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.

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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!

As 2019 Smithsonian Folklife Festival Celebrates Local Music, Nefesh Mountain Brings Jewish Bluegrass to DC

Nefesh Mountain performs at Adas Israel / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

Normally this is the time of year when I write out a little something about the Jewish history of the countries being honored at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. But the Folklife Festival is doing things a little differently in 2019.

For one weekend (this one) only, they are staying close to home with programming and performances to honor the DC music scene. Titled “The Social Power of Music,” the event plans to “celebrate the power of music to entertain, educate, inspire, preserve history, strengthen identity, and build community,” according to the website.

So I had to go back to the drawing board to think up a Jewish angle on this. 😛 But it also felt like something was staring me in the face. Music plays a big part in lots of Jewish DC organizational programming. Back in May, I highlighted klezmer bands playing Yiddish cinema music as part of the EDJCC’s inaugural JxJ festival. Then, just last Shabbat, the bluegrass (or “jewgrass”) band Nefesh Mountain played and workshopped at Adas Israel.

I attended their post-Shabbat concert, along with dozens of other people, on Saturday night. Melding bluegrass instrumentals and vocals with Jewish influences, they sang originally produced songs off of their new album such as “Bound for the Promised Land” (with new biblical allusions) and “Eretz Reel” (an amusing play on words.) They also played the haunting “Tree of Life,” written in response to the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre last year, with lyrics available for free on their website. Samples of their music are also available on their YouTube channel.

Husband and wife team Eric Lindberg and Doni Zasloff provided main instrumentals and vocals, with regular band members Alan Grubner and David Goldenberg joining them on fiddle and mandolin. By the end of the concert, people were dancing around the room, and then the group led us in a soulful Havdalah to officially end Shabbat and welcome in the new week.

It’s heartening to know how Jewish groups can find a home in American music while still honoring our shared roots. Hence drawing back to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival–culture through hybrid sound and diversity. For more on the Folklife Festival, taking place tomorrow and Sunday, click here! They should be back to their more traditional programming in 2020.

Edlavitch DCJCC Unveils New JxJ Festival with Hybrid Events incl. Music from Yiddish Cinema

New festival’s logo plays over the AFI Silver screen / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

The Edlavatich DCJCC wrapped up its inaugural JxJ arts project yesterday, a two and a half week mashup of their film festival, music festival and “hybrid” cultural events.

I decided to attend one of these hybrid events last Thursday evening, when Isle of Klezbos and Metropolitan Klezmer performed Music from Yiddish Cinema at AFI Silver Theater. The event included vintage film clips, mostly from the 1930s, as well as live accompaniment.

More accurately, the band performed personalized renditions of various songs featured in Yiddish films. These included a mournful ensemble quartet in Yidl Mitn Fidl and the more upbeat wedding song from Uncle Moses, among others. I usually found their pieces to be more jazzy than the originals; featuring more instruments, like drums and the piano, and fewer staccato notes. It was a fascinating dive into the evolution of musical expression. And the group had a great fusion sound, too!

Percussionist and film archivist Eve Sicular also shared insights into the subtext of various musical clips, for example pointing out the influence of tuberculosis in one of Molly Picon’s Mamele numbers, and the inside references to homosexuality in Americaner Shadchen. She also detailed highlights–some known and some suppressed by the Soviet Union–of Russian-Jewish actor Solomon Mikhoels. But with the event spanning almost three hours by that point–and on a weekday night no less–a little tedium started to settle in as Sicular read long excerpts from a memoir on the subject. Several people in the audience left early. But before that there was clapping and laughter in response to both these clips and the live music.

Overall, Music from Yiddish Cinema opened the door to the complexities of this genre, and served as a reminder that the past was as vivacious and full of life as the present. For more of a taste of this musical group’s hybrid flavor, click here!

From Colonial Women to Ivy League Admissions; 2019 Jewish American Heritage Month

Labor Organizer Bessie Hillman, one of the Jewish women profiled in Nadell’s book / photo courtesy of Wikipedia

May is around the corner, and with it the 13th annual Jewish American Heritage Month! The official website has been updated with activities, resources and more.

The newly minted Capital Jewish Museum (formerly the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington) is teaming up with the National Archives to present this event:

America’s Jewish Women: A History From Colonial Times to Today
May 23, 7 pm
Historian and American University Professor Pamela Nadell will touch on the lives of a variety of Jewish American women, from Emma Lazarus to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as well as less recognized activists and allies.

Publisher’s Weekly wrote in it’s review of Nadell’s book:

It is easy to kvetch, but Nadell has taken on a big job in covering such a multidimensional, important subject. Nadell does it in informative and succinct style, and the result is a readable, valuable text.

Other events in the DC area include a May 6 book talk on “Joining the Club: A History of Jews and Yale” by Dr. Dan A. Oren at the Library of Congress and co-sponsored by The Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington. On May 24, Sixth & I and the National Museum of American Jewish Military History are reprising their Memorial Day Shabbat.

Please feel free to add any comments about other JAHM events happening in the area. Check out my past coverage of Jewish American Heritage Month under the “Annual Events” tab.