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.


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.


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 ( 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 for details.


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.


Orthodox Judaism and Gay Marriage: Incompatible?

Photo from Roee Rottenberg's article at 972+

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.”


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.


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











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  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rabbi Moss.

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?

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.


The Art of Letting People Down – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (week 21)

The Scene: Cleveland Park Bar & Grill, a first JDate

The Cast: Jordana, 26, avid marathon runner and ice skater, and Scotty, steak-lover and fan of WWF and extreme fighting competitions

The exit interview:

Jordana – “He was just ok.  We didn’t have a lot in common, and the attraction wasn’t there for me, unfortunately.  I’m glad we met, but I think it was pretty clear that this was our first and last date.”

Scotty – “Wow.  Jordana is the girl I have been waiting for.  She listened to every word I said about wrestling, and she got two drinks, so that must mean she wanted to stay longer.  I think I’ll e-mail her tomorrow to ask her out again.  I don’t see any reason why she’d say no.”

This scenario occurs a lot, and the disappointed party is not limited to either gender – it happens to all of us.  It’s not the end of the world, though.  Seeing if you have a mutual connection with someone is what dating is all about.  Unfortunately, sometimes you just don’t.  But it’s how you handle yourself afterwards that really matters.

If your date wants to see you again, you’ll usually get an e-mail or text.  (The phone’s gone out the window these days.)  If you’re not interested, you have four choices: 1) Agree to go out with him/her again, 2) Politely decline with a white lie, 3) Politely decline with the truth, or 4) Ignore him/her.  Assuming you really do not want to go out with the person again, the best option is #3.  No one can be upset with you for politely telling the truth.  But it’s all in how you say it.  When I was on the market, I probably should have saved this e-mail to copy and paste since I used it so often:

It was really nice meeting you, and thanks again for the drink.  Unfortunately, I just didn’t think we clicked the way I’d want us to, but I think you’re really great and hope to run into you again soon.

Not bad, right?  It’s truthful (unless you don’t think the person is great at all), gets the point across, and there won’t be any miscommunication.

But what if someone wants to convey this message but lacks the tact to do so properly?  A friend of mine received the text you’re seeing to the right.  He lacked sensitivity, and now not only does she know he’s just not that into her, but she doesn’t even like him as a person.  As I said, no one should get angry with you for being honest, but try to do it nicely.

A friend of mine recently e-mailed me her dilemma: “That reminds me, I went out with the French guy from online who I had a nice ‘e-lationship’ with.  The date was fine.  I don’t really have complaints, but I also do not have butterflies whatsoever, not even moths fluttering around.  I think the attraction was not there.  He has now been texting, but I couldn’t get myself to text him back yesterday.  I just don’t think I want to hang again.  Is that bad?  Should I give it another shot?  Also, if not, do I need to let him know that nicely or do I just not write back? Ugh I never know what to do!”

My response: “Well, I’m glad the e-lationship with the guy ended and you finally met up.  Did he at least have a sexy accent?  ;)  Unfortunately, only you know whether there’s enough potential to go out with him again.  If you think there’s even a small chance, it can’t hurt to have another drink.  Some people do get nervous on the first date, and attraction definitely grows the more you get to know and like someone’s personality.  But that one is up to you.  As for letting him know vs. not, in this day and age, as you know, most people do not get back to someone after the first date if they don’t want to go out again.  Given that he did text, you could let it go, which I’m sure is what most people would do.  But the better, more mature, response would be to say, ‘I had a great time the other night.  Not sure I felt the spark, but thanks again for the drink!’  That way, it’s honest, and if you ever run into each other, he can’t fault you for being truthful.  I’ve found that it’s typically the best policy because the non-response gets awkward sometimes, and with DC being so small, you’re bound to run into people.  Let me know what you decide to do.”

Plus, by not responding, you always run the risk of this happening.  So be honest… and be nice.

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.


From Standing Still to Jumping Forward

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

Question of the Week:

My life has come to a standstill. I’m bored at work, and my relationship is going nowhere. I think I need a change of scenery. Should I move away, or do you think a career change will be enough?


There’s only one problem with changing scenery. Wherever you go, you’ll still be there. Even if everything around you changes – your address, your job, your partner, your car – as long as you are the same old you, you will be living the same old life.

The human soul has a deep need for growth. Stagnation is poison to the soul. What was good enough yesterday is insufficient for today, and the me of the past will not satisfy us in the future. We need to be constantly adding new insights, facing new challenges and charting new territory. To achieve this, we need not go anywhere. We need just to look inside ourselves and change our inner scenery.

You don’t need a career move. You need a soul move. Embark on some new challenges in your spiritual life. Go and buy an inspiring and meaningful book and read a little every day. Feed your mind with new ideas. Challenge yourself to work on a character weakness, like being more patient with your parents or coworkers, or thinking before you speak. Take on a new mitzvah, like putting on Tefillin in the morning or saying a blessing before and after eating.

The changes need not be big and dramatic, but they must be consistent. We learn this lesson from the Chanukah candles.

On the first night of Chanukah we light one candle, on the second two, and we continue to add one new candle each night, until the eighth and final night when we light eight candles. This means that what was enough yesterday is not enough today. If on the fourth night of Chanukah I light four candles, I have fulfilled the mitzvah perfectly. But if I light the same four candles on the fifth night, I am lacking, I have fallen behind. Every new day requires another new candle.

If you aren’t growing spiritually, if you haven’t added more light, you are stagnating. Not even a new iPhone can fill that void. But if you just add one candle, a single spiritual challenge and one solitary step further in your soul journey, then you have changed from within, and the whole world changes with you.

All the best,

Rabbi Moss


Dealing with the Jewish World During Flu Season

It starts with a cough. Or congestion. Or overall malaise.

Then it turns into stomach pains, massive nose drainage, and woe-ing and kvetching. You’ve suddenly noticed the tired, glassy-eyed look and the way your friend’s head lulls around aimlessly.

Congratulations, you’ve entered cold/flu/need-to-up-the-Vitamin-C season.

Perhaps it started at work, or from the stress of dealing with finals or family during Thanksgiving. The temperature changes, day-to-day stress, and overall pick up of germs can cause the domino-effect of getting each other sick. And if you’re new to D.C. and jumping into the Jewish social scene, being trapped indoors during many of the wonderful events going on lately can also turn you into a prime petri dish.

Thankfully I’m not a doctor (sorry, Dad) and can only prescribe common advice as you can apply it to local Jewish events. If you catch a cold this season, please don’t sue me. GTJ does not offer its staff writers med-mal insurance.

Past that disclaimer, here are some generic tips we’ve all heard but could use the reminder to keep them top of mind:

  • Wash your hands frequently. Duh? But we all know that for the most part, we don’t actually scrub our hands and take off a layer of skin the way we’re supposed to. So keeping hand sanitizer around will effectively get the job done. That way, when you’re busy shaking hands and meeting new folks at events such as Kesher Israel’s community oneg on Dec. 9, you can more covertly squeeze a dollop of sanitizer between introductions. (Please don’t do it right after you shake someone’s hand, that might be considered fairly rude.)
  • Buffer the germs at the buffet table. Many of these events, such as luncheons after Shabbat services, or the terrific dinners at Café Night at 6 & I Historic Synagogue, tend to serve food buffet-style. Efficient? Yes. But please don’t double dip or snack directly from the table. Or stand over the table while you’re eating.
  • Watch your diet. Winter holidays in particular tend to induce a feeling of going all out and indulging on all sorts of great foods. But splurging for six weeks in a row can make your system yo-yo around, which can take a toll on your immune system. So before you go crazy at the next big meal, like the Moishe House Shabbat dinner on Dec. 9, check yourself. Generally drinking a glass of water, eating a food with protein, or curbing your sweet tooth with fruit or mint-flavored foods, can often help you balance out the “eyes-bigger-than-stomach” sensation.
  • If you’re getting sick, please stay home. Yes, you might’ve signed up for the Chanukah cooking demonstration Chabad is hosting Dec. 11, but no amount of gloves or wearing a mask will guarantee keeping you from infecting others. Especially since we’re talking about handling food, and most Jewish events do center around food. We love you, but do us a favor and get well before you join the party. You’ll be happier that you got the chance to rest up and kick the bug faster anyway.

If you’ve got a friend (or five) who aren’t feeling so hot, do what you can to visit them or keep them entertained if they’re down and out. Even if you can’t juggle hacky sacks or sing Britney Spears, your friends will at least laugh at you attempting to do so. And keeping your friends positive is a good way to help them get well.



Piece O’ (Apple) Cake

The decorative apples in my apartment were looking a little tired. Realizing they had served their purpose of brightening my living room, I decided to put them to good use in sweetening an apple cake. Apple cakes, I have learned, are not technically a Jewish food. However, they are associated with Jewish cooking because they do not include any dairy products, and are therefore a dish that meets the constraints of kashrut for a typical holiday or Shabbat dinner. This is an easy recipe that led to a breezy and uneventful baking experience.

One direction that I added to the original recipe was tossing the apple slices in the cinnamon sugar mixture. It prevented the apples from browning while I made the cake batter and led to sweeter apples. You can check out the recipe here.

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

Prep time: 5

Peel the apples, mix up the cake batter, and you’re good to go.

Overall ease: 5

This was a very stress-free baking experience. I would have had to try very hard to mess this up.

Cook time: 3

I was very concerned about the cake being too dry, so I took it out after 60 minutes. I think it would have tasted even better if I had taken it out at 50 mins.

Cost: 5

If you have basic baking materials you won’t need to purchase many items.

Taste: 4

This cake was sweet and spongy, but not as moist as I would have preferred.


  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 apples – peeled, cored and sliced
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 5 teaspoons white sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour one 10 inch tube pan. Combine the ground cinnamon and 5 teaspoons of the sugar together and set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, and 2 cups of the sugar. Stir in the vegetable oil, beaten eggs, orange juice, and vanilla. Mix well.
  3. Pour 1/2 of the batter into the prepared pan. Top with 1/2 of the sliced apples and sprinkle with 1/2 of the cinnamon sugar mixture. Pour the remaining batter over the top and layer the remaining sliced apples and cinnamon sugar.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 70 to 90 minutes.



Jews and Sports… Stop Laughing: The Rabbi of Swat, The Spy, and The Most Fascinating Jewish Baseball Team

Moe Berg

Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun recently won the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player award.  But rather than present the best Jewish baseball team of all time—which would undoubtedly also include the other Jewish MVPs with Detroit Tigers first baseman Hank Greenberg, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax, Cleveland Indians third baseman Al Rosen and Cleveland Indians shortstop Lou Boudreau — here is the most intriguing Jewish baseball team of all time.  The sixteenth century German Reformationist Martin Luther urged his followers to “sin boldly,” and this Jewish team certainly made a unique impression on the national pastime.

Pitcher – Ralph Branca.  Arguably the greatest baseball play of all time involved the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Branca giving up a game-winning three-run home run to the New York Giants’ Bobby Thomson at the Polo Grounds on October 3, 1951, that won the Giants the National League pennant and a trip to the World Series.  The play became known as “The Shot Heard ’Round the World,” in large part due to the immortal call by WMCA radio announcer Russ Hodges, “There’s a long drive. It’s going to be—I believe—the Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”  Nearly 60 years later, Branca learned he was Jewish. His mother, Kati Berger, was a Hungarian Jewish immigrant who married a Catholic and raised Branca and his 16 siblings Catholic.  “Maybe that’s why G-d’s mad at me—that I didn’t practice my mother’s religion,” Branca said to the New York Times.  “He made me throw that home run pitch.”  The fateful pitch was thrown the day after Rosh Hashanah.

Catcher – Moe Berg.  The catcher and shortstop with five teams from 1923 to 1939 was a member of a baseball All-Star team that travelled to Japan in 1934.  What was a modest .251 hitter described by famed manager Casey Stengel as “the strangest man ever to play baseball” doing with the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig?  Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that Berg was not only playing for Washington’s baseball team but also its government.  The enigmatic Berg spoke seven languages (but “can’t hit in any of them,” according to Washington Senators teammate Dave Harris) and became a World War II spy gathering information in Japan and Eastern Europe for the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner to the CIA.  The subject of several biographies, no mediocre baseball player has received as much interest.

First Base – Lou Limmer.  When the Philadelphia Athletics first baseman stepped up to the plate as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning on May 2, 1951, ready to face Detroit Tigers Jewish pitcher Saul Rogovin who was being caught by Jewish catcher Joe Ginsberg, it marked the only known time that a Jewish hitter faced a Jewish pitcher with a Jewish catcher behind the plate.  The three missed the only opportunity to say Grace After Meals at a baseball game over a kosher hot dog with a quorum, but Limmer hit a home run.  Limmer later became the first baseball player to become the president of a synagogue, serving for five years at Castle Hill Jewish Community Center in New York.

Second Base – Gavin Fingleson.  Fingleson is probably the wandering Jew of baseball.  He started playing the sport at age five in his native Johannesburg, South Africa.  He moved to Australia and played for the country’s Under-16 and Under-19 teams.  Then he played college baseball in the United States at Wallace State Community College in Alabama and at Southeastern Louisiana University.  He also played minor league baseball in the United States and professional baseball in Taiwan.  In 2004, Fingleson helped Australia earn a baseball silver medal at the Athens Olympics.  He’s won the Maccabi Australia Sportsman of the Year award three times as the nation’s top Jewish athlete.  In 2009, Fingleson was named fielding coach of the Sri Lankan national cricket team.  “I will try and utilize my baseball skills while working with the Lankans,” he told Sri Lankan media.  Although Fingleson may never win a World Series, Fingleson has certainly traveled the baseball world.

Third Base – Kevin Youkilis.  The utility player for the Boston Red Sox since 2004 is a major subject in the Michael Lewis best-seller Moneyball that became a blockbuster movie this year.  Youkilis was not the most physically eye-catching player.  At the University of Cincinnati, also the alma mater of all-time great Jewish pitcher Sandy Koufax, he was “a fat third baseman who couldn’t run, throw, or field,” Lewis described in his book.  But Youkilis had a keen, discriminating eye for hitting good pitches.  He became one of the poster children for the movement in baseball that favors statistical efficiency and output over scouted talent and potential.  He is now a three-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion.

Shortstop – Jesse Baker.  We’ll never know how great Baker, born Michael Myron Silverman, may have been.  Baker played in only one game his entire career.  As a 24-year-old for the Washington Senators in 1919, Bennett started at shortstop in a 9-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers on September 14, had the ball hit to him once, fielded it cleanly, and made an out.  Bennett was replaced by Frank Ellerbe, and who knows why because Ellerbe went 0-for-3.  Baker never batted and never appeared in a Major League game again.  But the one time the ball came his way, he was perfect.

Left Field – Guy Zinn.  Zinn started arguably the greatest rivalry in baseball.  As a member of the New York Highlanders, the predecessor to the New York Yankees, Zinn led off against the Boston Red Sox in the first ever game played at Fenway Park on April 20, 1912.  Zinn walked and then scored the first ever run at Fenway.  New York and Boston Jews recount this tale every Passover during the Seder.

Center Field – Lipman Pike.  All the tradition of Jews and baseball can be traced back to Lipman Pike, the first known Jewish professional baseball player.  Pike played from 1871 to 1887 as a second baseman, shortstop, center fielder, and manager for the Troy Haymakers (1871), Baltimore Canaries (1872–1873), Hartford Dark Blues (1874), St. Louis Brown Stockings (1875–1876), Cincinnati Reds (1877–1878), Providence Grays (1878), Worcester Ruby Legs (1881), and New York Metropolitans (1887).  In 1877 Pike led the National League with four home runs.  Pike’s best attribute was his speed, which he also showed at Baltimore’s Newington Park in August 1873 when he won a 100-yard race against a horse named Clarence in a speedy 10 seconds.

Right Field – Mose Solomon.  In 1923, the New York Yankees had Babe Ruth, “The Sultan of Swat.”  The New York Giants had Mose Solomon, “The Rabbi of Swat.”  The Giants publicized the nickname and his signing at the end of the season.  “We appreciate that many of the fans in New York are Jews, and we have been trying to land a prospect of Jewish blood,” manager John McGraw said.  But with the Giants in a pennant race and already having proven outfielders, Solomon did not start right away. Solomon only played two career games.  He was 3-for-8 for a respectable .375 batting average but did not return to baseball after the season.

Designated Hitter – Ron Blomberg. Blomberg was the first player to be a designated hitter when the American League adopted the rule in 1973 that has become the major distinguishing factor between the American and National leagues.  On April 6, 1973, Blomberg walked for the New York Yankees with the bases loaded in his first at-bat against the Boston Red Sox.  After the game, Blomberg’s bat was sent to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Gather the Jews member Jonathan Horowitz ( 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 for details.


For the Super Popular: How to choose which Shabbat dinner.

This guy probably gets invited to 500 meals every Shabbat. Ah yee-uh...

Rachel Bernstein is a GTJ staff member.


Wouldn’t it be nice if Shabbat were every day?

Okay, maybe that’s not a unanimous mentality. I’m attached to my smartphone too.

But sometimes when you get double or triple-invited to Shabbat plans from friends or co-workers or people you just met, you don’t want to turn them down and wish you could just spread out the days or events so you could attend them all. Especially when we’re all here to make new friends and want to make sure we get invited out again. Turning down an invitation might make someone think you’re not interested in hanging out, right?

Hopefully not. If they’re good people, they’ll invite you again.

And if you’ve actually run into this conundrum of being so popular that you get invited to all sorts of things that overlap on weekends or even during the week, congrats. You’re so popular you probably don’t need to read this blog anymore. (Kidding—you still need to read this because I could really use the page hits. They make me feel validated when Gather the Jews’ esteemed editors/directors send out website statistics every week. I always lose out to posts about chocolate, dating, or the Jewish Guy of the Week, in no particular order.)

So here’s how you pick what wonderful things to do on a Friday night when your social life has become so illustrious.

  1. Family-first. If your family has invited you to something, they kind of win. Unless this is a regular event with the family and you don’t think it’ll kill them to miss your lovely presence for a week, blood is thicker than water. Or brand-new D.C. acquaintances. Something like that.
  2. If they’re leaving town for good soon or for whatever reason could otherwise use a warm, friendly face at their event. Be a good friend and appear and show support. Especially if you don’t know when you’ll see this particular person again, your host is going out of their way to be inviting for no other benefit than for everyone to have a good time.
  3. Go beyond the comfort zone. If you have the choice between something you usually attend on Friday night versus a brand new service or dinner or event, pick the new one. After a while, we get settled into our routines here in D.C., find our groove, and want to have some kind of normalcy. But if you can take it, shake it up every once in a while. Walk the extra few blocks (yes, I know it’s cold these days) to see something you haven’t before. You never know where that new experience can take you, and it might just set an unexpected tone for the weekend.

And if you were reading this entry wondering if and when I was going to plug in some events you can go to this week, you’re still in luck!

  • Adas Israel will have a Shabbat dinner for multiple generations starting at 6 p.m. Tickets cost $23.50 for adults and $16 for children if you haven’t gotten them already. Contact Carol Ansell at 202-362-4433 for details. Adas also has a Kabbalat Shabbat service for young professionals that starts at 6:30 p.m. with a happy hour and ends with dinner. RSVP here.
  • Sixth and I Historic Synagogue livens up Friday night with its annual wine tasting contest. Services start at 6:30 p.m., and dinner will be held at 8 p.m. Email the good folks at Mesorah DC for details.
  • Tikkun Leil Shabbat will be had at the Church of the Pilgrims building at 2201 P. St. NW, starting at 6:45 p.m. Services are followed by a potluck dinner, so bring something for all to share.



The Weather Outside is Frightful: Winter Date Ideas – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (week 20)

“Oh, the weather outside is frightful… but the fire is so delightful.”  (As an aside: Why does everyone on online dating sites like cuddling by the fire?  I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a fireplace, nor do I know anyone who does, except my parents.  So either all these people are living in posh places with a disproportionate number of fireplaces, or they think it’s what people want to hear.  I’d venture to say the latter.)

Back to business.  When the weather outside starts getting cold, and when you look out your window at 4:30 PM and it’s already dark, the thought of planning creative date ideas can get a bit daunting.  Have no fear. In a city like DC, there are plenty of fun and creative date ideas that can beat the cold and stoke the fire of a new relationship.

Enjoy a delicious winter drink that will warm you through and through

Go ice skating at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

  • Grab some hot chocolate, a pair of gloves, and show off your triple axel.  And speaking of hot chocolate…

Grab some hot chocolate or a spiked coffee

Volunteer together

  • Many organizations have volunteer activities in the winter to help people in need, such as throwing holiday parties, wrapping gifts, or packing meals.  The DC JCC is a great place to start.  You can show each other your caring side.

Go bowling   

  • Show off your skills at the alley… just don’t get a gutterball!

Just because you can’t bask in the sun at a Nats game or sit on the roof of El Centro, it doesn’t mean you can’t go out and have fun with your date… winter style.  Plus, who doesn’t like a pair of tall boots, right?  Enjoy… and button up.

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.


Dining at DISTRIKT Bistro… It’s Kosher!


Sometimes I’m so good I impress even myself.  Consider my following experience last night at DISTRIKT Bistro:

The scheduled time of my dinner date:  7:30.  My arrival time:  7:35 (I was at a meeting!).  The time of my first verbal blunder:  7:42.

Salad Niçoise is pronounced “nee-suaz.”  Unfortunately, I let loose a hard c before stopping myself.

To make things worse, my date — a tall Canadian Jew with lustrous dark hair — studied French in school and immediately picked up on my (seeming?) boorishness.

Fortunately, the salad tasted better than my pronunciation sounded, and the rest of my meal at DISTRIKT Bistro tasted just as good.


DISTRIKT Bistro is Washington, DC’s newest kosher restaurant.  It’s inside the DC JCC, which is, conveniently for me,  on 16th street between P and Q.

My eggplant cutlet. I should have taken the picture before messing up the presentation. Did you know there are male eggplants and female eggplants? One thing my date taught me.

But DISTRIKT Bistro hasn’t completely entered the kosher food circuit yet.  Most of the kosher conversations I hear still run along the lines of:  “On Monday nights we get Maoz and then watch our TV show; Tuesday nights we eat in; on Wednesday we go to Eli’s; Thursday it’s catch as catch can; and on Fridays we do a Shabbat meal somewhere.”

Part of this is due to DISTRIKT’s novelty — it’s not a year old yet.

But the other (and bigger?) part is its price.  DISTRIKT’s prices aren’t “every night” prices.  Dinner entrees range from $18 (Portobello steak) to $34 (Dijon Roasted Lamb) with most of the other dishes falling in the 20s.  Throw in an appetizer, and you’re up to at least $30 a person — considerably more than my milk-and-cereal wallet is used to spending (thank goodness we “make bank” at GTJ — See FAQ #11).   So DISTRIKT diners are special diners.  My date led me there last night.  And the two people dining next to us were there celebrating their fifth anniversary.

Where's the money Lebowski?

True, DISTRIKT is a bit more expensive than Eli’s, but it’s also more ornate.  It’s not everywhere — kosher or non-kosher — that you can order Eggplant Cutlets as an appetizer and have it presented to you with the balsamic dressing artistically drizzled around the edge of the plate.  Nor is it everywhere that you get such good service.  There weren’t many people in the restaurant, but even so, the waitress kept up with my water-chugging habits and other idiosyncrasies as if she had known me all my life.  I haven’t been to Eli’s enough times to fairly compare the service, but judging by the fact that Eli’s owner Manny hasn’t paid GTJ for his advertisement — despite repeated requests — in 10 months, it wouldn’t surprise me if Eli’s was sometimes a bit slow on its food too.

The biggest conventional downside to DISTRIKT is its location.  Being on 16th street is great, but most people find being on the ground floor of the JCC to be a bit off putting.  How fancy does that Dijon Roasted Lamb seem when you’re watching sweaty basketball players enter and exit the building?  I personally get a kick out of it because I get to see at least four friends every time I eat there, but I can understand where the negative sentiment comes from.

As for other dishes, my date had Morroccan Harira soup and the entree special: chicken marsala and rice pilaf.  I was assured both were delicious.  I’ve also heard good things about the lunch sandwiches and desserts.


All in all, very good food, a bit expensive (the tragedy of kosher dining?), good service, and questionable atmosphere.  I highly recommend DISTRIKT for kosher eaters looking to treat themselves to something nice, or if you want to break out of the M/N streets mold.


As for my date…  Great conversationalist, very interesting, very smart, but I think we’ve both agreed that it works best as a friendship.


P.S.  I know it’s a bit rich for somebody with extremely bizarre eating habits to review a restaurant… But… it was fun!





Lots of Jewish and Israeli Films This Week

Film buffs have several opportunities to enjoy Israeli and Jewish film screenings in the DC area this week and next.

First, come enjoy the latest installment of ReelIsraelDC, which offers the best contemporary Israeli cinema the last Wednesday of every month. This month’s feature is Naomi.This award winning thriller depicts the story of Ilan Ben Natan, a 58-year-old Astrophysics professor in Haifa, who discovers his young wife, Naomi, has taken a lover.

WHEN: November 30, 8:00 p.m.

WHERE: Avalon Theatre, 5612 Connecticut Avenue, NW

Click here for more information.

A day later, the 22nd Annual Washington Jewish Film Festival will kick off.

WHEN: December 1 – December 11

WHERE: DC JCC, 1529 16th St. NW

This event, co-sponsored by the Israeli Embassy and the Washington Jewish Week, features 47 new and award-winning Jewish films from around the world.  It will showcase special guests from around the world. including filmmakers, composers, writers, journalists and producers.

For the full schedule and to buy tickets, click here.


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