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Help Keep the Gathering Going: Donate to GTJ!

Donate here. 

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Dear Friend,

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

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

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

Happy New Year!

Stephen Richer
President
Gather the Jews

on behalf of the GTJ Leadership Team:

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

Donate here. 

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Don’t Fear an Empty DC

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recipe

© Courtney Weiner.  All Rights Reserved.

Total time: About 3 hours

Yield: 12-16 servings

Level: Difficult

Ingredients

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

Directions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Are You a Hellenist or a Maccabee?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why go to the Matzoball?

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

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

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

The Matzoball attracts thousands for a reason:

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

3 Floors…3 Parties

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

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

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


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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First Report From the Hanukkah Field

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

– Republican Jewish Coalition (12/13)

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

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

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

The dreidel arena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The real champion. Josh.

 

– Fare thee well (12/17)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Austrian Ambassador

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

– National Menorah Lighting (12/20)

Lew and Shemtov

No, I was not Dreidelman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Visit back for updates on the next 7 nights.

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

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Courtney wins Sixth & I Cooking Competition

Courtney's victory apron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debra Pearlstein finished second in this year’s competition

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

Congratulations to all chefs.

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

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Chanukah Events in DC!

There’s a lot of great parties this season (below).  I’ll be updating this page regularly so make sure to check back.

Here’s a few things to help get you in the festive mood:

Hanukkah Parties:

Holiday volunteer opportunities:

 

Let me know (in the comments) what I’ve missed, and I will add.

 

 

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Mesorah DC Dreidel Championship – and the winner is…

 

Live music, Open bar and….dreidels? This past Saturday night over 300 of D.C.’s finest young professionals joined Mesorah DC at Sixth & I for the first DC Dreidel Championship. Competition was fierce yet friendly, as the masses competed to become our nation’s capital’s top spinner.

While not competing, participants enjoyed an open bar and fresh latkes from the first ever “Latke Bar.”  Mesorah’s own Master Chef, Malka, treated partygoers to a choice — either “specialty” or traditional latkes expertly fried on the spot.

A spectacular evening came to a close as Josh “Spinner” Stern hoisted the championship cup and was crowned DC’s first Dreidel Champion.

Think you can spin? Start practicing for next year, and please join us at another great Mesorah DC event soon.

Check out pics here.

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Why Attend the Falafel Frenzy?

The following opinions do not reflect the opinions of Gather the Jews.  They are written by three of the Falafel Frenzy’s hosts.

Five reasons you should go to the Falafel Frenzy.
  1. All proceeds go to charity!  Money is tight for everyone this year, so get the most bang for your buck by allowing your party entrance fee to do double duty.  For only $20 in advance or $25 at the door, you get to have a great time at an awesome party AND you’ll also be giving to charity!  Last year, this event raised over $10,000 toward hunger programs in DC.  Help us raise even more this year!
  2. It promotes the Jewish values of giving back.  Spend Christmas Eve with other MOTs and be a part of a meaningful event for the Jewish community.
  3. It’s a grassroots event that needs YOU.  The Falafel Frenzy was created by Jewish young professionals just like you who were fed up with the other for profit options on a night that is supposed to promote giving. This event is a grassroots effort created by members of the DC Jewish community, not sponsored by any organization, and we need YOUR support to make it a success!  
  4. Great music, hotter people, and signature drink specials. Lima Lounge generously donated the space and a popular Jewish DJ, and we’ll have DC’s best mix of the 80s, 90s, and 2011.   We’ll have drink specials including Latke Shots, Falafel Baltinis, and Holy Moses, along with hundreds of people for you to meet.  Last year, in our first year, this event had more than 500 guests, and we expect it to be even bigger this year!  Looking to meet that special someone or just hang out with hundreds of new and old friends?  You’ve come to the right place!
  5. Doesn’t everyone love falafel balls?  The falafel itself will be attending in spirit this year, but you can still show your love by making a difference with your falafel balls!

For more information, check out the event’s Facebook page.  To buy tickets, click here.

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How to Navigate Chanukah in DC

Editor’s Note: To discover more Hannukah events, see our hand-edited Chanukah events page, the events list to the right, and the events we have posted on our Facebook wall.

Chanukah week is a prime week for making connections in D.C., particularly if you’re still new to the scene. You won’t find a better week with more diverse socializing opportunities, be it volunteer, organization related, or just for complete fun.

The great part about is that the holiday theme means there is less pressure to wear your suit and tie, be well-stocked with business cards, or have an elevator speech ready at these types of gatherings.

But whether you’re hitting up the Hanukkah Happy Hour on the Hill this Tuesday, or gorging on falafel at the Second Annual Falafel Frenzy on Dec. 24, don’t totally slack off. There are a few easy ways to keep yourself in check and still make the most of these events that could reap longer-term benefits, be it socially, educationally, or professionally. Because you never do know who you’ll meet at these Chanukah functions. Everybody loves a good party, and more people are likely to turn out this week than any other.

Here are just a few tips to safeguard your Chanukah-week outings:

  • Inform your guest. If you’re bringing a guest with you to an event, make sure they’re in the know about the event you’re attending.  Also, debrief them on proper decorum and attire, if necessary. Your guest can reflect directly on you should you run into a potential connection, and your guest’s behavior, positive or negative, can be a factor for your reputation.
  • Make the most of first impressions. How you introduce yourself to people is fairly important. It can be a little difficult to navigate gracefully through an introduction when your face is stuffed with latkes or you’re double-fisting for the night, so keep in mind that you may need to shake some hands and compose yourself with poise.
  • Read the news. Or something. There’s nothing worse than uncomfortable silences. So do your due diligence and have a few conversation topics ready in case you need to quash the awkward silence. It’s worth it to read up on the latest news (totally not a ploy to assert validity of my job), and generally topics like the economy or foreign affairs will get you scooting around conversationally in D.C. Of course, if you’re still new to the city, you’ll soon learn that it’s nearly impossible to evade the political discussions. And probably religious ones as well, since at least 90 percent of the crowds you’ll see during Chanukah events are Jewish. So pick a topic or two and master it. It will pay to have something to contribute to the conversation.
  • Give yourself some down time this week. With so many events going on, you don’t want to burn yourself out with all the socializing. Feeling over-socialized could hinder your maximum networking abilities or drive you to write blog posts recounting your Chanukah overdose.

And most of all, have fun. It’s a great time of the year and it should be enjoyable for you, whether you stay in D.C. or head elsewhere. So stay warm, be surrounded by good company, and have a happy Chanukah.

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Jews and Sports… Stop Laughing: Chanukah Wish List

My Chanukah wish list for Jews and sports:

  • That Tim Tebow wins the Super Bowl.  What does the Denver Broncos quarterback have to do with Jews and sports? I love Tebowing, the celebration the religious Tebow does by dropping to one knee and bowing his head.  It turns out that the whole Tebowing phenomenon was started by Jared Kleinstein, a 24-year-old Jewish real-estate marketer born in Denver and living in New York.  Kleinstein created the Tebowing website, where people submit pictures Tebowing from all corners of the globe.  “People found hope through a gesture,” Kleinstein recently told the Wall Street Journal.  The picture of a little boy who posted “I’m Tebowing while Chemoing!” is pretty inspiring.  For those of you who stay long enough on Yom Kippur, Tebowing is a little reminiscent of the avodah service.
  • That the positive performance-enhancing drug test by recent Jewish National League Most Valuable Player Ryan Braun be overturned on appeal.  The questionable character and billions of dollars in today’s professional sports has made people cynical about a cultural phenomenon that has historically bound the United States and been a symbol for social advancement and national pride.  Braun was proud of his Jewish faith and his character as a young player trying to help baseball eliminate its steroid stigma.  “I realize,” he told the New York Times, “all these things are a result of me having success on the baseball field, carrying myself the right way and staying out of trouble off the field.”  Braun maintains his innocence and insists his positive drug test was the result of improper testing mechanisms.

The contrast between the feel-good Tebow victories and the disappointing Braun drug test is indicative of a schism in sports.  For better or worse, American athletes are revered like Babylonian Talmudic scholars.  Should Babe Ruth have been paid more than the president of the United States?  “I had a better year than he did,” Ruth said.

When athletes show character—like Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax not playing baseball on Yom Kippur—they can have tremendous positive inspiration.  When sports stars do not—felonies, infidelity—they leave us with a sour taste at a time when we could all use some encouragement.  Maybe sports fans are overly nostalgic, like the protagonist in this year’s Woody Allen film “Midnight in Paris” was about his literary legends.  But it seems like the athletes in Washington have just as much impact, if not more, than the politicians in the city.  Tebow’s Broncos lost to the New England Patriots on Sunday, but he’s still the biggest winner to this point in the NFL season.  And hopefully we’ll have more to Tebow about—or maybe even one day to Braun about.  Happy Chanukah.

Gather the Jews member Jonathan Horowitz (www.jjhorowitz.com) is the horse race announcer at Arapahoe Park and host of the show “A Day at the Races” on Altitude Sports TV in Denver. He also has authored The ONE and ONLY: A Sports Quiz Deck of Definitive Games, Teams, Players, and Events that will be published by Pomegranate Publishers in January 2012. If you would like to purchase a personal copy ($9.95), please contact him at jjhorowitz@gmail.com for details.

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On the Eight Nights of Chanukah, My Dating Coach Said to Me… GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (week 22)

As the year comes to a close, I want to provide a summary of the top eight tips from 2011.  Feel free to sing along!

On the 1st night of Chanukah, my dating coach said to me:

In online dating, differentiating yourself is key.  You want someone to be able to paint a picture of you in his or her mind rather than painting a generic person who could be just about anyone.

On the 2nd night of Chanukah, my dating coach said to me:

Try to avoid making online dating like ordering a pizza.  We are all looking for that on-paper perfect mate.  And since online dating sites give so much choice in the matter, we think it’s our right to have everything we’re looking for.  Go ahead, order whatever you want for dinner, but when it comes to dating, there’s no check-box order to place.  Give people the benefit of the doubt because in the end, after meeting in person, chemistry may trump all to give you the slice of your life.

On the 3rd night of Chanukah, my dating coach said to me:

Don’t use a spur-of-the-moment Groupon/Living Social Deal on the first date.  If you’ve planned the outing in advance because of the Groupon, then you’re good to go.

On the 4th night of Chanukah, my dating coach said to me:

Online dating isn’t easy, which many people don’t realize. They think they can just throw a profile up there and wait.  No way, Jose.  That’s like walking into a bar and just plopping yourself on a stool without even trying to make conversation with anyone.  It’s just not going to work.  Yes – online dating takes work.  But then again, so do most things in life that are worth the outcome.

On the 5th night of Chanukah, my dating coach said to me:

There’s no modern-day dating Lemon Law, so for the “creepy” bad date (other variants are “scary” bad, “offensive” bad, “mean” bad), the best bet is to be honest.  “You know, I just don’t think we’re clicking.  It was nice to meet you, but I don’t want either of us to waste our time, so I thought I’d say that to give us the option to go do something else tonight.”

On the 6th night of Chanukah, my dating coach said to me:

On a first date, you can always add dinner, but you can’t take it back.  Enough said.

On the 7th night of Chanukah, my dating coach said to me:

In online dating, non-response does not equal rejection.  In other words, the absence of a positive reply (an e-mail back) is not the same as someone turning you down.  Just forget about it and move on.  Remember – for all you know, they just didn’t like your hair.

On the 8th night of Chanukah, my dating coach said to me:

Don’t commit any of the four Dins – 1) The last-minute cancel and never reschedule, 2) The no interest make-out, 3) Canceling via text, and 4) Deciding you’re not interested and never telling the other person.

And a partridge in a pear tree. 

Have a wonderful holiday from Erika at A Little Nudge, your GTJ dating blogger.

If only there were eight more nights to write about.  In case you want more, an archive of all of Erika’s columns is also available.  Want to connect with Erika?  Join her newsletter for updates and tips.

16

Orthodox Judaism and Gay Marriage: Incompatible?

Photo from Roee Rottenberg's article at 972+ http://972mag.com/orthodox-rabbi-marries-gay-couple-in-washington-dc/27424/

The text of the Torah informs us that (the act of), “homosexuality … is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22).

The majority of Jews reject this.  The New York Times in 2007 reported that 67 percent of Jews support gay marriage, and in 2008, The Los Angeles Times wrote that 78 percent of Jews opposed California’s Proposition 8.  Jews, in fact, are more accepting of gay marriage than any other major religion in the United States.

But though gays and gay marriage have slowly trickled into the Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist communities, the issue is still a point of contention, and it is especially so in the Orthodox community.  Ordinarily this is subject that we at GTJ would leave to our expert friends at yeshivas or national Jewish websites, but the discussion now has local flavor following the recent marriage of DC residents, and DC Minyan regulars, Ron Kaplan and Yoni Block at Sixth & I Synagogue.

The Orthodox Wedding that Never Was

Owing to this first-to-the-scene report by Roee Ruttenberg, the wedding between Bock and Kaplan has been branded as, “the first time an ordained Orthodox rabbi has presided over a gay marriage.”

But this is not how Bock and Kaplan see it: “We’ve never said anything to suggest that it was an Orthodox wedding” (Kaplan), nor is it how the officiating rabbi – Steve Greenberg – intended the wedding to be presented (“It wasn’t a traditional Jewish wedding.”)

Rather, Kaplan labeled it a civil wedding with a Jewish commitment ceremony conducted by a rabbi who “has long been our friend and just happens to be ordained in the Orthodox tradition.”

Mark another tally in the “media inaccuracy column.”

The Rabbi

The Orthodox rabbi in question is Steve Greenberg.   Greenberg’s career is an interesting one:  He received his Orthodox semikhah (ordination) from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan; 17 years  later, Greenberg came out as openly gay in a documentary titled Trembling Before G-d , and he later wrote the book, Wrestling with G-d and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition. (information from Steven Philp, New Voices).

Greenberg is no stranger to debate, and he seemingly takes pride in pushing traditional Judaism to address hard questions that prompt discussion.  But in an interview with yours truly, Greenberg repeatedly stated that his “intention was not to create a storm of controversy.  I wanted to conduct a ceremony in a way that would create both a civil and a religious bond between the two men in a fashion that both families could enjoy, appreciate, and feel was meaningful.”

Orthodox response

Good intentions pave the road to hell.  And Greenberg’s efforts, rather than being celebrated as a nice deed for two of his deserving, long-standing friends, has generated, not a storm, but a light shower of controversy.

Responding to the media-driven idea of a gay Orthodox wedding, 100 prominent Orthodox rabbis from around the world signed a letter on December 5 stating that:

“We, as rabbis from a broad spectrum of the Orthodox community around the world, wish to correct the false impression that an Orthodox-approved same-gender wedding took place. By definition, a union that is not sanctioned by Torah law is not an Orthodox wedding, and by definition a person who conducts such a ceremony is not an Orthodox rabbi.”

Among the declaration’s signers is the local intellectual and Modern Orthodox powerhouse Rabbi Barry Freundel of Kesher Israel, a popular synagogue located at 28 and N streets, NW.

Rabbi Freundel did not respond to my request for a discussion, but I did get a hold of another signatory who wishes to stay anonymous, but shared his thoughts on the subject:

“The issue of gay marriage is … complicated, and to me, quite depressing.  The Torah is clear that it forbids homosexuality.  While other religions do not address … our Talmud says that it [is] a serious anathema.  … God can forgive the sin of homosexuality, as long as people are humble and regret their sin, and are not so arrogant as to try to justify their sin through a ‘marriage’ agreement.”

The rabbi went on to say that the Torah does not recognize homosexuality, only homosexual actions.  People committing homosexual actions, however, should not throw in the towel and call themselves homosexual:

“Even if a person feels like this, it is not hopeless.  There is always possibility for repentance and healing for any sin, even those that are most ingrained – even biologically – into any person.  Even if someone does not overcome this sin totally, they can at least recognize it as a sin.  If someone tries to turn a sin into a non-sin, that is heresy.  … The so-called ‘gay rights’ activists are really the ones who have contempt for those who are struggling with homosexuality, as it robs them of hope.”

With respect to Rabbi Greenberg and the marriage he performed, the rabbi said,

“Rabbi Greenberg recently officiated a same-sex marriage in Washington, DC, claiming to be the first Orthodox gay marriage in the USA.  This is a misrepresentation of Orthodox Judaism.  While Greenberg was ordained by an Orthodox institution, his action cannot be justified by Orthodox Judaism.  … This officiation may ipso-facto lead to his being defrocked as an Orthodox rabbi.”

Asking for a conversation

Greenberg regrets that the wedding has alienated many of his good “friends, colleagues, and former allies.”  But he does not intend to back away from this point.   On December 6, he penned a response in The New York Jewish Week, and in our phone conversation, he expressed frustration with the declaration signed by 100 rabbis.

“I’m asking that this conversation be had.  None of this is about me or the particulars of the ceremony I conducted.  It is about giving a sixteen-year-old hope for a good future.  What hope for love and companionship would they offer their own children who discover themselves to be lesbian or gay?”

Where do gays fit in?

The conversation that Greenberg wants to have is: “Where do gays fit in the Orthodox community?  In his words, “homosexuality is a common, non-pathological, minority expression of human sexuality.   Every professional psychological organization in the country understands homosexuality this way.   Without abandoning the fundamental claims of Modern Orthodoxy, how can my colleagues in good conscience not feel compelled to come up with a better answer for how to address homosexuality?”

Greenberg is especially upset by what he feels is the neglect of rabbinical responsibility.  “If a 16-year-old wants to know what God wants of her or him, and the answer we provide is lifelong celibacy and shame, that’s a formula for self-destructive behavior.  It’s just not a credible response.”

What is to be done?

Some in the Orthodox community feel there is little to be done.  “There is no such thing as gay Orthodox wedding, period,” said one Kesher congregant.  And, as another community member said, “The Orthodox community does not suffer change lightly.”

But change in the Orthodox community is not without historical or intellectual precedent.   The tradition used to allow no interest bearing loans between Jews, until a loophole was found.  Orthodox tradition used to prohibit women from studying Talmud.  That has changed.**   Greenberg said, “the ideology of a changeless law, is just that, an ideology born in the Nineteenth Century.   It may have been useful in the dawn of modernity, but we now need to revert to an earlier sense of halakhic creativity.  As one of the greatest Orthodox thinkers of the Twentieth Century – Rabbi Avraham Kook wrote, ‘The old shall be renewed and the new shall be sanctified.’”

In the years to come, Greenberg predicts that Orthodoxy will begin to open new ways of understanding and responding to gay Jews.  “Twenty years from now, there will be many Orthodox rabbis committed to making the Orthodox community a hospitable place for gay people.”

A happy ending

Because we at GTJ are upbeat, positive people who like Meg Ryan romantic comedies (ok, maybe I’m just describing myself) and because we held our most recent staff meeting at an advanced screening of the cheesily uplifting movie New Year’s Eve, we have to end on a happy note.  And that’s not hard to find in this case.   Kaplan told me that the wedding went very well and that Sixth & I was a great venue.  David Goldstein of Sixth & I confirmed the success of the wedding, and he noted that Sixth & I has already performed six or seven gay weddings and that it will continue to be a home for “all and any type of Jews.”

Update:

Since the original writing of this article, the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) has issued the following policy notice:

In light of the extensive media coverage concerning the attitude of Orthodox Judaism towards homosexuality, the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest Rabbinical group within Orthodox Judaism, has decided to issue the following clarifications:

  1. The Torah and Jewish tradition, in the clearest of terms, prohibit the practice of homosexuality. Same-sex unions are against both the letter and the spirit of Jewish law, which sanctions only the union of a man and a woman in matrimony.
  2. Attempts to ritualize or celebrate same-sex unions are antithetical to Jewish law. Any clergyman who performs or celebrates a same-sex union cannot claim the mantle of Orthodox Judaism.
  3. While homosexual behavior is prohibited, individuals with homosexual inclinations should be treated with the care and concern appropriate to all human beings. As Rabbis we recognize the acute and painful challenges faced by homosexual Jews in their quest to remain connected and faithful to God and tradition. We urge those Orthodox Jews with homosexual tendencies to seek counsel from their Rabbis. Equally, we urge all Rabbis to show compassion to all those who approach them.
  4. On the subject of reparative therapy, it is our view that, as Rabbis, we can neither endorse nor reject any therapy or method that is intended to assist those who are struggling with same-sex attraction. We insist, however, that therapy of any type be performed only by licensed, trained practitioners. In addition, we maintain that no individual should be coerced to participate in a therapeutic course with which he or she is acutely uncomfortable.
  5. We pray that God will ease the way for all who struggle with a full heart to feel His presence in their lives.

Resources:

Original report on wedding from +972.
Declaration from 100 Orthodox rabbis.
Greenberg’s Response in The New York Jewish Week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

0

Threat to Jewish Survival

Rabbi Aron Moss contributes regular Q&A commentaries to Gather the Jews.  Rabbi Moss is the proprietor of Nefesh and can be reached at rabbimoss@nefesh.com.au.  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rabbi Moss.

Question:
I am teaching a high school class about threats to Judaism in the modern world. What do you see as the biggest threat to Jewish survival–assimilation or anti-Semitism?

Answer:
The biggest threat to Jewish survival is confused Jewish identity. Sadly, today in many Jewish schools and families, Jewish identity is built through teaching Holocaust awareness and a fear of marrying out. The Jewish community’s preoccupation with assimilation and anti-Semitism is not the solution, it is the problem.

A pessimistic and negative presentation of being Jewish turns off young Jews more than anything else. When we obsess about anti-Semitism we paint ourselves as perpetual victims. When we over-emphasize the threat of assimilation, it makes us feel like an endangered species. The Jews are alongside the hump-back whale and the giant panda in the list of helpless and pitiful communities disappearing from the planet. Is it so surprising that young Jews are opting out of Judaism? Who wants to be a victim?

We have to stop defining ourselves by the way others perceive us. Assimilation is when non-Jews love us so much they want to marry us. Anti-Semitism is when non-Jews hate us so much they want to kill us. They both just happen to us; but what do we think of ourselves?

We need a clear and positive reason to stay Jewish. Failing that, why should Judaism survive? Is there a good argument for not assimilating into the welcoming societies surrounding us? Is there a compelling reason to stay proudly Jewish in the face of anti-Semitism?

I think there is.

Judaism is the most powerful idea that the world has ever seen. Jews should survive because we have a message that the world needs to hear.

The Jewish way of life is a revolutionary force that can transform ordinary lives into lives of meaning. A family that keeps Shabbat is always reminded of what is really important–that there is more to life than accumulating wealth. The kosher laws teach us that we are not mere animals that must feed our every urge and desire, and that eating itself can be holy. A mezuzah on the door tells the world that this home is built for a higher purpose.

Judaism teaches lessons that the world urgently needs to learn–that every individual person is created in the image of G-d, and is therefore unique and valuable; that morality is not relative but absolute; that humans are partners with G-d in creation, with a mission to create heaven on earth.

These bold Jewish ideas are more relevant now than ever. But bold Jewish ideas need bold Jewish people to perpetuate them. The world can only be elevated if individuals first elevate themselves. We can only make the world into a divine home if we start with our own home. This is Judaism’s formula to change the world for better. This is why we must stay Jewish.

The biggest threat to Judaism is not external pressure but rather internal confusion. When we lose sight of our mission, we lose the strength and stamina to survive. The Jewish feeling we need to develop in ourselves and our children is not fear of anti-Semitism, or guilt about assimilation. It is a humble pride in the greatness of the Jewish mission and confident resolve to fulfill it. When we are clear about our identity, no threat in the world can shake us.

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