Painting with a Purpose

February seems to be a busy birthday month! How do you celebrate your birthday when you hit a milestone? This month Lloyd turned 60 and Josh turned 40, and on two separate occasions we coordinated Behrend Builders projects for them.
It just so happens that Lloyd is a fabulous photographer and has artist friends. With the help of his friend Judy Beth they drew an amazing mural on one of the walls at Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV). With images of its founder Mitch Snyder and other community members surrounded by a colorful tapestry, there was so much to paint that Lloyd’s 50 birthday party guests didn’t get the mural finished. Though the mural is still a work in progress, all 50 guests had a great time and felt like they really made a difference for the residents. The mural fills one of the residential hallways, and the inhabitants that came in and out throughout the day were thrilled to see the bright colors as opposed to the usual white wall.

Bright colors weren’t the request at Transitional Housing Corporation’s (THC) Partner Arms I. This amazing facility is one of THC’s many apartment buildings focused on helping the homeless become self-sufficient. THC asked for a clean coat of crisp white paint through the apartment building, and that’s what Josh and his party guests gave them. We provided supplies, connections and support for the project while Josh and his wife brought their friends, pizza and a cake to celebrate his birthday.

Both parties were a great way to not only celebrate milestone birthdays but a way to give back to the community. While Lloyd and his partner Ruth made a donation to help support the costs of the project, Josh asked his friends, in lieu of gifts, to please make a donation to Behrend Builders. It was a win-win for everyone!

Keep Behrend Builders and the Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service in your mind for celebrations. We can custom make a project to your wants and needs. It’s a great way to give back to the community, celebrate your birthday, bat mitzvah, retirement and have fun all at the same time. For more information contact Erica Steen at

Monday Media: Ursula Hegi Podcast

We’re excited to begin offering a new batch of podcasts from our 2011 Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival. In this recording from Saturday, October 29th, 2011, author Ursula Hegi talks about her newest book Children and Fire. Like her bestseller Stones from the River, the book is set in the fictional town of Burgdorf, Germany in the early days of the Third Reich. Hegi illuminates the beginnings of the iron fist of Nazism over Germany and its people, examining how one joyful and gifted teacher can become seduced by propaganda and encourage her 10-year-old students to join Hitler Youth.

Right click and “save link as” to download as an MP3
Or listen online here

Jazz and the Israeli Soul

Why are there SO many Israeli Jazz artists? Over the years, many have considered this question, including JazzTimes and NPR’s All Things Considered. Most of the Israel jazz musicians in America have gravitated to New York, and from what I can tell, a lot of them are buddies and band-mates.

Is there something about Jazz that is uniquely appealing to the Israeli soul? The youth, the energy, the chaos? Your guess is as good as mine. But check out the big band stylings of rising Israeli star Eyal Vilner and groove on the Holy Land’s latest contribution to American culture…American culture.

Shabbat Surfing: Presidents’ Day Edition

 In honor of Presidents’ Day on Monday, this week’s Shabbat Surfing brings you a sampling of fun facts about the Jews and the Racing Presidents.

Image from Flickr user Scott Ableman via

George Washington wrote his famous letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island following his visit the state after its ratification of the Constitution. Citizens of Newport, including Congregation Yeshuat Israel of Touro Synagogue, greeted Washington and offered their support of his presidency. Washington’s famous reply not only thanked the Jews of Newport for their hospitality, but also reassured them of religious freedom.   

In 1801, Thomas Jefferson appointed the first Jew to a federal post when he appointed Reuben Etting as United States Marshal for Maryland.  Etting’s appointment is also significant because at the time, Jews were unable to hold elected office in Maryland due to a required oath of Christianity.  

Abraham Lincoln was in office when rabbis were first able to serve as chaplains in the United States Army. Lincoln’s original chaplaincy bill stipulated that chaplains must be “regularly ordained clergyman of some Christian denomination” was replaced by its amended version that a chaplain must be a “minister of some religious denomination” in 1862.  

Teddy Roosevelt really won when he appointed Oscar S. Straus to his Cabinet as Secretary of Commerce and Labor. According to the 1906 New York Times article regarding his appointment, Straus “will be the first Jew ever appointed to a Cabinet position by a President of the United States. Judah P. Benjamin was in the Confederate Cabinet under President Davis.”

Book Trailer: Art Spiegelman’s Metamaus

Yesterday in the literary programming office we had a fascinating conversation on what it takes to be a literary genius. It it enough to be a master of your craft? Or do you have to do something completely groundbreaking?

We all agreed, however that whatever your definition, Art Spiegelman’s got the goods.

Legend has it that years ago when Art Spiegelman came here for Nextbook DC, he chain smoked throughout the entire lecture. This time around he’s promised to keep it smoke-free, so  I can only imagine that he’ll be covered in nicotine patches as he discusses his newest work, Metamaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus on March 26 as part of Authors Out Loud.

You Had Me at Shalom: LGBT Jewish Speed Dating

In a town where everyone seems to know everyone (or claims to), we managed to make hundreds of new matches among 125 queer Jews (and our friends) in the DC area.

“You Had Me at Shalom: LGBT Jewish Speed Dating” gathered GLOE‘s singles for schmoozing at the Hotel Palomar in Dupont Circle on Saturday night, February 4. Most people showed up in first-date finest with open minds and ready to see who would sit down at their tables. The mood was light and everyone got chatty pretty fast.

Pre-matching by a secret team of romance mavens assured that no one dated their ex or anyone else they indicated on their “Hell no!” list when registering. (We may have called it something less inflammatory…)

Daters could indicate their levels of Jewish observance (or non-observance, or cultural Jewishness, or that they were “non-Jewish/Jewish-in-spirit”), and who they were open to being matched with. They could also add things about age range, sexuality and gender identity, and a few other basics.

Now, there was also another box for important other information that didn’t fit anywhere else. We were pretty clear about what this box was for.

Still, we got several epic tomes in this box about wanting to be matched with someone who liked long walks on the beach every 3rd Thursday, worked out a lot but not too much, listened to Chicago-style blues but not New Orleans-style, and was interested in Hegelian dialectics only so far as they are related to metaphysics. Oh, and they have to be hot. We could arrange that, right?

We assured these people that these would be excellent topics of conversation for the actual speed date.

Our drag yenta emcee, Silvia Sparklestein, kept everyone in line, and by the end of the night plenty of matches were made, including through the “caught my eye” option at the bottom of the dating card. Many eyes were caught that evening.

We hope people read the naming clause at the bottom of registration, wherein any pets that come from couples made at You Had Me at Shalom must be named after GLOE. Like, GLOEy the retriever. Or, Glo-glo the pomeranian.

One thing we heard, over and over again, was how happy people were to have this kind of event – that there’s Jewish speed dating and LGBT speed dating, but not where they intersect.

Since GLOE lives in those intersecting spaces, we loved being able to help people in the community meet. And we also loved being able use the phrase “drag yenta emcee,” as often as possible. So, win-win.
A few initial photos below…

(Also, check Metro Weekly’s great shots of the event, and their hilarious video interviewing our daters, asking, “What makes a first date special?“)

(Photos credit: Josh Siegel)

Do We Need Black History Month?

36 years after Black History Week expanded to a month, Shukree Hassan Tilghman asks the provocative question, “Do we need Black History Month?”  In his film, More Than a Month, Tilghman examines how Black History Month has evolved and brings into question how we teach history in this country.  What is the role of Black history in the greater scope of American history?  By designating a month, do we time-bound and limit the attention we give to Black history in America?  Who does Black history belong to?  This film offers a great opportunity to see how these interesting issues are being addressed within the African American community, and in the nation as a whole.

More Than a Month will screen at the DCJCC on February 26 as part of our Community Cinema Café series in partnership with the Independent Television Service (ITVS) and PBS’s Independent Lens.

Monday Media: Oprah on Jewish.TV

Oprah Winfrey’s two-part episode of “Oprah’s Next Chapter” on ultra-Orthodox Jews began last night on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. You can catch the second part tonight at 9 pm (great teaser here).

Chabad’s Rabbi Motti Seligson interviews Oprah about her experience with the Hasidic community and her thoughts on Hasidic family life.

A Note From The Kinsey Sicks

Grace here. For a moment anyway, but no one can express themselves quite like the Kinseys, so I wanted to share with you a lovely note that Irwin Keller, one of the group’s founders, wrote for us back in 2010. It’s a great reminder of why these irrepressible ‘ladies’ bring so much joy to the J. Sadly, they and their fabulous world premiere Electile Dysfunction: The Kinsey Sicks for President!  have to leave us on the 19th, so hurry to, as DC Theatre Scene puts it in their rave review, “swing your vote their way and stop in. Do your duty, people.”

Photo by C. Stanley Photography


You’re probably asking: what is this bunch of overly pancaked, gaudily dressed, atrociously coiffed divas doing at Theater J?

But enough about the audience. Let’s talk about The Kinsey Sicks.

For nearly 18 years The Kinsey Sicks have been shoveling dumploads of Jewish angst, queer politics, overt silliness, less overt erudition, an adolescent attachment to the vulgar and an abiding love of music into our productions.

But nu, are we Jewish?

Early in our career we were asked to perform at what is now a San Francisco institution: “Kung Pao Kosher Comedy”—a Christmas event for Jews. The producer asked, “Do you have Jewish material?” “Tons,” we crowed. She hired us.  And then we sat down to come up with some.

But writing Jewish came naturally. Ben Schatz, our chief songwriter, merely had to open his mouth and something Jewish would come out. Something about worry, food, assimilation or the undeniable attractiveness of gentiles. From there it was just a short jump and we were singing litanies of Jewish feminist heroes and doing production numbers in Yiddish, careful to make the mother tongue the premise, not the butt, of the joke.

But it doesn’t matter how many Jewish references we have. It doesn’t matter how many Jewish members we have. We have a Jewish outlook. We see the absurdity around us and choose to laugh. We recognize the inability of people ever to really understand each other, and find amusement in it. We are aware of the ultimate misguidedness of hope, and persist in hoping anyway. Very Jewish.

We are delighted to come home to Theater J and we welcome you into the world of The Kinsey Sicks.

Cheat Sheet for Tu B’Shvat

For some reason Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish new year for trees, doesn’t get as much attention as some of the more well known Jewish holidays. Perhaps it’s due to the lack of a central image and/or salient theme that might make it more memorable. Hanukkah’s got the timeless menorah, Purim has the hamantashen and grogger, and Passover’s chock full of matzah and red wine. Not the case with Tu B’Shvat. This holiday is defined by trees–a broad, universal signifier that is in no way inherently Jewish.

Tu B’Shvat is, however, a classically Jewish holiday with its own characteristics and customs that in many ways are as traditionally Jewish as dipping the apple in the honey (plus it’s got one of the most hummable songs in the Jewish holiday canon). Below are several of the well known (and less well known) ways of celebrating the 24-hour holiday (which occurs on the fifteenth day of the Jewish month of Shvat, February 8, 2012, AKA today).

1) The Tu B’Shvat seder deviates from the Passover seder with its abundance of exotic fruits, fruits juices, and wine to the exclusion of all other foods. Imagine a meal comprised almost entirely of fruit sampling. A Tu B’Shvat seder is a great excuse to try ambarella, mamoncillo, santol and a bunch of other kinds of fruit you never knew existed.

2)  I have a distinct memory from our Tu B’Shvat seder in yeshiva of a rabbi tracing back this tradition to the mystical enclave of Tzfat in the 1500s. The kabbalists held that eating fruit on Tu B’Shvat serves as a tikkun (a way of repairing) the sin of Adam and Eve. So according to that esoteric strain of thought, munching on unusual fruit is as good as ignoring a loquacious serpent!

3) Tu B’Shvat  is also a festival rooting the Jews to their land. It’s not unusual for schools in Israel to host tree-plantings on the festival,  and for schools in America to host fundraisers to plant trees in Israel. At the very least, Tu B’Shvat serves as the most ecologically-aware date on the Jewish calendar.

So whether you’re planting cedars, consuming date wine, or “repairing” a millenia-old sin, Tu B’Shvat is a day to take a step back and admire our world’s marvelous fruit and trees!

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