Shabbat Surfing: DC Chefs Go Kosher Part II

Jewish food is “in” right now and we couldn’t been happier. Combine that with top-n0tch DC chefs and we’re anxiously awaiting the fine kosher fair to be had at our annual gala on April 3. Two weeks ago we featured the first half of our accomplished chefs. We are now at the second half and have no doubts that their creative takes on traditional Jewish favorites will have us even more excited about this new food trend.

Chef Billy Klein is a passionate supporter of local food and uses ingredients from neighborhood farmer’s markets in his incredible dishes at Cafe Saint-Ex.

Chef Barry Koslow of DGS Delicatessan (coming to Dupont Circle this summer) was recently named DC’s best Jewish chef by Forward Magazine.

Chef Harper McClure once worked on an organic farm and skillfully brings style to the “historic-gets-hip” cuisine at The Federalist.

Seasonal Pantry, the brainchild of Chef Dan O’Brien, hosts incredibly successful supper clubs three times a week. Chef O’Brien draws up fully-illustrated menus to feed his innovation.

Chef Robert Weland plans to plant an on-site garden at Cork. He is driven by finding new things to incorporate into his dishes, such as the recently highlighted tangerine lace.

Creative, talented chefs paired with reinvented kosher Jewish favorites spells a true foodie’s delight. Bon apetite!

Parenting Towards Passover

Like most parents I know, I generally feel that I’m doing a pretty mediocre job of balancing the competing demands of young children, work, household responsibilities etc.  This feeling often gets exacerbated around Jewish holidays.  I would love to be the kind of Jewish Supermom who comes home from work, engages her children in meaningful discussions of the upcoming festival (complete with relevant Hebrew vocabulary and a craft project or two), and then whips up the perfect holiday feast from scratch after they go to bed. 

Sadly, this is far from my reality.  Time is scarce, life is busy, my kids don’t particularly enjoy being engaged in meaningful discussion, and, although generations of families who have taken my classes at the J’s Parenting Center might imagine otherwise, I actually hate doing crafts projects at home.   So I tend to limp across the finish line of each holiday, trying at least to read one seasonally appropriate book (usually courtesy of the PJ Library, a fantastic resource) and maybe teach the kids one song that fits the occasion so that they can make me look good in front of the grandparents. 

But my challenge to myself this year is to find low-stress but more hands-on ways to engage my kids in the lead-up to each holiday, and specifically, right now, to involve them more meaningfully in preparations for Passover, which begins next week.  Now, I have the serious advantage of having my children at the J’s preschool, where they do Passover-themed art projects, learn songs, and even have their own SederAnd the Seder itself presents many great opportunities for kid involvement, from the Four Questions to Ten Plagues to the afikomen hunt.  But how to make them active participants as we get ready for Passover at home, given the huge demands that the preparations already place on my own time and energy?

I’ve set small goals – to involve the kids in at least one or two preparatory activities and to sneak in some meaningful discussion along the way.  So this week, they are “helping” me clean the house for Passover by spending a few minutes after school each evening sorting through the toys in their toy bins and making a (so far very small) pile of stuff that they no longer play with.  It’s not a tremendous amount of help, but it does make them feel invested in the process, and it gives us a chance to talk as we work about the Passover story and why we clean out all of our chametz. 

And in the frantically busy day leading up to the first Seder, I will try to find at least 20 minutes for us to make haroset together, using an easy recipe like this one. While we watch the food processor grind, we might talk about why we put haroset on the seder plate, and hopefully that will lead to a discussion of the symbolism of the other seder plate elements as well.  And if I need to keep the kids occupied while I get some other cooking done, having them color in printable seder plates like these  will give them something of their own to contribute to the Seder table.  (This doesn’t count as a crafts project in my book – I can handle crayons as long as there is no glue or paint involved). 

Hopefully, this year, I will feel like I’ve guided my kids into the holiday with a bit more intentionality.  I may not be the Jewish Supermom of my dreams, but it’s a start.

For lots more fun and easy ways to involve your kids in the celebration of Passover, check out the Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning’s Passover resources page.

The Bread of Affliction

Passover has two critical teachings. The first is that in every generation, l’dor vador, we retell the story. But it’s not just enough to recite the words—we need to help the listener understand, reinventing and reimagining the story of the Exodus for this generation in a way that resonates. you have to tell it effectively. Like any good story, it has to have drama and meaning, heroes and heroines. The Haggadah has it all: Who could argue that the story isn’t dramatic? It also has meaning—after all, our identity as a people grows out of this experience. Moses and Miriam also emerge as leaders for the ages.

The Passover seder is filled with symbols of both oppression and freedom that help us tell this story—for instance, the parsley connotes springtime, the egg reminds us of the possibility of rebirth, and the maror (bitter herbs) give us a literal taste of the bitterness of slavery.

The second lesson lies in the ultimate symbol of the Passover seder, the matza. Sometimes referred to as the Bread of Affliction, it is a sobering reminder of our experiences as slaves. As we hold up the matza we say, “This is the bread of affliction, the poor bread, which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in want, share the hope of Passover.” (URJ Haggadah)

The Haggadah’s statement “This is the bread of affliction,” Ha Lahma Anya, contains one of the most significant lessons of the Passover story. In my own childhood, we had seders of thirty-five or more people, and yet my mother always found room for anyone who found themselves in need of a seder. Here at the DCJCC, Passover is not the only time we think about Ha Lahma Anya. There are hungry people in our community every day. The drama and the lessons of Passover remind us to reach out and help those whose basic needs aren’t being met on a daily basis.

My mother’s example helps me guide the mission of the Center, as we continue to go into our community and take notice and action on behalf of those in need.  As you celebrate Passover, take a look around and reach a hand out to those in your community and beyond.

Carole R. Zawatsky is the CEO of the Washington DCJCC

Media Monday: Alicia Oltuski’s Precious Objects

Today’s podcast from the Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival features Alicia Oltuski’s fascinating talk on Precious Objects: A Story of Diamonds, Family, and a Way of Life.

Alicia Oltuski, a 26-year-old journalist and daughter of a diamond dealer, takes readers behind-the-scenes to reveal the shrouded inner workings of the diamond industry and some of its most fascinating characters. Combining interviews with family, friends, dealers, craftsmen, gemologists, scientists, detectives and entrepreneurs with historical research, Oltuski lifts the curtain on the extraordinary world of diamonds.

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

Speaking for the “Broader Jewish Community”: On Trans Rabbis

What's a rabbi supposed to look like?

Over sandwiches, enjoying the gorgeous weather on a Dupont Circle patio, my friend told me about his exclusion from rabbinical school.

He was told in fairly clear terms that his rejection notice came not because he is a Jew by choice or that they questioned his depth of Jewish learning, but because he’s trans.

The school, considered one of the more “liberal,” was just not so sure about him – Had he really fully developed all his ideas about being a man yet? Was he a “transsexual” rabbi or a rabbi who was trans? Has he considered that maybe he just wasn’t sure about being a man yet?

And did he really think the “broader Jewish community” would accept him?

Yeah, he really does think that they would.
As do I.
As do a lot of people.

This worry about the “broader Jewish community” came from faculty and administrators who, at one time, were themselves rejected from rabbinical schools because they are women, or people of color, or Jews by choice. They, themselves, had others concerned that the “broader Jewish community” would never want them. That their difference was “too much.”

Beyond the fact that they had no right or reason to question how sure he was about his gender identity any more than they’d question anyone else’s, their questions hit at something much deeper:

At what point do we stop throwing each other under the bus in regards to difference? When do we stop letting others work hard to gain acceptance for pieces of our own different identities, and then turn around and try to shut the door behind ourselves? Each step we take forward does not have to come at someone else’s expense – a lesson trans people know all too well, from within the LGBT community itself – because we are so worried about some imaginary version of the broader community and what we think it will accept.

That is not my version of the Jewish community.

As a Jew, I am deeply offended that these people presume such a level of bigotry in the broader Jewish community, especially when I see so much evidence to the contrary around me, in communities ranging from secular to observant. It’s insulting to all of us who care about social justice and equality and valuing everyone, AND see them as vital tenets of our Jewish identities.

Further, by using that phrase, the school’s committee members separate themselves, saying that their reputation for being more open and welcoming may exist, but that “other Jews” wouldn’t be so open-minded.

Our actual Jewish communities include many rabbis and leaders who do not look like some stereotypical version of what a rabbi “should” look like – we are Jews of color, women, non-Ashkenazi, Jews by choice… and yes, even lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender or genderqueer (LGBT). To think that the “broader Jewish community” wouldn’t accept such a rabbi, erases the existence of other queer and trans folks as members of our communities already.

When they thought of “Jewish life,” their image clearly didn’t include any LGBT people as part of that life. If they had, it would’ve been obvious to them that there are plenty of people who would be interested in my friend as their rabbi – not just because he’s warm and intelligent and spiritually-engaged – but precisely because he’s trans.

Part of the reason that GLOE exists is because in too many places Jews have been made to feel that they can either be Jewish OR that they can be LGBT; we stand as evidence that these pieces are far from mutually exclusive.

It is not incidental that we are part of a larger Jewish organization.
That we are embraced by that larger Jewish organization.
That we are active in all parts of both Jewish and LGBT life here – still LGBT in Jewish spaces, and we bring our Jewishness to LGBT life in the city.

This year, at GLOE’s National Rainbow Seder, we will highlight heroes of various freedom and equality movements throughout history. Many of those heroes were queer Jews, though frequently that fact remained unknown in their lifetimes. They understood that Passover’s lessons of working toward freedom don’t exist in a vacuum, separate from who we are. Rather, those intersections are where we  – where we all – gain strength and gain power.

To pretend that it is anything less critical, less significant, hurts everyone. That is to say, it hurts the broader Jewish community.

Latest Spinozium Tally as Sold Out Shows Multiply and April 1 Vote Approaches

We’ve been asking audiences to respond–in ballots at the theater and online —to a question which will be more fully debated on April 1st at our “Spinozium…”


The Background:  In 1952, David Ben-Gurion, in between terms as Israel’s prime minister, appealed to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel to cancel the “cherem” (the religious banishment) on Spinoza. The Rabbinate rejected the appeal, arguing that they were not competent to overrule the wisdom of the rabbis who signed the original writ in Amsterdam on July 27, 1656.  Theater J now turns to its own audience to ask, “if you had the power, would you move to reverse Spinoza’s excommunication?”

As of 6 pm, March 17, 2012, votes from theater-goers and online follows are:

436 YES

72 NO


2 split votes

Comment of the day:

“He’s better off without them!”

The Shabbatluck Phenomenon

Shabbat potlucks are popping up everywhere. In Cincinnati, Shabbat potlucks are making a difference, as people rave about the strong sense of community these dinners bring. One young professional from that community shared: “It was, and is, amazing to be a part of this young Jewish community. We marveled that people, clearly of so many different backgrounds that, quite honestly, would never socialize together outside of the Jewish scene, came together to enjoy each other’s company and share in Shabbat.” Right here in DC hundreds of Jewish young professionals gather for informal Shabbat dinners through Washington DCJCC’s Shabbat cluster program.

What is it about Shabbat potlucks that win everyone over? Is it the relaxed, informal, ambiance that makes meeting other Jewish people easier? It can certainly be less of a scene and a more intimate way to forge relationships (though for some, big organizational dinners are actually less intimidating).

Or is it the grassroots community-building that has Shabbat potlucks booming among young adults? We also see this grassroots community building with independent minyanim, like DC Minyan at Rosh Pina at the Washington DCJCC. New forms of community are also increasing at an exponential rate, such as Moishe Houses and Ravenna Kibbutz in Seattle, which serve as centers for Jewish conversation and social gathering.  In fact, a recent study entitled “Generation of Change: How Leaders in Their Twenties and Thirties Are Reshaping Jewish Life,” conducted under the auspices of the AVI CHAI Foundation, reveals that greater proportions of young leaders stand aloof from establishment organizations. Independent programs and start-ups have been created by young leaders as an alternative. The Presentense ConnectGen Felllowship is a program that assists these young leaders launch their entrepreneurship or intrapreneurship. One venture through the Washington DCJCC and the ConnectGEN program is a Young Professional Service Learning trip to Assist/Visit Holocaust Survivors in Miami Beach, FL from June 14-19.

But perhaps young Jewish professionals gravitate to Shabbat Potlucks because it gives them a sense of a home away from home.  For many young professionals in DC, ones hometown is often thousands of miles away. Home-cooked potlucks, with everyone contributing a different dish, can create a surrogate home.  On college campuses thousands of Jewish college students flock to campus the Chabad Houses for that very reason. A study entitled, “Home Away From Home: A Research Study of the Shabbos Experience on Five University Campuses: An Information Model for Working with Young Jewish Adults,” conducted by Experiential Jewish Education Scholars Robert Chazan & David Bryfman, discusses the appeal of Chabad for providing a warm family environment to students. They find that young adults who are in the developmental stage of separating from home and family crave the warmth and roots that home represents. Interestingly, the study discloses that even female college students with stronger feminist ideologies assisted the Rabbi’s wife (often on Thursdays) prior to Shabbat dinner and helped her prepare the large Shabbat meals. This need for a home away from home can certainly translate to the desires of young professionals as well.

In my own personal experience as a young professional in New York and Washington DC, I can affirm that these informal Shabbat dinners were definitely a seminal part of my young adult life. I have many fond memories of Shabbat potlucks on Upper West Side rooftops, great conversations with girls that became best friends, and some of the most interesting people I have met. If you have never tried one before, I urge you to create your own. Most of the work involved is the coordination–send out an Evite to people  from different places, co- workers, a friend from the gym, old friends, or new friends and create a wonderful  Shabbat event in your home!

What are your thoughts about this growing phenomenon among young Jewish adults?

Monday Media: Hadag Nahash

Have you heard Israeli Hip-Hop superstars Hadag Nahash? They’re basically the coolest band in Israel today–amazing musicians with  a mighty social conscience.  And they’re coming direct from Israel to the Fillmore Silver Spring this May 10! Get to know Hadag Nahash and their tunes with this fun video.





Shabbat Surfing: DC Chefs Go Kosher

DC is known for many things–but not for it’s glut of kosher restaurant options (currently the District boasts all of two, including our own Distrikt Bistro). That’s why this April 3 is so special. This year the DCJCC’s annual gala features some of DC’s hottest chefs as they take a fresh look at traditional Jewish cuisine. We’re  honored to be featuring some of the finest chefs in town:

Chef Phillip Blane’s Unum Restaurant was recently featured by Tom Sietsema in his Washington Post review. Readers have ranked it 4/4 stars and we’re all looking forward to visiting his tasting station.

Chef Tony Chittum’s Vermilion hosted the Obamas for Valentine’s Day dinner last month. Presidential Seal of Approval!

Greg Engert, Beer Director of Neighborhood Restaurant Group (which owns Birch and Barley, right in the J’s neighborhood!), is a James Beard Award semi-finalist for Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional. He’ll be joining us to provide some outstanding pairings for our chefs’ original creations.

Chef Todd Gray of Equinox took home the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington’s 2011 Chef of the Year RAMMY Award. We’re honored that he’ll be joining us again this year and are anxiously awaiting his reinvented Jewish classic.

With this sampling of culinary achievement, we’re counting down the days until the Gala. Stay tuned for more news on the second half of our featured chefs.

Srugim is Back Next Tuesday!

From the Desk of Susan Barocas, Director of the Washington Jewish Film Festival and WJFF Year-Round

With seven films on the WJFF Year-Round schedule just in March, there’s so much good stuff to see. But one of the most anticipated arrives next Tuesday, March 20, when we present the first three episodes of Season 3 of Srugim. I feel like I should put exclamation points after the title as in Srugim!!!! just because the program generates so much excitement both here and in Israel. AND, if what will be on-screen here at the DJCCC that evening starting at 7:30 isn’t enough, we will have with us a very special guest–the totally talented (and adorable) Amos Tamam who plays “Amir,” Yifat’s husband. I can’t wait to sit and talk with Amos and the audience after the lights come up. The long-suffering quiet type who once just wanted to be a teacher and good husband, Amos’ character Amir is undergoing some transformations in this last season of the series often called the Israeli “Friends.” In fact, from what I have seen, all of the characters are in for ch-ch-ch-changes! But that’s all I’m saying about the story lines for now….

I absolutely love this series! Not only are there compelling characters and engaging stories, but the series is a window onto a world about which I know little–Jerusalem’s young adult Modern Orthodox community. During this time of misunderstanding and mistrust between various communities of Jews with different observance levels, the series has broken down borders in Israeli society by depicting this sub-culture in an accessible, entertaining form. And I believe those of us in the US and around the world who see this series increase our own understanding and, therefore, tolerance. What could be better–enlightening entertainment that makes a difference!

Tickets ($11 general admission, $10 members/seniors/students) are here
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