There’s the Forward 50 — a listing of the 50 most influential Jews; Newsweek’s top 100 rabbis; and New York Jewish Week’s 36 under 36. JTA even names the 100 most influential Jewish tweeters. So, two years ago, we decided to get in the annual list game. We decided to create a minyan.
We purposefully kept the definition of who could be included very broad. It isn’t about influence or power. Our minyan is made up of people we simply think are interesting — people who make our community what it is. And we don’t decide — you do.
I’ve been thrilled with the diversity of those who have been named Minyanaires. Students and teachers; lay leaders and agency directors; artists and innovators. We’ve named cultural leaders, thought leaders, political leaders and congregational leaders. Together they represent our community.
Which is why we picked 10 as our number. There is something so profoundly brilliant about the need to have a minyan, of moments in our lives we shouldn’t be alone. I’m thinking specifically of the need to have at least 10 people present to say Kaddish or birkat ha gomel (prayer recited after overcoming danger). When we mourn and when we are grateful for a healthy childbirth we, by law, must be surrounded by our community.
I think about conversations I had this week when researching the story about the new Federation leadership training initiatives. For our community to move forward, I was told, we need lay leaders and staff. We need the partnership of volunteers and professionals. And we need everyone to feel empowered and fulfilled and valued.
I agree. We need people who step up and help us move forward in interesting and meaningful ways. Everyone from Oren Charnoff, the University of Maryland student who sends student interns to Tel Aviv with UMD TAMID, the group he founded. Or Alyza Lewin, the attorney, who, along with her father, is fighting for the right of a family to list “Israel” as their child’s place of birth. Or William Daroff, who in addition to being an influential voice on Twitter, is a powerhouse in Congress and the Knesset on behalf of the Jewish Federations. All three are previous Minyanaires.
So, my dear readers, the time has come to pick our class of 2013. Who were the most interesting local Jews of the past year? Your son’s preschool teacher? That young social entrepreneur who lives down the hall? The senior who speaks to high school students about surviving the Holocaust? No further restrictions on who can be nominated — just someone who is Jewish, lives in the District Maryland or Virginia and is interesting — for any reason.
Email me and let me know who should be called out as exemplifying what makes our Jewish community special. Tell me who and tell me why. But do it soon. We’ll announce our new minyan early January.
Thanksgiving is my mom’s holiday. My aunt had Passover and when my uncle passed away, my cousins took over. We considered rotating it among all the cousins, but it somehow didn’t feel right under anyone else but the direct descendents of my aunt and uncle. Which means one day, I will host Thanksgiving.
I don’t like thinking about that day. Although, when it was time to purchase a dining room table, I made certain to select the largest that would fit in the room, just for Thanksgiving. But I want that day to be far away. Not because I don’t want to host — I love hosting holidays. It’s just what it would really mean if Thanksgiving were at my house instead of my parents.
I didn’t grow up near extended family. My parents did, and I loved hearing stories about what it was like for them growing up. Even more, I love when they get together with others of their generation and how their faces change when they start to tell stories, how the now 70 and 80-year-old women giggle like little girls at the memory of some childhood mischief.
So when I see my aunts and uncles and cousins only at Thanksgiving or Passover, I see the years. I remember too clearly being the little girl at the table, remember too vividly that there used to be family a generation older than my parents at the table. My mom and her sisters would bustle around the table with the energy of youth. Now I see how much the holidays take out of them.
My mom still prepares everyone’s favorites — sweet and sour meatballs for me, cranberry jello for Buddy, schnecken for Jennifer. Just mention once that you like a dish and she’ll make certain it’s there for you every year. There’s always too much food, too many courses, but no one can agree on which to eliminate. Each item is meaningful to at least one person at the table — and that’s all that’s needed to make it a must-have. Even foods we really don’t want to eat anymore — the little hotdogs rolled up in the pastry dough, the frozen boxed egg rolls and the potato puffs — none of us would dream of preparing these at any other time of year. But, it’s tradition that mom puts them out around 4 o’clock as an appetizer. Not that we’re even hungry after the large bowls of “dirty soup” (vegetable soup with big hunks of beef flanken) that greet us as we arrive at the house, hungry from the hours on the highways.
My aunt always makes a speech about my uncle and how much we miss him. My mom gets sad the years my sister can’t come in from California. We go around the table, like every family does, and say what we’re thankful for. We always say family.
I am very blessed. I have much to be thankful for. But the bottom line for me is family. I’m thankful my parents still tell me what to do. It means they care. I’m thankful my children are friends — that friendship will be increasingly important as the years go on. I’m thankful that my favorite thing to do on a Saturday night is stay home with my husband. Our kids think we’re boring. I think we’re happy. And I’m thankful for the table full of food on Thanksgiving, because it means that the table is surrounded by my family.
From my family to yours … I wish you a Thanksgiving filled with gratitude, a Chanukah filled with light and a Shabbat filled with peace.
Chanukah, Hanukkah, Khanukah, however you spell it, used to be so much more fun. I would spend weeks thinking of presents to make for my family (this was when I was a child and my only option was homemade). When I had young children, I would spend time purchasing eight perfect presents and thinking of creative ways to re-create the fun memories of my youth. Now, it has lost its gleam. I’ve lost my energy. And, I’m wondering, would we be better off without it?
Which is worse? Having a holiday that has become popular because of the commercialization that has been forced upon it due to its proximity to Christmas or maintaining the essence of the holiday and have it be as popular as it is in Israel (which is about as popular as Purim is to American non-Orthodox)? It’s all feeling like a very Hallmark holiday this year.
Wow, can “bah-humbug” be said in reference to Chanukah? I am truly feeling Scrooge-like. I need to snap out of it.
This year, as everyone knows, is the big Thanksgiving-Chanukah mash up. I’ve received Twitter messages with links to recipes for latketinis. (Although, isn’t vodka made with potatoes? So, aren’t all martinis “latketinis”?) The T-shirts with the “Thanksgivukkah” logo are all the rage. A 9-year-old created a Menurky (menorah-turkey) that at $60 is selling quite nicely. And, I’d like to suggest the University of Chicago update the classic and this year host “The Great Latke versus Mashed Potato Debate.”
I’ve tried to think of ideas to make the holiday less child and gift centric. Maybe finally hosting that wine and cheese party with all my girl friends and celebrating the power of women through the story of Judith (she, for those who don’t know, was credited for luring General Holofernes into her tent, feeding him cheese and wine until he passed out and then cutting off his head, giving advantage to the Maccabees). I’ve talked about this idea for years but never moved on it.
I’m going to try my hand at making homemade sufganiyot again. I can make latkes with my eyes shut (although I won’t — that could be dangerous). I did try sufganiyot a few years ago. I was creating family programs for Sixth & I and one of the staff members, Eyal, could not believe with all I cook, I could not make sufganiyot. He’s Israeli and tried to give me the recipe. Unfortunately, his measurements were not what you’d call exact — “cup” meant a drinking cup he uses. But I did find a recipe and it was a disaster. Truly inedible. I just figured I’d stick to my Ashkenazi roots and make latkes like Grandma Hilda did.
But then I had coffee with Paula Shoyer. We were talking about her gorgeous new cookbook The Holiday Kosher Baker and she said “if you can make challah, you can make donuts.” (And I can make challah!) The trick, she said, is the candy thermometer. You must use one. (I had previously ignored the directions for reaching and maintaining a specific oil temperature.) She said too low and the dough will be a soggy mess. Too hot, and they burn. In fact, she said, you must watch the donuts very carefully. They go from perfect to ruined in seconds. “But what happens if the oil gets too hot?” I asked. “You move it off the burner until it cools,” was the answer that immediately seemed obvious.
So I bought a candy thermometer, and I’m going to try again. And, I don’t even need to figure out how to fill them. Shoyer said to set out bowls of chocolate and Nutella for dipping. (That alone was reason enough for me! I’m envisioning a sufganiyot buffet — with hot donuts ready to dip into a variety of gooey sauces and candy toppings.)
Then I received a direct mail piece. I tend to ignore these, but opened it up as I walked from my mail slot to my office. What I read made me stop. The Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse (JCADA) had mailed a gorgeous purple Chanukah candle, hand dipped in Sfat. JCADA is asking the community, on the eighth night of Chanukah, to use the purple candle as the shamas, “to symbolically light the way for victims of abuse to find support.”
Elissa Schwartz, executive director, explained to me that rather than spending staff time and resources hosting an actual gala event, they initiated the “Light the Way” campaign. Now in its third year, this virtual event connects the community in a powerful way. After lighting your menorah, JCADA asks that we share photos on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #lighttheway13. And now, rather than paying for a ticket that partially funds JCADA and partially pays for food and drink and decoration, all donations received from the “Light the Way” campaign help provide resources and counseling for victims and raise awareness and produce educational programs to prevent future violence. “There are people who aren’t in safe homes,” Schwartz told me. “We may not know who the victims are, but now, they will know we are thinking of them.”
This is what Chanukah is supposed to be about. It’s about bringing light in times of darkness. Sharing hope with those who struggle. Fighting for and clinging to what we believe in. It’s about oil — but oil as a fuel, a fuel that drives us to make a difference.
It’s beginning to feel like Chanukah now after all.
Email email@example.com to request your shamash for December 4.
It was a gorgeous Saturday. Approximately 20 sets of fathers and sons gathered in my neighborhood’s community clubhouse to celebrate a father-son Shabbat. This weekend was BBYO’s Global Shabbat and chapters around the world were asked to host a special Shabbat program. (Be sure to check out photos from the D.C. Council chapter events on Page 27.) My son’s chapter decided to create a multigenerational event.
“Can’t they include the moms? It’s the moms who usually go to this sort of thing,” read the email I received about the program. But that was exactly the point — it is usually the moms who go. This time, it was very clearly no girls allowed.
How many would show? There hadn’t been a dad event in years. What would the reaction be?
It was lovely. It brought to mind something an older gentleman had told me when I interviewed him for an article I wrote last year about Jewish men. To paraphrase, he said men are no longer needed at Jewish events — they are no longer asked. But if asked, men will come.
So the boys asked.
They had a late lunch, they had fun father-son bonding games, pretended to plan programs for each other (the boys’ event for the dads involved shopping for sports cars; the dads’ program for the boys involved getting together with the girls.) And they had Havdalah by the lake, in traditional AZA yelling-the-prayers-at-the-top-of-their-lungs style. But before Havdalah, the boys led their fathers in a discussion. What is it like to be a Jewish man, they asked. And, what did the fathers want their sons to know?
I don’t know all the responses because as explained above, I was not allowed to be there. And, while my husband and son and father (who happened to be visiting for the weekend) shared a little bit, I did not hear all.
“What did the fathers tell the sons?” I asked. And I was told that the fathers told their sons to marry Jewish girls.
I thought about this in light of the story posted on Atlantic.com, written by D.C. 20something Emma Green titled “Convincing Millennials to ‘Marry a Nice Jewish Boy.’ ” It’s really terrifically done as she opens with a conversation she has with her friends about how they feel about marrying Jewish and then thoughtfully speaks to leaders of various youth groups (NCSY, NFTY, USY and BBYO), Hillel, Birthright and JDate. The overall theory, and this I agree with wholeheartedly, is the more a teen or young person’s social circle is made up of Jewish peers, the more likely he or she will ultimately choose a Jewish mate. In fact, these groups don’t even try to hide their agenda — I had thought Birthright was about connecting young Jews to Israel. It is. But it’s also very much about connecting them to each other.
Back to the dads. How many had previously told their sons “marry Jewish”? We are constantly being told to talk to our children about drugs and alcohol, about texting and driving, about safe sex. “Children will listen to their parents” we are told. “Don’t be afraid to talk to them.” But I wonder what we say about marriage.
It’s hard — harder than it was for our parents. Would we be insulting friends who are intermarried? If we ourselves are in interfaith marriages, how can we tell our children to do otherwise? What would that say about our non-Jewish spouse? And yet, I have heard from friends, that as much as they love their husband or wife, they do hope their children marry Jewish. And unlike our parents or grandparents, we would never threaten to disown a child or sit shiva for a child who married outside of the faith.
So our message is softened — we love you, there is nothing that would ever make us stop loving you, but — yeah — we’d kinda prefer that you marry someone Jewish. Marriage is hard enough, it’s easier if you both come from the same place.
Thing is, as wonderful as all the youth groups and college and young adult programs are, we shouldn’t outsource this message. We can’t wait and hope that our children join a youth group or go on Birthright or sign up for JDate. It’s okay to tell our children that yes, they should marry a nice Jewish boy or girl. We’re not being mean or old-fashioned or bigoted. I’m sure every parent, in every faith, feels the same.
This was the word that Steven Rakitt, executive vice president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, used to describe the situation in Beit Shemesh.
On a site visit to explore the programs of the Ethiopian National Project, which unites global Jewry, the Government of Israel and the Ethiopian-Israeli community in its mission to advance the integration of Ethiopian-Israelis into Israeli society through social and educational opportunities to Ethiopian-Israeli youth, Rakitt reminded visitors that “you may see something in the headlines, but now you know there is more to Israel.”
Rakitt’s statements came at a most fitting time, the day after an LBGT group filed a complaint against the Haredi Orthodox mayor of Beit Shemesh after he said on television that his “holy and pure” city does not have homosexual residents.
Moshe Abutbul, who was re-elected three weeks ago after a contentious campaign that pitted secular and more Modern Orthodox residents against Haredi Orthodox residents, also told Israel Channel 10 in an interview that aired last Friday that the Health Ministry and the police are responsible for handling the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) community.
Asked if the city has gay residents, Abutbul said, “We have no such thing. If you mean what I think you mean, then no. Thank God, this city is holy and pure.”
On Sunday, the Association of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgendered in Israel filed a complaint against the mayor.
“This constitutes incitement, urging attacks on and a show of contempt for the LGBT community,” said Shai Doitsh, the association’s chairman.
In response to the new, the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington sent a letter to the mayor – and Israeli media – that expressed “outrage” at the mayor.
“Mr. Mayor,” the letter signed by Rakitt and federation president Liza Levy said, “gays are neither sick nor criminal. Your comments hurt and offend many in your community, in Israel and in the Diaspora, and we urge you to immediately retract your statements.”
The Greater Washington federation and Beit Shemesh have been partner cities for 18 years. The letter indicated that in the spirit of collaboration, the federation would continue to express its views to the head of the community.
Meanwhile, Abutbul’s mayoral challenger, Eli Cohen, will file a request Monday for new elections with the Jerusalem District Court claiming voting fraud. Complaints of forgery and other irregularities on Election Day have been leveled against Abutbul’s camp.
At ENP, there was no mention of the mayor or the election, rather there was Ethiopian coffee, bread, singing and dancing. ENP program participants spent the hour they had with those from Greater Washington area thanking them for their support.
Thanks in part to federation funding, ENP established a youth outreach center that provides safe physical havens for Ethiopian at-risk youth. This model provides children with critically necessary programs and staff, utilizing resources and knowledge efficiently to meet the most pressing needs of the local populations. ENP youth workers direct outreach and extend themselves to alienated youth, offering guidance in neighborhood centers. They also work with parents to get them involved in activities at the centers and leaders at the centers provide them with tactics to foster more supportive home environments. Together, these factors enhance participants’ self-esteem and help them to develop a stronger connection with the surrounding community and with the State of Israel.
“History is happening before our eyes,” said Micha Feldman, chief architect and implementer of Operation Solomon in 1991 (where 14,000 Jews were airlifted to Israel over a 24-hour period). Micha is considered a hero for the Ethiopian Jewish community. “You, through ENP, are taking [Ethiopian] children and getting them from where they are to where they can get. This is history.”