The Smithsonian Folklife Festival: Jewish Life in Unusual Places

Recently renovated Kahal Zur synagogue in Brazil / photo courtesy of JudaicTourism.com

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival takes place every summer, well usually! 2019 was curtailed by the federal shutdown and this year has an even bigger nemesis—the coronavirus! For public safety, there were no in-person events this year.

The purpose of the festival is to bring amazing world cultural events to the National Mall! But since they couldn’t do that this year, they thought up a new sort of program, called Beyond the Mall. You can watch all of the archived programs here. And technically, two countries took center stage online—the United Arab Emirates and Brazil!

Doubtless the Festival has done a great job in covering many aspects of these nations. But allow me to expand on their efforts! For the last few years, inspired by our local Folklife tradition, I have researched and brought attention to the widely diverse world Jewish communities. Jewish culture has touched almost every region of the world, and of course vice versa. So let us begin.

The United Arab Emirates

Back in the 12th century, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, Rabbi Benjamin of Tuleda journeyed to visit “far-flung Jewish communities,” including some of the area that is now the UAE. He found a community in “Kis,” which is located in Ras al-Khaimah.

That being said, there’s no more reference to the Jewish community in the UAE until last century. When the country was founded in 1971, there was a small community of Jewish locals and those who moved to the country for business.

It took until the 21st century, last year in fact, for the UAE Ministry of Tolerance to recognize the Jewish community. Things have progressed quickly from there. A synagogue is said to be under construction and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, NYU Chaplain, will will serve as Chief Rabbi. He’ll travel to the Emirates a few times a year to help cultivate the local religious leadership. A new Talmud Torah school has opened in Dubai as well.

The Jewish community currently rents a villa to act as a synagogue, and follows Orthodox practice, with some benedictions to UAE rulers thrown in. The location of the new synagogue, and the names of Jewish community members, are kept secret.

That being said, Sarna feels optimistic about presenting as a Jew in the Emirates today. He told Haaretz:

“When it was suggested in 2010 that I start visiting NYU in Abu Dhabi, where we also have some Jewish students, I said I’ll go only if it’s safe enough for me to go dressed the way I dress. They said come, and I walk around there with a kippa and tzitzit. I’ve gone every year for the past eight years twice a year exactly as I am now.”

Things weren’t always so optimistic. In 1999, a British university banned books by Jewish authors at its UAE campus. And the Zayed Center, named for UAE founder Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, published a report blaming Zionists for the Holocaust, which later got the center shuttered by the government, according to the U.S. Department of State. The report also highlights cartoons, editorials and op-eds, denigrating “the Zionist Lobby,” comparing Israelis to Nazis and hearkening to conspiracy theories about Jews ruling the world.

The recent positive shift may owe a lot to the 2019 visit to the Emirates by Pope Francis, which propelled the country to take acts towards interfaith tolerance.

Brazil

Jews first arrived to Brazil in the 16th century, according to the World Jewish Congress, on European expeditions led by Christopher Columbus. Many “new Christians,” often forcibly converted and still practicing Judaism in secret, fled from the Portuguese and Spanish Inquisitions.

They started out with the first sugar plantations, but by 1645, the community had grown 1500 strong, with a Torah and tzedakah fund, and worked in various trades. With expanding Dutch influence in Brazil, Jews found more tolerance and greater commercial success. The Jewish Virtual Library points to the first synagogue, Kahal Zur, built in 1636 in the Dutch capital of Recife. The Dutch were driven out of Brazil in 1654.

Until 1773, when a royal decree abolished anti-Jewish persecution, Portuguese Brazil was a more tenuous place for Jews. Isaac de Castro was arrested in 1647, sent back for trial in Portugal and burned at the stake for teaching Jewish rites and customs. Increased persecution led many Jews to immigrate to Curacao, New York and back to Europe. Those who stayed often lived as conversos. The Jewish Traveler’s Guide: Hadassah Magazine’s Guide to the World’s Jewish Communities and Sights by Alan M. Tigay says this:

Some conversos moved to Sao Paulo, in southern Brazil, to get far away from the Inquisition’s headquarters in the north. Scholars claim that they have assimilated quickly and thoroughly, thus erasing Jewishness from the Brazilian scene until the nineteenth century. But evidence of jungle tribes who light Friday-night candles and don’t eat pork and the appearance at one Sao Paolo synagogue of at least one Catholic a month searching for Jewish roots seems to belie this.

Brazil gained independence in 1822, and Jews settled in cities around the Amazons (Moroccan Jews) and Rio Di Janerio (Ashkenazi and some Sephardi Jews.) Some Jews tried to establish autonomous agricultural settlements, but they didn’t pan out. New Jewish immigrants, some 50,000 fleeing the impending Holocaust, settled in more cities, and some antisemitism followed. But after the war, Jews started to see more acceptance again, and started to win seats of public office.

Postwar Jews immigrated as well, some 3,500 from North Africa. By the 1960s, there were 140,000 Jews living in Brazil, and 33 Jewish day schools attended by 10,000 pupils. Today, the total number is around 120,000 Jews, but cultural and religious expression continue to thrive, from liberal to Orthodox and Ashkenazi to Moroccan. The Confederacao Israelita do Brasil (CONIB), founded in 1951, is an umbrella group for the Brazilian Jewish community’s political, and often Zionist, aims. In 2016, a record amount of Brazilian Jews made Aliyah to Israel, though Brazil isn’t known to be a hotbed of antisemitism. If anything, intermarriage appears to be the bigger threat to the community.

In 2001, Kahal Zur was reopened 347 years after the Portuguese shuttered it. An excavation, led by archeologist Marcos Albuquerque, was able to preserve some original foundation to use in the rebuild. Kahal Zur now serves as a museum for visitors to Recife.

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival swims in uncertain waters until next year, but we have a long history to look back on for now. Check out my past coverage of Jewish life in unique places under the “Annual Events” tab.

Pride Month! And the DC Jewish Response to Enduring Racism.

Newly minted Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, DC / photo courtesy of wikipedia

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, and during action to protest police brutality against Black people, the Jewish community has mobilized. I’ve been watching from the sidelines, still quarantined in Silver Spring. Luckily, social distancing means more virtual expression. Check out these events, past or present!

I’m largely focused on Adas Israel, since I’m a member there. On June 5, my senior rabbis joined the Washington Interfaith Network for this press conference on racist violence, and challenging the gentrification that forces people of color from the city.

Rabbi Aaron Alexander offered this in his opening prayer:

We consciously decided, embedded, even legislated liberty and justice for some, but not all. And too many of us still decide, every single day with the choices we make, the money we spend, the space we claim, the land we develop, the people we displace, the wages we steal, the rods and staffs we wield, we somehow keep saying that your enough is enough for me, but not for all of you. And so, I am here, God, on behalf of, with the permission of, while asking forgiveness from my brothers and sisters behind me, to say enough is enough.

That evening, for Kabbalat Shabbat (which I’m linking to even though it feels sacrilegious, then again, the video is archived, right? :P), Adas hosted Ilana Kaufman, director of the Jews of Color Field Building Initiative.

Most Jewish spaces in America were created by and largely cater to white Ashkenazi Jews. Among other topics, Kaufman implored those congregants to not see themselves as separate from Jews of Color.

Our narrative and our history in the United States is the Jewish people who somehow presented as all white. And the story that we captured of presenting and being all white, I want to suggest that’s the anomaly. It’s such an important chapter of our history, but really no time in our 5,000 years have we thought we were all white. Or have we all operated just white Jews and Jews of Color. And so, we have learned this behavior of separation from this country. And this moment is inviting us to learn the behavior of coming back together.

In upcoming events, on June 25 and July 2, Sixth & I is hosting a Racial Justice Reading Group. They will be discussing The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

June is also Pride Month! Although the Capital Pride Parade has been postponed, on June 19 the Edlavitch JCC is hosting a Virtual Pride Shabbat with various Jewish LGBTQ+ organizations. Bet Mishpachah Rabbi Jake Singer-Beilin will be co-leading.

I’m grateful to the DC Jewish community for this light in the darkness! Stay safe, everyone.

#MaybeMidrash Readathon for Jewish American Heritage Month!

Image courtesy of clipart-library.com

Last month, I dropped the unsurprising news that Jewish American Heritage Month won’t be celebrated as usual this year. :/ We need to find some new ways to mark the occasion!

Here’s my small contribution. Over on “BooKTube,” aka the community of literary content creators on YouTube, a couple of folks have started the #MaybeMidrash Readathon. Their idea is to take May and read a fiction and nonfiction title about any world religion. Here’s my video, where I highlight some Jewish books I haven’t read yet.

Then I thought: why not adapt this for the purposes of JewishDC? Below, I will suggest two books that you can pick up for the #MaybeMidrash Readathon—specifically about the Washington area! Enjoy!

Nonfiction
The Jewish Community of Washington, D.C. by Martin and Adam Garfinkle.
Under the auspices of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington (now the Capital Jewish Museum), this book relays a comprehensive history of the Jewish and surrounding DC area community. One in a line of Arcadia Publishing All American History titles, it comes complete with lots of detailed pictures!

Fiction
Bertrand Court by Michelle Brafman.
Once an instructor for the Washington, DC Jewish Community Center’s Writing Retreat, the author still teaches at local places like JHU. Brafman’s short stories center around Jewish characters living in the fictional DC neighborhood of Bertrand Court. The Washington Independent Review of Books said the work “deftly conveys small moments within the larger experience.”

Happy reading!

How to Prepare for Jewish American Heritage Month During Coronavirus?

graphic courtesy of clipart-library.com

May is around the corner, but unlike the last few years, the Jewish American Heritage Month website hasn’t updated with all the celebratory events taking place around the nation. Most of us are still on lockdown, proverbial or otherwise, and cultural programming has taken a hit.

Washington Jewish Week published an article about how Jewish Community Centers (particularly our three local JCCs) and Sixth & I are struggling financially under COVID-19. Other Jewish institutions are more supported by philanthropy, according to JCC Association of North America CEO Doron Krakow, but JCCs build up revenue primarily through programming costs. The virtual world isn’t as lucrative.

Still, these organizations continue to put themselves out there. Here are some resources:

Last summer, I took to the National Museum of American History to look for Judaism in the broader DC world. Physical museums may be closed this spring, but you can still find info on artifacts online. In lieu, perhaps, of the Capital Jewish Museum offering in-person programming this year, check out their virtual exhibits! The most all-encompassing one might be Jewish Washington: Scrapbook of an American Community. It takes us from 1795, when the first Jews arrived here, to today!

Stay safe and healthy during these unprecedented times. And thank you to the members of our local Jewish organizations who continue to leave the lights on, however they can. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington has started a COVID-19 Response Fund, which you can access here.

Celebrate Purim in 5780!

graphic courtesy of clipart.email

Purim starts on March 9, 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 and encompassing this holiday event! I’ll once again be at Adas Israel for their Purim spiel, as part of the flash choir! 😀 Chag sameach.

Saturday, March 7
GLOE in the Dark: A Purim Masquerade

GLOE In the Dark: A Purim Masquerade

Schmaltz! A “Grease” Purim Spiel at Congregation Adat Reyim

Schmaltz! A “Grease” Purim Schpiel

Bathesda Jewish Congregation Purim Pandemonium

BJC PURIM PANDEMONIUM

Sunday, March 8
EDCJCC Family Purim Carnival

FAMILY PURIM CARNIVAL

PAWrim Party

PAWrim party

Secular Humanistic Purim with Machar

Secular Humanistic Purim with Machar

A Magical Purim at the JCC of NV

A Magical Purim

Purim Carnival at Agudas Achim

Purim Carnival

Purim Carnival at Har Shalom

Purim Carnival at Har Shalom

Purim Carnival at Shaare Tefila

Purim Carnival in Olney

Family Purim Party at Bender JCC

Family Purim Party

Character Purim Party at Bender JCC

Character Purim Party

Purim Magic with Zig Zag at Shaare Torah

Purim Magic with Zig Zag

Purim Carnival at Beth Emeth

Purim Palooza (Carnival & More)

Purim Celebration at Temple Shalom

Purim Celebration

Beth El Purim Carnival

Beth El Purim Carnival

Sunday, March 8-Tuesday, March 10
Purim carnival, shpiel, megillah reading and poetry reading at Adat Shalom!

Purim is Coming!

Monday, March 9
Sixth & I’s The Roaring 2020s: A Purim Celebration

The Roaring 2020s: A Purim Celebration

Har Shalom ’80s Purim

Purim at Har Shalom

Temple Shalom “Star Wars” Purim

Purim

Tikvat Israel Purim Puppet Production, Songs and Kid-Friendly Megillah Reading

Purim Puppet Production, Songs and Kid-Friendly Megillah Reading

Hill Havurah Annual Purim Party

Hill Havurah Annual Purim Party

Beth El Nitzanim Purim Spiel

Beth El’s Nitzanim Purim Spiel

Agudas Achim Quiet Purim Celebration

Quiet Purim Celebration

Monday, March 9-Tuesday, March 10
Purim at Adas: The Storm
https://www.adasisrael.org/purim

Wednesday, March 11
Purim Bookies at Fairfax Regional Library

Purim Bookies at Fairfax Regional Library

Ilan Stavans Delves into Yiddish Language in America

Ilan Stavans (right) in conversation with Corey Flintoff / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

Writer Ilan Stavans started his talk at Politics & Prose at the Wharf by referencing his 1975 book, Spanglish.

When he first encountered the mixings of Spanish and English in the United States, he was appalled. But later, he came to understand what he termed as “Spanglish” through the lens of Yiddish–a language that refuses to die and is re-crafted and carried forward into new locales by hearty immigrants.

Stavans was in conversation with former NPR international correspondent Corey Flintoff on Tuesday night in southwest DC, talking about his new book, How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed Yiddish. The book, co-edited with Josh Lambert of the Yiddish Book Center, is actually an anthology of short stories, essays, cartoons, speeches and etc by Yiddish speakers. But Ilan centered most of his talk on the history and future of Yiddish in America–with a significant side step into the topic of his current work-in-progress, a biography of writer Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Yiddish, the mixing of German and Hebrew, has been around for a thousand years. With the Jews, it slowly moved out of Germanic lands and into the Pale of Settlement, where its speakers were either lost to the Holocaust or to emigration. America is now a primary home for Yiddish speakers, especially among ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Jews have lived all around the world, and several Judeo dialects sprung up, with Ladino (Spanish and Hebrew) being the second most prominent. But none, said Stavans, have been as linguistically developed, and as culturally relevant as Yiddish. In America, Yiddish took on new life through the writings of Singer, Sholem Aleichem and others. Now, plenty of words like oy, meshugenneh, kvell, feklempt and others have entered the American-English lexicon, even among non-Jews.

Yiddish is described as “the ever dying language,” in part because Jewish American immigrants often stopped teaching the language to their children. Stavans’s experience growing up in Mexico was different. In school he read several texts, including seminal ones about Mexican history, in Yiddish. Lately in the United States, despite the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research laying off its librarians, there has been a resurgence of interest in Yiddish. Stavans and audience members kvelled over the off-Broadway production of “Fiddler on the Roof” in Yiddish and the recent translation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone into the language. One of the translators, Stavans noted, is a gentile.

The ultra-Orthodox inhabit a different sort of Yiddish language. One audience member described their language as “parochial,” and the general consensus seemed to be that there was something (chutzpah, perhaps?) lacking here. I was reminded of a passage from the memoir Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman:

I am shocked by the irreverent tone in “Tevye the Milkman”; who knew anything written in Yiddish could sound so crass and offensive? I always thought of it as a formal language, but apparently there are many Yiddish words that have gone out of fashion, because the Yiddish of today’s Williamsburg is nothing like the earthy, naughty Yiddish of the nineteenth century. It makes my cheeks burn just to read it.

Much like the young Feldman snuck in some contraband secular Yiddish literature, Stavans said he saw some Orthodox men taking novels from the Yiddish Book Center as entertainment for their daughters.

To purchase a copy of How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed Yiddish. (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!

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.