DC Jews: Disenfranchised or Just Complaining?

Stephen Richer is President of Gather the Jews.  Do not blame GTJ as an organization for this article’s shortcomings or Stephen’s personal shortcomings.


Given the large number of lawyers in the young Jewish adult community, this story is too good to pass up… Even though I’m a little late to the punch.


Rabbi Herzfeld. Picture from the Jewish Outreach Institute

On January 6, 2012, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of DC’s Ohev Sholom synagogue (and friend of this site) finalized a settlement with DC Mayor Vincent Gray and the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics (“The Board”).

The settlement resolves a case that launched on April 13, 2011, when Rabbi Herzfled filed a complaint against The Board for holding a special election on April 26, 2011 – the last day of Passover.  As Herzfeld noted, and as most readers of this website can probably tell you, Orthodox Jews are religiously proscribed from writing on the final day of Passover – a ban that would keep them from voting.

When Herzfeld originally brought the issue to the attention of The Board, the election officials said that “their hands were tied” by the DC law that requires a special election to be held on the first Tuesday that is at least 114 days after the vacancy is certified.

Herzfeld requested that if The Board couldn’t change the date, it should extend poll closing time by two hours, from 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm, thereby allowing observant Jews to run to polls immediately after sundown.  The Board responded that the logistics of this would be impossible; they could not, at late notice, arrange for all 142 polling places to stay open two extra hours.

But The Board did not ignore the potential hardship caused by the date of election.  In light of the scheduling conflict, The Board arranged for absentee ballots, early voting ballots, and it even setup absentee ballot applications at several synagogues and Jewish organizations.

Steven Lieberman. Picture from Rothwell, Figg, Ernst & Manbeck, P.C.

Still, Herzfeld felt that this was not good enough, and he filed a suit alleging that The Board had violated the First (Freedom of Religion) and Fifth (Due Process) Amendment rights of DC’s observant Jews.  Herzfeld’s long-time friend and legal counselor Steven Lieberman (Rothwell, Figg, Ernst & Manbeck, P.C.) served as Herzfeld’s lawyer.

According to Lieberman, Herzfeld proceeded with the suit because “he saw that he would be unable to go to the polls and vote in this special election.  He considered it an important civic duty.”  Lieberman proceeded to say that the early voting measures taken by The Board “were inadequate” and that many in the Orthodox Jewish community would be effectively disenfranchised.

Not everyone in the Jewish community took this line, however, and some even rejected the ideas behind Herzfeld’s suit.  Rabbi Barry Freundel – the dynamo of Georgetown’s Kesher Israel Synagogue – filed a statement with the court on April 15, 2011 stating that,

“It is my view that, while it is unfortunate that by operation of law the election falls on the last day of Passover, and I am, therefore, unable to vote at a polling station on that day because of my religious beliefs, the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics has made a fair and reasonable accommodation for me and my similarly situated congregants by having an early voting process and by being willing, if requested, to deliver absentee ballots for eligible voters to the synagogues on a Sunday before the election.”

Rabbi Freundel. Picture from Kesher Congregant

Over the phone, Freundel  remarked that there could be some potential backlash to the Herzfeld suit.  “[The Board] was remarkably, remarkably flexible.  [Herzfeld] potentially made enemies with a lot of people who were working to accommodate the Jewish community.”

Lieberman responded – on a separate phone call – to Freundel’s actions with some vitriol, “Rabbi Freundel was just wrong.  For whatever reason, Rabbi Freundel decided that he wanted to pander to the District of Columbia.  He made a statement that was not in the interests of the Jewish community or his congregants.  I thought it was shocking that an Orthodox rabbi would take that position.”

Undeterred by Freundel’s signed statement, Herzfeld and Lieberman pushed on.  By this point they couldn’t get change things to their liking for the special election day, but they could win a battle for the future.

Standing before U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, Herzfeld and Lieberman argued that surely The Board wouldn’t have remained as inflexible had the special election day landed on Christmas.  The Board countered that it, in fact, would have.  Judge Sullivan expressed skepticism and hoped that all necessary steps would be taken in the future to avoid such a conflict.

The ramifications of the constitutional assertion – that The Board violated the First and Fifth Amendments of observant DC Jews – extends beyond this DC election.   The much-watched and much-discussed South Carolina GOP primary took place on January 21, 2012 – a Saturday.  The polls opened at 7:00 AM and closed at 7:00 PM (2012 Election Central).  Orthodox Jews are also not allowed to write on Saturday, and Havdallah (Shabbat closing prayers) took place at 5:58 PM on the 21st, hardly enough time to finish prayers and get to the polls.  Would Herzfeld and Lieberman argue that the South Carolina GOP also violated the First and Fifth Amendments?

Must government constitutionally avoid conflict with religions?  Is it enough that the government doesn’t actively prohibit or suppress the practice of a religion?  Or must the government draft its laws and set its dates with religions in mind?

If it must, then what about a hypothetical situation in which new religions emerge and every day of the week is filled with a day of rest (Jews Saturday, Christians Sunday, Group A Monday, etc.)?  Would governments be unable to schedule elections because it would inevitably conflict with the holy day of one religion?  Certainly the government couldn’t say the size of the religion dictates whether or not the religion has constitutional protection – it would be a true First Amendment violation to elevate one religion over another.

It certainly would be nice if elections avoided conflict with religions (much the same way you wouldn’t want to schedule a vote on the day of the Super Bowl), but does the Constitution mandate this?  Must government accommodate religion?  Or just allow for its free practice?

Ilya Shapiro. Picture from the Cato Institute

When asked the question, Ilya Shapiro – Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute –  stated,  “Just as a broken clock is right twice a day, the District of Columbia has the better of the argument here.  The Constitution doesn’t even demand that D.C. accommodate those unable to vote on election day (for religious reasons or otherwise), though absentee ballots are good public policy.”

But for better or for worse, this issue will not be resolved through Herzfeld’s recent suit.   As noted at the beginning of this article, Herzfeld and Lieberman came to an agreement with The Board and Mayor Gray on January 6, 2012 that new legislative measures would be introduced to accommodate for future religious conflicts.

This seems an eminently practical solution.  But it does not answer the Constitutional question.  Perhaps I’ll bring a few experts (Nat and Alyza Lewin are you out there?) to shed further light on this topic.

Apologies for the long post, but this is really interesting subject with a great local spin!


Since writing this article, The New York Times has posted this article on the Saturday caucus going in Nevada.







NeXus: Exploring the Jewish Journey. Class 1

Jodi Tirengel is on the GTJ leadership team and is head of Jewish Guy/Girl of the Week and co-director of GTJ events.


“You haven’t taken NeXus yet?” This was the most popular question I heard when I told friends I had enrolled in the course. Offered by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, NeXus is a six-part series designed to teach young professionals about the Federation’s role in our community and how we fit into it.

The looks of shock and awe I witnessed when I discussed my plans to take NeXus may be a result of the fact that I am not particularly new to the local Jewish community. In 2010, I embarked on a journey to learn about the Federation’s role overseas by participating in D.C.’s first Birthright Alumni Leadership Mission. On this trip, we visited partner agencies to witness the impact firsthand. In only one week, we saw a broad range of organizations that the Federation supports. From a recreational facility for the disabled to an Ethiopian absorption center and everything in between, it was amazing to see the organization’s reach.

When I returned from the leadership mission, I had the opportunity to become a Vice Chair of Engagement on the Federation’s Young Leadership board. NeXus felt like the neXt (forgive me) best step for me to take to learn more about the broader Jewish community and how I could continue my involvement. Admittedly, I did not know what the experience would be like. I stepped into my first class unsure of what to expect.

I entered a room filled with 31 other young professionals. We began the night with an icebreaker, sharing stories about ourselves in order to find someone with whom we had something in common. It was interesting to see how many overlaps there were: favorite sports teams, hometowns, and career fields were all bonding points for those in our group. We then had the opportunity to discuss our Jewish journeys. We were encouraged to draw outlines of our paths through Judaism and how they helped us arrive to the place we currently are. Once again, there was a great deal of overlap: Hebrew school, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, Jewish camp, Birthright. It was interesting to see how much we had in common that had brought us all to this room.

After we concluded this activity, Shelly Kupfer, National Young Leadership Co-Chair of the Jewish Federations of North America, spoke about her own Jewish journey. A local small business owner, Shelly told us about her involvement with the National Young Leadership Cabinet. The Cabinet is composed of 200 young professionals from all over the country who meet at annual retreats and conferences to build stronger Jewish communities locally and abroad. Shelly chose to get involved after learning about the integral role that donations from the Federation played in helping a family of Russian immigrants build better lives for themselves in the United States. The story brought her to tears.

I heard a similar story while attending Tribefest, the Federation’s national conference for young professionals, last year. Alina Gerlovin Spaulding memorably spoke about how, without the work of the Federation, she would not have had the opportunity to lead the life she does today. Her father, an Olympic hopeful, nearly died after an injury. As Jews in the former Soviet Union, her family was persecuted. Refugees for months, they were relocated when Gerlovin Spaulding was just five years old. Donations helped save her father when he received medical care in the US. During a visit in which she returned to her hometown, Gerlovin Spaulding adopted a girl whose parents told her that she would not be able to accomplish her dreams if she stayed in Ukraine. Like Shelly, hearing this story brought me to tears. Reflecting on these experiences caused me to leave my first class thinking about the global impact of the Jewish Federation. The leadership opportunities that I have had locally have given me a new perspective on how the work being done here in D.C. has the ability to change the lives of Jews abroad. Through NeXus, I look forward to hearing their stories.




Run for a Founding Father and Support a Jewish Initiative

Headstone and grave of the matriarch of the Levy family, Rachel Levy. The plot is located on Monticello, but not in Jefferson family official burial plot.

Moses Goldwater is a community contributor to GTJ. The opinions in this piece are his own and do not represent a GTJ institutional stance.

On May 5, 2012, there is a 5K race on the Saunders-Monticello trail with all proceeds going to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation (TJF).  But where is the Saunders-Monticello trail you ask?  It is just outside of Charlottesville, VA (a three hour drive from DC) and runs up to the estate of Thomas Jefferson (if you have ever seen a nickel, you have seen a “picture” of Monticello before).

So what’s the Jewish connection?

There would be no Monticello today if it were not for the Jews, in particular US Navy Commodore Uriah P. Levy and his nephew Jefferson Monroe Levy.

Thomas Jefferson, like many of the founding fathers, lived beyond his means and died in debt.   To appease creditors, his heirs sold off the estate and much of its contents.  The subsequent owner did little to preserve the estate so, eight years after Thomas Jefferson died, the Levy family purchased the estate. Over the next 89 years, they did their best to refurbish it and recover Jefferson’s treasures.   (Monticello is now a National Historic Landmark and owned by the TJF.)

Whether you admire, question, or even know much of about the life of Thomas Jefferson, Monticello is a must-see.   Besides being the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States, Jefferson was, among other things, a self-taught architect, an inventor, a historian, and an avid book collector (in one corner of Monticello, you can see Jefferson’s multiple copies of Don Quixote in different languages).

The tour of Monticello pulls no punches; it acknowledges the children Jefferson fathered out of wedlock with his slaves, but it is only recently that the Levy family’s contribution was recognized.  So whether you are runner, a patriot, or just looking for an excuse to explore some of the vineyards in Central Virginia, a tour of Monticello is an excellent weekend trip made possible, in part, by the Levy family.

To sign up for the 5K, click here.


Inspiring those on and off the field – Myra Kraft (1942-2011)

The Patriots' jerseys honored Myra Kraft

On the heels of this past weekend’s Superbowl, DC resident David Isser finds a Jewish message tied to the New England Patriots.

This past summer, I traveled up to Boston for a celebration that took place in Temple Emanuel, a beautiful traditional temple located in Newton, MA. This was the same temple that Myra Kraft attended, and literally a week after my friend’s wedding, Myra Kraft’s funeral was held in the same chapel.

More than two thousand people attended the service and thousands more tuned in for the live podcast. The ceremony drew attention since many of the speakers were current and previous NFL players from the New England Patriots.  The obvious question was how and why many NFL players were so close with the owner’s wife.

Myra Kraft was an incredible Jewish woman who spent her entire life supporting foundations and charities across the world.  Myra specialized in raising awareness and helping many charitable organizations with their missions and she ran more than a dozen non-profits in Boston alone, including Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston. Her tenure as chairwoman of the Boys and Girls Clubs was so successful that the organization waived their term limit for her. She was known for going above and beyond to help needy children across the city.

Many people don’t know this, but prior to Bob Kraft buying the Patriots, Myra vehemently opposed the acquisition. Her reasoning was that an NFL team would not bring about any good to the world. Bob made an agreement with his wife. Their agreement was that she would allow his purchase of the team if she could require every player on the team to volunteer at charitable organizations. Bob purchased the team and Myra oversaw that every player was contributing. She even helped NFL players give back in their hometowns by helping establish charities across the US.

Myra had a zero tolerance policy for any criminal misconduct. The most famous story that comes to mind to highlight this took place in 1996 when Bob Kraft drafted Christian Peter in the first round. Christian Peter was an honorable mention All-American with stellar performances as a Nebraska Cornhusker all four years of college. Unfortunately, Christian Peter had also been convicted 7 times in 8 years for various crimes prior to being drafted by the Patriots. Only a week after being drafted, Peter verbally and physically abused a woman and was convicted yet again.

Instead of requiring him to go through therapy and overlooking his off-field issues, Myra Kraft personally demanded that the team cut all ties with Christian Peter regardless of his talents and his value to the team as an NFL player. Bob Kraft did not even give it a moment’s thought and this was the first time in NFL history that a first round pick was waived by his drafting team.

Myra Kraft believed in giving back to the community. She cared deeply for those who needed her help and in my personal opinion was a true shining light to the world. Even though football is generally viewed as a violent sport, Myra was able to see the good that football could bring to the world around her and has set up hundreds of charities revolving around football. Arthur Blank, another fellow Jewish NFL owner, said that both Bob and Myra have “given the perfect example for the rest of us.” I agree with him; they certainly have.

Finally, I would like to thank a very close friend of mine for helping me research some of the background information of Myra Kraft.  This person has asked to remain anonymous and I will honor that request.


Tu B’Shvat Fun Around DC

Oh, how I’ve missed Gather the Jews! I’ve spent the last couple weeks on hiatus in Israel, getting to know more DC-area Jews and readjusting to life since coming back. Similarly, many of you may be back from Birthright, or know someone who just went on a trip during this winter stint, and are craving some constant connectivity with Jews back at home now. (My group definitely bonded like Teflon and thankfully we’ve done an amazing job keeping our spirits up.)

We’re just in time for Tu B’Shvat, a very pleasant holiday to coincide with coming back to DC after a trip in Israel and for celebrating the new year of trees. There is no dearth of events going on to meet new people, see friendly faces, or bring along your own crew.

On Tuesday, Feb. 7, The Chesed Project is hosting a seder to benefit the reforestation efforts of the Jewish National Fund. With a suggested $10 donation to help plant trees in Israel, you’ll be able to join others in kosher wine, dried fruit, nuts and other tasty food. I hear it’ll be a great time.

Sixth & I is having a session on exploring spirituality through text, meditation and food in celebration of the Jewish New Year for trees. Food will be served, cost is $10. Find more details here.

Wednesday, Feb. 8 will be the big event at the Embassy of Israel. Their Tu B’Shvat party starts at 5:30 p.m., and is expected to be a sizable party for sure. The JCC’s site has important information on ticket purchases and security, so be sure to visit the site before heading over.

And looking to find another seder in the area?

Etz Chayim DC is partnering with local Jews and the Moishe House to host sederim. You can find locations in Adams Morgan, Takoma, Woodley Park, Rockville and Shepherd Park. This helpful Google document will help you find a seder, sign up, and prepare hosts for special dietary needs. So no excuses on not being able to find a seder and celebrating a great and environmentally responsible holiday!


Kosher Chicken Pot Pie

Sticking with the winter/comfort food theme, this week I took on chicken pot pie.  There are a lot of schools of thought on the crust for this (one or two, biscuit- or pie-style).  I adapted the Pillsbury recipe, which has two pie crusts.  A classic chicken pot pie filling is a white sauce, which usually includes milk.  I used soy milk for this.  Since the original recipe was a bit bland, I herbed it up a bit. This had the added benefit of masking the flavor of the soy milk.

Feel free to use fresh herbs if you’ve got them—use about three times as much as dried.

Total time: 1 hour 5 min.

Yield: 6 servings

Level: Moderate


© Courtney Weiner.  All Rights Reserved.


  • 2 non-dairy pie crusts
  • 1/3 cup parve margarine
  • 1/3 cup chopped onion
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼  tsp salt (or to taste)
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • ¼ tsp dried thyme
  • ¼ tsp dried rosemary
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 ¾ cups chicken broth
  • ½ cup soy milk
  • 2 ½ cups shredded cooked chicken (roasted/rotisserie is best)
  • 2 cups cooked vegetables or frozen mixed vegetables, thawed


Heat oven to 425°F. If pie crust is not already in a pan, place it in a glass 9” pie plate.

In 2-quart saucepan, melt margarine over medium heat.  Add onion; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender. Stir in flour, salt, pepper, and herbs until well blended. Gradually stir in broth and soy milk, cooking and stirring until bubbly and thickened.

Stir in chicken and mixed vegetables. Remove from heat. Spoon chicken mixture into crust-lined pan. Top with second crust; seal edge and flute or crimp with a fork. Cut slits in several places in top crust.

Place pie plate on a preheated cookie sheet and bake 30 to 40 minutes or until crust is golden brown.  During last 15 to 20 minutes of baking, cover crust edge with strips of foil to prevent excessive browning.  Let stand at least 5 minutes before serving.


More Than Just “All Talk”

I couldn’t have been more excited to learn about the plans for a new HBO comedy in the works entitled “All Talk”? The show will reportedly be based on the daily dramas of a Jewish family living in Washington, DC, and will star Ben Stiller, who is also the executive producer and director.  As if this were not exciting news enough, the show’s pilot was written by acclaimed writer Jonathan Safran Foer, who is originally from Washington, D.C., and whose mother, Esther Safran Foer,  is currently the executive director of our very own Sixth and I Historic Synagogue.  A perfect storm of awesome?  I certainly think so.  To be sure you’re with me on this, I will break this project down into its constituent parts (of awesomeness).

Ben Stiller

We all have a special place in our hearts for Ben Stiller, possibly for different reasons – for me it wasn’t Zoolander as much as it was Keeping the Faith, a 2000 rom-com about a love triangle between two childhood best friends who grew up to be a priest and a rabbi, and the non-Jewish girl that they both fall in love with.

Sometimes when I’m at a Friday night Shabbat service and the rabbi says “Shabbat Shalom” to the congregation and solicits an enthusiastic response, I still think of Anne Bancroft, mother of Stiller’s rabbi character in the movie, yelling out a supportive “Sha-bat Sha-lom!” to a near-empty synagogue.  The point is, in the film, Stiller played a young, hot (yeah, I said it), hilarious, up-and-coming rabbi, and I look forward to seeing what he can do playing a Jew in Washington, D.C.

Jonathan Safran Foer

I’m biased, because Jonathan Safran Foer – or, JSF as some adoring fans often refer to him – is one of my favorite authors.  If you haven’t read Everything is Illuminated, a powerful tale that ties together the history of one young man’s Jewish ancestors and his own personal quest for understanding, clear your calendar for the rest of the afternoon and read it post-haste.

Safran Foer also offered a frank and honest look at the factory farming meat industry, sharing his own personal journey toward ultimate vegetarianism in his non-fiction work Eating Animals. I found his personal struggle to reconcile the traditional, familial and religious ties to eating meat with his own moral tensions, and his coming to terms with why we eat what we eat to be extremely relatable.  Personally, the book set the ball rolling on what eventually became my decision to become completely vegetarian.  The point is, regardless of what you eat, the man is a good writer.

Additionally, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Safran Foer’s other well-known fiction work, is on my nightstand, but the reasons I haven’t finished it yet have more to do with my own tendency to over-commit myself than how great the book is.  The story is a wonderful, smart, sometimes humorous, sometimes sad, often poignant journey of a young boy trying to cope with his father’s death on 9/11, which you can easily find yourself lost in.  The movie of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close actually came out recently as well (though clearly I have to finish the book first).

Jonathan Safran Foer has gifted us with some brilliant and diverse works to date, and I look forward to seeing what he can do with the script for “All Talk.”  Having grown up in Washington, D.C. as part of a local Jewish family, it’s easy to imagine the role that his own upbringing will play in the comedy that he has created.

The Plot

I’m intrigued by what this show – labeled as “politically, religiously, culturally, intellectually and sexually irreverent,” is really going to be about.  I don’t think that there has been much of a window into the life of DC’s Jewish families.  Having lived in our precious District for a substantial chunk of my 20s, I like to think I’ve gotten a sense of its various flavors and communities.  But clearly the Jewish life that I am and have been involved with is very different from the circles that Jewish families run in.  I know about Jewish Rockville, I know about Jewish Silver Spring, and I see the families at Adas Israel congregation on the high holidays, but I don’t know what growing up as a Jew in Washington, D.C., or having a family here, is really about.

We might have to wait a little while to find out, since the show is not supposed to begin shooting until this fall (and apparently will not actually be shot in D.C.).

All in all, I at least am hoping that this perfect storm of awesome won’t just be “All Talk,” and will come through as a great new comedy.  Personally, I can’t wait for the Jewish jokes, and to see what my men Stiller and Safran Foer have in store. Maybe it’s time to get HBO?


Faith That Can Split the Sea

The portion of the Torah read this Shabbat is Parshat Beshalach. In this famous parsha, the Jewish people witness the miracle of the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. The Jewish people have just left Egypt. They are newly freed slaves who have hurriedly fled from the land of their former captors following Moshe (Moses) and Aharon into the desert wilderness. Suddenly they encounter an obstacle in the form of a body of water that prevents them from moving forward. The fear of their former masters still fresh, the Israelites fly into a panic when they notice that approaching them from behind is the army of Egypt with Pharaoh at its head. The Torah tells us that at this terrifying moment “the Children of Israel cried out to Hashem” (Shemot/Exodus 14:10).

What follows is quite a strange. While the Jewish people prayed, Moshe urged them not to fear. The Torah then says: “G-d said to Moshe, ‘Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the Children of Israel and let them journey forth!’” (Shemot 14:15). The great Medieval Torah commentator, Rashi (1040-1105 BCE) explains that Moshe too was in fact praying. Here, G-d was telling Moshe that “Now, when Israel is in distress, is no time for lengthy prayer.”[1]

The response from G-d to the people’s prayer is strange. Isn’t prayer the proper thing to do when faced with a crisis? The Or HaChaim deals with this problem by explaining that G-d only exercises His attribute of mercy when the victims have at least some degree of merit. However, at the sea, the Attribute of Justice argued that the Jews worshiped idols in Egypt and were thus no better than the Egyptians. Therefore, it was unjust of G-d to save the Jewish people and then punish the Egyptians. Because the Jews were in fact guilty of the sin of idolatry, they lacked the merit needed for their prayer to be effective. This is why G-d commanded that they stop praying and instead demonstrate their readiness to put their lives in danger in obedience to G-d by plunging into the water. This display of faith earned them the miracle of the Splitting of the Sea. [2]

The Midrash teaches us that the Jewish people hesitated to move forward. Suddenly, a man named Nachshon, son of Aminadav from the tribe of Yehuda bravely walked into the sea. He waded into the water until the water reached his nostrils.[3] Only then did the Sea of Reeds part and the rest of the Israelites followed after him. There are many explanations as to why the sea split for the Jewish people. However, an interesting question is not why the waters parted, but why the waters waited until Nachshon nearly drowned for the miracle to occur?

The answer, says Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, is because the waters were waiting for the Jewish people to express their faith through action.[4] The Jews cried out to G-d which is surely an expression of faith. However, believing is not enough. What was needed for the miracle to occur was not faith alone, but an external demonstration of that faith.

Chassidic teachings relay that faith is a natural quality of the soul. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812) wrote that every single Jew has an inherent faith in G-d. It simply needs to be revealed. However, G-d is not satisfied with concealed inner faith and He sends us challenges in order that we might bring it forth. One’s faith in G-d cannot impact the world until it is physically expressed in action.[5] The waters waited for our ancestors to express their faith in concrete action before it would split for them.

Many of us want to increase our observance of Judaism and deepen our connection with G-d. However, often we encounter obstacles that seem daunting and we become too paralyzed with fear to move foward. We might want to observe Shabbat, but we worry about how it will affect our careers or social lives. We wish to start wrapping tefillin, but we fear we won’t have the time to commit to it. We want to keep kosher, but we worry that we won’t find places to eat.

Many of us want to progress in our Jewish learning and living, but there is an inner voice telling us we won’t be able to do it. We may believe in G-d and His Torah, but we’re held back by fear of what our friends and family will think and concerns that we will be ‘missing out’ on something if we take on another mitzvah. The only way to get past those fears is to move forward and take on the mitzvah the way Nachshon strode into the sea. We must trust that if we want to do the mitzvah, G-d will enable us to do it. If we take the plunge, G-d will not let us drown. On the contrary, He will split the sea and allow us to walk on dry land all the way to the Promised Land.

[1] The Stone Edition Chumash, 81

[2] Ibid.

[3] Split Your Sea by Laze Gurkow

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.


Apple’s new Mac OS X Lion Update Includes Hebrew Support

The Apple Menu and Safari's menu bar in Hebrew

The Apple Menu and Safari's menu bar in Hebrew

Yesterday, Apple Inc. released a minor update numbered 10.7.3 to Mac OS X Lion that included one major feature for Israelis and Jews: Hebrew support.

Mac OS X had previously included robust Hebrew text entry support in the Finder file browser and most applications (Microsoft Office applications being notable exceptions), but the OS has generally lacked translations for menus, dialog boxes, and other interface elements.

Our tests have shown that in addition to translations of Finder text, there is now a Hebrew dictionary, better right-to-left support, and translations of major Apple default applications like Preview, Safari, and Address Book. Other applications like Mail and iTunes have yet to receive translations.

To turn on Hebrew translations or change other language settings, head to System Preferences, and click on “Language and Text”. Then drag Hebrew to be first in the priority of languages. The settings change takes effect for newly-opened applications and for the Finder after logging out and logging back in.

In addition to Hebrew translations, the new OS update includes new support for Catalan, Croatian, Greek, Romanian, Slovak, Thai, and Ukrainian languages. For more on the update, see Apple’s web site.

Settings, in Hebrew

Reordering Hebrew to be first priority

Reordering Hebrew to be first priority


Mapping out the regular Shabbat services

I recently had lunch with Rabbi Aaron Miller of Washington Hebrew Congregation to discuss GTJ and his exciting new initiatives, including Metro Minyan.

This got us talking about the amazing number of regular Shabbat opportunities for young professionals in DC.

I thought it might help to have this little cheat sheet on the different weeks.

Head to for the latest.






Tu B’Shevat Seder and Fundraiser

Wine. Trees. Israel. Each is awesome in its own way, but together? You have yourself the awesome experience known as a Tu B’Shevat  seder.

The Chesed Project is hosting a seder, to raise money for the Jewish National Fund to plant trees in Israel.

You might find yourself thinking – I like wine, but what is Tu B’shevat, why a seder (and I hope we don’t have to eat matzah). Basically, Tu B’shevat is the 15th of the month of Shevat, and it is new years day for trees in Israel, which is important for agricultural mitzvahs. In the 16th century the great Kabbalist the Ari (the same guy who wrote The Zohar), instituted seders, which offer a unique way for self reflection and personal growth.

We’ll be eating tree fruits and nuts, especially those grown in Israel, and exploring them as metaphors for people and our interaction with the planet. And did I mention 4 cups of wine? (Grape juice will also be available.)

The event will be Tuesday February 7th at 7pm at The Flats 2000 N St NW, in the party room. The seder will start at 7:30 promptly and last for about an hour. We are asking for a $10 suggested donation for each person. All money will be donated to the JNF. Please RSVP by Friday Feb 3, either by email or on our Facebook event page.

We are depending on the kindness of others to help provide the wine (4 cups per person!) and other things for the event, it’s just too expensive for us to provide everything ourselves. If you are interested in donating to help make our event as successful as possible, please contact Samantha at: samantha dot hulkower at gmail dot com. All donors will be acknowledged by name at the seder, or anonymously, if they prefer.

Hope to see you there!



Ridiculous Deal-Breakers – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (week 27)

I can’t say I love Patti Stanger’s advice on everything (and I certainly don’t try to emulate her demeanor), but once in a while she shares a nugget of information that I actually agree with.   This time it has to do with non-negotiables and deal-breakers.  Patti tells her clients to limit their non-negotiables to five things that they either can’t live with or can’t live without.  I don’t know if five is the magic number, or if there is a magic number at all, but having a long laundry list of a dozen “must haves” will inevitably doom your search for Mr. or Ms. Perfect.  In reality, no one is perfect, so it’s important to know what you can bend on.

Being an online dating consultant and dating coach, I hear them all: I don’t want a guy under 5’11.  She must weigh less than 120 pounds.  If he owns a cat, forget about it.  If she likes to play board games, she must be a nerd.  He puts Splenda in his coffee – that’s so girly.  She’s never been outside the US, so she must not have any idea about other cultures.  I can’t go out with him if he has the dry cleaner crease in his shirt.  She’s older than I am – it’s just a month, but I can’t date an older woman.  He does this weird thing where he wiggles one ear when he’s nervous.  The list goes on and on.

What’s really important in life?  When I did online dating to try to meet the man of my dreams, I had two main non-negotiables: intelligence and religion.  I knew that I wanted someone to be smart – really smart.  Not that I’m Einstein or anything, but I’d dated people who weren’t as intellectually stimulating as I had wanted, and it bothered me.  As for religion, I am Jewish.  I’m not terribly religious, and I’m more culturally Jewish than anything else (I make a heck of a matzah ball soup), but it was the common background that I craved.  Again, I’d dated someone who was not Jewish, and I learned that it was something I couldn’t compromise on again.  Nothing else seemed as important except for some age boundaries and physical attraction.  And the latter one is so hard to tell until you meet in person.

Once you get into a relationship, people seem to have a whole other list of deal-breakers.  Sure, this person has passed the non-negotiable test, but now he or she does something that drives you so crazy that you’re not sure you can live with it.  A common one is when guys leave the toilet seat up.  Is it gross?  Yes.  Is it annoying?  Double yes.  But is it a deal-breaker?  I had to laugh when a friend of mine, who just moved in with her boyfriend, wrote to me recently, “Oh, and get used to having the toilet seat left up (lol!).  I know many girls complain about it, but it really doesn’t bug me.  I think guys are just programmed to do it without even thinking.”  She got over this so-called deal-breaker, and so can you.  (Plus, this is one that can be fixed, given enough time.)  With the right person, even a simple, “Sweetie, it bothers me a little when you [insert annoying habit here],” might do the trick.

In the end, what’s most important is how someone treats you.  Is he or she kind, generous, and giving?  How about trustworthy and honest?  That’s what matters in life.  So, take your laundry list of deal-breakers and put it in the spin-cycle to disintegrate.  Think about the few things that really matter to you and stick to those.  Beyond that, throw caution to the wind, and date lots of people until you find that one who makes you happy, whether he leaves the toilet seat up or not.

Erika Ettin is the Founder of A Little Nudge, where she offers services from online dating profile-writing to e-mailing potential matches to planning dates. An archive of all of Erika’s columns is also available. Want to connect with Erika? Join her newsletter for updates and tips.

Got burning questions you want answered in a future post? E-mail


The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and Sixth & I are hiring!

The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and Sixth & I hiring!   Take a look at the jobs below, and be sure to post/review other job descriptions on our JOB BOARD.


Sixth & I — Development Assistant


Jewish Federation of Greater Washington

Contact with questions about the below position.



Position          :           Birthright Israel NEXT DC Professional
Department   :           Financial Resource Development (FRD)
Reports To      :           Young Leadership Director
Date                :           February 2012


Organizational Vision, Mission and Function:
The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington is a non-profit philanthropic organization dedicated to creating a vibrant and purposeful Jewish community.  The Jewish Federation inspires, connects, educates and supports. The Federation’s primary functions are community planning and allocations, financial resource development, and leadership development.


Birthright Israel NEXT DC is dedicated to fostering an ongoing relationship among the more than 11,000 alumni in the Greater Washington area. Based on a vision to further Jewish causes and support for Israel, Birthright Israel NEXT DC allows participants and their peers to stay connected with one another, meet new friends, continue their Israel experience and explore what the Washington Jewish Community has to offer.


The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington coordinates Birthright Israel NEXT DC events and serves all alumni regardless of trip date and trip provider.


Position Overview:

A strategic team-player, the Birthright Israel NEXT DC Professional works with Birthright Israel alumni and their peers to engage their interests and help connect them to the DC-area Jewish community upon their return from Israel.


The NEXT DC Professional is responsible for overseeing strategic initiatives to engage these young adults in the work of The Jewish Federation and/or other organizations in the community where their interests lay. The Professional will be responsible for programming, volunteer management, leadership development, community engagement and recruitment.


Specific Responsibilities:

  • Outreach to young adults in their 20s and 30s
  • Organize Taglit-Birthright Israel Orientation for any post-college participant in the DC area
  • Staff the Taglit-Birthright Israel: DC Community Trips and begin making connections with participants from the DC community while in Israel to help foster their involvement and engagement upon their return
  • Cultivate personal relationships with alumni, mentoring them on Jewish communal life
  • Connect alumni to relevant local, regional and national activities to help cultivate their interests
  • Work with the local Alumni Advisory Committee
  • Foster existing partnerships with organizations in the community who cater to young adults, i.e. EntryPointDC of the Washington DCJCC and Sixth & I
  • Connect alumni and their peers to the work of The Jewish Federation in an effort to develop their philanthropic, volunteer and/or professional niche
  • Plan events to connect participants to each-other and the Jewish community
  • Follow up interviews and subsequent mini-reunions and events that tags onto already existing Federation and community events
  • Manage website and online communications.



  • Intimate knowledge of and passion for the Jewish community, its customs and practices
  • Experience in event coordination and planning
  • Experience with volunteer engagement
  • Deep and growing connections in the Greater Washington area across Jewish professional lines
  • A passion for engaging people
  • Exceptional organization and communication skills (both written and oral) with proficiency in English grammar and usage
  • Ability to develop relationships and work with a diverse population
  • Ability to work productively with minimal supervision
  • Ability to manage multiple tasks and short deadlines
  • Proficiency in Microsoft Word, Outlook and Excel
  • Ability to work on a variety of projects simultaneously; seeming them from concept through execution


Education and Experience:

  • Bachelor’s degree required
  • 2-5 years of related experience



The state of GTJ at 100 weeks

Aaron sends me about 10 emails every day.  But one in particular caused me pause yesterday:  a copy of our very first Gather the Jews newsletter.

  • It didn’t have a full listing of Shabbat dinners.
  • It didn’t have original articles on the DC Jewish community.
  • It didn’t have a long list of awesome DC Jewish events.
  • And it didn’t have the picture of a new Jewish Guy and Girl of the Week.
We’ve come a long way in 100 weeks.  Since March 1, 2010, Gather the Jews has:
  • Grown our weekly newsletter from 75 subscribers to 2,700 subscribers.
  • Received 187,125 visits to our website.
  • Welcomed 96,894 unique visitors.
  • Amassed 469,535 page views.
  • Written 1,003 blog posts.
  • Featured over 75 Jewish guys.
  • Featured over 75 Jewish girls.
  • Hosted 9 public events for over 1,600 guests.
  • Promoted the events of over 60 different Jewish organizations.
  • Found jobs for over 15 community members.
  • Found boyfriends/girlfriends for over 10 community members.
In short, the state of the GTJ union is good.  And we plan to keep it that way.
So thanks for reading, and thanks for being part of a vibrant DC Jewish community.

If you wish to help Gather the Jews, please consider either:

  1. Writing us a letter telling us what we’re doing well, poorly, or what you might suggest.
  2. Consider joining the GTJ staff (meeting this Sunday). 
  3. Consider making a donation to GTJ. 
Again, thanks, and here’s to another 100 weeks of GTJ!
President, Co-Founder
Gather the Jews

Other GTJ resources


A New Reform Minyan Joins the DC Scene

DC has one of the largest young professional communities in the country, but unless someone is comfortable with traditional prayer servicesor being the youngest person in the congregation (besides the bar mitzvah boy), there isn’t much for this age group.  There are plenty of local minyanim that cater to Orthodox and Conservative Jews (DC Minyan, Adas Israel’s Shir Delight, Tikkun Leil Shabbat, 6th St. Minyan, Mesorah DC, Downtown Shabbat, just to name a few), but for the 76% of DC’s younger adults who identify as “Reform,” there are few age-appropriate options.

Yes, Sixth & I offers a 6th in the City service once a month featuring Rick Recht, Temple Micah organizes small Shabbat meals in people’s homes, and TLS hosts some minyanim with instruments, but Metro Minyan brings something much-needed and new to the DC Reform scene.

The Idea

Metro Minyan is Washington Hebrew Congregation’s avenue to provide DC’s young professional Jewish community with an informal, musical, come-as-you-are Shabbat experience. Once a month, Metro Minyan will get together for a Shabbat service and dinner in different places along DC’s Metro. The organizers originally envisioned thirty to forty young Jews coming together in small community settings. After running a pilot a few months ago at WHC, which drew over 60 people (despite participants needing a car to get here), they knew they were on to something. This past Friday confirmed that, big time.

The Launch

The first Metro Minyan drew over 140 people. The service was geared toward all Jewish backgrounds, using familiar melodies from niggunim to Jewish summer camp favorites with guitar to traditional Hebrew chanting. Following kiddush and motzi over challah, participants lined up for dinner and dessert provided by New Course Catering, a non-profit catering company that provides chronically unemployed people with restaurant and catering skills. The night ended with a rousing birchat ha’mazon, and people socialized for over an hour before getting back on the Metro to continue their night with friends.

“Metro Minyan was a great occasion to get together with friends and celebrate Shabbos,” said participant David Michaelson. “Rabbi Miller’s enthusiasm and excitement about Metro Minyan, particularly the huge turnout and exciting prospects, were contagious. It was also nice to bring the Jewish community to a
part of DC that does not usually host a congregation or services.”

The Future of Metro Minyan

The next Metro Minyan will take place on February 17.  Needless to say, the folks at WHC are getting excited.

“We never imagined Metro Minyan would generate so much enthusiasm so quickly,” said Rabbi Aaron Miller. “Now we are recalibrating how we might grow the model into something bigger without Metro Minyan becoming “too big.” Over time, we hope to train and empower the community’s 20’s and 30′s leadership to host and lead their own services. On months between our large gatherings, these service leaders will be able to lead Metro Minyanim in peoples’ homes and apartment buildings on each of DC’s Metro lines. This will not only foster a smaller, more intimate feeling, but encourage these lay leaders to invite their friends to support them as they help bring an ever-growing circle of participants into the Metro Minyan community.”

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