Playlist for Hurricane/Nor’Easter Sandy

1. Bruce Springsteen – 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)

2. Randy Newman – I Think It’s Going to Rain Today

3. Scorpions – Rock You Like a Hurricane

4. Moyshe Oysher – Geshem

5. Regina Spektor – On The Radio

הכבש השישה עשר – ברקים ורעמים
6. The Sixteenth Lamb – Lightning & Thunder

7. Eurythmics – Here Comes the Rain Again

8. Gene Kelly – Singin’ in the Rain

9. Barry Manilow – I Made it Through the Rain

10. Carpenters – Rainy Days and Mondays

11. Lena Horne – Stormy Weather (h/t @theatreWashDC)

12. Lonely Island/SNL – I Wish it Would Rain

13. Barbra Streisand – Don’t Rain On My Parade (via @gloejcc)

14. Judy Garland – Come Rain or Come Shine (also via @gloejcc)

For Purim: Getting Beyond the Latke-Hamantaschen Conflict

The good folks at the Jewish Study Center had the badly misguided idea to invite me to participate in their Annual Latke-Hamantaschen Debate which took place last week. In this spirit of representing a Community Center, I presented an argument that the Jewish community can ill-afford to allow these kinds of schisms to divide us. I think I was being serious. You decide.

Happy Purim.

Seven Questions for: Silvia Sparklestein

Silvia Sparklestein comes to You Had Me at Shalom: LGBT Jewish Speed Dating this Saturday* night with GLOE, as the fabulous drag yenta emcee of the event. Not only will she be helping to make romantic connections among the daters and schmoozers, she’ll also be performing a few numbers… and making sure everyone is eating enough.

Joining us from Queens, Silvia answered our seven most important questions in the world.

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

I wear fabulous clothing. I sing and dance. And I sparkle. I’d be the perfect actor in any Shakespeare play (female roles, of course).

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

A Jewish mother. Definitely a Jewish mother. It’s every Jewish girl from Queens’ dream! Grow up. Have lots of Jewish babies. And guilt them into calling me everyday for the rest of their busy lives as doctors, lawyers and accountants.

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

Two books. I would say the book I’m most embarrassed to have not read is Kosher by Design – Short on Time by Susie Fishbein. It’s supposed to be a fabulous Kosher cookbook with simple recipes. I love reading Kosher cookbooks to pass the time!

The other book I haven’t read is The Debutante Divorcee by Plum Sykes. After reading her book Bergdorf Blondes I truly felt like Plum connected with my inner soul the way no other writer has. (And with a first name like Plum! Oy Vey! Delicious!)

4) Woody Allen, Pro or Con?

Woody and I go way back. Although he grew up in Brooklyn, our families always used to get together for the Pesach Seder at my parent’s house in Queens. I still wonder why he doesn’t use his real family name “Konigsberg.” Well, at least I kept my family name!

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

“Kreplach” for a number of reasons. The most obvious is, who doesn’t like kreplach?! I eat kreplach everyday for breakfast. Definitely the breakfast of champions in my humble and modest opinion. Another reason I like the word kreplach is because of the yiddishe “chhhhhh” sound at the end! I love hearing goy-toys choke as they try to say it.

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

That Barbra Streisand recorded a Christmas Album in 1967. Who knew a nice yiddishe meidella from Brooklyn knew anything about The Lord’s Prayer and Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire?!

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

Definitely Wendy Williams! She and I have a lot in common, like, our shoes size! I’m a plain Jane so I would order a plain bagel (no seeds that can get stuck in your teeth) with low-fat cream cheese schmeared on one side and low-sodium lox spread on the other, extra cream cheese and extra lox spread. Wendy would order a cinnamon raisin bagel with butter… low-fat butter.

Read all of the Seven Question interviews.


The Only Pitch For An End-of-Year Donation You Need to Read Before 2012

Gotten enough emails yet? From us? From other Jewish organizations? From your favorite environmental/advocacy/performing arts/social service non-profit? From every 501(c)3 with an internet connection and a functioning keyboard? Can you hear me now?

How about now?

The end-of-year donation solicitation email has joined Dick Clark, the Times Square Ball and a plethora of Top Ten of (fill-in-year) lists as one of the most reliable countdown to New Year’s institutions. And because you respect the mission of these correspondents, you overlook the awkwardness of repeated emails appealing to your noble philanthropic impulses which also subtly remind you that these impulses have a positive (if time-limited) tax-liability impact.

And you know what? That’s okay.

The end-of-year appeals are really no different than the work-a-day fundraising that goes on year-round and which is necessary for our society to have functioning religious institutions, cultural organizations, non-governmental social safety nets and issue-oriented activism. It’s the clustering of so many appeals in the fading days of the expiring year that can overwhelm. It’s the distillation of the entire non-profit sector’s life-blood into a potent stream of emotional appeals and idealistic blackmail that can cause us to shut down and turn away.

So I’m here to remind you not to.

Charitable giving is one form of tzedakah — which has many translations in English, but no one definition really suffices to encompass the totality of the word. The best I can say here, is that tzedakah is the moral imperative to complete the work of creation: to make the world a more just, compassionate, creative and healthful place. The work of tzedakah happens in large and small ways every day — from small acts of kindness to large donations of money. They’re all necessary. And when any of the work goes undone or underdone, the world is poorer for it.

We send these emails to you at the end of the year because we are hoping to get your donation for our benefit and for your own as the Gates of Tax Deductions are closing. But I like to think that we also send these emails to you at the end of the year because it is a time of reflection, a time of resolutions and coming as it does on the heels of Chanukah, a time of re-dedication. It is our hope that our message at the end of this year, will carry over to a resolve in the new year to remember the responsibilities we all have to create and support the communities we desire for ourselves and our loved ones.

So yes, it would be great if you would make a donation right now.

But better than that would be if you resolve that in 2012 you will make a contribution — be it of time, of money, of spirit to helping us continue the never-ending work of creating this Community Center…

…but you can also donate now.

One More Look at December 25th

We just had to share some more of the amazing photos taken by Lloyd Wolf of our 2011 December 25th Volunteer Project. Looking through the photos really brings home just how important and moving this experience is for those who volunteer and for those who benefit from their service. This is Lloyd’s 20th year photographing the project and we’re displaying a small number of the stand-outs from that enormous collection in our Community Hall and Distrikt Bistro for the next few weeks. You can read all about it in the current issue of the Washington Jewish Week.

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The G-d Project: Mrs. Goldberg’s Take on Flawed Omnipotence

The Washington DC JCC’s Associate Executive Director, Joshua Ford, talks about God, his professional life and Mrs. Goldberg as part of Punk Torah’s The G-d Project. Filmed at the Washington DCJCC. Watch other videos from The G-d Project here.

Thanks: A DC Poem

For U.S.A. chagim
We love July Fourth
Memorial Day’s meaning
And Labor Day’s worth
Veteran’s Day’s solemn
MLK Day’s inspiring
Columbus Day is about an explorer not tiring
But of all of these days
When our offices rest,
We all should agree
That Thanksgiving’s the best.

It’s the food
It’s the family
It’s an ancestral vision
Even though most of us
Aren’t related to Pilgrims
So with belly’s a-swollen
With victuals digestible
Here are some of the figures
That we thank at our table

We’re thankful for donors,
Volunteers and teachers,
Subscribers, new members
And fitness goal reachers.
We’re thankful for films
For Authorial speakers
For treadmill addicts
Who wear-out their sneakers.
We’re thankful for Circles,
Scott, Dupont and Logan
Thanks for the ‘hood
Someone named “Borderstan

Of course we are thankful
for our partners, Federation.
For synagogue rabbis
And all congregations:
Like Bet Mish and Micah
DC Minyan and Adas
Wash-Hebrew and T.I.
With religious org status
Kesher, Sinai, Ohev
For the ‘gogue on Sixth Street
Rosh Pina and wherever more than
10 Jews can meet

Thank you Vince Gray
And to the government of DC
From our rep Jack Evans
To our local ANC.
For the folks on the Hill,
Boehner, Cantor and Reid,
It not just thanks
But a deal that you need.
Once the debt deal is done
Or before if you’re open,
Thanks, please give a vote
To Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Thanks for Obama,
And Mitt and Newt too,
We’ll see who’s most thankful
In Twenty, One-Two.
And Occupy K Street
And Tea Party Nation
And David Petraeus
And Alex Ovechkin.

Thanks to the Nats,
The Skins and the Caps
The Wizards get thanks
When the lockout gets scrapped.
So thanks to Rex Grossman,
Davey Johnson, Mike Rizzo
The Shanahan clan,
And bald Bruce Boudreau.

Thanks Michael Kaiser
A toast to Todd Gray
Thanks Reggie Love,
Who is going away.
Thanks City Paper and
The Post’s Reliable Source
Thanks weather-guy Bob Ryan
And Nat’s Slugger Mike Morse.

Thanks Wale, thanks Kojo
Thanks Hilda Solis
Thanks Justice Kagan
And the Metro Police.
Thanks Dr. Jill Biden,
And George Pelecanos,
Thanks Ezra Klein
Welcome home Wilson Ramos.

Give thanks for the thanks
That you know that you’re due.
Give thanks for the J
Cause we give thanks for you.

Seven Questions For: David Bezmozgis

Bezmozgis (c) David Franco [Free World]David Bezmozgis comes to the Hyman S. and Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival this Sunday along with Nadia Kalman (The Cosmopolitans) and Haley Tanner (Vaclav and Lena) for the panel discussion “Glasnost’s Children” which examines new fiction on the Russian-Jewish experience. Bezmozgis has been getting lots of acclaim ever since his debut collection of short stories, Natasha and in 2010 was named to the New Yorker’s list of “20 Under 40” highlighting the most promising fiction writers under the age of 40.  What about his new novel The Free World? Well, The New York Times said:

Might it be overstating the case to include this first-time novelist in the same sentence as such fine writers as Mr. Roth and Mr. Michaels? Well, Mr. Bezmozgis’s taut 2004 debut collection “Natasha and Other Stories” suggested that he might well be of those authors’ caliber; “The Free World” goes a long way toward confirming this status.

We asked him the Seven Questions over email and got the following. I’m willing to bet he’ll be more loquacious at the panel discussion.

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

The problem isn’t describing it to someone from the 19th century, the problem is describing it to someone in the 21st century.

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

Remarkably, this.

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

Many. But I’ll go with Proust.

4)    Woody Allen, Pro or Con?

Pro, pre-1990s; con, post-1990s.

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


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

How about the definitions of fascism and socialism? Those words get thrown around a lot. Often interchangeably.

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

You mean we’d have to split one poppyseed Montreal bagel? Well, somebody ancient. Cleopatra. Or King David. Or Socrates.

Read all of the Seven Question interviews.

Gilad Shalit’s Return: Portrait of a Father-Son Embrace

Gilad Shalit Hugs His Father

There have been a lot of words on the Internet today about the long-awaited return of Gilad Shalit. I don’t know that any of those words speak as loudly as this image of a father embracing his son. Perhaps it is even more appropriate that Gilad’s face is obscured in the shot – he has been captive so long that his physical reality is a mysterious and now a novel fact, whereas the ache of the family awaiting his return is something all of us can immediately connect to. The way Noam Shalit envelopes his son and rests his head on his shoulder with his eyes closed is the universal embrace of all fathers who receive their child back from peril, thankful for the miracle of return that makes this hug possible. Imagine how many nights over the past five years Noam Shalit imagined this embrace? Tried to feel it? Imagined what it would smell like? Born of the greatest and prolonged trauma one can imagine for a parent, the emotion of the image is so shockingly human and raw, that one smiles even as one recognizes the vulnerability and pain it acknowledges. This most compelling of family reunions occupies the foreground of the photo, while Prime Minister Netanyahu is relegated to the background, a smiling spectator on a day when for the moment, politics in Israel can recede to an afterthought.

A photograph like this reminds us that the drama of Gilad Shalit is a family drama. It reminds us that more than just being a country of political parties, conflicts and territory, Israel is a country of families. Families with real lives. The joy of the Shalit family is twinned with the inverse drama of those families who have lost loved ones to terrorism having to endure the sight of some of those responsible for their murder go free in exchange. Out of sight of the cameras, they too will embrace each other, their grief given fresh potency, as the murderers are welcomed as heroes in Gaza and the West Bank.

On such a dramatic day, we join in feeling the joy of the Shalit family, even as we feel the pain of those other families. We are reminded of the high price Israel is forced to pay for its survival, and that that price is borne not in abstraction, but by the families of the Jewish state.

Our Annual Post In Which We Ask Who We Have To Sleep With To Get Philip Roth The Nobel Prize In Literature


We’ve complained in this space before that the Nobel committee isn’t the greatest fan of American literature. We’ve bemoaned the fact that Philip Roth probably isn’t going to win a dearly deserved Nobel Prize for Literature. In being denied this honor, one of Roth’s characters would probably observe that he would have had a better shot if he had grown up to be a doctor. Or a chemist. Or a physicist. Or an economist. Or whatever. Or just not Philip Roth.

Whatever. He didn’t win.


In the end, perhaps it is better that he doesn’t win. It’s not like he’s lacking for awards. The short list: Pulitzer, National Book Award (twice), Pen/Faulkner (three times), Pen/Saul Bellow Prize, the Man Booker International Prize. It’s not like his legacy needs validation from a bunch of cold Swedish fish. And it’s not hard to imagine a Roth-esque character: smart, accomplished, libidinous, persistent, lauded and yet still carrying the chip on his shoulder he’s been lugging around since the day he took his first step in the Weequahic section of Newark, New Jersey; who relishes the annual rejection from Stockholm; who needs to not win the Nobel prize every year;  who needs to have at least that one door still closed to him in order to retain that sense of remaining on the outside. Sven and Gunnar aren’t impressed with the forging of identity in post-war America? Well screw them. Horace Engdahl and company don’t think a literary output producing compelling works more than fifty years apart warrants the Nobel? They can suck his StiegLarsson.

Nathan Zuckerman, Neil Klugman, Alexander Portnoy — those guys would have been bemused that the Nobel committee wants nothing to do with them.  (And yet. With the same breath that they dismissed ever needing, ever wanting, ever coveting a Nobel; they admit to themselves that it wouldn’t be undeserved, wouldn’t be grandiose to expect, wouldn’t be beyond the scope of reasonable aspirations to think that one morning when, slumbering in the pre-dawn the phone pierces his slumber, and in the moment he catapults his half-dead arm — some sort of cramp from sleeping funny — he wonders as it arcs toward the handset, could this be the call from Stockholm, and if it is, will it be rude to ask them to wait while he runs to the bathroom to pee, because, frankly it is normally the highlight of his morning and while Nobels are fine, certain rituals ought to be respected and observed.) Those guys would rebound from Nobel rejection by sleeping with someone inappropriate — and likely not Jewish.

So, it’s another year with no Nobel for the seminal American-Jewish author of the last century and it turns-out a decent chunk of the current century as-well. That’s fine.

He’s doing just fine without it.

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