Sixth & I Zoom Classes, Fresh Seder Ideas, Second Passover of Covid-19!

Rabbi Shira starts off the Seder Says class on Zoom / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

And Gd willing, it will be the last!

Had to dust off a few gears in order to write this post. Barring the (in-person!) Adas Israel Purim funhouse, I haven’t been attending many happenings in the Jewish DC community. It’s been months since I’ve “gone” to any Zoom events, like at all! But when Sixth & I touted a class on sprucing up Passover Seder conversation, which took place a little over a week ago, I couldn’t resist.

It was robust and fun, as well as being informative.  The five main presenters, as moderated by Senior Rabbi Shira Stutman, were obviously part of a tight-knit group with several of the 30ish people in attendance.  Conversation bloomed through the video and in the chat.  Certainly one of the most intrinsic examples I’ve found of community continuing to proliferate in this pandemically mandated virtual space.  And I gotta say: as much as I appreciated the presenter who had the parting of the Red Sea as his Zoom background, my heart went pitter patter over another one whose cats were present and lounging in a cat tree. 😛

These five speakers, aided by their Power Point presentations, were compelling and well-spoken, too.  They covered such topics as The Four Questions (and the always-active argument about what those four children represent,) the song “Dayenu” (and what is enough, or is it enough, in the Passover story and in our current reality,) and the phrase “L’shana haba’ah Yerushalayim,” or “next year in Jerusalem” (and how to reconcile that with complicated feelings about the modern state of Israel, or if the phrase has to be literal at all.) 

The topic that has stuck in my mind the most regards violence in the Passover story. Specifically, this discussion started by describing the Shfoch Hamatcha prayer. This is traditionally recited before opening the door to Elijah the Prophet near the end of the Seder (that being one of my favorite parts because the melody is so pretty. And because opening the door and singing out to the world reminds me that Jews are doing this everywhere, too.) But anywho, the prayer actually asks for Gd to “pour out thy wrath” on our enemies, eeesh.

My own thoughts gravitated towards the idea of vengeance, which is actually something I’ve been grappling with more when it came to the last majorish Jewish holiday, Purim. Purim is pretty standard when it comes to Jewish history; the Persian version of “they tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat.” But we talk less about this fact: once the bad guy, the one who wanted to commit genocide against the Jews, was executed, the people didn’t stop there. Megillat Esther maintains that they went on a killing spree against non-Jews. Vengeance is quite obviously a theme here.

The violence in the Passover story is different.  First of all, these acts performed by Gd (who is totally absent from the Purim story.)  But more importantly, the violence therein can largely be chalked up to self-defense.  Gd closed the Red Sea over the advancing Egyptian army, lest the Israelites be dragged back into bondage.  Then Gd commands said Israelites to not celebrate their deaths, since the Egyptians were still people, after all.

It’s just something I’ve been thinking about, and I’m glad the Seder gives space to grapple with these issues. Purim, in contrast, has a bit of a carnival air, and it can be difficult to take an introspective moment. (In terms of drunkenness, Purim=very drunk, and Passover=slightly buzzed. :P) Anywho, I’m very grateful to the Sixth & I class. Passover is now less than a week away, giving me limited time to perhaps hash out my own talking points on Hagaddot.com for my first Seder night (and second will be spent, virtually, with Adas!)

For DC (and worldwide) mishpacha: also check out the Gather the Jews Passover guide for upcoming events and other ways to commemorate the holiday. Chag sameach, and Next Year Without Covid!

Celebrate Purim in 5781!

graphic courtesy of Vecteezy

Purim starts on February 25, a festive holiday of rejoicing, yet again, in the fact that we (the Jews) have survived a persecution attempt. Huzzah! Though not as noticeable to the outside world as, say, Chanukah, it is definitely as fun—allowing people of all ages to dress up, eat special sweets, and wave noisemakers called groggers as the Megillah (book of Esther) is read out enthusiastically.

You don’t have to wait until the 14th of Adar to participate in this holiday. Enjoy these local offerings of Purim-related festivities leading up to and encompassing this holiday event! It’s a strange, almost nostalgic year, as Purim 2020/5780 was the last Jewish holiday before coronavirus shut down everything in the U.S. But as you can see below we’re still going strong–in person or otherwise! Chag sameach.

*note: GatherTheJews already captured a lot of events, and other things, on their annual Purim guide! Here’s just a few more.

Sunday, February 21

Purim Carnivirtual
A collaboration between the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, PJ Library, and various local synagogues and other Jewish centers. Family-centric with games and other entertainment!

Sing Along with the Hazzan for Purim
At Agudas Achim

Monday, February 22

EDCJCC’s offerings for the kids include Bim Bom Purim Bags and a holiday story time! Older folks can try their hand at hamentaschen making with Baked by Yael.

Tuesday, February 23

Shalom Chaverim: Purim Edition
With EDJCC: Families can virtually join in with making wearable art like crowns and necklaces perfect for a Purim parade!

Thursday, February 25

2000s Purim Power Happy Hour
EntryPointDC celebrating culture from 20 years ago before you go back way further for the megillah reading. 😛

Drag Queen Esther-Fest: A Purim Maskerade
Joint between GLOE and Bet Mishpachah. Virtual fun with the “Dragillah,” local celebs, and raising funds for LGBTQ causes.

Purim Puppet Production
Full Purim schedule for Tikvat Israel.

Temple Shalom is featuring a Tot Purim and an all-ages affair.

Manna Food Drive
At B’nai Israel.

Purim Celebration
Full schedule, for Hill Havurah.

Esther: A Persian Musical
Look at the artwork and you can guess what this Kol Ami Purim spiel took as inspiration! 😛

Sunday, February 28

A couple of post-holiday carnivals, courtesy of Washington Hebrew and Temple Shalom!

Commemorate MLK Weekend 2021 and Tu B’Shevat 5781 in DC!

image courtesy of allfree-clipart.com

Under the circumstances, it feels strange to write “happy new year.” 2021 has gotten off to a rocky start, especially in DC. I’ve personally felt indebted to Rabbi Aaron Alexander and Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, of Adas Israel, who checked in on Facebook Live with messages about loving support and the true meaning of teshuva (repentance.)

Hopeful things are on the horizon, at least in terms of upcoming holidays. But before I go there, allow me to step back into the anomaly that was 2020. Here are some stats! According to WordPress, JewishDC got 559 views and 457 visitors, with the largest numbers coming from the US, Germany, Canada, Finland, India, the UK and Israel. My most popular post of the year was my perennial on The Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Most years, this festival would be taking place on the National Mall, but this year the Smithsonian thought up the virtual Beyond the Mall. They specifically highlighted the United Arab Emirates and Brazil, and I stepped in with the Jewish histories of those two countries.

Thanks so much for your support, everyone, and here’s to hoping for a fruitful secular new year, sooner or later! Starting here with some holidays and community service.

The Jewish community commemorates two significant holidays—one religious and one secular—in January. MLK Weekend takes place this weekend, from Jan 16-18. Tu B’Shevat occurs between Jan 27 and 28. Check out ways to get involved with the local community! Note: some events may be sold out.

Please feel free to add more events in the comments.

MLK Weekend

  • Sixth & I’s Visions of Freedom and Justice. In conjunction with Turner Memorial AME Church. Includes their annual focus on the relationship between Dr. King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Also sermons and singing. More uniquely this year, includes virtual travel to Philadelphia and places of historical significance to Blacks and Jews.
  • Washington Hebrew Congregation’s MLK Shabbat Service. In conjunction with faith leaders from about two dozen partner churches and mosques, featuring capstone speaker Jelani Cobb. Cobb, a staff writer for The New Yorker, is known for his work on racial justice, and has published the book, The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress.
  • Adas Israel’s 2021 Weekend. Including a Friday night musical Shabbat service with virtual breakout sessions about the congregation’s social action projects. Saturday morning will feature guests Rabbi Abbi Sharofsky and Reverend Brandon Harris, as well as Roderick Giles & Grace Gospel Choir. On Sunday congregants are invited to join the People’s Church virtual service. And on Monday it’s Adas @ Home: cooking for the Hesed community, as well as the online debut of the Soul to Soul concert for African American and Jewish music.
  • Also check out the EDCJCC’s virtual volunteering option of knitting for the homeless! Plus, their Holiday Story Time Series for MLK Day, aimed at kids from 1-6 years old.

Tu B’Shevat

DC Chanukah Happenings 5781!

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Chanukah is imminently upon us! It lasts between Dec. 10 and Dec. 18. It’s almost time to fry those latkes and kindle those menorah lights! Alas, with covid raging strong, there won’t be as many community events around town, but check out what the DC area does have to offer! Please add any I missed in the comments!

Thursday, December 10-Friday, December 18
Adas Israel Chanukah
Events include a #HanukkahLights Drive Through in the parking lot, a livestreamed concert, a virtual candle lighting and more!

Washington Hebrew Congregation Chanukah
Events include a scavenger hunt, contact-free meal pick up, a magician over zoom, a young adults gift exchange and more!

Chanukah Virtual Scavenger Hunt
The three JCCs are partaking in a virtual scavenger hunt, through the ap GooseChase, emphasizing team work! There will be missions to complete, raffles and prizes.
Ongoing, DCJCC, Pozez JCC, Bender JCCGW

8 Nights of Lights
Join your local JCCs on Zoom to light Chanukah candles this holiday!
5:30 pm, DCJCC, Pozez JCC, Bender JCCGW

Light the Night
More candle lighting, this time on Facebook, with different departments of the DCJCC!
6 pm, DCJCC

Thursday, December 10
Chanukah on the Ellipse
American Friends of Lubavitch starts off the holiday season with this annual ceremony on the White House Lawn, this year with covid-19 restrictions.
4 pm, The Ellipse

Kids Chanukah Activity Bag
Aimed at kids; they will virtually share art projects, read books and sing songs.
4 pm, DCJCC

Count Every Night
Virtual singalong, candle-lighting and meet & greet! Including Chanukah cocktails and holiday recipes.
7 pm, Sixth & I

Friday, December 11
Tot Shabbat
The local JCCs are gathering virtually for a toddler Shabbat with Chanukah themes.
4 pm, DCJCC, Pozez JCC, Bender JCCGW

Saturday, December 12
Chanukah Havdalah
A Chanukah theme to this traditional way to end Shabbat. Virtual.
5:30 pm, Sixth & I

Sunday, December 13
Songs of Light
Through EventBrite, here’s a singalong featuring a wide array of music, with the theme of “light” along the way.
4 pm, Pozez JCC

Monday, December 14
Story Time: Chanukah
Reading Chanukah books with the kids!
3 pm, DCJCC

Chanukah cooking with the Kagins
Open up your Zoom account and fry some latkes with a group!
4:30 pm, DCJCC

Tuesday, December 15
GJF Bite Size Fun: Chanukah Edition
This regular kiddie staple involves making edible, Chanukah-flavored crafts. 😛 Virtual.
12 pm, Pozez JCC

Six Picks: Chanukah Edition
As a counterpart to Christmas movies, this virtual event is all about unpacking Chanukah moments on the screen! You can submit favorite Chanukah clips through Friday, Dec. 11.
7 pm, Sixth & I

Wednesday, December 16
Virtual Author Talk: The Ninth Night of Hanukkah
This children’s book involves a case of a family that moves and then can’t find its Hanukkah box! Copies are available through Politics & Prose
4 pm, Pozez JCC, Bender JCCGW

Chanukah at Home
Rabbis of the Jewish Emergent Network will lead a virtual soiree with learning, lighting and singing.
7:30 pm, Sixth & I

Thursday, December 17
GJF Virtual Sillies: Chanukah Edition
Through zoom, kids can get those sillies out with Chanukah-themed play.
4 pm, Pozez JCC

Firelight Flow: A Yoga Class
This popular event goes virtual!
7 pm, Sixth & I

A Young Australian Teen Tries to Bring Her Family Together in the Whimsical Film “H is for Happiness”

“H is for Happiness” movie poster / courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films

Coronavirus is so entrenched now that the DC Edlavitch Jewish Community Center has had time to adapt. Back in the day, one could catch Jewish-inspired films at the Cafritz Hall movie theater. Now, through the “Happen At Home” program, patrons from around the world (so long as they have access to an internet connection) can rent and download from a selection of films.

I decided that I had to check this out, because I miss my seasonal Jewish film at the EDCJCC! I chose “H is for Happiness,” because it seemed light and uplifting, and ergo a salve for most of 2020.

It’s Jewish connection is tenable at best. Based off of a young adult book written by Barry Jonsberg… yeah, that’s it. 😛 Jonsberg, unless I’m mistaken, is one of the tribe.

Maybe, if I stretch things a bit, I can claim cultural kinship with Candice Phee’s (Daisy Axon) desire to claim life–L’chaim! 😛 But she’s fighting an uphill battle. Her mother, Claire, (Emma Booth) has been fighting depression ever since Candice’s baby sister died of infant mortality syndrome. Her father, Jim, (Richard Roxburgh) and her uncle, whom she affectionately calls “Rich Uncle Brian,” (Joel Jackson) have been estranged ever since a business deal gone bad.

It also stands to reason that Candice has no friends, perhaps because she spends all of her time in class acting like Hermione Granger. 😛 But then (well, at the inciting incident at the beginning of the film,) Candice meets her Harry Potter—er, Douglas Benson (Wesley Pattern.) (I’ll remind folks of the strong Harry/Hermione inclinations in the movies.) Douglas and Harry do share black hair and thick glasses, as well as a sense of arriving on set from another dimension. Douglas believes he was jolted from his “real” world when he fell from a tree, and what else could Harry be feeling that first time he walked through Diagon Alley? 😛

(A bigger part of the inciting incident, just to be clear, is that Candice is given an assignment that’s part family history / part public speaking gig / part…alphabet soup?, and this is what inspires her to finally fix her broken family.)

If my review is a bit whimsical, then that’s only par for the course. This entire film feels like something that Wes Anderson might have been cooking up in his teen years. Candice’s neighbors are folks like a flamboyant crossdresser and the “get off my lawn” old man trope. Most of her scheming fantastically backfires—from painstakingly cooking a subpar meal for her mother to jumping into the ocean so her father and uncle will be forced to bond over rescuing her. (Instead they bang heads together and Candice is only saved by the inflatable boobs that Douglas got her as a birthday gift.)

Young love is indeed in the air throughout. I’m not prudish enough to object to 13-year-olds flirting (sidenote, but I’m mighty obsessed with Lyra and Will from the His Dark Materials adaptation right now) but some of the gross-out humor—the puking, the pooping—took me out of the story more than anything. Ah well. Those were pretty small moments, over all.

Sooner or later, though, Candice’s parents have to start responding to her entreaties in order for the plot to, well, advance. What accomplishes that is Candice basically giving up—and going to a lawyer in a doomed attempt to try and “divorce” her family. It’s an odd twist (or maybe I’m just saying that because I watch too many Lifetime movies) but it never takes itself that seriously. Later, Jim takes Candice with him while he flies his remote-control plane, but he can never actually look at his daughter because he feared losing control of said plane. It’s only when Candice introduces Douglas to the picture that Jim falls for the boy’s scientific theories (and feels compelled to protect his daughter from Douglass’s offer of marriage. :P)

Claire is even more difficult. How can a “feel good” movie make room for a woman suffering through such a profound loss? She more or less oscillates between catatonia and an attempt to engage with the present, and she refuses to see her baby’s life as anything but a travesty until the end of the movie. Interestingly enough, it is trauma again that pulls Claire most outside of herself—when Douglass injures himself in an attempt to re-enter his home dimension, Claire drives Candice to the hospital and stays with her there.

By the end of the film, Candice lays out the moral of the story with all of the subtlety of someone reading from a prepared speech for a school assignment. 😛 Happiness is not something that one can force upon another. Happiness is something that lives inside of you. It takes time to find it again, if it has been lost. And that’s what the movie most offers—it lays out time for the Phees to test the waters of moving on with life.

Stay tuned, because in just a few days, the EDCJCC is heading to the next level, and virtually opening their annual JxJ festival! (Also in partnership with the Bender JCC of Greater Washington and the Pozez JCC of Northern Virginia!) Running between December 3 and 10, just before Chanukah, it will feature films, music, talks and more, only available on Eventbrite! Check out the link for more info.

Jewish Newspapers and Periodicals at the Library of Congress!

Back in 2013, which more or less feels like a millennium ago, started contracting at the Library of Congress. Now, after a six-month Covid furlough, I am back, but in a different division.

So I thought I’d take this time to specifically highlight Serial and Government Publications! They offer access to thousands of digitally and physically available newspapers, periodicals, and government docs. I took some pictures of Jewish-themed publications, which you can see below!

photo courtesy of Rachel Mauro

photo courtesy of Rachel Mauro

For more information on how to search for newspapers and periodicals at LOC, click here and here.

Stay safe out there, and don’t forget to vote!

A Belated Ringing in of 5781!

Adas Israel’s remote "Renewal, Courage, Faith" theme / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

Technically, not as late as my usual. Sukkot hasn’t even begun yet! 😛

But it certainly is an unusual year overall. Coronavirus has shuttered my synagogue for six months. So instead of cramming into the building for High Holidays, I watched streaming services on my tv of the clergy with empty sanctuary seats behind them. Surreal.

But there’s a lot to appreciate about this sort of experience as well. For example—posterity! Even as early as the end of Yom Kippur, the Adas staff was able to put together a “highlights reel” from our holy week. You can watch it here! (I’m feklempt to be included as part of the virtual flash choir, from our summer video of “Halleluyah.”)

Here are some of my other High Holidays highlights:

  • Unfortunately, we cannot talk about this holiday season without mentioning the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, of blessed memory. Adas clergy found out about this event during the Erev Rosh Hashanah service, and Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt was able to provide some remarks before the recitation of the kaddish, the prayer for the dead. Rabbi Holtzblatt has some personal connections to the Justice, particularly from when her husband clerked for the judge, and later Ginsburg and the rabbi co-wrote an essay on the women of Passover. On the 23rd, Holtzblatt officiated at RBG’s funeral in the Supreme Court. You can find video here.
  • I already alluded to the fact that the technical quality of services was outstanding. I think Rabbi Aaron Alexander said it himself at the end of Yom Kippur; the Adas staff turned the Smith Sanctuary, and surely other parts of the building where services were held, into a television studio. Maybe not what one traditionally associates with a synagogue, but in this time of forced separation, it’s nice to see some dynamic Judaism on the air waves. Case in point: this beautiful rendition of Shechecheyanu (a prayer for new beginnings) that debuted during Rosh Hashanah services! There were a lot of other great vids, too, but I’ve fallen hard for this melody.
  • On Yom Kippur afternoon, Rabbis Holtzblatt and Alexander talk with prominent members of the greater DC community. This year, they chatted remotely with Attorney General Karl A. Racine, about racial justice and criminal justice issues. Regarding the latter, Racine spoke of the District’s commitment to “Restorative Justice” in the juvenile justice system. He cited a specific example where a 15-year-old offender entered into a mentorship program rather than traditional prosecution. The teenager, and society, benefited greatly from that. This reminds me of reading Charged by Emily Bazelon earlier in the year, and the impact it had on me. I’m heartened to learn of positive changes happening so close to home.
  • I usually stick to three points, but a special addendum: my mother watched most of the High Holiday services with me. Well, remotely, because she was in Baltimore and I was in Silver Spring. But ever since I started attending Adas, I’ve missed her presence. Particularly during Yom Kippur Havdalah, which brings congregants out of the sacred and back into the mundane. It’s a time of wrapping your arms around family members and singing to candlelight. My mom and I resorted to texting a bit, and she said she really enjoyed the services. Meant a lot to me, since Adas is a focal part of my Judaism.

What were your favorite experiences of High Holidays 5781? Feel free to share in the comments!

Sukkot runs from Friday, October 2 to Friday, October 9, followed by Simchat Torah on the 10th! Check out what local synagogues are up to by clicking here.

DC High Holidays Classes and Events 5781

graphic courtesy of clipart-library.com

L’shanah tovah! A new year (really?) will be upon us in just a month—and with that, my favorite holiday. Bring on the apples and honey! Though I guess this year, I’ll be buying them myself and eating them to a Zoom call. 😛

It’s a very unusual sort of year, because most of these events aren’t happening in person. JTA addressed resulting issues including synagogue dues (with High Holiday tickets of yesteryear generally being a financial boon) and the shift to Jewish practice at home.

Jconnect, of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, compiled a list of synagogues and other organizations that stream services. But I thought I’d take a moment, like in years past, to specifically highlight events leading up to and occurring within the High Holidays. Links will lead you to access points online! Or in-person locations with social distancing rules. Feel free to leave others in the comments.

Sunday, August 23-Sunday, September 13
Tefilah B’Yachad (familial reflections on the High Holidays) at local parks, Agudas Achim

Tefilah B’Yachad at Local Parks

Monday, August 24
Renew and Restart: A High Holidays Yoga Class, Sixth & I

Renew and Restart: A High Holidays Yoga Class

Tuesday, August 25
Tikkun HaNefesh: Writing our Soul Curriculum for 5781, Adas Israel
https://www.adasisrael.org/event/tikkun-hanefesh-writing-our-soul-curriculum-for-5781.html

Sunday, August 30
Taste the High Holidays: Honey Cake Pops with Baked By Yael, EDCJCC

Taste The High Holidays: Honey Cake Pops with Baked By Yael

Tuesday, September 1
Virtual J: Rosh Hashanah Sweets 2.0, Pozez JCC
https://www.thej.org/index.php?src=events&srctype=detail&category=Upcoming%20Events&refno=190226

Taste the High Holidays: Rosh Hashanah Sweets 2.0, EDCJCC

Taste The High Holidays: Rosh Hashanah Sweets 2.0

Craft and Conversation: Jewish New Year Card Making, EDCJCC

Craft & Conversation: Jewish New Year Card Making

Hit Refresh: Preparing for the High Holidays, Sixth & I

Hit Refresh: Preparing for the High Holidays

Sunday, September 6
A Pre-High Holiday Retreat: Illuminating the Jewish New Year, The Tasman Center for Jewish Creativity

A Pre-High Holiday Retreat: Illuminating the Jewish New Year

Taste the High Holidays: Challah with Paula, EDCJCC

Taste the High Holidays: Challah with Paula


https://www.edcjcc.org/event/taste-the-high-holidays-challah-with-paula/?instance_id=77382

Tuesday, September 8
Inclusion Rosh Hashanah Program, EDCJCC

Inclusion Rosh Hashanah program


Wednesday, September 9
Ramón Tasat in Concert: On Rosh Hashanah the World Was Born, Haberman Institute for Jewish Studies

Ramón Tasat in Concert: On Rosh Hashanah the World Was Born

Saturday, September 12
Selichot Coffeehouse, Hill Havurah

Selichot Coffeehouse

Monday, September 14
Dive into the High Holidays with Singing and Learning, Hadar

Dive into the High Holidays With Singing and Learning

Songful Selichot: A Learning and Concert Experience, EDCJCC

Songful Selihot: A Learning and Concert Experience with Rabbi Aviva Richman and Joey Weisenberg

Wednesday, September 16
Taste the High Holidays: Pomegranate Edition, EDCJCC

Taste The High Holidays: Pomegranate Edition

Reading Between the Lines: Acting Out the High Holy Days, EDCJCC

Reading Between the Lines: Acting Out the High Holidays

Thursday, September 17
Create a Sephardi New Year Seder, Kol Ami

Create A Sephardi New Year Seder!

Saturday, September 19
Apples and Honeys, Bender JCC

Apples and Honeys

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival: Jewish Life in Unusual Places

Recently renovated Kahal Zur synagogue in Brazil / photo courtesy of JudaicTourism.com

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival takes place every summer, well usually! 2019 was curtailed by the federal shutdown and this year has an even bigger nemesis—the coronavirus! For public safety, there were no in-person events this year.

The purpose of the festival is to bring amazing world cultural events to the National Mall! But since they couldn’t do that this year, they thought up a new sort of program, called Beyond the Mall. You can watch all of the archived programs here. And technically, two countries took center stage online—the United Arab Emirates and Brazil!

Doubtless the Festival has done a great job in covering many aspects of these nations. 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.

The United Arab Emirates

Back in the 12th century, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, Rabbi Benjamin of Tuleda journeyed to visit “far-flung Jewish communities,” including some of the area that is now the UAE. He found a community in “Kis,” which is located in Ras al-Khaimah.

That being said, there’s no more reference to the Jewish community in the UAE until last century. When the country was founded in 1971, there was a small community of Jewish locals and those who moved to the country for business.

It took until the 21st century, last year in fact, for the UAE Ministry of Tolerance to recognize the Jewish community. Things have progressed quickly from there. A synagogue is said to be under construction and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, NYU Chaplain, will will serve as Chief Rabbi. He’ll travel to the Emirates a few times a year to help cultivate the local religious leadership. A new Talmud Torah school has opened in Dubai as well.

The Jewish community currently rents a villa to act as a synagogue, and follows Orthodox practice, with some benedictions to UAE rulers thrown in. The location of the new synagogue, and the names of Jewish community members, are kept secret.

That being said, Sarna feels optimistic about presenting as a Jew in the Emirates today. He told Haaretz:

“When it was suggested in 2010 that I start visiting NYU in Abu Dhabi, where we also have some Jewish students, I said I’ll go only if it’s safe enough for me to go dressed the way I dress. They said come, and I walk around there with a kippa and tzitzit. I’ve gone every year for the past eight years twice a year exactly as I am now.”

Things weren’t always so optimistic. In 1999, a British university banned books by Jewish authors at its UAE campus. And the Zayed Center, named for UAE founder Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, published a report blaming Zionists for the Holocaust, which later got the center shuttered by the government, according to the U.S. Department of State. The report also highlights cartoons, editorials and op-eds, denigrating “the Zionist Lobby,” comparing Israelis to Nazis and hearkening to conspiracy theories about Jews ruling the world.

The recent positive shift may owe a lot to the 2019 visit to the Emirates by Pope Francis, which propelled the country to take acts towards interfaith tolerance.

Brazil

Jews first arrived to Brazil in the 16th century, according to the World Jewish Congress, on European expeditions led by Christopher Columbus. Many “new Christians,” often forcibly converted and still practicing Judaism in secret, fled from the Portuguese and Spanish Inquisitions.

They started out with the first sugar plantations, but by 1645, the community had grown 1500 strong, with a Torah and tzedakah fund, and worked in various trades. With expanding Dutch influence in Brazil, Jews found more tolerance and greater commercial success. The Jewish Virtual Library points to the first synagogue, Kahal Zur, built in 1636 in the Dutch capital of Recife. The Dutch were driven out of Brazil in 1654.

Until 1773, when a royal decree abolished anti-Jewish persecution, Portuguese Brazil was a more tenuous place for Jews. Isaac de Castro was arrested in 1647, sent back for trial in Portugal and burned at the stake for teaching Jewish rites and customs. Increased persecution led many Jews to immigrate to Curacao, New York and back to Europe. Those who stayed often lived as conversos. The Jewish Traveler’s Guide: Hadassah Magazine’s Guide to the World’s Jewish Communities and Sights by Alan M. Tigay says this:

Some conversos moved to Sao Paulo, in southern Brazil, to get far away from the Inquisition’s headquarters in the north. Scholars claim that they have assimilated quickly and thoroughly, thus erasing Jewishness from the Brazilian scene until the nineteenth century. But evidence of jungle tribes who light Friday-night candles and don’t eat pork and the appearance at one Sao Paolo synagogue of at least one Catholic a month searching for Jewish roots seems to belie this.

Brazil gained independence in 1822, and Jews settled in cities around the Amazons (Moroccan Jews) and Rio Di Janerio (Ashkenazi and some Sephardi Jews.) Some Jews tried to establish autonomous agricultural settlements, but they didn’t pan out. New Jewish immigrants, some 50,000 fleeing the impending Holocaust, settled in more cities, and some antisemitism followed. But after the war, Jews started to see more acceptance again, and started to win seats of public office.

Postwar Jews immigrated as well, some 3,500 from North Africa. By the 1960s, there were 140,000 Jews living in Brazil, and 33 Jewish day schools attended by 10,000 pupils. Today, the total number is around 120,000 Jews, but cultural and religious expression continue to thrive, from liberal to Orthodox and Ashkenazi to Moroccan. The Confederacao Israelita do Brasil (CONIB), founded in 1951, is an umbrella group for the Brazilian Jewish community’s political, and often Zionist, aims. In 2016, a record amount of Brazilian Jews made Aliyah to Israel, though Brazil isn’t known to be a hotbed of antisemitism. If anything, intermarriage appears to be the bigger threat to the community.

In 2001, Kahal Zur was reopened 347 years after the Portuguese shuttered it. An excavation, led by archeologist Marcos Albuquerque, was able to preserve some original foundation to use in the rebuild. Kahal Zur now serves as a museum for visitors to Recife.

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival swims in uncertain waters until next year, but we have a long history to look back on for now. Check out my past coverage of Jewish life in unique places under the “Annual Events” tab.

Pride Month! And the DC Jewish Response to Enduring Racism.

Newly minted Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, DC / photo courtesy of wikipedia

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, and during action to protest police brutality against Black people, the Jewish community has mobilized. I’ve been watching from the sidelines, still quarantined in Silver Spring. Luckily, social distancing means more virtual expression. Check out these events, past or present!

I’m largely focused on Adas Israel, since I’m a member there. On June 5, my senior rabbis joined the Washington Interfaith Network for this press conference on racist violence, and challenging the gentrification that forces people of color from the city.

Rabbi Aaron Alexander offered this in his opening prayer:

We consciously decided, embedded, even legislated liberty and justice for some, but not all. And too many of us still decide, every single day with the choices we make, the money we spend, the space we claim, the land we develop, the people we displace, the wages we steal, the rods and staffs we wield, we somehow keep saying that your enough is enough for me, but not for all of you. And so, I am here, God, on behalf of, with the permission of, while asking forgiveness from my brothers and sisters behind me, to say enough is enough.

That evening, for Kabbalat Shabbat (which I’m linking to even though it feels sacrilegious, then again, the video is archived, right? :P), Adas hosted Ilana Kaufman, director of the Jews of Color Field Building Initiative.

Most Jewish spaces in America were created by and largely cater to white Ashkenazi Jews. Among other topics, Kaufman implored those congregants to not see themselves as separate from Jews of Color.

Our narrative and our history in the United States is the Jewish people who somehow presented as all white. And the story that we captured of presenting and being all white, I want to suggest that’s the anomaly. It’s such an important chapter of our history, but really no time in our 5,000 years have we thought we were all white. Or have we all operated just white Jews and Jews of Color. And so, we have learned this behavior of separation from this country. And this moment is inviting us to learn the behavior of coming back together.

In upcoming events, on June 25 and July 2, Sixth & I is hosting a Racial Justice Reading Group. They will be discussing The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

June is also Pride Month! Although the Capital Pride Parade has been postponed, on June 19 the Edlavitch JCC is hosting a Virtual Pride Shabbat with various Jewish LGBTQ+ organizations. Bet Mishpachah Rabbi Jake Singer-Beilin will be co-leading.

I’m grateful to the DC Jewish community for this light in the darkness! Stay safe, everyone.