New Page at JewishDC!

New website header!

Summer time tends to be a slower time, so I thought why not do a little revamping of JewishDC? I’ve been blogging for several years now, and some of my favorite posts are cyclical; the various festivals and etc that mark the local Jewish calendar. I’ve compiled and grouped all of my writings over at the annual events page. Click for more details!

And as always, via social media, check out the “Tweets from the Community” and the JewishDC Facebook page, over in the sidebar. And in terms of forward thinking, check out this high holiday guide from GatherTheJews!

Thanks so much for being such great readers. I hope you enjoy the new feature.

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival: Jewish Culture in Unusual Places

1870 synagogue in Lima, Peru / photo courtesy of

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival takes place every summer, bringing amazing world cultural events to the National Mall! Every year has a specific theme and in 2015 they’ve been focusing on Peru.

Doubtless the Festival has done a great job in covering many aspects of this nation. But allow me to expand on their efforts! For the last few years, inspired by our local Folklife tradition, I have researched and brought attention to the widely diverse world Jewish communities. Jewish culture has touched almost every region of the world, and of course vice versa. So let us begin.


In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue…and Jews were officially expelled from Spain, making the “new world” look like a good possibility. In fact, many “conversos” were on board the Spanish ships, according to the Jewish Virtual Library. These people were mostly forcibly converted to Catholicism, though many still secretly practiced Judaism. Latin America promised economic prosperity and the chance to get away from the Inquisition…so they thought. In fact Spain started limiting “conversos” emigration to “the new world,” though the Portuguese didn’t have as many restrictions, so a number of them moved into Spanish territories like Peru. For more information on “conversos,” I made a LibGuide when I was in Library School.

Jews had to live in hiding in Peru, and many Latin American countries, until the Enlightenment of the 19th century. But the community was quite small and intermarried, and much of the establishment they set up passed to new Jewish immigrants, like central European merchants whose descendants make up the bulk of the modern day community. In the latter half of the 1800s, North African Jews, also drawn for economic reasons, made their way to this country.

In the 20th century, the reason for Jewish immigration took a turn towards the attempt to escape persecution. Jews from Turkey and Syria came after World War I, expanding the Jewish presence to the entire country but eventually moving back to the well-established areas in Lima. This included Ashkenazi and Sephardi synagogues, services like homes for the elderly, and a Jewish day school that 80% of kids attend.

The community peaked at 52,000 members in the 1970s, but declined more recently due to socialist governments, neo-Nazi antisemitism, economic hardships, intermarriage, the end of emigration, and immigration to other Latin American countries and Israel. But Peruvian Jews, now numbering around 3,000, continue to own businesses and serve in the government. Former first lady Elaine Karp and former second vice president David Waisman are both members of the tribe.

As of late, indigenous Peruvians (or B’nai Moshe) are starting to turn to Judaism as well. Many see it as the best way to practice the Bible, their ancestors having been converted to Catholicism during the Spanish colonial period. Rabbi Mendel Zuber from the U.S. acquired a Bet Din from Israel in the late 20th century to convert a few hundred people to Judaism. Read more about his work and experience here.  Some of these new converts stayed in Peru, but many made aliyah to Israel as well.

For Spanish-language resources, chec out, Judios de Peru on Facebook and Museo de la Communidad Judia del Peru.

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival continues until July 5.

Previous Festival Coverage on JewishDC
2014 / 2013 / 2011 / 2010

Local Summertime Events in Jewish Literature

Judy Blume in conversation with NPR’s Linda Holmes at Sixth & I/photo taken by Rachel Mauro

Two nights of author readings and signings bookended my June calendar (ta-da-ching. :P)

On Thursday, June 4, Judy Blume came to Sixth I to talk with NPR’s Linda Holmes about her new, adult novel, In The Unlikely Event. Several weeks later, on Monday, June 29, newly minted Fig Tree Books, which seeks to publish novels, memoirs and more that chronicle the American Jewish experience, brought three of its authors to Kramerbooks for readings, signings, and schmoozing.

These two events were as different as night and day, except that I faced travel problems with both. :P The first was entirely my fault; I completely underestimated the timeframe necessary for a Judy Blume night. Although I arrived in time to hear her speak, I was so near the end of the line that I had to squeeze into the balcony and wait over an hour to get my book signed, missing the chance to sit with my friend, who wisely arrived around 45 minutes before I did.

Jessamyn Hope reads from “Safekeeping” at Kramerbooks /photo taken by Rachel Mauro

I didn’t face the same issues with crowds at the second event; I faced them en route. Monday turned into one of those unfortunate days where the Red Line got majorly backed up; Metro Center was over-teeming with people, and trains were barely getting out. I ended up leaving the station to journey the 1.5-mile distance to the bookstore by foot. It was a lovely day for it (unlike the torrential rain of June 4), except that I arrived about half an hour into the event.

The Judy Blume event, or #BlumesDay, as we were encouraged to refer to it on social media, was co-sponsored by Politics & Prose. We were ushered into the social hall to pick up our books and tickets for signing; Blume autographed almost 600 books that night, and personalized them by name, too. Upstairs, we listened to the ‘50s soundtrack of songs referenced in her new novel, based on true events from when she was a child and three planes mysteriously crashed over the course of weeks in her hometown. Blume talked for around an hour about the process of writing this book, her legacy among generations of primarily female readers who grew up with her, fighting off censorship for her frank discussion of sexuality, and more.

Two of the writers at the June 29 event were first time novelists; Jessamyn Hope with Safekeeping and Jonathan Papernick with The Book of Stone. Also in attendance was Alan Cheuse, of NPR’s All Things Considered, who published his sixth novel, Prayers for the Living, with Fig Tree Books. The three authors read from their books, and then fielded questions from the 25-person audience. We may have been small but we were also intimate, getting the chance to talk with the writers after the event. I bought a copy of Hope’s Safekeeping, which she signed for me with a personal message after we gabbed for a few minutes.

This habit of acquiring signed books can err on the expensive side, but it’s quite worth it, too. Summer is a great time to curl up with a good book in good weather, and if you need a break from the DC humidity, Jewish organizations and indie bookstores have a lot of literary events going on. Check them out!

The Epichorus Blends Judeo-Arabic and Area Music at 2015 Washington DC Jewish Music Festival

The Epichorus performs an encore at the DCJCC/ photo taken by Rachel Mauro

New York-based The Epichorus performed to a full auditorium at the DCJCC Washington Jewish Music Festival Wednesday night. Heavy on instrumentals, the group also featured the soulful vocals of Priya Darshini.

Zach Freedman, rabbi at the New Shul in Manhattan and player of the oud and guitar, composed much of the music. Other group members in attendance included Daniel Ori on bass, Megan Gould on violin, Hadar Noiberg on flute and Rich Stein on percussions.

Among the songs they performed for their hour and a half long concert, Freedman had the audience sing along to a rendition of Lecha Dodi, a traditional Jewish piece for welcoming Shabbat, that he composed for his wedding. Other pieces he spun from such religious texts as verses of the Song of Songs and the Jewish blessing after meals. The group also touched on melodies from Syria and Pakistan.

Although beset with very minor technical difficulties, I was very taken with the instrumental harmonies, particularly by the flute and violin in tandem. The musicians all performed with evident, physical passion for their work, which made it all the engrossing and enjoyable.

This program was promoted in part by the Foundation of Jewish Studies. The Washington Jewish Music Festival continues through the weekend; click here for more information.

Lincoln’s Jewish Legacy and Jews in Pa Mining Towns Among Local Lectures for Jewish American Heritage Month

Lincoln’s Jewish podiatrist, Isachar Zacharie / courtesy of Jewish World Review

May heralds in the ninth commemoration of Jewish American Heritage Month! The official website has been updated with upcoming events at venues such as the National Gallery of Art, the National Archives, the Library of Congress and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington is teaming up with two of these organizations to present events:

The Society is also hosting a challah sale—four loaves for $24 to benefit it’s educational programs with pick up at their offices or free delivery in Penn Quarter. Deadline is May 4; sign up here.

On May 3, the Foundation for Jewish Studies and Congregation Beth El in Bethesda are co-hosting Jews, Protestants and the Secularization of Modern America with historian/professor Dr. David Hollinger.

Please comment with any other area events below!

Past JAHM coverage on JewishDC: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.

Kol HaOlam A Cappella Contest Enters Its Fifth Year

Queens College’s Tizmoret performs at the 2015 Kol HaOlam National Collegiate A Cappella Competition at Adas Israel / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

Seats were packed at Adas Israel Saturday night for the fifth annual Kol HaOlam National Collegiate Jewish A Cappella Competition. Eight competing groups, from as far as Wisconsin and as close as College Park, competed for best in show and other honors.

The two hours flew by in a haze of choreographed dance moves, religious, classical and pop songs, plus parodies; my personal favorite had to be Jewop’s Les Mis-meets-Passover medley, “One Plague More.” Cheers and hollers erupted from the audience of college supporters. The groups competing included Mezumenet and Rak Shalom from the University of Maryland, Shireinu from Northwestern University, Jewop from the University of Wisconsin, Kol Hakavod from the University of Michigan, Rhythm & Jews from the University of Chicago, Tizmoret from Queens College and Jewkebox from Temple University.

Although I hadn’t attended in a few years, I found the event to carry some déjà vu, with Tizmoret winning first place from the judges, and Jewop winning audience favorite. Shireinu and Jewkebox came in second and third places, respectively, with Shireinu also picking up an award for best arrangement for their soulful version of “Yerushalayim Shel Zachav.” The judges also awarded some individual honors.

The judges included Cantor Arianne Brown of Adas, Cantor Matt Klein of Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, Md., Ben Olinsky of the vocal groups 18th Street Singers and PhilHarmonica, and Hannah Needleman formerly member and music director for the Barnard College group Pizmon. Reigning champions from the last two years, Indiana University’s Hooshir, sang several songs as the judges tallied up votes, and when they needed more time, several beatboxers took the stage for an impromptu jam session. I’d just been starting to think that they were underrepresented this year! :P

Kol HaOlam was co-chaired by Geoffrey Berman and Julia Gordon; the MC this year was Laura Meckler, political reporter for the Wall Street Journal. To hear Tizmoret’s encore performance after claiming their victory, click here!

Actress Carol Kane Receives Award during “Hester Street” showing as part of 25th DC Jewish Film Festival

Actress Carol Kane in conversation with WJFF founder Aviva Kempner / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

Actress Carol Kane, known for her work in such productions as “Taxi,” “Annie Hall,” “The Princess Bride,” and most currently, the TV show “Gotham,” was on hand Tuesday night at the AFI Silver to receive the Visionary Award as part of the DCJCC’s annual Jewish Film Festival. The film “Hester Street,” was selected by WJFF founder and former director Aviva Kempner, for expertly showcasing the Jewish experience on the silver screen.

Kane, in fact, acquired an academy award nomination for her work as the female lead of the movie, based off of an 1890s Yiddish novella by Abraham Cahan. In conversation with Kempner in front of a packed theater, Kane recalled shooting the film at the Lower East Side, with a budget so paltry that they had to paint the one horse they had on set in order to denote that there were several. Director Joan Silver, also a recipient of the Visionary Award though she couldn’t attend this event, raised the money with her husband in order to shoot and promote the film independently.

We had the chance to watch “Hester Street” that night, and I was particularly taken with the scratchy, black and white film. Although shot exactly 40 years ago in 1975, this choice transported the story back to it’s 19th century roots, almost reminding me of a silent picture in the beginning at the dance class. The streets also looked full and bustling with Yiddish life.

Like with the Israeli contemporary movie, “Apples from the Desert,” my other film choice from this festival, the story revolved around a woman negotiating between Orthodoxy and secularism, as personified by one antagonistic and one sympathetic male character. Kane did an incredible job, particularly with her eyes, as “Gittel” grew from a meek “greenhorn” to a more self-possessed, Americanized woman. Kane asserted that this role comprised her most full character arc to date.

The Festival will continue until Sunday at several different venues. Click here for more information.

Check out my years past coverage of festival films: “Regina,” “Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish,” “Love During Wartime,” “Judios an el espacio” and “La Cámera Obscura.”