Commemorate MLK Weekend 2020 and Tu B’Shevat 5780 in DC

graphic courtesy of clipart-library.com

Happy 2020! As this is my first post of the year, I thought I’d share a few stats from 2019. According to WordPress, JewishDC got 774 views and 560 visitors, with the largest numbers coming from the US, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, India, Canada, France, Italy and Israel. Wow! My most popular post of the year was Jewish Artifacts at the National Museum of American History.

Thanks so much for your support, everyone, and I look forward to a fruitful new secular year! Let’s get into some holidays and community service.

In mid to late January we have one secular and one religious holiday crop up in our midst–MLK Weekend goes from Jan 18-20 and Tu B’Shevat occurs between Feb 9 and 10. 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. Also focusing on the work of Civil Rights activist Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Also includes networking with some DC community service organizations.
  • Washington Hebrew Congregation’s MLK Shabbat and Dinner. Hosting partner churches and mosques, featuring special guest Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF).
  • Adas Israel’s 2020 weekend. Featuring a Friday night musical shabbat service and dinner, and a Saturday morning service with guests from Roderick Giles and Grace Gospel Ensemble. The sermon will be given by Dr. Cheryl Greenberg, the Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of History at Trinity College in Hartford, CT. Her research focuses on 20th-century African American history, Black-Jewish relations, race and ethnicity, and civil rights and social movements.
  • Also check out Monday’s EDJCC Day of Service with Behrend Builders and Mazon!

Tu B’Shevat

DC Chanukah Happenings 5780!

Table of Chanukah baubles / photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The winter holidays are upon us, and Chanukah overlaps with Christmas this year! The holiday begins on the evening of December 22 and lasts until December 30. It’s almost time to fry those latkes and kindle the menorah lights! Check out these local events happening around town, and feel free to add more in the comments. Chag Sameach!

Monday, December 16

Firelight Flow: A Chanukah Yoga Class
Yoga inspired by Chanukah, or maybe the other way around! 😛 Already sold out, so definitely a winner.
7 pm, Sixth & I

Tuesday, December 17

Hanukkah Happy Hour: Havana Nights
Moving OFF the Hill this year, it’s the multi-Jewish organizational party with new flair! Not just a place to grab drinks, but also includes salsa dance lessons, Cuban Jewish foods and trivia!
6 pm, Hawthorne

Wednesday, December 18

JFamily and Honeymoon Israel Chanukah Celebration
Family-centered with songs, reading and treats.
4 pm, Cleveland Park Public Library

Thursday, December 19

Pre-Chanukah Celebration – Where Harry Met Sally: The Jewish Deli in Pop Culture
Celebrating Jewish films and delis for Chanukah! 😛
1 pm, Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia

Fried and Festive Chanukah Party
Including specialty drinks, Chanukah food, and a charity drive.
6 pm, Sixth & I

Sunday, December 22

Chanukah Family Fun Fest
Family-centric, including games, a game show and menorah lighting.
2 pm, Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia

Chanukah at the Ellipse
American Friends of Lubavitch starts off the holiday season with this annual ceremony on the White House lawn.
4 pm, The Ellipse

Monday, December 23-Friday, December 27

Community Chanukah Candle Lighting
Family-centered, at the EDCJCC! Featuring singing, dreidels and gelt.
5:30 pm, Edlavitch DCJCC

Monday, December 23
Family Chanukah Party
Candle lighting, holiday food, story time and crafts!
4:30 pm, Bender JCC

Friday, December 27

Chanukah Shabbat Dinner and Celebration
Co-mingling holidays means a special celebration of both! Children under ten eat for free.
5:30 pm, Edlavitch DCJCC

Sunday, December 29
Light Up the Night! Community Menorah Lighting at Mosaic
A community celebration of Chanukah, including with the festive holiday donuts, sufganiyot!
4:30 pm, Mosaic District

“Fig Tree” Shines Light on Jewish Ethiopia, Blends Adolescent Intrigue with National Tragedy

Mina (Betalehem Asmamawe) and Eli (Yohanes Muse) in the titular fig tree / photo courtesy of Menemsha Films

Israel has long been seen as a refuge for world Jewry. In Aäläm-Wärqe Davidian’s feature debut, she moves away from the Ashkenazim, Sephardim and Mizrahim of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, and focuses the attention on Ethiopian Jews.

Fig Tree aired between Nov. 1 and 14 in the newly constructed Cafritz Hall movie theater as part of the Edlavitch Washington, DC Jewish Community Center’s JxJ yearlong programming. A loosely autobiographical story, it concerns itself with teenage Mina (Betalehem Asmamawe), a Jewish girl trying to save her Christian boyfriend Eli (Yohanes Muse) from army conscription while her own family attempts to flee to Israel.

The year is 1989 and civil war has been ranging in Ethiopia for all of Mina’s lifetime. Young men and boys are dragged off of streets and out of schools while men with megaphones yell propaganda about how they should be proud to serve their country. Eli often finds refuge in the titular fig tree, where he and Mina both play and flirt with more mature desires.

Asmamawe’s performance is the most evocative part of this piece, as she ranges between subterfuge and terror when it comes to the external army-driven plot, and mischievousness and betrayal when it comes to her personal plot. One of the most arresting smaller moments of the film was when she pressed down on the dial tone while on the phone with her erstwhile Ethiopian-Israeli mother, still pretending to speak to her for her grandmother’s benefit.

Mina’s grandmother (Weyenshiet Belachew) is a formidable lady, running a weaving business that gets the attention of much wealthier clients. She also takes Eli and his mother in under her wing, and spearheads the covert operation that will reunite her and her grandchildren with her children in Israel. This requires handing off money to a travel agent/extortionist who may or may not place Eli with a Jewish family to secure his own trip there.

I’ve watched a fair amount of foreign and indie films throughout the years, and I expect to see a degree of minimalism. But Davidian straddles the line, given the geopolitical backdrop and sense of urgency to the piece. She doesn’t give into an overwrought Hollywood musical score, but foreboding dreams and a fair share of violence makes this film feel more familiar to me as an American viewer.

Said politics, it should be noted, are not explained in much detail. We the audience are not given a crash course in Ethiopia’s history or Israel’s covert actions there (Davidian and her family were airlifted in Operation Solomon in 1991.) But one hardly needs it to empathize with the sense of danger present on screen.

It’s a very dark film, including with reference to physically amputated and mentally traumatized soldiers. But it doesn’t lack a certain hope in striving for a better future, either. Davidian returned to Ethiopia in 2016 to film with local actors in this beautiful African cultural landscape.

Fig Tree was nominated for 5 Ophirs (the Israeli Oscars) and it won for best cinematography. It also swept up awards at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival. Click here for more information. And you can find my similar content and movie reviews under the Books, Plays, Music and Movies tab!

A Belated Ringing in of 5780!

Adas Israel “Pathways” High Holidays Theme / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

We’re now deep into the fall holidays, so better recap my Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur at Adas Israel! Here are my High Holidays Highlights:

  • Joining the flash choir, led by Cantor Brown, has become a Rosh Hashanah Day 2 staple for me. So much so that I am now a “veteran alto” when it comes to singing Leonard Cohen’s rendition of Hal’lujah psalm as arranged by Elliot Z. Levine. We get new members every year, and very little time to practice because the Cantor is busy preparing services for all of the Holy Days! I got to help my fellow altos find their place. Felt good to be giving back.
  • We were back outside for the “Return Again” Kol Nidre service–and I even found a seat! :0 I kid you not when I say hundreds of people were in attendance at the Adas Israel parking lot for the alternative musical service led by Rabbis Holtzblatt and Krinsky. Featuring such sundries as belting “Adon Olam” to the tune of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” at the end! But my favorite part was watching the full moon drift in and out of the clouds above the stage. Added quite the sense of majesty.
  • The Yom Kippur afternoon guest speaker this year was Supreme Justice Elena Kagan–and I’ve never seen the Smith Sanctuary so full, even for RBG! (At least I got a seat that year!) But Kagan was worth balancing on my heels for, as she talked about her Jewish upbringing, eccentric legal jobs and Supreme Court junior justice hazing. 😛 She was also an advocate for compromise in our politically polarized times, and stressed that the justices don’t spend their time in enmity. (Also, when they did disagree, it’s on a more personal level than “Democrats” vs “Republicans.”) Powerful message…though later, when I heard some congregants gush about her speech, they added the caveat that they hoped Kagan could curb the “yahoos” of the court. 😛 Part of me agrees with them…part of me thinks we all missed the message of her talk!

What were your favorite experiences of High Holidays 5780? Feel free to share in the comments!

Sukkot continues through Sunday, Oct 20, followed by Simchat Torah on the 21st! Check out what local synagogues are up to by clicking here.

Theater J Opens 2019/2020 Season with Sensual Musical “Love Sick”

Members of the cast and crew of “Love Sick” discuss the musical with its audience / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

The Song of Songs was put to new music in the Theater J east coast premiere, “Love Sick.”

Named for the quote “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, what will ye tell him? That I am love-sick” (Song of Songs 5:8), the play, written by Ofra Daniel and co-composed with Lior Ben-Hur, spins a metaphysical tale about a dissatisfied married woman, Tirzah, who starts receiving love letters and finds her own sexuality.

It starts in what could be modern-day Tel Aviv; the cast is dressed in contemporary apparel. The bedraggled Tirzah (Ofra Daniel) reminisces about her love life in Jerusalem. As the narrative progresses, Tirzah slowly strips down to undergarments, and the dancing becomes more sensual and self-assured.

Though Sasha Olinick plays “The Husband” and Ali Paris plays “The Lover,” there’s undertones that Tirzah is really falling in love with herself, or maybe it’s the idea of love that gives her confidence. “The Women of Jerusalem” (Sarah Corey, Sarah Laughland, Kara-Tameika Watkins and Kanysha Williams) play the Chorus, passing judgment but sometimes lending support to the rest of the cast.

I found their harmonies to be impressive and haunting. The instrumentation didn’t drown out any of the singers, and it added diverse undertones, from Latin music to Middle Eastern. Hebrew and Biblical quotations are peppered into the lyrics, adding historical weight.

I also liked all of the choreography, particularly when the Women of Jerusalem danced around Tirzah with scarves. With so many people often on stage—up to seven actors and eight musicians—it was a true juggling act!

The ending feels a little sad, as we know Tirzah will ultimately abandon love and turn into the bedraggled woman from the beginning. But the audience in the cast talk back session of Sept. 11 was more interested in the true identity of the lover. Poignant to current events, the role of the lover is played by Paris, a Palestinian, while Daniel is Israeli.

Daniel pointed out that in her first iteration of “Love Sick,” she played all three roles of Tirzah, husband and lover, further lending credence to my self-love theory. But I like that the play has expanded to multi-cast; the other actors and musicians make this world feel expansively lush. Kudos as well to the crew for all of the moody lighting. I’m not sure what all the fog and the jungle sounds in the beginning were all about, but that’s okay! 😛 The tree provided a nice platform for the lover to ascend and play his music, on the harpsichord-like Middle Eastern qanun, down to Tirzah.

“Love Sick” will be running at the bright and newly renovated Edlavitch DCJCC until Sept. 29. You can buy your tickets here!

DC High Holidays Classes and Events 5780

Standard Rosh Hashanah greetings / graphic courtesy of clipart-library.com

L’shanah tova! A new year will be upon us in just a month—and with that, my favorite holiday. 😀 Bring on the apples and honey!

For tickets, Jconnect has in depth detail concerning fees, schedules and more for DC and area MD and VA synagogues. Gather DC focuses more specifically on young adults, and has links to services and other activities to help this cohort connect.

Washington also offers classes and events to inform you and get you in the spirit of high holidays! I’ve gathered up a few offerings from a variety of diverse sources for all age groups! Please leave others in the comments!


Tuesday, September 3
Elul Writing Workshop: Enter the Jewish New Year With Intention, 7 pm, Center for Mindful Living

Elul Writing Workshop: Enter the Jewish New Year with Intention

Wednesday, September 4
Hit Refresh: Preparing for the High Holidays, 7 pm, 600 Massachusetts Ave, NW

Hit Refresh: Preparing for the High Holidays

Sunday, September 8
Community Apple Picking: A Taste of Apples and Honey, 2 pm, Stribling Orchard
https://www.jccnv.org/index.php?src=events&srctype=detail&category=Community%20Engagement&refno=189126

With Intention: A HerTorah High Holiday Summit, 4 pm, Silver Spring Civic Building

With Intention: A HerTorah High Hoiday Summit

Saturday, September 21
Toasting the New Year (Hebrew), 8:30 pm, Bender JCC
https://www.israeliamerican.org/washington-dc/iac-events/toasting-new-year

Sunday, September 22
Free Day of Awesome Family Concert and Celebration, 10 am, EDCJCC

FREE! DAY OF AWESOME FAMILY CONCERT AND CELEBRATION

4th Annual NoVa Great Challah Bake with a Holiday Twist, 7 pm, JCCNV
https://www.jccnv.org/index.php?src=events&srctype=detail&category=Community%20Engagement&refno=189127

Monday, September 30
Apples and Honeys, 10 am, Bender JCC

Apples and Honeys

Sunday, October 6, 2019
JFamily: A Toast to the New Year, 11 am, The Atlas Brewery

JFamily A Toast to the New Year

Wednesday, October 9
I’m Sorry Day, 10 am, Bender JCC

I’m Sorry Day

Jewish Artifacts at the National Museum of American History

Textbook and scrabble game / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

It’s been a slow mid-summer month for me. In lieu of attending any events, I decided to check out the the National Museum of American History! There’s plenty of local places to find Jewish history, if you just know where to look!

I started with the exhibit Many Voices, One Nation. American Jews stood out in a case about “resisting assimilation.” It includes this Hebrew scrabble game and a textbook.

Statue of Liberty menorah / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

My favorite find came from American Democray: A Great Leap of Faith. I love this gaudy menorah with Statue of Liberty candle holders, made in 1986 to commemorate the country’s centennial. For more information on this object, click here!

I also had a soft spot for the “courting ethnic diversity” Hebrew Barack Obama pin. 😛

American Jews featured prominently in Giving in America, too! The exhibit showcased a 1990s Jewish National Fund tzeddakkah box, as well as a Purim collection charity plaque.

I just took a swift, hour-long walk through the museum earlier this week. You should check it out yourself–for Jewish and broader American artifacts. Remember, too, that along with permanent exhibitions, special ones open regularly, too! So there’s always something new to find. Take advantage of this free resource–and get out of the heat. 😛

For more information on the National History Museum’s Jewish resources, click here!