Good Deeds Day 2013!

display_imageWashington, DC (March 4, 2013) – American-Israeli businesswoman, philanthropist and founder of the International Good Deeds Day network, Shari Arison will attend this year’s local Good Deeds Day occurring on March 10, 2013. Her appearance will highlight the incredible work of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and its commitment to volunteerism through the annual Good Deeds Day event, which has become the second largest of these events outside of Israel, second only to New York City.  With projected participation of 3,000 local residents throughout the metropolitan DC area, Good Deeds Day has ignited over 88 projects around the city and its surrounds. The event will be one of the largest efforts of this kind seen in the area, at which the Israeli ambassador is also invited to attend.

The various volunteer projects will be spread across a vast metro DC area, from College Park, Maryland to Leesburg, Virginia, with the main highlighted event being open to the media and held in the heart of the District at the DCJCC.  Attending this event will be community volunteers of all ages, including Arison herself (11 a.m. through 12noon), who will be on-site thanking volunteers while also attempting to beat a sandwich-making world record.  The event, taking place from 10 am to 1 pm, will enlist participants to have fun while “breaking bread” and creating lunch boxes for the area’s underserved in an effort to assist in the fight against hunger locally.
Arison, well-known for being one of the Top 10 Billionaires in the Middle East and #288 on the worldwide Forbes’ Billionaires List is, not surprisingly, one of the most influential women in the world and has been dubbed one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in the Middle East.  Arison is the owner of Bank Hapoalim, Israel’s largest bank. She is the founder of the Arison Group, a global investment and philanthropic unit, and is the daughter of Ted Arison, founder of Carnival Cruise Lines.  Arison founded Good Deeds Day in 2007 to work as a simultaneous global celebration of volunteerism via her nonprofit organization Ruach Tova.WHAT: Good Deeds Day, Sandwich Making Community Project at the

    DCJCC with Shari Arison
WHEN: March 10, 2013
   10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
    (11 a.m.–12 p.m. Arison will be available for a short speech/media interviews)WHERE: DC Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th St NW, Washington, DC 20036

*Registration available now at“Every year, Good Deeds Day enables hundreds of thousands of people to experience the pleasure of doing something good for others and discover that in many cases, it’s really easy to help. As more people take part and come out to do a good deed, the circles of good grow.” says Arison.

“We are so honored to have Shari make a special trip to be part of our Good Deeds Day.  This day is important to our community, and helps us empower the city with the nutrients it needs,” DC co-chair of Good Deeds DayInna Dexter said.  “We would not be here without Shari’s vision and generous support.  We are looking forward to thanking her in person on behalf of the volunteers, and on behalf of the countless people whom this day has helped.”More information on the day can be found at as well as a comprehensive list of where and how to volunteer for all available events spanning DC, Northern Virginia and Maryland. There is something for everyone from preparing and serving hot lunches to the homeless at the So Others Might Eat event to attending a “Senior Prom” at the Jewish Council for the Aging; and from pre-planting at the Common GoodFarm to helping adopt out dogs at the Lost Dog Rescue, and many more—whether you are coming alone, with friends or as a family.

For media inquiries contact Tara Chantal Silver at and for questions concerning the event email or call 888-246-1818.

About Good Deeds Day

Founded in 2007, Good Deeds Day is an annual celebration of good deeds founded and pioneered by Shari Arison to spread a global celebration of volunteerism through her nonprofit organization Ruach Tova. Globally hundreds of thousands choose to volunteer and help others by putting into practice the simple idea that every single person can do something good, be it large or small, to improve the lives of others and positively change the world.The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington

The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington  ( is a community building organization that cares for those in need, deepens engagement in Jewish life and connects Jews to each other locally, in Israel and around the world.

Lessons Learned on the Mountain

thumbAlison Levine has climbed the highest peak on each of the seven continents.  She has skied to both the North and South Poles.  She is an adjunct professor at West Point and has survived working on Wall Street.  These accomplishments come in spite of the fact she was born with a rare heart defect and a blood vessel disorder that causes her vessels to narrow and inhibit blood flow.  She was also the speaker at The Federation of Greater Washington‘s Network event on February 28th.

After having surgery to correct her heart condition, Levine was free to pursue active interests including mountain climbing.  Levine shared with us the lessons she learned from her first attempt at Mt. Everest.

When first asked to be the team captain of the first American Women’s Everest Expedition, Levine originally said no.  Then the tragic events of 9/11 happened and changed the world.  Levine realized, you can’t let fear keep you from doing what you want to do and accepted the role as team captain.  However, the hard part was just beginning.  She needed to find the funds to buy the needed equipment to make it to the top of Everest.  It just so happened that her expedition coincided with the launch of the Ford Expedition, providing perfect marketing for the full-size SUV.  Levine jokes that she is glad it worked out with Ford because she was also in talks with Chevy whose full-size SUV was named the Avalanche…Much better to go with the Expedition than the Avalanche when climbing a mountain.   With her team and funding secured, it came time to climb the mountain.

everestClimbing Mt. Everest typically takes two months.  Starting at the base camp (see picture), a team will climb to Camp I and spend a night there.  After that night, they will climb back down to base camp and let their bodies recover.  Next, they will climb up to Camp II and then, after spending some time there, climb back down to base camp again.  They then repeat this process with Camp III.  The repeated trips are necessary because the body starts to degenerate after 18,000 ft. above sea level and the back and forth between the camps allows the body to adjust to the air pressure.  Levine admits that this process, constantly having to go backwards, can be mentally frustrating.  The important thing, she continues, is to remember that even when you are going backwards, you are still making progress- sometimes you have to go backwards to get where you want to be.

Levine learned another lesson on fear at the Khumbu Icefall.  Located between Base Camp and Camp I at the head of the Khumbu glacier, the Khumbu Icefall is one of the most dangerous stages of the route because it is constantly in motion.  Climbers must cross the area on ladders while large crevasses, thousands of feet deep, can open with little warning due to the movement of the glacier.  Levine admits fear when crossing the icefall, “Fear is okay, complacency is what will kill you.”  The fear keeps you on the edge of your game, aware of your surroundings.  The fear gets you across the icefall alive.

thumb (1)The trek up the mountain included a multitude of obstacles, including the death of a member of another team a day ahead of Levine reminding them that no matter how much you prepare, things can go wrong.  Levine wondered whether her team would continue after the death of the fellow climber.  However, the morning following the death, her team packed up their gear and continued their trek up.  Levine reminds us that even when the storm rolls in, it is only temporary.

Her team pushed forward and finally reached Camp IV where the death zone begins.  Altitudes above 26,000 ft. are considered to be in the death zone, the height at which the body begins to die.  At this point, the climbers must take ten to fifteen breaths for every step they take.  Ten to fifteen breaths.  For one step.  Insane.  This is also the point at which Levine began to freak out.  She told herself, “I just need to make it to that piece of ice.”  Then, when she had reached that piece of ice, “I just need to make it to that rock.”  When she was ready to give up, she told herself, “Just make it to the next landmark.”  The task ahead can seem overwhelming if you look at it as a whole, but breaking it into smaller parts makes it manageable, and that is how Levine moved through the death zone.

About 500 ft. from the summit, the situation began to change.  Storm clouds appeared, and  conditions quickly worsened.  Levine’s team had to choose between moving forward and risking their lives in the storm, or turning around and abandoning their summit attempt.  A team only gets one chance at the summit because they only bring enough supplies to make it through the death zone once- thumb (2)turning back meant losing the chance to reach the top.  Making the decision to turn back was harder than than continuing on for Levine, but she had to think of the members of her team.  You can’t always stick to the plan and action must be taken based on the situation at the time.  Levine’s teamed turned around, and in the end they made it back down the mountain with their lives.

That would not be Levine’s last attempt at Everest.  Eight years later, in honor of her friend Meg Berte Owen, Levine made it to the summit of Everest.  Reaching the summit also meant that Levine had completed the Adventurers Grand Slam: summiting the highest peak on every continent and reaching both the North and South poles.

I had the opportunity to speak briefly with Levine at the end of the event, and I took the time to ask her, “What advice to you have for young professionals at the beginning of their careers?”  Levine reiterated her earlier advice from earlier: Sometimes you need to go backwards to get where you want to be, and not to be afraid of that.

Levine was an inspiration to everyone who attended the Federation event Thursday night, and Gather the Jews wishes her well in all her future endeavors.


GTJ’s Response to, “All but Observant Welcome”

GTJ_Logo+Slogan-squareThe opinion expressed in the article, “All but Observant Welcome,” expresses the opinion of the author and does not represent the opinion of Gather the Jews.  GTJ’s mission is to bridge the gap between young adults and the DC Jewish community. The article is simply meant to start a dialogue about a practice in the DC Jewish community that concerns a subsection of the community.

Gather the Jews does not support a boycott against organizations mentioned in the article and thanks the AJC, the RJC, and J Street for the continued support they have shown Gather the Jews and the DC Jewish community.  Gather the Jews looks forward to continuing to work with these organizations to build the DC Jewish community.

If you want to address this issue further, please contact Aaron Wolff at or


A Letter to DC

wash-dome-obeliskDear Washington DC,

I moved to you two months ago from LA.  I have no family or friends in you, and I feel that you are consistently trying to defeat me with your nonsensical roundabouts and one-way streets that magically become two-way streets.  The differently timed traffic lights that face the same direction on Rhode Island and 1st is a nice touch.  One light is green and the one directly behind it is red????
Despite your best efforts to kill me on the road, I survive.  No, I THRIVE.  Here’s how:

Moving into you might have been scary were it not for my “Nobody knows me here….I’ll do what I want” attitude.  will fake it till I make it.  I have confidence in my step.  Treat yo’self 2013.  Oh ya oh ya.  These mantras liberate me, and I will take to your streets by foot and metro since you hate my car so much.  I will experience and love you till you love me back.  I will be whoever I want to be, I will go to bars and parties alone until I have friends, and even Beyonce will be proud of what an independent single lady I am.

I will walk from Bloomingdale to the H street Corridor.  I won’t care that it is snowing and I’ll ignore my Los Angelean soul screaming, “I need Vitamin D!  You, know the kind you get from the sun?”  How often did I even actually go to the beach in LA anyway?  Let’s be honest.  Not that often.

Through chattering teeth, I say, “Maybe I should buy a jacket, or something.”  Or something.  The East Coast really isn’t kidding around when it comes to winter, and when a co-worker tells me 2013 has been mild so far, a part of me dies.

My car is frozen in a sheet of ice.  I scrape it off with my “scraper.”  I have a scraper.  “Scrapin’ my car, scrapin’ my car,” I sing to myself, smiling, because the novelty of having to do the chore is fun this first time, but I later learn, it was fun ONLY that time.  DC, ya whateva.  I got this.

There’s nothing like discovering you on foot.  I get a real sense of your neighborhoods and people, and your architecture is eye candy, to say the least.  People are surprised that I will walk from to Dupont to Adam’s Morgan.  It’s honestly not that far, you guys!  I appreciate your residents’ pride and dedication to their respective hoods.  It makes for multiple communities, and the more references I can make to brunch, bottomless mimosas, the green line, and how I think Arlington is weird, the more accepted I feel.  And when I say, “I live in Bloomingdale. It is an up-and-coming city, much like a blooming flower,” I am golden.

My new roommates in my new DC group house are the best, and they even let me get away with never ever talking about politics.  They have lots of friends, so, by association, I do too.

So in the end, I feel cradled by you, DC.  I feel accepted and happy in you.  But most of all, I appreciate how you consistently flag and remove the Craigslist Ads I write pretending to be Obama looking for a roommate to split the cost of rent in the White House.




February 28th, 2013 – Click here for more info!


All but Observant Welcome

not kosh

Any opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and does not reflect the opinions of Gather the Jews. Read GTJ’s response here.

By profession, I am an officer in the United States Army.  My job has brought me all around the world.  I have both kept kosher and helped arrange Jewish servicemember events, always kosher, in locations as diverse as Seoul, Korea, Schweinfurt (Pig’s Crossing), Germany, and Baghdad, Iraq.  It perplexes me then why some Jewish organizations, which tout their inclusiveness, insist on the exclusion of observant Jews by serving non-kosher food.  At a time when far too many Jews are completely unaffiliated and totally disengaged from American Jewish communal life, Jewish organizations which have non-kosher events send a unmistakable “We don’t want you” message to observant Jews – a group which tends towards the most engagement, affiliation, and participation.   Jewish organizations of every ideological stripe, which claim to welcome the entire community, act in this exclusionary fashion.  A few examples:

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) is dedicated to “to work(ing) towards a world in which all peoples (are) accorded respect and dignity” by promoting “pluralistic and democratic societies.”  Apparently, observant Jews aren’t a part of this “pluralism,” or necessarily in line for “respect and dignity.”  Last month, the AJC held a Winter Access DC party at which it served non-kosher food and wine.  I asked Jason Harris, the Assistant Director of AJC’s Washington Office, why the AJC holds non-kosher events.  He responded by stating that the AJC serves “’kosher-style’ (food) when we host events at any bars or reception halls…” and that it is just too hard to find kosher food or catering in Washington.

J-Street claims that it is “rooted in commitment to Jewish values.”  Evidentially, kashrut isn’t a part of the “Jewish values” in which J-Street is rooted.  The 2011 J-Street National Conference featured only non-kosher food.  Google “J-Street kosher” and you can read about the experiences of observant participants who had nothing to eat for three days.  Benjamin Silverstein, New Media Associate with J-Street, states “the food at our events is at a minimum kosher style” and J-Street will “accomodate (sic) for specific needs.”  At least if the blogosphere is accurate, at the 2011 National Conference, BLTs and Turkey and Cheese sandwiches qualify as “kosher-style” and “accommodation” in J-Street parlance.

I went to a Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) Hanukah party and found waitresses strolling with (non-kosher) lamb appetizers and butter sauce.  I find this conduct distasteful, and stopped attending RJC functions.  Just recently, I got an email from an RJC staffer, asking me and other Jewish Republicans to come back to the organization.  I asked the RJC’s staffer whether the RJC had changed its practices.  She stated that the RJC tries “to keep our events as kosher (or kosher-style) as possible.”

“Too hard.”  “Accommodation.” “As kosher-style as possible.” Really?  To be clear, “kosher style” food is not kosher and has the same status under halacha (Jewish law) as bacon.  Observant Jews do not and cannot eat it.  Anyone who organizes a Jewish event is or should be completely conscious of the fact that he or she excludes a portion of our community by serving “kosher-style (ie non-kosher) food.   Why, then, do it?

Some argue “well, it is just too difficult” or “it costs too much” to have a kosher event.  I am unmoved by tepid demurrer concerning the logistical difficulties of obedience to basic Jewish law.  During my military career, adherence to Jewish law has not always been easy.  Sometimes, when organizing Jewish events, loyalty to Jewish standards has meant serving potato chips and soda.  Throwing hands-in-air, exclaiming “O well, too hard/too expensive,” and serving non-kosher food was never a thought – not for me, and not for the other participants, many of whom were not necessarily religious and did not keep kosher.  Such surrender would be to the collective denial of Judaism and to the individual exclusion of the observant members of the community who would be unable to participate (and yes, there are observant Jews in the American military).  If Jewish events can be kosher in Korea and Iraq- in the middle of a war- why not here, in Washington, where there are kosher caterers, kosher restaurants, and even non-Jewish venues with kosher kitchens?

There is no reason and no excuse for a non-kosher Jewish community event.  It can be done here, and can be done with relative ease.
DC-based Jewish organizations of both local and national reach, including The Jewish Federation of Washington, the DCJCC, Hillel, AIPAC, and Gather the Jews only sponsor events which are kosher and have policies against serving non-kosher food.  If these groups can do it, all can do it.

Others may ask “So you don’t eat… So what?”  I doubt very seriously that anyone in community leadership would dare organize a joint event with Muslims which featured a beer/wine guzzle, or propose a Catholic-Jewish symposium centered around a beef barbeque on Friday during Lent.  A liquor-based event would show profound disrespect to the sacred traditions of Islam.  A meat-centric event during Lent would send a highly offensive message to Catholics.  In both examples, Catholics or Muslims are consigned second-class status because they cannot fully participate and cannot eat.  The same leaders, however, are perfectly content to send the same offensive, exclusionary and disrespectful message to observant Jews when their organizations serve non-kosher food – the message that the religious traditions of our people are unimportant and may be whimsically disregarded.

I, and many others who are observant, decline the exclusionary attitude and second-class status offered by Jewish community organizations which serve non-kosher food at their events.  Members of these organizations should insist on change.  It can be “kosher-style” or it can be “inclusive,” but it can’t be both and we, the observant members of the community, will not participate in your organizations so long as your dismissive posture remains.

Note from the RJC: The author of this piece references an incident that occurred several years ago and the author is no longer affiliated with or involved with the RJC.  We would like to highlight a point omitted by the author that all the major events that the organization has hosted, including the Presidential Candidates Forum and events at the GOP convention in Tampa, were strictly kosher.


GTJ Satirist Brian F. – 21 People You Meet at a Jewish Singles Happy Hour

jew hhThe Serial J-Daters:
Dressed in their bar/bat mitzvah best.  They haven’t seen your profile before, so they approach you and refuse to walk away until they find something in common so they can turn it into a date.  For example: “Oh so you’re drinking beer?  I like to drink beer, I know a great place where I can take you for a beer.”

The Harem of Girls Who Stand at the Bar in a Circle and Refuse to Mingle:
You know the group of girls who all go out together to meet guys, yet just complain amongst their friends about how they never meet any guys?  Yeah, its because they’re at the bar talking to each other with their arms crossed and their attitude full throttle.  Save the drama for your momma, and mingle with something single.

The Gaggle of Dudes Who Stand by the Bar and Refuse to Mingle:
Sour grapes who are certain that there is no one of quality to hit on at the bar.  After about two hours of this, they end up at an Irish Bar with the dudes they showed up with.

The Matchmaker:
Matchmaker, matchmaker, we just met, but you’re quite intent on setting me up with someone: “Oh my god, I have a friend who would be perfect for you.  He/she is single, and Jewish, and their dad and my dad were roommates at Brandeis!  Small world!  Just Facebook him/her, oh, and just be yourself.”

The Shark:
Doesn’t talk to anyone, just walks in circles and stalks his would-be prey like a balding Jaws in Gap khakis.  Harmless.

The “You Should Come Over To Shabbos” Guy:
World record holder for pushiness.  Just to throw him off, ask him if Shabbos is this Wednesday or next Tuesday.

The State School Booster:
Go team go!  Newsflash pal, being a devoted college football fan is not a major.  And how do you know so many people here tonight?

The Private School Elitist:
It takes four questions to find out where this un-humble snot went to college.
“What was your major?”
“I studied economics.”
“Oh where?
“What part?”
“Oh really? Which school?”
“Never heard of it.”

The AEPi Recent Alumnus:
Drinks?  Drinks?  Anyone want a drink?  He is actually more interested in getting drunk than hitting on you tonight, so you’ve been warned.  For an interesting conversation, ask him about the brand of dogfood he had to eat during hell week.  At least he won’t give you a dead-fish handshake.

The AEPhi/SDT/Alphabet Soup Sorority Alumnus:
“Well on MY campus, your sorority is blah blah blah blah fat chicks and coke!”

Join my Kickball/Softball/Bocce Ball Guy:
“I think they’re hitting on me…wait no, they actually are serious about getting me to join their recreational sports team.”

The Jewish Geographer:
All of the matches end in one of three ways: I hate them, I haven’t seen them in 10 years, or endless drivel about some innocuous Bar Mitzvah/summer camp/shiva story.

The Consultant:
They work for Accenture/Booz Allen/Deloitte.  They can’t explain in less than five paragraphs what it is they do by day.  They swear they never go on Facebook because it’s blocked at work, yet post endless pictures from every vacation they won’t shut up about.  And you have got to be kidding.  You’re 22 and you are a consultant?  You are only qualified to audit my deliverables in the beer pong department.

The Hill Rat:
Works for a Senator.  Works for a Representative.  You know this because they mentioned it to you before formally introducing themselves.  To find out whether they’re a Democrat or a Republican, just say “Obama” and see if they scowl or start skipping.

The Intern:
Don’t worry, if they’re in the bar, they’re not under 21.  But they certainly don’t act like it.  They are likely not being compensated at work, so buy ’em a drink.  Consider letting them crash on your futon.

The First-Year-Out-Of-Law School Lawyer:
Ah yes, what would be a Jewish singles event without a nice Jewish lawyer?  Acts as if the two greatest pick-up lines in the world are, “I have so little time these days” and “I hate my job.”

The Offensive New Yorker:
They act as if there is something seriously wrong with you if you are a Jew that did not grow up in Manhattan.  Likely complaining that there is no decent place in Washington, DC to get a perfect bagel and pastrami sandwich.

The West Coast Jew:
If you run out of things to say to them, just mention In-N-Out.  That’ll get them swooning.

Jersey Jew:
Not nearly as awful as MTV would like you to think.

The Just Back from Birthright-ers:
Inside jokes galore.  Be on the look-out for grievances about hiking Masada, Discotheque, Bombas, Schwarma, and trysts with furloughed IDF soldiers.

Your Bashert:
Somewhere in the list above.

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


GTJ Satirist Brian F. – Song-Clapping at Shabbat Services All Over the Damn Place

clappBRENTWOOD, CA – (TWITTER: @The Comedy News) – The congregants at Temple Beth Raash (בית רעש) in Brentwood, California have been running into some musical mishaps for the past few Friday nights: the congregants can’t seem to clap at the right moments.

“We have tried in vain to get our audience to clap together and on time,” lamented Rabbi Steven Zembrowsky.  “I have had three different Cantors quit on us in the past year.  One even stormed out shouting about how she should have never converted from southern Baptist.”

During song sessions, congregants singing along with the Rabbi and Cantor can hardly seem to clap at any of the right moments, rather, are just making lots of white noise that drowns out the amplified service-leaders.

Typically, the Rabbi will lead the service along with a Cantor strumming a guitar.  These days, however, the Beth Raash song-leaders can barely recruit a Cantor who can mash a tambourine without becoming frustrated with a beat-illiterate audience.

Temple Beth Raash has brought in consulting firm Booz and Company to study how the songleaders can get congregants to clap at the right moments.

After a three hour study, analysts concluded that the biggest musical gaffes tend to occur towards the end of services, particularly during the chanting of “Oseh Shalom”.

“Honestly, they’ve got a long way to go,” notes a senior Booz consultant specializing in Religious Song Cohesion.  “And according to an Apollo Theater-style survey, the only people that really care about this are the Rabbi, the Cantor, and five or six posturing musical has-beens in the audience.  Everyone else is quite jolly clapping off-beat and wrong.”

Still, Rabbi Zembrowsky is quite miffed by his congregation’s musical malignity.

“These days,” scowled the Rabbi, “I can barely do the eye-cover thing during the Shemah.  I just stand with my hands on my hips, head down—-embarrassed.”

At the most recent Shabbat Service, Rabbi Zembrowsky stormed-out midway through the service yelling, “Yasher koach, you tone-deaf little shits!”

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




“Did you see what they fished out from the Dead Sea?”

Any opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and does not reflect the opinions of Gather the Jews

Some friends and I decided to celebrate Rosh Chodesh Adar at the Dead Sea.  While laying on the sand in the women’s beach, we noticed observant school girls starting to file in.  Soon, the already busy shore was bustling with pre-teens enjoying a special holiday tiyul.  Most of them just looked at the water, some went in still dressed in their shoes and stockings and long skirts.  A few of them wandered over to us – as entranced by our one-piece bathing suits and exposed shoulders and thighs as we were by their rather unorthodox swimming attire.  The girls were excited to try out their English on some actual Anglos.  After a few minutes of small talk about where everyone was from, and wasn’t it such nice weather, their teacher pulled them away.

I put my head down and was drifting off when I heard someone shouting my name.  One of my friends was excitedly brandishing two fists full of plastic bags and empty Bamba packages.  I’m easily aggravated by litter, organizing clean ups once a month in my neighborhood in Jerusalem, and picking up plastic cups and other debris I see when I’m walking around, so it’s nothing new for them to tease me with garbage.

But this was different.  This was garbage carelessly thrown into the Dead Sea by observant students with garbage bins not 10 meters away from them, and their teachers are standing right there, completely unconcerned by their actions.  I couldn’t understand these teachers – didn’t they care that their students were throwing garbage in one of the most famous bodies of water in the world?

I’ve been around this country and have seen Israelis of various ages, genders, and religious observance tossing garbage on the ground, so I know everyone participates in this behavior.  Still, there is something about seeing these actions done by observant Jews that I find to be especially distressing – haven’t we been desperately praying to G-d for the past 2,000 to be able to return to Eretz Yisrael? Now that we are allowed back they show their gratitude by throwing garbage on the ground?

I’m aware it isn’t realistic to expect that every observant Jew should be motivated to keep the environment in Israel clean as part of their overall desire to serve G-d.  However, as an observant Jew myself, I think it is completely reasonable to expect that everyone have the decency to refrain from throwing garbage on the ground, especially when it isn’t difficult to put it in a trash bin.  But, if the teachers don’t have the derech eretz to find this behavior abhorrent, how can we expect anything more from their students?

I do think there is the potential to change this environmental apathy.  Israel previously launched a program to increase environmental awareness, with extremely successful results.  Wildflowers are a fixture of the Israeli landscape, but not long after the birth of the State, they were being picked to the point that their populations were threatened.  In the 1960s, the Ministry of Agriculture worked with the environmental advocacy group the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, to inform Israelis about the new law that made picking wildflowers illegal.  A special emphasis was made to educate kindergartners, who in turn would correct their parents if they began to bend down and pluck a flower.  Having your 5 year old remind you not to do something illegal seemed to be an effective method of prevention, as the campaign worked and wildflowers can be found in abundance all over Israel.

So we see, that when something becomes a priority for Israel, they are able to successfully disseminate information to the people, as well as motivate them to comply.  With this in mind, I think the time has come to launch a new campaign reminding people not to litter with a special emphasis put on educating students.  My Hebrew isn’t good enough yet to think of the Israeli equivalent of ‘Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute’, but I’m open to suggestions.  With the right outreach and education, I am confident that in a few years we have the potential to see students reminding their teachers not to litter.

This article was also published in the Times of Israel.

Samantha Hulkower, former Jewish Girl of the Week, is on sabbatical from DC in Israel. Her blog, Derech Eretz Israel, discusses environmental issues in Israel. Like her page on facebook to stay in the know. Comments and ideas for topics you’d like to see Samantha research are welcomed!


Practice Makes… Better – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (No. 59)

practiceWhen I was younger, I took piano lessons.  Did I practice?  Nope.  Can I play the piano today?  Not really.  I still have to think about “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” and “Good Boys Do Fine Always,” or “Great Big Dogs Fight Animals,” as my teacher taught me.  (For those not so musically inclined or who just have no idea what I’m talking about, those are the notes on the treble and bass clef, respectively.)

Later in life, when I decided that I wanted to sing, which is something I really love, I wished I had actually listened to my teacher and parents (don’t tell them I said that).  While I certainly never had any desire to be a concert pianist or anything, practicing would have helped me later when I discovered which form of music I wanted to pursue.

You’re probably thinking, “I thought I was reading a dating column.  What does practicing the piano have to do with dating?”  In life, practicing makes you better for when that thing comes along that you really want to pursue.  And in this case, that thing is a future date.

A friend once wrote to me, “So… I just took down my JDate profile because I started dating someone a few weeks ago and we DTRed last night.  I didn’t meet him on JDate but I do think that I was a lot more comfortable going on dates with him because I’d been getting a lot of practice on JDate, figuring out how to be slightly less awkward at ending dates, and really identifying what was important to me and which behaviors to look for that signaled that the person had the characteristics that I was looking for.  Everyone knows the old adage that ‘practice makes perfect,’ but I don’t know if a lot of people really think about how much that can be applied to date-like interactions, which can be really complex.  I really do think it helped build up my confidence and comfort level with guys.”

I couldn’t agree more.  Now, I’m not saying to go out with just anyone to get some practice, but it’s important to remember that going on dates can only help define what you’re looking for in a partner.  It can also, as my friend pointed out, help you hone your conversational skills.  While every date may not lead to a trip down the aisle, each will fill your toolbox with useful skills to apply next time.

I see many people peek into speed-dating events or quickly scan a page of JDate for 30 seconds only to decide on the spot that no one there interests them.  If you’ve likely already committed the time (and often money), it’s worth joining and meeting new people (even if only to become friends), while practicing the art of flirting, engaging in witty banter, and making conversation with a broad range of people.  And when you come face-to-face with the guy or girl who you’ve had your eye on for a while, you’ll know that you’re fully equipped to make a great impression.

So take it one date at a time.  Practice will never make it perfect.  (We’re still talking about dating here, so there’s always going to be an element of awkwardness!)  But practice will make it better, for sure.

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

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


A Young Doctor’s Journey in Israel Part I: Arriving in the Holy Land

Alex is spending the month in Tel Aviv as an International Fellow at the Gertner Health Policy Institute.  Over his next few columns he will share his adventures in Israel with us.

After a comfortable transatlantic flight we approached Israel.  For miles I had been flying over small Greek Isles that studded the vast ocean like a few raisins might a large, hot bowl of oatmeal.  From the air you can appreciate the increasing frequency of crashing waves and the appearance of small reefs and rock outcroppings below the tranquil blue waters.  After several minutes of starring anxiously out the plane window, the coast line of Israel appears suddenly.  I was immediately taken by a sense of welcome and of home.


As more of the coast became visible, I noticed quite to my surprise how I recognized the beach and buildings.  In fact, after studying the map of Tel Aviv over the previous weeks (and especially last weekend with my Israeli friends), seeing it all from the bird’s eye view was breathtaking.  More landmarks came into view, from Hilton Beach to the Yarkon River, which separates the Northern Port of Tel Aviv (with the Sackler School of Medicine) from the main part of Tel Aviv (where I will live).  The circle of Kikar Hamedina was easily visible and then I saw the Azrieli towers with their trifecta of buildings: one shaped like a triangle, one like a square, and one circular rising up from Tel Aviv.  The flight continued from the sun-soaked Bauhaus architecture of Tel Aviv to inland Israel, passing over rolling countryside with evidence of farming below.  We landed without difficulty and I went about gathering my belongings, proceeding through customs and getting settled in Tel Aviv.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe area of center city Tel Aviv, where my apartment is, has been described by many as the center of all that is happening in Tel Aviv.  It is four blocks from the beach and a short walk to the Carmel Market (the shuk-but more on this later).  My street, Dizengoff, is studded with coffee shops, start-ups, and many shops and restaurants.  It is hard to compare this neighborhood to something in America.  It certainly has the tropical vegetation and precipitation of Miami, it has the start-up feel and walkability of San Francisco and it has the markets and narrow alleyways that remind me of New York, or even Paris.

I began to settle into my apartment and took a short walk around the neighborhood.  I then met up with Jeremy at the apartment.  Jeremy is a close friend from college (from France initially) who is a third year medical student at the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University.  Sackler is an American style medical school (4 years) in Israel that prepares its students to be resident applicants in the US.  They spend 4 months of their fourth year rotating in US hospitals and another two months interviewing at mostly Northeast US residencies.  This is in contrast to the Israeli system of medical training which takes their students directly out of military service for a 6 year program- all in Israel.  I had met several Sackler students during my interviews and they, along with Jeremy, love their program.  Sackler students rotate at 6 Tel Aviv hospitals and seem to get excellent didactic training.  Jeremy just came off Pediatrics and is enjoying living in downtown Tel Aviv.  Over the course of the evening I met a couple of Jeremy’s classmates who were also filled with enthusiasm for Israel and their program.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe took a nice walk throughout center city, along Frishman and Ben Yahuda streets until reaching Gordon Beach.  The view of the Mediterranean was wonderful and we continued our walk south as we discussed Jeremy’s experience in Israel.  We toured the Dizengoff square and shopping center and discussed plans for Shabbat tomorrow night.  We grabbed a quick meal of schnitzel and hummus and said our goodbyes.

Before my first Shabbat in Tel Aviv, I explored the pre-Shabbat Carmel Market (the Shuk).  As I entered, I took in the amazing colors of fresh strawberries, bananas, and all sorts of pastries.  There were stalls filled with everything you could imagine; flowers of exquisite colors and varieties.  One stall was devoted to olive oil and I enjoyed several samples.  The drizzle that had been falling throughout the afternoon quickened to a downpour so after buying an umbrella and seeing the stalls begin to close for Shabbat, I took off back to the apartment.  I got dressed for my first Shabbat in Israel, which will surely be an incredible experience!

Liked this article? Stay tuned for Alex’s next article on Israeli health policy, innovation, and clinical care.


Weekly Evening Learning Opportunities in DC/MD/VA


Pina Colada Hamantaschen

photo (1)I love hamantaschen, especially poppyseed.  But one of the best parts about them is that they can be filled with almost anything.  For this column, I tried to go outside the box with my fillings.  I tested three: pina colada, caramel popcorn, and pecan pie.  I thought the caramel popcorn ones would either turn out really well or really badly.  They weren’t so bad, actually, but nothing, as my family says, we’d serve to company.  The pecan pie hamantaschen have potential, but I had some serious technical difficulties with those.  Perhaps next year, I can post a recipe for pecan pie hamantaschen that did not have the filling leak out.  The last hamantaschen standing were the pina coladas: traditional fruit filling kicked up a notch.  And delicious.

Total time: about 1.5 hours

Yield: about 4 dozen

Level: Moderate


  • 1 cup crushed pineapple
  • ½ cup shredded coconut
  • 1-2 tbsp sugar (optional)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 stick butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp milk
  • 3 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 3 cups flour, plus extra for rolling


  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. In a small bowl, sitr together pineapple, coconut, and 1-2 tbsp of sugar, to taste (if using unsweetened coconut and/or pineapple).  Set aside.
  3. In a mixing bowl, blend butter and sugar until creamy.  Mix in eggs and milk.
  4. In a separate bowl, stir together flour and baking powder.  Add to the other ingredients, mixing until combined.  (It may be easier to mix with your hands for this step.)
  5. Working in batches, roll out the dough between two pieces of well-floured parchment, to a thickness of ¼”.  You may need to add more flour as you roll.
  6. Using a 2-3” diameter cookie cutter or glass, cut circles out of the dough and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.
  7. Place a teaspoon of the pineapple mixture in the center of each circle.  Fold in three sides to make a triangle and tightly pinch the corners closed.
  8. Bake for 12-16 min, being careful not to brown them on top.

© Courtney Weiner.  All Rights Reserved.


The Neverending Craigslist Shabbat Story

board-gamesRECAP: There was an ad titled “Seven Single White Jewish males Looking to Host Seven Single Women for Shabbat Dinner.”  I responded.  The ad went viral. I got picked.  I became a “chosen one.”  I went.  It was fun(ny).  Since this first dinner an entirely different group of mystery men invited the “Sensation Six” women (six because one girl didn’t show) to join them in a second Shabbat dinner.  Here is my account of Part II Craigslist Shabbat.  Read Part I here.

The “unofficial” invitation:


It is very humbling to email the Sensational Six, the amazing group selected to attend the infamous Craiglist Sabbath Dinner.  It is pretty awesome that you now have definitive proof that you are the 6 coolest girls in DC…

Given that, it would be an honor to invite you to a SECOND dinner. It will be tough to live up to the first one, but there will be some key differences:

  1. I don’t know how to cook. Nor do my friends. Thus, the meal will be catered.
  2. There will be 6 guys instead of 5. The guys will be pre-vetted by one of your own– and the guys will be in suits (subject to change).
  3. There will be board games.  And ping pong.”

Upon receiving this email, a feeling of ultimate satisfaction washes over me.  I had moved to the East Coast only months ago, not knowing a soul.  Now I was bell of the ball.  Had I suddenly become a DC Jewish socialite?  Would I be receiving a string of fancy dinner invites from mystery men from now until the end of time?  Hey, a Jewish girl can dream a Jewish dream, can’t she?

In preparation for dinner, each girl was instructed to answer a few questions: Three adjectives to describe themselves (my answer: Jew, Jewy and Jewess), two songs to add to the dinner mix (Prince – “Purple Rain” and Hall and Oates – “I Can’t Go for That”…pure groove, please).  On a scale of 1 to 10, rate your singing voice (–googleplex).  Entrance to the soiree would be denied without our “official” printed ticket.

Friday night.  7:30pm.  I am parked in front of said mystery apartment, crumpled ticket buried in the depths of my bag.  In my $15 Forever 21 dress and my $5 Forever 21 necklace, I feel…what’s the word?  ABFAB.  This is the second time I am putting myself in this type of situation, so my social anxiety is only revved up to half (instead of full) speed, but I still have to sit in my car for an extra ten minutes to mentally prepare.

I make my way to the door and someone is waiting with a list of names.  I present her with my golden ticket, and she leads me up the apartment and announces, “Please welcome Sarah the Jew, Jewy Jewess!”  Like good kosher hams, the boys are wearing matching black jackets with red shirts underneath.  A beautiful table is set, and a waiter (yes, a waiter) takes my coat.  I sit down, introductions are made, and there is a quick game of Taboo as the other girls trickle in.  I am happy to see their familiar faces and we know that we are in for a second night of pure hilarity.

“Dinner is served!”  Let the ridiculousness ensue.

The dinner is catered and the host has planned the play-by-play for the evening.  We sing the Shabbat prayers while Miley Cyrus parties in the USA in the background.  We make a toast to the host, who then pulls out a drawing that one of his friends created as a representation of The Sensational Six Sabbath 2013.  Yes, now this night has an artwork dedicated to it.

We go around the table and play two truths and a lie— list two true facts about yourself and one lie.  Let the group guess which is the lie.  Mine: I took swing dance classes with the Olsen twins; I hung out with the Wu Tang Clan one night; I have had a jam session with Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite.  Hint: the one you want to be true is true.

The game is interrupted when the host says, “Sorry, BUT the magician is here.”  Wait, what?  There is a magician, and suddenly this is the most magical night of all time.

The magician is wearing a black jacket and red shirt to match the boys.  He comes, does amazing things, leaves.  We open our Justin Bieber goodie bags to find special treats, including a custom wrapped chapstick labeled, “Soiree with The Sensational Six.”

Chattiness and smiles all around, and the raspberry lady cocktails don’t hurt.  I talk to some of the boys, and as usual (when I am nervous) I list every embarrassing/strange thing about myself in a row.

  1. I have face blindness.
  2. I like torture (What I MEANT to say was, I like a genre of campy gore horror movies.  EX. The Saw series…but I might have just stopped at…I like torture).

The Karaoke comes out.  One of the guys is a Shaggy impersonator.  ‘Nuff said.  Ping pong is played, and then a game of poker.  I win everything.  And by “win,” I mean “lose.”

And so the night winds down and we thank the host for having us.  I had a great time and the memories of these unique experiences will always stay with me.  Hopefully we will all meet again and the Craigslist Shabbat invites will keep rollin’ in, but mostly I hope to stay in touch with the other “Sensational Six” women because they are, what’s the word?….SENSATIONAL!

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