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.

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Celebrate Purim in 5779!

Graphic courtesy of clipart-library.com

Purim starts on March 20, 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.

Alas, this is going up after all of the weekend festivities, but still, 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.

Tuesday, March 19
Resilience Unmasked: Purim, Protest and Power
https://www.sixthandi.org/event/resilience-unmasked-purim-protest-and-power/

Unmasked: A Modern Purim Celebration and Service Project
https://www.edcjcc.org/event/unmasked-a-modern-purim-celebration-service-project/?instance_id=22892

SHIN DC Purim & Nowruz Lecture & Celebration
jconnect

Wednesday, March 20

Purim at Adas: A Journey to Everywhere and Nowhere
https://www.adasisrael.org/purim

Sixth & I’s Shushan Circus
https://www.sixthandi.org/event/shushan-circus-a-purim-celebration/

Bethesda Jewish Congregation Megillah Reading and Adult Costume Event
https://bethesdajewish.org/event/megillah-reading-adult-costume-event/

Temple Shalom Tot Purim
jconnect

Oseh Shalom TV Characters Purim Spiel
jconnect

Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim Pirate Purim
jconnect

Congregation Etz Hayim Partial Megillah Reading & Purim Spiel
jconnect

Tikvat Israel Congregation Purim Puppet Show
jconnect

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

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.

Celebrate Purim in 5778!

graphic courtesy of Clipart Library

Purim starts on February 28, 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.

…but you don’t have to wait until the 14th of Adar to dress up as your favorite Biblical character, or at least to get down. Enjoy these local offerings of Purim-related festivities leading up to and encompassing this holiday event! I’ll be at Adas Israel for their Purim spiel, as part of the adult flash choir! 😀 Chag sameach.

Saturday, February 24

Bethesda Jewish Congregation Religious School Purim Carnival
https://bethesdajewish.org/event/religious-school-25-2018-02-24/

Sunday, February 25

Adat Shalom A Colorful Purim: Purim Carnival
jconnect

Congregation Beth Emeth Purim Palooza in Northern Virginia
jconnect

Washington Hebrew Congregation Not Your Ordinary Hamentaschen
jconnect

Wednesday, February 28

Temple Shalom Wizard of Oz of Purim
jconnect

Purim gets Wild at Adas Israel!
https://www.adasisrael.org/purim

Tikvat Israel Purim Puppet Show
http://tikvatisrael.org/events/purim-puppet-show-4/

Sixth & I Grogger and Glow: A Purim Celebration
https://www.sixthandi.org/event/grogger-glow-purim-celebration-2/

Congregation Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim Pirate Purim
http://www.htaa.org/event/purim-party.html

Commemorate MLK Weekend 2018 and Tu B’Shevat 5778 in DC!

Image courtesy of Open Clip Art

Happy 2018! As this is my first post of the year, I thought I’d share a few stats from 2017. According to WordPress, JewishDC got 1,648 views and 1,173 visitors, with the largest numbers coming from the US, Israel, the UK, Canada, India and Germany. Wow! My most popular post of the year was Local Writers Explore the Theme of Unexpected Journeys at the 2017 DC Jewish Literary Festival.

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 13-15 and Tu B’Shevat occurs between Jan 30 and 31. 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, meant in part to honor the memories of social activists Rev Lewis Anthony and Rev Morris Shearin, Jr. Service featuring some of those who protested in 1960 at the segregated Glen Echo Amusement Park.
  • Adas Israel’s Weekend of Tikkun Olam. Featuring a Friday night Return Again Shabbat Service, dinner and a Saturday morning service with guests from the Howard University Gospel Choir and speaker Angela King, cofounder of Life After Hate.
  • Also check out Monday Days of Service with the EDCJCC!

Tu B’Shevat

  • EDCJCC’s family event, Jan 28, 10:30 am.
  • Sixth & I is offering both yoga (Jan 27, 11 am) and a seder! (Jan 30, 6:30 pm)

A belated ringing in of 5778

A quick and hungry crowd at Adas Israel’s break fast! / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

Even Simchat Torah is behind us now, but I’ve had some personal things keeping me away from the computer. My cat was sick throughout the High Holidays and she died shortly thereafter.

Worry for her clouded my experience this year, but there were still some other highlights of note. Including:

  • I sang again on Rosh Hashanah Day 2 with the Adas Israel flash choir! We covered Leonard Cohen’s Hal’lujah psalm as arranged by Elliot Z. Levine and this new-to-us version of Sim Shalom (though that’s not us in the video; alas, we didn’t do harmony!)
  • Rabbi Steinlauf delivered his final Yom Kippur sermon at Adas; a powerful number about the “idolatry” of scientific truth-denial and privileging narrow ideas over broad-minded empathy towards everyone. He concluded to a standing ovation.
  • With more direct mentions to President Trump, Adas’s Yom Kippur afternoon talk featured Dana Bash from CNN and Judy Woodruff from PBS NewsHour in conversation with writer and editor Frank Foer. They talked about what it’s like, as reporters, to deal with an administration that so blatantly turns to falsehoods, and they also gave personal and general advice about how the media could do better to understand “flyover country.” In response to a question about touting some more optimistic news, Dana Bash teased this project, leading newly minted co-Senior Rabbi Aaron Alexander to call his fellow co-Senior Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt “a badass woman of Washington.” 😛

What were some of your highlights from these High Holidays and the other fall holidays? Here’s to hoping, in my case, that the rest of 5778 is a little more life-affirming.