Are My Holiday Traditions Yours Too?

Ah, holiday traditions. ‘Tis the season for them, no matter where you’re from or what you believe.

Chanukkah is over, unless you’re like my family and waiting for everyone to come home around New Years to celebrate together, and most people are putting the chanukiot and dreidels away and bemoaning the piles of latkes leftover in the fridge. Still, Jews have another holiday with its own traditions coming up. No, you didn’t forget one; it’s merely Sleeping In, Chinese Food, and Movies Day, or what most of the world considers Christmas.

Okay, so maybe not every single Jew does the Chinese Food and Movies thing, but I know plenty of people who do, and I’ve yet to meet someone who disagrees with the widely-accepted popular culture stereotype. I’ve been doing it happily since I was allowed to go to the theater without my parents. I don’t recall missing a year since, I have a regular partner-in-crime back home in New Jersey, or at least I do when we’re both in the same state at the same time, and if I’m away it’s not too hard to find someone to go with. (I don’t count last year because December 25th is no big deal in Israel.)


This year, I’ll be adding something to my Christmas Day plans: participating in the DCJCC’s annual December 25th Day of Service, which brings together over 1,000 volunteers to bring some warmth and cheer to over 10,000 DC, Maryland, and Virginia residents.


EntryPointDC and a grand group of good-hearted young professionals will be at Change Inc., a social services organization in Columbia Heights, throwing a party for children of local, low-income families. Not only will we bring gifts, but we’ll have snacks, art and crafts projects, and D25 Partymaybe, if they’ve been good, a visit from Santa. It’s a couple hours out of a day when we’re not at work anyway, and what mitzvah to bring some holiday cheer to kids who may not get it anywhere else! (And no one said anything about not getting Chinese food and seeing Les Miserables after…). You can sign up here to join us, spaces are still available!

Any other interesting December 25th traditions out there?






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

Shabbat Surfing: Tisha B’av

Jerusalem on Fire

The fast day of Tisha B’av, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, begins this Monday night at sundown. One of the most moving rituals of this somber holiday is the public reading of the Book of Lamentations (Eicha), whose emotionally harrowing words and plaintive tune evoke the depth of the  loss.

  • Listen to Virtual Cantor chant Eicha in the original Hebrew.
  • Still brushing up on your biblical Hebrew? Me too. Go to Mechon Mamre for a good translation.
  • Eicha invisions Jerusalem as a mourning widow. Other texts even envision Israel an estranged or even beaten wife. What’s with that?
  • This is a notoriously hard holiday to explain to children. Check out this great crafts project and resist the urge to have them build a giant Lego Temple that you unceremoniously destroy.
  • It is a said that the Temple was destroyed because of senseless hatred. Read this story about the rivalry that brought the Temple down. Once you realize how mired in this dreck we still are, consider doing something with the J to help repair this broken world.

Shabbat Shalom!

To New Beginnings

by Michal Rosenoer, Behrend Builders Coordinator and Avodah Fellow

I’ve picked up a lot of new identities in this past month. Not passports or aliases, but rather identity-markers like “recent graduate” and “young Jewish professional” that are both new and strange to me. Since I moved here from the San Francisco Bay Area just over a month ago, I’ve been in the process of re-writing myself and, incidentally, re-shaping the way I see the world.  

Michal Rosenoer, Avodah Fellow at Behrend BuildersBefore I go further into this note, I would like to not-so-formally introduce myself. My name is Michal Rosenoer and I am the new Program Coordinator for Behrend Builders here at the Washington DC JCC. I took over this position in early September upon my acceptance into AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps, which places a fellow in this position each year. As I mentioned earlier, I just moved to the District in late August from California where I was born, raised, and attended the University of California at Berkeley (go Bears!) As I’ve begun to make the transition from one coastline to another and from college-student to professional within the last 30 days, I can honestly say that I’m currently experiencing one of the busiest and most exciting times of my (albeit short) life. So what does it feel like to pick up all these identities at once?

Emotionally exhausting.

In college, I was just your average run-of-the-mill “liberal outdoorsy female.” Now, in a city where nametags, business cards, and even zip codes are defining features of a person, I am those things and so much more. In addition to the identifiers listed above, I have also recently become an AVODAH fellow, a housemate in an intentionally-Jewish communal home, a JCC employee, and a West Coaster (commonly identified by a lack of solid footwear in inclement weather, apparently). Coming to terms with my new life here in D.C. means not only adjusting to the pressures and expectations from each of these new titles, but also asking big questions like, “what does it mean to be doing social justice work in the city’s capital,” or “how is Shabbat a radical practice,” and of course, the ever-ongoing debate, “are these shoes work-appropriate?” Some of these discussions are entirely internal, but some have been facilitated by my peers, the AVODAH staff, and of course, my new colleagues here at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center.

Right now I am struggling to answer many of these questions for myself. Sometimes I even struggle to hold them all in my head at once, but I am quickly learning that responding to these queries is an ongoing process (I think they call this personal growth); just accepting the existence of the questions and all the facets of my new life is a step in the right direction. Baby steps are key, I am told.

Fortunately, I like where these baby steps are getting me thus far. While I am still adjusting to a Hekshered-kosher vegetarian kitchen and working a 40-hour work week, I think the most daunting new identity of them all – “adult” –  is becoming a little less intimidating. I look forward to sharing part of my journey here, with the DC JCC community.

Report from the Set of the DC-area Extreme Makeover Home Edition

by Erica Steen, Director of the Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service

After meeting the “Extreme Team” location staff last week, they enlisted our Behrend Builder volunteers to construct the plywood floors for the food tents (craft services for those of you in “the biz”). Sunday was the day and what a day it was! My colleague Randy Bacon (Behrend Builders’ Director) and I took a group of 18 volunteers to help out the Location Crew on the sets of ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. It was a day to remember. We arrived at registration where we all received our hard hats and bright blue Extreme shirts. We grabbed our tools and were off to work.

There was a lot of “hurry up and wait” at first since our supplies weren’t there yet, but our drills and saws were charged and we were ready to go. It only took our rockin’ group of volunteers about an hour and a half to build the first floor that was housed under the VIP food tent. And then we waited again. What’s with these TV people anyway? Don’t they do this over and over and over again?

Ty Pennington

He Likes Me?

It was OK, we got more than we bargained for in a good way! In the sun and heat we waited and waited for the second round of supplies…meanwhile we watched Ty Pennington and his crew film the demolition of the Trip family house. It was pretty cool cheering the big honkin’ excavators.  Double-bonus, it seemed the other volunteers for the day hadn’t made it, so when the film crew needed extras…GO Washington DCJCC! Yes, we were there to step in. Our volunteers really do whatever we need of them. At one point though I did get in a bit of a kerfuffle with the guy in charge of extras. Our supplies had finally arrived and he just didn’t understand that we needed to build a floor and didn’t have so much time to mill around (yes, those were our directions) and be on camera. In the end, we got to do both. But, I don’t think he was so happy with me.

Now, there’s no telling if we’ll make air or end up on the cutting room floor, but sometime in November, you might just see a familiar Washington DCJCC volunteer or staff face on ABC.

So, I had a very busy Sunday. Together we built 3 ply-wood floors, cheered on two demolitions and helped put up a tent. Four of our volunteers filmed a scene with Paulie  (they’ll be acting like fish…watch for them) and we all counted down from 10, three different times so that they could get the best count-down for the demolition scene. And yes, for those that are interested…I did meet Ty Pennington and he made me a bracelet of twigs and leaves. I think he likes me.

Volunteer in DC – Unextreme Home Makeover

I think that Randy Bacon and Adam Levine have the best jobs at the Washington DCJCC.  Don’t get me wrong, I like my job. More to the point, I couldn’t do their job. Randy is the director of Behrend Builders, our year-round shelter repair program, and Adam is our Fellow from Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps. Together they run volunteer projects for the Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service that perform needed improvements in homeless shelters, schools, low-income housing and community organizations all around the District of Columbia.

I am going to tell the following story, not because it is extraordinary, but because it is very, very ordinary. The kind of story that could be told any day of the week simply by asking Randy and Adam, “So, what are you up to?”


The referral came from Neighborhood Legal Services.  Peggy turned to them when a city inspector showed up at her house citing her for various code violations, fining her, and giving her seven days to make the repairs. Peggy, a senior who earns less than $12,000 a year, didn’t have the money. And seven days later the inspector would show up once more, and fine her again for the repairs which Peggy was unable to make. The next week, same story. The bill kept getting larger. This went on until Peggy had accrued $9500 in fines. More than 75% of what her total income for the year is.

Once NLS connected Peggy with Behrend Builders, Randy and Adam got to work. After about a month, this is the report.

They got a new inspector assigned to Peggy’s case and with a letter of intent to complete all repairs within 120 days, were able to stop the weekly fines from mounting up. They’ve already brought in several teams of volunteers and performed about $1500 worth of construction on her home, including replacing the stairs (pictured below), removing a crumbling retaining wall and hauling it away. Randy estimates that her property probably needs another $8,000 of repair work including sheet-rock and flooring. At some point, her roof will need to be dealt with as well.

And every week, Randy and Adam bring another group of volunteers out to Southeast and get a little more done.

steps-png-finalIt is literally Tikkun Olam. One step at a time.

To learn how you can volunteer, click here to sign up for the Volunteer View, our eNewsletter.

Remembering Katrina

One of the families helped by Behrend Builders in New Orleans with (former) Behrend Coordinator Annie Mehlman and Director Randy Bacon.

One of the families helped by Behrend Builders in New Orleans with (former) Behrend Coordinator Annie Mehlman and Director Randy Bacon.

It has been three years since Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans, so we sent the following questions to Randy Bacon, a New Orleans native and director of the Behrend Builders Shelter Repair program at the Washington DCJCC. Randy led a group of volunteers to New Orleans in May/June of 2006.

Where were you when Katrina hit? How did your family in New Orleans do both before and after the levees broke.
When Katrina hit New Orleans I was here in DC and watching the television non-stop to see what was going on.  My family waited until about 12 hours before the storm actually hit New Orleans before leaving.   They took 11 different cars filled with parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, spouses, nieces and nephews.  At some point I lost contact with every family member and once the storm made landfall they lost all cell phone reception.  It wasn’t until 6 days later that I was finally able to talk to one of my brothers.  He explained that everyone in my family was okay but scattered around at different hotels in different states.  He explained that they were running into problems accessing money from ATMs and wouldn’t be able to purchase food or pay for the hotels once all the cash on hand was gone.

What was it like the first time you went back to New Orleans after Katrina?

The first time I went back to New Orleans was when Behrend Builders orchestrated a volunteer project on which we took a total of 14 people from the DC area to go do some relief work in the hardest hit areas of New Orleans.  We intended on gutting 2 houses for families that had 8 to 12 feet of water inside the homes, but our volunteers pushed themselves and we did a total of 4 houses.  Each gutting job probably saved the families around $10,000 dollars per home.  We began by removing all personal items and then started at the ceiling and didn’t stop until we could see the concrete on the floor and in some cases the grass underneath the raised homes.  I have been back since and all of the houses we gutted have been repaired and are once again a HOME.

How did the Behrend Builder’s trip to New Orleans come-about?
The Behrend Builder trip came about when the previous Coordinator (Annie Mehlman) approached me to see how she could help me or my family.  I said we would be fine and she suggested we plan a relief trip to help those in need.
What do you think will happen if Gustav lands on the city? Is your family staying?

My family hasn’t made a decision on what they will do this time.   They will decide early tomorrow morning.

UPDATE: Randy emailed me this evening to say that his parents have decided to leave New Orleans and ride out the storm from a safer distance. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his parents and everyone along the Gulf Coast.

Bacon-Cubed and Cleaning the Anacostia

If you take your blog-reading seriously, then at this point you’ve probably heard about the bacon bra–the sort of bizarre cultural curiosity that only internet can make possible. Last week we mentioned the rise of a new and disturbing bacon lollipop. Now word reaches us of bacon vodka. Isn’t there some rule of three that should have us all very, very worried right now? According to Arlo Guthrie, doesn’t three incidents of gratuitous and bizarre bacon usage indicate an underlying organization?

Ask Randy BaconFor answers we suggest you speak to our resident expert and New Orleans native, Randy Bacon, the Director of the Behrend Builders and co-director of the 16th Street J’s Spring into Action Day of Environmental Service. There are still some slots left for this project taking place this Sunday, April 13 at the Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens. Volunteers will clear litter from the Anacostia, (both from the shore and from canoes and kayaks in the river) help remove non-native, invasive plants and renew recreation areas throughout the park. If you’ve never been, the Aquatic Gardens are one of DC’s hidden gems, and your volunteer work is needed to help it continue to shine. Tucked away in Northeast, the gardens are the only Federal Park that displays cultivated aquatic plants. They’ve got waterlillies you could float a large child on (not recommended). It’s a day to reconnect to our city, our environment and to our responsibility to both.

And if you see Randy, you may also learn what is behind the preponderance of pork products in posts here and elsewhere.

This Week at the 16th Street J

Some highlights from the coming week of programming at the Washington DCJCC.

Monday, April 7

  • The Women Who Kept the Songs: From India to Israel — The Musical Heritage of Cochin. A unique partnership between the Embassies of Israel and India provides the rare opportunity to hear the songs of traditional Jewish communities from India’s Malabar Coast. Members of the Nirit Singers from Israel will perform songs in Malayam, recovered through a unique collaboration between the Cochin Jews and dedicated anthropologists and musicologists

Tuesday, April 8

  • Passover Wine Tasting with Jay Caplan. Each Seder calls for four cups of wine (and potentially more than that depending on how close you are with your family). Gone are the days when you needed to choke down sickly-sweet Concord grape, choose from Cabernets, Merlots, Chardonnays, Rieslings, and then if you must have sweet wine, try some specially vinted for dessert.
  • Israeli Rock Singer Etti Ankiri– A Spiritual Songstress. Combining a rare combination of spirituality, feminism and Israeli rock ‘n roll chops, Etti’s music is reminiscent of the Idan Raichel Project, with a Kabbalistic twist.

Wednesday, April 9

  • Seven Strategies for a Succesful Seder with Sarah Gershman. We’re not talking about how to respond when your Aunt Selma asks why you’re not pregnant yet. Rather, come learn how to make your seder experience more meaningful, with special readings, games, songs and my favorite: props! As for Aunt Selma, see Passover Wine Tasting (above).

Thursday, April 10

  • Jewish Flavors From the Silk Road with Susan Barocas. There’s more to Jewish food than gefilte fish. In fact, there’s a whole culinary tradition beyond the shtetl that encompasses Jewish communities from Rome to Tehran to Tashkent, Bombay and beyond.

Sunday, April 13

  • Spring Into Action–Day of Environmental Community Service at Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens. Spend the day outdoors helping to beautify one of the District’s hidden gems along the Anacostia River. There are tasks appropriate for the whole family from litter collection, to non-native plant removal, to a flotilla of kayaks and canoes cleaning trash from the river

Spring Into Action

Berman Hebrew Academy Students Make My Senior Skip Day Look Shallow

Back in the good ole analog days, when I was in high school, “Senior Skip Day” (you might have called it “Cut Day” or “Ditch Day” or “I Got Into College and I Am Sooo Over High School Day”) was a day for frivolity, goofing off, and in my case heading down to the Jersey Shore, testing out my fake i.d., and trying to convince Heidi McHighschoolcrush that we could be more than “just friends.” But enough of my baggage. (P.S.–Heidi, I am totally over you.)

Yesterday, Erica Steen, the director of the Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service got a phone call at around 10am telling her that a group of Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy students were having an impromptu “Senior Skip Day” and were looking to make the day meaningful and thought a community service project would fit the bill. While the department didn’t have any specific projects scheduled for that day, Erica proposed that they come downtown anyway and she would Berman Academy Kids Rebel By Repairing the Worldcreate a project for them.

Within an hour Erica met 14 boys and one girl at a grocery store around the corner from the 16th Street J where they purchased bread and fruit and bottled water, then returned to the J’s community service prep kitchen.

The kids proceeded to assemble peanut butter sandwiches which they then took down to Franklin Square at 13th and I Streets and distributed to the homeless population that tends to congregate in the park there.

According to Erica, much of the conversation amongst the students centered around how much trouble they might be in the next day for cutting class. And while, their headmaster may have to give at least a small rebuke (if he’s a go-by-the-book kind of guy), I have a hunch that they won’t be forced to write on the blackboard 100 times, “I will not cut class to feed the homeless and hungry.”

Bart Simpson Does Not Attend Berman Hebrew Academy

So we congratulate the Seniors of the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy for their good hearts, their kind deeds and hope that the faculty and staff of the school will smile and be proud of all that they did. We were proud to be a part of it.

If you are a high school student (or are parenting a high school student) and are interested in doing community service work for school credit or for personal enrichment, consider participating in the 16th Street J’s summer service camp: Yad B’ Yad. The two-week camp exposes high school students to a variety of service projects in the DC-area including shelter repair, hunger action, environmental clean-up, neighborhood beautification and work with at-risk children. There’s an early-bird registration discount of 10% if you sign up before April 4.

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