question that I used to ask all Israelis—each time receiving a different answer. Do you prefer Jerusalem or Tel Aviv?
IR: I can’t say what I prefer. Tel Aviv is my home and Jerusalem is one of the most spiritual places in the world. If you live in Israel you don’t really need to choose—it’s just 45 minutes of distance. Lucky for us, you don’t need to choose.
Talking with Idan in the morning was as amazing an experience as going to listen to his concert that evening at Sixth & I. The Synagogue was transformed into a temple of music. After the first song, during which some of the band members wore Purim masks, all the audience stood up, singing and dancing to the engaging rhythm of the music. People were happy to hear both old hits and new songs in the mix of languages that always accompanies the band’s concerts. I met Idan again after the concert and presented him with an official gift from his GTJ fans: our super-cool GTJ t-shirt! He was happy and thanked the GTJ team and all of you for the great interest demonstrated and, of course, for the t-shirt!
There was nothing left to say but, “Idan…Lehitra’ot be qarov!”.