Monthly Mussar: Honor and the Impostor Syndrome

This month, I focused on the concept of honor. From the Mussar perspective, the goal is to see the light of the divine in everyone, and accordingly, each person is due honor just for this fact.

We can think about honor along two dimensions of honor: showing honor for others and showing honor for ourselves. In Everyday Holiness, Alan Morinis focuses on showing honor for other people in our lives. He talks about how it is our natural inclination to see ourselves and our own issues as the most important and emphasizes turning our attention to others. While I agree that this is a worthwhile pursuit, I will focus here on the issue of honor from a different angle, of showing honor for ourselves.

Have you ever felt that you are just not good enough? That, even if things are going well, eventually people will see the real you, who has no idea what they’re doing?

I have.

On my part, I’d felt highly competent throughout grade school, college, and my early working years. But throughout my time in graduate school, my confidence was shattered. Suddenly, I felt like I had no idea what I was doing and whether I really belonged there. It was an excruciating feeling. I later learned that I was not the only one, and that the feeling had a name: the impostor syndrome.

I’m not alone. In recent years, more outlets have been starting to talk about the impostor syndrome. It can affect anyone, but perhaps affects women disproportionately.

And it’s a problem. It’s a problem because it not only holds you back from being your best self, but it also denies the world all that you have to offer.

On my part, I thought I had conquered it. With lots of hard work, I started to see some successes, and started to believe that I did have what it takes.

But yet, the impostor syndrome reared its head in my life this month. I had written a journal article that I was fairly optimistic about, and it got rejected. Now I should mention that rejection is a part of the publishing process – this was not the first, nor will it be the last, paper I write that has gotten rejected. Nonetheless, with that rejection letter, I felt embarrassed and humiliated – I thought I was beyond the specific issues they mentioned in their letter – I thought I knew what I was doing.

And so, I found myself feeling inadequate, not because the paper got rejected, but because of all the ways it clearly indicated that I was failure. And all the more so because I had thought I had mastered my subject area and my impostor syndrome. But I was clearly wrong, on both counts. And while I wouldn’t actually go down this route, there was a part of me that just wanted to give it all up. Why bother if I clearly wasn’t cut out for this.

I was pretty down for the next few days. Giving up easy isn’t really my style, so yes, I would work on the article and make it better than it had been before, even if I hated the way all of this had made me feel.

As it happened, though, later that week, I received an acceptance for another paper. At the moment I got that email, I was on top of the world – my feelings of inadequacy were gone, and I felt like I could conquer any challenge that came my way. So OK, my excitement may have been a bit over the top. But in that joy, it helped to put my rejection in perspective. It made me remember that I do know what I’m doing, and that the rejection was an isolated incident, not a reflection on my overall competence.

Final BodyMy encounter with the impostor syndrome during this month of honor helped me to be mindful that we all warrant a basic level of honor, in our relationships with others and our relationships with ourselves. I know that this won’t be the last time I get a paper rejected, nor will it be the last time I ever feel inadequate, but I hope this experience will help me to be more ready for the next time.

Have you ever struggled with the impostor syndrome? Were you able to overcome it? How? Have there been situations when you’ve acted dishonorably to yourself? How would you have handled those situations differently? Share below in the comments.



Revisiting Snowpocalypse of 2010

Capitol-1Have you heard that its snowing in DC? If you have been to a grocery store in the last few days you might have noticed everyone stocking up for a big one. Accept the guy in front of me at Trader Joes who waited in that line for one clove of garlic. Hope it’s the best you’ve ever had.

Something you might not have known is that Gather the Jews was first conceived in the DC’s last great snow storm Snowpocalypse of 2010. As a group of friends were snowed in they came up with the idea of creating a platform where young Jews in the area can go to get all the information they need to participate in Jewish life. And so we have Gather the Jews.


It has been 6 years since the initial conceptions and Gather has grown. From a group of friends Gather Teamvolunteering their time to a full time staff of three. What started as a email blast to small group has grown to an email list of 5,000, a website with comprehensive information on the DC community. The monthly Happy Hours are going strong and we have launched new fellowships. Everyday we grow.

Now with 2016 comes a new snow storm. We are excited to see what the next 6 years for Gather brings.

We hope that someone out there is dreaming up the next great idea for our community.

Stay warm and safe.


Jewish Mensch of the Week – Josh

1913734_1524321174533721_5696876135623580384_nJackie: What made you initially wary of being featured for Gather the Jews?
Josh: I think every person in our community should be featured by Gather the Jews. There are so many people doing amazing and impressive work our there that should be featured before me. I tend to like to be a behind the scenes guy and do what I do without any public recognition. However, since I got a Jewish Guy of the Week t-shirt before I was every featured on Gather the Jews, I felt compelled to earn the shirt. It would not have been right for me to wear it in public without being featured.

Jackie: What first brought you to DC?
Josh: I came to DC back in August of 2009 to start my year of service with AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps. I then left for a year to work at The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies and then came back to DC once again to work for AVODAH starting in October of 2011.

Jackie: Do you have a favorite story from your work with Housing Unlimited, Inc?
Josh: Anytime I sign a lease with someone who has been on our wait list is a favorite story for me. We have a wait list of over 200 individuals in mental health recovery in need of affordable housing up in Montgomery County. So when I get to hand over the keys to someone who has been homeless or living in substandard housing and see that smile on their face, it reminds me how important and needed the work is that we do.

11704888_781452161855_3791433005746740942_nJackie: Anyone who runs into you knows you are a Bernie Sanders fan. Have you always been politically interested/active?
Josh: I have ever since my failed run for class president my senior year of high school and my political career came to a sudden and tragic end. But in all seriousness I have been politically active since high school. I was a delegate for Howard Dean at my state Democratic caucus where I was the youngest representative from my town. I have participated in environmental protests in front of the Israeli Supreme Court to being interviewed outside of an NRA press conference for holding a ‘Down With The NRA’ sign while trying to get Congress to act on sensible gun reform legislation. These days I focus my political energy on the Bernie Sanders campaign as he resonates with where I stand politically.

Jackie: I hear you have some interesting things in your backpack, what are they?
Josh: I always like to keep myself grounded and remind myself of where I came from. One thing I have is a little pocket blessing on a little fabric scroll that reads, “Seek Peace And Pursue It.” I got that after my year of services with AVODAH. I also have a Morgan Silver Dollar from 1884 that was a graduation gift from my high school shop teacher (yes, we had shop class up in Vermont). And lastly I have a tiny hand stone that is of the world made by Danforth Pewter which I got from the Environmental Studies Department at The University of Vermont. It always reminds me that I have the world in the palm of my hand.

Jackie: You’re involved with a lot of organizations around DC, do you have some recommendations for events that we should be attending this month (January)?
Josh: On January 28th at 7pm I’ll be going to the Masa Israel Journey will be hosting its Winter Shalom U’Lehitraot Party at Moishe House Columbia Heights where Masa Israel Alumni are invited to welcome back recent returnees and send off the next class of Masa Israel participants. Just RSVP to Jenn at And who can forget the Gather the Jews’ January Happy Hour on Tuesday, January 26th at Redline.

Jackie: What is your favorite part of the Open Doors Fellowship so far?
Josh: Meeting all of the people who make up this amazing and dynamic young professional community in Washington, DC. And also Rabbi Aaron Potek’s improv skills and getting to know other amazing people in my cohort. If they have reached out to you for coffee you should definitely take them up on the offer!

IMG_2515Jackie: Who is your favorite Jew?
Josh: I’m changing the questions to Jews because I can, right? I would go with my Bubbie who I talk with almost daily. She reminds me of where my family came from and the importance of connecting to Judaism in whatever way is most important to you. I would also be amiss if I did not mention my parents who always taught me that the best things in life aren’t things and to always stand up for what is right.

Finish the sentence: When the Jews gather, there will be…
at least one of seven reasons that Jews might be there: National Identity, Spirituality, Jewish Values, Community, Shared Memory, Religious Practice, and Ancestry.


Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr Day with the DC Jewish Community

The Maccabeats and Naturally 7, sing James Taylor’s “Shed a Little Light” in memory of MLK Jr. Day in our own backyard.

Looking for ways to gather and give back this weekend? Here is a list of some of the things happening.

  1. MLK Shabbat with Washington Hebrew Congregation – Friday January 15th
  2. DCJCC MLK Day of Service – Monday January 18th
  3. MLK Day of Service with Washington Hebrew Congregation – Monday January 18th
  4. MLK National Day of Service Volunteer Project with Adas Israel – Monday January 18th

Jewish Organizer of the Week – Maya

Jackie: First of all welcome to DC I hear you just moved from Baltimore! DC is a great city but what are you going to miss most about Baltimore?

Maya: I’m probably going to miss how modest and small the community was in Baltimore. There’s a reason it’s called Smalltimore—if you spend enough time there, you start to realize that everyone you meet is at most two degrees away from someone else you know. Oh, and the rent. I was paying $250/month for a small room in a Baltimore rowhouse, which, I’ll admit, is unusual even for Baltimore (but not that unusual!)

Jackie: What campaign with JUFJ are you working on?

Picture 3Maya: I’m working on JUFJ’s Rent Control campaign, which is part of a larger campaign for affordable housing that started last year. With the cost of living skyrocketing in DC, rent control is one of the few ways that the city can preserve affordable housing, particularly for DC’s long-time residents. DC is one of only a small number of cities that has a law ensuring rent control for certain units, but the current law has a number of loopholes that keep it from being as effective as it needs to be. Our goal is to pass legislation that will close these loopholes.

Jackie: If someone wanted to get involved in Social Justice action in DC where do you suggest they start?

Maya: I would honestly suggest they start on twitter. As dumb as it sounds, I didn’t really come into consciousness until I started following a bunch of activists, bloggers, and independent journalists who were tweeting about Ferguson, Black Lives Matter, and the Fight for 15. The amazing thing about twitter is that it manages to stay about two to three days ahead of the news cycle because people are reporting on events in real time. It’s a great platform to connect with other activists and like-minded people in your area. Facebook is for engagement photos and birthdays of people you don’t care about anymore. Twitter is the real deal.

Picture 2Jackie: I hear you’re a vegan. What inspired that?

Maya: I’ve been vegan since I was 18. Prior to that I had been vegetarian and wanted to be vegan, but when I tried it I felt like there was nothing I could eat. I was literally eating lettuce and tomato sandwiches like an idiot. But when I got to college, I became friends with some people who showed me the ropes—taught me how to make tofu scramble and work with nutritional yeast and flax eggs—it’s a lot easier starting out when you have vegan friends to cook with. Then options start to open up for you and you realize that there’s a whole vegan world out there. I don’t talk about it very much because people seem to get annoyed at even the slightest mention of it (especially if you’re an ethical vegan as opposed to someone who’s doing it for the health benefits), but when I started to learn about the realities of the animal agriculture industry, there was really no other way.

Jackie: What is your favorite Jewish Food?

Maya: Probably my mom’s latkes. She uses a combination of regular potato, sweet potato, beets, and apple and the results are outstanding. Not only are they delicious, but they’re visually stunning as well. They are my ultimate comfort food.

Jackie: Who is your favorite Jew?

Maya: In terms of famous Jews, definitely Drake. I remember seeing this list of backstage refreshments that his team demands for him before every show and it specifically said “large deli tray with NO PORK” and my heart fluttered. In terms of non-famous Jews, my oldest brother. He has always sort of served as a gatekeeper to Judaism for me, and now, as a baal teshuva, he’s teaching me a lot that I didn’t learn from my secular upbringing.

Finish the sentence: When the Jews gather…

The person you’re talking to is actually your fourth cousin.


Interested in getting involved in JUFJ’s Rent Control Campaign? Learn more here and join them Tuesday January 19th for the campaign meeting.


Multi-Session Learning Oppurtunities in DC

This winter there are several opportunities to find yourself in multi-session learning settings with peers. Check out these options and let us know if we have missed any!

  1. Introduction to Judaism – Winter Session 2016 – DCJCC. This 8-week course meets on Wednesday nights starting January 13th.
  2. The Religious Action Center’s Introduction to Judaism – Religous Action Center. This 16-week course meets on Mondays starting February 8th.
  3. Mini Gatherings – Gather the Jews. This three week mini Fellowship meets on Wednesdays starting February 10th.
  4. Building a Jewish Home – Sixth & I. This 4-week course meets Friday, February 12, and Tuesdays, February 16, 23, and March 1.
  5. Interfaith Couples Workshop Series – Interfaith Families Project. This 5-week course meets mostly on Sunday afternoon starting February 21th.
  6. 12 Jewish Questions: A (RE)Introduction to Adult-Level Judaism – Washington Hebrew Congregation. This 12-week course, which includes dinner, meets Monday nights starts February 29th.
  7. Nexus – Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. This 6-week course meets different days starting Monday March 7th.

The Applesauce to Your Latkes: The Year of Love

Any of the following people sound like you? Jew #1: At the family Hanukkah party you listened to your mother remind you for the tenth time this year to “find a nice Jewish boy.” Jew #2: Your mother-in-law barely touched your baked scallion-ginger latkes and didn’t ask for the recipe. Jew #3: You called the woman you met at that Falafel Frenzy to ask her on a date but she tells you she is more interested in your friend. Jew #4: You let the clock strike 12 but didn’t lock lips with that random stranger standing by the bar.

High five, you made it through the holidays.

It’s 2016 and a time to start again, a chance to meet new people and strengthen our current relationships. Chances are if you are reading this article, you probably have “join the Jewish community” or “attend more programs and meet more Jews my age” on your list of resolutions.

Some people feel the only reason to join the community is to find a partner. Those Jews that are on the periphery of Jewish life, those that fall into the connected-ish category, sometimes claim “this is such a meat market-y scene, sooo not what I am into.” Even those Jews that show up to almost every event get tired of the Jewish dating scene in DC based on expectations that there will be a certain “vibe.” Tons of people steer clear of these types of events. Which is sort of sad, because let’s be honest, we never know who we may come across.

Our peers in relationships are interested in finding new friends too. Maybe we don’t want to join a synagogue yet, but we want to find other ways of connecting with cool people.   Not to mention the fact that eventually some of us in relationships are thinking about taking the next step—but it often seems like the only place to go when you are thinking about getting married is a synagogue or a rabbi.

Regardless of our relationship status we are all grappling with a lot of questions – if we are single we debate if we should Swipe right? Date only Jews? Put career first, date later? And if we are in a long term relationship we wonder Do our spirituality levels match? How do we merge our finances? Where do we find a chupah for our wedding?

In the DC young professional Jewish community there are not many programs focused on dissecting, discussing and debating the dating scene. The DCJCC has recently decided to delve deeper by introducing B’shert 2.0: A Modern Jewish Love series. The program will attempt to uncover by casting a wider net and explore the DC dating scene without being scene-y. The events in the series will be diverse; they will provide different kinds of opportunities for people to meet without pressure and without expectation but in real life. The events are for couples, singles and everybody in between, and will include speakers, workshops, comedy, mingling, drinking and more.

The series kicks-off this Monday, January 11th with a discussion with David Yarus, Founder of the dating app Jswipe. Later this month you could meet your match at the largest Jewish speed dating event in the DC area, laugh at love in February and deepen your relationship with your significant other at a young couples conference this spring.

Here’s to a New Year full of good times with those you love!

Stacy Miller has been active member of the Greater Washington Jewish community for six years; she is currently the Manager of EntryPointDC, the DCJCC’s program for 20’s and 30’s Jews. She represents all things Northern Virginia as the Founder of NOVA Tribe Series and is a former Gather the Jews Girl of the Year Runner-Up. Most importantly she wants you know she LOVES this community a-latke.


Mini Gatherings Cohort II Applications!

Mini Gatherings

Want to meet other interesting Jews in a smaller, more personal setting? Looking to explore questions that matter to Jewish 20s and 30s? Like drinking? Afraid of commitment?

Building off of the success from last month’s initial cohort, Gather the Jews is excited to open applications for the next round of MiniGatherings, taking place this February.

What is MiniGatherings, you ask? It is a 3-week-long mini-fellowship that brings together about 15 diverse Jews to meet one another and have some DMCs (deep meaningful conversations) over beers. By the end, you’ll have made new friends, had some great discussions, and laughed at least twice. Guaranteed or your money back!


Cost: FREE

What: The three gatherings will be held from 6:30 – 8:00 pm on Wednesdays, February 10, 17 and 24, at the WeWork office – Dupont location. Each session will involve some schmoozing, drinking, and an open conversation facilitated by Rabbi Aaron about questions relevant to Jewish 20s and 30s, such as “Are Jews different?” “What are the unique challenges to being Jewish today?” and “Does Judaism have any deal-breakers?”

No background or knowledge necessary – everyone is welcome. In addition, Rabbi Aaron will host a Shabbat meal on Friday, February 26 at his apartment in Dupont. Must commit to attending all three sessions and the dinner.

Who: Anyone who does not feel connected to a Jewish community in the DC area and is looking to meet other Jews in a smaller, more personal way.

Application: Applications are closed.

Want more information? Email Reb Aaron


Social Media Manager of the Week – Lauren

10696295_10204140727298772_7533492181160699128_nJackie: You lived in DC and then moved to California, which coast do you prefer?
Lauren: The two coasts are very different in a lot of ways. I’m glad I got to experience the West Coast (I had no idea how delicious persimmons were until I had a tree in my front yard), but I’m ultimately a homebody and like being closer to family on the East Coast.
Jackie: What is the most exciting part of your job at Vox? Besides getting to show up to work with your brother!
Lauren: The most exciting part of my job is working in a field that is constantly growing and changing –– launched on three new social media platforms in the last year.
Jackie: Out of all the places you have gone for you blog Gluten Free DC, what has been your favorite meal so far?
Lauren: Favorite meal…that’s a tough one. If I had to pick, it would be Bibimbap at Mandu, which is my go-to restaurant for visiting friends and family. The food is amazing, and the menu does a great job of indicating gluten-free options.
Jackie: Speaking of food, do you have a favorite Jewish food?
Lauren: I love a good brisket. My mom makes it for almost every Jewish holiday, and there are never enough leftovers.
Jackie: How did you get involved with the Jewish National Fund’s Social Media Committee?
Lauren: Serving on the JNF social media committee allows me to combine my professional skills with my love of Judaism. Before getting involved with JNF, my only exposure to Israel was through a Birthright trip in college. JNF’s projects have opened my eyes to many more places, organizations and people living in Israel.
Finish the Sentence: When the Jews Gather…I’m at home no matter where I am.

January Events – 30 in the City

30 in the City (1)There is a lot going on this month – here are the featured highlights! Check the bottom for a few highlighted social events!


BShert2.0 logo-01Behind-the-App: A Conversation with Jswipe Founder David Yarus

When: Monday, January 11, 7:00 PM

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

What the organizers have to say about the event:

EntryPointDC is kicking-off our Modern Jewish Love Series with a behind-the-app conversation with @DavidYarus, founder of @Jswipe. In conversation with Lisa Bonos, who writes the popular Solo-ish column at The Washington Post, find out how Jswipe grew to have over 500,000 users, why David considers himself “post-affiliation,” and how apps are changing the modern dating experience.

What makes this event cool?

Navigating love in the technology-driven 21st century is complicated. Swipe right? Facebook stalk? Blind date? Build a profile? It’s definitely not as easy to find your b’shert – your soulmate – as it was for Bubbe. Enter B’Shert 2.0 – EntryPointDC’s Modern Jewish Love Series for 20’s and 30’s singles and young couples. Push speed dating aside and welcome cool speakers, workshops, mingling and more

Who should go?

You like using JSwipe, enjoy creating and using phone apps, and you may be an internal conversationalist on the topics of “what does love have to do with it anyway?” and “what does this dude know that I don’t?”

Cost: $13



Image_ACCESS_UMDA Different Lens: Israel from a Non-Jewish Perspective

When: Thursday, January 14, 6:00 – 8:00 PM

Where: United Macedonian Diaspora Headquarters (1510 H Street NW, Suite 900, Washington, 20005)

What the organizers have to say about the event:

Join AJC ACCESS DC & Project Interchange, with the United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) & Generation M, for a discussion on experiencing Israel as a non-Jew. Invited panelists will reflect upon their recent trips to Israel and their personal relationships to the Jewish state.

What makes this event cool?

Now for something completely different! We have all heard the stories and we even like to brag about our first…first time in Israel! But have you actually heard the first-time story from a non-Jew? Hear from students that are dedicated to activism on behalf of their Macedonian heritage and woke up one morning saying, “hey, I met so many Jews through my activism work, let me check out what Israel is all about?” Starting the New Year off with reflection and insight always makes it a bit sweeter.

Who should go?

Regardless of where you stand on Israel matters, this is a panel that is not to be missed. This is for those interested in: international affairs, activism, campus engagement, and everything Israel.

 Cost: Free

Register: here


Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 11.57.17 AMThe Jewish Museum Vienna on 52nd Street

Exhibition: Erich Lessing. Andrew Mezvinsky

When: January 20 – March 18 (Mon – Fri: 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM and 2:00 – 5:00 PM)

Where: Embassy of Austria (3524 International Court, NW, Washington, 20008)

What the organizers have to say about the event:

Erich Lessing, an Austrian Jew, fled Vienna for Palestine in 1939 and returned to Vienna in 1945. As a photojournalist for the Associated Press in 1947, a full member of Magnum Photos, and chronicler of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising against Soviet occupation, he became one of the most important Austrian and well reputed international photographers.

What makes this event cool?

It is not every day that the Jewish Museum Vienna goes on tour and the public receives free access, let alone to the Austrian Embassy. Take a teatime stroll with your loved one, friends, or even parents to show them a different side of DC.

Who should go?

You love art, photography, and history.

Cost: Free

Register: here


41h+oGsB30L._UX250_Adam Ruben at the JCC of Northern Virginia

When: Saturday, January 16 at 8:00 PM

Where: JCC of Northern Virginia (8900 Little River Turnpike, Fairfax, VA)

What the organizers have to say about the event:

Adam Ruben, a writer, comedian, storyteller, and, yes, a molecular biologist is the author of Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School, a satirical guide to the low points and, well, lower points of post-baccalaureate education. Ruben performs all over DC; you may have caught a glimpse of him at the 2014 My So Called Jewish Life at Sixth & I Historical Synagogue. His new one-man show, I Feel Funny: True Stories of Misadventure in Stand-Up Comedy, premiered at the 2015 Capital Fringe Festival.

What makes this event cool?

It will be two weeks since the start of the New Year and we will already be taking ourselves too seriously. This is a great opportunity to cut loose, laugh a little (or a lot), and have an up-close and personal seat with one of DC’s premier Jewish comedic storytellers.

Who should go?

You have a funny bone in your body (or at least you think you used to). Enjoy storytelling, comedy, a slow passed evening, and good company.

Cost: $24 (General Admission)

Register: here


Looking to get down and social? Check Out:

Mix and mingle and rub shoulders with the who’s who of Washington’s Jewish Young Professionals at the AJC ACCESS Winter Party.

Catch up with old and new friends at Gather the Jews Monthly Happy Hour, Sixth & I Historical Synagogue’s It’s Only Natural: A Tu B’Shvat Celebration or DCJCC’s Tu B’ShBrunch.


3 Musicians and a Rabbi Have a Chat

I knew my conversation with the three members of Zusha (Elisha, Shlomo, and Zacharia) was going to be unique from the moment we began our skype call, and not just because I was a rabbi interviewing a group that specializes in Hasidic Soul. There they were – Zacharia strumming on a guitar, Elisha strutting across the screen while drumming on a large container of Utz pretzels, and Shlomo rocking back and forth with his eyes closed – all three humming an improvised tune in beautiful harmony. I joined them for a minute because it was fun and soulful and uplifting, all words often attributed to their music and not often attributed to one’s spiritual life. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to capture that experience in words, I then transitioned us to a more conventional style of interview. As it turned out, that experience was just as fun, soulful and inspiring, and just as hard to capture in words.

zusha_fall_PR-3 (1)

Aaron: Let’s start at the beginning. How did you guys get your start?

Shlomo: Back in college, amidst all the work we were doing, we were searching for something else. Something more. You know, a lot of people focus on their work. It’s important. But some people think the ikkar (primary) is tafel (secondary), and some people make the tafel the ikkar. You have to remember: what’s the essence and what’s secondary? And what we prioritize is friendship and connection. In college, you hang out with a lot of people at parties, you drink with them, and they help you forget everything. How many friends do you have that help you remember everything? That help remind you of the beauty of learning Torah, of singing a niggun (wordless melody) on Shabbos, of keeping Shabbos? Two of my best friends became Elisha and Zack. Our beginning was in friendship. We started singing together, and then we brought in instruments, and then Zusha was born.

Elisha: We started as an informal band, playing in different people’s apartments, until eventually we decided to gather the Jews (laughs). We decided to perform, and our first show sold out the Mercury Lounge in NYC. And then our debut EP went to #9 in the billboard charts for world music. (He then shows me a sketch drawing of me that he drew on a napkin.)

Aaron: In addition to being talented musicians, you’re also pretty goofy. Do you see any connection between humor and music?

Zacharia: I just watched an interview with John Cleese, and he talked about how throughout his childhood he was moving around and whenever he moved to a new place and didn’t have any friends, he would tell jokes. Humor broke down a lot of people’s walls and helped him to make friends. If you make someone laugh, you’re immediately connected. And I think that’s very similar to what we’re trying to do with our music. Humor is a big part of who we are. We’re trying to break down as many walls as we can. Humor does that. And singing songs without words does that too. It breaks down people’s defense mechanisms.

Shlomo: Humor is when the words take you to a place beyond the words. We’re trying to get to the ultimate laughter. Mashiach (messianic) humor. That’s real stand up – when stand up actually lifts people up after they’ve fallen from their throne.

It’s like we say (in the grace after meals): “May God lead us standing up into our land.” In the times of Mashiach, G-d will stand us up.

Aaron: For most people, talking about the Messiah gives them….

Zacharia: The heebie jeebies?

Aaron: Exactly. So to hear you talk about it so openly is both refreshing and jarring. Why do you use messianic language?

Zacharia: If you don’t have a vision or a goal, then what are you doing? I think it’s important to have a personal vision, a vision for your family, and a vision for the world. We’re asking: how can you make the world the most beautiful place?

Shlomo: It’s like taxes.

Elisha: Taxis?

Shlomo: No, taxes. You have to keep track of all of it – where is it coming from, who paid it, where it is going to, etc. We’re not supposed to drive ourselves crazy, but there’s an idea of putting your mind into your matter, and that’s how you get mind over matter. Bringing in mind and heart in all that we do. If there’s no consciousness in what I’m doing, then where am I going?

Elisha: I heard taxis. Which is like the metaphor of a car. If you have a nice car, but if it doesn’t take you to where you’re going, then it’s a waste of money. We’re trying to go somewhere. For us, mashiach is our ultimate destination. It’s like those ride cars at the grocery store that cost 25 cents. They move around a lot but don’t actually move anywhere. That’s an immature perspective of the world – to stay in one place. We talk about mashiach because we always have a goal in mind.

Zacharia: When it comes to messianism and mashiach, we’re talking about improvement. Actively striving. For self-improvement. Societal improvement. World improvement. A better life and existence.

Aaron: You like to share deep thoughts, and I noticed that you do this on your website as well. I imagine that’s pretty uncommon for a musical band to do. So why do you do it?

Zacharia: We don’t see Zusha as just music. It’s a movement. In that movement there are so many different parts. There’s the friendship. The music. The silence. And the Torah that inspires us. There’s all sorts of different creative parts. And we’re always trying different things. Sometimes we’ll try a dvar Torah (a thought or word of Torah). Sometimes we’ll try a movie. Or Elisha will make a drawing. We want to encourage people to explore different parts of their life that can break down barriers between them and other people.

Aaron: What’s the strangest feedback or comment you’ve received?

Zacharia: It’s not a weird thing necessarily, but people are always saying that they can’t believe we’re so cool and we’re Jewish. They can’t believe that we’re doing what we’re doing, and connecting to such diverse people, and still being religious Jews.

Elisha: It seems people see a dichotomy and believe that these things are contradictory. We’re trying to unite all kinds of forces. And that comes through in our music. The idea of uniting seemingly conflicting energies or notions or influences and finding a way for them to fuse.

Zacharia: People have asked us: “What are you saying? What does it mean?” Our music is about revealing your inner light. Discovering what animates your life and your neshama (soul). The niggun allows us to unite under a common melody.

Shlomo: A niggun is the emotion behind all of our motions.

Aaron: Do I have time to ask one or two more questions?

Elisha: Yes, but then we have to go daven mincha (pray the afternoon prayers).

Aaron: Why did you decide to call your new album (which came out on January 5th) kavana (intentionality)?

Zacharia: Kavanah is so integral to what we do. Two people can do the same thing and or sing the same niggun and it will be totally different for each of them. The impetus is a person’s kavanah – what they bring to the table. We don’t like to sing at people, we like to sing with people. It’s not what we’re thinking, it’s what you’re thinking.

Elisha: That’s descriptive of our shows. We’re trying to create experiences where we’re all experiencing mindfulness to connect in a deep way. We so rarely have that experience. We want to bring people together and have kavana.

Shlomo: Maimonides says there are different spheres. And the highest sphere is the part that allows all the other spheres to shine through. That’s what a niggun is. It’s the level above all other levels that let’s everything else shine through. Thought is more powerful than action because a thought can be manifested in many different actions. An action is defined.

Zacharia: I don’t know if I agree with that.

Elisha: Machloket zusha. (Machloket is a Talmudic term for a disagreement.)

Zacharia: I think action speaks more than the language.

Elisha: And I think it’s speech. When to talk and when not to talk. What to say and how to say it.

Aaron: Gather’s target audience is Jews in their 20s and 30s, many of whom are struggling to connect to their Jewish identity. Any advice about what Judaism could look like to them?

dc_poster (1)Zacharia: It’s like if you’re looking for the most beautiful thing – a wife or husband – and you’re asking, “What can he or she do for me?’ then it will never work out for you. It is like that with Judaism. It should be presented in a way where you want to give to it. You want to sacrifice for it. Put work into it. Because it’s work.

Shlomo: There’s no beauty in that which you only take from.

Zacharia: It’s one thing to be mindful. It’s one thing to say I love you and another thing to take out the garbage. Judaism is full of opportunities to take out the garbage. (He laughs.)

Aaron: Why did you just laugh?

Zacharia: My mom just walked in. And I haven’t taken out the garbage all week…

Zusha will be playing at Tropicalia in Washington, DC on Sunday, January 17. For tickets, please click here.



My Stanford Prison Experiment While Waiting in Line for ‘Star Wars’

The scene reminded me of the 1971 experiment on authority which suggested why Nazis conformed, only instead of cells with prisoners there was an IMAX movie theater full of Star Wars nerds.

My numbered wristband revealed when I could enter the IMAX theater at the National Air and Space Museum the night Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened. I would be the 362nd nerd in the theater because I arrived only 90 minutes before the showing instead of 630 minutes like the luckiest nerd, Number 1.

Screw this. I cut through the pack, weaving between ropes, to stand with my friend Griffin who had arrived 150 minutes early.

“Do not cut in line or stand out of order!” a uniformed man who was standing outside the roped area screamed to the moviegoers. “You will enter the theater single-file! We will check your wristband! If you are out of order we will remove you! There will be no saving seats!”

Nerds began chattering, asking other nerds “What number are you?” to ensure they lined properly. When nerds asked about my number, I said, “I’m just standing with my friend,” and pocketed my right hand.

“Good luck, I hope you make it,” nerds said patting me on the back.

The line began moving and solemn nerds shuffled towards the leader, the man checking wristbands, in front of the theater. I quickly considered what to say to that man justifying my disorder in as few words as possible. My confidence grew, remembering that I was young and strong and I teach classes on how to write in plain language for my profession.

“This is wrong,” Griffin said. “Let me handle this.”

I looked at my livid friend, Number 158, who always supports social justice and is never afraid to speak up. “Ok. Thanks for sticking up for me,” I said.

Terror overtook me when just eight nerds stood between us and Wristband Checker. “150,” he yelled and I searched for a hidden tunnel under my feet, a ram to sacrifice, or anything else to help me escape.

The line shortened even more and I could see three nerds standing outside the roped area next to a burly security guard. They were caught. Before I could turn back, Wristband Checker yelled “158.”

Griffin, animated and high-pitched, started in rapid fire. “My friend goes in with me he had cancer twice and couldn’t stand in line with me that long his hip bone was removed due to childhood cancer!”

Wristband Checker, who didn’t look in our eyes and saw us only as numbers, grabbed my arm and said, “362. . . to the side! You can’t enter yet. Wait until you are called.”

“But he wouldn’t have been able to stand with me for two and a half hours!” Griffin fought back.

“I can’t let him in.”

“I’m sorry, I tried!” Number 158 said to me, walking away.

I drooped and watched as hundreds of other nerds entered, taking the best seats. The security guard looked down at the two-inch lift in the sole of my left shoe, which I need to walk after cancer left that leg shorter. He said in a voice softer than I had expected, “You should have taken the disabled entrance. There’s a special entrance upstairs for you people. I wish you took the disabled entrance.”

A young woman joined us segregated nerds. “That’s my fiancé!” she said, looking towards a young man walking away and miming something like, “I’ll come for you later, I promise.”

She was Number 410 and he was Number 279. “You are going to split up an engaged couple?” she said almost in tears.

“You were out of line,” Wristband Checker said, his focus already having moved on to Number 280’s wristband.

“Nothing he can do. He has to follow orders,” the guard told her.

“Get those people back!” Wristband Checker instructed the guard, pointing to us. “They’re too close to the ropes.”

We retreated from the ropes and from the security guard who had a gun, or maybe a light saber? I suddenly forgot where and who I was.

Twice the guard asked me, “Who are you again?”

It was easy for him to forget amid the chaos we marching nerds caused. “I’m Number 362,” I said.

“I told you you should’ve taken the disabled entrance,” he said again.

After Number 361 entered, the guard stopped Wristband Checker. “I got Number 362 here!” he said, sweeping me into the dark theater as if it were a hidden cellar.

That man saw my humanity and I won’t forget him.

I followed the other nerds down the hallway and up stairs towards empty seats when I spotted Griffin in the middle of the fourth row, a great location that allowed the 85-foot-wide screen to occupy her entire visual field. “Hey!” I said.

“Hey you made it, thank God! I even saved a seat for you.”

I didn’t ask how she did it. I sat beside Griffin and eyed my right wrist. For years hospital wristbands branded me a “cancer patient,” and now I was branded a “lesser nerd.” Rage began bubbling.

Then I beat the authoritarian Wristband Checker by forgetting he exists when the screen illuminated my life for two and a half hours with bastard children and cute robots. I felt for the end of the wristband inside the loop and pinched it with my thumb and the knuckle of my forefinger. In one yank I ripped it apart and thought, as I did after finishing treatment for both my first and second cancers, never again . . . never again.

This originally published on The Huffington Post. Benjamin Rubenstein is the author of the Cancer-Slaying Super Man books.


2015: A Jewish Year in Review

Another year is almost over! 2015 brought many great things and to usher out the year in style, Gather the Jews has put together a little year in review of our own. As a greater Jewish community, it is nice to remind ourselves of where we have been and where we are going…

In this year alone, local D.C. area Jewish organizations and individuals posted over 1,400 events to the Gather the Jews calendar. That means an average of 100 events per month were happening all throughout the city, attracting and inviting different Jews from all walks of the DC/NOVA/MD Jewish life. We hope that this year you were able to find your fit in the large community that exists and if not, that’s what next year is for!

So how do we look at such an amazing year? Some of our organizational partners sent us just a few highlights from their year – these are the moments that you created through your enthusiasm and participation! Check it out…


2015 Highlights

February 24: First Happy Hour planned by Gather’s new associate Jackie!

Happy Hour at 18th Street Lounge in Dupont

Happy Hour at 18th Street Lounge in Dupont



March 13: Gather the Jews launches the inaugural Open Doors Fellowship

Cohort I Open Door Fellows

Cohort I Open Door Fellows



April 22: Adas Israel’s Young Professional Kavanah Experience samples a taste of Jewish yoga, meditation, learning and kirtan.

kavanah experience



May 7: ACCESS DC 15th Annual Young Diplomat’s Reception “Celebrating Culinary Diplomacy: The Art of Breaking Bread and Building Bridges

AJC ACCESS DC Young Diplomats Reception 2015 Option 1 (1)



May 14:  YWLN Cake Pops and Entrepreneurship Event at Baked by Yael

Young Women's Leadership Network making Cake Pops

Young Women’s Leadership Network making Cake Pops



May 22nd: Gather the Jews held the fifth annual Jewish Guy/Girl of the Year Competition. We crowned Jewish Guy of the Year Marc and Jewish Girl of the Year Sasha!


From left to right: Gather Associate Jackie, Jewish Guy of the Year Marc, Jewish Girl of the Year Sasha, Gather Director Rachel Gildiner, Former Gather Director Rachel Giattino


May 31: Young Leadership of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s first-ever Blue & White BBQ




June 11: 6th in the City Black Tie Trivia Night 2015


Host Committee for Black Tie Trivia Night



June 13: Nice Jewish Boys DC gathered before heading over to march in the Capital Pride Parade.


Can you spot former Jewish Impacter of the Week Ben?



October 15: It was Young Leadership’s 5th Annual Impact DC!



November 5: Let The Sun’s Light Rise Remembering the life and legacy of Yitzhak Rabin with Scholar in Residence Member of Knesset Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin


Member of Knesset Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin



December 6: Moishe House roommates lighting Hanukkah candles.


Moise House DC members Tiffany, Benji and Adam



December 6: Young Women’s Leadership Network Conference

full room



December 9: Moishe House DC member Tiffany celebrates Hanukkah at the White House.




December 10: Austrailian Mixer with Moishe House DC



December 19: YP@Adas seeing Zoo Lights




New Year’s Resolution for 2016 – Reining In My Unicorn

30 in the City (1)

The other night, my boyfriend and I discussed if people our age back in the 90’s were happier than they are today. We agreed that they were. Why? They were not chasing their “unicorns” as we do today. This unicorn, as described in Wait but Why’s Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy,” is an image, goal, or expectation to which we aspire based on what we see set forth by others on social media outlets. The five-second glance we take at social media while sitting at our desk, just for a quick escape from work, can sometimes add an emotional roller-coaster to our day that we did not anticipate. “Awesome [picture, article, status update here] + [friend’s name here] posted!” or “Why did [frenemy’s name here] not [verb] to [event, group, status, etc]?”

I will not deny that much of what is about to come in this article is me agreeing with Wait but Why’s thesis. However, I promise to provide ways to make 2016 different than 2015 through small tweaks. First, we have to accept that as a generation we:

  • Have access to smart phones
  • Have a constant need (and outlet) to share every life event
  • Make sure that everybody knows “we were there”
  • Ensure that our five seconds of “I’M SO HAPPY and I got to share it with EVERYONE” moments, will cause everyone to ignore our subsequent 12 hours of “Why does no one text me? Why did I pick this career? Why can I not get a date? Am I doing life right?”

So what do we do with this unicorn that, with every false image we see of our friends, makes us believe that we are behind on our life paths? We rein it in. We look at what gives it its powers and we start to put boundaries in place so we can still have our lofty goals and actually enjoy them. By setting boundaries around social media, we can attempt limit allowing our unicorns to give us any more crazy ideas about how our lives should compare to others by setting boundaries around social media.

Social media can sometimes be the stimulator of all intense emotions we feel in one day. Sick of flying like a pendulum from one end to the other? Unless you choose to delete your social media accounts outright, try some of these easy methods of handling your unicorn:

  • Create a friends list. Did you know that most social media outlets allow you to create different friend lists and then target your postings? Choose the audience for your social media post and ensure that only who you want to see it can do so.
  • Don’t unfriend, just unfollow. Every time you look at social media, do you see status updates from people who irritate you, the selfie parade (it is always the same suspects), etc? Just go to their profile and check the unfollow button and your newsfeed is [enter name here] free.

Take care of yourself:

  • Reflect. Think back to the New Year’s resolutions you made for yourself for the Jewish New Year. We just celebrated it three months ago; it is not too late to get back on track.
  • Look at where your friendships are. Do they make you happy? Are there ways to make them more meaningful? Check out Yes and Yes’s 15 Ways to Catch Up With Friends That Aren’t Grabbing Coffee or a Cocktail.
  • Listen to your body. Sometimes passing on an event or an evening with friends is just what you need to recharge.
  • Call it out! Don’t mansplain or womansplain. Keep the gossip to good gossip. Positively talking about people and events will make you feel happier at the end of the day.
  • Breath. Take a break from your computer, smartphone, car, and gadgets and take a stroll in the park.

Lastly, come up with a tangible goal that both you and your unicorn can agree on for 2016. It could be going back to school, looking for that new job, or maybe just learning a new hobby. Push your unicorn to be more like what it was pre-Facebook and not what social media has made it today.


Monthly Mussar: The Pros and Cons of Staying Cool as a Cucumber

I scrubbed my dishes angrily.

This month, I focused on equanimity – staying even-tempered in the face of adversity. As Rabbi M. M. Leffin wrote in his book, Cheshbon ha’Nefesh, on Mussar, “As long as a man’s mind is settled, his intellectual spirit quietly stands guard, spreading its light upon his mind as if it were a torch atop the edifice of his body.” We can learn from this idea that when we let our feelings overtake us, it diminishes our ability to reach our full potential in the world. Going into this month, I wanted to cultivate more equanimity – to focus on maintaining my composure in difficult situations.

With this in mind, I found myself at the sink, scrubbing, taking out my feelings on plates and silverware. As I’d written last month, I had been juggling a lot. Still wanting to be a good daughter, I called my mother as I prepared to do dishes since this opportunity for multi-tasking was the only time I had. She told me she would call me a half hour later, which was just enough time for me to finish my dishes. An hour later she called, and I was angry. I’d been swamped all day, and I still had more to do. And I had waited for her to call when she said she would, but she was late. I was ready to just tell her I couldn’t talk – that I was too busy, and she’d missed the window when I was available. But I held my angry words for a minute and answered the phone. Before I could put my foot down, my mother told me about her awful day while holding back tears – a near car accident, a bad doctor’s appointment, and a bad talk with my father, who was out of town. I let her tell me about it all, and I did my best to offer comfort.

Part 1

While I did miss out on taking care of the things I was planning to, had I blown off my mother, I would have missed a rare opportunity for connection. And I realized then how dangerous it can be to our relationships when we let our ego or our anger overwhelm the feelings we have for each other.

But the answer isn’t so easy: there are two lessons of caution from this story as well.

First, in being supportive of my mother, I never expressed that I was angry at her that night, and I didn’t feel heard from the myriad of times over the preceding weeks when I’d expressed just how stressed and overwhelmed I was feeling. A better option would have been to be able to tell her how I felt in a calm way. Since I didn’t, I’m left with the danger that after suppressing those feelings this time, the next time I am swamped, the same thing might happen again, and my feelings might come out in a fury. Because while it might seem obvious to me that there is a problem, if I don’t make it clear to her, she will continue as if nothing is wrong.

But the other lesson from this story is that you can’t pour from an empty cup. It’s a lot harder to keep your cool when you’re not able to or have chosen not to adequately care for yourself. Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do: you have too many commitments and you just need to soldier on through them. But other times we make the choice to take on too much – to push ourselves too hard and to not care for ourselves the way we should – and if we don’t have enough for ourselves we certainly don’t have enough to maintain our relationships with others. So in the short term, the equanimity challenge is to stay calm in a tense moment, but in the longer term, the challenge is to have less tense moments in your life.

Part2.1 Header1.2


Were you ever in a difficult where you showed equanimity? Or wished you showed equanimity? Share below in the comments.

This next month, I am focusing on honor. I plan to think about how we show honor to others, and how our egos might get in the way of that. But I also plan to think about how we show honor to ourselves.

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