LitFest ’09 Update: I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world.

No, I can’t say the fabulous pop group Aqua will be at the Literary Festival, but I can say that we will be presenting you with the opportunity to join us for a Barbie Business Lunch.

“What is a Barbie Business Lunch?” you may ask. Local author Robin Gerber will be at the 16th Street J at Noon on Tuesday, October 20 to discuss her latest book Barbie and Me, a new biography (and only biography) of Ruth Handler, the brains and beauty behind the Barbie doll and all of Mattel.

“Why is this in a Jewish literary festival?” may be your next question. Ruth Handler was the 10th child of Polish Jewish immigrants. Now, I don’t want to spoil the book for you, but let’s just say she didn’t have the most ideal relationship with her biological parents. Ruth was a motivated young woman, always wanting to take on more – more jobs, more work, more places. She married Elliot Handler and the two of them embarked on numerous  business ventures based out of Los Angeles, CA. Each business soon grew and grew, leading to more innovation, more use of Elliot’s skills and artistic creativity and more use of Ruth’s savvy business skills.

If you ever loved a Barbie, you need to read this book and come hear this author speak. In today’s world, where there is so much argument about the Barbie doll and if it is giving young girls a complex, we seem to have lost site on why Ruth Handler created the doll in the first place. We have forgotten that this Barbie – this icon – was created not by a man but by a woman. And not just a woman, an intelligent, savvy, Jewish woman, wife and mother who was driven to break through the  glass ceiling and prove herself in a man’s world.

Now, I’m a short, dark haired and dark eyed Jewish girl – but I am still a Barbie girl. I played with my own Barbies, the hand-me-downs from my sister – even the older stuff that belonged to my mother. These tall, blond and ridiculously proportioned never gave me a complex about myself. All they did was give me a way to act out my dreams and ambitions…ironically enough, my Barbies gave me the tools to act out my favorite BOOKS – Little House on the Prairie, The Babysitters Club, The All-of-a-Kind Family (though the Barbies were never tznius enough for the last one).

So if you’ve ever loved a Barbie, or if you are a businesswoman, or have any ambitions to be a businesswoman, you can NOT miss this lecture.

Read an interview with Robin Gerber, author if Barbie and Ruth.

Good Riddance 5769

You sucked.

Okay, you had some really good things that happened also: an historic election, a pretty good Super Bowl and some decent movies. Here at the J we had a great year of programs: hit shows, our first Helen Hayes Award, amazing parties on Election and Inauguration Nights, incredible authors, musicians and community service accomplishments.

But mostly you sucked.

You were the year of the near-collapse of our economic system. When we were sitting in shul last year, the housing bubble was bursting, the stock market was in free-fall and the auto industry was well on its way to collapse. I remember thinking, “The beginning of 5769 sucks so hard, it can only go up from here.”

I was wrong.

Bernie Madoff happened. If he had just been a ganef of enormous proportions that would have been bad enough. But he compounded his villainy by stealing from charitable organizations and some of the major philanthropists behind the Jewish community specifically, and the non-profit world in-general. Madoff will forever be the dark presence that hovers over 5769.

Israel stumbled through a close election that revealed a deeply divided electorate, created a minority-led government and no real optimism that any current peace initiative has much chance of success.

We were enthralled by the possibility of change in Iran, even as their nuclear development grew ever more ominous and the possible outcomes seemed increasingly less attractive.

We were horrified by senseless killing in our own community at the Holocaust Museum, in the neighborhoods of the District of Columbia, and at the LGBT Center in Tel Aviv.

We lost dear friends.

And yet, tomorrow in shul I will pray for a sweet 5770. And I even have faith my prayers might be heard and answered. Because hope is surprisingly resilient. And as bitter as the after-taste of 5769 might seem now, in a few years we may view it differently. After all, providence can reveal itself in time. How many people would trade a President Barack Obama in 2009 for a President John Kerry in 2004?

May we all be inscribed for a year of peace, a year of prosperity, a year of good health and a year of sweetness.

May G-d Bless You and Keep You
May G-d cause G-d’s countenance to shine upon you
May G-d lift G-d’s face to you, and Grant you peace

Rosh Hashanah Foods Besides Apples and Honey

by Jean Graubart
Director of the Leo and Anna Smilow Center for Jewish Living and Learning

Rosh Hashana, part of the Days of Awe, is a spiritual holiday, calling us to the task of inner reflection, soul searching, and forgiveness. It is also a time to find hope and sweetness in the New Year, and what better way to do that than through food? The most well-known symbol is honey, served on a round challah to represent the cycle of the year.

But there are more traditional treats from many different Sephardic cultures. Some of these Jews serve chewy dates for more sweetness; Moroccan Jews dip the dates into a tasty mixture of ground sesame seeds, aniseeds and powdered sugar. There is even a prayer to be recited over dates: “As we eat this date, may we date the New Year that is beginning as one of happiness and blessings and peace.”

Veggies have a place too. Many Sephardic Jews cook pumpkins or gourds to express the hope that as this vegetable is protected by a thick covering, so may we be protected and kept strong. Leeks are eaten for luck and spinach or Swiss chard or the leafy part of the beet root are eaten to “beat” off enemies and keep us from those who might do us harm. The greens are said to build strength. Israeli Jews often eat at least seven kinds of fruits and vegetables to symbolize the hope for a plentiful year. One favorite dish is carrot salad, with the carrots cut in rounds to represent coins and the hope of a prosperous year. Orange lentils are prepared for the same reason.

Shana Tova says the FishRosh Hashanah literally means “head of the year,” and in many Israeli and Sephardic homes, a fish head is given to a special guest or the head of the household to eat. Besides being a test for the stomach, the food represents the hope that the family will move forward and come out ahead in the coming year.

The pomegranate has become a fixture on the Rosh Hashana table. It is said that every pomegranate contains exactly 613 seeds, the exact number of the mitzvot, Biblical commandments, that Jews are obligated to fulfill. The prayer for this fruit asks that the coming year will be filled with as many good deeds as the pomegranate has seeds. Also, the top of the fruit is said to look like the crown of the Torah, and it is believed that the pomegranate is a symbol of fertility.

Of course there is the classic. Apples are dipped in honey because the fruit’s roundness symbolizes a hope that the New Year will be joyous from start to finish, full circle.

We at the Washington DCJCC, wish you a “Shana Tova”, a year of sweetness and good

LitFest ’09 Update: Dancing in the Dark with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

I have two words for you: Google Alerts. These babies are the best way to make sure you get the complete lowdown on what sources are picking up on your programs and talent. They also let you know who has a fabulous publicist. And who, you ask, is the literary talk of the town this week? Morris Dickstein.

In the last few days, Morris Dickstein’s book Dancing in the Dark has hit the stores. His publicist has clearly been hard at work, too. Just check out all these reviews and blurbs that have appeared on the Literary Festival’s Google Alerts:

-The Wall Street Journal “High Spirits at Low Ebb” by Robert K. Landers

The Boston GlobeFight and flight” by Saul Austerlitz

The New YorkerIt Happened One Decade” by Caleb Crain

Los Angeles TimesDancing in the Dark book review” by Richard Schickel

The Washington PostArt for Hard Times” by Jonathan Yardley

So what does this tell us? Well, yes, Morris Dickstein has a great publicist. But it also tells us that this is RELEVANT. Over the last several months, there have been a lot of talk about how “this financial climate” is very reminiscent of the Great Depression. We have all been feeling a little down and out. But here comes Morris Dickstein, reminding us of a very important lesson: good things can come from this.

Not to say the Great Depression wasn’t a difficult time in history, but Morris Dickstein reminds us of all the incredible arts and culture that came out of it. Fred Astaire exploded onto the Hollywood scene, jazz music established itself with the music of Cole Porter and John Steinbeck helped change America’s attitude toward literature. And these are just three of the big names Morris Dickstein discusses in his book.

The discussion has formally begun; what are we going to learn about “this climate” from the Great Depression? What should we expect in the arts in the coming years, and how is our culture going to change?

These questions and more will be explored at Down Economy, Outstanding Art: A Panel Discussion on October 21 at the Washington DCJCCMorris Dickstein will join panelists Philip Kennicott (culture critic at The Washington Post), Laura Katzman (scholar and curator of New Deal art, professor at JMU) and moderator Murray Horwitz (former VP of Cultural Programming at NPR and founding Director of AFI Silver Theatre) in a full discussion and exploration of the topics raised in Dancing in the Dark and what we can learn and expect in the future.


Rosh Hashanah: Mixed Faith Families, Mix-and-Match Honey and Apples

Some interesting things from around the interwebnet-tubes today as the countdown to Rosh Hashanah rolls on.

The first item that was brought to my attention by the ever-devoted Dr. Marion Usher, who runs our interfaith couples workshops, is an advertisement from last week’s Washington Jewish Week. 

adas ad -jpeg -contrast

The ad is your typical “Shana Tova” listing from Adas Israel, the largest conservative congregation in-town, except for two details, both of which, I think are very encouraging. First, the ad announces that no tickets are required to attend Erev Rosh Hashanah services on Friday, September 18 at 8:00 pm. Which is nice. More shuls should try and break-through the pay-for-pray perception (which to some extent is reality) which plague large congregations with “no ticket required” High Holiday services. More remarkable is the text underneath which reads,

“Rabbi Gil Steinlauf will usher in the High Holy Day season with a major address on Keruv (outreach) to dual faith families. All are welcome.”

 I don’t know that I recall the last time I saw a rabbi’s sermon topic advertised as a “major address” on a specific topic — kind of like the President addressing Congress on healthcare. But I kinda like it. And the implication is that Rabbi Steinlauf will be using one of the most high-profile nights of the Jewish year to both welcome dual faith families to his congregation, as well as to make the case that this kind of outreach is crucial to the future of his synagogue and the Conservative Movement. It is a commendable act, and I hope it finds a wide and receptive audience. In the meantime, if you’re between 21-35 years-old and are still looking for a service for the Holidays, visit EntryPointDC/Gesher City’s comprehensive marketplace (insert irony) of free and cheap tickets.

The second item comes from the good folks at Tablet who went to the trouble of scientifically combining apples and honey to find the ideal combination. The results, are not kind on the Bear Squeeze Bottle-variety honey — which now makes me self-conscious about my own Yogi & Boo-Boo Bear-inspired purchases. I’m not surprised I could do better, but somehow I feel like we owe the Bear Bottle honey some respect for its uncomplaining work-a-day reliability. Are they abusive to bees or something? Where’s the love?

Controversy at the Toronto Film Fest

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has been causing quite a stir, and it wasn’t just because Megan Fox was there promoting Jennifer’s Body.  The real ruckus-raiser was the fact that over 1,000 artists, authors, academicians and others including Jane Fonda and Danny Glover have signed the “Toronto Declaration” which calls for a boycott of the TIFF for hosting a program focusing on Tel Aviv.

In its inaugural year, the TIFF sidebar “City to City,” shines a spotlight on Tel Aviv and features 10 films coming out of the multi-cultural Mediterranean city.

Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum or your thoughts on the Israeli government, this boycott is a misguided and dangerous effort that threatens the entire filmmaking community and, indeed, freedom of speech and artistic expression.

Israeli films and filmmakers haven’t been threatened by their participation in just the TIFF.  Earlier this summer, director Ken Loach (who has signed the Toronto boycott) almost successfully forced an Israeli film, Surrogate, to withdraw from the Edinburgh Film Festival. The film focuses on a 30-something-year-old man coming to terms with the sexual abuse he suffered as a child. Mind you, the film was not boycotted because it features frank sexuality and full frontal nudity, but for the sole reason that it was produced in Israel.

Proving even further that the protest is off target, the Israeli director Shmulik Maoz whose film Lebanon will be screened at the festival (and which just won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival) noted that “most of the filmmakers in the City to City program are as critical of the Israeli government as anybody.”

Thankfully there are some celebrities speaking out against the protest including actors John Voight and Minnie Driver and filmmakers Ivan Reitman and David Cronenberg. As Rabbi (and sometime filmmaker) Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center has pointed out, “Tel Aviv is one of the freest cities in the world –warts and all: a model city of diversity, freedom of expression and tolerance, for Arabs and Jews. It is the height of hypocrisy to signal out Tel Aviv.”

How ironic that the films being boycotted include more than 25 Arab/Palestinian actors and crew.

Unfortunately, I imagine that we can expect this type of boycott in the future which makes it imperative that each of us become an active promoter of free speech and ideas.  We cannot censor creativity nor allow the distortion of reality. One thing is for sure — if you’re looking for Israeli Cinema, both narrative and documentary and from wide-ranging points of view, look no further than the Washington Jewish Film Festival, December 3-13th.

September 11 and September 12

From: Ford, Joshua
Sent: Friday, September 11, 2009 9:45 AM
Subject: remembering 9/11 and 9/12

I wanted to give some of you who were not here a sense of what happened in this building on 9/11 eight years ago. I was on my way into work, driving down 16th Street to the Washington DCJCC when the first plane hit the tower – by the time I actually arrived the second plane had hit and there were reports (false it turned out) of explosions near the State Department in Foggy Bottom. Shortly after, the Pentagon was hit.

Arna Meyer Mickelson, the Executive Director was on vacation and Nancy Raskin, then the assistant exec. (now a regular in our gym and stretch classes) had made the decision to close the building. We began calling pre-school parents to let them know that we were evacuating the building, and relocating the children to a park around the corner. It was tough to contact many of them and we took a fair number of children to the park. While we were doing this, the first tower fell. Then the second. As we were getting the last people out of the building a man showed up for a scheduled focus-group and got very angry at us for cancelling it – we explained to him what happened (he hadn’t listened to the news) and he looked at us in disbelief. We stayed in the park for what felt like several hours waiting for parents to pick up their kids as a steady stream of cars and pedestrians walked up 16th Street evacuating the city.

Most important…

The next day we were open.

I don’t remember if kids came to school, but the center was open for business.

Rocket to the MoonThat night, Theater J held a performance of Rocket to the Moon by Clifford Odets (a co-production with Woolly Mammoth Theatre). It had been our (I actually worked with Ari Roth in the Theater at the time) inclination to cancel the performance. We were depressed and didn’t think anyone would come. Howard Shalwitz, the Artistic Director of Woolly and a member of the cast, in his great wisdom, insisted the show go on. And to his credit he was right. That night we had a small crowd, but it felt like a small moment of triumph in the midst of such a huge tragedy that our art would continue. That life would go on. It was, to my surprise, one of the most rewarding nights of theater in my life.

We have come a long way since that day. A lot has happened, both good and bad since then. We still face challenges, though thankfully none as cataclysmic as that day. I will never forget the despair and anger I felt as it seemed the world was falling apart, nor the small, precious steps we took the next day toward a new normal.

Joshua Ford
Chief Program Officer
Washington DCJCC

LitFest ’09 Update: Jeff Goldblum’s German Accent for Your Viewing Pleasure

Internationally acclaimed and controversial film Adam Resurrected starring Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe premiers in Washington, DC at the Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival.

Don’t miss the premier on Monday, October 19! Click here for more information and tickets.

Which Jeff do you prefer? Law&Order Jeff,  Jurassic Park Jeff,  The Fly Jeff or Independence Day Jeff? My personal favorite: Earth Girls Are Easy Jeff!

First Day of Preschool at the Washington DCJCC

Cross-posted to Imashalom

Today is a very special day at the JCC—the first day of school. For so many parents and their toddlers coming in with their new backpacks and nervous faces, it’s truly the first day of the rest of their lives.

My son started at the Washington DCJCC when he turned two last year. For us it was a BIG DEAL, and I’m pretty sure we were more scared than our son was. We’d put so much care and love into raising him and here we were, we thought, making him cog in a machine, just another child in a room full of children, getting 1/12 of his teacher’s attention. What if he hated it? What if he thought we weren’t coming back?

For the first week or two I would spy on him to make sure he was doing well. A few days into the year I passed-by his door and he was in full, inconsolable meltdown mode. His cries gutted me, and I wanted so badly to rush in and save him. But I knew that I’d do more harm than good, and so I forced myself to walk past. And then I somehow made my way upstairs, called my husband and cried.

Fast forward 10 months. Today our son began his second year at the Washington DCJCC preschool. Instead of being one of the babies, he’s got three younger classes below his. He’s got more friends than I can count, has made connections with loving adults who care for him almost as much as I do, and has learned an immense amount—from the ABCs and Baby Beluga to kindness and empathy and the things we do and don’t eat (FYI: we don’t eat bugs). I have no doubt that he’s going to have a great year.

While it’s never easy to watch your children grow up and need you a little less, that difficulty is balanced by the joy of watching them flourish. I made the decision to send my son to the Washington DCJCC preschool for purely logistical reasons, and barely had a sense of what I was getting us into. But today, on the first day of my no-longer-baby’s Tzavim year, consider me a Washington DCJCC Preschool Parent by Choice.

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