Monday Media: Roberto Rodriguez and the Cuban Jewish All Stars

Where do Klezmer and Cuba intersect? Miami, of course–home to Cuban ex-pats and a robust Jewish community. Roberto Rodriguez and the Cuban Jewish All Stars is the product of one man’s expansive musical imagination and unique upbringing. Bring your dancing shoes on May 14 at the DCJCC.

Shabbat Surfing: Nutella

One of my favorite things about working at the J is our once a month staff Shabbat in the Q Street Lobby. We gather together at the end of the afternoon to say prayers, sing some songs and eat challah spread high with Nutella.

As I was getting ready for work this morning, NPR aired a story about the California mom who sued the maker of Nutella for falsely advertising the chocolate hazelnut spread as a healthy choice. I smiled as I remembered that today is a staff Shabbat day and reminded myself to follow my mother’s mantra of “everything in moderation” and to try my hardest to use a reasonable amount of Nutella on my challah.

When I was in Israel last year, I indulged in bread with the chocolate spread Hashahar Ha’oleh nearly every morning. It is a bit different than Nutella but equally as delicious. The makers of the spread are a family business headquartered outside of Haifa and they make three varieties: classic dairy, parve and nut. Their sales double during the two months around Passover, as the spread serves as a perfect matzo topping.

It is a good thing Hashahar is so delicious because Israelis pay about 20% more for Nutella than we do in the United States. Kashrut approval and importing the product impact the price in Israel, of course, but it doesn’t mean that Israelis will blindly accept the higher prices. In 2008, Nutella was at the center of a very different class action lawsuit in Israel than its maker just settled in the US. Its Israeli importer was forced to give out 91 tons of Nutella for free after consumers rose up and protested the fact that jars were reduced in size but not in price.

Nutella lends itself so well to inclusion into Jewish holidays, that it’s no wonder it is so popular here, in Israel, and around the world:

Nutella braided into challah

Donuts filled with Nutella 

Nutella Hamentaschen

Nutella Rugelach

If you’re here at 16th and Q on a Friday afternoon and find us celebrating in the lobby, please come join us.  Shabbat Shalom!

Israel Is…

In celebration of Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day, we asked people all around the DCJCC to complete this sentence.


a contemporary society.

full of delicious food.

a place I don’t know enough about.

a country.

a pillar of democracy in the middle east.

the size of New Jersey.

used as a political football.


the place I was born.

an amazing country.

a safe haven.

a balagan.

simply a place where people live, work and raise their families. It is also never simply a place where people live, work and raise their families.



the homeland of the Jews.



“What is” Israel to you?

Celebrate with us today with a fireworks show and a captivating rendition of Hatikva, Israel’s national anthem, from the Israeli group Teapacks.

Happy Birthday Israel!

Yom Hazikaron

Today is Yom HaZikaron, The Day of Memory established by the government of Israel to commemorate the soldiers who have lost their lives in defense of the State of Israel.

Let the memorial hill remember instead of me,
that’s what it’s here for. Let the park in-memory-of remember,
let the street that’s-named-for remember,
let the well-known building remember,
let the synagogue that’s named after God remember
let the rolling Torah scroll remember, let the prayer
for the memory of the dead remember. Let the flags remember
those multicolored shrouds of history: the bodies they wrapped
have long since turned to dust. Let the dust remember.
Let the dung remember at the gate. Let the afterbirth remember.
Let the beasts of the field and birds of the heavens eat and remember.
Let all of them remember so that I can rest.
Yehuda Amichai

This animated video is a poignant expression of the individual anguish of a parent for the loss of child in support of the State of Israel.

Carole R. Zawatsky is the CEO of the Washington DCJCC

It’s OK To Have Fun!

Anne Frank said “Give of yourself. You can always give something, even if it is only kindness. No one has ever become poor from giving.”

These words mean so much in so many different aspects of our world. Everything from cooking for the homeless to sharing your business skills to just saying hello to someone living on the street. Every little thing we do makes a difference. Whether you want to think of it as the domino effect or a ripple in the water; everything we do makes a difference.

Recently a volunteer at our Handmade for the Homeless project asked me if her knitting for others really counted as volunteering. She was concerned that if she was truly enjoying herself while knitting and schmoozing with the other knitters that maybe she wasn’t doing something so great.

I think having fun while doing for others makes your giving even more special. Growing up I was taught to give tzedakah. I always thought this just meant to give money. The literal definition of Tzedakah means justice or fairness; making things equal amongst the masses. Not only is what we do is tzedakah but is truly G’milut Chasadim, giving kindness, benevolence, giving of ourselves.  And in this, I think it only means more if we truly enjoy what we are doing.

Not only will the hats and scarves knitted and crocheted by our volunteers bring warmth to those living on the streets in the winter but hopefully they will be filled with the love and fun that the volunteer who made them put into it.

Have you volunteered lately? There are so many things you can do to make a difference in our world, in our city! Find something that you enjoy and put your heart into it.

Monday Media: Ira Glass Reads Etgar Keret

Ira Glass reading Etgar Keret? Swoon. So sit back and have a listen. Then check out the awesome list of stars reading Keret’s stories in the audio version of his new book.

Or perhaps you’d rather hear Keret read from his book himself (and kibbitz with friend and collaborator Nathan Englander) next week at the DCJCC!

Shabbat Surfing: Shabbat Shalom… or whatever

In these last minutes before Shabbat begins, we wanted to wish you a Shabbat Shalom.

I thought I’d greet you with this phrase in as many languages as possible, but as it turns out, the actual words are the least complicated part.

There are whole subcultures around how one behaves when saying it, the accent one uses, your type of eye contact, length of greeting, and how you size up the other person.

There are greeters who run the gamut from a quickie drive-by, mumbled, “shbbs,” to long extended versions that say it multiple times or turn it into a new-best-friend hug.

Timing can be a problem, seeing someone approaching on the sidewalk who you will certainly greet, but you’ve made eye contact too soon, and it would be rude to look away.

Frum young boys sexually harass young girls with it, “Sha-butt shalom!,” and – being the subtle creatures young boys are – motion towards her frum behind.

Some will pick the “modern Hebraic tuf pronunciation instead of the shtetl suf” of the Shabbat/Shobbos options, depending on how they Jewishly “profile” the other person.

So however you choose to greet one another tonight, we wish you a restful Sabbath:

Gut Shabbos. ভাল সব্বাত. Bon Sabbat. Buen Shabat. добра шабат. Bydd Shabbat da. 良い安息日. Καλή Σαμπάτ. Geras Šabatas. Dobre Szabat. Nzuri Shabbati.

Shabbat Shalom.

Body Pump Breakthrough

By Lynda Espada
Director of Sport and Fitness, DCJCC

Les Mills Body Pump

photo credit: Les Mills Body Pump

In the 20+ years I’ve been a group exercise instructor, I have taught some form of just about every type of group exercise. Two years ago, I was given the opportunity to certify for Les Mills Body Pump.

Did I really want to get another certification?

I have seven certifications already, but I was getting bored teaching the same Hi-Low and Step classes every week. Maybe, it was time for something new and challenging? I accepted their invitation.

I attended the three-day certification training, and the first day of training was tougher than any other certification I had ever done. Many times throughout the day I kept asking myself, did I really want to do this? But I somehow finished the days of training, plus all the other requirements, and got my certification.

And… I have since loved every freakin’ moment of teaching Body Pump.

What do I love about Body Pump?

  1. It WILL change the way your body looks because it works all major muscle groups to fatigue. You will “feel the burn” in every muscle group if you perform the reps, moves, and form correctly. (And I’m a stickler for form in my classes!)
  2. There will ALWAYS be a challenge awaiting you! It keeps your muscles/body guessing (i.e. the overload principle) so your muscles have to work harder, thus becoming stronger and more toned. You can always go up in weight (without sacrificing form!) or perform the movements at the correct pace. Body Pump is designed to move through different speeds to work the muscles differently, thus producing faster changes in the body than otherwise could be accomplished with some other weight training programs.
  3. It is a fun, upbeat, and motivating atmosphere! I try to keep my class motivated and challenged throughout the 55 minute class and keep them coming back and looking forward to the next class – and most of them do!
  4. It challenges your mind AND your body. As you perform the moves correctly and with the right form, you get to make your MIND decide how your MUSCLES move. The body likes to cheat. Yep, the body WANTS to cheat, so the mind has to take over and decide that, no, the muscles will slow down and perform the proper speed with the proper form. But of course, no cheating in my class!
  5. It gets you out of an exercise rut, my friends!  Every quarter, we change routines and music so your mind and muscles get challenged a bit differently each time.
  6. It is the best way (I have found) to work every muscle group without boredom and without having to have a lifting partner. It is a muscular strength AND endurance class, so remember, it will work the entire body, it does have a slight cardio component in some tracks (depending on how fast the movements are). You WILL burn an average of 450-650 calories per class (ALL dependent on body size, weight lifted, body weight, fitness level, correct form – and of course, your effort).

So maybe today or next week, if you are looking for something new and challenging like I was, consider a Body Pump class.

You’ll thank me… after that initial soreness goes away.

Yom Hashoah and the Pink Triangle

By Halley Cohen
Director, GLOE – GLBT Outreach & Engagement

credit: US Holocaust Memorial Museum

This Thursday, we observe Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, but for decades, LGBT people were not recognized among the groups of victims, and omitted from the Day’s observances. This erasure is why, when we now say, “never forget,” it needs to specifically include those who wore the pink triangle in the camps, the designation of “homosexual.”

The colors were not just for sorting, but rather, each functioned as a quick visual cue of your ranking in the hierarchy of the camps. The ranking had implications for your treatment and the likelihood of your survival. Homosexuals ranked at the bottom with Jews, both receiving the worst treatment and a mortality rate estimated at 50-60%.

However, unlike the Jewish prisoners, at the end of the war homosexuals were not released from the camps.

We never want to weigh suffering among groups to create some kind of hierarchy of pain. Still, for those of us who fall into both of these “worst treatment” categories, Yom Hashoah is particularly resonant, knowing that after the war, as the world “discovered” what had been happening to the Jews in the camps, that the horrors were not yet over for LGBT people.

Still seen as deviants or criminals or ill, gay prisoners often were either not released, or immediately put into prisons for the crime of homosexuality.

These “criminals” were not pardoned by German lawmakers until 2002.

That is, if they managed to survive the war in the first place. Not only were they a favorite of the German soldiers for target practice, for the hardest work details, and for surgical experiments (similar to the Jewish experience), gay men were also routinely beaten to death by fellow prisoners.

It is little surprise that we know much less about their experiences than those of others in the camps:

“Reading the many reports and asking the prisoners’ committees (which still exist today) about the prisoners with the pink triangles, one repeatedly learns that they were there, but nobody can tell you anything about them. Quantitative analysis offers a sad explanation for the extraordinary lack of visibility: the individual pink-triangle prisoner was likely to live for only a short time in the camp and then to disappear from the scene.” -Ruediger Lautmann, in his sociological research

We can only imagine how long those of us who would’ve worn a pink and yellow star would’ve lasted.

In their memory, we can all learn about – and make part of any Holocaust remembrance conversation – what happened to all of those who had another color triangle sewn to their yellow one.

Recognizing Current Issues this Yom Hashoah – Part II

(Read Part I: On Connection here.)

Part II: On Action

Young professionals and college students are taking a deep interest in connecting to our remaining Holocaust survivors.

For example, in New York City, hundreds of volunteers team up with the iVolunteer organization to visit often-lonely Holocaust survivors and become like family.

According to the 2009 Claims Conference, survivors are “more likely than other elderly to be socially isolated, and as a result, are more likely to live in poverty and be in poorer health.”

While health and financial needs plague today’s survivor population, the worst poverty is loneliness. These feelings are greatly alleviated through volunteer visits. But honestly, I feel like the volunteers get more out of these visits than they could ever give.

However, while Jews across the world remember the Shoah this week, there is a large number of people who are unaware of the critical need for basic safety net services for many of the frail and aging Holocaust survivors who live right here in our own community.

According to the Jewish Social Service Agency (JSSA), DC’s community safety net organization, there are hundreds of survivors in the DC-area in need of critical homecare and medical support services.  In fact, JSSA is reporting a dramatic increase this year in the number of survivors requesting care. As a result, JSSA is now facing critical shortfalls as the need is outpacing available funding.  (Learn more about the issue here.)

In light of all these issues, EntryPointDC partnered with JSSA to create an Inter-generational Passover Program with Silver Spring-area Holocaust survivors on Good Deeds Day. This was a memorable event not only for the Holocaust survivors, who were elated to have the opportunity to tell their personal stories and socialize with each other, but also for the young professionals who got to connect with them.

For one participant, it was his first time meeting a survivor, never having had the opportunity first hand. For a young woman, who is an Iraqi Jew , it was important to her to come because her own family had been persecuted in Iraq. Another came to connect with his Jewish heritage for the first time since the passing of his father.

Others came as proud representatives of their own survivor grandparents. After the event, one shared, “I just wanted to thank you for organizing this event; it really was so special.”

These connections are so important to our community. This June, we’re trying to make more of these inter-generational exchanges happen.

Service for SurvivorsWe want to connect survivors and young professionals with our Service For Survivors Trip – a Service Learning Trip to Miami Beach, Florida. Participants from EntryPointDC, GLOE, Community Services, and other partners will be joining us. Truly, we welcome anyone in their 20s & 30s to join us  in this mitzvah.

One of my favorite things about this project is the chance I’ll get to interact and connect with individual survivors, knowing that this is a population deeply in need, AND that there is something we can do about it. (The fact we’ll all be hanging out in Miami Beach doesn’t hurt either.)

As the last generational link, we are almost out of time to hear their stories.

And then, when the time comes, we’ll pass those stories on.

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