Hey CNN! I’m a “New Jew” too!

While doing my usual CNN check at work – to be completely caught up on important news, not celebrity gossip, no way – I was caught by surprise at the homepage. Right there on the front is a picture of the back of somebody’s neck with a tattoo reading “Kosher” and a picture of a pig. The title reads ” ‘New Jews’ stake claim to faith, culture.”

Wonderful, I thought. Another article that will (only) talk about hipster Jews and how cool they are with their tattoos and alternative culture.

But reading through the article, I was actually kind of impressed. A nice spectrum of individuals were mentioned and interviewed, including Ramah California’s own brag-worthy Aaron Bisman of J-Dub records. Yes, we all laughed at his Jew-boy, red-head dreadlocks back in the summer of 2000, but he’s turned his company (and himself) into something really worth talking about (and I can say truthfully, some of their bands are awesome!). We  get a little of Heeb magazine, a bit of Jewish punk – but there is Elie Kaunfer, golden boy of traditional, egalitarian communities like Hadar and DC Minyan.

And Rabbi Joel Roth of JTS finally puts to bed (for a greater public) the claim that if you have a tattoo, you can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Where the hell did people come up with that idea, anyway? If you eat pork, can you also not be buried in a Jewish cemetery? What if you observe zero commandments and don’t even believe in God? Why do people think that having a tattoo is so much more sinful than anything else?

But  back to the point – this is a decent story. A nice representation of where some young Jews are headed – to a place where they feel they can express themselves and also care about their culture and religion. It’s not about having a tattoo or playing punk Jewish music, it’s just about finding what works for you, what connects you.  If  that’s praying 3 times a day and observing all the commandments, great! If it’s not, great! If it’s having a huge Jewish star tattooed on your back, painful, but great! It’s not our job to tell other Jews how to celebrate their Judaism. Don’t tell me to get a tattoo, and I won’t tell you to keep Shabbat! I might suggest having Shabbat dinner – I mean, who doesn’t like a nice dinner party with friends and wine on a Friday night?

And as I scrolled further down the page, I started seeing the comments. Oh man. I think the ability to comment on articles should seriously be taken off news pages. People are crazy!!! Why are you getting in fights with people via-comment box on CNN.com? The comments range from praising the article to heckling CNN for having no news to report, from being embarrassed of how Jews are represented to expressing anger those who choose to express their Judaism outside of the traditional structure.

One comment reads “how is this news?” Ok, so for CNN, this probably doesn’t so much qualify as news – not in the sense of “breaking news” anyway. But this movement – “Judaism 2.0” as Ari Wallach calls it – is news in the sense that this is a new culture that is coming about. In a time of widespread assimilation, it’s news-worthy that young Jews are finding ways to be modern, Western and Jewish at the same time.

And not all of this “Judaism 2.0” is only cultural or counter-culture. G-dcasts are completely based on Torah, on the weekly readings. The words are interpreted into music, sound and images. It’s actually kind of cool. So who says that the new Jews are secular and devoid of religion? It’s all about how YOU choose to connect, that’s the whole point. It’s not about denominations, it’s about feeling a part of something bigger than yourself. It’s about being able to have a Jewish wedding and a Jewish home, despite your sexual orientation.

This isn’t replacing the older traditions, it’s building on them. So chill out, crazy CNN commenters. As one suggested, how about talking about “New Muslims.” You’re right! How about it? Because there is a whole, younger generation of Islam that wants to be modern while still connecting. So even though you’re comment was intended to be cynical and sarcastic, it was actually a pretty good idea.

I feel really appreciative that I can live in a time where I can express myself any way I want. I can go to Saturday morning services and read a Heeb magazine during the  boring parts. I can sit around a holiday table with all my pierced, tattooed and crazy-colored hair friends. I can rock all my own earrings and my nose ring at work – at a Jewish organization – and not be worried about being criticized or reprimanded.

My only point of contention with this article – “hipsters tos[sing] back bottles of HE’BREW.” Come on, now that’s just bad beer! Highly alcoholic, but bad. We don’t roll that way.

The times – they are a-changing. So just sit back, and enjoy the ride…you might actually enjoy it. Or you might not. But at least it will give you something to talk about.

LitFest Update ’09: Check out what you may have missed, and don’t miss another moment!

In case you missed it, we’ve been pretty busy with Lit Fest.  So busy that I don’t even have time to type out the full name of the Festival, as we are expecting a full theater of 250 individuals tonight for Melvin Urofsky’s lecture on his new biography Louis D. Brandeis: A Life. Yes, a full-house. For a book.

Lucky for you, we have partnered with WETA’s The Book Studio to bring you a little taste of the types of characters who appear during our Festival. Binnie Kirshenbaum and Jonathon Keats appear in this panel (as they appeared in our own panel on 10/22), but WETA also snagged Shana Liebman, the editor of Sex, Drugs & Gefilte Fish: The Heeb Storytelling Collection (our ‘young professionals’ program) to participate in a panel interview and discussion about Jewish books and Jewish stories. Oh, and in case you also missed this fact: The Heeb book wasn’t due out in stores until TODAY, but our event was last Wednesday, where we had the book available for sale. Take that fancy big chain and/or funky independent book stores!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

So don’t miss another moment of the Literary Festival; there are only 2 nights left! Tomorrow (Tuesday) the lovely Dara Horn will take us on a journey back in time to Jewish life (and a spy story!) during the Civil War. And the Gerald L. Bernstein Memorial Lecture on Wednesday night features local legend and globally renowned historian Howard M. Sachar. Act now for half price tickets to Professor Sachar’s lecture!

Literary Festival Director Interviewed on WTOP

You know you’ve made it in DC when Bob Madigan, WTOP’s Man-About-Town comes to your event. And thanks to our kick-ass Festival Publicist, Bob was there last night at the Opening of the Hyman S. and Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival.  Before everything got going, he took a moment to talk with Lili Kalish Gersch, our director of Literary, Music and Dance Programs at the Washington DCJCC. This is what it sounded like:

Lit Fest ’09 Update: It is Upon Us

After slaving away in our offices for the last number of months, the Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival is finally upon us. This coming Sunday, October 18, we kick off 10 days of the best and brightest of this year’s Jewish-related book releases. And in case you have missed our numerous blog updates, our official website and our Twitter feed (@DCJewishLitFest), here are some of my personal top choices (that is, if you can only attend a few out of our 10+ programs):

10/18 – local blogger Melissa Ford (yes, that’s right, the wife of CPO Josh Ford) joins us to discuss her new book Navigating the Land of IF: Understanding Infertility and Exploring Your Options. Visit her blog Stirrup-Queens for a little taste and then buy your tickets.

10/22 – Past Imperfect: New Jewish Fiction truly captures what this Festival is all about. Showcasing great writing, interesting personalities and Jewish tradition. Three authors (yes, THREE) come together from the West Coast, the Midwest and the East Coast to talk about their individual books. Moderator Professor Sheila Jelen will help tie all the books together with her questions and insight. Buy Tickets.

10/24 – LitFest breaks out of the 16th Street J and moves to Hillyer Art Space for a night of spoken word poetry performances by featured artist Jake Marmer and then locals. Looking for an activity to fill your 9pm slot? Buy tickets to this program and bring your friends!

10/27 – Dara Horn. I have no words. Not only does her personal biography (award-winning, published author at the age of 25) make me want to cry, but her writing is just beautiful. All of her books are well-researched, well-written and just good stories! She is a Jewish writer who is completely content being part of that category – and we love and thank her for  that. Buy your tickets to hear her talk about her latest book, a piece of historical fiction about a Jewish soldier during the Civil War.

And how can we even mention the Festival without talking about our Closing Night author? Historian and GWU Professor Emeritus Howard M. Sachar graces our stage on 10/28 to speak about “Current Israeli Myths and Realities: The Way to Peace.” What exactly does that mean? Well I guess you’ll just have to buy your  tickets and find out!

Philip Roth Will Not Be Here Saturday Night. Just His Work.

We’re sorry.

Although really it is the Washington Post’s fault. For some reason they thought that Philip Roth would be attending the Opening Night of the Hyman S. and Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival, which every year offers staged dramatic readings of work by some of the finest Jewish authors. One year we saluted Saul Bellow and Arthur Miller (both had recently passed away, they were not in-attendance either). One year we focused on stories about Jewish Urban Life. Last year we focused on Jewish Humor in Short Stories. This year we are honoring the 50th Anniversary of Roth’s groundbreaking novella Goodbye Columbus with dramatic adaptions from that and some of his other work, performed by four of Washington’s best actors.

So you should still come. Here’s why.

Philip won’t be there, but Neil Klugman will be. And Alexander Portnoy. And a version of the Philip Roth that appears in books like Patrimony and The Facts. The evening will be a way of looking at the work of an author widely acknowledged as one of the greatest writers of the last 50 years.

In the end it is the writing, and not the writer that matters most.

So we’re sorry if you are disappointed that Philip Roth won’t be there. In our defense, in none of our materials did we claim he would be — not even metaphorically — present. But we’ve got plenty of other writers who actually will be here, live and in the flesh, over the next two weeks. Great writers like Zoe Heller and Dara Horn and Binnie Kirshenbaum; important works of non-fiction about art in the Great Depression, the birth of Barbie, surviving infertility, a biography of Louis Brandeis and the amazing but true story of how the Israeli secret-service captured Adolf Eichmann.

The writer for the next 50 years is quite likely among our offerings. So, this is not how we wanted to get your attention. But since we now have it… you should come. Philip would want it that way.

Engaging Israel in Our Community: The Arts Programs of the Washington DCJCC

Theater J’s participation in the upcoming J Street Conference is part of a long-established and agency-wide tradition of engaging in conversations about Israeli society through a variety of artistic media, public lectures and policy debates. It is through this legacy of programming that the Washington DCJCC has established itself as a place where conversations about Israel from multiple viewpoints can take place. Because of our expertise in this area, Theater J agreed to participate in the J Street Conference around its discussions of “Culture as a Tool for Change.”

Over the thirteen years we have been at 16th and Q we have tackled almost every hot-button issue in Israeli society either through film, theater, literature, music or visual art. In presenting David Hare’s Via Dolorosa in 2000 we partnered to create the Peace Café in order to create the safe space to discuss many of these highly volatile and deeply felt issues. We have encountered the issue of the West Bank settlements in Motti Lerner’s play, Pangs of the Messiah, and how to confront an Iran with nuclear intentions in Benedictus. We have explored the lives of Israel’s gay and lesbian community through films like Yossi & Jagger, Orthodykes, Trembling Before God and Jerusalem is Proud to Present. We have explored the issue of foreign guest workers in Israel in films like James’ Journey to Jerusalem and plays like The Accident. We have grappled with the on-the-ground reality of relations between Israelis and Palestinians in films like Lemon Tree, The Bubble and Promises. We have shown documentaries that look at the role Palestinian laborers play in the life and economy of Jewish Israel in films like Another Road Home and Nine Star Hotel. On the walls and exhibition floor of the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery in the exhibit “L(A)TITUDES” we have grappled with different artists’ interpretations of the map of Israel and Palestine – showing everything from a map comprised of oranges meant to extend the plight of settlers evacuated from Gaza to the whole of Israel, to an abstract representation of what a two-state solution transport system would look like.

In all of these endeavors we have sought partners with which to discuss the real world issues the artwork raises. We have collaborated with everyone from the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, the Embassy of Israel, Taglit Birthright, the American Jewish Committee and the New Israel Fund, Jews United for Justice and Americans for Peace Now. Now we are partnering with J Street in a conference environment to examine what practical effects artwork and discussion of it have in-practice.  

We’re involved in J Street’s conference not because of its political agenda, but because of its spirited commitment to culture as a tool for energizing discussion and transformation in our Jewish community, and in bringing forth meaningful discourse between communities of different faiths.  The conference, entitled “Driving Change, Securing Peace” is presenting a number of highly informed, creative and committed Israeli and American-Jewish artists who represent a cutting edge, new generation of artists who, like J Street, see themselves as both pro-Israel, pro-dialogue, pro-peace, and pro-open cultural interchange.

While we do not endorse any of J Street’s specific policy positions, we do appreciate the opportunity to be included in the broader discussion they have convened.

Theater J, the professional theater of the Washington DC Jewish Community Center is participating only in the cultural track of the upcoming J Street Conference.  Theater J and the Washington DCJCC do not engage in legislative or political advocacy and our participation should not be construed as an  endorsement or sponsorship of other aspects of the conference or of J Street’s  programs and policies.

Here’s a complete list of the programs Theater J is participating in as part of the cultural offerings at the J Street Conference.

  • Sunday, October 25 at 5:15 pm : Pre-Conference Event – Arts and Activism in Troubled Times

A panel made up of artists active in Middle East issues, as well as artists involved in social causes on a local, national, and international stage. Presented by Theater J following the 3 pm matinee of Lost in Yonkers

  • Monday, October 26 at 8:00 pm:  Music – Rocking the Status Quo Party with JDub’s Soulico

Soulico, a DJ crew from Tel Aviv, is literally one of the biggest names there.  The music is a unique mix of hip-hop, Middle Eastern melodies, dancehall, and electro, in English, Hebrew, and Arabic.  Their debut album Exotic on the Speaker, is being released in October.  The group appeared at the Washington Jewish Music Festival in 2008, as have many JDub Bands throughout the years.

  • Television – John Marks and Search for Common Ground

Search for Common Ground’s founder John Marks discusses the groundbreaking soap operas that promote tolerance and reconciliation among Israelis and Palestinians.  The innovative peace building organization is the second largest producer of soap operas in the world.

  • Storytelling – Noa Baum’s A Land Twice Promised

Storyteller Noa Baum, an Israeli who began a heartfelt dialogue with a Palestinian woman while living in the U.S., weaves together their memories and their mothers’ stories. She creates a moving testimony illuminating the complex and contradictory history that surround Jerusalem for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

  • Short Film – Other Israel Film Festival presents 6.5 Minutes in Tel Aviv, Shnaim, and Roads

Founded in 2007, the Other Israel Film Festival, a program of the JCC in Manhattan, fosters awareness and understanding of Israel’s Arab citizens. Two short films from the festival explore the complex and unexpected connections between Israelis and Palestinians. Join Festival Director Isaac Zablocki for a conversation about the films and the festival.

  • Documentary Film – Just Vision previews Budrus Has a Hammer (working title)

In this upcoming documentary, a Palestinian community organizer unites political factions in a Gandhian struggle to save his village. Just Vision staff Ronit Avni, Julia Bacha, and Irene Nasser present selected scenes from this timely, powerful documentary and lead a discussion with the audience.

Later this season, Theater J will present its annual Voices From A Changing A Middle East Festivalwhich will continue to give voice to a variety of Israeli, American-Jewish, and Arab and Muslim-American writers, involving collaborations between Israeli and American designers, directors and more. In addition to our mainstage production, Hadar Galron’s Mikveh, Theater J will present additional readings by contemporary Israeli playwrights including: Savyon Liebrecht’s Apples from the Desert.  Readings will take place at both Theater J and the Embassy of Israel’s Jerusalem Hall.

And in case you haven’t heard, the 20th Washington Jewish Film Festival will be presenting the best in current Israeli cinema, beginning on its Opening Night on December 3rd, with the DC Premiere of A Matter of Size.

GLBT Families Come OUT to Decorate the Sukkah With GLOE

by Rachel Antonoff, intern for the Kurlander Program for Gay and Lesbian Outreach and Engagement (GLOE)

A sukkah is supposed to be built in a very specific, very open way.

Just a liiiiiittle higher!By that, I mean that the sukkah has some regulations for what can and cannot be done, but all with the intention of openness in mind: the walls must be strong enough not to fall over in the wind, with a minimum of three walls, covered with foliage for the roofing which may not be nailed down. The sukkah may not be a permanent fixture—you should put it up for Sukkot and take it down afterward, though the time frame is flexible—and it must be outdoors, so that you can see the stars through the roof, and there ought to be a doorway with no door.

The doorway with no door was always my favorite part of the rules: the sukkah is to be a place where anyone can hear and see what is happening inside and join in without any hesitation. No door means no barrier and no exclusion. And this past Sunday, Gay & Lesbian Outreach and Engagement (GLOE) and Early Childhood, Youth and Families at the 16th Street J opened the sukkah walls to LGBT and Allied families for “Come OUT and Decorate the Sukkah,” a morning filled with fun, games, learning, and nosh.

Spin That Hula Hoop!

Then we played some games: we threw bean bags into targets for prizes and ran relays, spun hula hoops and played tic-tac-toe, fulfilling the mitzvah of laughing and being merry on Sukkot.Shake Shake Shake

Lastly, what would a Jewish event be without food? One of the most important—and popular—mitzvot during sukkot is to eat under the sukkah, so we all enjoyed some kosher Krispy Kreme donuts and fresh apple cider from the first of the season’s apple harvest.

Families of all shapes and sizes came OUT to decorate our sukkah at the 16th Street J, and everyone had a fun morning!GLOE Sukkot 10-3-09046GLOE Sukkot 10-3-09034

GLOE and Early Childhood, Youth & Families hopes to see everyone again at our next event for LGBT families, “All Fired Up for Chanukah,” on December 6. We’ll be going to All Fired Up in DC and painting ritual holiday items to take home or to give as a gift. Registration is limited to ten families, so register as soon as possible to save your family a spot! Go to the website to RSVP and for more information. Can’t wait to see you there!

Lit Fest ’09 Update: Traditional Jewish Folklore Gets an Image Makeover from author Jonathon Keats

When a small, paperback advanced copy book appeared in the Lit Fest office one day many months ago, I didn’t pay much attention. We get hundreds of books sent to us (upon request or not), and a thin paperback is usually something we ignore. But a second copy of the book came, this time it was the final released version – still a paperback.

Though it isn’t a rule that we only host authors of hardcover books during Lit Fest, it is unusual for any of the books we choose to only appear in paperback. But this thin book kept popping up on the shelf and the mix of the big boys’ books. I finally picked it up and read the description.

The Book of the Unknown: Tales of the Thirty-six by Jonathon Keats.

Ok, interesting title. But then I read on. And I was surprised, amused and pleased. “A liar, a cheat, a degenerate, and a whore. These are the last people one might expect to be virtuous.” Oh! I  thought. THE 36, the Lamed-Vavniks, the 36 righteous individuals that exist across generations. The Jewish mysticism tells us that at any given moment, there are 36 individuals alive, without whom the world would come to an end.

This is a seriously Jewish book! Evoking Sholem Aleichem, S.Y. Agnon, Isaac Bashevis Singer and all of the other great Jewish storytellers, Jonathon Keats reminds us that Jewish storytelling is alive and well. Not only that, but he makes it a bit more relevant for our time. Though the time and setting of his stories are not defined, these stories clearly don’t take place in 21st Century America. However, it’s also not clear that they take place in 15th Century Europe, either. It is ambiguous. All we know is that these characters live in traditional, rural villages. And here is another twist: they are righteous, but they are not perfect. They use their un-ordinary qualities – theft, prostitution, etc. – for  good! They save the whole village by sleeping with everyone’s husbands, they teach the  villagers moral lessons by stealing what is most important.

Each character plays their role in the village or city, and no matter what the role is, it is crucial to the stability of the town.

Ok, so now you all know that the book is fantastic and interesting. But let’s just visit the author for a moment. Jonathon Keats. Not a huge name, but a huge image. Coming to us from Northern California, Mr. Keats is a writer, author and conceptual artist. He is a character, to put it simply. Some of his credits include: attempting to create God in a petri dish in a lab at UC Berkeley, customizing the metric system for individuals according to their own body’s rhythm, sitting in a gallery and thinking for 24 hours and selling his thoughts as art to patrons. Seriously. Just read his Wikipedia page!

And watch his interview, too:

Oh, and that bowtie. Pretty sure he’ll be sporting that when he visits us for the Lit Fest program “Past Imperfect: New Jewish Fiction” on Thursday, October 22.

Now I’ll be straight with you: yes, I am supposed to be a cheerleader for all of our programs. I mean, I helped plan all of them. But honestly, this fiction panel is one of the best events we’re offering. This panel features  fantastic authors – Binnie Kirshenbaum and Norah Labiner in addition to Keats  – and is moderated by Professor Sheila Jelen, my all-time favorite Jewish studies and English lit professor from my alma mater, University of Maryland. And on top of all of  this, this program features the authors in the Lit Fest that will be travelling  the farthest distances to be with us: from Northern California and Twin Cities, Minnesotta.

So we invite all of you to join us for this fantastic program – which is one of MY favorite’s in the Festival. Get a taste of West Coast, Midwest and East Coast Jewish literature all in one healthy dose. Explore the pasts of multiple Jewish characters, some modern and some not. And most of all, support new Jewish fiction writers, who pour their heart and soul into creating something completely new and original in order to contribute to the great Jewish literary tradition.

Vote For Your Jewish Anti-Hero

There’s been a phenomenon barrelling up and down the tubes of the Jewish internets which plays to the one of the great traditions in our communal life: the giving and receiving of awards. Most prominent of these is the Jewish Community Heroes Campaign organized by our friends at the United Jewish Communities. This is really a great program and you should go and vote before the deadline on October 8.

That said, the more I think about it, the more I think that in addition to celebrating our heroes — the do-gooders and activists, we should also take a moment to recognize our Jewish anti-heroes. For those unfamiliar with the term let me stress that anti-heroes are not villains. There are no gangsters or bad guys on this list. Every one of them has made important contributions to the arts, culture, politics or society. And yet, they are too obviously flawed to be heroic. Still, to varying degrees (Franz Kafka more than Amy Winehouse) we honor their accomplishments which are inseparable from their flaws.

This is my list. It is arbirtrary and scattershot. You are welcome to suggest your own Jewish Anti-Hero. Unlike the UJC’s campaign, I do not have $25,000 to give to the winner or their designated organization. And while the Jewish Heroes Campaign reminds us that there are many ways to serve our community, it is also a reminder that those outsiders, who sometimes find themselves apart from community, have much to contribute as well.

Updated: For some reason I can’t get the PollDaddy widget to display the replies for “Other.” So I’ll periodically add them below. Feel free to vote for them as well.

Daniel Sieradski
net-roots nominee (3)
Larry David
– comedian, millionaire schlub, misanthrope (2)
Walter Sobchak
-technically inelligible since he is a fictional character (2)
Woody Allen
, director, asshole, Polanski apologist
Heinrich Heine – romantic poet, apostate, sufferer from chronic lead poisoning
Carrie Fisher – celebrity spawn, geek sex-symbol, former addict
Amira Hass – journalist, radical, Hamas sympathizer
Meyer Lansky – never convicted of anything, former Miami Beach resident
Orly Taitz – Dentist, Lawyer, Birther
Jesus – Nice Jewish boy. Caused trouble for his parents. Needs a haircut.
Roman Polanski – artiste, bon vivant, child rapist

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