Recounting the Count

There are few people that respond to the call of a panhandler or approach a homeless individual, much less engage in a personal survey in the dead of winter.  But that is exactly what happened on January 25, 2012, across the United States, with the Point in Time (PIT) survey.  Planned for the coldest night of the year, this annual volunteer-led effort sets out to provide a snapshot of exactly who experiences homelessness.  Within a 24-hour period, volunteers comb streets, alleys, fast-food restaurants, parks, and other urban or rural spaces to count and ask personal questions to unsheltered individuals.  Additionally, permanent supportive housing programs, transitional housing agencies, hypothermia units, and other service organizations conduct a count of their own.

Collecting data tracks progress and informs service providers, policymakers, the public, and other anti-poverty measures.  This data can lead to more accurate program and policy assessment, site-specific development, and greater funding to alleviate homelessness and underserved communities. Typically, a regional report is released in early May by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Nonetheless, there is controversy on how to count those living “doubled up” with friends and family members (people who have lost their job, house, or apartment for various reasons).  Such individuals are not considered homeless by the Department of Housing and Urban Development standards and are not addressed in the count.

In DC, over 200 volunteers set out at 930pm to predesignated city neighborhoods. In the 12 year history of PIT in DC, yesterday was the first non-hypothermic evening, raising questions as to whether or not the count would be as accurate with less individuals accounted for in the shelters and more out on the streets.  Regardless, volunteers remained diligent in canvassing, and any overlapping of individual surveys would be amended. Questions included age, history of mental illness, current physical disabilities, military status, length of homelessness, and sources of income.  In return for their participation, individuals received a gift card to McDonald’s and hand warmers.  

Our group set off in Golden Triangle, zigzagging from M to P, 19th to 23rd, and back again.  After a slow start, we encountered several individuals sleeping in Dupont Circle.  Responses were warm, wary, fatigued, and sometimes scattered.  More apparent was the general confusion brought on by the apparition of such a blatant group of outsiders, and our genuine interest in their stories.  Some chitchatted and cracked jokes with us while others asked for food or money.  Most quickly answered our questions, closed their eyes, and drifted back to their cold and hard slumber. 


Special thank you to the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, the entire Point in Time Coordinating Team, and dedicated volunteers.

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.

DC is Going to EGOT; Got Protection?


DC is going for the meteorological equivalent of the EGOT this weekend.

Tracy Jordan thinks we should go for the floods


Or EHFD, if you will.

I think we get extra points for doing it all in one month, right?

We hit the drought two weeks ago and the earthquake yesterday. Hurricane Irene will hit this weekend, and the flood warnings have already started.

While I’m terribly proud of us for getting EHFD this month, it does leave us open to plenty of conjecture about why this is happening to DC. (And also makes us the likely first course in a zombie apocalypse, but that’s the least of our worries right now.)

It’s been suggested that the earth shook yesterday because parties in Congress agreed on something, but that’s obviously insane; everyone knows Congress goes home in August. Otherwise, plausible.

The gays have been blamed. Of course. Certainly who you do “dinner and a movie” with should be enough to hold dominion over all meteorological and tectonic forces.

The other possibility is that we thought New York might get EHFD before us.

Still, we’re planning for multiple programs this weekend: some do-goodery, and fun times. Perhaps this isn’t an award we want to win…


Cherry Blossoms and Jewish Advocacy

With the Cherry Blossom Festival commencing and the flowers out in full force, it’s no longer doubtful (despite the recent weather) that Spring is officially here. Author Rob Sachs posted an article, “An Afternoon of Cherry Blossoms and Swastikas,” on The Huffington Post about his unique experience at the annual festival this past weekend.

He discusses his weekend jaunt through the Tidal Basin and then, unexpectedly, into the adjacent United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Sachs juxtaposes the joyful nature of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival to the pain and suffering on display within the neighboring museum and draws a comparison to the Jewish tradition of stepping on a glass; he attributes this tradition, as do many, to the call from the Jewish community to remember the pain of the past even in the most joyous moments of our lives.

To that end, springtime – for Jews – is all about celebration and juxtaposition.

During Purim, for example, we are literally commanded to eat, drink, and throw raucous parties, while simultaneously crying out the name of our enemies and exterminators over and over until we’re numb to the sound.

Likewise, Passover, which is right around the corner, requires us to eat and drink like Kings and Queens. However, we still must dip our greens in the tears of our ancestors and spread the bitter pain of the Jews of yesteryear all over our matzot.

While these are the traditions many of us grew up with, maybe it’s time to consider adding some new traditions to our beloved springtime regiment of Food with Reflection. Bad things happened in the past, and it’s important to remember them, nevertheless it’s also important to reflect and act upon the struggles our communities face today.

There’s no better time than Spring – the season of renewal and hope – to get involved.

This April, for example, consider coming out to volunteer with the DCJCC’s Spring into Action program on April 10th (or other new volunteer opportunities). This annual event raises awareness about local environmental issues while providing opportunities for the community to engage with each other and work hand-in-hand towards a solution.

This year, our 2011 theme is around urban agriculture, community gardening, and park restoration. With oil prices, obesity rates, and unemployment all on the rise, it’s important to remember that our food system isn’t just about food; the way we grow our food impacts the environment, our health, and the economic and employment stability of our communities.

Local and sustainable agriculture is a great source of fair employment, healthy food, and community-building throughout the greater Washington DC area – it’s a great chance to meet some local farmers, advocates, and other families in your own neighborhoods. And bring the kids! This year, Spring into Action falls at the same time as Earth Day and Global Youth Action Day, to get all ages involved in sewing some seeds of change.

If you’re looking for a new, conscientious twist on Passover, also consider heading over to the National Rainbow Seder with DCJCC’s GLOE, or the Labor Seder with Jews United for Justice. Both of these seders are fun, meaningful ways to explore some of the most important social issues of our time – this year focusing on the rights and freedoms of the LGBTQ international community, and the struggle to find – and keep – good jobs.

(And there’s nothing like Jewish guilt and copious amounts of food to drive a movement, so don’t wait to jump on board: both of these events tend to sell out every year.)

At the end of Sachs’s article, he pondered that maybe his detour into the museum wasn’t so random after all; as Jews, we are inexplicably tied to a history of people that have sought justice for themselves and their communities for millennia.

No matter what your favorite part of Springtime is – the eating, the socializing, or the reflecting – take a break from the normal routine and make this holiday intentional by exploring not just the issues of the past, but those pertinent to our communities today.

And don’t forget to stop and smell the blossoms! Spring is as fleeting as it is special. Take advantage of it.

By the DCJCC’s Behrend Builders coordinator, Michal Rosenoer. Contact her with comments, concerns, or for more information at

What is the Washington DCJCC? Our Departing Avodahnik Figures it Out.

by Adam Levine

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, which is about as far from Washington, DC as you can get while still in the United States. Coming from the suburbs of a mid-sized city an hour south of Seattle, I wasn’t exposed to the same American Jewish culture that a lot of other American Jews (from larger cities) grew up with. The closest JCC to me was a 45-minute drive north to Mercer Island, an affluent and very Jewish suburb of Seattle. Most of my friends from Jewish sleepover camp grew up in that area. They went to the JCC and to them it was just a part of being an American Jew. “You don’t have a JCC?” they would ask me in surprise and confusion. “You mean you don’t have a place to go to Hebrew High on Wednesday nights?” they would say.

The answer is simple: No, I did not frequent a JCC growing up. I had never heard of a Jewish Day School until I roomed with other American Jews while living in Israel. And the idea of having Jewish friends outside of those I met at summer camp was completely foreign to me. I envied my friends for having so much more exposure to a Jewish community; for being able to attend the same high school as their Jewish friends. This was something I just didn’t have growing up.

September 2nd, 2008 marked my first day of work at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center. Ironically enough, it also marked the first day I ever stepped foot into a JCC. I had no idea what the JCC was and didn’t really know what to expect. The fact that the building has a gym, a preschool, a café, a theatre, an art gallery, a library, a conference hall, and numerous offices all under one roof was all too overwhelming for me. After weeks and weeks of working here I still asked myself, what is this place?

Although the answer still isn’t completely clear, I now have a much better idea of what the Washington DCJCC is and its overall mission. The DCJCC is unique unto its own. For one thing, it is only one of three urban Jewish Community Centers in the country. Aside from the abundance of programs, events and opportunities it provides, it is also a place of great diversity. I have never walked into this building only to find people of one age group, one race, or one religious background. And that’s one thing I love about this place. I love that it can bring both Jews and non-Jews together. Together for athletics, theatre productions, literature readings, community service events, parties (and the list goes on and on).

So, in some ways, there’s no wonder why I was so confused and overwhelmed when I first came here. But now I know what this place is for. This place is here to provide Jews and non-Jews alike a place for community. I place to participate in anything and everything that comes through these four walls, right in the heart of Washington, DC. For a city with so much hope, so much drive and so much diversity, the Washington DCJCC is a place that welcomes it all, and that is what I will miss most about this place.

Adam Levine spent the last year in Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps working in the Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service’s Behrend Builders program.

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