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.”

Wrapping up on Chanukah and looking forward to upcoming events in 2015

Regarding current events, this certainly wasn’t the way that I had hoped to start off the secular new year. So before we get into that, allow me to recap on Chanukah 5775.

The Chanukah candles burn low and this printout explains Chag HaBanot / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

I spent a fair bit of the holiday at home, as I was slowly unpacking my new condo. But I did make it out to two larger events in the Jewish community—a celebration with the Sixth & I’s Not Your Bubbe’s Sisterhood and a lighting/civil rights vigil at Adas Israel.

The Sisterhood event, as led by Rabbi Sarah Tasman, chronicled Chag HaBanot, the Festival of Daughters, which was celebrated in North African countries on the seventh night of Chanukah. It’s also a commemoration of the story of Judith, who through subterfuge killed a general in an enemy army. A similar concept to the story of the Maccabees, which is the story of Chanukah proper.

Although we had our event on the second night of Chanukah, traditionally it’s celebrated on the seventh. As a group we lit our entire menorahs, stopping at each candle to reflect on various women—teachers, leaders, family members. There were around 20-30 women in attendance and it was such a nice environment of camaraderie. I look forward to attending more Sisterhood events in the future!

Congregants stand vigil for the Adas Israel civil rights solidarity Chanukah lighting / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

On the next night of Chanukah I was on the steps of Adas Israel for Light Up the Darkness! A Chanukah Solidarity Gathering for Civil Rights and Human Life. As led by Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, we sang Hebrew prayers and “This Little Light Of Mine,” specifically invoking the protests in Ferguson and the recent deaths of unarmed Black men. After the candle lighting, some members of the community took signs and stood on the sidewalk near the synagogue for a short vigil.

Disregard for human life, unfortunately, is a global issue, as recent events in Paris have shown. The deadly attack on the Charlie Hedbo newspaper, presumably over the publication of offensive images of the Prophet Muhammad, culminated in the murder of four Jewish men on the eve of Shabbat at a Kosher market, baruch dayan emet. As the French Jewish community and the one worldwide react to this news, some organizations in DC are organizing community events to commemorate this tragedy. Please feel free to comment with those not listed here!

Tuesday, January 13
Adas Israel and American Jewish Committee’s Gathering of Solidarity and Remembrance, 7:30 pm.

Wednesday, January 14
Sixth & I’s Solidarity Minyan in the Face of Anti-Semitism and Extremism, 6:45 pm.

And coming up after is Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend! Check out these events:

Friday, January 16
Sixth & I and Turner Memorial AME Church’s MLK Shabbat, 7 pm.

Washington Hebrew Congregation’s MLK Service with the President and CEO of the NAACP, 7:30 pm.

Monday, January 19
DCJCC’s Day of Service, 10 am.

Washington Hebrew Congregation’s Day of Service, 10 am.

Tuesday, January 20
DCJCC’s Joachim Prinz: I Shall Not be Silent, 7:30 pm.

Adas Israel’s MLK Weekend:
Friday, January 16: Shabbat Services with Hilary O. Shelton, Director of NAACP’s Washington Bureau
Saturday, January 17: Shabbat sermon by Avis Buchanan, Director of the Public Defender Service, followed by a panel discussion
Sunday, January 18: Service at the People Congregation United Church of Christ

2014 in review for JewishDC!

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

On a less personal but Jewish DC local note, before I get to my stats, I’d like to take a moment to comment on some of the bigger stories out of our area in the past few months–eg Barry Freundel’s voyeurism accusations and abuse of power at Kesher Israel, and more recently Ari Roth’s controversial departure from the DCJCC’s Theater J. I hope that we can all learn and grow, and find peace and renewal as a community in the secular new year.

But beyond these more negative chapters in our history, I’d like to pay credence to the overwhelming support that Rabbi Gil Steinlauf, of the synagogue to which I belong, Adas Israel, received after releasing his elegant missive about publicly coming out of the closet. I’m inspired not only by his bravery, but also by how local and worldwide Judaism is evolving to understand, respect and make room for LGBTQ people. Kol Hakavod!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,700 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 45 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

DC Chanukah Happenings 5775!

Courtesy of

The winter season is upon us- the weather is occasionally colder and icier, and people begin to count the days until they get a little time off from work or school. Why not warm yourself by the kindling Chanukah lights? Local Jewish groups are getting ready to roll out the red carpet for this well-known religious holiday, which will take place this year from sundown Dec. 16 to sundown Dec. 24.
Check these out!

DCJCC Chanukah Party
Drop by the DCJCC for family fun, including a moon bounce, games, crafts and more!
Sunday, December 14, 10 am, $10-$15

Chanukah at the Ellipse
American Friends of Lubavitch starts off the holiday season with this annual ceremony on the White House lawn
Tuesday, December 16, 4 pm, tickets required

Hanukkah Happy Hour on the Hill
Annual young adult shindig sponsored by several Jewish organizations, this year at both Capitol Lounge, and Hawk and Dove. Collection boxes at both sites for donations to local charity.
Tuesday, December 16, 6 pm, free

Festival of the Daughters
Sixth & I brings Rabbi Sarah Tasman to Not Your Bubbe’s Sisterhood to talk about the Book of Judith and the North African tradition, Chag HaBanot, for honoring her, and Jewish women everywhere.
Wednesday, December 17, 7 pm, $10-$12

Chanu-Comedy: A Festival of Laughs
Stop by Sixth & I for an amusing show featuring Rachel Bloom and Danny Jolles.
Saturday, December 20, 8 pm, $20-$23