Be the Match, Save a Life at the GTJ April Happy Hour

be the matchBe the Match will be having a stem cell and bone marrow registry drive at the Gather the Jews April Happy Hour on April 29th. For more information, check out the registry drive Facebook Event.

My father was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) three days before New Years in 2009. Instead of embarking on my planned trip to Vegas, we checked my father into the hospital the very next day to begin treatment.  We were told that his cancer was progressing quickly and the only way to save his life was by finding a match to donate adult stem cells.  We had one year to do so before the cancer would spread beyond treatment.

Finding a match is not an easy task considering that the odds are that 1 in 20,000 will be a match. Every year, more than 12,000 patients in the US are diagnosed with life threatening diseases such as leukemia or lymphoma and about70% of those patients will not find a match in their family. My dad’s three sisters were tested, but none of them were a match.  The next step was to search the registry.  In 2010, my family hosted over ten drives which added hundreds of new potential donors to the registry.  Two of those drives found matches for two people which saved their lives and kept their families together.

What is the cost to the donor for saving a life?

All medical costs for the donation procedure are covered by the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP), which operates the Be The Match Registry, or by the patient’s medical insurance, as are travel expenses and other non-medical costs.  Many people are hesitant to join the registry because of the possible discomfort of contributing bone marrow.  During the procedure the donor is given anesthesia and in most cases returns home that day or the very next morning.  Furthermore, side effects are limited to discomfort for up to a few weeks. Stem cell transplants do not involve being put under anesthesia and donors usually report less discomfort. In addition, the discomfort you may feel will be little in comparison to the discomfort a family would feel losing a loved one.  To read more regarding procedures please visit

Hosting a drive this time of year is particularly special for me.  In March of 2010, right before Passover, we got news that my father’s life would be saved.  We had found a match in Israel!  The Stem Cells were collected in Israel and flown into the US. The donor was a young man at the time 23 years old who did not hesitate to donate the moment he found out he was a match. In May of this year, I will be going home to California to meet the young man who saved my father’s life.  An interesting fact, Israel is the largest contributor of stem cells and bone marrow in the world.

I am now urging all of you to be courageous and join the registry with the hopes that you can bring joy back to a family like mine.  On April 29th, at the Gather the Jews Happy hour we will be hosting a drive. The process will take 10-15 minutes. It involves filling out a form and conducting a check swab which you do yourself.  Help save a life.


Why We Need a Maharat

Germany's Biggest Synagogue ReopensOn the last day of Pesach it is a custom to recite Yizkor, the prayer in which we remember our loved ones. One of the many great challenges of life is how to remain connected to our loved ones without stunting our own growth. How do we always keep our loved ones in our hearts and minds and yet still live our life with freshness and excitement, with joy and renewal?

This challenge is very much an individual challenge but it is also a communal challenge. We are an Orthodox community. This means we live for tradition. Our faith is predicated on our link to our ancestors.

How many Orthodox rabbis does it take to change a light bulb? Change???

We are adverse to change because we know that our tradition is our strongest teaching and tradition is our brightest light through the darkness of life.

Yet, if we are too connected to the past we run the very real danger of stultifying our lives and hindering our spirituality. If we are wrapped in the past we run the risk of losing our future.

How do we balance this difficult tension between a slavish commitment to tradition and a need to embrace the present and the future?

I saw a beautiful teaching about the Haftorah for the last day of Pesach from Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, the Chancellor of Yeshiva University. This teaching encapsulated what I was feeling and I thought it appropriate to share with everyone.

The Haftorah for the last day of Pesach comes from the prophecy of Yeshaya. It is a messianic vision where he imagines what the world can be one day. It is most famous for its irenic imagery and utopian vision: “Ve-gar ze’ev im keves, A wolf shall live with a lamb, and a calf and a lion cub and a fatling shall lie together, and a small child shall lead them…and a lion like a cattle shall eat straw” (Isaiah 11:6-7).

Rabbi Lamm focuses on a different verse from the Haftorah:

“Ve-hayah ba-yom ha-hu yosif Hashem shenit yado liknot et she’ar ammo, And it shall be on that day that Hashem shall set His hand again for a second time to recover the remnant of the people” (Is. 11: 11).

Yeshaya is speaking about the she’ar ammo, literally translated as the “remnants of the people”, who are specifically being redeemed by Hashem. But the Zohar adds an additional meaning to the literal meaning.

The Zohar (Beshalach) says that this phrase refers to tzadikim, the righteous people of the world: “The world exists only by virtue of those who regard themselves as remnants (shirayim).”

Why are tzadikim called remnants? Here is the explanation of Rabbi Lamm. (Found in Festivals of Faith 238-240.)

“The truly righteous consider themselves shirayim in the sense of being “creative remnants.” For shirayim have yet another function, perhaps inappropriate to the festival of Passover, but possibly excusable on this eighth day of the holiday, when we make the transition to a weekday…. The baker would take the remnant of one batch of dough and use it to sour the new batter, to initiate new fermentation…. So that shirayim are those remnants which create new and healthy loaves. The tzaddikim, therefore symbolize a past that is great and glorious, but without the self-deprecation suggested by the term “left-overs,” and without the pessimism implied by the word “relics.” Rather, they regard themselves as the ferment that will re-create past glory in the present and transmit its creative leavening into the future.”

Some people consider the past to be best left in the past and visited in museums on occasions. For others they yearn to live in the past. They try to wear the same clothing that their ancestors wore and speak the same language, simply because their ancestors spoke it. But Rabbi Lamm argues for a third approach:

“We who are loyal to Torah may today be numerically only a remnant, but we must remain a creative remnant. Ours is the duty of bringing the ferment of the past into the present in order to re-create a great future which will rival the past…. Those who ignore the new world cannot hope to influence it…. It is we who refuse to close our eyes to new conditions and new problems and new currents, and yet are determined to remain utterly loyal to the Jewish tradition and the greatness of the past without compromise—it is we who have the God-given opportunity to become the shirayim, the creative remnant that will ferment the batter of the present with the blessings of the past in order to create a better future.”

Rabbi Lamm wrote these words in 1966. But this approach of Rabbi Lamm was something that I heard from him in one form or another when I was a student at Yeshiva University.

Without creativity the world cannot continue to exist. Without creativity spirituality can also not exist.

Pesach is the tension between the slavish commitment to tradition and to transforming that tradition into a new and exciting future.

The holiday of Pesach is all about remembering the Exodus—zecher yetziat mitzrayim. But the Exodus story begins with the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh. This is the reading that speaks of the first day of Pesach. “Hachodesh hazeh lachem” (Exodus 12:1). “This month shall be for you the beginning of all months.”

Chodesh is basically the same word as chadash, newness. In order for our faith to succeed there has to be a freshness connected to an ancient heritage.

This is not an easy tension to navigate, but it is the mandate that we have.

Bechol dor vedor chayav adam lirot et atsmo ke-ilu hu yatzah mi-mitzrayim. We say in the Haggadah that every generation has to look at themselves as though they left Egypt.

This means that every generation has a unique challenge to struggle with and navigate. It is not only every generation but also every community and every congregation. No two communities are alike, and no two congregations are alike.

For many people in our congregation the challenge today to their orthodoxy and their commitment rests upon the inclusion of the role of women in a traditional, spiritual environment.

For some the texts of our rabbis and our halakhah are overwhelmingly beautiful and meaningful but sometimes fall short in areas that discuss women and rituals.

Let’s take an example from a mitzvah that we are all involved in today.

In our shul the women all have the custom of counting the Omer. We teach our boys and our girls to count the date of the Omer before going to sleep. We even give them their own personalized Omer Counters.

But this is how the great Chofetz Chayim rules in his classic work, Mishnah Berurah. The Mishnah Berurah was published in the early twentieth century and is the primary source of halakhah for Orthodox Jews. He states (489:3):

“Women are exempt from the mitzvah since it is a time-bound positive commandment. And Magen Avraham writes: ‘and they have accepted it upon themselves as an obligation.’ And it seems to me that in our areas the women do not have the practice to count at all. And the work Shulchan Shlomoh writes that in any event women should not make a blessing when counting, for they will certainly make a mistake when counting and also most of them do not understand the meaning of the words.”

Our challenge is to show respect and commitment to the Mishnah Berurah but also to make clear that this opinion does not reflect the reality of our own congregation. Many women in our own world have a better chance of not making a mistake than certain men, and many women understand the meaning of the blessings more than the men do. It is for this reason that in our congregation we choose to rely on the opinion of others, like Aruch Hashulchan (489:4), who encourages women to count the Omer with a blessing.

The Mishnah Berurah is a great work. We need to recognize that every single day of our lives. But we also need to recognize when the facts on which he bases his opinion are no longer applicable, and when there are other great authorities who argue with his legal ruling, so that we can adjust accordingly for our congregation.

In this context I want to share with you what our congregation is doing this coming Shabbat, why we are doing it, and what we are hoping to accomplish.

This coming Shabbat, our congregation is hosting a Maharat to explore the possibility of our hiring a Maharat to serve the shul in a spiritual capacity.

What is a Maharat? A Maharat is a graduate of a new institution that will be graduating three students in their first graduating class this May. Here is a description from their website (

Yeshivat Maharat is the first institution to train Orthodox women as spiritual leaders and halakhic authorities…. Through a rigorous curriculum of Talmud, halakhic decision-making (psak), pastoral counseling, leadership development, and internship experiences, our graduates will be prepared to assume the responsibility and authority to be poskot (legal arbiters) for the community. Maharat is a Hebrew acronym for Manhiga Hilkhatit Rukhanit Toranit, one who is teacher of Jewish law and spirituality.

A Maharat is not a female rabbi. It is a new concept – a new type of spiritual leader for our time. A Maharat recognizes that there is a need for female spiritual leadership in Orthodox synagogues. A Maharat undergoes the same training as rabbis do, but she is uniquely situated to help not only men, but also women. In my opinion a Maharat can only enhance our community as she serves as a role model to our girls, and our boys, and our women and our men, and shows us that Orthodoxy is about that imagery of shirayim: clinging to the past but forging a new future.

Our decision to consider a Maharat for our congregation comes after the issue was raised by women and men in our shul and was discussed with the lay leadership of our shul.

A Maharat is on the one hand a role that is forging new ground and on the other hand it is entirely consistent with our tradition. In this respect it is rooted in the past but looking towards the future.

I don’t see our shul hiring a Maharat as breaking any new Halakhic ground; but I do see it as forging a new public policy path.

It breaks new ground in some respects because although there have been women scholars in leadership roles in other congregations they were either 1) very limited in scope (like yoetzet halakhah, women who are experts on matters of Niddah); or 2)very clearly non-rabbinic roles, like experts on adult education.  What the Maharat adds is the fact that she has gone through the same institutional training and curriculum that a rabbi goes through.  This qualifies her in many ways in the same way a rabbi is qualified to teach, counsel, and provide Halakhic rulings.

In many ways, the Maharat is continuing a strong tradition of having a female spiritual leadership role in the community. This role was sometimes traditionally filled by a Rebbetzin, who in the past was able and willing to transmit the Mesorah that she received from her parents who themselves were often great Torah scholars. The traditional Rebbetzin was – and still is in some communities — often a resource for the community, teaching Torah on a daily basis, even if not always in classroom settings. To my mind, the Maharat should not be a resource for women only. It is my hope that she will become a resource for both men and women in the same way that many congregations have more than one clergy member who can inspire different members of the community in their own unique way.

I don’t view a Maharat as a rabbi because I don’t think it is necessary or appropriate for women to have the same roles as men.

I want to be clear: Halakhah is not egalitarian. There are many overlapping roles, but there are also particular areas where there are clear distinctions between men and women.  Women are unique and have unique spiritual skills.  I see a new path for women’s spiritual leadership in the Orthodox community.  The Maharat, for example, will be limited in some areas and not be able to fulfill some of the traditional roles of an Orthodox rabbi: e.g. reciting certain berachot and leading the congregation in prayers which Halakhah requires a man to lead.  In other areas a Maharat will have natural advantages. A Maharat by virtue of her feminine perspective will bring a unique approach to spiritual leadership. Can you imagine if the Mishnah Berurah’s daughter was a Maharat? Would he have written that women do not understand the words of the blessings? Can you imagine if the Mishnah Berurah itself was written by a Maharat? Would it contain the sentence that women cannot be trusted to complete the full 49 day count?

Additionally, there are Halakhic barriers that hinder an Orthodox rabbi’s ability to connect spiritually with a female congregant. For example, it is not appropriate for a rabbi to embrace a female congregant at a Shiva home or dance with her at a wedding or even study Torah together in a chavruta. And of course, only a Maharat, and not a rabbi, can be fully present when a female convert immerses in the mikvah. There is a gap in our spiritual community which can be filled by a Maharat. I suggest we focus on the uniqueness of the new path that she will be forging and not expect the Maharat role to mimic the rabbinate.

We can draw inspiration from that same prophetic vision of Yeshaya that we cited earlier.

The Haftorah for the eighth day of Pesach begins with the verse, “Od hayom benov yaamod, Still today he is standing in Nov; he waves his hand toward the Mountain of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem.”

The rabbis explain that this verse is a reference to Sancheirev, the king of Assyria. He came to the city of Nov and he was told that if he attacked that day he would be victorious. But when he got there he was lackadaisical. Od hayom. Sancheirev thinks, there is still time to stand in Nov. He didn’t seize the moment. He stood there and merely waved his hand. And so he lost his opportunity. He has to retreat in defeat.

We must embrace the moment and not take a lackadaisical approach to life.

Yeshaya continues and declares that on that day (Isaiah 11:12):
Veasaf nidchei Yisrael, unefutzot Yehudah yikabetz mei-arbah kanfot ha-aretz, He shall gather the lost of Israel, and the scattered ones of Judah, He shall gather from the four corners of the earth.

This is the vision of Isaiah. It is a vision of reaching out and bringing in all the Jews who are scattered around the corners of the earth. To do this we cannot be lackadaisical. We need to be aggressive and creative. We need to be inspirational and rooted in tradition. And we need all the help we can get. A Maharat can only help our community in this mission.

Shmuel Herzfeld is Rabbi of Ohev Sholom, an Orthodox synagogue in Washington D.C. He can be reached via and


GTJ Satirist Brian F. – 13 Thoughts That Will Make You Feel Old at a Bar/Bat Mitzvah in 2013

batmWASHINGTON, DC – (@The Comedy News)  Going to a bar or bat Mitzvah this year?  The kid reading from the Torah was likely born in the year 2000 or 2001.  To put that into perspective, here are 13 thoughts you might have that will make you feel a bit old and grizzled:

1. “Those sexy dancers and shiny-vest DJs I fawned over at my friends’ bar/bat mitzvahs?  They’re approaching 40.”

2. “The bar/bat mitzvah kid never practiced their Haftorah using a tape recorder—they haven’t even heard of one.”

3. “‘Gangnam Style’, ‘Dougie’, ‘Crank That Soulja Boy’?  In my day, we did ‘The Macarana’, ‘The Electric Slide’, and ‘Achy Breaky Heart’.”

4. “If I were that kid’s parent, I would never let them wear those skimpy sequined hotpants.”

5. “Titanic had already been released for 3 years by time the bar/bat Mitzvah kid was born.”

6. “It will be the year 2024 by time the bar/bat Mitzvah kid graduates college.  And it will cost $200,000 per year just for public school.”

7. “None of the kids can remember the release of any of the Harry Potter books.”

8. “YouTube video invitations?  I remember trying to pick out the coolest postage stamps for my invitations.”

9. “I don’t have a single digital photo from my bar/bat mitzvah.  All of mine are printed in photo albums.”

10. “When the bar/bat Mitzvah kid was born, Bill Clinton was just leaving the White House and Ariel Sharon had just taken power in Israel.”

11. “I’m tired and sick of talking about my job.  I need to get home to feed my cats.”

12. “Are the people at my table talking about Bed Bath and Beyond?  I should tell them that I’ll be there too on Sunday, shopping for lamps.”

13. “Oh wait I know this song!  Madonna!  Aw dammit, it was just a 30-second snippet in some crappy Skrillex dubstep remix.  I wish they would turn the volume down.”

Brian Fishbach is a comedian, writer, political satirist, former GTJ JGOTW, and musician specializing in social and political commentary.  You can read Brian’s weekly satire news articles at, and enjoy his late-night jokes at  Join The Comedy News’ Facebook page for updates.


Being in the Red Can be a Good Thing?! – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (No. 62)

red shirtIs red the new black?  When online dating is concerned, the answer is a resounding YES!  Two weeks ago, Slate published an article saying that you should wear a red shirt in your online dating profile to get more responses.  For women, “Twenty-one percent of their emails arrived when they wore red, whereas the other colors – black, white, yellow, green, and blue – attracted 14 to 17 percent of the total.”  Pretty impressive!

Why red?  The study has two explanations.

  1. Red is associated with love – plain and simple.
  2. People flush red when they are sexually receptive, thus associating the color with attraction for the other person.

That’s quite the correlation!  They say the same is true for both men and women, so start stocking up on red clothes.  But before you go on that red shirt shopping spree, remember that simply posting a picture in your brand spankin’ new red shirt is not the golden ticket to getting you a date every night of the week.  The most important part of the picture is still you, and only you.

Don’t forget these five rules of thumb for your online dating profile pictures:

1. The main profile picture should be a clear headshot of yourself

If you don’t have at least one clear headshot as your main picture (it’s either blurry or too far away), it will look like you’re hiding something. You don’t want someone to click right past you because he or she can’t see what you look like, automatically assuming the worst.

2. Less is more

Believe it or not, allows a whopping 26 photos in your profile. That sounds more like a Facebook album! I have no doubt that the pictures from your trip to Paris are amazing… just remember, there’s a time and a place for them, and that place is not an online dating site.  People have a tendency to look though all of your photos and dismiss you simply because they see just one they don’t like.

3. Be by yourself in the shot

This says it all.

4. Have one “interesting” picture

It’s hard to know what to say to someone in that first email, isn’t it?  This is why we need to provide some “e-mail bait” – something to catch someone’s attention and generate questions.  For example, if you have a picture of yourself with a gold medal around your neck, it automatically raises the question, “How did you get that?”

5. Be accurate

The point of doing online dating is to get offline.  Don’t lie about your looks – people will always find out the truth in the end.

Now, with these rules of thumb in mind, feel free to break out the red (we’re still talking shirts here), and post away.  And then when you have too many dates to count, you can break out the red again… this time perhaps a nice bottle of merlot.

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.


GTJ Satirist Brian F. – Filet-o-Matzah, Big Matzah Mac to Debut At McDonalds For One Week this Spring

mat burgBOROUGH PARK, NY (@The Comedy News) – To coincide with the Jewish holiday of Passover, McDonalds is introducing two special burgers for one week only.

The Filet-O-Matzah and the Big Matzah Mac will debut at sundown on Monday, March 25, 2013.

The main feature of the new temporary burgers will be the buns made from matzah—an unleavened, crunchy flatbrad made solely from water and flour.

For the Big Matzah Mac, the matzah buns will be in lieu of the traditional Big Mac sesame seed buns that are forbidden by Jewish law for the week-long holiday celebrating the Jews’ freedom from bondage in Egypt 5,000 years ago.

Since the traditional Special Sauce on the Big Mac will be unkosher for Passover, the Big Matzah Mac will feature a “Schpecial Schmear” between the two all-beef patties, along with lettuce, pickles, and onion.

“We are proud to introduce our latest line of kosher-for-Passover burgers that will ensure that McDonalds’ devout Jewish customers can still enjoy their favorite McDonalds meal during their holidays,” announced a McDonalds spokesman.  “From sundown March 25 through sundown April 2, McDonalds at select locations in New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and Boston will be ditching the chametz and pitching some matzah burgers.”

The second McDonalds Passover burger, the Filet-O-Matzah, will feature a hunk of raw matzah dough flanked by two matzah flatbread slices.

During the week of Passover, McDonalds will also be promoting the “happykomen”.  The happykomen is a McDonalds version of the traditional Passover game “afikomen”.  For the price of $3.99, children will be encouraged search for traces of the pink slime goo paste that has been forbidden from McDonalds food since late 2011.  The first child to find a trace of the pink slime goo paste gets their choice of a free Big Matzah Mac or a Fliet-O-Matzah.  All participating children will get a free dreidel.

The official celebrity spokesman for McDonalds’ new kosher-for-Passover slogan, “Ditch the Chametz, Pitch some Matzah Burgers”, will be the reclusive Baseball Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax.

Brian Fishbach is a comedian, writer, political satirist, former GTJ JGOTW, and musician specializing in social and political commentary.  You can read Brian’s weekly satire news articles at, and enjoy his late-night jokes at  Join The Comedy News’ Facebook page for updates.



Key Lime Bars

photo (3)Good Passover desserts are hard to come by, especially when you try to make them with matzah meal.  I tend to avoid the matzah issue altogether and make a lot of desserts with nut flours.  I’ve made this recipe in the past as a pie but, well, my mom asked for cookies this year.  If you go the pie route, simply top with whipped cream and serve.  The crust works well for other kinds of pies, too.  Chag sameach!

Total time: 1 hour, plus chilling time

Yield: 36-64 bars (depending on how big you cut them)

Level: Moderate


  • 1 1/2 cups almond meal/flour
  • 3/8 cup powdered sugar*
  • 3 tbsp chilled butter, cut into bits
  • 2 1/4 tbsp cream
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 c bottled key lime juice or fresh lime juice (about 3 limes)
  • 1/3 c sugar


  1. Blend the first four ingredients in a food processor until dough clumps together.  Chill for 15 minutes. 
  2. Press dough into greased 8”x8” baking dish using wet hands.  Bake at 350 degrees on the center rack for 10 minutes or until browned lightly.  Set aside to cool.
  3. While the crust is cooling, beat the yolks, sugar, and condensed milk together in a large bowl.  Gradually beat in the lime juice on low speed.
  4. Spread the filling over the top of the cooled crust and bake for 15 minutes, or until set.
  5. Allow bars to cool a before refrigerating for 1-2 hours.  Slice and serve. 

* Regular powdered sugar is made with corn starch, which is not kosher for Passover under Ashkenazi rules.  You can buy kosher for Passover powdered sugar.  I used some that I found in the organic section that was made with tapioca starch.  You can also make your own in the food processor with granulated sugar and potato starch.

© Courtney Weiner.  All Rights Reserved.


DC Rabbi Named One the Most Inspiring Rabbis in America

shiraRabbi Shira Stutman, Director of Jewish Programming at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, was named one of the most inspiring Rabbis in America by The Jewish Daily Forward.  From the Sixth & I website:

“As Sixth & I’s Director of Jewish Programming, I’m here as a resource for you. My focus is to make Jewish meaning and build Jewish community. I strive to infuse Sixth & I’s diverse programs with Jewish context and content. I support a number of boutique communities, including workshops for those interested in joining the Jewish community. I graduated from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 2007, where I was a Wexner Graduate Fellow. I also graduated from Columbia University and the Charles E Smith Jewish Day School. I was the founding rabbi of Kesher Shalom Congregation in Abington, PA. And my favorite t-shirt reads: “This is what a real rabbi looks like.”

Read GTJ’s interview with Rabbi Shira from last summer.

From everyone at GTJ, mazel tov, Rabbi Shira!


Shabbat Clusters

290px-Shabbat_CandlesI feel safe saying that when Friday night finally rolls around, most of us are more than ready for it.  We’re ready to go out, to take a nap, to eat something delicious, or to celebrate that we have two whole days off ahead of us.  For many young Jewish professionals, it’s time to be social at one of the (crowded) eight monthly Shabbat services.  For others, it’s time to be with friends, or to go out and make new ones.  In any case, it’s almost always about doing something you didn’t do during the week.  It somehow make the time special.  Personally, the days are particularly special for me when I can get together with others for dinner.  And it is a love of good food and better conversation that makes Shabbat and EntryPointDC’s (EPDC) Shabbat Clusters an awesome opportunity.

Shabbat Clusters are small groups, usually about 10-12 people, organized by EPDC.  They’re peer-led and meet once a month for a pot-luck Shabbat dinner.  Registration and new groups happen twice a year, in the spring and the fall.  Each starts with a communal Kickoff Shabbat Dinner, free to all participants, so that when you have your first dinner you’re not showing up at a complete stranger’s door. (Whew!)

Shabbat offers us a weekly chance to take a second and breathe.  It’s an opportunity to take an hour or 25 and do something you want to do, something for yourself that will make the day different.  How you choose to do that is up to you, but maybe it is taking a couple hours to have a nice meal with other Jews at the start of your weekend.  There’s nothing you have to do before, during, or after.  Your Shabbat Cluster is a place for you to create a Jewish experience that is meaningful for you with other Jews, and the opportunity to really get to know them over time.

Over the past few months I have heard just about all there is to hear about Shabbat Clusters from current and former participants, and those stories let me know  that EPDC made a difference in people’s lives.  I’ve also discovered a fantastic partnership with Birthright NEXT, they like to give Birthright alumni money to host Shabbat dinners, and EPDC likes everyone to have Shabbat dinner! Perfect! (And they’re now offering grants for pot-luck meals, which is even better.)

Registration for Spring 2013 Shabbat Clusters is open until midnight, Friday, March 22. Click here for more information and to register.


The Curse of the Empty Adjective – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (No. 61)

adjI’m smart, funny, and attractive.

I’m humble, successful, and kind.

I’m romantic, thoughtful, and trustworthy.

I’m sexy, passionate, and fearless.

I’m compassionate, honest, and friendly.

How many times have we seen lines like these in online dating profiles?  If I had a nickel for every time I saw what I call an “empty adjective,” I’d be a very rich lady.  What is an empty adjective?  It’s a word that you use to describe yourself that can’t be proven until someone gets to know you.  For example, I might say that I’m funny, but how would you know if that’s the truth?  Maybe I’m funny to some people (the ones who love puns and wordplay) but not to others.  Or maybe my definition of honest is telling someone she has spinach in her teeth, but your definition is giving back the extra penny if they accidentally give it to you at Trader Joe’s.  A long time ago, I dated someone for six months who said in his JDate profile, “I’m really romantic.”  Was he?  Not in the least.  The curse of the empty adjective strikes again.

This is where the concept of “show, don’t tell” really comes into play.  For example, rather than saying that you’re funny, say something that you find funny.  That way, you’re not only getting your point across, but you’re differentiating yourself from everyone who simply states, “I’m funny,” or worse, “My friends tell me I’m funny.”  The latter is just a way to say the same thing while attempting to be humble.  Sadly, it doesn’t work.

Let’s think of a story for some of the adjectives above:

Friendly: I tend to walk into a room and immediately ask people’s names – the cashier at The Container Store, the doorman/woman at my building, the parking attendant at school, the baker at Safeway.  I may not remember them all, but I always ask!

Fearless: Despite my fear of flying, I knew I had to go to India as my culminating trip for business school.  I may or may not have hyperventilated a bit.  And then I realized, “I can do this!”  Since then, I’ve been to 12 countries in the last four years.

Trustworthy: It wasn’t until many years after college that I realized everyone on my dorm floor had put me down as their emergency contact.  They must have really trusted me… or knew I’d have nothing else going on. 😉

Funny: I’m a dog lover, especially when it comes to my wise old dachshund.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t enjoy dining out quite as much as I do (he likes the leftovers, though), he can’t read the subtitles of the documentaries I watch, he can’t help me with that pesky last letter of the crossword puzzle, and when it comes to dancing, well, he has two left feet… literally.

Words like attractive, sexy, young-looking, and fit don’t need to be stated at all because someone can decide that for him or herself simply from looking at your photos.

These empty adjectives will get glossed over and end up having the opposite effect of what you want – they’ll become meaningless.  Remember: Be sure to set yourself apart and not get caught in the… dun dun dun… curse of the empty adjective.

This article was also posted in JMag, the online magazine for

Erika Ettin is, as the Washington Post has noted, a “modern day Cyrano.” She is the Founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps people with all aspects of online dating.  Check out her interview on NPR here. An archive of all of Erika’s columns is also available.  Want to connect with Erika?  Join her newsletter for updates and tips.


What should I bring to Israel?

coatPassport, white coat, stethoscope, vaccines.  For most doctors/medical students going abroad on an international health initiative, these are the items that are required.  In preparation for my international medical fellowship, I collected these items and went through many standard steps.  I found a faculty sponsor, arranged for a local physician/mentor, submitted a proposal to the Office of International Activities, developed a project and aims (on improving maternal outcomes), and applied for funding.  I found local contacts, created a packing list (including my passport, white coat and stethoscope), and picked up local guidebooks. But in addition to all of these basic preparatory steps, I had additional challenges because of the location of my fellowship.

Israel is a complicated country whose history, religion, politics, and geography make it a lightning rod for conflict.  Navigating this conflict on a medical mission is challenging and my presence in Israel would require extensive planning. Back in the summer of 2012 when I was preparing for the fellowship I submitted an extensive statement of purpose with faculty sponsor and mission statement to apply for a special travel waiver from my medical school.  After I received permission, I worked with the US State Department and US Embassy in Israel to ensure proper contingencies.  At each step I was thoroughly warned about the risks and liabilities of living in Israel.

Despite the challenges of getting here, my experience in Israel has been profound and I am so grateful for the relative peace that has sustained throughout the month.  During the conflicts in November, this peace was far from assured.  In the winter, rockets arrived daily in Tel Aviv and surrounding cities from the Gaza strip.  Jeremy, a close friend from college and current medical student at Sackler in Tel Aviv, recalls his time in the hospitals then, struggling to ignore the sounds of rockets. “There was a feeling of helplessness,” he says “We often only had a minute warning before the rocket would land, and moving our patients would have been futile.”  Jeremy, like the thousands of health professionals in direct line of the Gaza missiles, felt a duty to protect and serve his patients, whether from their illnesses or the rockets.

Pedram, an Iranian-born medical student at Sackler, remembers his experience outside of the hospital.  Those that have been to Tel Aviv have warm memories of the beaches that cover the cities’ coast line.  Young couples, families, and groups of children frolic in the waves, play Frisbee, and enjoy picnics on the pristine sand.  One day in November, Pedram was walking with a friend along the beach when he heard the missile siren go off.  He and the other beachgoers snapped their heads as a rocket came into view not more than 100 yards in the air.  As it arced menacingly toward the beach, a second projectile coming from the opposite direction came into view and intercepted the first, causing a loud explosion.  This sight would be repeated an estimated 1,456 times in Tel Aviv and throughout Israel that winter as the Israeli missile defense system (Iron Dome) would intercept and destroy many incoming threats (reports cite 421 interceptions over Israel, 142 rockets which fell in Gaza, and 875 which fell harmlessly in open areas) .  Some (58), it did not.  Six Israelis were killed and hundreds injured from the rockets that made landfall in populated areas.  A commuter bus was bombed, injuring 28 Israelis on the way to work. Israel responded forcefully in Gaza.  In an incursion known as Operation Pillar of Defense, some 133 Palestinians were believed to be killed with hundreds more injured.  During the past month, I have met colleagues who cared for the injured on both sides.  They have watched as countless more have been lost.  As physicians, we are bound by an oath to do no harm, and often, in Israel, we are repairing the harm caused by others.

During the violence in November, I worked with my colleagues to develop alternative plans in case the violence continued. More importantly, I prayed for peace.  Lani, a dentist and close friend, was to be in Israel providing free dental work while I was there.  We spoke often over those weeks, sharing our fears and hopes for a resolution to the conflict.  While a tenuous ceasefire was being held, I reconfirmed my visit and mission for the fellowship.  The peace held and I arrived in Israel safely, finding purpose in my work and gratitude for peace.

Over the last week this peace has been shaken.  Protests in and around Jerusalem have led to violence with Palestinian youths throwing homemade rockets and Israeli soldiers firing back and severely injuring protesters. Last week I was at Hadassah, the premiere health care center in Jerusalem, working among those that cared for the young Palestinians who were injured.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYesterday evening I took a long run along the Mediterranean after work.  I ran on the beach, going south towards the ancient port city of Jaffa.  As I ran in the sand, I caught the sun setting over the tranquil blue waters.  When I got home, this peace was rattled by news that a rocket had landed in Ashkelon, a small town 100 km south of Tel Aviv.  This was the first such rocket attack since the November ceasefire.

I was to meet Jeremy later in the evening and as I walked the block to his house I got lost.  It is a route I have taken at least a dozen times since arriving in Israel.  But this night, I was lost in my thoughts.  I wandered a few blocks down the busy central district of Tel Aviv as I considered the rocket attack that day, the young Palestinians at Hadassah, and the lives lost in November.  I passed happy couples walking by hand-in-hand, a group of school children enjoying ice-cream by a large colorful fountain.  I leave in 10 days.  People that know me well know that I am always optimistic and upbeat.  I leave Israel hoping for lasting peace in 10 days, months, or years.

So this all brings me back to my question: what to pack?  How did I prepare for this experience?  The standard list is vital, but so much more is needed.  Of course I need a stethoscope to help hear hearts, a white coat to identify myself, a passport to get into the country, and vaccines to keep me well.  But what should I bring with me, really?  First, I brought my stethoscope, but also my heart.  I would need it to guide me during the challenges and successes of my experience.  Second, I brought my white coat, but also brought my identity.  This is who I am, my principles, and it would serve to center me during this journey.  Third, I brought my passport, but I also brought a curiosity to learn.  This curiosity granted me entrance to places and ideas that I would never have imagined.  Lastly, yes I got vaccinated.  But despite this I was not immune to new ideas and experiences that helped me grow into the compassionate doctor I am meant to be.  During my career I will bring life into the world, will save lives, and will see lives lost.  But I don’t forget to bring along what got me here, and have an open heart and a curious mind to discover what lies ahead.


Exile No More: A New Documentary Film

exile no moreFor decades, South Tel Aviv has been the first and last stop for all types of “second-class citizens” who cannot stand on their own and have been ignored by the government for far too long.  Today, South Tel Aviv’s Israeli residents are living with over 15,000 African asylum seekers unable to care for themselves, and even worse, in fear for their safety.  In the past year, violence between Africans and Israelis in South Tel Aviv and around the country has risen and many are afraid to walk the streets.

Deep in the heart of South Tel Aviv, seen through the eyes of Israeli residents and African asylum seekers, Exile No More documents what it means to live in exile, amongst your own.  This 30-minute film follows the story of African asylum seekers in Israel.  After traveling thousands of miles, many have found themselves without status, without jobs, and without homes in the most impoverished area of Tel Aviv.  Exile No More shares the story of African asylum seekers such as Kidane Isaacs, a 24-year-old Eritrean who has lived in Israel for more than 6 years now, without any form of refugee status.  The film follows his story as an African fleeing country after country, arriving in Israel, becoming a strong political leader, and inspiring his people to demand more.  Just across the road, Shula Keshet, a veteran Israeli in South Tel Aviv is making impressive progress in her efforts to bring together conservative Israelis living with a completely new population in Israel: African refugees.  These two story lines in Exile No More come together to represent an exiled people in their own community and the struggle for real change in their government.  Filmed over the period of eight months, the characters in this film represent the key political leaders at a time when asylum seekers in Israel are facing a true crossroad.

photo-mainFilmmaker Kady Buchanan has spent the last year and a half working on the film, and is currently in post-production readying the film for release.  In asking what drew her to the film, she says it seemed like such an important topic, one that, because of Israel’s history as a nation of refugees, would only become more and more relevant.  Buchanan filmed in the summer of 2012 when protests in South Tel Aviv were breaking out almost on a weekly basis.  Buchanan also chose to follow both Israelis and Africans because she wanted to show how feeling exiled or excommunicated from your community is not only a feeling felt by non-citizens.

Buchanan had launched a Kickstarter in an effort to raise the final funds needed for the film’s release.  With only six days left to go, they still have to fund $3,000.  If all funds aren’t received by March 26th, they get nothing.  To support the finishing of the funds by donating or sharing, visit the Kickstarter page here.


The Jewish Food Experience

JFE“Inspired by tradition.  Delivered with a twist.”

The Jewish Food Experience (JFE), a new DC-based site, provides a platform for the community to come together through food.  JFE brings Jewish food with a modern twist:  The project allows foodies, including chefs, restaurateurs, food critics and writers, to share recipes, stories, international flavors, news about the local Jewish food scene, and volunteer efforts to fight hunger.  Steven A. Rakitt, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, explains, “Food is a shared experience, and we expect this new project will provide opportunities for local Jews to not only experience food with family and friends old and new, but also engage the Jewish community in a deeper way.”  In addition to online activities, JFE will create shared moments around food through events and programs such as tastings, volunteer opportunities, book signings, cooking series, films, and more.

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Chef Todd Gray giving a cooking demo at the JFE launch.

Susan Barocas, JFE Project Director, explains, “The Jewish Food Experience is the first of its kind – a project that combines an appetizing website chock full of stories, recipes, and resources with exciting programs and partnerships.  There is something so elemental and natural about exploring, discussing, cooking, tasting, and sharing food that brings people together in a way few things can do.  And food is also a way to bring memory and tradition together with innovation and creativity.  It’s exciting to think about the possibilities of connecting people through food and contributing to richer, more satisfying ways to connect to Jewish heritage and culture.”

JFE held it’s official launch party on Tuesday, March 12.  The morning began with a bit of schmoozing (in true Jewish fashion) and breakfast consisting of twists on traditional Jewish foods and new innovative recipes.  Fritatta of wild mushrooms and muenster cheese, poached salmon mousse with cucumber salad, and matzah brei with strawberry compote were some of the delicious foods that attendees munched on.  While enjoying the breakfast fare, Chef Todd Gray, co-author of The New Jewish Table and member of the JFE Advisory Council, treated us to a cooking demo.  All who attended left with satisfied bellies and excitement for the Jewish Food Experience.

Check out the The Jewish Food Experience today!


Passover Events!

155Looking for a seder? Something to do during the eight days without chometz? We’ve got you covered. If we left anything off, please email Rachel at

Tuesday, March 12th:

Sunday, March 17th:

Monday, March 18th:

Wednesday, March 20th:

Thursday, March 21st:

Saturday, March 23rd:

Monday, March 25th:

Tuesday, March 26th:

Friday, March 29th:

Sunday, March 31st:


GTJ Satirist Brian F. – “Fear Factor: The Jewish American Prince & Princess Edition”

fearNEW YORK, NY – (@The Comedy News)  – Executives at NBC are debuting a spinoff of the hit game show, Fear Factor, titled “Fear Factor:  The Jewish American Prince & Princess Edition”.  Hosted by Canadian Jew Seth Rogan, the latest installment of Fear Factor will test the patience,  neuroses, and basic cardio endurance of Jewish American Princes and Princesses.  The first four episodes will take place in Miami, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
The latest promotional advertisement features the 30-year-old actor speaking to the audience: “Hi I’m Seth Rogen, and this is ‘Fear Factor:  The Jewish American Prince and Princess Edition.’  The stunts you are about to see were all designed and supervised by trained professionals—specifically Doctors, Lawyers, Fundraisers, and Rabbis.  They are extremely dangerous and should not be attempted by anyone, anywhere, anytime.”
Below is a preview of each episode of the first season.PILOT EPISODE:  Miami Vices and Crises

Second Stunt:  Contestants will have to eat luke-warm, frozen store-bought bagels schmeared with Le Moche Chevre—- the world’s most bitter blue cream cheese.

Third Stunt:  The remaining Jewish American Princes and Princesses will be given a Lexus with four flat tires.  The fastest Jewish American Prince or Princess to change all four tires drives home with the Lexus.

EPISODE 2:  Dorks and Pork in New York

First Stunt:  Jewish American Princes and Princesses from the Midwest who have never visited New York will be challenged to travel from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn without asking anyone for directions in less than four hours.

Second Stunt:  Contestants will be forced to sit in a room filled with 613 open jars of Manaschevitz gefilte fish.  The temperature will be set at 90 degrees.  The first three to exit the room or throw up will be eliminated.

Third Stunt:  The remaining Jewish American Princes and Princesses will be forced to dine at New York’s most vilified restaurant, Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen and Bar.  None of the orders will be served timely or accurately.  The first contestant to heckle the waiter, chef, and Guy Fieri into running out of the restaurant crying and screaming hysterically wins—and gets to punch Guy Fieri in the balls.

EPISODE 3:  City of Angels (Even Though Jews Don’t Believe in Angels)

First Stunt:  Contestants will have their federal income tax returns audited.  Those with errors will be eliminated.

Second Stunt:  Contestants will be given $2,000 in cash and dropped off on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills during regular business hours.  Any contestant returning with less than $1,990 will be eliminated.

Third Stunt:  The remaining Jewish American Princes and Princesses will walk into the William Morris Endeavor talent agency, tell an original Aristocrats joke, and then act it out.  Whomever WME signs to an agent wins.

EPISODE 4:  Chicago White Sox with Sandles

First Stunt: The contestants will be treated to a marathon of Mel Gibson movies: Mad Max, What Women Want, Conspiracy Theory, and The Passion of the Christ.  The first three to walk out or shout obscenities at the screen will be eliminated.

Second Stunt: Contestants will spin a wheel labeled with the Ten Plagues of Egypt.  Whichever one of the plagues the wheel lands on, the contestants must eat—that includes darkness and firstborn.

Third Stunt:  The remaining Jewish American Princes and Princesses will do the Hora on the observation deck of the Sears Tower.  The contestant that goes the longest before their mother phones them to “get down from there because it is dangerous” wins.

Brian Fishbach is a comedian, writer, political satirist, former GTJ JGOTW, and musician specializing in social and political commentary.  You can read Brian’s weekly satire news articles at, and enjoy his late-night jokes at  Join The Comedy News’ Facebook page for updates.


The Drive to Save Wendy

wendEvery day people wake up and hope they will be able to change the world.  Practically speaking it is impossible to change the whole world at once, however we all know how the “Butterfly effect” works, and therefore how every single act of kindness we do is a step closer to making the world a better place.

Last year, I heard something that changed my perspective on the power of the individual entirely.

During a lecture at the International Living Legacy Conference in Washington, DC, Rabbi Adin Even-Yisrael (Steinzaltz) said the following: “When one person stamps his foot in protest no one can hear unless they are really close, if ten people stamp their feet it’s a little more audible, if a thousand people stamp their feet together you will be able to feel the ground shake under you, ever so slightly.  If a million people stamp their feet at the same time it will be heard very far, if the whole world, close to seven billion people were to stamp their feet together the whole earth would shake.  That is the power of one human being, to be able to cause so much by one movement, when it’ s accompanied by others.”

Every person at some point or another in his life has dreamed of being a hero.  Especially children.  Whether it be Batman, Superman, or a Fire Fighter, a child dreams to be able to help people in need, to save people’s lives.

We all have this childhood dream still within us, and who would not do anything to save a person’s life, if we only could?  What if I told you all it takes is a cheek swab, and you can be a Hero, you can save a life?

Sir Winston Churchill said: “We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give”.

Many volunteers are surprised at how much fun it can be to help others.  Not every volunteer experience is the same, but I guarantee, you have a good chance of having fun while giving time.  There are many benefits that ensure from helping others.  Personal fulfillment, feeling a sense of accomplishment, meeting new people, and contributing to the community.

A community can only be as healthy, vibrant, and active as its members are willing to make it.  Volunteerism significantly improves the quality of life for ourselves and those we assist.

The Talmud states: “Whosoever that saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

Here is an opportunity to do just that, the impossible, to save the world!  And it all it takes is one cheek swab.

Let me explain.  Approximately 2 weeks ago, I heard the sad story of Wendy.   Wendy Siegel is a dear friend of a GW student, a wonderful woman living in NY.  A few months ago Wendy was diagnosed with Leukemia.  For her to live, she must find a perfect match and get a bone marrow transplant.

Young Professionals of DC, a project of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) and Gather the Jews, have joined together with “The Gift of Life” – a national bone marrow foundation – to run a drive at TheSHUL – Lubavitch Center (Chabad), located at 2110 Leroy Pl NW near Dupont Circle – to get as many people as possible to test if they are a match.

Testing as a potential donor is fast and painless, involving only a simple cheek swab.  That’s it – it takes 3 minutes.

A few days ago, someone wrote the following in response to our Facebook post about The Drive to Save Wendy:

“I am encouraging everyone to either register with the Gift of Life or Be a Match.  The Be A Match saved my life!  I would not be here today, living life to the fullest, without my volunteer donor, thank G-d!  Please be tested as it is a very simple process.  It is truly a great Mitzvah that one can give to another person to save their life!”

His wife immediately commented on his post: “And furthermore it also saves the whole family’s life!”

So what are you waiting for? Here’s your chance to save a life! Who knows if YOU might be the one!!


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