Commemorate MLK Weekend 2019 and Tu B’Shevat 5779 in DC

Graphic courtesy of Openclipart

Happy 2019, everyone! The Jewish DC community started off the year with a bang…or with a synagogue rolling down the street! The recently minted Capital Jewish Museum (formerly the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington) moved DC’s oldest synagogue, built in 1876, for the third time since 1969! At its new home on the corner of Third and F streets, it will become part of a new museum on local Jewish history to open in 2021. I interned at JHSGW in 2012, and I can’t wait!

Luckily, there are more current events coming up on our collective horizon. In less than a week we have one secular and one religious holiday crop up in our midst–MLK Weekend goes from Jan 19-21 and Tu B’Shevat also occurs between the 20th and the 21st. 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 and featuring their two choirs. Also focusing on the work of Civil Rights activist Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.
  • Washington Hebrew Congregation’s MLK Shabbat and Dinner. Hosting partner churches and mosques, featuring a a special address from Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee).
  • Adas Israel’s MLK celebration during Shabbat Shirah. Featuring a Friday night Return Again Shabbat service and dinner, and a Saturday morning service with guests from Roderick Giles and Grace Gospel Ensemble. The sermon will be led by guest rabbi Sandra Lawson, who will also facilitate an afternoon workshop entitled “Creating an Inclusive Jewish Future.”
  • Also check out Monday’s Day of Service with the EDJCC!

Tu B’Shevat

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10th Anniversary of JewishDC!

Thank you to all the people who came to my blog in 2018 from across the world! / graphic courtesy of WordPress

Ten years ago in the summer, I had the idea that since I was attending a significant number of local Jewish events, I should do something with that. I was also fresh off of my journalism degree and I liked to write, and thus JewishDC was born!

Things have changed a little bit in the interim. Some organizations have come and gone. Just recently the (now named) Edlavitch Jewish Community Center announced that it’s doing away with it’s old, multiple festivals and creating a whole new huge one. So much to choose from, so little time!

I used to post weekly events updates, but now I leave most promotion to organizational twitters (you can see my aggregated list in the sidebar!) and the awesome GatherDC. I’m not really so much of a community organizer as I am one Jewish DCer, whose tastes have likely changed a bit from her twenties and into her thirties, documenting events I attend in the Greater Washington Area. For example, I now also look at our local indie bookstores, as well as Jewish institutions, when an author of the tribe comes into town!

You can find compiled lists of my reviews of literary, music, film and theater events here and here. I’m also thinking of making a new page for religious content. But for now I thought I’d go into my stats page and list my top ten review posts from 2009 to today.

I’m so glad that I started this project, that I have records of all these great events. And I can share what an inspiring town this is for celebrating Jewish culture! Happy new year, everyone, and may 2019 be great for Jews in DC.

DC Chanukah Happenings 5779!

Chanukah Menorah/ photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The winter holidays are upon us, and Chanukah is on the early side this year! The holiday begins on the evening of December 2 and it lasts until December 9. 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!

Wednesday, November 28
Hipster Hanukkah Holiday Market
Etsy in real life, plus other fun things!
6:30 pm, Foundry United Methodist Church

Sunday, December 2
Celebrate Chanukah with Makers Day at the J
Children’s crafting event for the holiday!
10 am, Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia

Make Room for the Latkes 2018
Family fun event with a focus on interfaith families!
10:30 am, Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation’s Capital

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 3
Family Chanukah Party
Candle lighting, holiday food, story time and crafts!
5:30 pm, Bender JCC

Wednesday, December 5
Light up the Night! Community Menorah Lighting
Light candles, sing songs, enjoy entertainment!
5:30 pm, Mosaic District

Hanukkah Happy Hour (Off) the Hill: Time Hop Edition
Annual young adult soiree with an ‘80s/’90s theme, drinks, food specials and surprises. Plus a clothing drive!
6 pm, Decades

My So-Called Jewish Life
Not entirely Chanukah-related, but the 10th annual presentation of autobiographical stories from Story District.
7:30 pm, Sixth & I

Thursday, December 6
Oh Gaydel, Oh Gaydel!
Celebrate the holiday with the LGBTQ Jewish community!
6 pm, Pitchers DC

Sunday, December 9
Hadar: Beyond the Chanukkiah
Morning workshops on various aspects of Jewish education around the holiday.
10 am, the Broadmoor

Sunday, December 16
Zemer Chai Holiday Concert
According to their website, this festival of lights will be filled with songs of justice, compassion and freedom of religion
6 pm, Kennedy Center

Israeli Award-Winning Film Explores Forbidden Love in Cloistered Community

“Red Cow” movie poster / courtesy of the Israel Film Fund

Despite the first snow and sleet of the season, a full house of Washingtonians gathered at Bethesda Row Cinema last Thursday night for a showing of the Israeli film Red Cow. The movie was aired as part of the Edlavitch Jewish Community Center’s Washington Jewish Film Festival Year-Round Program. It was co-presented by Tagg Magazine and Reel Affirmations.

“Red Cow” (or “Para Aduma” in Hebrew) is named for the biblically heralded red heifer which portends a return to Jewish temple worship in the Holy Land. The movie opens when a fundamentalist religious group finds a cow that fits that description and assigns main character, Benny (Avigayil Koevary) with taking care of her.

Benny’s father Yehoshua (Gal Toren) is the leader of a gated community in East Jerusalem, which prays for a return to ancient Jewish life. He relies heavily on his only daughter, and seeming family after his mother’s death, but Benny feels alienated from his beliefs. The film chronicles her sexual awakening as she gets involved with new girl Yael (Moran Rosenblatt.)

Like most foreign films, at least in my limited experience, this hour and a half long feature is a very minimalist affair. Though Yehoshua quotes Scripture and argues with other religious men about politics, he never has a speech where he declares “Welcome to my compound! Here are the rules!” Deference from other characters points him as the leader, and he seems to be in charge of a school for girls. Otherwise, Benny spends her time praying with him when he can’t find a minyan and grabbing him from an ancient mikveh late at night.

The East Jerusalem landscape feels larger than life with its expansive views of ancient structures and roadways, and its audio populated by the muzzein and quickly chanted Hebrew prayer. Certainly lends to the air of conflict, as does Yehoshua trying to force entrance into the Temple Mount on Yom Kippur, and speaking blithely about destroying the Dome of the Rock and the people who must die to bring about his fundamentalist utopia.

But it’s such a personal story without any real threat that the man mostly comes off as cold, sad and awkward as his daughter’s indiscretions come to light. Again, it’s more about what he intuits from interpersonal scenes than any big revelations. Benny and Yael’s love affair is fast and viscerally shot. The relationship carries no dramatic climax cast to a cinematic score. One might even say that Benny’s relationship with the young cow brings more emotional gravitas. But the question of who she really is remains at the forefront of her troubled existence, even when the final scene takes her to the secular world.

Red Cow was nominated this year for 4 Ophirs (the Israeli Oscars) and it won for best feature and best actress for Avigayil Kovary. It is also Tsivia Barkai Yacov’s directorial debut, and is just recently making its rounds in the United States. Click here for more information. And you can find my similar content and movie reviews under the Books, Plays, Music and Movies tab!

Gary Shteyngart Tackles Hedge Fund Manager Culture in LAKE SUCCESS

Gary Shteyngart reads from his novel, “Lake Success.” / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

For the first time in a long while, I made my way over to Sixth & I Historic Synagogue Tuesday evening to hear a Politics & Prose book talk by novelist Gary Shteyngart. His latest, Lake Success, is a study on the dudebro culture of hedge fund managers (link to book trailer starring Shteyngart and actor Ben Stiller.) Self-made character Barry Cohen abandons his family and his under-investigation business to take a trip cross-country to rekindle an old flame. Sitting in a synagogue, Steyngart described his protagonist with Yiddish attributes–he’s a schmuck (a jerk), a gonif (thief) and schnorer (beggar.) The book is a satirical take on this culture, set against the backdrop of the 2016 American presidential election.

Shteyngart is most well known for writing a book every four years that dips into his own heritage. Born in Leningrad to Jewish parents, he immigrated to America as a child. He grew up in New York, and specifically expanded his output due to hedge fund managers being the only people who can afford to live in Manhattan anymore.

He spoke briefly and then read a few long excerpts about Barry’s quick-lived “bromance” with a former employee, whom he then attempts to beg for money to fund the rest of his journey. The author describes himself as having no imagination, and he himself actually boarded a Greyhound bus for a four-month trip to middle America. He also spent time with hedge fund managers and their wives, one of whom called a school “diverse” because some of the students had doctors or lawyers for parents.

His comments were witty and engaging, and several people took to the mic to ask him about his other books or lessons learned on the road. He spoke of Greyhound bus drivers as drill sergeants who call the shots, except that passengers have to make sure they’re awake while driving at night. He also ran into “interesting” people, ranging from college students, ex-prisoners and hospital patients crossing state lines, to white supremacists who boarded and talked about “crucifying Muslims and Jews.” What stuck with Shteynart was how the Trump administration may have emboldened them to be more open, but also the majority of the bus, largely comprised of women and minorities, didn’t challenge them.

In terms of writing satire, he wanted to bring his flawed characters to a place where they could almost taste redemption, but then fall short. Seems like most people in attendance won’t “fall short” of reading it! (Maybe I should leave the comedy to him. :P) Following the hour-long discussion and q&a, Shteyngart signed several copies of his work. To purchase a copy of Lake Success (and support your local indie!), click here. And you can find similar coverage of my attended literary events under the Books, Plays, Movies and Music tab!

A belated ringing in of 5779!

Adas Israel’s high holidays 5779 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:

  • Adas changed up some of the protocol on Rosh Hashanah–they encouraged all of us to clamor into Smith in order to hear the shofar for the first time. It was my first time in the main sanctuary for the morning of Rosh Hashanah Day 1, though I did have to leave afterwards to cede the space to reserved ticketeers. Then I went down to Kay Hall, where I usually spend the Torah service and musaf. But Smith is very much a part of my festivities on Rosh Hashanah Day 2. I joined the flash choir led by Cantor Brown yet again to sing Leonard Cohen’s rendition of Hal’lujah psalm as arranged by Elliot Z. Levine. For most of High Holidays, I admittedly feel like an invisible drop of water in a huge ocean. But RHD2 has become my chance to be proactively and publicly engaged with the holiday. I like the smaller, more intimate feel of the service, too.
  • Due to the weather–Hurricane Florence loomed heavily Rabbi Holtzblatt’s sermon–the usually outdoor “Return Again” Kol Nidre was moved indoors. I arrived maybe 10-15 minutes before the official start of the service, and spent ample time in lines that snaked through the parking lot before streaming into the building through the preschool entrance. I guess I got a feel for how large the parking lot actually is, because so far it accommodates everyone, I believe, who wants to attend this free event. Whereas this year I and others watched a broadcast from Smith in the “overflow” room of Kay. Proceedings were delayed until everyone was inside, making for a late but inclusive night. I’m starting to get used to the song melodies and instrumentation, and largely closed my eyes and swayed around a bit. In terms of kinetic spirituality, this was it.
  • This year’s Yom Kippur afternoon guests were podcasters and Adas members Alix Speigel and Hanna Rosin. Their show, Invisibilia, tracks specific stories and focuses on the human behaviors behind them. In conversation with Adas’s senior rabbis, they centered on themes of apology and forgiveness in the public sphere. This has long been an area of personal interest, as communities are starting to use social media to regulate “appropriate” responses to controversy and bad behavior–what these ladies referred to as “call out culture.” Where’s the line between sincerity/authenticity and a social totalitarianism? Beyond that, I enjoyed Rabbi Alexander’s sermon on self-forgiveness and how the idea might be implicitly referred to in sacred texts. He also taught us a niggun to sing as he read passages to invoke the feeling of ancient temple sacrifices. And the martyrology service was perhaps a little less communal than years past–no dittoes and group discussions–though one Adas member recounted for all of us his family’s tragic Holocaust story and it’s redemptive end. Followed by a moving a acapella piece by our annual singing quartet about finding faith even in the darkness. A nice way to start the new year off on the right foot.

What were your favorite experiences of High Holidays 5779? Feel free to share in the comments!

Sukkot continues through Sunday, Sept 30, followed by Simchat Torah in October! Check out what local synagogues are up to by clicking here.

DC High Holidays Classes and Events 5779

Apple picking is a common tradition around Rosh Hashanah / image courtesy of GetDrawings.com

L’shanah tova! A new year will be upon us in under 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 Sixth & I and the Edlavitch DCJCC, JCCNV, the Bender JCC and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Lots of apple pickings this year. 😛 Please leave others in the comments!


Wednesday, September 5 and Wednesday, September 12
Hit Refresh: Preparing for the High Holidays, 7 pm, Sixth & I
https://www.sixthandi.org/event/hit-refresh-preparing-for-the-high-holidays/

Sunday, September 9
A Taste of Apples and Honey: Community Apple Picking, 2:30 pm, JCCNV
https://www.jccnv.org/index.php?src=events&srctype=detail&category=Adults&refno=188636
Days of Awe-some: Exploring Rosh Hashanah, 4 pm, EDCJCC
http://thejdc.convio.net/site/Calendar/625270278?view=Detail&id=154662

Wednesday, September 12
Rosh Hashanah Pick ‘n Picnic, 10:30 am, Bender JCC
https://www.benderjccgw.org/event/pick-n-picnic/

Thursday, September 13
Cheers to a Sweet New Year with Young Leadership Donors, 6:30 pm, JFGW
https://www.shalomdc.org/event/ylgivingthankyouevent/
The Unkosher Comedy Tour: Confessions, 7 pm, EDCJCC
http://thejdc.convio.net/site/Calendar?id=154677&view=Detail

Sunday, September 16
Pick with PJ: Apple Picking Event, 10 am, JFGW
https://www.shalomdc.org/event/pickwithpj/