Telling It Like It Is: Jews, Sports and Writing

With baseball season in full swing, enjoy this podcast from the Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival, Telling It Like It Is: Jews, Sports and Writing.

Former New York Times columnist and Emmy-winning television host Robert Lipsyte, author of the memoir An Accidental Sportwriter; historian John Bloom, author of the biography There You Have It:  The Life, Legacy, and Legend of Howard Cosell; and moderator Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post’s “D.C. Sports Bog” discussed sports, culture and modern media.

This event was part of the The Chaim Kempner Author Series, which brings authors of recently published books to the 16th Street J for the learning and enjoyment of the entire community, and was presented in partnership with the 16th Street J’s Sports Leagues.

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

Shabbat Surfing: Long Weekend

This weekend has got it all going on: Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer, and Shavuot.

Memorial Day was originally observed to commemorate fallen Union soldiers following the Civil War. After World War I it was expanded to honor soldiers from all American wars and in 1971 was declared a national holiday.

Jews have been a part of American military history since the colonial era, when many served in General Washington’s Continental Army. On August 1, 1776, Francis Salvador was the first Jew to be killed in the American Revolution as he led a small army of 330 men.

Songstress Regina Spektor is releasing her new album, What We Saw From the Cheap Seats, on May 29. NPR is currently streaming it and if the album’s third track “Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)” doesn’t make you want to go outside and bounce around, I’m not sure what will.

Shavuot, the holiday in which we celebrate by eating dairy, is sadly still a bit of an underdog when it comes to popularity among American Jews.  The theological significance of the holiday is certainly noted by the Chag Sameach greetings I received from my mother in my inbox this morning: a Photoshopped picture of Charlton Heston as Moses in Mel Brooks’ The Ten Commandments clutching a pair of iPads.

Lastly, here is a photo of the cheetah cubs  that recently arrived at the National Zoo:

Photo by Adrienne Crosier, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

We are so lucky to be in DC, where we’ll be able to hop on the metro for one stop and check them out when they join the others in the cheetah den in a few months!

Shabbat Shalom!

Homelessness in the District: 2012

On January 25 2012, The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness (TCP) and street outreach volunteers conducted the Point in Time (PIT) census and survey of homeless persons in the District of Columbia.  In recounting the count, I noted that data collection tracks progress and informs service providers, policymakers, the public, and other anti-poverty measures.  This single day snapshot of the homeless services continuum of care helps TCP and partners in District government to identify gaps in the current portfolio of services and informs future program planning. PIT has been completed annually by TCP since 2001 and is conducted in accordance with the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development’s reporting standards.

Quick Facts from PIT 2012

  • 6,954 persons were counted during PIT, a 6.2 percent increase overall from the 2011 count of 6,546The number of unaccompanied individuals counted decreased by 2.4% from 2011, while the number of families increased by 18.6%
    • 3,767 unaccompanied homeless individuals and
    • 3,187 adults and children in 1,014 homeless families
  • 3,772 persons were counted in Emergency Shelters
  • 2,503 persons were counted in Transitional Housing facilities
  • 679 unsheltered persons were counted by professional street outreach workers and volunteer teams that canvassed the city on the night of the count
  • 12% of homeless adults surveyed reported having served in the United States Armed Forces.
  • One third of adult homeless persons reported a chronic health problem, and 22% reported a physical disability

In quantifying, localizing, and putting faces to homelessness, the PIT “snapshot” renews and rededicates Behrend Builders and the Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service commitment to social justice work.  In working with shelters, at-risk families, or the chronically hungry, our programming and volunteers seek to improve the health and quality of life of individuals suffering from homelessness.  With DC homelessness on the rise and many more sleeping outside, we can no longer be asleep when the need for anti-poverty services is as critical as ever.    

Isn’t it warm? Isn’t it rosy? 5 By 5….

Grace here.  It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, partially because I’ve been reading the exciting scripts submitted by local playwrights for this season’s 5×5, Playwrights Respond. This time, the playwrights were responding to Theater J’s production of The Whipping Man by writing their own five minute ‘Scenes of Liberation’ dealing with issues of freedom, oppression, and race relations.

This  Sunday, May 20th at 5:00, a group of  wonderful DC-based actors including Monty Cones, Natalie Cruz, Jim Epstein, Elizabeth Heir,  Shaun Johnson,  Martha Karl and TD Smith will do staged readings of the following five submissions:

Contrabands In the Desert by Victoria Mares

Picking up where The Whipping Man left off, John and Caleb journey north, attempting to put their lives back together and reconnect with those they’ve lost.


Lake Titicaca by Kitty Felde

In the tense period of unrest following the ’92 Rodney King trial, a car accident between two women turns into a meaningful connection.


Row H Seat 9 by Drew Courtney

President Abraham Lincoln reminisces about the haunting moment he met The Whipping Man’s protagonist Simon in the streets of Richmond, Virginia.


The Fair Face of Freedom by Greta Ehrig

A victory parade for the Union Army prompts a heartbreaking confrontation between Floyd Banner, a freed slave and veteran, and his devoted wife.


Evolutionary Haggaddah by Ron Kampeas

The unconventional seder in The Whipping Man inspires another quirky Passover celebration, as a council of rabbis commemorate the exodus from Egypt and The Partridge Family.

Admission is Free! Like you and me!  Hope to see you Sunday…

Shabbat Surfing: Tributes

The Jewish community felt some heavy losses this week with the passing of three “iconic misfit Jews”

The Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch, also known as MCA,  passed away last Friday after a hard-fought battle with cancer. The Beastie Boys were just inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April.

Maurice Sendak,  children’s book author, died Tuesday. President Obama has made it a tradition to animatedly read Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. In a 2011 interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, Sendak said of his life: “There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.”

Hair revolutionary Vidal Sassoon passed away in Los Angeles on Wednesday. Sassoon is probably best known for his wash-and-wear cuts that freed women from hours in a salon and Mia Farrow’s pixie cut in Rosemary’s Baby . However, he was also involved in fighting against British fascists and a veteran of the Israeli War of Independence.


Seven Questions for: Schmekel

Schmekel is awesome. The “100% Transgender, 100% Jewish schtick-rock band” does songs about important things, silly things, and thingy things.

“Schmekel’s bespectacled transsexual singer-songwriters are guitarist Lucian Kahn and keyboardist Ricky Riot. Mohawked bassist Nogga Schwartz yells loudly, and genderqueer drummer Simcha Halpert-Hanson carries two big sticks.” (Read more about ’em here.)

And they were kind enough to hold forth on the vital topics in our Seven Questions:

1) How would you describe what you do to someone from the 19th Century?

Lucian: Oscar Wilde has written a farcical, yet appreciative, song-cycle about the polymorphous perverse.  He’s a Jew from Bukovinia, and he’s got a Dynamophone.
Ricky: We are a band of openly Jewish inverts who play magical loud instruments. Three of us are short gentlemen who are rumoured to have even shorter organs. One of us is neither man nor woman. Our songs are gay and jolly yet not suitable for the faint of heart.

2) What did you want to be when you grew up?

Lucian: A rock star!  Or possibly a Ninja Turtle.
Ricky: Some kind of performer.
Simcha: Well, it varied.  From ages 3-7 I wanted to be a painter; ages 8-12, I desperately wanted to be a famous actor, like Claire Danes.  And then from age 13 onward, I passionately devoted myself to the quest of *indie* (I abhored corporate rock) pacific-northwest stardom (I abhored the east coast). Thankfully, I no longer find the east coast an abhorrence.

3) Is there a book you’re embarrassed to admit you’ve never read?

Lucian: I spend a lot of time singing about penises.  It’s hard to embarrass me.
Ricky: Lucian, I actually gave you a book about penises once. Did you read it? I hope you’re not embarrassed. Someone once lent me Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, insisting that it’ll change my life and help me understand her better. It was really dumb and I want those few hours of my life back.
Simcha: There are a lot of trashy teens-dying-of-cancer-while-falling-in-love books I am embarrassed to admit I’ve devoured.  Unless I am trying to prove my academic prowess or qualify my halachic knowledge base, I can’t think of any basic books I ought to have read by now and haven’t.

4) Woody Allen, Pro or Con?

Lucian: Pro early Woody Allen.  He understands the importance of a good egg salad recipe.
Ricky: Also pro early Woody Allen. Biased opinion though because I have an uncle who looks exactly like him.
Simcha: A natural anti-depressant.

5) What’s your favorite non-English word?

Lucian: I identify strongly with the word feygele.
Simcha: I really love the Yiddish language.  I guess of all the words and names I’ve learned thus far, my favorite would be Faraynikte Shtaten [Ed.: United States] because it’s so long and intimidating to read in Yiddish.
Ricky: Shlemazal is a funny word and a funny concept. It’s a person with really bad luck. Also Abra Cadabra is in Aramaic. It means, “as it is said, it shall be created”. And how ‘bout some Hebrew slang: “Lefasbek” is to add someone on Facebook. And I’ll conjugate it for you. Hoo mefasbek, hee mefasbeket, anachnu mefasbekim…

6) What issue do you wish other people knew more about?

Lucian: I wish more people knew and cared about the problems facing queer homeless teenagers and trans people seeking medical care.
Simcha:  I agree with Lucian.  I also wish people had more sensitivity to gender-identity and the bathroom.  Stress is a powerfully debilitating force.
Ricky: I wish that more people including myself knew more about the process by which a capitalist economic system makes people poor.

7) Historical figure, living or not, that you’d want to share a bagel with, and what kind of bagel?

Lucian: I would like to share an everything bagel with Paul Celan.
Simcha: I’d share a garlic bagel with Rebbe Schneerson and find out whether he is actually Mashiach. 😉
Ricky: Thelonious Monk, because that dude was nuts and probably really interesting, and might have taught me a few things about music. Onion bagel, toasted, with olive cream cheese and lox.

Catch Schmekel on May 20 at Chief Ike’s with GLOE, as part of the Washington Jewish Music Festival.

Read all of the Seven Questions interviews.

The Sticker Song | שירת הסטיקר

By Anton Goodman, the Jewish Agency Israel Engager Shaliach to the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington
Cross-posted from DC-ach | D. שיח
Original Post: 

On May 10th The Washington DC JCC will be hosting HaDag Nachash as the headliners of their Jewish Music Festival. The band plays a diverse range of music but falls into the Israeli hip hop category, and their songs are known to be as rich in lyrics as they are in musical depth. HaDag Nachash has provided a soundtrack and a commentary to contemporary Israel, fusing themselves into the essence of Modern Israel, and due to this, their songs have become a staple for Israel education.

One song that took the Israeli music scene by storm was שירת הסטיקר – the Sticker Song, composed, or rather compiled by David Grossman, the internationally renowned Israeli author, the lyrics are comprised of Israeli bumper stickers crafted into a biting critique on Israeli society. The sticker song gives new meaning to these slogans, and despite the fact that some of the stickers are dated in their message, the spirit of the song remains as relevant as ever. It was with this song in mind that I began contemplating to what extent HaDag Nachash’s music has transferrable qualities for American Jews.

Bumper stickers are ubiquitous in Israel. They express the breadth and depth of political, religious and social convictions and often embrace radical, yet catchy, language. Bumper stickers such as “Medinat Halacha – Halcha HaMedina – A religious State will be the end of the State” and “Justice for the Oslo Criminals” constantly remind us of the complexity of our political reality and the diversity of the opinions of those around us. This is not the case in America, where there are far fewer bumper stickers – could this be due to the fact that there are also many more nice, new cars that their owners don’t want to deface? Or that Americans are less comfortable expressing their views in public space? Or, more cynically, that Americans’ identities and burning issues are not those of the State? There was only one place to find the answers to these questions: the parking lot. I decided early on not to count the initials of places on a sticker to be a bumper sticker (e.g. OBX – Outer Banks) there is only so low we can stoop to be inclusive in this genre.

In total I sampled around 500 cars and found that only about 10% had a bumper sticker at all. Of those with a bumper sticker, the majority discussed dogs. Right, dogs. You’d think they could drive. From large paw prints asking sphinx-like “who rescued who?” to a small cheeky “woof!”, the dogs were the hands-down winner. And of these canine stickers the majority advocated for a specific breed, dog-lovers but partisan.

The next largest category was kids, and more specifically, showing off that your kid is on the honor roll. If you’d have asked me a year ago what an honor roll was, I’d guess something a gymnast did after winning a medal. But it’s clear that it is actually a great way for schools to get free advertizing on the back of a proud parent’s car.

Next category is back to the partisan advocacy, this time for a hobby.

Skiing, running, swimming, diving, all have their campaigners, who not only want to share their love but also encourage others, almost coercively, to get involved.

Next category is life-lessons. From “wag more, bark less” (another canine theme!) to “life is good” there are a number of bumper stickers that share those life lessons that you can impart in 8 words or less. Here is my favorite, again presented as a directive:

Lastly came the politically charged stickers, and I don’t mean those with merely a candidate’s name and date. But those that actually express a conviction, such as the daring:

Imagine Phillip Roth compiling these bumper stickers into a song for Matisyahu and we are starting to get a sense of the culture gap.
And to my friend who asked me if HaDag Nachash are just hip-hop in Hebrew, my answer is no.

Just go and hear them.

Recipe: Granola Cheesecake for Shavuot

By Jean Graubart
Director, Leo & Anna Smilow Center for Jewish Living and Learning



Not a month has gone by without a Jewish holiday celebration and it is lovely to look at the calendar and see the dates to remind us of our history and traditions.

Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks is on May 26-May 28, the culmination of the SEVEN weeks since Passover.  Mysticism makes everything a little more spiritual and since  the Kabbalists consider the number SEVEN very powerful (a reminder of the week of creation), we feel the impact of the mystics .

As a mother who gave each of her children two names, I like that Shavuot also has a second name, Festival of First Fruits, Yom Ha-Bikkurim.  This was the time that the first grain and fruit crops were harvested.

Just as Pesach brings us to spring, Shavuot ushers in the summer season. But before it gets too hot and in honor of the holiday when we celebrate the giving of the Ten Commandments, the laws given to Moses on Mount Sinai, enjoy this unusual cheesecake in commemoration of the holiday.  It is customary to eat dairy foods as the Torah is traditionally compared to milk and honey, with their ability to nourish and to sweeten our lives.


3 cups granola
1 tablespoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger (dried)
1 stick butter melted

2 pounds cream cheese
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons honey
4 eggs
2/3 cup whipping cream

1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
Strawberries or other berries to top off

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a 9 inch springform pan or a deep dish pie pan.
Grind granola in a processor and put in bowl.
Add sugar, cinnamon, ground ginger and melted butter
Mix and press into the bottom of pan and halfway up the side.
Beat the cream cheese, vanilla, sugar and honey until smooth and blended.
Add eggs one at a time beating lightly after each one.
Put in cream and mix briefly.
Pour batter into chilled crust and smooth top.
Bake for an hour, test with toothpick which should come out clean but a little wet.
The center will sink a little and the cake will shrink some from the sides of the pan.
Turn off oven and let cake sit in oven for 20 minutes.
Remove and cool at room temperature.
Set oven to 300 degrees.
In small bowl, mix sour cream and sugar very well.
Pour over the cake and smooth.
Bake 5 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool completely.
Sprinkle with crystallized ginger and chill until firm.
Cover with plastic wrap when firm and chill at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
Remove and enjoy!

Serving suggestion: Top with berries or serve them on the side.

This recipe will delight your friends and family and hopefully sweeten your celebration.

Shavuot is such a special time that I remember my grandmother picked the holiday for her birthday, having no record of her birth date in Turkey.

She said she wanted to be born when the Torah was born.

Shabbat Surfing: Lag B’omer

Lag B’omer is just around the corner. It’s time to celebrate with Hadag Nahash at the Fillmore Silver Spring!

-Now I’m always up for a good party, but what’s this one all about again?

-Is there anywhere to legally make a big bonfire in DC?  Here are some great bonfire recipes. (And while we’re at it, this website is all about fire safety for kids).

-There’s a tradition of letting your hair grow between Passover and Lag B’omer. Ready to shear your shaggy do? Consider donating that hair to Locks of Love.

-Lag B’omer marks the beginning of Jewish wedding season! Check out the amazing chuppahs that local artist and parent Nahanni Rous creates for happy couples.

Shabbat Shalom!

It’s all about the build

By Phil Liebson, Director, Camp and School-Age Programs

Do you remember when Legos were bricks and only bricks? For almost a year now the DCJCC and Play Well-Teknologies have been running both a Lego camp and an after-school engineering enrichment class. Working with these classes has taught me two things:

  1. You are never too old to play with Legos.
  2. The Legos of 2012 are much more than simple bricks for building.

As I watch the children working with Legos, I am always amazed at what they come up with during their free building time. I have seen elaborate scenes where the children use the classic “mini figures” to reenact movie scenes, complete with motorized escapes or a small pile of gears that is easily turned into a self-propelled walking android.

As remarkable as their free build can be, the most interesting part of all is the ongoing conversation between the students while they are building. The classes are appropriately named “Lego Engineering” because that is exactly what they are doing! Through the use of Legos, these students have been taught about structure, torque, speed, lift, and other complex physics principals that I only wish I had learned at such a young age.

I once made the mistake of asking a six year old student how the “rubber band” helped the car to move. With a straight face and a look well beyond his years, the student looked up at me and said, “It is not a rubber band. That is a belt, and it is linking the pulleys in my car. The front pulley is attached to the motor which drives the back pulley attached to the axel. A rubber band is an office supply!” I knew then and there that my houses and castle designs were no longer the extent of what children could do with Legos.

I have heard second graders debate over the way that a car should be geared: “Mesh the smaller gear first so it can be geared for torque.” “No,” another student replied, “we are racing. You need to use the large gear first so you can be geared for speed!”

Just yesterday I walked into class and the kids were in the midst of a team build. They split into different teams and were all responsible for creating a different component of what was to become a boomed crane like we see around the city lifting heavy loads to create buildings. As groups, the students discussed overlapping for structure and gearing to reduce the weight load being lifted.

Over the last year I have come to understand the brilliance of what these small plastic bricks have become. It has spawned birthday parties, cult like followings for the rarest of sets, and theme parks, but above all, it is a creative catalyst and one of the greatest educational tools ever made. Children are able to learn basic physics principles and have a wonderful time while doing so.

On Sunday May 20th the DCJCC will be hosting Camp-A-Palooza. At this event campers will get a chance to meet counselors and experience “a day of camp.” Play Well-Teknologies will be on hand that day and, with the aid of the kids, they will attempt to make a structure that is 30 feet tall!

You might see a plastic brick. They see unlimited potential!

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