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Aaron Wolff Time (cue MC Hammer music)

Image Aaron used for Connect Gens picture.

Some of you know him as “the tall guy with the hat.”  Others know him as “The WOLFf.”  And still others refer to him as “The Gather the Jews guy.”

Aaron Wolff — co-founder of Gather the Jews — has as many talents as he does names.  And this week, some people make special mention of his talents.

  1. Last week the Washington Jewish Week featured The WOLFf (I fall in the second camp) as an interesting, up-and-coming, and talented young Jewish adult who is making a difference in the community.  You can click here for his interview with the WJW, but you can only read the first paragraph — you have to subscribe for the rest of the article.
  2. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington recently named Aaron as one of the 2012 Connect Gens Fellows.  As part of this program, Aaron will take a number of classes on Jewish social entrepreneurship, and he will be partnered with mentors in the entrepreneurial world.  Former Jewish Girls of the Week Stacy M. and Ricki M. also became Connect Gens fellows, as did our good friend at the JCC, Ilana W.   You can meet all 10 fellows and read about their projects here

Original image... Apparently I'm not cool enough to make "the cut."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Go To Israel!

Our friends from The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington passed these opportunities on to us:

June 2012 Birthright Israel NEXT DC Alumni Leadership Mission (June 18-25, 2012) – Apply beginning Monday, Jan. 23 @ 10:00am
A unique opportunity for Birthright Israel alumni to travel to Israel once again, but focus this time on leadership development and training. Participants will spend a week in Israel and have the opportunity to learn and experience how young people are re-shaping Israel’s business and technological climate, make global connections, and experience firsthand how The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington supports communities abroad. Learn more at www.shalomdc.org/alumnimission.

FREE 10-day Taglit-Birthright Israel: DC Community Trip this SUMMER!

Are you a Jewish young professional or graduate student, ages 22 to 26, living in the Greater Washington area who has never been to Israel on an organized trip before? This trip is for you! With trip provider Shorashim, you will travel for 10 days this summer with Israelis who will share the beauty, excitement, and complexities of their country with you. Experience the history and challenges of modern Israel while building a community of fellow Washingtonians. Returning applicants are able to apply on February 14th at noon and new applicants on February 15th at 10am. For more information, please visit www.israelwithisraelis.com and select the “DC Community Trip”.  The trip fills up fast, so get on the bus and join us on an amazing 10-day adventure! Please contact Sarah Arenstein at sarah.arenstein@shalomdc.org or (301) 230-7277 with questions.

 

 

 

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Schnitzel: Fried, Cheap, and Easy

Happy New Year! I took a brief hiatus over the holidays to overindulge in good food and drink, but I am back and ready to cook! All the new year’s resolutions to eat healthier are getting trite, so I decided to buck the trend and start 2012 by coating chicken breasts in bread crumbs and frying them in oil, aka schnitzel. The recipe is available here.

Schnitzel was a staple at my house growing up, and I have learned that I’m not alone. Almost every country offers some variety of schnitzel, whether it be veal, pork, or chicken. My vegetarian friends have scared me away from veal and I don’t eat pork, so chicken schnitzel it is! I loved this recipe for a few reasons: 1) it was delicious, and 2) it required forming a short assembly line and this girl loves process! I ended up with a lot of unused flour and bread crumbs, so I would recommend cutting down on those ingredients. I also would recommend donning an apron because all the dipping, flouring, and breading can get messy.

So how does the whole experience rank? On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “bad” and 5 being “good”

Prep time: 5

Prep time totaled about 15 minutes. I decided to reduce the thickness of some chicken breasts I already had instead of buying new ones, so I had to slice the cutlets in half horizontally before tenderizing. The final step was setting up the dunking stations: flour, eggs, and the bread crumbs and paprika mixture.

Overall ease: 5

This recipe is super easy. Cooking it also reminded me why it’s such a great family recipe; what kid doesn’t love assembly lines?!

Cook time: 5

Once you ease the cutlets into the hot oil, it only takes about 2 minutes per side for the chicken to cook through. This is a great recipe if you have limited time but still want a savory dish.

Cost: 5

This is a very low-cost recipe, especially if you already have chicken handy.

Taste: 5

This dish was savory and delicious. The paprika was a critical addition and really enhanced the taste. The breading was crispy and golden brown, and the chicken was very tender. All around yummy.

Chicken Schnitzel

  • 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts (4 large breasts)
  • 1 cup flour for dredging
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs or matzo meal
  • 2 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds (optional)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Oil for frying
  • Fresh lemon wedges for garnish
  1. Lay down a 2-foot long strip of plastic wrap on your kitchen counter top. Place chicken breasts on the plastic, leaving a 2-inch space between each breast. Cover the breasts with another strip of plastic, so the meat is sandwiched between two layers of plastic. Use a mallet to pound the breasts until they are a little less than ¼ inch thick.
  2. Set up three wide, shallow bowls and a large plate on your counter top. In your first bowl, put the flour. In your second bowl, beat the eggs. In your third bowl, stir together the breadcrumbs, paprika, 1 tsp salt and sesame seeds (optional) till well blended. Leave an empty plate nearby where you will place your coated schnitzels.
  3. Pour oil into a skillet until it’s deep enough for frying (about ½ inch). Heat the oil slowly over medium. While oil is heating, dip each breast one by one into your breading bowls—first coat with flour, then with egg, then with breadcrumb mixture.
  4. The ideal temperature to fry schnitzel is around 375 degrees F. When the oil is hot (but not smoking or splattering), fry the coated breasts in single-layer batches until they are golden brown on both sides. If your oil is at the right temperature, it should take about 3-4 minutes per side. Don’t fry more than two breasts at a time in a regular sized skillet, or the oil temperature will drop and the schnitzels will become greasy.
  5. After frying, set the schnitzels on a paper towel and pat them dry to soak off excess oil.
  6. Sprinkle the schnitzels with salt to taste. Serve hot garnished with lemon wedges and your favorite condiment.

 

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Why Can’t Judaism Be Like Moneyball?

The Jewish people have a lot to be proud of.  Artist Bruce Reinfeld created a poster titled “Jews Kick Ass” featuring Henry Winkler, Albert Einstein, Sammy Davis, Jr., Bob Dylan, William Shatner and Jesus.  That may be the most eclectic group of human beings, let alone Jews.

Yet this past week the Jewish people commemorated one of the worst moments in their history with the fast of the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Tevet that took place on Thursday.  The fast connects the sin of “sinat chinam” – a Hebrew concept that can be loosely translated as “hate for no reason” – that was manifested on that day through the sale of Joseph into bondage by his brothers and with the start of the siege of Jerusalem that ultimately resulted in the destruction of the Temple.  Jewish tradition teaches that the second Temple was destroyed because of “hate for no reason” that Jewish people displayed toward each other.

OK, these are Biblical stories and religious concepts that took place thousands of years ago.  We’ve come a long way but can still remember and learn from our iniquities.  Well, not really.  A story that aired at the end of 2011 by Israeli Channel 2 created an uproar when it documented the abuse that young girls at a new school in the city of Beit Shemesh suffer because those who claim to be more religious believe they do not dress modestly or practice the laws of the Torah.  Spitting.  Calling them “sluts” and “prostitutes.”  Making them afraid to walk to school.  The images from the original news story – which is actually not that easy to find on YouTube – look disturbingly close to a PBS documentary about the desegregation of schools in the South or an HBO special about the Little Rock Nine 50 years ago.

The reaction of Israelis and Jews worldwide was swift.  The Israeli president, members of parliament, and Jewish organizations across the United States condemned this behavior.  The offenders were labeled as extremists whose views and actions are outside the norm.  This is pointless.  It’s like condemning AIDS.  Everyone knows it’s bad.  A head of state or a religious leader is not needed to clarify this.  To solve the South’s school segregation problem, the PBS and HBO documentaries describe aggressive actions by the Supreme Court and the National Guard.

But there’s a bigger problem that needs to be solved, and the schoolgirl incident in Beit Shemesh, rather than an aberration, is an excellent example of it.  Jews aren’t simply Jews anymore.  They are Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, modern-Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, (insert your favorite prefix)-Orthodox.  This person won’t go to this synagogue because of how they pray.  This rabbi’s views are to be questioned or rejected because she’s female, he’s gay, too religious or not religious enough.  The extremists who accost schoolgirls and women in Beit Shemesh aren’t “us” but neither are the people who pray this way, go to that school, or eat at those restaurants.

According to Jewish tradition, the First Temple lay in destruction for 70 years because of the poor decisions the people made in their religious worship.  The Second Temple has now been destroyed for 2,000 years because of the poor decisions Jews made, and continue to make both consciously and unconsciously, in their interactions with one another.

So how do we address this?  Here’s an answer you probably won’t hear in a synagogue, TribeFest, or AIPAC.

Sports.

From Biblical stories and philosophy to contemporary Jewish worship and outreach, Jews are a team, a sports team, the “Jewish people.”  Moreover we are the “chosen team” – indeed, the all-star-team – charged with the responsibility of being “a light unto the nations.”  The discord that occurs when people in Beit Shemesh (yup, they’re on the team, too) harass schoolgirls and women or when Jews pass judgment on other Jews through a label is a form of fighting in the locker room that would put Kobe and Shaq and the beer-drinking Boston Red Sox to shame.  The real work has to be done on the field.

Why can’t Judaism be more like a baseball team?  Various personalities and players with different backgrounds and values come together to form a team that’s only as good as each of its parts.  Teams fail when they can’t coalesce.  That’s the beauty of the blockbuster movie Moneyball about how the Oakland Athletics could put together a team on a limited budget by exploiting each player’s varied strengths and contributions.

Jews will win or lose together.  So go out and meet your teammates.  Visit a synagogue that’s outside your comfort zone.  Talk to someone with different beliefs than your own about how they find beauty and meaning in their faith.

And think about Sandy Koufax.  Because if I say Sandy Koufax, I guarantee the first thing that comes to anyone’s mind is “the quintessential Jewish baseball player.”  But if I mention a particular synagogue or rabbi, it’ll conjure up some label like Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative or Orthodox that divides rather than unites.

Indeed “Jews Kick Ass,” as Reinfeld’s depiction of six eclectic Jews shows.  After 2,000 years it’s time to stop kicking each other’s ass in the locker room.  It’s time to take our game to the field.

Gather the Jews member Jonathan Horowitz (www.jjhorowitz.com) is the horse race announcer at Arapahoe Park and host of the show “A Day at the Races” on Altitude Sports TV in Denver. He also has authored The ONE and ONLY: A Sports Quiz Deck of Definitive Games, Teams, Players, and Events (http://pomegranate.com/k360.html).  You can contact him at jjhorowitz@gmail.com for details.

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Keeping up with New Year’s resolutions… with other Jews

Giddy up, y’all.

There is a wide range of activities going on in the next few weeks in the DC Jewish scene. Whether you’re brand new to the area or consider yourself a lifer (read: been a resident for a year), all of these events are great for meeting other quality folks. And, in keeping with New Year’s resolutions we may have made a week ago, they offer many different angles on self-enrichment, as well as many opportunities to put yourself out there.

So here we’ll round up some varied and interesting events that are likely to gather some Jews.

Keep up the New Year’s resolution to stay healthy with a 6.5-mile hike on the Appalachian Trail to Washington Monument State Park on Jan. 8. The group meets at the Grosvenor Metro stop at 10 a.m. to carpool. Check out here for RSVP details and costs.

On Jan. 12, DC Minyan is having a beer-making and tasting class that evening. You’ll finally learn everything about hops and barley, and all the ranges of IPAs and lagers, as well as how to craft beer yourself. RSVP to Shira Klapper here. Bring your friends and get ideas for a new joint venture.

Trying to learn a new language  in 2012? Well, if you’ve ever been mystified byYiddish and want to learn some other words or phrases beyond the clichéd, the Washington DC JCC has a dinner and learning session for you. Dinner starts at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 11, while Abe Schwartz will introduce you to the history and sampling of the mother tongue that is Yiddish.

For those who are trying to get in some more cultural activities this year, Sixth & I is holding a free art exhibit that night as well, showcasing work from Liana Finck’s graphic novel. The novel is based on the “Bintel Brief” advice column in The Jewish Daily Forward. Check out the works themselves to see how Finck depicts the letters from those seeking advice through the eyes of the columnist.  Free food and beverage will be there too, and admission is free. Just RSVP to let organizers know if you or a group are coming.

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The Big Boys of Online Dating – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (week 24)

People ask me all the time, “Which is the best online dating site?”  That is a really hard question to answer because the best for one person might be the worst for another.  Some things to consider are:

  • Price (There are both free and paying sites.)
  • Number of people on each site
  • Age demographic of the site
  • Specific affiliation, like religion, nationality, or race

While JDate might have been perfect for me since I knew I was looking for someone Jewish (you’re welcome, Mom), for some people, Plenty of Fish might be the best option because they aren’t looking for anything specific in a partner.  And a free site is a good way to get your feet wet without putting a dent in your wallet.

I decided it was time to tackle one of these questions: Which site has the most users?  I decided to get “down and dirty with the data,” as one of my favorite business school professors used to say, and I broke the results into two categories: The Big Boys of Online Dating vs. The Smaller Online Dating Sites.  Obviously, I only chose a selection of sites since there are hundreds out there, but this should shed some light on the “how many people” question.

Match.com is by far the biggest site out there, tipping the 16 million mark in the summer of 2011, with Plenty of Fish as a not-so-close second.  eHarmony and Zoosk take 3rd and 4th place, and Chemistry.com and OKCupid (both owned by Match.com) rounded out the bottom of the “Big Boys” list.

While JDate might be the biggest Jewish online dating site out there, the numbers pale in comparison to the non-niche sites, maxing out in 2011 at the 250,000 mark, a mere 1.6% of Match.com.  When you consider that according to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics there were 13,421,000 Jews worldwide in 2009, roughly 0.19% of the world’s population at the time, now this number of JDate users doesn’t look too shabby.  HowAboutWe, a new site that aims to get people offline faster through suggesting date ideas as conversation starters, is growing at a fast pace, but everything seemed to take a dive in November, perhaps because people had Thanksgiving and family on their minds rather than meeting strangers on the Internet.

Which site is best?  There is still no definitive answer, and while I’ll always be partial to JDate since that is how I met Jeremy, if you’re looking for sheer strength in numbers, the Big Boys have it by a landslide.

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

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New on the Jewish Scene – NOVA Tribe Series

Former Jewish Girl of the Week, Stacy Miller, talks to GTJ about her new organization for Jews in Northern Virginia: NOVA Tribe Series.

What inspired this new project?

When I went to Israel this summer on the Birthright Alumni Leadership mission I was asked to create a project to impact the community in some way. On one of the last days of the trip we visited the Negev region and the city of Dimona; I was inspired by the young adults we spoke with who decided not to move to the bigger cities like Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, but to a small city and create a vibrant young Jewish community. (For more information on the visit to the Negev, click here.) I thought if they could create change and motivate young leaders in an area with fewer resources than the DC metro area, I could do the same where I lived.

How is NOVA Tribe Series different then the 20 or so other DC metro area young professional groups?

Well first off we have series in our title, we want to create meaningful programs that cater to a variety of people. I like to call it Programs for a Purpose, many of our events will focus on giving back to the community, raising money for charity, and our marketing model uses the one-for-one philosophy. You can read about our seven signature programs on our website. NOVA is in the title because we want to engage young professionals in their 20s and 30s that live and work in Northern Virginia. In the next six months we hope to expand beyond just individual programs by having a “meeting of the minds” seminar that brings together Northern Virginia Jewish community leaders and the NOVA Tribe committee to create a concrete strategic outreach plan to engage young adults living in Northern Virginia as well as a leadership series for those young professionals looking to get more involved with the community.

So only Northern Virginia residents can attend events?

No, our programs are held in Northern Virginia so they are accessible for most people out in the suburbs, but we would love our DC/Maryland friends to cross the river and see what is out there beyond the city. We are working on the major issue for most — transportation — and hope to have a solution in place by summertime. In the meantime, most of our programs will be metro accessible.  I am happy to give rides and so are most of my committee members.

Heard one of your slogans is NOVA Tribe Series…It’s Worth the Schlep, where did that come from?

Northern Virginia sometimes gets a bad rap…. we are more spread out so we all have to schlep a bit to get places. You may have to hop in a car or stay on the metro an extra 15 minutes to find the best bars, restaurants, and concert venues but it’s definitely worth it, and so our are innovative programs.

So let’s hear about these innovative programs.

We learned how to make a sushi menorah during our 2nd event:


And I think a good way to spend Friday night is a Shabbat meal with a small group of people + a murder murder mystery party. Not sure what I am talking about? Learn  more and register for our 80′s murder mystery Shabbat on January 20th by clicking here.    (Editor’s Note:  This sounds so cool!)

I’ve listed some of our other upcoming events at the bottom.

Any events you would like Gather the Jews to join?

Actually, I had a great time at Most Eligible DC and thought a good way to extend the success of that event would be joining us for our Have a Heart Speed Dating: Party for a Purpose on February 9th. Most people are looking for a date for Valentine’s day and some shy away from speed dating because it can be expensive, so I thought why not host a cheaper version and raise some money for charity at the same time. Everyone that attends will get to choose where their money goes and go on a series of dates in one night.

So now we need to know…..Top 3 “hidden” places we should schlep to in Northern Virginia:

1. I would say a great place to check out live music is Jammin Java, a bar/coffee house with open mic nights and a good line-up of bands (I saw my Jewish actor crush Bryan Greenberg play here a few years ago) and Wolf Trap is an outdoor venue that lets you chill on the lawn and bring your own food/drinks.  (Editor’s note:  You named 2 in 1 point.  That’s cheating!)

2. I am not usually a fan of chain restaurants, there are a ton in Northern Virginia…but one that does it right is the Great American Restaurant Group. My DC friends are always impressed when I take them and I can’t stop eating the bread at their seafood inspired restaurant Costal Flatts. Each restaurant has a different theme and type of cuisine which makes it unique.

3. Not really hidden, but I would say a good date place or if you want to try out new area with shops, ice-skating, movies, bars etc. is Reston Town Center. I have been going there since I was a kid and it’s crazy to see how much it has grown into its own little city.

 

Other upcoming NOVA Tribe Series events:

  • 1/10 Profile Perfection & Pizza: Online Dating Secrets and Q&A
    Mingle: 5:30-7PM      Speakers: 7PM
    40 million Americans use online dating and there are over 1,400 dating sites in the U.S….. so whether you are confused by clicking, winking or just want to find out why your main profile pic is not worth a thousand words, join us for pizza/drinks,mingling, and learn how to navigate the world of online dating from Erika Ettin, founder of A Little Nudge, an online dating coaching service and Abby Robinson, author of the Secrets of Shiksa Appeal.
    To register, click here.
    Location: Fireworks Pizza —Courthouse
  • 1/12  NOVA Tribe/Jnet Bonding Over Brews: Beer Tasting Happy Hour
    We will be joining Jnet, the Jewish social network for young adults age 21-35 based out of the JCC Northern Virginia, for a beer tasting happy hour at Madfox Brewery. Click here for more information.
    Location: Madfox Brewery — Falls Church
  • 1/31 Trivia Night Fundraiser
    Jew or not a Jew, video clips, and name that song are just some of the rounds for our night of trivia…come out for prizes, drink specials, and the opportunity to buy our “Schlep” bag (for example, something like this), where every bag sold equals our donation of a bag of books to kids in need.
    Location: Hard Times Cafe — Clarendon

 

 


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Work Out and Find Love – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (week 23)

Did you ever notice how the gym is packed in the first week of January, and your favorite stationary bike that overlooks the fire station on U St… ahem… your favorite piece of equipment is never available?  And that Zumba class that used to have six people every week now has 38?

People make all kinds of New Year’s resolutions – to work out more, to quit smoking, to eat more vegetables, to learn a new language, to find love.  Do you notice anything different between the first four items on that list and the last one?  The first four are easily measured in small stages: You can increase your workouts from two to four times per week; you can switch to nicotine gum until the addiction has subsided; you can buy broccoli at the supermarket instead of tortilla chips; and you can take a community college Spanish class at night.  But when it comes to finding love, it can seem hard to judge your results with anything short of “I met someone.”  Just putting that as the arbitrary goal isn’t the way to go.

The better way to make a resolution to find “the one” this year is to break it down into smaller, measurable pieces.  If you’re anything like me, you like to accomplish your goals and be able to measure the results.  Below is a list of measurable (and fun) resolutions for the year ahead that should give your love life a kick-start in 2012.

  1. Join an online dating site, and if you’re already on one, become more active.  As I’ve said before, just putting a profile up does not necessarily help with finding love.  E-mailing people and being proactive about the process is what really matters.
  2. Go to one extra social event per month.  The more events you go to, the more people you’ll meet, and the more likely you are to strike up a conversation with a potential mate.
  3. Talk to at least one new person at every event.  It’s nice to have a crutch (aka your friend), but try to break out of your comfort zone this year and meet someone new.  Plus, it might even make for a good “meet-cute” later.  (I once dated someone I met in the hallway at jury duty because we both dared to meet someone new that day.)
  4. Give one person you normally wouldn’t consider going out with a chance.  You never know if you’ll have chemistry until you meet in person.

In the end, if you use these resolutions rather than simply stating “I am going to find love this year,” you will have full confidence in the fact that you put the effort in and worked toward your goal.  Don’t be too hard on yourself, either.  Meeting someone takes time, but the reward for working hard now may be a lifetime of happiness.

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

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Help Keep the Gathering Going: Donate to GTJ!

Donate here. 

….

Dear Friend,

There have been good times; there have been less good times.  But Gather the Jews has kept rolling.

For 96 weeks (and counting!) we have provided:

  • An event calendar with all of DC’s young adult Jewish events,
  • News stories on developments in young adult Jewish DC,
  • A forum for commentary on life in young adult Jewish DC,
  • Interviews with over 75 exceptional Jewish guys and 75 amazing Jewish girls,
  • A weekly newsletter highlighting the best of young adult Jewish DC,
  • An informational service for over 2,600 email subscribers and 2,750 weekly website viewers.
If you’ve enjoyed these features, then we’d appreciate it if in you could:
GTJ has taken up a lot of time, but it has been a blast.  Thanks for making Jewish DC an amazing place!

Happy New Year!

Stephen Richer
President
Gather the Jews

on behalf of the GTJ Leadership Team:

Aaron Wolff
Joshua Kaller
Mike Weinberg
Jodi Tirengel
Noa Levanon
Sara Sidransky

Donate here. 

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Don’t Fear an Empty DC

Thank goodness for Chanukah this year. If there’s one thing I consistently hear about DC during the winter holidays, it’s that it becomes a ghost town for young professionals. We’ve already discussed this phenomenon during Thanksgiving, but it rings even truer for this time of year.

Luckily, this year Chanukah spanned a good chunk of the straddling week between Dec. 25 and New Year’s Eve, giving DC Jews something to do if they aren’t able to go home or on vacation. And Chanukah events are not the only ones on the roster for late December.

So don’t despair for those reading this and still in town.  As Rabbi Teitelbaum said last night at Mesorah DC’s Café Night, the Torah learning still has to go on. So too does DC’s Jewish social scene:

  • On Wednesday, Matisyahu will be at the 9:30 Club (in case you’ve been living in a Maccabee-style cave and haven’t heard about this already)… So if you haven’t found tickets for the event yet, keep trying. Given recent events, it seems like this would be a good performance to check out, even if to satisfy morbid curiosity.
  • Chabad is having its usual dinner and learning session this Wednesday too, so RSVP now and grab some dinner with fellow DC Jews left behind.
  • If you have any time off on Thursday or Friday, help a synagogue make minyan. With the numbers of in-town folks being scanty this week, most synagogues are probably in need of a few good men and women. If you don’t know where to start to find a synagogue for you, we’ve already got you covered on a primer to find one.
  • And if you’re really that tremendously bored above all these suggestions, then you can look at GTJ’s updated photo albums from recent Chanukah soirees for the thirty-sixth time. They make excellent (if not ersatz) fodder for playing Where’s Waldo or I Spy at your next DC Jewish get-together.
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Award-Winning Coconut Sweet Potato Flan

After taking first place at Sixth & I’s Holy Chef contest, GTJ’s food columnist Courtney agreed to share her original recipe with us.

I’m taking a break from my usual theme of “converting” existing non-kosher recipes in order to share a new recipe that I invented for the Hanukkah-themed Holy Chef contest at Sixth & I. Enjoy!

Recipe

© Courtney Weiner.  All Rights Reserved.

Total time: About 3 hours

Yield: 12-16 servings

Level: Difficult

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups sugar, divided
  • 1 large sweet potato (about 1lb)
  • 1 cup cream of coconut
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 egg yolks

Directions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Pierce sweet potato several times with a knife.  Microwave for about 8 minutes or until soft.  Let cool while making the caramel sauce.

Set aside a 10 cup soufflé dish or individual ramekins.  Add 1 cup of sugar to a heavy saucepan.  Melt the sugar over medium-high heat, swirling pot to promote even cooking.  Cook until all of the sugar has become an amber-brown liquid.  Keep a close eye on the sugar while it is cooking and remove as soon as it is done—it can burn quickly.  Pour into the prepared dish(es).  (Note: you can cook the sugar with up to a ½ cup of water and cook the water off, but I found it easier to make the sauce without.)  Set aside.

Spoon the insides of the sweet potato into a food processor.  Whisk together cream of coconut and coconut milk until they are smooth.  Add half of the mixture to the food processor while the machine is running until a smooth paste forms. 

In a large bowl, combine the remaining sugar, remaining coconut mixture, condensed milk, water, vanilla extract, and ginger and mix well.  In another bowl, beat the eggs and egg yolks until frothy. Strain the eggs into the ingredients in the first bowl.

Add the sweet potato puree to the other ingredients.  Whisk well and pour into the prepared dish with the caramel sauce.   Place the dish in a large baking pan and add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the dish. Bake for 1hour and 45 minutes or until the flan is set but still soft.  Remove from the oven.   Carefully remove the soufflé dish from the water and transfer to a rack to cool.

Refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight. Before serving, run a knife through the edges and invert onto a serving dish.

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Are You a Hellenist or a Maccabee?

Most of us learned in Hebrew school that the story of Chanukah involved a war between the Greeks and the Jews. However, in truth, the conflict was just as much a fight between Jews and their fellow Jews as it was between the Jews and their Greek oppressors. What our ancestors fought for holds much relevance for us today.

Every year at Chanukah we thank G-d for the miracle that occurred “in those days at this time.” This is because the message of this holiday resonates with Jews of every generation and perhaps more so with our own generation than with any other. Many mistakenly believe that Chanukah is religiously a ‘minor’ holiday, but in actuality the teachings of this holiday and the relevance they hold for today’s modern Jew – especially those of us living in America – make it one of the most important.

One thing that distinguished the Greeks from previous world empires was that they were just as focused on spreading their culture – Hellenism – as they were about gaining money and power. Hellenistic Greek culture, with its emphasis on learning, at first glance seems quite compatible with Jewish culture. The Greeks venerated their philosophers and thinkers. Similarly, Jews honor and respect their Torah scholars. However, in many ways the worldview of the Greeks was completely different from that of the Jews. The Greeks valued the body and physical beauty above all else. In Greek society, deformed or sick infants were routinely abandoned to the elements or even thrown off cliffs to their death. Beautifying the body was considered holy in itself. In fact, many of the gymnasiums in which people exercised in the nude also featured shrines to the Greek gods. To the Greeks, the gods themselves were gods in man’s image.

The Jews believed in only one G-d who created human beings in His image. The Jews understood and valued spirituality over physicality. The Torah the Jews received at Mount Sinai taught them that the world was not perfect and that human beings had to assist G-d in perfecting the world by doing the mitzvot, caring for the weak and the needy, and doing acts of kindness.

The Greeks were relatively tolerant of the cultures they conquered and they extended that same tolerance to the Jews. They were fine with Jews studying Torah as long as they did so in a philosophical, detached, and intellectual manner. What drove the Greeks up a wall was the Jewish value of studying Torah in order to connect with G-d. The Greeks didn’t mind if the Jews wanted to follow some of their rituals even if they did seem to the sophisticated Greeks to be antiquated, anachronistic, and superstitious. What the Greeks couldn’t stand was that the Jews believed in a divine reality higher than rationale thought. They resented that the Jews saw themselves as a distinct and holy people committed to bringing holiness into the world.

Many Jews – especially those of the intelligentsia and the upper class – jumped on the Hellenization bandwagon and adopted the Greek language, Greek dress, Greek education, and, in some cases, even Greek idol worship. It’s quite understandable why many Jews went for Hellenism. After all, Greek culture held a powerful allure. It kindly beckoned the Jew saying: “It’s ok, you can be Jewish. Just don’t be so different! Adopt our enlightened thinking…Maybe add a pig or two to your sacrifices in the Temple…Enjoy some Greek theater…Participate in the new world order!” When Greeks saw that some of the Jews stubbornly refused to comply, they outlawed Sabbath observance, brit milah (ritual circumcision), and Rosh Chodesh (the celebration of the new moon at the start of each month on the Jewish calendar). The significance of these three mitzvot will be explained later.

In many ways, Greek or Hellenic culture is the foundation of secular, Western thought and culture. Unlike many nations that have risen up and tried to annihilate the Jewish people throughout our long history, the Greeks of yesteryear did not seek to harm us physically. The Greeks did not wish to eliminate the Jewish people. However, they desired to destroy Judaism. How many of us Jews today, living comfortably in the United States, free to worship as we choose, would give our lives and fight for our Judaism if our government suddenly decided to outlaw Shabbat, brit milah, or Rosh Chodesh?

The Shabbat irked the Greeks. In a society that only valued a person by what they accomplished, resting one day a week was seen as lazy and immoral. Brit milah upset the Greeks, because they believed that nature and the human body was perfect in itself. The fact that Jews would alter their own bodies was an affront to everything the Greeks held dear. Rosh Chodesh represented that Jews operate on a different time table than the rest of the world. If the Jews were to be properly assimilated into Greek culture, this simply could not do. But how many of us would be prepared to fight for these mitzvot? How many of us recognize and appreciate the sanctity of resting on Shabbat? How many Jews believe having a brit milah is a barbaric ritual of the past and how many American Jews have even heard of Rosh Chodesh?

In ancient times, one Jewish priestly family known as the Maccabees could not stomach the Greeks and what they were doing to Judaism. They’d also had enough of the Hellenist Jews making a mockery of their religion. These few courageous, stubborn, and proud individuals rose up against the Greeks and the Hellenists. Their victory boosted the morale of the Jewish people and re-instilled the fundamental Jewish pride that was at risk of being lost forever.

We live in confusing times. The openness and tolerance that defines American and Western society seems to encourage many of us to put aside our Judaism – or at least those aspects of it that separate us and define us as a distinct entity. Universities (modern-day embodiments of Greek culture) with their emphasis on academic achievement combined with hedonism discourage individuals from trying to transcend the physical and connect to G-d, the Source of all Creation. On Chanukah we light a menorah to show that the holiness and truth of Judaism and the Jewish people should shine brightly. We specifically light our menorahs near the door to demonstrate that we must impact the world. Jewish values must make this world a holier, kinder, and better place – a place in which G-d feels comfortable dwelling.

Most of us Jews are neither Hellenists nor Maccabees. Most contemporary Jews living in America possess such insufficient Jewish educations that they are not even able to make an informed decision about who they are. Yes, it’s true that most Jews today do not follow the majority of Jewish laws and customs of their ancestors, but the vast majority do not do so out of willfulness, but out of ignorance. Most Jews in this generation have been so cut off from traditional Judaism and their heritage of Torah and mitzvot that they hardly recognize their own tradition. But, we need not worry. It does not need to stay this way. If we allow the fire of our Chanukah menorahs to ignite a spark in our hearts and in our souls, we can summon the fearless and proud Maccabee inside each of us and do more to learn and grow in our Judaism. Like the shamash candle that is used to light the other candles on the menorah, we can kindle a flame of passion for Judaism in the hearts of our fellow Jews.

For the first time we Jews are not forced by external circumstances such as rampant anti-Semitism to be Jewish. No longer are we protected by the spiritual safety provided by the shtetl. No longer are we confined to the ghetto. For the first time in Jewish history we are not only tolerated, but accepted. Many of us assimilate into our benevolent host culture rather than use our freedom to be Jewish in a positive and spirited way. The choice is in our hands. We can choose to marry out, assimilate, and disappear. It’s very easy to do today! Or we can stand up for what’s right and discover more about the truth and beauty of Torah and why it is an eternal gift to humanity. We can do our job as Jews by being a light unto the nations or we can simply disappear into the family of nations. The choice is ours. So who are you going to be – a Hellenist or a Maccabee?

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Why go to the Matzoball?

The following is written by Greg of thingstodoDC.com, and does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of GTJ.

MATZOBALL … THE LARGEST CHRISTMAS EVE PARTY IN DC… RETURNS FOR IT’S 25TH ANNIVERSARY.
THOUSANDS ATTEND EVERY YEAR!

There is simply no substitute for the original and largest Christmas Eve Party in Washington, D.C.   Every year thousands of Washington’s young Jewish Professionals gather at the biggest celebration of the year!

The Matzoball attracts thousands for a reason:

  • WASHINGTON’S TOP PROFESSIONAL DJs – Featuring DJ Biks (Jay Sean’s Official Tour DJ)
  • THE BEST NIGHTCLUBS in DC
  • 25 YEARS OF PROVEN SUCCESS

3 Floors…3 Parties

  • Hip Hop, Top 40 and the Latest Modern Hits
  • Retro Dance Classics from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s
  • House and International Dance!

Don’t miss an awesome night of dancing and romancing and holiday cheer.

Tickets are $30.00 at the door, but, we offer a reduced rate of $25.00 if you purchase in advance at www.thingstodoDC.com or www.JewishPro.com


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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First Report From the Hanukkah Field

Hanukkah officially started last night, but in terms of parties, this miraculous first candle been burning for over a week.

– Republican Jewish Coalition (12/13)

I started Hanukkah last Tuesday with the Republican Jewish Coalition.  In recent weeks, the RJC has contributed to a victory in New York’s ninth Congressional district, hosted a Presidential forum for all the main Republican candidates except Ron Paul, and even earned itself a segment on Jon Stewart’s show (watch this clip; it’s amazing).  Accordingly, the event’s energy was plentiful, as were the donuts and latkes.  For any of you Republicans trending Jewish, or Jews trending Republican, I highly recommend getting in touch with the organization (asiegel@rjchq.org)

Donut count = 2;  Chocolate gelt = 5;  Latkes = 0 (they’re gross.  I’m decidedly team Hamentashen).

– Mesorah DC’s Dreidel Championship (12/17)

The dreidel arena

I was a bit curious to see how Mesorah would pull this off.  The game of Dreidel as it is supposed to be played – see Wikipedia if uncertain – is one of the most lackluster games I’ve played, and I don’t know of anyone who actually plays it.

Mesorah’s style was better.  Players at the different tables took turns spinning the dreidel in a board the shape of a Jewish star.  Each spin was clocked.  After all players spun, the administrator shrunk the board by putting another star inside the original star.  The players spun again.  This was done three times.  At the end of the three rounds, the table administrator added up the times, and the player with the longest time advanced.

Some you know I’m a competitive person, so I definitely took this seriously.  Jonathan Horowitz and I even managed to get inside of one of our competitors and caused him to choke away his lead on the third round.

The fake champion. But when my grandkids find this picture 50 years from now, they'll think I was awesome.

It was not to be.  My poor small motor skills (index finger and thumb in this case) have failed me many times in the past, and they failed me again here.  The championship trophy went to Josh “Spinner” Stern (see picture), but that didn’t keep me from posing with the trophy (see other pictures…  I’ll be able to convince my grandchildren that I was once a Dreidel champion!)

Food and drink were served.  Over 200 people showed up.

Donut count = 2;  Chocolate gelt = 10;  Latkes = 0 (they’re still gross.)

The real champion. Josh.

 

– Fare thee well (12/17)

I then helped escort our favorite Italian Jew from the premises of our country.  But we did this profile of her before we kicked her out.  Somehow that took us to the Diner in Adams Morgan at 3:30 AM.  Classy.

– Courtney wins Hanukkah-themed cooking competition (12/18)

On the seventh day – in Christian counting – I rested.  But that doesn’t mean that everybody spent reading, sleeping, and watching Tim Tebow vs. Tom Brady.  GTJ’s very own cooking columnist Courtney Weiner took first place in Sixth & I’s cooking competition.

– How the times have changed… Austrian Embassy Hanukkah Party (12/19)

I trust that one day my enormous biography will be written by Walter Isaacson or his protege.  In that sense, all of my days are historical.  But Monday night was especially historical because I got to go to the Austrian Embassy’s first ever Hanukkah Party!

The American Jewish Committee cohosted the event with the Austrian Embassy.  Big hit.  The Austrian Embassy is gorgeous, and the Ambassador said he enjoyed the event so much that he would like to make it an annual affair.

I spent most of the evening talking with the Ambassador about his daughter’s studies in Switzerland and why his daughter’s desire to move to the United States (New York), is not only reasonable, but is a great decision;  2) Learning more about the AJC’s efforts and young professional opportunities; and 3) and, of course, eating gelt and donuts.

Austrian Ambassador

Donut count = 5;  Chocolate gelt = 15;  Latkes = 0 (so oily.)

– National Menorah Lighting (12/20)

Lew and Shemtov

No, I was not Dreidelman.

Many of you asked.  But after last year’s show-stealing performance, I decided to pass the torch – blue dreidel suit – on to another worthy Jewish lad.

You can read about this event at the Washington Post (front page of the morning’s Metro section) and many other national papers, so I’ll just quickly say that everything was great per usual:  Rabbi Shemtov capably led the event, OMB Director Jack Lew (highest ranking White House Jew) lit the menorah; the three cantors sang; the Maccabees trooped around; and Dreidelman spun.

– Hanukkah Happy Hour on the Hill (12/20)

This annual event is always huge.  And it was again last night.  Over 300 people crowd into the two bars in the Capitol Hill area.

I couldn’t make it, but I got 5 texts last night and this morning asking about different Jewish girls and guys, so it must have been a success for at least some…  Everyone I spoke with today has confirmed this.

Congratulations to Ilana and DC JCC for taking the lead on this.  And thanks to all the groups (including GTJ) who cosponsored.    I’ll get some pictures up soon.

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Visit back for updates on the next 7 nights.

And to find out what’s available out there, visit our Hanukkah calendar.

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Courtney wins Sixth & I Cooking Competition

Courtney's victory apron

As one who has never turned on an oven, I view cooking in the same light as rocket launching:  Both regularly occur, but I have no idea how.

And so it’s with considerable awe that I proudly present the recent winner of Sixth & I’s Third Annual Holy Chef: Battle of the Spuds competition:  GTJ’s very own food columnist Courtney Weiner!

Courtney cooked against 11 other chefs in the Sunday night competition.  Each chef had bring a kosher dish — dairy or pareve — to be sampled by the approximately 40 taste-testing guests.

Courtney made “Coconut Sweet Potato Flan.”  Her inspiration was simple:  “I knew I wanted some sort of sweet potato dessert.  I had made sweet potatoes with coconut before, so I thought they might combine well in a dessert.  As for the recipe, I looked up a sweet potato flan recipe and a coconut flan recipe that morning and figured out way to combine them.”

With her victory, Courtney established a perfect competitive cooking record:   She is now 1-0.  When asked if she was nervous for her first outing, Courtney replied, “I was concerned because I had never made flan before and had just made up this dish (meant to do a trial run, but I didn’t have time).  I tasted it before I left and was happy with it, but I had no idea what other people would think.”

As a prize for winning, Courtney received a Bed Bath and Beyond gift card and an apron that reads “Holy Chef, Sixth & I Champion.”

Check back in a week or so to see the recipe for Courtney’s award-winning dish.  In the meantime, you can check out some of Courtney’s past kosher creations (see below).

Debra Pearlstein finished second in this year’s competition

GTJ’s dating columnist, Erika Ettin, won the first year competition.

Congratulations to all chefs.

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If you have any local Jewish young adult stories that you’d like to see covered, please email Stephen at Stephen@gatherthejews.com

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