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Jewish Volunteer of the Week!

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Jackie: What first brought you to DC?

Stephanie: I grew up in the DC area and have stayed in this area because of all it has to offer (including going to Virginia Tech for my undergraduate).  You can walk around in the city or escape to the countryside and there’s always something new and exciting going. I hope to one day explore somewhere else but for now I’m happy.  

Jackie: I hear that you volunteer with ASPCA and other animal adoption organizations. How did you get involved with volunteering there?

Stephanie: I have always been big into volunteering and helping others in need. I started volunteering with A Forever Home Animal Rescue when I was in high school.  When I got back from college- something felt missing.  So I started helping with A Forever Home which helps find forever homes for puppies and dogs that will be killed in high-kill shelters all over most of northern Virginia and Maryland.  I also recently have gotten involved in Dunn Loring Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department in Fairfax County and ride as a volunteer EMT (emergency medical technician).  It’s a lot of hard work and training but it’s worth it to help someone who truly needs your help.  steph4

Jackie: What inspired you to pursue an MBA?

Stephanie: I graduated with my MBA in May 2015. I graduated Virginia Tech with an animal science degree and a minor in business.  I found that in order to grow in my career – I was going to need more of a business background. That is when I decided to go for my MBA.  I found it helped shape me for the future as it enhanced my critical thinking skills.  

Jackie: So you recently graduated from grad school, volunteer regularly, work full-time, and on top of it all are an advisor to Masada BBG. How do you balance it all?  

Stephanie: When I’m asked about my weakness… I always say that my weakness is taking on too much.  I am often stretched to my limits and pulled in different ways from work to my friends to volunteering to school.  However – it is worth it in the end. I can truly say that I have accomplished things in my life and say that I’m working towards a better me.  I feel that you never stop learning or growing and you have to value the little things in life because otherwise – what is your life worth? 

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Jackie: What is your favorite way to spend Shabbat?

Stephanie: I don’t get a chance to truly celebrate shabbat often, but when I do, I love to have a big group of people celebrating over a “family” dinner or sitting around a bonfire singing and having a good time together.  I think the importance of shabbat is to celebrate others in your life.  

Finish the sentence: When the Jews Gather, there will be… 

Stephanie: …food, wine and good friends.  

 

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Behind the Scene interview with My So Called Jewish Life Performer

rmiron 2014 3Jackie: You have been a radio and television journalist for 15 years now. How did you get involved with journalism and broadcasting?

In fact I was a radio and TV journalist for 17 years but went on from there to work for the UN in diplomacy and now for the World Bank on communications related issues. But I got into it by chance. After studying history at University in the UK I was lost for ideas and given my wanderlust and curiosity for world affairs ended up travelling for a year in South East Asia, Australia and the Middle East. I then went on to journalism school and from there from a traineeship with the BBC – initially in children’s radio (I became expert at interviewing 7 year olds!) and then moved into new reporting with the BBC’s international service.

 

Jackie: As a journalist, you have been based all over the world. Where is your favorite place you lived?

Without a shadow of a doubt it would have to be Tel Aviv. It is Miami on the Mediterranean but with better food, nightlife, and in one of the most exciting regions on earth (no offence intended to Florida). I was initially based there from the mid-90’s when the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians was moving ahead. It was a time of hope – even with the outbreaks of violence, and there was a real excitement to living in the such a vibrant and dynamic city. Tel Aviv was also my base for reporting in the wider Middle East, and it was interesting to contrast it with other places in the region. Interestingly Beirut was in many ways the city most like Tel Aviv in the Middle East.

untitledJackie: So you’ve worked in the Middle East, Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans. What brought you to DC?

Prior to moving to DC I had a job as a diplomat with the UN in Jerusalem – as the spokesman to the Secretary-General’s Envoy on the Middle East Peace Process. It was a job I was offered in 2007 at a time when I was with the BBC and I thought it would be interesting to return to the Middle East in a different capacity. I spent five years again in Israel, with my family and again loved living there. But it was never my intention to stay, and I was interested both in the issue of international development and in living in the US. Growing up the UK, America seemed larger than life, glamorous and exciting. I also thought that in terms of Jewish life it would be interesting for my family (I have two young daughters), as it is much larger and more diverse than the Jewish community in London, as well as very different from the completely immersive experience in Israel.

runningJackie: You’re are going to be a part of  “My So-Called Jewish Life,” at Sixth and I,  how did you get involved with Story District?

I love story-telling or at least listening to stories being told. I think there is something in my blood both professionally and culturally  that draws me to stories. I come from a very vocal family where loud Friday night Shabbat dinners  included discussions and holding the floor with stories. Added to this, I have also become an avid listener to podcasts – in particular ‘The Moth’ and was keen to find out about similar live offerings in DC. I stumbled across Story District on line and on an impulse submitted a story which they amazingly accepted.

Jackie: Who is your favorite Jew?

Difficult question….On balance I think it is Yitzhak Rabin. He was there at some of the formative moments in the creation and development of the State of Israel. Without his prowess as a commando leader in 1948 and head of the Israeli Army in 1967, Israel could have suffered terribly.  He was a soldier who ultimately pursued peace, and a man who ultimately gave his life for that cause. His assassination marked a terrible moment for Israel, and the consequences of his murder remain unresolved and continue to be felt to this day.

Jackie: What is your favorite Chanukah tradition?

It would have to be spinning the dreidel for chocolate coins. It effortlessly combines two of my loves: eating and games of chance.

Finish the sentence: When the Jews gather, there will be…

Lots of disagreement, eating, noise and balagan (chaos) – but it’ll be fun.

 

See Richard perform this Sunday December 13th at 6:30, My So Called Jewish Life at Sixth & I Synagogue.

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Yes I’m Jewish, despite the last name.

For the last year and a half, I’ve been performing and traveling with some “undercover Jews” on a tour entitled, “You’re Funny, But You Don’t Look Jewish.” Our show features African American, Indian, Italian American and Vietnamese Jewish comedians. I’m the token Italian American Jew in the show.

Capozzola onstage picI’ve personally done a lot of shows at synagogues, for Hillels, and appearances at Jewish events. But a small portion of my set always needed to be wasted on explaining exactly why a guy named Mike Capozzola is booked in a show with comics named Goldman, Cohen and Markowitz.  The line up usually sounded like a law firm, plus a typo.

Sometimes the rabbi, the cantor or a congregant hosting the show would try to make a joke of it while introducing me. It was never useful, even if they meant well.  “He has an Italian name, but he assures us he’s Jewish. Maybe he’ll tell you all about it… please welcome, I hope I’m saying this right…  Mike Kap- Cap… Capo?  Capozzelli…?”

Even landing Jewish gigs, getting my info to a Rabbi or Hillel director needed a pre-emptive explanation. It meant cutting and pasting this line from other outreach e-mails: “I’m actually Jewish, despite the last name.” [In the interest of full disclosure – I’ve cut and pasted those seven words from an old e-mail for the sake of authenticity.]

At some point, I realized that it would be easier to just create a show with a title that not only celebrates a degree of diversity, but also takes away the wide eyed stares of incomprehension that have greeted me as I take the stage. Sometimes I hear (or imagine) gasps and chatter, “What’s he doing here?” How did this happen?” “Mah-Zeh?!  “Do something, Lenny..!”

Was it so unthinkable and uncommon that there were Italian Jews walking among us?  Surely there were others out there…

I’d known a few other “undercover Jews” in my life. At Hebrew School, attendance being taken put my friend David and I back-to-back: “Bloom, Capozzola, Carnicelli, Cohen, Erenberg…”  For the most part though, aside from me, my brother Steven, and David Carnicelli, Italian Jews seemed almost mythical.

Then, at Ithaca College, I encountered a stunningly beautiful Italian-Jewish girl several years ahead of me whom I met at High Holiday services my Freshman year.  (I can’t recall her name but I like to picture it as the best of both worlds, “Contessa Francesca Abromowitz.”)  She called me a “Kosher Meatball.” She may have even patted my head. It was the first time that I’d heard this term and the mere fact that it had a name at all – was very cool.  It sort of legitimized the brand.

There’s also another term, “Pizza Bagel.” I’d heard that first from my friend, Lauren, who like me, and The Contessa has a Jewish mom and an Italian dad.  I’ve tried a few times to get the term “Kugelroni” in play, but no one seems interested.

Being a Jew with a distinctly non-Jewish name has meant, regrettably, that I’ve been a fly-on-the-wall when people decide to share some anti-Semitic thoughts and leanings.   I was halfway through a haircut when the barber explained away someone’s greed with this line, “Well, he’s a Jew you know…” I got up and said, “We’re done here” and I left. It was shortsighted of me to leave as this barber is now doubly assured that Jews will do anything to save a buck, like leaving midway through a haircut.

My dad was a passionate crusader for positive images of Italian Americans in media.  He deplored the gangster, buffoon, henchman and slob stereotypes. Until 9/11 changed the face to Muslims, it was the Bad Italian that permeated network television like the smell of garlic. Any crime, superhero or legal drama in need of a bad guy could just point to the Italian. It was always a variation on this revelation of corruption: “If these documents say what I think… then this leads all the way to Senator Esposito’s office!”

Understandably, the sitcom “Happy Days” was off limits growing up.  The Fonz was not as welcome in our house as he was in the Cunningham’s. But it was endlessly amusing to me that Fonzie was a played by Jewish actor, Henry Winkler.   In addition to being a comedian, I’ve been a cartoonist all my life and I snail-mailed a FONZ spoof of mine to Mr. Winkler not long ago.  He called to thank me for the art and the note, but I was on line at the DMV and somehow missed the call and it rolled into voicemail.  Still, very cool to hear “Mike, it’s Henry Winkler…” when I played my messages.  He even included a very authentic L’Shana Tovah.

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My story: my background is just 25% of the group with whom I travel and perform in this Jewish comedy night.  The other comics all have very varied and separate backgrounds.  Samson Koletkar, whom I’ve known for years, may very well be the world’s ONLY Indian-Jewish comedian.  He usually headlines our shows and he’s found a nice niche getting booked at Indian festivals and comedy nights where they can only afford a fraction of what Aziz Ansari gets paid.

Joe Nguyen comes from Atlanta. He’s a great writer with a sly delivery and gifted comic mind.   Joe has a great stretch of material about his experiences on the Birthright Israel trip.  In 2010, we did a Hillel show together and the idea started percolating for this tour. But it wasn’t until I’d met acclaimed Bay Area storyteller Gina Gold that it all fell into place.

Gina hosts a monthly show in Berkeley, CA called “TMI: Too Much Information.”  At her show, I saw Gina tell a fantastic story about being Jewish and African American.  That was the night that I had the idea to assemble this pile of comedy crayons into a single, themed, and packaged box.

Since April of 2014, we’ve played sold out shows at JCC’s, synagogues and theatres in California, Seattle, New York and Canada.  It’s been a lot of fun, but also there are moments that transcend any intentions and hopes.

One night we received a compliment that I’ll never forget. An elderly woman told us that she had not heard the sound of her husband’s laughter in many years until the night of our show.  It was off-brand of me to get teary eyed, but I did anyway as she thanked us.

We’re headed your way very soon and we hope that you’ll give thought to attending.

Show Logo Art

“You’re Funny, But You Don’t Look Jewish.” 

Saturday, December 12th at 7:00pm

Temple Beth Ami  14330 Travilah Rd, Rockville, MD

 

Mike Capozzola is the producer of “You’re Funny, But You Don’t Look Jewish.” you can get more information about the show he produces on his website or facebook.

 

 

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Where is my place?


PA281186Somewhere between hope-filled happy hours and sedate sisterhood events, between the exuberance of young professional shabbat and the chaos of family services, between hebrew high and the study of kabbalah (jewish mysticism)… you’ll find me.

I’m Lisa, a single, childless, 34 year old woman, desperate to find my Jewish makom — my place.

“Lisa, why do you need a place? You don’t have kids. You aren’t getting married. You have so many options around DC!”

I’m so glad you asked. My answer is simple: “Because.”

Because I grew up in a place.

Because I had people in that place: my peers that I grew up with emotionally, spiritually, and physically (though at 5’9”, I passed them early on); my clergy who watched me learn about, struggle with, and find peace in my religion… then pick up the struggle again; my family I could count on seeing every year for the holidays.

Because I felt safe in that place, with open doors, spiritual hideaways, and holy communal spaces.

While I know we Jews like to own the “wandering” of our Jewishness, I want a place. A place to call my spiritual home. A place with a welcome mat put out for me, the single, childless, 34 year old woman who won’t be needing a wedding, nursery school, bar/bat mitzvah, or (God forbid) funeral any time soon.

The past few years have been filled with searching for that place. It’s been an exhausting journey.

Along the way, I experimented with Jewish institutions, but felt marginalized — relegated to the Young Professionals corner, a veritable romper room for 20-somethings bonding over cocktails rather than content. I can’t blame the institutions, though. The 20-somethings show up en masse to those events. I, too, once desired the pinball-like interactions of happy hour, bouncing from one person to the next without care or direction.

But my 20’s are fading from my personal rearview mirror, and as I look around, my options are increasingly limited. My 30’s have made me turn more and more inward. I want to learn, grow, and better myself. I want to create deep, lasting connections with like-minded (or respectfully-challenging) contemporaries. And sure, I want to find a partner — one who will join me one day (God willing) in a place where we can study and deepen our connection with Judaism and with each other.

Recently, I heard whispers of a new beit midrash (study hall, per se) at Adas Israel, a synagogue in Cleveland Park, DC. It sounded interesting — compelling even — but the truth is I I was scared I didn’t I belong.

First, I wasn’t a member, so I literally didn’t belong. But second, I was younger than most of the congregants, single-er than most of the congregants, and certainly less knowledgeable or experienced at text study than most of the congregants, particularly those who would show up on a Tuesday night to learn.

So one month went by without showing up. And then another. Finally, I had to reckon with myself. What I wanted was a safe place to study with curious people like me, and here it was. The only thing standing in my way was my fear and self-criticism.

Here’s the thing: no one there would be disappointed in me. My fear was being embarrassed and disappointed in myself. That excuse wouldn’t cut it, so on a rainy December evening, I attended my first class…. Makom DC.

I was welcome in this place.

The room was filled with people of all ages. There were teenages, a few folks in their 20’s and 30’s, a number of baby boomers, and a smattering of people old enough to be my grandparents. While we differed greatly, in that moment our experience was shared.

We all read the same text, we learned from the same rabbis, we shared our thoughts without judgement, we laughed together. We learned from each other as much as we learned with each other. We were a community.

While I feel vulnerable sharing this, one of my most deep-seated fears is that I will not fulfill the blessing of passing Judaism to another generation. I may never partner or have kids. I don’t say it out of pity, it’s just a fact of life.

But l’dor vador (the continuity of Judaism from generation to generation) is such a beautiful and important part of our tradition. And sitting in that room, that beit midrash, that makom, I saw my place in l’dor vador. I saw young adults in all their angst and confusion studying beside me, a young professional in all my disappointment and confusion, learning with a woman as old as my mother in all her anxiety and confusion, right next to a grandmotherly woman who was filled with peace and still seeking.

I don’t know how many “young professionals” secretly desire this deeper cross-generational connection. There was no open bar. There were no ice breakers or raffles. But it was good. This… this was my happy hour. Two hours, in fact. And I could have stayed all night.

So this is my invitation: Go find your place.

Decide what you want out of your Jewish experience and seek it out. Show up with all your anxiety about being in a new place, all your concerns about being the youngest/oldest/newest person, all your fears of being conspicuous. Explore ALL that DC has to offer. Find your place. Then, talk about it. Share your journey — the good, bad, and ugly. I know for a fact other people are seeking the same thing you are, whatever it is.

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Josh – the Jewish Improviser of the Week

Jackie: What brought you to DC?

Josh: I think like almost everyone else in this city, I moved to Washington DC for work. However that being said, DC was definitely one of the cities I was most interested in living in after college. I love how there is always something interesting to do around the city, and how open and willing people are to meet new people.

Jackie: What do you currently do?

Josh: I currently work at a consulting firm supporting the Department of Homeland Security. Definitely a little different from what I was studying in college, but I am really enjoying it!


Jackie: Where is your favorite place to spend time in DC?

Josh: Though is not exactly in DC, I love Great Falls. I think it is such a fun place to walk around and be outside.


Jackie: Can you tell us what first got you into improv and where is a great place to catch an Improv show!?

Josh: I have been involved in in Improv since I was in college when I randomly decided to try out for a group on campus. I have been hooked ever since! I currently perform all over DC with a group called Press Play. You can see us at any of the major Improv Theaters or at our monthly show at the District of Columbia Arts Center in Adams Morgan.

press play
Jackie: What is your favorite Jewish food?

IMG_8878Josh: This one is a wild card, but my favorite Jewish food is stuffed cabbage. It must be because of my Hungarian roots.

Jackie: Who is your favorite Jew?

Josh: My favorite Jew is a supreme court justice Louis Brandeis. Besides pioneering his famous brief, Brandeis was a champion of social justice and freedom of speech.

Finish the sentance: When the Jews Gather…

Get ready for good jokes and smart conversations.

 

 

 

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30 in the City – December Events

30 in the City (1)At the beginning of each month, 30 in the City will highlight local “mix and mingle” events that offer opportunities to learn new skills, expand one’s knowledge, or just meet some new people!

Gather the Jews does not promote any events over the other. These events are highlighted at the contributors discretion. 

VERY FINAL_DC_GlobalNosh_12-8-15 (1)#GlobalNosh DC

When: Tuesday, December 8 at 7:00 PM

Where: Hillyer Art Studio (9 Hillyer Ct NW 20008)

What the organizers have to say about the event:

The event will feature in-depth conversations about Jewish life and humanitarian aid work in Cuba, Israel, the Balkans, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Argentina, Morocco, and more. Enjoy food and drinks at eight different “stations,” each one representing a different international community, many of which JDC works in.

What makes this event cool?

Each station represents a different community/country, and will include authentic food and drink, interesting facts, and photos, and information about JDC’s work in that area. Plus, you can meet with leaders from DC’s Russian-speaking Jewish community, network with young adults from a variety of professions and backgrounds, and learn how you can travel around the world with JDC Entwine.

Who should go?

Anyone who enjoys global cuisine, good conversation, and learning how to give back to the community.

Cost: $15 online | $20 door

Register: here

 

SonsOfTheProphet_Poster_FINALShabbat Dinner and a Show: Sons of the Prophet

When: Friday, December 11, 6:30 PM Dinner | 8:00 PM Show

Where: DCJCC at Theater J (1529 16th Street NW, Washington, 20036)

What the organizers have to say about the event:

Have some culture with your challah! Join EntryPointDC and other young professionals for Shabbat dinner and a show! We’ll have a delicious (kosher!) Shabbat dinner together, then see Theater J’s latest production, Sons of the Prophet. Stay after the show for a discussion with production and Theater J staff.

About the show:

After Joseph’s father dies in the wake of a freak accident (involving a plastic deer decoy), Joseph is pretty sure lightning won’t strike twice. But it does, as Joseph’s health, sanity and family are called into question. Add in fending off his off-kilter boss, and Joseph’s to-do list is looking pretty long. But he’ll get to everything – just as soon as he can get someone from his insurance company on the phone. A 2012 Pulitzer Prize finalist dark comedy that laughs in the face of human suffering.

What makes this event cool?

If you and your friends are looking for a way to relax on a Friday evening and do something cultural, this is the way to go. Shabbat Dinner and a Show has been known to connect new friends and even cause the occasional attendees to find a special someone. Lastly, the price for the value can’t be beat!

Who should go?

Anyone who enjoys good conversation, the theater, and the feeling of community.

Cost: $40

Register: here

  

MSCJLCOVERMy So-Called Jewish Life: A Story District Production

When: Sunday, December 13, 7:30 PM

Where: Sixth & I Historical Synagogue (600 I Street NW, Washington, DC)

What the organizers have to say about the event:

Join us this year over Chanukah for our 7th annual night of funny, poignant, powerful, and peculiar autobiographical stories about all things Jewish, not-so-Jewish, and wanna-be Jewish. Story highlights include: a cat whisperer with a two-degree separation from everyone you know, a human rights storyteller with a travel bug, a scientist that likes dresses, and more!

What makes this event cool?

We are not alone in the world and it always helps to hear how other Jews perceive, receive, and make their way through the world. This event is known to sell out early, so get tickets while they last and be prepared to laugh as hard as you can. Be sure to have desert afterwards with friends to compare story notes.

Who should go?

Anyone who enjoys live storytelling, doesn’t take one’s self too seriously, and who wants to support our local community members as they take to the stage to thrill us.

Cost: $20 online | $25 door

Register:  here

 

UnorthodoxHosts3-smallTablet Magazine Presents: Unorthodox at the DCJCC

When: Tuesday, December 15, 7:00 – 9:00 PM

Where: Washington DCJCC (1529 16th Street NW, Washington, 20036)

What the organizers have to say about the event:

Love This American Life or Reply All? Looking to fill the void that Serial with Sarah Koenig left in your life? Join the DCJCC for a live recording of Tablet Magazine’s newest podcast, Unorthodox.

Unorthodox is Tablet’s fresh, smart and fun take on the latest in Jewish news, culture, and politics. From Amy Schumer to Israel, the presidential debates to Drake, no topic is off-limits. Hosted by Mark Oppenheimer and featuring Tablet staffers Stephanie Butnick and Liel Leibovitz, Unorthodox offers a weekly dose of commentary with a side of Yiddishkeit, plus guests like A.J. Jacobs, Sloane Crosley, Dan Savage, Simon Doonan, and more.

What makes this event cool?

As Jews we have been known to take ourselves too seriously. It is time to kick back, discuss serious topics, and laugh at ourselves, all at the same time. Best part, it is downtown and gives you time to do happy hour with your friends (or finish up that report for your boss), and make it to the recording on time.

Who should go?

Anyone who loves NPR, podcasts, Serial, a great Jewish discussion, and always wanted to attend a recording to see the stars upfront and personal.

Cost: $15.50 General Admission | $13.50 Member/Student with ID and Seniors | $11.50 EntryPointDC

Register: here

  

HotTopicsHot Topics 2016: The Jewish Take on Gun Control

When: Wednesday, December 16, 7:30 PM

Where: Sixth & I Historical Synagogue (600 I Street NW, Washington, DC)

What the organizers have to say about the event:

With election season upon us, debates over social issues are likely to take center stage. Rabbi Shira leads a text study and guided discussion that will explore traditional and contemporary opinions on the Second Amendment and gun control.

What makes this event cool?

When it comes to gun control, at the end of the day, it is up to us as individuals to say what works, what does not, and to make our voices heard in the voting booth and through our elected representatives on Capitol Hill.

Who should go?

Anyone who is interested in a Jewish perspective on gun control.

Cost: $15

Register: here

Have a cool event coming up next month? Want us 30-year-old professionals to make an appearance? Send us ane-mail and you may just make the cut!

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Hanukkah Guide 2015

Hanukah

The festival of lights is almost upon us and you know what that means…plenty of events to celebrate with the community! Gather has compiled a list of all the events going during Hanukkah. We hope to run into you at some of them! We will be updating the list as more events are sent to us so make sure to check back in.

Did we leave anything out? Submit your event here.

Friday December 4th

Saturday December 6th

Sunday December 6th

Monday December 7th

Tuesday December 8th

Wednesday December 9th

Thursday December 10th

Friday December 11th

Saturday December 12th

Sunday December 13th

Hanukkah Recipes:

FN_noodle-kugel-011_s4x3.jpg.rend.sni12col.landscape

foodnetwork.com’s Noodle Kugel

An easy donut recepie for Hanukkah!

An easy donut recepie for Hanukkah!

For those who are a little more ambitious: Martha Stewart's recipe

For those who are a little more ambitious: Martha Stewart’s recipe

 

 

 

 

 

 

And you couldn’t get out of this with out a recipe for Potato Latkes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On Master of None, Privilege, and Thanksgiving

Photos from maguzz.com and observer.com.

Aziz Ansari’s new Netflix series, Master of None, was released on November 6, just a few weeks before Thanksgiving. And even though most of us finished the entire season by November 7, the timing helps highlight the connection between an overarching theme of the show and the upcoming holiday.

A lot of attention has been given to the show’s focus on identity, specifically its attempt to inconspicuously incorporate diversity while explicitly confronting the assumptions, stereotypes, and discrimination that often inhibit that diversity.

At times the show can feel overly self-righteous, and I’m disappointed that it deals with just about every identity bubble (age, race, sexuality, gender, socio-economic status, weight) except religion. I know, it’s only 10 episodes. But instead of simply reflecting the zeitgeist, it would have been nice if the show led the way by initiating this difficult, complicated, yet much-needed conversation.

Nevertheless, Master of None succeeds in raising awareness of many of the privileges that each one of us, in different ways, enjoys. It is almost the thesis of season one, explored through a different lens in each episode: we benefit from advantages that we often don’t acknowledge.

This theme is most prevalent in episode two, when the main character Dev and his friend Brian realize how much their immigrant parents sacrificed to get them to where they are today. While often not at the forefront of conversations around privilege, simply being American is an incredible privilege with rights awarded to us, at least in theory, that many others across the world do not have.

As Jews, we don’t have to look too far back into our collective history to appreciate the unprecedented freedom of religion bestowed to us by America. And as grandchildren or great-grandchildren of immigrants, most of us can look back within our own family’s history to appreciate how much easier our lives are today. Our very name, yehudi, “Jew,” is etymologically connected to the Hebrew words for thanksgiving (toda) and acknowledge (l’hodot). To be Jewish is to be thankful by acknowledging the kindness we’ve received, and Thanksgiving is a great opportunity for us to embody that defining characteristic.

In other episodes, Master of None touches on specific privileges of being white (being able to try out for more than one role in an audition), of being a man (being able to take a short-cut through a park at night without fear of being sexually assaulted), of being young (being able to go out to a restaurant without a chaperone), and more. The loud yet unspoken message of the show is that we often aren’t even conscious of our own privileges.

This is also the message of Thanksgiving. Being grateful is not only about feeling good – it’s supposed to challenge us. When we acknowledge the ways we’ve benefitted from others or factors out of our control, the false assumption that we have achieved everything on our own begins to disintegrate. Gratitude is the guard against the very human temptation outlined in the Torah: “Beware, lest your heart grow haughty… and you say to yourselves ‘My own power and the might of my own hand have won this success for me.’” (Deuteronomy 8:14, 17). Expressing our appreciation is only the first step – the hope is that this process compels us to give back and help create a just society that is sensitive and responsive to the needs of those less fortunate. This might not be the central theme of Master of None, but it is certainly a central theme of Judaism, and hopefully this season.

 

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Top Five Reasons to be Thankful in Dating

As Thanksgiving is upon us, it’s time to put aside our pride and simply be thankful for the blessings we have in life: our health, our family… and JSwipe?

In this day and age, we can do just about anything with technology: read a book without flipping a single page, have groceries delivered with the click of a button, see our friends on the other side of the world on our screens, look at all of our ex’s Facebook pictures (wait a minute… don’t do that!), and even find a date.

As Aziz Ansari noted in his recent book “Modern Romance,” a 1932 study showed that one-third of married couples had previously lived within just a five-block radius of each other. Case in point: My parents were next-door neighbors, and they celebrated their 35th anniversary this year.

Let’s compare that to my own dating experiences.  I sign up for a dating site like OkCupid.  I email a number of people. Some respond, some don’t. I line up dates with those who do. The end. Quite a different story, huh?

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, in addition to being thankful for my wonderful friends and family, my health, and the success of my business and my clients’ relationships, I’d also like to share five reasons we should be thankful this year, as it relates to dating:

  1. Online dating exists.

Do you think the Pilgrims had a way to meet people across the Mayflower, let alone across the world?  Their best place to flirt was likely over the ear of corn they were growing, not on their couch in their pajamas using some new-fangled technology we like to call the Interwebs. Now it’s easy as pumpkin pie.

  1. We have options.

We live in a time when, for most of us, the choice of the person we date and/or marry is ours and ours alone.  Of course, parents have some influence in this decision, as do friends, but you ultimately get to choose the person who makes you the happiest.  Arranged marriages were the norm worldwide until the 18th century.  I feel lucky to live in this day and age.

  1. Interracial, interfaith, and same-sex couples are more widely accepted.

study published in November of 2013 by Kevin Lewis, a UC San Diego sociologist, suggests that racial barriers to romance are not as insurmountable as we might suppose.  He did his research by analyzing the patterns of 126,134 OKCupid users in a two-and-a-half month period.  He found that, while people often still mainly reach out to others of their own racial background, they are, however, more likely to return a cross-race email than previous research would have led to us to expect.  And, once they have replied to a suitor from a different race, people are then themselves more likely to cross racial lines and initiate interracial contact in the future. OkCupid also now has so many additional choices for sexual orientation, ranging from sapiosexual (someone who finds intelligence the most sexually attractive feature… guilty as charged) to homoflexible. We’ve come such a long way… the rest is just gravy at this point.

  1. There is more gender equality, especially with online dating.

While I am still a proponent of chivalry when it comes to opening doors and paying on a first date, I also strongly encourage women to reach out first online with a short and sweet message if someone strikes their fancy.

  1. Dating can be fun!

I know it’s sometimes exhausting after a long day of work to motivate yourself to meet someone new, especially when you just want to be a couch (mashed?) potato. But, it’s also exciting to think that someone you meet—maybe the next date—could alter the rest of your life in some way. Maybe you’ll get butterflies, maybe you’ll learn a new recipe, or maybe you’ll simply hone your conversation skills. Regardless of the outcome, take advantage of the fact that you get to meet new and interesting people.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday! Happy dating!

 

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Gratitude For Those Who Came Before

One of the founders of Gather the Jews Aaron Wolff with Gather's current Director Rachel Gildiner

One of the founders of Gather the Jews Aaron Wolff with Gather’s current Director Rachel Gildiner

My Meeting with one of Gather’s Founders, Aaron Wolff

Part I:

There is importance in Judaism to acknowledging and expressing gratitude to those who came before us. Coming to the helm of this incredible Gather the Jews movement just over a year ago, I have been constantly filled with this overwhelming sense of gratitude – for the funders who support this work and believe it is changing the Jewish landscape, for the incredible adults in this community whose energy and passion drives the Jewish vibrancy of DC, and specifically for the group of committed entrepreneurs who launched and created Gather the Jews from the ground up six years ago this winter.

These folks truly created a movement, a tribe. They identified a gap, mobilized their friends (and thousands of random strangers, too!), and built an organization that serves Jewish 20s & 30s trying to find their Jewish fit. They created a language, a culture, excitement around being Jewish and finding other Jews to connect with. While working full time jobs and having their own social obligations, Gather the Jews was their baby. And then, as they moved on and out of the city, it was time for their baby to find a new home.

I was given the opportunity to express my immense gratitude directly this week, when the one, the only, Aaron Wolff, a primary founder of Gather the Jews, found himself in DC for the Jewish Federation’s National General Assembly at the Hilton next to our We Work space.

Meeting Aaron you can quickly understand the charisma, passion, and authenticity that he brought to launching Gather. He shared his story, I shared mine. We both still have so many questions about the Jewish future and even our own Jewish lives. And while we may differ in some ways – leadership styles, they used slap bracelets and we use tote bags, they were GTJ and we’re Gather – we still share a mutual vision: That every Jew matters, regardless of how you connect, how you practice (or not), or what drives you Jewishly. There is a place for you in Jewish DC. And if there’s not, let’s create it together. Its radical inclusion, radical hospitality. In a city that can sometimes feel insider and nebulous at the same time, Gather the Jews was created and continues to be a movement to help each Jew find their people, their place, their connection.

I’m grateful to Aaron Wolff, Joshua Kaller, Stephen Richer, and the many many others who are hopefully reading this now, for their vision, dedication and fortitude to build what they did. For their bravery of handing their baby over to a process in which they weren’t sure it would survive. At its early stages, Gather the Jews had massive support from volunteers and members including: Jodi, Jon, Maya, Mike, Noa, Rachel, Sara and Steve. Today Gather the Jews is a full time staff of three, with supporters, Fellows, and office space, and we could not be here without your blood sweat and tears and so much more. So, THANK YOU! Here’s also Aaron’s thanks to his Gather community when he left.

Part II:

Lots of articles written these days, in the secular and Jewish spheres, decry what one group is doing wrong and how their group has found the solutions and is doing things the “right” way. We don’t pay homage to process, evolution, what came before. We often shame it at worst, or brush it under the carpet through omission at best. I am just as guilty as the next person.

It’s all about us, our own accomplishments, and the belief that the louder we scream it and show it to the world, the more validated we are in our accomplishments. There’s too much “thought leadership” out there and not enough LISTENING, EXPRESSING GRATITUDE, CONNECTING COMMONALITIES. Of course, differing ideas is how we advance, tension helps us grow, we shouldn’t agree on everything or progress would halt. And yet, where is this Jewish practice of hakarat ha’tov – expressing gratitude – in all of this thought leadership?

I’ve been feeling this sentiment for a while – quite honestly, every time I read another beautifully written chest-thumping article about the person or organization who’s got it right. And now that I’m directing an organization that I do feel has a lot of “right” ways we do things, I am also hyper-aware that no one organization or “way” is the solution for the whole Jewish world. Together, with each of our different approaches, convictions, and desire to serve the Jews, we can all have right solutions. We can be open to learning from one another, championing one another, and not demonizing an approach that is different from the one we believe. Where is the room for vulnerability and for thanking others?

What if we were cheerleaders for one another instead of only proponents for our own organizations and ourselves? What could the Jewish world gain?

Ultimately, if each of us took a step back from the chest-thumping and took time to appreciate where we’ve come from, who came before us, who else is doing great work, who else we could be learning from, that we would find more openness for honest discussion, questioning and learning from and with one another, instead of the expectation that we each possess all of the answers ourselves. Could such a space, a group, a network of folks exist in the Jewish world?

I’m grateful for the cheerleaders who have championed me, I hope I do the same for others, and thank you to Aaron for being a cheerleader for those who came after him. I’m certainly one of his!

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Jewish Linguist of the Week – Alex

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This week I had the pleasure of speaking with Alex, a Austin native who now lives in DC running his own business which he co-founded with his brother. Learn more about him in our interview:

Jackie: What first brought you to DC?

Alex: I moved from Austin, TX to DC in 2011 to intern at the House Committee on Homeland Security. A few internships later I finally landed a job at a startup in Virginia where I had the opportunity to work under some experienced entrepreneurs who helped get my creative juices flowing.

Jackie: You are the co-founder and CEO of the DC-based language learning website Foreigncy. Can you tell us a little bit more about your company?

Alex: Sure. Foreigncy is a critical language training website for professional and aspiring linguists. We help prepare people to use their skills professionally while raising awareness of major events around the world.

Jackie: Where did the idea for your company come from?

Alex and his brother and co-founder Josh

Alex and his brother and co-founder Josh

Alex: Foreigncy was born out of necessity. I found that once I graduated there was no effective service to help me maintain and improve my language skills. Eventually, my brother and I came up with the idea for Foreigncy and launched our original site, creating daily Arabic and Hebrew language training sets. Slowly but surely we built a really great userbase of language students and professionals who were also looking for a tool to fill the gap in the language learning market and we decided to take Foreigncy to the next level with a completely revamped site in January 2015 and additional languages such as Persian and Russian.

Jackie: Where did your love of languages and the Middle East come from?

Alex: My love for Arabic and Hebrew and the region is in my blood. My mom’s side of the family are Syrian Jews, and as a strong Sephardic woman she made sure that Syrian culture and food completely overshadowed my dad’s Ashkenaz roots. Eventually I took an interest in Israel and Middle Eastern history, including graduate school in Jerusalem, and learning the region’s languages was a natural outcome of that. What attracted me most about language learning is that you can achieve a level of mastery that you never thought possible if you approach it as a life long trade rather than a casual hobby, which encapsulates Foreigncy’s method.

image2 (1)Jackie: Who is your favorite Jew?

Alex: Shia LeBeouf. Just kidding. I think it’s a well-known fact that Eric Bana’s role in Munich granted him honorary Jew status, so it would have to be him.

Jackie: What is your favorite way to spend Shabbat?

Alex: My favorite way to spend Shabbat is a potluck dinner with friends. It’s a great chance to connect with those closest to you, get in touch with your roots, and then go out on the town and break all of the Shabbat laws.

Finish the sentence: When the Jews gather, there will be…

Alex: Hummus

 

 

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Meet Nicole – the Jewish Professional of the Week!

Nicole AngelJackie: Tell us about your new role with Federation, what are you most excited about!

Nicole: My new role as the Young Leadership Associate and Social Innovation Coordinator will consist of engaging with members of the community who are in their 20’s and 30’s and building relationships with them to help them connect with the Jewish Federation. I want to help young professionals find an outlet within the Federation through community involvement, leadership development and philanthropy. I am very excited that I will have the opportunity to coordinate the ConnectGens Fellowship here which empowers social innovators with training, tools and connections to transform their big ideas into ventures that will enhance our community. I will also be working on the Nexus series this spring, which is a six-session young leadership course for young professionals who are interested in connecting to the Federation and the work we do.

Jackie: What is the ConnectGens Fellowship, who should apply?

IMG_3653Nicole: The ConnectGens Fellowship empowers social innovators with training, tools and connections to transform their BIG IDEAS into ventures that will mobilize our Jewish community. Fellows connect with talented mentors, motivated peers and inspiring coaches to invigorate social change and turn their innovative ideas into reality. The Fellowship is open to individuals of all ages and anyone living in DC, MD or VA with an idea to enhance community life

Jackie: Can you tell us about some past ConnectGens Fellows and what they are now doing?

Nicole: Elizabeth Weingarten a 2013 Fellow started Tribelle which is a multi-style jewelry collection with a mission to cultivate female entrepreneurship in Israel by supporting businesswomen and the organizations that incubate their ventures. Elizabeth believes that women’s businesses are the key to economic revival across communities and countries, and to healthier, better educated kids around the world. As a Jewish woman, she started TRIBELLE to support women’s enterprises in her broader community: Israel. You can check out Tribelle and the amazing work they are doing by visiting http://tribelle.co/
IMG_3647Max Levitt, a 2013 Fellow created a venture called Leveling the Playing Field which today has become a viable non-profit, where they donate lightly used sporting equipment to underprivileged kids. Their mission is to give underprivileged children the opportunity to enjoy the pleasures of athletic involvement. In just two years of operation they have donated over $500,000 worth of sporting equipment to over 40 programs. To find out more about the incredible strides that Max is making through Leveling the Playing Field please visit http://www.levelingtheplayingfield.org/

Jackie: Who is your favorite Jewish role model?

Nicole: When I was living in Israel for the past two years, I had the pleasure of meeting a very special soul, Rabbi Shu Eliovson, who truly changed my life and taught me a whole new perspective on Judaism. Rabbi Shu sees the beauty of everything in life and is able to connect the spirituality of Judaism to all of his teachings. If you find yourself near Kfar Maimon in Israel go pay a visit to Rabbi Shu at the Golden Shore, I promise you won’t be sorry!

IMG_3651Jackie: What is your favorite Jewish food?

Nicole: That’s a hard one; I’m going to have to go with my top two, brisket and chicken matzah ball soup. These are my two specialties that I like to cook!

Jackie: Where are most likely to run into you on a Sunday afternoon?

Nicole: Trumpeldor Beach in Tel Aviv J

Finish the sentence: When the Jews Gather…

Nicole: There will be excitement, disputes, ruach and an excess of delicious food!

 

 

 

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JDate’s Not the Only Site on the Playground

Most of us have heard of Match.com. And Tinder. And OkCupid. But have you heard of HowAboutWe and Chemistry.com? What about Delightful, the Steve Harvey-promoted online dating site, and People Media? Or OurTime.com for the 50+ crowd? And then, of course, there’s Plenty of Fish.

Believe it or not, the same company—InterActiveCorp (IAC)—owns all of them… and then some. IAC also owns other companies having nothing to do with dating, or “personals” as they call it, so in 2014, IAC organized its businesses into five segments, one of them being The Match Group.

For a bit of a history lesson—I’m a former economist after all—Match.com was founded over two decades ago, in 1993, and went live in 1995 in its “beta” form. (Can you imagine what it was like getting a free lifetime membership back then? That’s like buying forever stamps when they were still 18 cents a pop the year I was born!) In 1999, Match.com was purchased by IAC, its current parent company, and over the years, IAC went on an acquisition spree, if you will.

The Match Group, now a behemoth in the online dating world with only a few competitors—namely eHarmony, Spark Networks (the owner of JDate), and Zoosk—has decided that it plans to raise over $500 million in an IPO. What does this mean? The company plans to sell more than 33 million shares at $12 and $14 apiece and trade under “MTCH” on the NASDAQ. (Not to be confused with LUV, Southwest Airlines’ ticker. Both companies happen to be based in Dallas as well, though Southwest’s is a reference to Love Field.)

Match Group reported a net income (which isn’t the case for all online dating companies… or even many) of $85 million for the first three quarters of this year. Match also has some 59 million active monthly users, 4.7 million of them paid users, in over 190 countries. (I recently worked with a client in Mauritius, so I can attest to that!)

This IPO comes on the tails of another big one earlier this week… that thing you use to take credit card payments… Square. Square similarly offered over 30 million shares for about $13 apiece. It’s been a big week for investors, indeed.

What does this mean for you, the average user, or me, a professional in the industry? Nada. Everything will function the same, at least for now. Given that 68% of new registrations to Match Group’s dating sites came from a mobile device in the first half of this year alone, do expect that the company will ramp up its mobile dating app technology. Will it continue to buy up its competitors, like Bumble, which was founded by one of the Tinder co-founders? I’m not a betting woman, so I wouldn’t put money on it, but I’d guess that would be the first one to be snapped up post-IPO. Only time will tell. (JDate recently bought its competitor, JSwipe, for reference, after actually suing it over the letter “J” in its name.) If Match Group wants to buy out my company, though, for even a fraction of what it paid for POF, then I’m all ears!

Sources:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/match-group-sets-ipo-terms-1447069393

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/10/business/dealbook/match-is-seeking-3-1-billion-value-in-ipo.html

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/five-things-to-know-before-ipo-of-tinder-parent-match-group-2015-10-20

 

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This is Big: The Reform Movement and Trans* Rights

Last week, the Reform Jewish movement passed the widest resolution on transgender rights of any major religious organization crafted by the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism of the Union for Reform Judaism. This is Judaism’s first official anti-discrimination policy on transgender issues.  In 1977, both the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis passed resolutions affirming “the rights of homosexuals,” and took an official stance to oppose laws that fail to uphold principles of equality for all people of all sexual orientations. The “Resolution on the Rights of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People” which was voted upon last Thursday at the Union for Reform Judaism’s biennial conference held in Orlando, Florida, state that, “North American culture and society have, in general, become increasingly accepting of people who are gay, lesbian and bisexual, yet too often transgender and gender non-conforming individuals are forced to live as second-class citizens.”

The Reform movement has demonstrated full inclusion of transgender people in accordance with Jewish tradition. In 1990 Reform responsum (CCAR 5750.8) affirmed that simply being transgender is not enough to to deny someone conversion to Judaism. A responsum in 1978 indicated that a rabbi may officiate at the wedding of two Jews if one partner has transitioned to a gender with which they identify, as opposed to one they were assigned at birth (“Marriage After a Sex-change Operation” in American Reform ResponsaVol. LXXXVIII, 1978, pp. 52-54).

 The Resolution goes on to further list that the Union for Reform Judaism explicitly resolves that:

  1. Affirms its commitment to the full equality, inclusion and acceptance of people of all gender identities and gender expressions;
  2. Affirms the right of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals to be referred to by their name, gender, and pronoun of preference in our congregations, camps, schools, and other Reform affiliated organizations;
  3. Encourages Reform congregations, congregants, clergy, camps, institutions and affiliates, including NFTY, to continue to advocate for the rights of people of all gender identities and gender expressions;
  4. Urges the adoption and implementation of legislation and policies that prevent discrimination based on gender identity and expression, and that require individuals to be treated equally under the law as the gender by which they identify. This includes establishing the right to change without undue burden their identification documents to reflect their gender and name and ensuring equal access to medical and social services;
  5. Calls on the U.S. and Canadian governments at all levels to review and revise all laws and policies to ensure full equality and protections for people of all gender identities and expressions;
  6. Urges Reform Movement institutions to begin or continue to work with local and national Jewish transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual organizations to create inclusive and welcoming communities for people of all gender identities and expressions and to spread awareness and increase knowledge of issues related to gender identity and expression. These activities may include cultural competency trainings for religious school staff, the new congregational resource guide on transgender inclusion being created by the Religious Action Center, education programs on gender identity and expression, and sermons on the topic of gender identity and gender expression;
  7. Recommends URJ congregations and Reform Movement institutions, facilities and events ensure, to the extent feasible, the availability of gender-neutral restrooms and other physical site needs that ensure dignity and safety for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals;
  8. Urges Reform Movement institutions to review their use of language in prayers, forms and policies in an effort to ensure people of all gender identities and gender expressions are welcomed, included, accepted and respected. This includes developing statements of inclusion and/or non-discrimination policies pertaining to gender identity and gender expression, the use when feasible of gender-neutral language, and offering more than two gender options or eliminating the need to select a gender on forms; and
  9. Will work in collaboration with other Reform Movement institutions to create ritual, programmatic and educational materials that will empower such institutions to be more inclusive and welcoming of people of all gender identities and expressions.

Three cheers for the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism! We all could use some good news on the LGBT* front after the disaster in Texas last Tuesday.

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Jewish Artist of the Week – Emily!

IMG_5281 copyJackie: I hear that you run an awesome Etsy store. Could you tell us about what you sell and why you decided to start an Etsy store?

Emily: I actually have two Etsy stores. Both of them started as fun hobbies. My larger store is small animal focused, thanks to my geriatric pet rabbit! I make healthy snacks for pet rabbits, which are my top selling items, and also some little toys for animals. I also have rabbit and small animal themed accessories for humans, including bow ties and baby bibs. I’ve even started to design and print my own fabrics! In my second shop I sell Polaroid transfer images, a fun technique I learned almost 20 years ago while studying traditional photography. Until recently I would show my work at art shows and craft fairs as a member of the DC Craft Mafia. Now I sell my original prints, magnets, and greeting cards on Etsy. (I have Chanukah themed cards too! Hint hint!)

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Out and about in my neighborhood at the Iwo Jima memorial

Jackie: What first brought you to DC?

Emily: I came down here for college and never left! I wound up getting both my undergraduate degree and my Master of Public Administration from The George Washington University. Now I live in Arlington. I worked with county governments for almost a decade before starting my own consulting business. Now I am a freelance writer and consultant.

Jackie: It seems you do a little bit of everything – cook, craft, and photography. In your opinion, what is the best spot in DC to photograph?

Emily: It’s really hard to narrow down one spot in DC! Because of the nature of my Polaroid art, finished photographs come out looking a little different that regular photos, kind of etherial and delicate. I like to photograph subjects from odd angles or really close up to show texture. I have some neat photos of the Iwo Jima Memorial through the filter of an American flag.

Emily Jewish Food Experience
Jewish Food Experience event at Common Good City Farm.

Jackie: You also write for the Jewish Food Experience. Can you tell us a little about what JFE is? 

Emily: Yes! I write about mostly about cocktails and sprits for the Jewish Food Experience. I found myself working for a local distillery for a few years and I got into the growing cocktail scene here in DC. JFE asked me to contribute when they started in 2013, and since then I’ve written lots of articles and have come up with lots of holiday themed drinks.

JFE is a really cool program started by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. It is centered around DC people, so it’s really local. They publish articles, recipes, host events and food demos about every aspect of Jewish food. That’s defined as food that Jews cook, food that Jews eat for holidays, food traditions Jews share, anything that’s related to Jews and food! It has been so successful here that it will be spreading to three other cities in the US within the next few months.

Jackie: What is your favorite Jewish food?

Right now I’m going to say really good challah is my favorite Jewish food. I love baking bread, and I’ve been making my own challah for the last year or so. It’s such a simple food that has had a place on every Jew’s table for nearly every holiday for our entire history. My friends and I get together for fun potluck Shabbat dinners pretty often, and I have been bringing my homemade challahs.

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My rainbow challah from a few weeks ago. (On the Shabbat we read parashat Noah, we are supposed to eat rainbow themed foods!)

Jackie: You also have a bit of a green thumb, can you tell me about your garden?

Emily: I have a great little container garden on my roof deck at home. I use my blog, www.roofgardengal.com, as something of a journal to remember what has and hasn’t worked in years past. I was in the food world for a few years, and it reminded me how much I used to enjoy vegetable gardening growing up. My “experiment five floors up,” as I like to call it, consists of two giant tanks, several smaller pots for herbs and tomatoes, and two compost buckets. Right now I am experimenting with cool weather veggies, including kale, radishes, and carrots, but I’ve also had squash, beans, cucumbers, onions, and even ginger. My neighbors love to show off the garden to their friends, too!

Jackie: Finish the sentence: When the Jews gather, there will be…

Emily: Food!

 

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