Washington History: The Day the Earth Stood Still at the JCC

With apologies to Twentieth Century Fox, below is a re-cut, nine-minute version of the classic 1951 film, The Day the Earth Stood Still. Why you ask? Because our CEO was watching the movie when she noticed a familiar sight, which comes onscreen just before the seven-minute mark. Along with some great shots of 1950s DC, is a vintage look at the corner of 16th and Q. Enjoy.

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On samovars and piles of books

I wanted to rescue the books.

Sitting there, orphaned, on the folding tables of the J’s Used Book Sale. Given away by their previous parents, waiting for someone new to pick them up and take them home. Last Thursday, in between all my anthropomorphizing, I saw plenty of books I just couldn’t imagine someone wanting to give away.

Granted, some of the books, I could absolutely imagine people wanting to give away.

Granted, we were very grateful to all the people who donated their books to support the Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival (and grateful to all those who bought books).

But still, I marveled at how certain books were donated, how they weren’t snatched up immediately, and finally, how they ended up in a charity pile.

It will come as no shock to you that I have multiple filled bookshelves at home. If there was a fire, or if I had to leave in a hurry, I’d probably grab a few volumes with my other valuables. I know not everyone has the same fixation on books, but what we value isn’t always logical or easy to carry or treasured by others.

This year’s Opening Night of the Lit Fest focuses on the lives of Jewish immigrants. Actors will be dramatizing the works of authors who explore this topic – what we choose to bring with us and what we leave behind as we make and remake our homes. Some of those things are physical.

Going through the items in my grandmother’s house after she passed, we found old prayer books in the back of a closet. They were printed in Eastern Europe over a hundred years ago with elaborate title pages, and I’m sure they are valuable only to my family. In my other grandmother’s house is a large, brassy Russian samovar, which hasn’t served tea in 75 years, but has sat on her buffet since being schlepped from Lithuania by her mother at the turn of the last century.

What do we take with us and what do we leave behind?

Obviously, they came with other things, too, not the least of which includes cultures and perspectives. If I value books and the arts and food, then I remain connected to those generations before me. If I value my openness to the world and the urge to take in what is new to me, then I remain connected, as well.

One of the books I rescued from the Used Book Sale was Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. I’ve never read it. I was on the phone with my mother, telling her about the fourteen books I couldn’t help myself from buying, and I mentioned that title. She says, “Oh, I love that book! You have to be in the mood for a Russian novel, but…” and we start talking about Russian novels. The lines between what we take with us and what we leave behind are a bit blurrier three generations later.

Honey Cake, Hold the Sin, er…nuts

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

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a time of hope, reflection and great optimism.  Along with the prayers that mark the occasion  the foods we eat are a way to ensure sweetness in the year ahead. 

Honey cake is the much revered and traditional dessert at the holiday table.  It may be superstition that keeps us eating this sweet, but it’s one that’s been handed down through the generations and certainly can’t do us any harm! Take the opportunity to wish your friends and family sweetness in the new year and to carry on a delicious tradition. 

There is some debate as to whether or not to put NUTS in the honey cake.  The Hebrew word for walnut is אגוז-“egoz” and its numerical value is 17 (much like הי -“chai”/life is 18).  17 is also the numerical value for חטא-“het” the Hebrew word for sin.  During the holiday we are asking forgiveness for our sins and so some say that to eat walnuts would be putting sins into our body.  Those who are especially cautious (some might say especially superstitious) avoid all nuts during the holiday.  Sort of the “better to be safe than sorry” model for living.  But if you love nuts, why not throw in a handful of pecans.

Honey cakes come in many forms, some dense and spicy, others filled with raisins.  My favorite is one that tastes primarily of honey and is not overcome by other flavors.  

ROSH HASHANAH (and all year round) delicious Honey Cake

Zest of 1 lemon or orange (large or small pieces are fine)    1 cup water
1 cup honey
½ cup brown sugar packed (I like dark)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs (large or extra large)
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda

Preparation time is about 15 minutes
Baking time about 1 hour
Yields about 10 slices

Preheat oven to 325

  1. Combine zest and water in a small sauce pan and heat to a boil for 1 minute, remove from stove, cover and set aside
  2. Combine oil, honey and brown sugar and mix well (wooden spoon or electric mixer)
  3. Add eggs 1 at a time beating/mixing well after each one
  4. Strain zest from water and discard zest
  5. Add 1/3 cup of the warm water to the bowl and beat on low speed 1 minute or with wooden spoon for 1 minute
  6. Add flour and baking soda slowly as you mix in
  7. Put in last 1/3 of lemon or orange water and mix until smooth  (Batter will be very thin)
  8. Pour into a greased loaf pan (9”5”)  (spraying well with Pam or the like is best)
  9. Place loaf pan on a baking sheet.
  10. Bake until cake springs back when touched very lightly in the center or when a wooden pick inserted in the center, comes clean, about 1 hour
  11. Cool cake in pan 15 minutes, turn out

This cake lasts throughout the holiday so enjoy.  Keep fresh by covering  with tin foil or plastic wrap.

Remember to add honey to your homemade round challah and to dip it into honey, rather than the salt used for dipping on Shabbat. If you want to go all out, keep all bitter or sour foods off the table for your holiday meal.

And finally, be sure to say the blessing that marks the festive occasion:
“May it be Thy will to renew unto us a good and sweet year.” 

And so is our wish to you and your families from the staff at the Washington DCJCC.

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