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!

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

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!

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