Two Strangers Struggle with their Failing Lives in JxJ Festival Film, “Where Life Begins”

Esther (Lou De Laage) and Elio (Riccardo Scamacio) compare experiences in “Where Life Begins” / photo courtesy of Menemsha Films

A French Haredi Orthodox family travels out of their way to a citron farm in Calabria, Italy in order to procure the ritual etrogs for the holiday of Sukkot in the movie, Where Life Begins. This is the basis of the film, directed by Stephane Freiss, which aired Saturday night at the EDCJCC as part of the JxJ DC Jewish Festival.

A partnership between the Zelnik family and the De Angelo farm has gone back at least one generation. Over a welcome dinner, the rabbi and patriarch of the Zelniks (Pierre-Henry Salfati) speaks tenderly to the landowner, Elio (Ricardo Scamarcio) about his own father. Elio spends some time crafting a kippah out of a napkin for the rabbi’s young son, sitting in on services and a drash the rabbi delivers to his students.

But not everything is a bed of roses. The farm is in financial crisis; last season brought a freeze; and thanks to this partnership, Elio isn’t grafting his product but instead selling them to the Zelniks. (Something which perturbs the Italians since the Zelniks aren’t even going to eat the fruit. :P) It’s an especially difficult sell, too, because going by the Bible, all etrogs have to be without blemish. Some of the Zeknik clan sit outside and inspect every one under the proverbial microscope.

Local business people are vying with Elio to try and buy the land, but Elio doesn’t want to sell. A former artist who now spends his leisure “almost” buying paintings at auction houses, he returned to the farm from Rome when his father died. Now, beholden to his father’s memory, he feels he can’t part with a stick of it.

In the Zelnik camp, one of the rabbi’s children finds herself in a similar situation. Esther (Lou de Laage) is a 26-year-old unmarried woman who is losing her faith. She comes to Elio’s attention when she asks him to use his computer. Curious as to her purpose, he finds she’s been posting messages on a forum for conflicted Orthodox Jews: those who want to (or already have) left the tradition.

Esther’s life is repressive. When Elio jokes with her about discussing Noah and the flood, thanks to a sudden deluge, she explodes about how angry that story makes her. God is seen as the unquestionable creator of every facet of human life, and then He punishes us for his imperfections. Elio says he admires her father’s “rigorous” lifestyle, but Esther’s experience is of narrow suffocation and being ostracized from the outside world. She wants to leave and she’s terrified of leaving—and there’s a bit of a ticking time clock since her parents are actively matchmaking for her.

This trip to Italy provides the unusual experience for Esther to occasionally step away from her family. Alongside the controversial companionship of Elio (alone with a man not of her family!), Esther sees new parts of town, attends parties with his staff, and talks honestly and openly about matters she could only type about in forums previously. She and Elio bond over their shared sense of entrapment, and go to a secret place, which they explicitly call the Garden of Eden, and then share a moment under an apple tree. 😛

The film is usually pretty subtle, and mostly eschews Hollywood versions of dramatic confrontation (except a scene where Esther’s mother scolds her for hiding from a suitor, and Elio argues with his staff.) There were a couple of elements that made me roll my eyes. I get that it’s funny that Elio randomly had a statue of a saint in his truck, which he had to cover up before the Zelnik family climbed aboard, but c’mon. What, is it common for Italians to be carting life-sized saint statues around all the time? 😛 Also, there’s a scene where Elio (accompanied by Esther) makes a sale to some clueless vacationing Americans, and all I could think was, wait, how does Esther know English?

But, on the other hand, we got this arresting scene. Esther is preparing food with her female relatives, and one of them mentions a young man who climbs out a window and gets hurt when attempting to secretly meet with someone. “Well,” Esther’s mother says blithely, “it was Shabbat.” Well, the meaning goes, God punished this boy for disobeying the rules. Bully for him.

Distressed, Esther flees the room and finds a secret place to make a supplication to God: let me forget about you, let me stop believing in you, and there will be no hard feelings. I’d spent the movie being low-key distressed that Esther essentially wanted to leave Judaism, but in this scene, I was like, oh please, God, let this daughter go! Let her suffer no more.

This brand of religion—the oppressive rules, the unquestioning cruelty—is an mystery to me. Earlier in the day, I was at Adas listening to the post-Shabbat Mendelsohn scholar, Lila Kagedan, an Orthodox rabbi and public health professional serving as a chaplain and bio-ethics expert. Her talk centered around COVID-19, and how lower socio-economic classes and racial minorities in particular suffered due to having to work while others were able to shelter in place.

We talked over social determinants of health, and that data that shows poorer people, and Black people, disproportionately suffer in the U.S. for having less access to good housing and transportation, grocery stores, language and literacy skills, etc. We looked at the texts, and determined it was not God’s will to blithely turn away, but instead we had to act for the betterment of all.

As the prophet Amos said in 5:23-24: “Space me the sound of your hymns, and let Me not hear the music of your lutes,” aka it’s not enough to just pray and celebrate God. “But let justice well up like water, Righteousness like an unfailing stream.” It’s up to us. Or, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Some are guilty, but all are responsible.” (Regarding ways for congregants to dip a toe in that stream, Rabbi Aaron was on hand to encourage involvement in Adas’s social action committees!)

In Esther’s world, arguably also in Elio’s world, there’s a lot of ritual but not much action. Their two stories end on an ambiguous note. Esther writes and mails a letter to her father, apologizing for leaving him but she must forge her own path. She then gets on the train to France, where I assume it would be easier to leave, in a country where she knows the language and some of the geography. As for Elio, he returns to his “Garden of Eden” where his father placed some chairs, explicitly looking towards their land and away from the sea. In the parting image Elio turns a chair around and sits on it, suggesting he’s finally ready to turn his life in a new direction.

For another review of this film, Dina Gold wrote about it in Moment Magazine! The JxJ festival continues until May 21. You can find more of my coverage in the “Annual Events” tab.

Also, May is Jewish American Heritage Month! 😀 For upcoming events, both online and in person, click here.

GennaRose Nethercott Brings Baba Yaga and Puppets to her Jewish Fantasy Novel

GennaRose Nethercott and Baba Yaga (left) in conversation with Robin Jacobson / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

Author GennaRose Nethercott made waves last year after the publication of her adult fantasy novel, Thistlefoot. As someone who is in the middle of drafting a Jewish-inspired fantasy novel myself, I was very excited when the joint Adas Israel and Congregation Beth El book club announced they’d be hosting her on zoom last Sunday.

Over 100 people attended while Nethercott talked about her inspirations and writing life. And actually, she’s not a fan of the fantasy label for her novel, since it takes place in our world with just a few outsized, folkloric elements. She prefers to think of it as magical realism.

Thistlefoot tracks the lives of modern-day siblings, Isaac and Bellatine, who receive an odd inheritance from an unknown relative. Their relative happens to be Baba Yaga, traditionally a Slavic myth that Nethercott re-imagined as a Jewish woman living in an early 20th-century shtetl in current Ukraine. The inheritance is a house…on chicken legs.

For Nethercott, Isaac and Bellatine discovering their history was in part her discovering her own. A relative on her mother’s side lived in the town of Rotmistrivka, which fell victim to anti-Jewish pogroms around the time of the Bolshevik Revolution. Nethercott changed the name to Gedenkrovka, the fictional home of her Baba Yaga.

The Yaga siblings deal with post-generational trauma. They are also, like Nethercott, puppeteers! Nethercott in fact started performing some of her novel as a puppet show, including, back in September, at DC’s Solid State Books! The author also read for us over the zoom call, or, more accurately, performed part of her work from memory. This dramatic rendition added particular flair, further aided by her lyrical, poetic language.

Another inspiration for the novel came from Nethercott’s 8-month tour for her last book, when she lived out of her car and traveled from town to town like a modern-day bard. She started wondering what it would be like to have a home that could travel with her. Beyond her book tours, Nethercott is also the founder of the Traveling Poetry Emporium! Though on Sunday, she was at her residence in Vermont, seated on a pink armchair where her cat occasionally popped into frame.

Although she mostly talked about Jewish folklore (at one point even pulling down an age-worn book on the topic,) Nethercott also answered questions about her writing regimen. As a poet-turned-novelist, she tends to sprint in short spurts and focuses on her language choices. She’s also a “discovery writer,” someone who realizes her plot through the drafting process, and she zeroes in on the emotions with which she wants to leave the readers.

And finally, though we didn’t witness a bonafide puppet show, Baba Yaga herself answered a question, pictured above. All of the puppets for Nethercott’s show were crafted by Shoshana Bass of Sandlgass Theater, which the author wrote about for the Jewish Book Council here.

Adas and Beth El librarians Robin Jacobson and Marge London also shared some links to participants in the days preceding the event. Here’s a PBS special on Baba Yaga (the chicken legs house comes in at around 11 minutes!) Here’s two pictures of the puppet show, and a Yiddish lullaby from Nethercott’s writing playlist.

Jacobson reviewed Thistlefoot for Beth El here. Zoom participants were also invited to use a discount code to buy the book from DC-indie, Politics & Prose.

For more of my literary coverage, check out the Books, Plays, Movies and Music tab!

Claiming a Piece of Passover with Adas Israel Pop Up Event

A new ritual item for my seder table! / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

Coming from a largely non-observant background, as I do, Passover is the Jewish holiday with which I struggle the most. Sure, my family has participated in seders (growing more seder-lite as the years pass on,) but I don’t feel overly confident about my grasp of the rituals centered around the hearth rather than the public sphere. So, when Adas Israel offered an event to personally decorate a Prophet’s Cup for Elijah (or Miriam, if preferred,) I jumped at it.

Roughly a dozen of us gathered at the Cleveland Park synagogue on the evening of Tuesday, March 29 entitled Pesach Pop-Up: Midrash & Makers. Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt started us off with a discussion of various texts around Elijah. A seminal part of the seder (and other events,) we pour a cup for Elijah and open the door to him near the end of festivities. Elijah is unique among prophets; after a usual stint of warning a Jewish ruler that rain will cease if he doesn’t desist with his pagan worship (which indeed comes to pass in the Hebrew Bible,) he doesn’t die and is now seen as a purveyor of the messianic age.

Elijah’s character changed a bit throughout the religious texts as well. In the Book of Kings, he’s a rather unlikeable character, ranting and railing and rather disliking his people, the Jews. (Perhaps it’s ironic that we invoke him in events that are meant to say, “hey, man, we’re still here!” :P) Rabbi Lauren suggested one kinda positive text about the prophet in 1 Kings, where he saves the life of a widow’s son (after sorta strong-arming his way into taking sustenance from her impoverished home, heh.)

But by the Mishnah and the Talmud, the rabbis have put a different spin on this guy. They focus on his ability to resurrect the dead, and insert him into midrash where he performs, er, magic (sorry, rabbis) to save the Jews. And this time, he does it without yelling and drought. 😛

We didn’t get too far into the textual study (or, alas, touch upon Miriam at all, who predicted her brother, Moshe Rabbeinu’s, greatness as a child, ultimately became a great leader of the Jews as an adult, and is often reclaimed by modern, feminist Jews at Passover alongside Elijah.) But time was running out and we had some glassware to decorate!

Led by congregant Darci Lewis and a sizeable supply of modge podge, we got to work on our Cos Nevi’im, or Prophet’s Cups. Decorative supplies like fake leaves, petals, stickers and cut tissue paper were made available so this group of adults could get to crafting. (Even without the holy holiday overtones, I’d argue adults need more venues to be creative!) I used the tissue paper on my cup, shown above, to create a “stained glass” effect that sorta reminds me of Judaica stores I’ve shopped at over the years. 😛 The modge podge is now invisible, huzzah, but that being said, I doubt I can actually use this cup safely without applying some sort of finish to protect the tissue paper. Alas, this was beyond the scope of our project, but here’s an Instagram picture of other members showing off their cups!

Passover begins on the evening of April 5 this year, and concludes April 13. Chag sameach!

Celebrate Purim in 5783!

image courtesy of

Purim starts on March 6, 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, encompassing and surpassing this holiday event! Feel free to add more in the comments. Chag sameach!

Thursday, March 2

Purim Hamentaschen Bake
Moishe House in Columbia Heights invites 20s/30s Jews to join them in baking. They’ll prep the dough, you can shape and fill! Costumes encouraged.

Friday, March 3

Purim Cookie Decorating and Shabbat Picnic
Join young families at the Agudas Achim playground for cookie decorating, courtesy of Pastries by Randolph. Followed by lighting Shabbat candles together with grape juice and challah.

Rock of Ages Purim
Washington Hebrew’s rock concert-themed celebration of the Esther story will feature tunes ranging from Elvis to Evanescence. Wear a concert tee!

Moishe House Purim Shabbat
This one’s at the NoMa location, and specifically caters to 20s/30s Jews.

Saturday, March 4

Rodef 2100/Moishe House Arlington Purim Party
Temple Rodef Shalom and the Moishe House of Arlington are teaming up for a party involving treats, drinks, an interactive megillah reading and more! Geared towards 20s/30s Jews.

Sunday, March 5

JFamily Purim Celebration
Family-friendly party, costumes encouraged, at the EDCJCC parking lot! Featuring a variety show filled with music, magic, juggling and circus acts, Purim-themed arts and crafts, hamantaschen, storytime and more.

Tifereth Israel Purim Carnival
Hybrid, with indoor and outdoor activities. Games, crafts and entertainment for kids to tweens. Costumes encouraged.

Temple Shalom Purim Carnival
Bring the kids in costume for a costume contest! Also food, drink and carnival games.

Little Bookworms Purim
Join the J-Family Ambassadors NOVA at the City of Fairfax Regional Library with your kids to learn about Purim through reading! Presented in partnership with Pozez JCC and the Jewish Federation of Washington. Event repeats on March 10!

Taste of Talmud: Hamentaschen
Study the texts about this Purim treat and make your own with the Den Collective. Meeting in Arlington.

Monday, March 6: Erev Purim!

Purim Circus Party
At Congregation Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim! With magic tricks, circus performers, face painters, balloon artists, carnival games, Purim crafts and more.

Toy Story Purim
At Temple Shalom! Story-themed megillah reading, and maybe inspiration for costumes! Tot and family friendly service followed by the megillah reading and Toy Story shpiel.

The Game of Purim
Including a happy hour before and a dessert party after, Adas Israel is pulling out the game show stops! The megillah reading will feature a “studio live recording” game show competition for the attendees!

The Esties: A Purim Party
Sixth & I is taking attendees to the awards show, in this event geared towards 20s/30s Jews. They promise snubs, surprises and stars, encourage attendees to dress to the nines and work on an acceptance speech!

Wednesday, March 8

Queering the Torah: Purim Playfulness
Join Rabbi Jenna and the Den Collective to discover queer themes in the Purim story and celebration. Includes drawing connections to lived experiences. Tailored to the LGBTQIA+ community.

Thursday, March 9

Purim Masquerade Party with GLOE Partners
Join the DC LGBTQIA+ community for a 21 and over celebration at Franklin Hall! Includes a costume contest with prizes, a drag performance by Averia, plus hamantaschen and other kosher snacks.

Celebrate MLK Weekend 2023 and Tu B’Shevat 5783 in DC!

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Happy new year! We’re really well into January by this point, but before I venture into the future, allow me to assess some of the past! Here are some 2022 stats for JewishDC. According to WordPress, the blog got 315 views and 231 visitors, with the largest numbers coming from the United States, India, Canada and Israel. My most popular post of the year was Seth Kibel & Friends Cover Irving Berlin’s Repertoire at the EDCJCC (and thank you, Seth, for your tweet!).

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

The Jewish community commemorates two significant holidays—one religious and one secular—near the start of the Gregorian calendar. MLK Weekend takes place this weekend, from Jan. 14 to Jan. 16. Tu B’Shevat occurs between Feb. 5 and Feb. 6. Check out these ways to get involved with the local community!

MLK Weekend

  • For Shabbat, Sixth & I’s Visions of Freedom and Justice (in person and virtual). In conjunction with Turner Memorial AME Church. Includes their annual focus on the relationship between Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Special speaker, Rachel Faulkner, community organizer, justice advocate and anti-racist educator.
  • Washington Hebrew Congregation’s in person and virtual MLK Shabbat Service. In conjunction with around two dozen partner churches and mosques, featuring the Rev. Cornell William Brooks. Brooks is a lawyer, activist, educator, and past president of the NAACP. On Monday, WHC is heading a day of service, with in-person and remote options.
  • Adas Israel’s 2023 Weekend. Including musical Shabbat services, virtual and in-person, featuring the Roderick Giles & Grace Gospel Choir. Dr. Durryle Brooks will be the weekend’s guest scholar, with a speech entitled “Operationalizing Dr. King’s Vision: To Love Justice.” On Friday night, community members are invited to a soulful Shabbat dinner, with prayer, song and food.
  • The EDJCC is hosting in-person community service for the whole family Monday, called MLK Family Mitzvah Day. They’re focusing on volunteer projects, story time and advocacy for DC residents experiencing homelessness, food insecurity and other challenges.
  • Find more events through JConnect by clicking here!

Tu B’Shevat

  • On Saturday, January 28, the Reston Regional Library of Fairfax, Va., is hosting a themed holiday event in conjunction with the Pozez Jewish Community Center. Kids will learn about the birthday of the trees with stories, music and crafts.
  • Not exactly holiday-related, but in the spirit of renewal, on Saturday, Feb. 4, Adas is hosting a multimedia event of music and liturgy entitled Stepping Back In: A Song and Story Cycle of Communal Resiliency for Journeying Through the Pandemic. There will be original art and theater and the dedication of a new siddur. Plus, the flash choir is singing, including yours truly on alto. 😀 Come in person or livestream!

DC Chanukah Happenings 5783!

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Chanukah is imminently upon us! The 2022 dates go from sundown on Sunday, December 18 to sundown, Monday, December 26. So it’s almost time to fry those latkes and kindle those menorah lights! Check out these local events, happening in person and over the virtual, and feel free to add more in the comments. Chag sameach!

Wednesday, December 14

Holiday Donation Drive
Sixth & I is assembling to holiday care gift bags for residents of transitional housing shelters provided by New Endeavors for Women (NEW.)
6pm, Sixth & I

Chanukah: Festival of Lasers
Pre-holiday fun and games with young adult groups 2339, EntryPoint, NOVA Tribe and GatherNoVa.
8pm, Ultrazone Falls Church

Sunday, December 18-Monday, December 26

Adas Israel Hanukkah
Featuring a teen party, special Shabbat service and oneg, and candle lighting at Union Market!

JFamily Virtual Chanukah Candle Lighting
A special way to light candles as a community with the Edlavitch DCJCC!

Chanukah at the J: Menorah Lighting and More!
Join the Pozez JCC for games, books, dreidels, food and of course menorah lighting.

Sunday, December 18

JFamily Chanukah Party
The Edlavitch DCJCC holiday party featuring a sing-along with children’s entertainer Mr. Ari, arts and crafts stations, story time, bouncing and more!
10am, Edlavitch DCJCC

Chanukah at the Ellipse
American Friends of Lubavitch stars off the holiday season with this annual ceremony on the White House Lawn.
3:15pm, the Ellipse

Global LGBTQ Chanukah Virtual Speed Dating
A Zoom event for the queer community looking for relationships, friendships, and other networking opportunities. Touted as a fun and low-pressure riff on speed dating.
4pm, virtual

Monday, December 19

Bender JCC Hanukkah Party
Join the Bender JCC for story time sponsored by the Lessans Family Literary Series, Wendy Bryant author of Hanukkah Veronica and the Mitzvah Fairy!
5pm, Bender JCC

Chanukah Happy Hour: Hora & Heat
Young professional groups convene for the biggest local Chanukah party of the season at Franklin Hall! Includes Israeli dancing lessons, specialty drinks, spicy olive oil tasting and more.
5:30pm, Franklin Hall

Inclusion Chanukah Holiday Party
For the Edlavitch DCJCC disabilities community, this party focuses on holiday music, playing dreidel, and other Chanukah staples.
7pm, Edlavitch DCJCC

Tuesday, December 20

Oy Gaydel Gaydel Gaydel Chanukah Happy Hour
Mingling, drink specials and candle lighting with GLOE and queer Jewish partners at As You Are Bar!
6pm, As You Are Bar

Wednesday, December 21

Fried Feast: A Chanukah Cooking Class
Join Chef Vered Guttman at Sixth & I for some holiday staples that go beyond latkes and sufganyot.
7:30pm, Sixth & I

Thursday, December 22

Celebrate Chanukah with Jews of Color and their Families
Through the Edlavitch DCJCC, a space for Jews of color to get together for menorah, latkes, dreidels and community.
6pm, Edlavitch DCJCC

Seth Kibel & Friends Cover Irving Berlin’s Repertoire at the EDCJCC

Seth Kibel & Friends perform on clarinet, drums, double bass, piano and vocals to a packed Cafritz Hall / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

Irving Berlin enthusiasts filled most of the 140 seats in Cafritz Hall of the Edlavitch DCJCC Sunday evening for a roughly 80-minute concert covering several of his classic hits.

Irving Berlin, born as Israel Beilin in the Russian Empire in 1888, became a major composer of the Great American Songbook. Seth Kibel & Friends performed his music as part of the JxJ yearlong programming. The group consisted of Seth Kibel on clarinet, flute and saxophone, Sean Lane on piano, Bob Abbott on double bass, Wes Crawford on drums and Flo Anito on vocals.

Admittedly, I felt a little bit like a fish out of water at this concert. Irving Berlin is someone I understand to be a U.S. artistic cornerstone, but I don’t necessarily feel too connected to his music, except to say he gives me a yiddische pass to enjoy Christmas songs. 😛 I do, however, like taking myself to the Cafritz Hall in the fall or winter time in order to snuggle up with some Jewish culture.

Things have been pretty rough lately, from famous rappers and ex-presidents leaning hard into antisemitism, threats against synagogues in New Jersey, and an increasing far-right shift in government politics, including in Israel. What good timing, then, for a little bit of escapism into some feel-good music! From musical theater numbers to standalone ballads, the band covered everything but Christmas music (so Kibel promised us, but then he played a line of “White Christmas” during another song. :P)

Kibel also prefaced each performance with fun facts about Berlin’s life. We learned, or were reacquainted with the trivia that he wrote the upbeat “Blue Skies” in honor of the birth of his daughter, and the mournful “What’ll I Do” when his future father-in-law sent his beloved away to Europe to stop her from marrying a Jew. Later, Kibel, invited the audience into some call and response with “Always,” which Berlin penned for this woman, Ellin Mackay, as a wedding gift.

The stories got a little more apocryphal, like when Kibel prefaced playing “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” with the rumor that the song was used to cover the murder of Rasputin. Apparently, the Russian mystic stood staring at the phonograph in wonder when he was shot in the back. In a verified but arguably more surreal turn, 95-year-old Berlin found himself back on the top charts in 1982 when his 50-year-old classic, “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” was synthesized by Dutch performer, Taco.

For their part, Seth Kibel & Friends performed largely jazzy renditions of Berlin’s stable of songs. The woodwinds, bass and piano often launched into lengthy solo riffs, and finally the drums got in the game with “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” Anito’s vocals added a sweet to sultry alto sound to the mix. It was an energetic and breezy concert, with the audience often clapping at the innovative tunes, or murmuring appreciatively as Kibel geeked out over musical theater and classic movies.

So, it fit the bill for me! The evening was wrapping up before I even realized it. If you’d like to see Seth Kibel and Bob Abbott in concert, they will be back at the JxJ with other musicians for a boogie woogie klezmer brunch on December 4. You can also catch any of these performers around the DC area!

For past blog coverage of music acts, check out my “Books, Plays, Movies and Music” tab.

High Holidays Highlights: 5783!

Graphic courtesy of

It’s already Sukkot, but before we get too deep into the fall holidays, here are my thoughts from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur! I went to Adas Israel, as usual, where the theme this year was to Re-Seed.

Here are some of my standout moments:

  • On Rosh Hashanah Day One, Rabbi Yolkut prefaced the Unetaneh Tokef prayer with words about its intention. She said that although the prayer cannot shield us from the hard times in our lives, it provides a pathway through. Granted, almost anything invoked during High Holidays this year could trigger me about the death of my cat, Missy, shortly before the new year, which I already blogged about in religious terms. But the rabbi’s words impacted me the most, both as a salve and as a course of action.
  • Other parts of life move forward, including the return of the Adas flash choir to sing Halleluyah on Rosh Hashanah Day Two! It was our first time singing in person together since COVID (though we were masked.) And it proved especially poignant, because Cantor Brown lost her voice on Kol Nidre, and the congregation was without her on Yom Kippur! 😦 The rest of the clergy performed admirably in her absence, but hopefully next year things will truly be back to normal.
  • I can’t help but to be grateful, however, for the livestreaming that’s come about thanks to the pandemic. Adas puts a lot of work into it, with multiple cameras and technicians walking around to enhance the output. My mother, in Baltimore County, has been watching more Adas services, and now other members of my family, too. When I sang in the flash choir I looked straight into the camera, thinking of my mother and sister who were watching. Afterwards, my mother and I talked on the phone about the sermons and etc. that we kinda/sorta experienced together. Next year, she might come in person! That would definitely make the 5784 list. 😀

What were your favorite experiences of High Holidays 5783? Feel free to share in the comments!

Sukkot runs until Sunday, October 16, followed by Simchat Torah on the 17th-18th! Check out what local synagogues are up to by clicking here.

DC High Holidays Classes and Events 5783

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L’shanah tova! A new year will be upon us in a few weeks. And with that, my favorite holiday! Bring on the apples and honey!

The effects of COVID-19 seem largely reduced this year, though J-Connect still has a list of streaming services in the area. For more of their High Holidays coverage, click here.

I thought I’d take a moment, as in years past, to highlight some DC-area events leading up to and including the High Holidays! Links will lead you to access points online. Or in-person locations with public safety rules. Feel free to leave other events in the comments!

Sunday, September 18

Pre-High Holiday Apple Picking at Homestead Farm
10 am, Bethesda Jewish Congregation

Family Days of Awesome
10 am, EDCJCC

Tashlich and Picnic Lunch at Ben Brenman Park
11 am, Agudas Achim Congregation

Young Families Apple Picking at Hollins Farms
11 am, Olam Tikvah

Reverse Tashlich stream cleaning
1 pm, Congregation Etz Hayim

Apples in the Campfire: A Rosh Hashanah Gathering
3:30 pm, Pozez JCC

Tot Sized Taste of Rosh Hashanah
4 pm, Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County

Monday, September 19

Online Elul Workshop with Avram Weissman
7 pm, Magen David Sephardic Congregation

Renew and Restart: A High Holidays Yoga Class
7 pm, Sixth & I

Tuesday, September 20

Bim Bom Bags: A Year of Crafts and Fun!
4:30 pm, Pozez JCC

Saturday, September 24

Rosh Hashanah Family Jam
11 am, Congregation Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim

Monday, September 26

Apples and Honeys
10 am, Bender JCC

Thursday, September 29

Virtual Bim Bom Bags for High Holidays
4:30 pm, Bender JCC

Sunday, October 2

Pick with PJ: An Apple-Picking Event at Waters Orchard
2 pm, Bender JCC

Wednesday, October 5

I’m Sorry Day
10 am, Bender JCC

Yom Kippur Mindfulness Hike at Rock Creek Park
1 pm, EDCJCC

Geraldine Brooks Tackles Race Relations and the Legacy of a Real-Life Horse in her Latest Historical Novel

Geraldine Brooks and her book cover / image courtesy of Adas Israel

Geraldine Brooks, well-known for her historical fiction novels like March and Caleb’s Crossing, came out a few months ago with another meaty one in Horse. She joined the Adas Israel and Beth El communities online via Zoom last Sunday morning in order to talk shop.

Brooks, a Jewish author who has written on Jewish topics like the Sarajevo Haggadah in People of the Book (she’s also a renowned nonfiction writer), spoke about what it was like to write during the pandemic, dealing with that general uncertainty alongside the sudden death of her husband. Over 250 people were in attendance over Zoom, and she answered questions from fans about everything from the nature of her writing practice to her admittedly cynical beliefs concerning systemic racism.

As a tangent, Brooks is staying away from writing historical series’ for the moment, and will also likely stay away from revisiting the Iron Age after all the work it took to research her King David biopic, which is currently the only book of hers I’ve read. The author said her sweet spot in history is the late 17th century.

Horse tracks the life and legacy of the real-life famous racing animal, Lexington, from the antebellum south. Similar to The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish (and you can listen to Kadish address the Adas/Beth El community in an archived video program here!), another Jewish historical novel, this is a multiple timeline narrative. Lexington’s life is chronicled through the exploits of the slave who first cares for him. In 1954, a gallery owner becomes obsessed with contemporary paintings of Lexington. Then, in 2019, a scientist and historian convene to study Lexington’s bones, and in so doing uncover the story of his Black handlers.

Many of the specific characters are fictional, but Brooks was inspired by lots of factual evidence, too. Adas Librarian Robin Jacobson shared with participants links to PBS documents pertaining to the human-horse bond, as well as this Smithsonian article on Lexington. Jacobson was then in conversation with Brooks during the Zoom chat.

If you were unable to make it to this virtual event and are in the DC area, you still have the chance to see Brooks in person! She’s featured for the Library of Congress’s National Book Festival, which will be held at the National Convention Center on Saturday, September 3. Local indie bookstore, Politics & Prose, will be selling the book on site; you can also order a copy from them here.

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