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.

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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

Historian Deborah Lipstadt Tackles Modern-Day Antisemitism in Book Touted at Sixth & I

Deborah Lipstadt in conversation with Rabbi Shira Stutman at Sixth & I / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

The lower half of the sanctuary was filled on Tuesday evening as readers stepped into Sixth & I Historic Synagogue from the rain to hear Deborah Lipstadt talk about her new book, Antisemitism: Here and Now.

In conversation with Sixth & I’s senior rabbi, Shira Stutman, Lipdstadt touched upon the long provenance of antisemitism, which found its way into Christianity’s earliest texts, to more modern interpretations. But much of this established hatred, she assessed, remains rooted in conspiracy theories about Jews controlling the world.

Deborah Lipstadt, a Holocaust historian currently teaching at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., is perhaps best well known for her brush with David Irving, who sued her for libel in the UK for calling him a Holocaust denier. That experience led to her 2005 book, History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier, and a 2016 movie starring Rachel Weisz.

Her most recent book centers upon the conceit that she is addressing two individuals about antisemitism today—a Jewish student and a non-Jewish colleague. But the issues raised are based on real interactions, Lipdstadt asserts. The book cover focuses on the tiki torches wielded by white supremacists at a 2017 rally who, among other things, shouted antisemitic slurs. Then, when advance copies of the book were circulating, a white nationalist committed a massacre at a synagogue, in the largest single instance of violence against Jews on American soil.

Lipstadt described white nationalists of the far right believing in age-worn conspiracy theories about Jews controlling the world and working with Blacks to destroy the white race. Liberal billionaire George Soros, Lipstadt says, has emerged as the 21st century version of the Rothschilds.

On the other side of the political spectrum, some voices on the left see things through a particular prism of race and class. Since American Jews are seen as wealthy and white, the claim goes, they can’t actually be discriminated against. And any attempt to challenge this must be a cover up for something else. The relation to right-wing conspiracy theories grows starker in the midst of recent firestorm over Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar leaning into the notion that a Jewish lobby controls the government through money.

Lipstadt made it clear, in a 15-minute q&a session with the audience, that she wasn’t calling out specific leaders as antisemites. But giving voice to these conspiracy theories has broader repercussions, as the Tree of Life Synagogue proved. Lipstadt also touched upon BDS and a “myopic” focus on Israel’s faults, and she shared personal anecdotes, like a neighbor trying to get her daughter to come to terms with the fact that their shul needs police protection.

She also attempted to tell a few jokes, bittersweet as they were, like this one that she heard in the 1970s Soviet Union (to paraphrase): a shoe company gets a large shipment of shoes and a long line forms early on a cold morning. Later, the shopkeeper walks outside and says, “We are running out of shoes. All Jews must leave the line and go home.” So they do. Later, the shopkeeper reappears and says, “We are running out of shoes. All non-Party members must leave the line.” This exchange repeats a little later, with the shopkeeper asking those who didn’t serve in WWII to leave. Finally, they run out of shoes and turn away the elderly veterans. As these folks shuffle away, they proclaim: “those lucky Jews; they must have known what was coming!”

The problem with antisemitism, Lipstadt says, is the problem with most conspiracy theories. It is illogical, and attempts to counter it with facts only feeds into the narrative. But the Holocaust historian also urged the audience not to give into despair. Before giving way to the signing portion of the evening she talked about the last chapter in her book: “Oy versus Joy.” In this epistle to reject victimhood, Lipstadt hopes we take pride in our heritage and what we’ve given the world.

To purchase a copy of Lake Success (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 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

10th Anniversary of JewishDC!

Thank you to all the people who came to my blog in 2018 from across the world! / graphic courtesy of WordPress

Ten years ago in the summer, I had the idea that since I was attending a significant number of local Jewish events, I should do something with that. I was also fresh off of my journalism degree and I liked to write, and thus JewishDC was born!

Things have changed a little bit in the interim. Some organizations have come and gone. Just recently the (now named) Edlavitch Jewish Community Center announced that it’s doing away with it’s old, multiple festivals and creating a whole new huge one. So much to choose from, so little time!

I used to post weekly events updates, but now I leave most promotion to organizational twitters (you can see my aggregated list in the sidebar!) and the awesome GatherDC. I’m not really so much of a community organizer as I am one Jewish DCer, whose tastes have likely changed a bit from her twenties and into her thirties, documenting events I attend in the Greater Washington Area. For example, I now also look at our local indie bookstores, as well as Jewish institutions, when an author of the tribe comes into town!

You can find compiled lists of my reviews of literary, music, film and theater events here and here. I’m also thinking of making a new page for religious content. But for now I thought I’d go into my stats page and list my top ten review posts from 2009 to today.

I’m so glad that I started this project, that I have records of all these great events. And I can share what an inspiring town this is for celebrating Jewish culture! Happy new year, everyone, and may 2019 be great for Jews in DC.

DC Chanukah Happenings 5779!

Chanukah Menorah/ photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The winter holidays are upon us, and Chanukah is on the early side this year! The holiday begins on the evening of December 2 and it lasts until December 9. 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!

Wednesday, November 28
Hipster Hanukkah Holiday Market
Etsy in real life, plus other fun things!
6:30 pm, Foundry United Methodist Church

Sunday, December 2
Celebrate Chanukah with Makers Day at the J
Children’s crafting event for the holiday!
10 am, Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia

Make Room for the Latkes 2018
Family fun event with a focus on interfaith families!
10:30 am, Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation’s Capital

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 3
Family Chanukah Party
Candle lighting, holiday food, story time and crafts!
5:30 pm, Bender JCC

Wednesday, December 5
Light up the Night! Community Menorah Lighting
Light candles, sing songs, enjoy entertainment!
5:30 pm, Mosaic District

Hanukkah Happy Hour (Off) the Hill: Time Hop Edition
Annual young adult soiree with an ‘80s/’90s theme, drinks, food specials and surprises. Plus a clothing drive!
6 pm, Decades

My So-Called Jewish Life
Not entirely Chanukah-related, but the 10th annual presentation of autobiographical stories from Story District.
7:30 pm, Sixth & I

Thursday, December 6
Oh Gaydel, Oh Gaydel!
Celebrate the holiday with the LGBTQ Jewish community!
6 pm, Pitchers DC

Sunday, December 9
Hadar: Beyond the Chanukkiah
Morning workshops on various aspects of Jewish education around the holiday.
10 am, the Broadmoor

Sunday, December 16
Zemer Chai Holiday Concert
According to their website, this festival of lights will be filled with songs of justice, compassion and freedom of religion
6 pm, Kennedy Center

Gary Shteyngart Tackles Hedge Fund Manager Culture in LAKE SUCCESS

Gary Shteyngart reads from his novel, “Lake Success.” / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

For the first time in a long while, I made my way over to Sixth & I Historic Synagogue Tuesday evening to hear a Politics & Prose book talk by novelist Gary Shteyngart. His latest, Lake Success, is a study on the dudebro culture of hedge fund managers (link to book trailer starring Shteyngart and actor Ben Stiller.) Self-made character Barry Cohen abandons his family and his under-investigation business to take a trip cross-country to rekindle an old flame. Sitting in a synagogue, Steyngart described his protagonist with Yiddish attributes–he’s a schmuck (a jerk), a gonif (thief) and schnorer (beggar.) The book is a satirical take on this culture, set against the backdrop of the 2016 American presidential election.

Shteyngart is most well known for writing a book every four years that dips into his own heritage. Born in Leningrad to Jewish parents, he immigrated to America as a child. He grew up in New York, and specifically expanded his output due to hedge fund managers being the only people who can afford to live in Manhattan anymore.

He spoke briefly and then read a few long excerpts about Barry’s quick-lived “bromance” with a former employee, whom he then attempts to beg for money to fund the rest of his journey. The author describes himself as having no imagination, and he himself actually boarded a Greyhound bus for a four-month trip to middle America. He also spent time with hedge fund managers and their wives, one of whom called a school “diverse” because some of the students had doctors or lawyers for parents.

His comments were witty and engaging, and several people took to the mic to ask him about his other books or lessons learned on the road. He spoke of Greyhound bus drivers as drill sergeants who call the shots, except that passengers have to make sure they’re awake while driving at night. He also ran into “interesting” people, ranging from college students, ex-prisoners and hospital patients crossing state lines, to white supremacists who boarded and talked about “crucifying Muslims and Jews.” What stuck with Shteynart was how the Trump administration may have emboldened them to be more open, but also the majority of the bus, largely comprised of women and minorities, didn’t challenge them.

In terms of writing satire, he wanted to bring his flawed characters to a place where they could almost taste redemption, but then fall short. Seems like most people in attendance won’t “fall short” of reading it! (Maybe I should leave the comedy to him. :P) Following the hour-long discussion and q&a, Shteyngart signed several copies of his work. To purchase a copy of Lake Success (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!