Meet the Moishe House Arlington!

970712_161666084029515_1838975323_nMoishe House Arlington has some great programming coming up this month including Love, Pizza, Judaism, and You, Bottomless Mimosa Brunch, and Game Night @ Moishe House Arlington ft. Masa Israel.

Rachel: So who lives in the Arlington Moishe House?
Will: Avi F., Orly H., and Will C.

Rachel: How long has the MH Arlington existed?
Will: September.  February is our 6th month.
Orly: It feels like three years already.

Rachel: Did you know each other before?
Orly: Avi and I knew each other, but Will was set up with us through the application process.  That sealed the deal because he makes amazing pizza, which is all a roommate could ask for.
Avi: That and baked goods.

Rachel: Is it true you planted etrogs in your backyard?
Will: We haven’t planted them… yet.  But out house is full of etrog saplings.  If you came to our Tu B’Shevat seder you might have even took one home!
Orly: Hopefully they’ll be fruiting in 3-4 years – selling etrogs is our back-up retirement plan.

Rachel: What is the funniest thing that’s happened since you guys have moved in?
Orly: We have a neighbor with a chihuahua who likes to party.  Her name is Coco Chanel.  Anytime Coco comes over things get pretty hilarious.
Avi: That and our Murder Mystery Shabbat.  Watching a bunch of Jews play 20’s mobsters is not a site you see often.

Rachel: What events are you most excited to plan/have already planned?
Orly: We did a gleaning in the fall that was a lot of fun, and we’ve made some really good beer.  But we’ve got a volunteer program we’re starting to do on a monthly basis that I’m excited for!
Avi: We had a showing of The Hebrew Hammer, along with 5 different homemade popcorn flavors, which was a blast.  That movie just cuts to the core of what it means to be an Ashkenazi Jew.  We also had a discussion of Jews and Tattoos over homemade pizza that was really awesome.

Rachel: What would you say the vibe of the house is?
Orly: We’re very relaxed.  We like to see our friends, and we like to meet new people.  We like to feed people, and we like beer and whiskey.  When there’s no one else here, sometimes Avi does yoga with me in the living room while Will laughs.  Will laughs a lot.


Catfish Isn’t Just What You Ate For Dinner – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (No. 83)

fishWhen people hear the term “online dating,” they don’t always know what it means.  Here’s what it doesn’t mean:

  • Having a virtual girlfriend or boyfriend
  • Dating in your pajamas for the rest of eternity while eating a pint of Chunky Monkey
  • Sitting behind your computer and assuming that you just had a “hot date”

In many ways, “online dating” is a misnomer.  It could instead be called “online introductions” because the actual “dating” part should still be in person.  Period.

It’s easy to fall in love with someone’s online dating profile, isn’t it?  In fact, a client who lives in MD just told me this morning that she “really likes everything about” this guy in NY based on his JDate profile.  I reminded her that this person is not real until she’s had a face-to-face interaction with him.  It’s just words on a page and a picture until then.

People join online dating sites for many reasons: To find an activity partner, a friend, a date, a one-night stand, a long-term relationship, or marriage. All it takes is the click of a button to list what we’d like to find in our online dating adventure.  Curiously enough, “pen pal” is not an option.  Why?  Because people do not join online dating sites to simply email back and forth with no end in sight.  People are looking to form a real relationship, not an “e-lationship.”

It’s not too forward to ask someone out for a drink or coffee after one or two emails back and forth.  (And I generally recommend that the guy does the asking.)  If a woman responds to your email or reaches out to you on her own (which I strongly encourage women to do), she’s probably interested enough to meet in person.

Of course, some people don’t know when it’s appropriate to move from the email to the date and err on the side of caution (aka waiting too long), so in this case, I recommend saying something like, “I’m really enjoying these emails.  Should we meet for a drink next week?  I’m free Monday or Wednesday if either works for you.”  If they take the bait or suggest a different day, then that’s great!  If the answer is simply no (or there’s no answer), then it’s time to move on.  If someone is perpetually busy, either he or she is secretly the President of the Universe or is trying to get out of meeting in person for some reason.  Don’t dwell on it.  It wasn’t meant to be.

If meeting in person is not feasible for some reason (perhaps you don’t live close enough to meet in a timely fashion), then the best thing to do is to suggest that you Skype or FaceTime.  It takes just as long to dial someone’s number and chat for a few minutes as it does to sit down and email each other, so if someone declines this offer, that is a major red flag.

My advice?  Meet offline as soon as you can.  If you like each other, you’ll be glad you didn’t waste all that time emailing.  And if you don’t, you can move on and also be glad you didn’t waste all that time emailing.  Win-win!  Don’t be the next story on Catfish: The TV Show.

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




Masa Israel Featured Internship: Researcher and Sales Intern, Roomixer

Responsibilities include: promoting and selling Roomixer’s marketplace in the Tel Aviv office located onthe Google Campus; researching Israeli users based on lean methods; developing a complete understanding and capability to explain the Roomixer concept and its services; building a sales network and handling the entire sales process including generating leads, negotiating and finalizing contracts and identifying potential new partners/clients; organizing Roomixer events; handling public relations for the Tel Aviv Roomixer platform; and determining and reaching sales goals.

Candidates should have relevant research abilities, some sales experience, the desire to work at an innovative startup company, ability to network, and the motivation to sell. They should be flexible, decisive, motivated, reliable and creative, taking initiative and demonstrating self-confidence and enthusiasm. They should be able to work under pressure and unconventional hours. Candidates should be able to create and maintain mutually beneficial relationships with customers/key figures in Tel Aviv vacation rental properties.

Roomixer is an online marketplace for guest referrals, generating revenue and extending additional courtesy to guests. Roomixer provides hotels and vacation rentals a place to refer additional guests to, as well as fill rooms when necessary. By allowing them to buy and sell their turned away guests, accommodations can now generate an entirely new income stream.


DC’s Adam Segal, founder of cove, tells GTJ about its newest location and launch party

Adam imageAdam Segal is the founder of cove.  cove is an alternative to working from home, coffee shops, or even the office.  Locations offer all the tools you need to be productive: unlimited printing, scanning, fast WiFi and free coffee.  The launch party for cove’s new 14th street location is Wednesday, January29th.

Rachel: Hi Adam, how are you today?
Adam: Excited for the cove community and beyond to check out cove 14th at the launch of the second space, @coveDC #meetcove!  Our first location is in Dupont Circle.

Rachel: So tell me, what is cove?
Adam: cove is a network of neighborhood productive spaces, with a community when you want it.  As a cove member, you are not tied to a single space in the network.  Think productive coffee shop where we give you the coffee and the productive.

Rachel: Why should I pay for space at cove when I could just sit at a coffee shop?
Adam: Great question; it all depends on the person – a coffee shop can be a great place to work as well as the couch at home.  cove, however, is intended to be part of your schedule – to help you step outside the living room and noisy coffee shop and be really productive.  cove has all the productive tools you could need that come with your membership – color printer, scanner, multiple wifis, coffee, drinks (San Pellegrino is a member favorite) – all for less than the price of a latte for the afternoon.

cove focusedRachel: How exactly does it work?  Do I have to reserve a desk?
Adam: We always suggest you become a trial member for a day to see if cove is right for you.  Just sign up on the website,, with your email.  We will send you a free trial membership QR code – then just come on in!  If you decide you like the experience, select a monthly productive plan with no commitment.  For the planner in you, you can always reserve a spot in advance – including one of many conference rooms – from the phone or desktop.

Rachel: What gave you the idea to open cove?
Adam: Well I worked from home and from a big corporate office with cubicles, and to be honest I was not particularly good at either.  cove really came out of a personal need for a place to be productive, with a community and company when you want it.

Rachel: Does Judaism impact your business practices at all?  Has it guided you in any way?
Adam: cove has a strong community component; I think Judaism, like other non-secular and secular groups, emphasize community.  With community, you feel a part of something bigger than just the day’s tasks.

cove windowRachel: Does cove have a focus on sustainability?
Adam: We do!  Daniel from a local startup, Green Impact Campaign, was nice enough to provide a sustainability analysis of our locations.  He provided in depth sustainability feedback (we’re doing pretty good actually!) as well as suggestions – for example our goal is to have all LED and high-efficiency lighting from his analysis.  As cove expands, we would like to make this a big component – and having the support of local startups like Daniel’s has made it really easy for us.

Rachel: You’re opening a new location on 14th street and there’s a launch party.  Can you give us more info?
Adam: Sure – starts tonight at 6:30pm; we have a jazz band, neighborhood giveaways, food from our friends at Barcelona and Glen’s Market, among a bunch of other fun stuff.  It will be a good time for our community to meet the neighborhood and introduce cove to 14th St!

Rachel: That sounds awesome!  One last question (it’s a GTJ classic)- finish the sentence, “When the Jews gather…”
Adam: …at cove, they are clearly super productive.


Aaron and Brian share about their experience on the DC Community Birthright Trip…and how you can go too!

Shorashim Bus 153 January 2014 091The second to last night of our Birthright trip, 40 of our new best friends were packed into a tiny hotel room in Jerusalem, reminiscing about everything we had done in the past 24 hours: all sleeping under the same Bedouin tent, riding camels through the Negev desert, floating in the Dead Sea, and fine-tuning our impersonations of our Israeli tour guide. We never expected to feel so close with people with whom only 10 days ago we were playing the name game.

Immediately upon landing in Ben Gurion airport when our trip began, we were greeted by our seven new Israeli friends who would accompany us for all 10 days of our trip. Though we were all exhausted from traveling, we immediately boarded the bus we would call home for the next 10 days and headed north for the Golan Heights. The next 10 days took us to places we’d dreamed of visiting: the Western Wall, Independence Hall, Yav Veshem, Tel Aviv,  and Masada. The days brought us experiences we never could have anticipated: being welcomed into Israeli homes and temples,  volunteering in Washington DC’s partnership city – Beit Shemesh, hiking through a desert canyon,  experiencing Israeli live comedy theater, and even meeting the Prime Minister of the country.

Shorashim Bus 153 January 2014 055We experienced the wonders of Israel as a group, and we also took time to reflect and discuss our feelings on what those experiences meant to us personally. Facilitated by our skilled and knowledgeable tour guide, Tzach, our group engaged in meaningful and personal discussions on what we were seeing, and how these experiences affected our spiritual and cultural identities. One of our favorite discussions asked us to select the most personally important aspects of what it means to be a Jew. Coming up with our answers, and hearing the perspectives of our American and Israeli friends made us more confident in our own Jewish identity, and reignited our intellectual curiosity around the Jewish faith and culture.

Going on a Taglit Birthright trip revitalized our passion for living a Jewish life. After being challenged physically, mentally, and emotionally during the trip, we feel a deeper bond with our culture and with each other. As we  look back on our Birthright experience, we realize that choosing Shorashim and the DC Community Trip has given us a continuing community in which we can grow and flourish. We feel a renewed pride in Jewish culture, and we strongly encourage our peers in the DC area to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to discover a deep, meaningful connection to Israel and the Jewish community.

Want to have an experience like Aaron and Brian’s? Birthright has expanded eligibility! Learn more about the DC trip by visiting Returning applicants are able to apply on February 18th  and new applicants on February 19th here.  Please contact Sara Weiner at or (301) 230-7266 with questions.


Jews United for Justice’s Community Meeting is this Sunday

jufj new color_logoMy deepest connection to the Jewish tradition is through its rich history of involvement in social justice causes. I have found a community of like minded people in Jews United for Justice (JUFJ), a group that organizes progressive Jews in the D.C. area to work on local issues of social and economic justice.

This Sunday, January 26th, I’m attending Jews United for Justice’s Community Meeting—a sort of family reunion, introduction to the organization, and activist training all rolled into one. Community meetings provide a great introduction to JUFJ. There will be plenty of time to meet people, get a sense of what JUFJ is all about and plug into campaigns. Also, if you are interested in learning more about the upcoming elections in D.C., this will be a great opportunity to do so.

JUFJ gives me a chance to learn more about a city I only recently moved to, engage with it on a deeper level, and take action to make the conditions here accord more with my values. If this sounds meaningful to you, then you should definitely come to the community meeting on Sunday.


Masa Israel Featured Internship: SEO Start-up internship, TinyTap

Interns for TinyTap will gain experience with SEO, while completing admin type work. Examples include uploading screenshots, doing QA for their apps, etc.

TinyTap is an application which allows users to create, share, and play educational games for kids. It is a simple platform for game creation where anyone, regardless of age, can create interactive activities and share them with their community of thousands of users.


The Only Person Judging You is You – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (No. 82)

geek-heartI was really hungry for dinner the other night, so when I met up with some friends at 8:00, I decided to order a flatbread pizza.  I didn’t realize they had all eaten dinner already, so I was the only one ordering food.

Choice 1: Forget about ordering.  No one wants to be the only one eating.  There must be some frozen bagels in the fridge at home.
Choice 2: Order the pizza but feel self-conscious the whole time for eating all alone.
Choice 3: Order the pizza and eat it in all its deliciousness.

I really love my apartment building, so I decided to buy the five people who work in the leasing office holiday gifts.  I bought them all a pretty coffee mug (each got a different color) with some candy in it.  But when it was time to give them their gifts, the fancy green cellophane wrapping paper I had ordered online hadn’t arrived yet.

Choice 1: Give them the gifts late, only after the wrapping paper came.
Choice 2: Give them the gifts on time, but apologize for not having wrapped them.
Choice 3: Give them the gifts sans wrapping paper but with a big smile because you know they’ll appreciate the gesture.

We all feel self-conscious about things sometimes – our bodies, our intelligence, our relationship history, our job, anything.  When talking about these topics that surely cause some inner angst, remember that no one knows how you feel about anything until you tell them.  Oftentimes, the person judging you isn’t your friend and isn’t your colleague… it’s you.  Let’s look at how this relates to dating.

A client of mine had been married for 16 years.  He’s only 42 and is now getting back into the dating world again for the first time since he met his ex-wife.  He feels self-conscious because he thinks women will wonder why he was married for so long.  Whenever someone asks him how long he was married, he gets anxious, and shyly says in an embarrassed tone, “I was married for 16 years.  We tried to work it out, but unfortunately, we couldn’t.”   This leads his dates to then question what kind of relationship he had and whether he’s still pining for her.  As this client said to me on the phone today, by working together, we’ve shined him up a bit.  We practiced his response when future dates ask this inevitable question.  I told him that by framing it in such a melancholy way, no one has any choice but to feel badly for him.  He could instead say, with a smile on his face, “You know, I was married for 16 years.  I obviously never thought I’d be dating again!”  Then, when he’s ready, and only then, does he need to share with anyone the details.  If he doesn’t make a big deal out of it, then neither will his dates.  He had to learn that the only person judging him was himself.

Let’s say someone asks you on a date what your hobbies are, and you want to tell this person that you enjoy painting, making pottery, playing cards, and doing the daily Sudoku in the Express.

Choice 1: “I have some kind of dorky hobbies like painting, making pottery, playing cards, and doing the daily Sudoku in the Express.  I know they’re not that exciting.”
Choice 2: “I have a few hobbies that I like.”  And then change the topic.
Choice 3: “I love painting and making pottery, but I also love playing cards and doing the daily Sudoku in the Express.  I find them all so relaxing in their own way!”

The choice is simple in all scenarios: #3.  So get out there, be yourself, and remember that the only person judging you is you.

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





Masa Israel Featured Internship: Public Health Intern

Bishvilayich is looking for an intern with experience and background in health research in order to assist in the development of mental and physical health.

Bishvilayich is a non-profit organization for women’s health in Israel. Their programs focus on providing underprivileged women and girls with the confidence and skills to become active participants in their health, rather than accepting the traditional paternalistic approach to health care.


Come Blow Your Horn

Come-Blow-Your-Horn-300x199Cue the trumpets: GW has just launched a brand new MA program in Experiential Education and Jewish Cultural Arts. A sibling to the MA program in Jewish Cultural Arts, which made its shining debut just a few short months ago, it will supplement that initiative through its attentiveness to the ways in which the practices and pedagogy of experiential or informal education enhance Jewish culture — and the other way around.

The wonderful details — of which there are many — can be found on the respective websites of each program: Master of Arts in Jewish Cultural Arts and Experiential Education and Jewish Cultural Arts.

What I want to herald here, within the context of the blog, is the broad communal significance of these two undertakings. At a time when the American Jewish community is feeling rather beleaguered and perhaps even unloved and under-appreciated, GW’s decision to throw its weight behind the formation of not one, but two, programs devoted through and through to the critical study, promotion and dissemination of Jewish culture is something to cheer about.

What’s more, that the Jim Joseph Foundation, one of the Jewish community’s most far-sighted and imaginative philanthropies, saw fit to make the MA in Experiential Education and Jewish Cultural Arts possible through its generous support and thoughtful stewardship, should encourage us to cheer more loudly still.

Jewish culture, as growing numbers of people have come to understand, isn’t just a tool of engagement or an alternative form of commitment. Yes, it contains all those possibilities. But what truly renders Jewish culture such a vital and generative phenomenon — let’s call it a life force — is its status as a gift. From one generation to another and from one iteration to another, Jewish culture gives us license to be creative.

Want more information?

MA in Jewish Cultural Arts:

MA in Experiential Education and Jewish Cultural Arts:

This article was also published on From Under the Fig Tree.


Masa Israel Featured Internship: Israel Education Internship, Makom

Our team of expert educators and thinkers work daily to develop new and innovative educational models to help Jews around the world embrace Israel: both the challenges and the victories. If you are interested in Israeli current affairs, Israeli arts & culture, social activism in Israel, or Jewish education, you will love joining the Makom team. We would like to pair your personal interests and skills with our own organizational needs. Together, we will customize and design a special project for you, empowering you to take ownership and initiative, while receiving Makom guidance and mentorship from a Makom educator.

Makom is an educational think & do tank that drives policy and empowers program makers to embrace the vibrant complexity of Israel and the Jewish People. Using our expertise in transformative education, we design effective educational strategy, train program staff and ensure the development of high quality content.


Say a Little Prayer for You

homelessThis week I held hands and prayed with a homeless man.  Yep. And no, I did not expect to.

I am guilty of having become desensitized to the homeless people I pass by as I go about my daily routine.  I notice the woman on the curb on my way to work, or rather I notice only when she is sitting slightly further away or is not there at all.  I don’t notice the man in the metro underpass who sells candy every weekend, and I certainly hardly ever notice countless others who are living in the shadows of our nation’s capital.  Donating money to organizations that feed the homeless somehow made it OK for me to ignore them in real life.

This week, Midnight Mitzvahs jolted me from my desensitized stupor.  This was my first time participating in Midnight Mitzvahs.  I didn’t know what to expect, I was a little hesitant to approach homeless people, and generally wasn’t sure how a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some tangerines could really make a difference to someone on a rainy winter night. In the interest of full disclosure, I was also hesitant to approach homeless people in the street.   Over the next hour, I realized just how wrong I had been.  More than a sandwich or a travel sized bottle of shampoo, what the homeless miss and want is a kind gesture, a gentle word, and, occasionally, a prayer.

One man in particular touched my heart. He was alone, standing outside of the 7-11, no hat, no scarf, but a smile on his face.  We introduced ourselves (you never come up to someone by yourself) and offered him the requisite brown paper bag. The man had a speech impediment and was difficult to understand at times. He graciously accepted the food, but declined shampoo and body lotion (!), instead asking for some shaving cream and asked for some shaving cream and shaving razors, which we did not have. He next asked for something that sounded like “water.”  We didn’t have any with us, but I offered to grab some from the 7-11.  He said “no no water, prayer.”  I was flabbergasted.  So we prayed.  First a Jewish blessing.  Then we all held hands and he blessed us.  And smiled.  And thanked us for praying with him.

I know I will return  next month.  I encourage you to give it a try as well.  And if you do, please consider donating some shaving supplies :).


Masa Israel Featured Internship: Emergency Medical Services Internship

Interns will treat patients in all types of emergency situations and receive full intensive training in order to do so. Interns will become first responders on ambulances and mobile intensive care units, under the supervision of senior medics and paramedics.

Magen David Adom provides emergency medical and ambulance services throughout Israel.


Tips for Dating Bliss in 2014 – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (No. 81)

snow heartTime sure does fly, doesn’t it?  It’s a new year, and with that comes a new outlook, maybe some new clothes, and, of course, some new people on all of the online dating sites.  (And don’t forget about all of the new single people after the turkey drop and holiday season break-ups.)

As we enter a new year of dating, with first dates abounding, it’s important to remember some helpful tips for achieving dating bliss in 2014:

1. Remain optimistic and happy.

Have you ever been on a date where your date walks in, and he or she just looks miserable?  Or maybe you were the one on your fourth JDate in a week, and you’re just jaded by the whole process.  That aura of negativity really sucks the life out of a date.  If you’re not ready to be dating, say after a break-up, that’s A-ok.  But when you are ready, it’s best to go in with a smile.

2. Focus on the big picture, not the small stuff.

Your date tells you that he’s into some obscure indie band that you heard once and hated.  Is your potential relationship doomed?  Of course not, but sadly, a lot of people take tastes and hobbies more into account than what’s really important – values.  I’d rather know whether someone is close to his family than whether he reads only historical fiction.  It’s obviously nice to have hobbies in common (though I’m glad no one I ever dated played Mahjong like I do!), but in the end, small differences in tastes likely don’t amount to the demise of a relationship.

3. Ask questions.

No one wants to go on a date where one person is talking the entire time.  In order to encourage a healthy back-and-forth, the best thing you can do is to ask your date some questions.  (Hopefully he or she will do the same in return and not take that as a cue to ramble on for an hour straight!)  The questions that have the most luck require more than a simple one-word answer.  You want to get the person thinking.  For example, rather than asking, “What do you do?” (perhaps the most boring question in the book), you could ask, “What made you decide to get into medicine?” or “How do you enjoy your job as a pediatrician?  I imagine it must be very rewarding.”  The first question allows your date to simply say, “I’m a doctor,” but the other two require a bit of introspection, leading to a more thoughtful conversation… and perhaps a second date.

4. Have confidence.

A little confidence goes a long way.  Be decisive, be proud of who you are, have the courage of your convictions, and tell someone how you feel.  These pointers can carry over into other aspects of life as well.  Sometimes you have to talk the talk and walk the walk of confidence for a while, but eventually it’ll catch up to you.

So go out there and have some fun in 2014, and remember these pointers to give your dating life a boost.  Happy New Year!

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





The Special Relationship: Why the Iran deal makes me miss my father-in-law

Jerusalem-Day-celebrating-Kotel-13The opinions reflected in this article are that of the author and do not represent the views of Gather the Jews or its staff.

There are plenty of questions to ask about the temporary nuclear agreement with Iran, but the one dominating my thoughts is personal: What would my father-in-law say?

He would be troubled, I’m sure — possibly even furious — though he would maintain his outward cool.  Almost certainly, I would receive an email encouraging me to read an article, probably including a note to establish the author’s credentials.  Sorting through the first wave of reactions, I wondered which article he would choose.  Maybe “Iran’s Nuclear Program Is Still Growing, and America’s Fist Is Shrinking,” by the Washington Institute’s Robert Satloff, whom he admired.  Or the Wall Street Journal editorial headlined “Iran’s Nuclear Triumph.”  I’m only guessing, but former UN Ambassador John Bolton’s column bemoaning the “Abject Surrender by the United States” in The Weekly Standard probably would be too hysterical.

I would see the email and my heart would start pounding before I even opened it.  It would take me a few moments to overcome the initial panic, and then I would read carefully and consider my response.  “Thanks for sending,” I might write and leave it there.  Maybe I would share a less negative assessment from a pro-Israel writer, such as Jeffrey Goldberg, and say I am inclined to agree.  And then I would be distracted and anxious for the rest of the day.

In March 2012, he sent me a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Bret Stephens titled “The ‘Jewish’ President” (subhead: “Don’t believe Obama when he says he has Israel’s back”) and asked for my thoughts.  The title referred to a chapter in The Crisis of Zionism, the controversial book by Peter Beinart, whose evolution from hawkish editor of The New Republic to vocal critic of Israeli policies had caused an uproar in the Jewish community.  In the book, Beinart explored how President Obama’s views about Israel and the Middle East were influenced by the circle of Jewish friends he made in Chicago.  To Beinart, those relationships proved that Obama understood Jewish attitudes.  To Stephens, those friends’ associations with dovish groups such as J Street and New Israel Fund made them radicals — and, if he really developed his views about Israel by talking to them, then clearly Obama was, too.

My impression of Stephens was formed about a year earlier, in the wake of a foreign policy speech in which Obama declared that “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”  I had watched the speech at my desk and followed the reactions online, which initially included a surprising amount of gloating from conservatives saying that Obama was shifting toward their worldview.  On Twitter, Emergency Committee for Israel executive director Noah Pollak said, “I don’t think there’s anything in this speech that [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu will find surprising or even disagreeable.”  But the narrative quickly changed; Obama had “thrown Israel under the bus” by endorsing a return to the 1967 lines, or “Auschwitz borders.”  The part about “mutually agreed swaps” all but disappeared.

I was confused and angry, so I called my father-in-law at work.  He had not yet watched the speech, but he had received several emails and calls about it.  He said that Obama’s statement, if it included the key words about land swaps, did not represent a meaningful policy shift, though he questioned the wisdom of saying anything at all.  I hung up feeling both reassured about Obama’s position and dismayed by the narrative taking hold.  That weekend, I sat beside my father-in-law at the AIPAC Policy Conference as Obama recited the steps his administration had taken to bolster Israel’s security and delivered an unqualified defense, with more than a hint of condescension, of “what I said — not what I was reported to have said” on the subject of borders.  Immediately following the speech, Stephens took the stage for a panel discussion with former Ambassador Martin Indyk and dismissed Obama’s entire case.  Despite pushback from Indyk, Stephens insisted that Obama’s comments represented a “sea change” in U.S. policy.  Two days later, he published a scathing op-ed titled “An Anti-Israel President.”

It was still relatively early in my education on the issue, but I was becoming deeply dispirited by the way we talk about Israel, even within much of the Jewish community.  In the following months, the progressive advocacy organization where I worked, along with one at which I previously interned, would be accused of anti-Semitism for criticizing Israeli policies.  Although the attacks were directed at a small handful of individuals, the entire organizations became targets, and there were calls for Jewish donors to stop supporting them.  I had colleagues who did not understand the Jewish experience or grasp what Israel means to an overwhelming number of Jews, but they were far from anti-Semites and did not work on issues related to Israel anyway.  Still, the idea that I could be associated with anything anti-Semitic, even wrongly, was painful and terrifying.

With all of this in mind, I crafted my response to the email, focusing on why I did not believe Stephens was arguing in good faith.  I reminded him of the performance at AIPAC, which he had acknowledged disagreeing with, and of the subsequent op-ed.  “I know he’s not stupid,” I wrote, “so I concluded that he was being purposefully dishonest.”  I danced around the substance of the column, saying I was less interested in Obama’s friends than his record and argued that the president’s public clashes with the Israeli prime minister had been unfairly exaggerated by people who were “trying to turn Israel into a political wedge issue.”  The next morning, I received an email thanking me for my “thoughtful and purposeful response” and revisiting certain details of Obama’s earlier speech — namely that it did not rule out a Palestinian right of return, an objection that was largely ignored in all the outrage over “Auschwitz borders.”

By the time that email arrived, however, I was putting the finishing touches on a follow-up elaborating on what I really thought.  My problem with the column was not that I believed Obama’s friends were irrelevant; rather, I was offended by the notion that holding dovish views somehow disqualified them from representing Jewish thinking.  “On a personal level,” I admitted, “I always feel more anxious than I let on about being at AIPAC because I feel like the questions and doubts I have are not welcome — though I appreciate that you always treat them as legitimate,” which he did.  “That doesn’t mean I agree with those other organizations,” I added, “but the campaign to delegitimize opposing points of view, instead of engaging with them, is a powerful turn-off.”

Finally, I let it all out: “I strongly identify as Jewish and care deeply about Israel’s future — I hope you don’t doubt either of those things.  Unfortunately, I suspect that Stephens would lump me in with Beinart as a ‘liberal scourge of present-day Israel and mainstream Zionism.’  Others, like those at the Emergency Committee for Israel, would outright label me ‘anti-Israel,’ maybe even a ‘self-hating Jew.’  And that’s what is really so troubling to me: Many of the people who claim to be arbiters of what is really ‘pro-Israel’ are telling me that I’m not, and encouraging me to stop caring or risk being labeled an outcast.”

Hitting the send button was cathartic, but I worried about what he would think, so I gave him a call.  He told me that he appreciated my honesty and hoped that I never felt pressured by him.  He also reminded me of what he said at my wedding — that when I married his daughter I became his son — and that nothing I believed would ever change how much he loved me.  And he said that he wanted to discuss it further and better understand my views, but that we should do it in person when he was feeling better.

We never had that conversation.  I was riding the Metro to work one morning in June when my wife called and told me to get on the first plane to Chicago.  The next few hours were a blur.  When I arrived at the hospital, I made a beeline for my wife and hugged her for I don’t how long before I even noticed the rest of the room.  Her mom and sister were sitting next to the bed, where her dad was lying unconscious.  We waited for hours, as a parade of extended family members broke down and said their goodbyes.  It took a while, but I found the nerve to say mine, too.  I threw up twice.  His best friend — who was also his doctor and one of the few people to know he was battling cancer for twenty years — came in around midnight and whispered something to the nurse.  A few minutes later, he was breathing, and then he stopped.

People called him a hero.  He was intensely committed to the causes he believed in and the people he loved, unfailingly generous with his time and energy.  As the rabbi told me before our wedding, he was the “moral compass” of his community.  On the day of his funeral, the synagogue was overflowing with people who came to pay their respects, including two members of Congress, one of whom later memorialized him on the House floor.  Everybody had a story of how he had helped them. “If there was a God in my life,” one of his nephews said, “it was him.”

For a son-in-law — or a son — the universal reverence could be uncomfortable, especially because we often disagreed.  But it was those disagreements that truly made him a hero, at least to me.  Not because he was right, but because he wanted to understand why I thought he might be wrong.  Because even though most people deferred to his judgment, and even though he spent years immersed in issues I was just beginning to study, he was open to the possibility that he could learn from me — that learning from each other could make both of us better.  Because people listened to him, and he was interested in listening to me.

Bret Stephens says the Iran deal is “worse than Munich.”  I have some thoughts about that, but mostly I just miss my father-in-law.

Matt Finkelstein works for a political organization in Washington, DC. His writing has appeared in the Huffington Post, Esquire,, and several other outlets. He is a native of Baltimore, MD.

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