Interview with Ami Greener,Director of Greener Travel, about his upcoming August Jewish eco-tour of Costa Rica

Swimming in Finca Rio Perla

Swimming in Finca Rio Perla

The interview was conducted by travel and environmental writer Josh Marks.

Josh Marks: What motivated you to start a Jewish Eco Tour of Costa Rica?

Ami Greener: After my IDF service I traveled to Central America and I fell in love with Costa Rica, its natural beauty and its people.

In 2010 I founded Greener Travel, combining my love for the environment and travel, while creating a unique trip that would be fun for Jewish professionals. This summer I’m going to lead my eighth trip there!

JM: What makes this trip Jewish and what makes this trip eco?

AG: The first weekend we spend Shabbat in the capital San Jose, and visit the local Jewish community.  On Friday our group hosts an oneg at the local synagogue, following a unique tri-lingual service!

We get to learn a bit about the local Jewish history, and places such as an Israeli hummus joint in the rainforest. We spend the last weekend on a Jewish-owned eco-farm, Finca Rio Perla, in the Caribbean Highlands.

Zipline Adventure

Zipline Adventure

As a long-time environmentalist, it was important for me to establish Greener Travel as an eco-tour company (having the right family name didn’t hurt either!). Eco-tourism means minimizing the environmental impact on one hand and maximizing the beneficial impact on the communities we visit.

For example, we stay in local, family-owned lodges so the majority of the profits stay and benefit the community.  We work with local guides who grew up in the area and form personal relationships with them. For example, Junior Palmer, a native of Puerto Viejo, invites us to his home for a unique kosher style Caribbean cooking class. Tino, one of our naturalist guides, grew up in the Gandoca-Manzanillo wildlife refuge, and will take us on an unforgettable rainforest hike. We also include an element of volunteering on our tour and in the past we helped a local women’s cooperative farm build a bio-digester. This way I connect our tour to the Jewish tenant of Tikkun Olam — not just taking photos and having fun but also improving the lives of those that we visit.

JM: If a Jewish young professional is considering an organized trip, why would they choose yours?

AG: Our tour is all about the experience! After visiting San Jose, we go white water rafting on the Pacuare River, considered one of the most scenic runs in the world. We also go zip lining, take several naturalist-led jungle hikes, sail the canals of Tortuguero National Park, see 200-pound green turtles lay their eggs on the beach, visit a jungle animal rescue center, learn to make organic chocolate, swim in amazing, secluded waterfalls and experience the unique Caribbean vibe of Puerto Viejo and it’s amazing beaches, eat great food – and there is more!

Pacuare River Rafting

Pacuare River Rafting

What is the biggest concern trip participants have before going?

Participants are concerned by visiting the rainforests for the first time; malaria (non-existent where we visit); personal safety (just like you are alert in any big city in the States, be alert in Costa Rica and don’t carry too many valuables.); not knowing anybody on the trip (by the second day everyone is good friends or friendships begin).

What do past participants have to say about their experience in Costa Rica?

“This trip ignited my sense of adventure, awakened my hunger and desire for exploring the world, and once again opened up my eyes to what matters in life most,” says Faina, who went on the June 2012 trip.

“The perfect mixture of non-stop adventure travel,” says Jenn, who also participated on the trip in June 2012. “Book now with Ami & you won’t regret it! See you on his next trip!”

JM: Why is Costa Rica an appealing tourist destination?

AG: Costa Rica – a country the size of West Virginia, seems to have it all. Amazing beaches. Breathtaking rainforest scenery. A huge biodiversity of animals and plants. And people that are probably the happiest in the world. Couple that with adventure activities such as zip lining, rafting and water sports – and there is something for everyone in Costa. Rica. It’s also an example of a country that made a conscious decision to protect large swaths of the country for the benefit of future generations which allows it to be a prime eco-tourist destination.

Tortuguero Canal Tour

Tortuguero Canal Tour

JM: Can accommodations be made for someone who is observant?

AG: The trip is actually is designed to take account of Shabbat observers. On the first weekend the hotel is walking distance from the synagogue and downtown, and the second weekend we stay on the farm with no activities needing work or transportation. All the places we eat have strict vegetarian/vegan options although the food is not certified kosher.

JM: What is your favorite part about going to Costa Rica?

AG: The rainforest! And Kabbalat Shabbat near the waterfalls in Finca Rio Perla – the best place to appreciate the wonders of this world!

JM: When does the trip take place? When does registration end? How much does it cost?

AG: The trip will take place Friday, August 1st to Sunday, August 10th 2014. Eight days or nine days for those that choose to arrive on Friday. Registration ends July 1st but we have early bird price for those registering before April 17th. The cost of the trip is $1,875 and it includes lodging, transportation, activities as well as most meals. All the information can be found on our trip page.

JM: Anything else you would like to add about why a Jewish young professional should consider going on your Costa Rica adventure?

AG: They will have the experience of their lifetime and will connect with other likeminded Jewish young professionals from DC and all over North America.

JM: What other trips do you offer?

This July we are offering a unique Mountain & Glacier Jewish trip to Alaska. In mid-September we are offering our first Jewish exciting adventure to Trinidad & Tobago. In mid June we are offering a 3-day canoeing Shabbaton on the Delaware River (close to metro areas of New York, Philadelphia and D.C.)


Interview conducted by travel and environmental writer Josh Marks. Josh writes for sustainable design site Inhabitat and blogs about his adventures around the world at Josh’s Travel Blog and about the transition to the sustainable economy at Green Forward.



Love Me Tinder – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (No. 87)

tinderAh, dating apps.  Some people love them.  Some people hate them.  Some people have no idea whether to love them or hate them.  Of course, there are many apps out there, including an app for many of the already-popular online dating sites like, JDate, and OKCupid, but the most talked about app these days is Tinder, which caters to the younger, phone-savvy generation (as in, ours).  Keep in mind that most, if not all, of the apps are free, so people will have many different intentions.  Some are just looking for a hook-up and some may want to start a real, meaningful relationship.  The problem?  We don’t know.

How Tinder works: You download the app on your phone (duh), and then you give permission to connect through Facebook to create your (very minimal) profile.  You can upload up to six profile photos and then specify your desired age range and distance from your location.  Then, you scroll through potential matches and click on the heart (or swipe right) if you’re interested and the “X” (or swipe left) if you’re not.  If you and your “heart” person both choose each other, you’ll be notified when this happens, and then you can start in-app texting.

Pros: Easy to use, really fast app, free, seemingly unlimited choices at any time, only first name shown so somewhat anonymous, mutual friends shown, can find people when traveling because it’s always based on your current location

Cons: Solely based on picture and optional profile (more superficial than an already superficial market!), people’s intentions vary and some just play like a game to pass time, many matches do not initiate contact or respond (both men and women), may match with someone who is only visiting the area

If you’re looking for something a bit more serious, then a paying online dating site is still your better bet because you at least know that the people on the site have some skin in the game, in the form of $20 or so a month.  Also, on the traditional online dating sites, you learn a bit more about each person from his/her profile, and thereby his/her ability to string together a complete sentence.  (I don’t know about you, but this “skill” is kind of important to me.)

The major benefit I see to the apps is that they create efficiency.  (I feel this way about speed dating, too.)  Technically, you could match with someone at noon and be on a date by 1 PM.  (Heck – you could be on a date at 12:05 if you live that close.)  From prior articles, you know that I always encourage people to meet in person sooner rather than later because chemistry (the “wild card”) can never truly be determined until you meet in the flesh.  But if you’re looking for that one “true love,” then I’d recommend instead fishing in the traditional online dating pond, where many people make their intentions very clear (as in, the “marriage and children” option on JDate versus the “casual sex” option on OKCupid).

In the end, regardless of what you’re looking for and how you meet, it’s nice that we have so many options today, certainly more than our parents or grandparents did.  Though, I think my mom was onto something in her day… she used to find dates over the ham radio!  The precursor to Tinder perhaps?  Go Mom!  (That’s not how she met my dad, though.  They were next-door neighbors!)

erika ettin-49334smallErika Ettin is the Founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps people stand out from the online dating crowd and have a rewarding experience. An archive of all of Erika’s columns is also available.  Want to connect with Erika?  Join her newsletter for updates and tips.





Top Videos for Passover 2014/5774 (aka Too Many Frozen Parodies)

Dayenu thumbnail The GTJ staff picks its favorite new Passover videos. Feel free to share with others, as well as to post your favorites in the comments below!Don’t forget to vote in the Jewish Guy and Girl of the Year contest!

Let Us Go Ukelele

Six13 – Chozen – A Passover Tribute-parody of Adele Dazim’s Let Us Go

They Tried To Kill Us (We Survived, Let’s Eat!)

Escape from Egypt in this choose your own adventure by the Ein Prat Fountainheads

Passover Prank by AMK Productions

Breaking Bread – Passover Parody

PoCh38 – “All Other Nights” featuring scenes in front of Sixth and I Historic Synagogue and Adas Israel

Jew Direction – “Not Slaves Anymore” Passover Parody of Katy Perry’s “Roar” by Blau Bright Productions

It’s Passover, Grover! by Shalom Sesame

Let It Go: Passover Edition by AishVideo

And, for the sake of completeness, here are some more Frozen Passover Parodies: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9)

See also our compilation from a few years ago.

And here are some more past favorites:

Bubala Please Episode 5 — Passover Munchies

The Maccabeats – Les Misérables – Passover


Masa Israel Featured Internship: Research and Web Development Intern, The International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists

The international association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists (NGO) is looking for an intern in the fields of International Law, Human Rights, and the fight against Anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial and terror.
Responsibilities include legal and general research that concerns the Association’s agenda; writing papers, prepare briefing and creating PowerPoint presentations; and uploading materials to the Association’s website while assisting in re-writing the Association’s web presence and branding.

The intern’s responsibilities will be highly diverse according to the project currently on the agenda. Preference to people who majored in International Law either at the University or as practitioners.

The International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, founded in 1969 by three well known jurists: Rene Cassem, a Nobel Prize Laureate, Arthur Goldberg of the United State Supreme Court, and Haim Cohen, Deputy Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of Israel, was established, primarily, in order to further the cause of human rights, to act against Anti-Semitism and the denial of the Holocaust, and to act against all forms of racism manifested against any people. The Association has the status of a recognized NGO in the United Nations and in the Council of Europe, and its representatives regularly participate in various discussions conducted in United Nations institutions and in the Council of Europe. The IAJLJ uses its specialty in Law to promote its agenda and vision. The Association has representatives in many countries and deals with matters that are of interest to the Jewish People and the State of Israel.


How many questions should you ask on Passover?

JSSA Passover Gameboard_Page_1“She died in her sleep,” relayed the voice over the phone.  “After years of suffering… she is at peace, but, now… now I am suffering. Rabbi, can you help me?” I put down the phone and was with the family in under an hour.  That afternoon, I heard fragments of a lifetime of memories…the next morning we returned her body to the earth.

How quickly life can change, and, when it does, JSSA is here to help.  As the Director of JSSA’s Jewish Chaplaincy Services, my team and I work with families facing challenging situations every day.  Some families are able to pay for JSSA’s services and some are not.  Regardless, we are always ready to help.

Two weeks after officiating at the funeral for the family mentioned above, a letter arrived on my desk.  It contained a check for twice the amount of our suggested donation, along with a note that read, “For the next family in need.”  What a mensch!

One ancient sage, Rabbi Tanchum, would purchase double of everything.  When asked why, he explained, “one for me, and one for someone in need.” This kind of generosity is at the foundation of kehillah kedosha, a holy community.  And it is what has kept JSSA’s doors opened for the past 120 years.

This Passover, JSSA is partnering with B’nai B’rith, and other local organizations and synagogues to deliver 500 Kosher for Passover food baskets. For families, individuals with special needs, seniors and Holocaust survivors in need.  As you prepare for your own holiday celebration, consider sponsoring a basket (or more) for $36.  Your generosity will allow a struggling neighbor to celebrate Passover with dignity.

Too often, we hear of clients unable to afford the additional items necessary to observe Passover.  Some even consider buying less in the weeks before in order to afford the more expensive Kosher for Passover items.  Others forgo their medication.  You can help them avoid making these choices by sponsoring a basket or few.  This holiday program relies solely on the contributions from our community.

JOIN US by choosing to sponsor a basket (or few) in honor of your host or guests – send an eCard today,

To extend our thanks to program supporters and to enhance Seder experiences across the metro area, we’re providing some added fun…with Passover BINGO!  This is not just your Bubbie’s BINGO!  With questions like, “Why is sponge cake a popular Passover dessert” and challenges like, “share a modern day exodus story”, JSSA, your local Jewish Social Service Agency, has created a Passover BINGO game for everyone at your Seder.  Together your friends and family will learn more about each other and reflect on story and experiences of Passover.

Hag Sameach (Happy Holiday),

Rabbi James Q. Kahn
Director of JSSA’s Jewish Chaplaincy Services


Marissa Neuman Jachman
JSSA Manager of Annual Giving


Are you a Birthright alumni? Birthright NEXT will help you host a Passover seder!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABirthright NEXT is providing some great resources to help you host your own seder!

Been on a Birthright Israel trip?  Celebrate Passover by hosting a NEXT Passover Seder for your friends.  NEXT will give you everything you need, including delicious recipes, up to $10 per person to help cover the cost of food, and a guide to customizing your own traditions.  Sign up today: Passover Your Way.

Even if you’re not a Birthright alumni, there are still great resources on the NEXT website that you can take advantage of.  Check them out here.


GTJ interviewed one of the organizers of the World’s Largest Shabbat Dinner!

The Most Interesting Jew in the World - Screenshot of fundraising clip for White City Shabbat's Guinness World's Largest Shabbat Dinner in theme of Dos Equis beer commercial. Photo credit: courtesy of White City Shabbat

The Most Interesting Jew in the World – Screenshot of fundraising clip for White City Shabbat’s Guinness World’s Largest Shabbat Dinner in theme of Dos Equis beer commercial. Photo credit: courtesy of White City Shabbat


As part of White City Shabbat, Victoria is one of the organizers of the World’s Largest Shabbat Dinner!  Learn more about the Shabbat dinner here.

Rachel: We heard that before you lived in Israel, you were living in DC.  What brought you to DC?

Victoria: I moved to DC in 2011 to get my masters in public administration at George Washington University.

Rachel: Why did you decide to move to Israel?

Victoria: I had come to Israel a few times since I graduated high school, once on a family mission trip in 2005 & once with my mom on a women’s mission in 2011, and both experiences were great but very centered on site seeing and learning about the history of Israel.  When I came to Israel on Taglit in 2012 on a DC community Shorashim bus, the trip had an element of self-reflection that I had never experienced on a previous trip to Israel.  I was forced to confront questions like “What does Israel mean to you?” and “What do you want your relationship with Israel to be?” and when I thought about those and other topics I realized that 10 days was not enough for me to answer those questions satisfactorily.  On the last day of Birthright we were given a presentation about coming back to Israel on Masa and I filled out a card saying that I was interested in possibly returning for a longer Israel experience.

A few months passed and as I was entering my last semester of my master’s degree and trying to decide what I was going to do when I graduated I received a phone call from a Masa representative asking if I was still interested in coming back to Israel.  The call couldn’t have come at a better time and I made the decision that if I was ever going to explore my relationship with Judaism and Israel by living in the Jewish homeland, now was the time. 

Rachel: What is White City Shabbat?

Victoria: White City Shabbat is the portal for Jewish Life in Tel Aviv.  Bringing the concept of Shabbat dinner parties to a wider community, the organization hosts its own private, warm, welcoming, all-inclusive Shabbat meals every month.  White City Shabbat also hosts holiday celebrations and meals, Jewish learning series, beginners learning minyan, and inter-community programming.  To learn more about White City Shabbat visit

Rachel: How did you get involved in White City Shabbat?

WCS logo (1)Victoria: White City Shabbat is one of many programs operated by a nonprofit organization called the Am Yisrael Foundation, which is where I worked as an intern during my Masa program.

While I was doing research on different Masa programs I reached out to a friend of mine, Natalie Solomon, who had made Aliyah recently and was volunteering with a passionate team of young professionals to form new nonprofit organization, the Am Yisrael Foundation, that actually had an intern at the time from one of the programs I was looking into.  After talking with Natalie and learning more about the great group of people she works with and the work they do to build community for the young-professional international community in Tel Aviv, I knew that going on Career Israel and interning with AYF was the right fit for me.

I feel so lucky that I was recruited for this position because it’s given me a chance to see Tel Aviv through the lens of passionate, highly motivated young pioneers who are working tirelessly to improve the city and the community that we’ve chosen to call home.  Even though my internship ended almost 2 months ago, I decided to continue volunteering with the Am Yisrael Foundation and helping them attempt the world record for the World’s Largest Shabbat Dinner.

Rachel: What motivated WCS to host the largest Shabbat dinner ever?

Victoria: It’s actually a funny story, no one really knows who exactly came up with the idea.  People within our organization had been playing around for a while with different ideas to inspire Jewish unity with some type of global Jewish communal effort and that is where the idea to attempt a Guinness World Record came from.  White City Shabbat and Am Yisrael Foundation are led by passionate young professionals who devote their free time to run these programs & we wanted a way to involve Jews from around the world in the incredible work that we’re doing.

Rachel: Who are you expecting to attend the dinner?

Victoria: We expect a lot of diversity in the event’s attendees.  At White City Shabbat we believe that Shabbat is the cornerstone of the Jewish faith and as such has the power to bring people together.  Furthermore, because of its unique demographics of so many young professionals, its mix of immigrants and natives who are both religious and secular, and its overarching atmosphere of openness and inclusivity, Tel Aviv is the perfect city to host an event of this magnitude.

Rachel: When you’re not at the world’s largest Shabbat, where can you be found on a typical Friday night?

Victoria: Since I’ve been living in Israel for the last 6 months, I feel so fortunate that I’m able to celebrate Shabbat with my friends every week.  In the Olim (new immigrant) community here in Tel Aviv we have a saying that your friends are your family, since many of us do not have family living in Israel or if we do they’re far away, and I’ve definitely been living by that statement since I got here.  Every week I either go to a friend’s apartment or to a White City Shabbat event for dinner, and, wherever I am, I know that Shabbat dinner will be filled with people that I love expressing their gratitude and happiness that we are together in Tel Aviv, in the homeland of the Jewish people, being able to share in the beauty of Shabbat.

Rachel: Who is the coolest Jew?

Victoria: I’d have to say my mom.  She converted after she married my dad & even though she wasn’t raised Jewish she embodies Jewish values, like Tikkun Olam & Tzedakah, more than anyone else I know & has inspired me to try and do the same.

Rachel: Finish the sentence: When the Jews gather…

Victoria: we can change the world!


Catch a Date with “Email Bait” – – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (No. 86)

heartbaitDo you ever come across a profile that you like, you want to send a message, and then you have a strong bout of writer’s block?  It turns out you’re not alone.

Many people have no idea what to say in an initial online dating email (or text, if we’re talking about apps) to show someone that they have an interest in communicating and potentially meeting.  For this reason, it’s best to give these potential suitors (or suitoresses?) one more thing to comment about.  In other words, provide them with some “email bait.”

In my old JDate profile (LovesLifeDC), I had a photo of myself singing the National Anthem.  I got almost daily emails asking where I was singing and how I got the gig.  (Answers: A Washington Nationals game.  A good demo and a lot of persistence.  It was one of the best nights of my life… until I almost ran out of gas on the way home.  I’ll save that story for a rainy day.)  This picture alone gave men the “in” they needed to strike up a conversation with me.

Other examples of some of my clients’ interesting pictures have been:

  • A woman playing ice hockey in full gear
  • A guy dressed as a clown since he performs for children every Sunday
  • A woman climbing a tree at a winery
  • A guy singing with a mariachi band
  • A woman posing next to a sign saying “Completely Nuts” (Oh wait – that was me again!)

As a side note, I think I can speak for most of my fair gender when I say that we don’t care how big the fish you caught was.  Compensating for something, perhaps? :)

To show a real-life example, I’m going to use a photo of yours truly:


This picture, while fine, is not really showing anything special.

Now, let’s look at this one:


This picture instead shows me performing with Story League, something I like to do to get my creative juices flowing.  (I’m actually performing tomorrow night in the “Sticky” contest.)  It could easily generate questions like:

  • Where are you speaking? (Busboys & Poets)
  • Do you do that often? (Every month or two)
  • What was that particular story about? (A text message gone awfully wrong)
  • Do you always wear glasses? (If you want me to see you from far away!)

These two pictures were taken the exact same night, but one would do much better online.

The moral: Many people have no idea what to say in the initial email, so give them something easy to comment about, or “email bait.”

erika ettin-49381 Cropped (1)Erika Ettin is the Founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps people stand out from the online dating crowd and have a rewarding experience. An archive of all of Erika’s columns is also available.  Want to connect with Erika?  Join her newsletter for updates and tips.





Masa Israel Featured Internship: International Middle East Journalist, The Media Line

Intern will work with The Media Line staff in establishing story-lines and topics as well as researching and writing news and feature stories.

The Media Line promotes accuracy among regional journalists. This is a unique non-profit news organization established to enhance and balance media coverage in the Middle East, promote independent reporting in the region, and break down barriers to understanding in the Arab and Israeli journalism communities. The mission is to provide credible, unbiased content, background and context to local media outlets throughout the Middle East and around the world, including the United States, Canada, Europe and Australasia.

In addition to its own reporting, which reaches millions of news consumers daily, TML promotes accuracy and fairness among other regional journalists by designing and implementing ongoing educational, training and dialogue-building projects.


#PurimNotPrejudice: It’s about you, me, and every single Jew in our diverse community

purimnotprejudice6Hi, I’m MaNishtana.

You might know me from my blogs, book (Thoughts From A Unicorn), videos, website or any other newspaper or magazine appearance I’ve made over the past five years.  I don’t say this to portray myself as a big deal.  I say this to in fact to prove the opposite: Despite all the above you probably DON’T know who I am.  Because I’m not particularly a big deal. I’m just a guy who sees something and says something.

It is with this approach on social issues in Judaism that I recently founded The Shivtei Jeshurun Society for the Advancement of Jewish Racial & Ethnic Diversity, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting awareness of and equality for Jews of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.  The organization’s first public project was the #PurimNotPrejudice campaign, a pledge to consider the costume choices we made this Purim and every Purim from this  year forward, and to not cross the line into offending other cultures, such as dressing in stereotypical or derogatory garb representing a people.  Or—as is most personally resonant with me—dressing in blackface.

Jews tend to forget, or not even consider the fact, that Judaism is not a “Whites Only” sort of boys’ club, and that some costume choices run the risk not only of offending other cultures, but also of offending other Jews.  Which is ironic, as the Purim story is telling of the salvation of the Jewish communities which existed in Ahaseurus’ provinces from India to Ethiopia, not, for example, from Germany to Poland.  We found our campaign to be a noble goal to stem the corruption of religious observance with racially offensive themes.

However, apparently some people saw #PurimNotPrejudice not as the educational awareness tool it was meant to be, but instead as a campaign to point the finger, shame, and embarrass those who may have dressed in offensive ways in the past.  Let’s be clear: That’s not what this campaign was about.

There was an incident last year involving a leaked picture of a politician and a sensitive costume choice, and subsequent statements of racial insensitivity by Jewish public figures actually sparked the conversations and discussions that led to the eventual creation of the Shivtei Jeshurun Society, with the purpose to educate not only Jewish communities, but non-Jewish ethnic communities as well, to the racial and ethnic diversity which exists in Judaism.  This mission was at the heart of the #PurimNotPrejudice campaign.

This past Wednesday, the SJS received a voicemail questioning whether the #PurimNotPrejudice campaign was “a Purim spiel or a real organization”.  Since the SJS is always open to respectful dialogue, I myself returned the call, and was greeted with a barrage of questions and comments regarding the nature of blackface, instances when blackface is offensive, if there are specific ways that make-up has to be applied in order for it to count as blackface, and so on.

This is it.  This is what our organization has been created to do—take an opportunity to unravel an interaction like this and get to the bottom of the issue, to take this interaction from one-on-one settings to a national conversation.

#PurimNotPrejudice was not about any one person or any one event, or any one Purim costume or any one community.  #PurimNotPrejudice was about Purim, and about the Jewish community as a whole, in its entirety, with all its diverse faces and experiences.

This campaign was about using sensitivity to observe a holiday which largely exists because of the results of a lack of sensitivity.

After all, the Jews went to Ahaseurus’ party where the serving vessels were ransacked from the destroyed First Temple, yet couldn’t understand why G-d might take offense that they partook of the feast.  Ahaseurus ordered his wife Vashti to appear naked before his guests, but didn’t get why she might be offended.  Haman wore an idol around his neck and got furious when Mordechai didn’t bow to him, instead of seeing how his choice of clothing might be religiously insensitive to someone who doesn’t bow to idols.

So to celebrate such a holiday through the use of costumes that disregard the feelings of others—and especially to shrug criticism off with careless “It’s just fun” kind of statements—is counter-intuitive.

Now, the SJS understands that some people might genuinely be unaware of how their costume might offend or impact people.  And so #PurimNotPrejudice was here not to shame them or embarrass them, but to take the opportunity to inform them.  After all, a Shylock costume wouldn’t fly and a Nazi costume would be absolutely out of the question at a Halloween party, right?

We hope you enjoyed the Chag, and that you continue to support our future campaigns!

MaNishtana is the Executive Director of The Shivtei Jeshurun Society for the Advancement of Jewish Racial & Ethnic Diversity.

You can see the pledge here and view the campaign FAQs here.


Masa Israel Featured Internship: News Content Analyst, Wibbitz

You will take part in the revolution of news consumption and will join the Wibbitz content team. You should be passionate about the news industry and have wide area of interests in news, politics, finance, sports and entertainment.

Responsibilities include finding trends in world news researching for specific events, analysis of Wibbitz clips, collaborating on content for Wibbitz platform, assisting in quality assurance when needed, and being an active participant in Wibbitz Happy Hour.

Wibbitz is a technology startup aiming to change the way we consume information on mobile devices. Wibbitz automatically re-packages textual content into rich and informative video summaries that can be watched conveniently on mobile screens, at home or on the go. Wibbitz is very cool and young company located in the heart of Tel Aviv.


Scars Masks Don’t Hide

maskI’m only a couple of months away from my 25th birthday and my quarter life crisis is in full effect.

For Jews, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah naturally lend themselves to self-reflection, but I find it more prudent to keep a running tally of the things upon which I’d like to improve. For me, Purim serves as the kick-off event for the nine-month period in which I remind myself that just a quarter of the way through the New Year, my resolutions have begun to fall through the cracks. Purim’s timing coincides with the beginning of spring, the renewal of spirit (and those resolutions), and most importantly, the start of baseball season. While Purim’s celebrations are lighthearted and joyful, to me, Purim’s story conveys some troubling themes that my mask cannot conceal.

Much like a 60 degree early March day, particularly here in Washington, (it’s snowing right now: Midnight, Monday March 17), the story of Purim is one of deception and false realities. The name Esther, Purim’s main heroine, literally means “hidden.” Esther hides her Judaism until she feels the time is right to divulge her true identity. She’s not alone. Mordechai also hides, never showing his identity.  No one could tell he was a Jew; Haman had to be told.  Haman hides his hatred through much of the story and plots in secret. At one point the text tells us that Haman’s face is covered when he is discovered with Queen Esther. King Ahasuerus’ good judgment (and sobriety) is shelved throughout much of Purim’s tale, and even God is nowhere to be found for much of the story.

While celebrating contemporarily, we wear masks to hide our own faces, and make loud noises to drown out the painful parts of Purim’s ‘reality.’

I believe Purim’s characters are archetypes of ourselves.  I learned that we wear costumes on Purim to commemorate the dressing up of Mordechai in King Ahasuerus’ royal garments. Another explanation is that Jews at the time pretended to worship alternative gods and god pretended that he was going to destroy the Jewish nation. God didn’t. For whom were we fronting? says (am I a nerd?) that this is a reason we pretend to be someone else on Purim, since both the Jews’ and god’s actions on its face had other underlying intentions.

When so many people turn to scripture for peacefulness, clarity, and answers to stressful real life occurrences, what should we take from scripture that muddles the lines of what and who is real? Furthermore, why mask our convictions?

Fortunately, many of us no longer live in a world in which a mask is required to shield ourselves or provide a façade to others from our true selves or practices.  That does not mean, however, that forces of intolerance and oppression are gone.

Just last weekend, nearly half a dozen anti-Semetic attacks were carried out across France. Every year, the Anti-Defamation League presents a ‘top ten list’ of pressing issues in the world of Jewry. This year’s: the rise of the far Right in several European countries as part of what the watchdog termed an increase in global anti-Semitism.  “Jewish communities around the world, and particularly those in Eastern and Western Europe and South America, witnessed a rise in serious anti-Jewish assaults, vandalism and harassment,” the ADL stated.

This year, instead of drowning out the bad and unjust, perhaps we should listen more closely to those who practice intolerance and hate. Maybe this year, it’s time to confront negative forces in the world, and in our lives, face to face.

Masks can only shield so much. There’s still work to be done.


Brian Block is a Penn State graduate with a passion for Italian food and his hometown, Philadelphia, most specifically the Phillies. Following campaign stints in New York, Pennsylvania, and Arizona, he’s lived in DC for nearly two years working in government relations and financial services.


Supporting Israel. Supporting the DC Economy.

AIPAC Policy Conference 2014Conversion Rate:  A Monthly Column from a DC Young Professional on the Israeli Economy (and other Misc thoughts…)

The doors opened and 14,000 pro-Israel supporters walked through.  This is the 2014 AIPAC Policy Conference.  This is the largest gathering of supporters of the Jewish state in America and possibly the world (outside of Israel).  This is impressive.

In early-March the Washington Convention Center became just a step closer to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.  Attendees heard from a long list of influential dignitaries – from Secretary Lew to Senator McCain to Prime Minister Netanyahu.  But this conference is more than sit, listen, clap, repeat.  The voice of AIPAC is more than the speeches.  The reach of AIPAC is more than the 48,000 times the speeches were streamed on YouTube around the world (as I write this blog a week later).  It is more than the boots on the ground and the feet that walk the halls of Congress – sometimes coming in from a late seasonal snowfall – to advocate on behalf of the Jewish state to our elected officials.  It is more than the heartbeat of American Jewry.  It is the full embodiment of the strength and unbreakable bond between the United States, Americans, Israel, and the people of Israel.

It is also an opportunity for DC.  Tourism equates for over $6B of the District’s annual revenue.  Like Taglit-Birthright, the goal of AIPAC isn’t economic.  It is educational.  It is grassroots advocacy.  But the economic benefits are a nice ripple effect.  And as I am the GTJ resident economic nerd blogger – that is exactly what we’re here to discuss in my second post for “Conversion Rate”…

During the kickoff night of AIPAC, I made the foolish and somewhat rookie mistake of trying to go to a locally run, small business, restaurant in walking distance of the convention center for dinner without a reservation.  A two and a half hour wait to be seated, said the hostess.  That is an allegory for what AIPAC means for the District of Columbia.

Like many young professionals from DC or visiting it for AIPAC from out of town, or from overseas, I had an active night ahead of me.  My UberX app was going to get a whole lot of attention.

Numerous groups were able to leverage the network of having so many like-minded Jewish and pro-Israel supporters in town.  So beyond the restaurants having two and a half hour waits, groups were able to host spinoff events that supported AIPAC and Israel.

Ambassador Ron ProsorThe AIPAC Policy Conference Welcome Party was hosted by HaLev.  Their focus is on increasing the level of young leadership engagement in AIPAC’s Policy Conference, to foster a more proactive sense of commitment from young pros around the U.S.  They do this by offering scholarships to cover the registration fee for AIPAC.  And they fundraised over $5,000 by hosting over 500 young pros at Capitale.  Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor provided opening remarks.

“It was great to see so many pro-Israel activists together, supporting HaLev’s vision of bringing people to their first Policy Conference.  I know they will be impacted for the rest of their lives,” said Max Bluestein, a member of the HaLev Israel’s Executive Board.

Earlier in the night the Israel Bonds National New Leadership Board of Directors hosted a happy hour at miXX Lounge at the Renaissance Washington.  Young professional AIPAC supporters and Israel Bond investors networked, enjoyed an open bar, and ate some kosher friendly treats there.  Attendees came from as far west as California, as far east as New York, and as far south as Texas and Florida.  DC young pros were also well represented and Eva Davis won the unofficial selfie contest – where the best selfie taker at the HH was awarded a $100 Israel Bond to donate to any pro-Israel or Jewish non-profit.  Hadassah was lucky recipient.

Lisa Yochelson, an active Jewish community organizer in DC and first time attendee of an Israel Bonds New Leadership event, said “it was great to learn about the impact that Israel Bonds is having on educating local Jewish leaders, I’m excited to be a part of this organization’s important mission and support future initiatives.”

Other programs were also held.  Hotel rooms were booked.  My UberX drivers got some good tips.

Overall, AIPAC provided much more to DC than it directly gave to the 14,000 people at the convention center and the untold fortunes given to Israel in knowing that across the Atlantic, there are thousands of pro-Israel supporters willing to wait two and a half hours for a restaurant reservation for them (amongst make other commitments to show their support for The Jewish State of Israel).

Conversion Rate represents the views of Jason Langsner.  Langsner has been active in the DC Jewish community for nearly 10 years.  He formerly drove the digital strategy for B’nai B’rith International.  He is an active volunteer leader in a number of Jewish communal organizations at local and national levels.  He has staffed a Taglit-Birthright trip and is a former runner-up to GTJ’s Jewish Guy of the Year.


JUFJ’s Labor Seder Focuses on Raising the Minimum Wage

jufjWe are commanded that in every generation, every Jew is obligated to view themselves as though they came out of Egypt.  In most Jewish families, this means dipping parsley in salt water, eating horseradish covered in charoset and singing “Hagadya”.  For me, this has also meant that for the last 5 years, I have attended Jews United for Justice’s annual Labor Seder.  For the past few years, I have a been a part of the seder planning team and this year, I have been co-chairing the planning process.  The Labor Seder is meaningful to me because the value of Tikkun Olam has always been central to my personal Jewish identity, but I have not always known how to integrate my activism with traditional Judaism.  My involvement in the Labor Seder has allowed me to connect my favorite Jewish festival, Passover, with my desire to see a more just world.

The haggadah states – “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt – now we are free.”  But many in our society are not free and experience oppression and hardship every day.  Every year, the Labor Seder brings a social justice issue of local and national importance together with the traditional themes of the Seder, connecting our history and values as Jews with the struggles of working people.  This year, as DC, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County have already taken action to raise the minimum wage and JUFJ is part of an active campaign to raise the wage in all of Maryland, the theme of the Seder is the need to raise the minimum wage.  The 300+ person event features singing, speakers, group discussion, taking action, and of course, some light noshing.

The Seder will be at 5:30 pm on Sunday, March 23rd at Adas Israel Congregation in Cleveland Park, DC.  You can find more information and buy tickets here.


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