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Cowlick. A coming of age short about a kid and his hair.

cowlickThere are 7 days left in DC local, Lindsey Sitz’s, Kickstarter campaign for her short comedy film, Cowlick. 

Cowlick is a comedic look at 13-year-old Cole Schwartzman on the morning of his Bar Mitzvah. Anxiety is in full swing as he prepares to jettison into manhood, despite the “support” from his neurotic family and that tiny (or rather large) voice in his head that keeps telling him, this is not going to go well. He does everything in his power—prayers practiced, lucky rabbits foot in hand, cowlick tamed–to make sure everything goes according to plan. He quickly learns that some things in life can’t be controlled.

Cowlick is a comedic look at 13-year-old Cole Schwartzman on the morning of his Bar Mitzvah. Anxiety is in full swing as he prepares to jettison into manhood, despite the “support” from his neurotic family and that tiny (or rather large) voice in his head that keeps telling him, this is not going to go well. He does everything in his power—prayers practiced, lucky rabbits foot in hand, cowlick tamed–to make sure everything goes according to plan. He quickly learns that some things in life can’t be controlled.

So what is this short comedy film and how was it inspired?

I’ve always been an anxious person. When I was 10-years-old, I spent what felt like hours re-reading the same page of “Shiloh” over and over and over again because somewhere in my tiny pea-brain, I believed that if I read it one more time, my family would always be safe. At 13, I flicked lights on—and off—and on—and off—and on and okay now it feels right. And I didn’t dare go a day without wearing what I considered extremely fashionable “armor”—my khaki fisherman’s vest.

Ever since my awkward tweenhood, I have slowly but surely realized that nope, no, the universe cannot and will not be controlled. It is a beautiful, unpredictable, wild mess that will throw the most unexpected your way. Read as: shit will always hit the fan. You can prepare all you want, but just when you think the skies are clear, that big shit covered curveball comes flying overhead. I quickly learned that laughter is one of the greatest weapons in our arsenal. If we can laugh at ourselves, everything will be okay.

If you’ve ever struggled with holding on too tightly, Cowlick is your story.

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Please help make this film a reality by donating to our campaign! 

Perks include: a badass Cowlick tee shirt, opportunity to be an extra in the most awkward Bar Mitzvah since your own (set to be shot at Sixth & I Synagogue on November 1st!), invite to the screening and wrap party, etc.

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Jewish Impacter of the Week – Ben

10433063_10106417899434901_4469569414043671584_nJackie: What brought you to DC?

Ben: I moved to DC back in 2007, after working on a political campaign for Kirsten Gillibrand (now-Jr. Senator from NY.)

Jackie: How did you get involved in Federation?

Ben: I grew up in Pensacola, FL (yes, there are Jews in the Florida Panhandle) in a family that was always involved in the community. After a few years here in DC, I decided to get involved myself and applied for the Jewish Federation’s Birthright Alumni Mission.

Jackie: What are you most excited for with IMPACT DC this year?

Ben: Anyone who knows me knows, I am the first person on the dance floor, and the last to leave. I can’t wait to celebrate with hundreds of young Jews from across the area and really make a difference in the lives of so many in our community, in Israel, and around the world.

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

Ben: Most Thursday nights you will find me at Stead Park in Dupont Circle playing with the Matzo Balls as part of the Stonewall LGBT Kickball League! What we may lack in athletic prowess we make up for in ruach (spirit)!!

Jackie: How do you take your bagel? 

Ben: Whole Wheat everything, double toasted, veggie cream cheese, tomato slices, and capers.

1426562_10104304474131151_1966111093_nJackie: How do you like to spend Shabbat? 

Ben: In addition to my work with Federation, I also run DC’s only young, gay Jewish organization, Nice Jewish Boys DC. We host Shabbat-luck dinners a few times a year at member’s homes. You haven’t experienced a Shabbat till you have one with a rainbow challah!

Finish the sentence: When the Jews gatherwe make an impact! Whether you are talking about the civil rights movements of the 60’s, the LGBT rights movement of today, or a host of other causes, the Jewish community has always been on the forefront of social justice. The Chosen People are an elite club that can do a lot even though there aren’t many of us. We accomplish that when we gather.

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Introducing Cohort II Open Doors Fellows!

We are thrilled to announce this year’s Open Doors Fellows Cohort II! Hopefully you’ll see these faces all around town. Please use them as resources to help connect you to the DC Jewish life you’re looking for!

For information about the Open Doors Fellowship email us.

Want to grab coffee with a fellow and talk about DC Jewish life? Sign up!

FinalLindsay Goldman is a transplant to DC, originally from New York she is an East Coast girl at heart who loves talking about how homesick she is for a decent bagel and walking with a purpose. She graduated NYU with a bachelor’s in education and Judaic Studies. She now works at Maryland Hillel in College Park as the Jewish Experience Associate where she plans Shabbat and holiday programming for young adults and talks about pluralism, a lot. An alumna of Mechon Hadar, The Conservative Yeshiva and The Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies she has a passion for Jewish learning and for teaching and hopes to create more local opportunities for learning this year. Dedicated to egalitarianism in the Jewish and secular world she loves chatting about women’s issues and looks forward to introducing volunteer programming about these issues this year. Lindsay loves traveling abroad and around DC as she continues to explore her new city. She is an avid member of DC Minyan where you can find her praying and socializing any Shabbat she is not staffing at UMD. She is excited to start making new connections!

 

HillelHillel Goldschein moved to the Greater Washington area (Silver Spring, Maryland) last year and has been happily occupied with experiencing many of the components that the wonderful area has to offer, such as making all types of friends, visiting many of the area’s wonderful sites, with the possibly unique distinction of never having been to a museum (the stuff inside doesn’t talk back!), and taking advantage of Jewish-related events. He works for Measuring Success, a consulting firm located in downtown DC that provides strategic direction for non-profit organizations and went for his Masters in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. He is from NY (just ask him to pronounce”coughie”) and proudly incorporates his “big-city” tendencies  to his social life, such as inviting many people  to join him in all types of events and outings, stirring up fun “controversy” and making sure there is never a dull moment in a gathering, and not getting enough sleep. He enjoys and plays sports, learning about himself and others, studying biblical and prayer texts, writing, and physical activity.

 

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Michele Grossman is an organizer by nature. Leave her alone in your kitchen for ten minutes, and your spice rack will be re-positioned by type of spice, and then in alphabetical order. (Cinnamon should never be next to pepper. Never.) She also organizes events for people and is the community leader for Moishe House Without Walls DC, facilitates a havurah called Shabbat Schmooze, and runs such events as SHABBATNIC (do Shabbat outside!) and Sunday School (think: Hebrew School for adults meets peer-to-peer learning). In the spare time she pretends to have, she paints, illustrates the thoughts she has while falling asleep, and writes poems about people she sees in the subway. Additionally, she is a freelance writer and bookkeeper, which is how she pays the bills. Michele is the daughter of two D.C. natives, and seems to take after the community organizing streak in all four of her grandparents who helped found Olam Tikvah in Fairfax, VA in the 1960s.

 

Henderson PictureBorn in London, Joshua Henderson moved to Washington D.C. when he was 16 years old. After two years in the nation’s capital, Joshua went to the University of Michigan where he studied History and Political Science. While a student, he grew more interested in foreign policy. After graduation in 2014, he was an Israel Government Fellow and interned at the Ministry of Justice in Tel Aviv. Joshua is a frequent runner and ran the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem half-marathons earlier this year. He also took Krav Maga for several months and is looking forward to the Rugby World Cup this Fall.

 

Josh N. PicJosh Neirman grew up in rolling hills of Vermont where he graduated with a BA in Environmental Studies from the University of Vermont (UVM) when flip phones were still a thing. Josh has lived in Washington, DC  for over 4.5 years and works in Montgomery County, MD for Housing Unlimited, Inc. as a property manager where he provides independent and affordable housing for adults in mental health recovery.  When Josh is not busy with his day job he enjoys his challah french toast with copious amounts of Vermont maple syrup as well as serving on the leadership committee for the North American Arava Alumni Network, the DC Jews on Bikes Planning Committee, volunteering for UVM Admissions, and co-chairing the DC Masa Israel Alumni Board among many other things.  He’s also a huge Bernie Sanders fan!

 

Tammy ScwartzTammy Schwartz is excited to be an Open Doors Fellow and hopes to welcome more Jews to the local community. A native of Scottsdale, AZ, Tammy moved to the District 8 years ago to attend American University. She was involved in Hillel, pro-Israel activism and exploring the array of cultural events in the city. Combining her passion for social justice and education, Tammy pursued a master’s degree in School Counseling at George Washington University. She currently works as a School Counselor at a DC Public School, promoting the academic, personal/social and career development of all students. Previously, Tammy worked at the DCJCC as a Preschool Teacher. She enjoys cooking with CSA ingredients, hiking, playing basketball and exploring new corners of DC.

 

JSUBAR_128_153Jackie Subar is a native Texan and recent graduate from the Bush School at Texas A&M University where she received her Master’s in Public Administration with a concentration in Nonprofit Management. During graduate school, she worked in development for Hillel at Texas A&M and was very involved in the Chabad on campus. Before graduate school, Jackie spent a year in the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem while interning for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. She returned to Israel last summer to work with NGO Monitor in Jerusalem. Jackie has been an active advocate for Israel and an involved member of the Jewish community in different capacities. Currently Jackie is serving as the Goldman Bridge Fellow for ACCESS, the young professionals arm of the American Jewish Community. Jackie loves being active and trying anything anything new; she really wants to take up paddle boarding. In her spare time Jackie loves reading new books, hanging with friends, and going on adventures. She is also down for a good chat, some chai tea, and good music (especially country).

 

Naomi pictureNaomi Yinuo Tao is a MBA candidate at The George Washington University School of Business. Before she moved to DC, she lived in Beijing and Toronto. Naomi holds a BA in Communications from York University (Toronto, Canada), and had managed an import and export company she co-founded for three years before going back to school. Naomi spent her summer between first and second year of MBA program interning for Ford Motor Company’s HR department in Michigan. She enjoys spending quality time with family and friends, traveling, and taking long walks. Naomi lives in DC with her husband, Gabriel, and they are both members of Temple Micah.

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Ask Erika: How do I make a spark!?

erika e-1405-4We called, and you answered! Thank you so much for the overwhelming number of questions in response to “Ask Erika” a few weeks ago. Continue sending your questions my way! I’ll be addressing all of them in due time, but I wanted to start today with a question from a reader that I get a lot as a dating coach:

“I’ve been told multiple times after a first date that I’m a great guy, but that she just didn’t feel that “spark”. If you are meeting someone for the first time – what recommendations do you have to make that spark?”

In other words, is there a way to create chemistry with someone?

The long and short of it is, unfortunately, no. You can’t create chemistry, or a “spark,” from nothing. If one person is simply not physically attracted to the other, then it’s hard to move past that. I do, however, recommend giving it a second date if you’re on the fence about someone.

About 10 years ago (oy—I’m getting old), I went on a first date to a Mexican restaurant. (This is before I knew that you can always add dinner, but you can’t take it back!) At any rate, my date was, well, boring. At the end, I thought to myself, “Nice enough guy, but no chemistry.” The next day, I sent him a “thank you” email (he did pay for my meal, after all), and he wrote back about how he had a good time, and then he actually wrote something funny! I thought to myself, “This guy wasn’t funny at all on our date.  Interesting.”  And then he asked me out again. While I didn’t have a particularly good time on the first date, this guy seemed interested, and I knew he could at least communicate in written form. Why not?

For date #2, we met at the Metro, and he wasn’t as bad as I remembered.  In fact, he was kind of cute.  And then… against all odds… this guy was funny! I liked this guy, and sparks were flying. We ended up dating for a year and a half.  I found out many months later that he was nervous—very nervous—on the first date.

People often expect fireworks and rainbows on a first date, but the likelihood of that is only 100% in Disney movies. I encourage both men and women to give people a second chance if there isn’t a “spark” initially to see if one can grow. For the reader with the question, despite the lack of interest on their end, I am glad that these women are at least declining another date tactfully rather than saying nothing at all.

Now, onto the question at hand… while you can’t create a connection, there are subtle ways of increasing the “flirt factor” (not a scientific term by any means) on your dates by using simple body language cues:

  1. Notice where you’re facing.

Are your legs facing towards or away from your date? The more you point them towards your date, the more likely you are into him/her, and vice versa. Generally, if people turn their legs away from someone, it’s because they are trying to create some distance.

  1. Are you within spitting distance?

I hate two-tops. You know what I mean—the tables where you feel like you have to yell across it to have a conversation. If given the choice, either sit at the bar, or sit at a square table catty-corner from each other. This way, you’re more inclined to have an intimate conversation since you’re close enough to hear each other.

  1. Where are your hands?

Do you like your date? If so, a playful touch is generally a sign of interest. Let’s say you’re out with someone really funny. He or she cracks a joke. You might touch your date’s arm briefly while saying something like, “That’s really funny.”

  1. You looking at me?

If you want someone to know you’re truly listening, then make the appropriate eye contact. Speaking of keeping your eyes on each other, please put your cell phone away during your date. There’s nothing worse than interrupting someone mid-sentence to check a non-urgent text. If you’re expecting an important call or email, let your date know in advance that there’s a possibility you might have to step out for a minute.

  1. Pay attention to the end.

How do most of your dates end? With a hug? A kiss? A handshake? Unless it’s so clear that you’re on the same page (basically, the make out page), I would recommend a hug, and the quality of the hug actually matters. Just like in a business meeting, you don’t want to have a “dead fish” handshake, in dating, you don’t want to be the person with the weak hug. Now, I’m not saying give your date a great big bear hug that you’d give to your mom on Thanksgiving. What I am saying is to give a real, earnest hug that shows that you care.

What you say on a date is obviously important, but it’s often the more subtle things that people remember. So, while you can’t create chemistry, you can certainly do things to improve the art of flirtation… and if you’re not sure, give people a chance.

 

 

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Meet Adi! Jewish Actor of the Week


Adi Stein Headshot 2 Jackie: What brought you to DC?

I came to DC because I went to school at American University and I just haven’t left since.

Jackie: So, you are an actor who often works in theater, can you tell us about the show you are currently working in?

Adi: Sure thing! I’m currently working on a show called The Cerulean Time Capsule. It’s a new site-specific play produced by The Kennedy  Center at The Botanic Garden. It’s a fun and exciting interactive children’s piece that takes the audience on a time traveling adventure  through the various gardens within The Botanic Garden. We run Saturdays and Sundays every half hour from 10:30am until 4pm and we’re  playing through October 25th! Also, it’s free, so you should come check it out.

Jackie: Since you are so involved in the DC theater scene, can you give us any recommendations of shows we should see?

Adi: Can do! There is actually this great new festival that just started called the “Women’s Voices Theater Festival” and there are a number of  exciting shows in it. The festival is a collaboration between all of the major theaters and theatre companies in DC. Together, over 50 new plays  by 50 female playwrights are being produced, and this kind of work is unprecedented. I just saw Queens Girl in the World by Caleen Sinnette Jennings at Theater J and it was spectacular. Beautiful text, outstanding performance from Dawn Ursula, and all around great production.  One of my favorite things I’ve seen in a while.

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Jackie: You make a podcast with your friend, what made you decide to do this project? Also can you recommend your  favorite episode of the podcast or should we just start at the beginning?

Adi: Ha! Yes, I have a podcast with my good friend Brandon McCoy. It’s called Highly Unreasonable and it’s essentially just the two of us  goofing off and talking about any topic that people send our way. It’s a lot of fun, which is essentially what made us start it. We were both at a  time in our lives when we were looking for avenues of pure joy, and hanging out and talking was just that. So we said, “We should record this  and just see what happens.” And lo and behold, Highly Unreasonable was born. We’re less than 20 episodes in now so I would say start with  the beginning if you’re interested. Each episode is between 30 minutes and an hour and you can find them all on iTunes, SoundCloud, and  Stitcher!

Jackie: I actually saw you in a movie before we even met! You were in a movie Stolen Summer can you tell me about that experience?

Adi: Wow! Bringing it back. Okay. Well what you say is true: I was in a movie called Stolen Summer when I was about… 13? 14? In any case, it was a complete blast. It was the first Project Greenlight movie, so I don’t think I was as aware of the attention is was getting at the time, but looking back… woof. It was so great meeting and working with such incredible people like Bonnie Hunt, Kevin Pollack, Aidan Quinn, and Brian Dennehy. I was one lucky little dude.

Jackie: Who is your favorite Jew?

Adi: Maybe Magneto? He’s pretty badass. A little xenophobic, but that’s all because of the Holocaust so… maybe it’s understandable? This got dark.

Jackie: What is your favorite way to spend Shabbat?

Adi: Eating delicious homemade foods until I fall asleep then waking up and doing it all over again.

Jackie: Finish the sentence: When the Jews gather… there better be food.

adi play

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An alternative view of Yom Kippur

For most Jews, the two words “Yom Kippur” evoke two other words: fasting and synagogue. I decided to lead a Lunch-and-Learn outside of a synagogue to see what would happen. Everyone who came was fasting (at least at that point), and most had come from synagogue, so it wasn’t the counter-cultural group of rebels I might have expected. Nevertheless, we challenged these two main associations, and in doing so opened up new avenues through which to connect to the day and Judaism more broadly.

First – fasting. On Yom Kippur day, nearly every synagogue reads the section of Isaiah that seemingly mocks the very approach of everyone listening. “Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves?” he asks. “Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”

Isaiah wasn’t against fasting, so this probably isn’t an endorsement of the Broad City approach to Yom Kippur. But his words push us to rethink our understanding of piety. Is the point of fasting to transcend our physicality, feel holy and connect to God? Or are we supposed to be out in the streets, feeding those who are hungry year-round? There are obviously ways to reconcile this tension, but given the lack of social pressure to volunteer in a soup kitchen on Yom Kippur, it seems we might be overemphasizing the spiritual. Isaiah’s model for Judaism is one rooted in service, not services.

Which brings us to our second idea – synagogue. There is a debate in the Talmud about which is more sacred: a house of prayer or a house of study. While the conclusion, perhaps intentionally, is left unclear, what’s significant is the very question itself.

When I was working on a college campus, I would hear students say “I want to get more involved with Hillel,” or more often, “I feel bad I don’t come to Hillel.” I soon realized that “getting involved with Hillel” or “coming to Hillel” meant, to these students, going to services on Friday night. So ingrained is the idea that Judaism equals synagogue that even Hillel becomes one. This attitude continues after college, where “getting involved in Jewish life” for most Jews in their 20s means exploring the different synagogues in the area.

But it wasn’t always this way. There was a time when a synagogue was not the central avenue for religious expression but rather was part of a larger religious ecosystem, balanced by the equally-if-not-more-important house of study. That institution has more or less been lost in American Jewish life today, and with it, the space to wrestle, learn and grow. This is especially sad given the high number of younger Jews who are craving personal meaning through Jewish texts. According to one Chassidic rebbe (the Netivot Shalom), the only purpose of the book of Genesis is character development. But that can’t happen without spaces to engage with the text.

Our sages describe three distinct religious approaches through three types of relationships: person and God, person and self, and person and others. When we say there are different ways to be Jewish, we often distinguish between being religious and cultural. But there are different ways to be religiously Jewish, too. We’ve focused on the first approach (person and God) at the expense of the other two. Let’s honor the diversity of our religious expression by encouraging the exploration of these alternative paths.

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Monthly Mussar: The Limits of Gratitude

Gather writer Joelle has been exploring different Mussar Principles. These Jewish Principles are based on finding and cultivating the characteristics of the divine that are imbued within ourselves with the goal of eventually projecting them outward, to reach our fullest potential, as we were created to by the divine. For each trait, there is a spectrum, and the goal is to find the middle path, between either extreme. Join her on her monthly journey.

There was something bothering me about gratitude, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. The books and the media, to name a few, tell us that we can be happier if only we would be more grateful. It makes sense that if we can choose to dwell on the abundance in our lives rather than the lack thereof, that we will see the world as a brighter place.

Indeed, this month I focused on gratitude – noticing it when I experienced it and practicing expressing it to others.

And in fact, this month, I did have a very cute gratitude experience. The phone at my office rang at 4:30 PM on a Friday, and since I was the only one left in the office, even though it’s not most of my job, I answered the call. It was a data user in need of assistance, and I did my best to help him and be friendly despite longing for the impending weekend. This data user was apparently so impressed at having an interaction with a government employee that was both competent and pleasant, he insisted that he tell my boss what an excellent job I had done. While on the one hand, I didn’t feel like my assistance merited such enthusiastic praise, I also was very touched by his gesture. And it made me think about how easy it could really be to make the extra effort to express gratitude to the people in our lives, whether they be people we are in intimate relationships with or those we’ll talk on the phone with for 10 minutes and never hear from again.

Upside (1)

On my part, for my month of gratitude, I did make efforts to express gratitude to some individuals who had a big impact on my life, but to whom I never expressed that before. I did find that it was difficult to do. And while I expected there to be a warm fuzzy feeling going along with that expression, what I found was that it was more mixed. It does feel good to tell someone how grateful you are to have had them in your life and to have them reciprocate that feeling. But it feels less great when what meant a lot to you didn’t mean so much to the person it came from, and that happened. And it feels a lot less great to not get any response, and that also happened. But I feel that, despite the potential awkwardness, it’s better to say it, because it might lead to a moment of great connection. And also because it’s impossible to know how something grateful you say today can touch someone, even if they don’t know it then or express it to you in the moment. Like my data user interaction.

So with all of those good take-aways, what could be bothersome about the idea of gratitude? As I sit here writing this, in a pretty good mood, it seems like a no-brainer, focusing on the positive and in turn feeling grateful makes logical sense. But in my own experience, the times when I’ve felt so awful, being implored to be grateful produced more harm than benefit. I have, after all, struggled with depression and anxiety to varying degrees throughout my life. And what I’ve found is that trying to ignore the negative just doesn’t work. And for someone to disregard your feelings by telling you to be grateful can feel like a slap in the face.

I remember in particular one time during a depressed episode when I went to Friday night shabbat services. I had always enjoyed participating in services, and I appreciated spending that time as an end to the week. But that particular week, as I sat by myself in services and read through the prayers we say, expressing such gratitude and joy, and I couldn’t help but feel completely left out, because it was not how I felt at all. And as I looked around and saw what felt like every couple embracing each other and staring lovingly into each other’s eyes, channeling in that moment the love and gratitude embodied in the prayers, I felt even more alone.

Downside (1)Having someone tell me to be grateful wasn’t going to fix my problem, nor was saying grateful words I didn’t feel. What I needed was someone to listen and be supportive, and it didn’t seem like there was anyone in my life that was going to be able to provide that for me, nor was it something I was going to find in that institution.

And so I conclude with a mixed message, that gratitude is worth pursuing to the extent that it can connect us with our feelings and with others, but overemphasizing the pursuit of gratitude can distance ourselves from others and isolate them.

So I think we can do better. I think we can do better in the Jewish community to create spaces where everyone feels welcomed and valued. I think we can do better to share with others how much we value them. And I think we can do better in acknowledging where people are at rather than telling them to look on the bright side because it is easier for us.

On that note, this coming month I will focus on compassion. I’ve found that in trying to be more patient and in exploring the limits of gratitude, the empathy that comes from being compassionate is key, so I am excited to see what I discover as I pursue it specifically this month. When have you had to summon compassion? When do you wish someone would have acted more compassionately toward you? Let me know below in the comments.

All comics drawn by Becky Schwartz.

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I’ve Been Arrogant for 15 Years and Now I Atone

It is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In synagogue I recited one of the most important prayers Jews read each year called viddui, or the confession. Al chet she-cha-tanu l’fanecha. For the sin we have committed against you.

There are many sins. One stood out to me.

“. . .The sin we have committed against You by our arrogance. . .

For all these sins, O God of mercy, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement!”

* * * * *

I stood at my Cancerslayer table at CureFest on the National Mall and talked about my Cancer-Slaying Super Man books, which I displayed along with information on how to purchase them. “My memoirs are about how I survived childhood cancer twice by believing I was superhuman,” I said to interested visitors.

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Benjamin Rubenstein in front of his Cancerslayer table at CureFest on Sunday, Sept. 20, on the National Mall. CureFest is an annual event uniting the childhood cancer community, the general public, leading pediatric oncologists and congressional leaders.

I distributed stickers of my Instagram character named Cancerslayer to the sticker-hungry children who visited my table. “Cancerslayer fights illness by day and bad guys by night!”

My table was wedged between two nonprofits that raise awareness and research money for childhood cancer. The two nonprofits’ founders were present to represent their organizations. The three of us talked to each other and also to cancer victims and their family members who attended CureFest and visited our tables. Each nonprofit founder sat and listened to me repeatedly share a concept that I have embraced since my first diagnosis almost exactly 15 years ago: Cancerslayer is the attitude that has helped me survive and thrive.

Each of the founders lost a child to cancer. No amount of Cancerslayer attitude, kale juice or anything else will bring them back or likely helped them stand a chance against the supreme king of illness. In the end, genetics and randomness tend to win out.

The Cancerslayer attitude is brash and arrogant. It helped me when cancer consumed my adolescence. It helps me as a healthy young adult swimming through our complex society.

I think my position will always be wedged between two groups, just like my table at CureFest. One group of people needs Cancerslayer because it uplifts them, or maybe fuels the anger they’ve been awaiting to overpower their sadness. Rage, I’ve found, is a supreme motivator.

The other group of people, possibly including Paul and Sandy who sat at the tables next to mine, resent Cancerslayer. I ask those individuals to please forgive me for this sin of arrogance. Then, please forgive me again because it is a sin that I will always commit to help myself and others keep fighting.

Benjamin writes and speaks about health and feeling like a superhuman. Tell him how arrogant he is on Twitter and Facebook. But first you should probably read his books and cancerslayerblog

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Sukkot Events 2015

Check out the Map of Sukkahs in DC!

Did we miss anything? Submit events here and/or leave a comment on this post.

Events:

Thursday September 24th

Sunday September 27th

Monday September 28th

Tuesday September 29th

Thursday October 1st

Friday October 2nd

Saturday October 3rd

Sunday October 4th

 

Simchat Torah Festivities

Monday October 5th

Friday October 9th

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Judaism that is more than get married, have babies

On one of my rabbi listservs there’s a long email chain about innovative high holiday programming for this year. There are many creative ideas, but I was struck by one not-so-creative common denominator: they are all taking place in a synagogue.

To be fair, this is the time of year when many Jews, for whatever reason, go to synagogue in spite of the countless objections that deter them from going during the rest of the year. It makes sense, then, that rabbis should be there to meet these high holidays Jews, a phenomenon that was given a special shout out in Zach Braff’s Garden State.

But by only offering synagogue-based options, we as a Jewish community perpetuate the idea that Judaism requires a synagogue. That feels limiting, and not just because of the physical limitations of a synagogue. Synagogues are houses of prayer. As much as we are able to redefine prayer and/or God, those are loaded concepts that will prevent many people from ever walking through the door. I’m someone who believes in God and prays regularly, and nevertheless these are things I struggle with on a daily basis. Is this really the card we want to lead with? Even if one thinks that these are essential and central aspects to being Jewish (I’m not sure I do), these are certainly not the easiest entry points into Jewish life.

This relates to a larger challenge, especially for Jews in their 20s and 30s. When synagogues are both the center of post-college Judaism and extremely family-centered, as most are, the implied message to the rest of us is: get married, make babies, and then you can get involved Jewishly. This feeling is validated when most efforts by synagogues to engage millennial Jews feel like different forms of speed-dating. While this isn’t true for the more innovative synagogues in DC, this type of programming further alienates those Jews who want to be seen as more than single and who want to explore how Judaism might intersect with the many other aspects of their identities.

So what does Jewish life outside of a synagogue look like? I bet the people who can help answer that question are the very people who aren’t coming to these synagogues or hope-you-join-our-synagogue-soon events. These people might be working during Yom Kippur. They might not be fasting on Yom Kippur. But just because we don’t see them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. And just because they haven’t been given a compelling reason to engage with Judaism doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

So on this Day of Judgment, I’m going to save the judgment to the God that we may or may not believe in and sit down with this population of ignored Jews, on Yom Kippur. If you’re one of them, I’ll hope you’ll join me. Who knows – maybe you’ll meet your future spouse!

2

In Preparation for Rosh Hashana – A Poem

Post-Selichot, and pre-Rosh Hashana, I find myself in a particularly reflective mood. We have collectively entered upon a time of introspection, but it is also a time where we are under a lot of pressure to come up with answers: Will you forgive me? Will next year be better? Am I a good enough Jew?

In Preparation for Rosh Hashana

I stalk the neighborhood looking for a calmer mood,
but only find gas stations.
Sitting on the corner of Harvard and 11th,
I realize that I’m staring at the helix of the streetlamp
like I’m some kind of bug
in plausibly desperate search of a soul,
or a blind pilot
against a sky still blue and lace
when the world expects grey.
How do you say, ‘I’m sorry for all the shampoo bottles
I threw away with half an inch of soap left at the bottom,’
and ‘I’m sorry that sometimes
when I give food to homeless folks on the street
I feel a little too good about myself,’
like I can collect points
to use next time I’m accidentally racist or something.
How do you say, ‘I’m sorry.’
for 28 years of not volunteering on Christmas?
I’m sorry I don’t call my mother more often,
that I’m no longer vegan,
and that I was ever seventeen.

 

It’s honey we want
but all that’s here is wine-
turned-to-vinegar from dinner last week
and we walk – to shul
     -to the bus
eyes taut and open and looking up
in an orbital plea
as we step by step make the patterns
of the days of our lives
made of days
made of patterns.
It’s honey we want
but no one was married
or maybe God wasn’t invited to the wedding.

 

I’ll wash my hair in clover, wear a white dress,
beat my chest,
and cry.
With tired eyes closed, trust me
trust me I’ll sing songs I don’t understand
not because I am supposed to, but because
I need to.

 

And I’ll walk, drawing patterns behind me
of yesterday and last year
and hoping that tomorrow,
maybe tomorrow vinegar will be honey.
1

Why do we gather the Jews?

“So, why did Gather the Jews hire a rabbi?”

I’ve been asked this question at just about every coffee meeting I’ve had since starting this job. Of course, I’ve been asking myself the same question, and I don’t yet have the full answer. But in classic rabbinic fashion, I think the answer might begin with another question. It’s a question I’m much more interested in, yet no one has asked me.

“So, what’s the point of gathering the Jews?”

On the surface, the answer seems obvious. Of course Jews should gather. We’re one big family. We’re a tight social club, where the password to get in is a correct answer to Jewish geography. We’re a people with a shared language, history, and experience.

But is that really true? We don’t have a shared language, except for maybe a few Yiddish words that “goyim” know too. We’re completely disconnected from our poor, immigrant, came-to-America-with-nothing history. And our shared experience, if there is one, pretty much amounts to a love of summer camp and a hatred of Hebrew school. A few clicks on Facebook could connect me to people more similar to myself.

Without any substantial commonalities, this “tight social club” has a very arbitrary list of who’s in and who’s out that can easily lead to exclusivity, insularity, and even xenophobia. Do I really care about hanging out with people who have blood that resembles my own? And if there’s more to us than that, please tell me it’s not just self-referential jokes about us being cheap and having complaining mothers.

Others, in an attempt to avoid the challenge of our disunity, give a more practical answer for why the Jews should gather. It’s not about current community. It’s about continuity. The more Jews hang out together, the more they marry each other, the more they have Jewish babies, and the more our people survive.

Even if this were true, it still begs the question: to what end? Why do we care so much that the Jews survive? Is it because Hitler tried to kill us? Is it because our grandma would be really disappointed? Are those guilt-based reasons really compelling enough to make people care about Judaism?

This focus on the future distracts us from our central question, the question I want to explore with others in this new position. Our obsession with Jewish continuity has prevented us from dealing with the present reality, which ironically is a sure way to prevent Jewish continuity. Judaism has become a box that we pass down from generation to generation. We’re so worried about making sure the box gets to the next generation that we forget to open it. Or we’re too scared that we’ll find nothing inside, and then it will have been passed down for nothing.

Friends, it’s time to open the box. It’s time to ask the question of the Wicked Child on Passover night – why does any of this matter? It’s a scary question, especially for Jewish professionals like me who have made a career out of whatever is inside. We might find nothing of value. But at least then we won’t keep passing down a worthless box. At least then we can move on and look elsewhere for meaning.

For now, though, I’m OK with rummaging through it a little more. My hope for this new year is that others take the risk to dig with me. Maybe together we can find some hidden treasures inside.

1

Jewish Techie of the Week – Sam

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Sam with Tiffany and David also Open Doors Fellows

Meet Sam! He was an Open Doors Fellow Cohort I and a coder who created the Gather Now app, an events app that pulls from the Gather the Jews Calendar. Sadly he will be leaving DC soon but learn all about his next adventure below!

Jackie: What first brought you to DC?

Sam: College! I moved out to DC in the fall of 2006 to start my freshman year at American University. My intention was never to stay in DC however after 4 year of undergrad, a year of grad school, and 4 years working in DC it has really started to feel like home (sorry Mom and Dad, I know you would like me to move back to Chicago).

GatherNow_withSubtext_512x512 (1) (1)Jackie: Can you tell me about your experience in the Open Doors Fellowship?

Sam: Being an Open Doors Fellow was an absolutely amazing experience! Through the fellowship I had the opportunity to meet so many extraordinary people and it helped empower me to play a more active role in shaping the Jewish community. As part of my capstone project I developed the Gather The Jews events app called Gather Now. The app is still being beta tested but it will be released in the coming weeks for download through the app store.

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Sam working on the Gather Now app!

Jackie: You are leaving us shortly, can you tell us about the amazing opportunity you will be taking in Israel?

Sam: I will be moving to Tel Aviv in October to be a 2015-2016 Israel Tech Challenge Fellow. This fellowship takes a handful of Jewish software engineers from around the world and brings them to Israel for 10 months to work in some of Israel’s most elite high tech startups and companies. I’m very much looking forward to living in Tel Aviv and having the opportunity to learn from some of Israel’s best engineers. But I’m definitely going to miss DC a lot.

Jackie: I know that you are a candy fiend and love both Bubble Tape and Dum-Dums, but if you had to pick one, which would it be?

Sam: Oh definitely dum-dums! The flavor selection with dum-dums is unbeatable however I was really bummed with the recent news that the raspberry lemonade flavor will be canceled. It’s a big loss for the lollipop community.

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Sam at the Moishe House With Out Walls Ba_ Mitzvah Party with Sasha another Open Doors Fellow [far right].

Jackie: What is your favorite Jewish Food?

Sam: Definitely bagels. Specifically Everything bagels with tomatoes and chive cream cheese. My apartment is actually located right next to an amazing local bagel shop so I basically have a bagel everyday; I’m kind of addicted.

Jackie: What is your favorite way to spend Shabbat?

Sam: I’m happy doing anything as long as it involves lots of food and friends or family.

Finish the sentence: When the Jews Gather…

Sam: Fun will be had!

 

0

Can I Ask Someone Out on Rosh Hashanah?

As the seasonal drink of choice shifts from an iced coffee to a pumpkin spice latte (with real pumpkin!!), and with the High Holidays upon us, it’s time to deal with a question that might arise: Can I ask someone out on Rosh Hashanah? 

What I mean is this: What if you see a good-looking gal (or guy) at services?  Would it be sacrilegious to start a conversation and potentially ask for his or her contact information?  I’d venture to say no… but use plenty of caution and respect.

Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of a new year, and we’re supposed to fill it with something sweet, like apples and honey.  But should this “something sweet” be limited to the food variety?  Should we deprive ourselves of one type of sweet new year to maintain respect for the other one?

I used to have a friend (we’ll call her Danielle) who moved to Baltimore from DC for work and didn’t know a single person there, in both senses of the word.  Rather than driving down to DC to join me at services as I had suggested, she decided to attend the services there by herself.  She sat on the seat second from the end.  Just as the service started, a guy (we’ll call him Jonathan) sat down next to her, also by himself.  They exchanged pleasantries between prayers—name, job, the usual—and that was that.  Jonathan wanted to ask Danielle out, but he was afraid that it went against all social and religious norms to do it in the synagogue, and this time on the holiest of holy days (Yom Kippur).  So he waited a week, got creative, looked her up, and asked her out.  Facebook tells me that they are now married with two kids.

Now, I’m no religious guru (far from it… do I smell bacon??), but my thought is this: Would G-d want us to stop ourselves from “going for it” on the holiday?  While no one could ever know the answer to this question, what I recommend is that if you think someone might be worth talking to after services, it doesn’t hurt to strike up a conversation and end with some form of, “I really enjoyed talking to you.  If you’re up for it, let’s be in touch after the holidays.  May I get your number?”  A lighter alternative would be to ask for the other person’s card… an easy peasy way to exchange information without using the antiquated “What’s your number?”

As we internalize the spirit of the High Holidays and try to enjoy the year 5776, remember that it’s okay to start off on a bold and exciting foot, and maybe a date in the new year.  L’Shanah Tova!

 

This article, with minor changes, also appeared in JMag, the official magazine of JDate.

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