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

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!

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!

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

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

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


Sunday, March 8
EDCJCC 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


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

Wednesday, March 11
Purim Bookies at Fairfax Regional Library

Purim Bookies at Fairfax Regional Library

Commemorate MLK Weekend 2020 and Tu B’Shevat 5780 in DC

graphic courtesy of

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

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

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

Sunday, September 22
Free Day of Awesome Family Concert and Celebration, 10 am, EDCJCC


4th Annual NoVa Great Challah Bake with a Holiday Twist, 7 pm, JCCNV

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!