Yom Kippur: Apologies, Technology and More

Yom Kippur 5773 begins at sundown on Tuesday and Jews are currently in the midst of reflecting on the past year, clearing their schedules for holiday observance, and seeking to be included once again in the Book of Life.

JTA has put together list of the top apologies of 5772. We might question the sincerity of some of them, but either way it’s a good recap of those who have wronged us.

Chicago White Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis is pleased with the resolution to change the time of the September 25 game against the Cleveland Indians to 1:10 pm to accommodate the observance of Kol Nidre. Called “The Sandy Koufax question” the Yom Kippur vs. baseball dilemma is nothing new.

Techy generation: A rabbi at a Miami Beach Rosh Hashanah service encouraged twenty-somethings to engage with the service by anonymously texting their regrets, goals, musings and blissful thoughts for everyone to see.

The Huffington Post is Live-Blogging the High Holy Days and incorporating pluralistic thoughts and all kinds of online mediums into this communal celebration.

Finally, if words fail you, Tablet’s got some punchy ecards to send to your family and friends:


Shana Tova and Shabbat Shalom!

Shabbat Surfing: What’s New?

Suze Orman thinks you should be going to a cool Jewish summer camp.
Image (c) suzeorman.com

Shana tova!

We’re days away from the Jewish New Year and it seemed the right time to focus on all things both Jewish and new.

Because it’s hard to be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Suze Orman just making lanyards…
New Camp: Four new Jewish summer camps are gearing up to create more memorable overnight camp experiences for underserved populations, thanks to the Foundation for Jewish Camp, in the areas of business and entrepreneurship, health and wellness, sports, and science and technology.

Because it’s about time…
New Name: “Jew Pond” in New Hampshire, named as a pejorative in the 1920s when the hotel to which it was connected was bought by two Jewish businessmen from Boston, has been officially renamed Carleton Pond.

Because sexism and agism are so passe…
New Shofar Blowers: DC Congregations, including Adas Israel and Tifereth Israel, are seeing more and more women, plus young and older adults who want to blow the shofar, and are learning for these High Holidays.

Because we notice when one of the oldest Jewish communities in the Middle East is denied the right to worship…
New Place Without a Minyan: “For the first time in some 2,000 years, Alexandria [Egypt] will not have a minyan,” as Egyptian authorities cancel services at Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue and deny visas.

Because welcoming all Jewish families is a core value…
New Info on Interfaith Families: With interfaith relationships making up a not-insignificant amount of the Jewish community, new survey data helps Jewish organizations engage these families, who are looking for outlandish things like a welcoming attitude, invitations to learn about Judaism, and events for interfaith families.


Have you ever lost?

Luke?Have you ever lost something or someone that wasn’t really yours to begin with? It kind of aches and leaves a hole and you’re really not sure why.

August 30, I gave what people call “the gift of life,” through my Peripheral Blood Stem Cells (PBSC). I was excited that my cells could help fight someone else’s disease.

I found out this morning that Luke and I lost the fight.

Be the Match/National Bone Marrow Registry will not give you the name of your recipient until one year after the donation, but I needed a name. To be more personable and to make the situation more realistic for me, I began calling my recipient Luke (for the Leukemia that possessed him), to make him a person. Naming him made it much easier to fight for Luke and to give him my PBSC.

I understand the need for anonymity but it hurts to know that I can’t contact his family, send them a condolence card by name, or even learn the town where they live.

Do I have a right to grieve? It is a shame that this Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) could not have been a new beginning for Luke, this stranger in my life.

Still, it was still worth it and I would do it all over again.

If you aren’t a part of the National Marrow Donor Program, you should be. It’s easy to register, and saves thousands* of lives each year. I wish Luke had been one of them.

(And if you don’t feel comfortable joining the registry, join us to donate blood on October 27. I’ll be there.)


Read the whole story here:
How I Became a Stem Cell Donor
How I Became a Stem Cell Donor (part two)
Soon to Be Stem Cell Donor

It’s a New Year, Volunteer

*They currently need twice the donors they get. 10,000 people are on the bone marrow waitlist, and only 5,000 ever get the transplant.

What We’re Listening To: Rosh Hashanah Rock Anthem

Poet Laureates Know What the High Holidays Are For

This morning, the Library of Congress announced Philip Levine as the next Poet Laureate of the United States.

Levine talked to The Atlantic years ago about his relationship to the work at hand:

“The process of writing poetry depends on being alone in a room, and being comfortable being alone for long periods of time — almost reveling in solitude and slow time. I’ve had friends tell me, younger poets, that when they came back from their early reading tours they’d get very depressed. I guess they were waiting for applause as they picked up pen and pencil. But there is no applause.”

Levine hits on something: there is no applause.

When we are doing work that is meaningful to us, it often doesn’t take place in front of an audience. In fact, we’re all probably familiar with the old wisdom that observing an event fundamentally changes it. Watching a genius at work, really isn’t – that genius isn’t probably her most focused or doing her deepest work while watched. She will get to work when you leave.

Still, we want to be acknowledged for our own moments of genius, or accomplishment – and that’s fine, and can encourage us to greater heights.

Yet, what Levine “gets” fundamentally, is that that’s not the real work. Our real work comes when we are thinking and acting according to our highest selves.

Levine has talked about turning experience into poetry, giving it new value and dignity.  I think prayer works the same way (in whatever form you might pray/hope/wish). Taking what we know from our lives and turning it into prayer (or “prayer”), acknowledges the value and dignity in our own experiences, and allows us to build from there.

The Library of Congress seems to know this real work of ours isn’t done in public spaces, and keeps the Laureate’s official duties to the bare minimum: Levine will open and close the literary season, which will undoubtedly come with applause. Then, everything else in between is up to Levine.

The literary season at the LoC opens on October 17, just after the High Holidays. As they approach, we consider what a new year can mean, what we want it to mean. Do we pursue our passions, our values? Do we advocate for those in need, either on an individual or national level? Are we kind with one other?

Perhaps during this period, Levine will be considering what to do with this year that has been gifted to him, while he has an elevated position from which to speak. At the close of Yom Kippur, there won’t be applause for whatever important work we’ve done; only the year stretching out ahead of us, ours to do with what we will.

Honey Cake, Hold the Sin, er…nuts

by Jean Graubart, Director of the Leo & Anna Smilow Center for Jewish Living and Learning

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a time of hope, reflection and great optimism.  Along with the prayers that mark the occasion  the foods we eat are a way to ensure sweetness in the year ahead. 

Honey cake is the much revered and traditional dessert at the holiday table.  It may be superstition that keeps us eating this sweet, but it’s one that’s been handed down through the generations and certainly can’t do us any harm! Take the opportunity to wish your friends and family sweetness in the new year and to carry on a delicious tradition. 

There is some debate as to whether or not to put NUTS in the honey cake.  The Hebrew word for walnut is אגוז-“egoz” and its numerical value is 17 (much like הי -“chai”/life is 18).  17 is also the numerical value for חטא-“het” the Hebrew word for sin.  During the holiday we are asking forgiveness for our sins and so some say that to eat walnuts would be putting sins into our body.  Those who are especially cautious (some might say especially superstitious) avoid all nuts during the holiday.  Sort of the “better to be safe than sorry” model for living.  But if you love nuts, why not throw in a handful of pecans.

Honey cakes come in many forms, some dense and spicy, others filled with raisins.  My favorite is one that tastes primarily of honey and is not overcome by other flavors.  

ROSH HASHANAH (and all year round) delicious Honey Cake

Zest of 1 lemon or orange (large or small pieces are fine)    1 cup water
1 cup honey
½ cup brown sugar packed (I like dark)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs (large or extra large)
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda

Preparation time is about 15 minutes
Baking time about 1 hour
Yields about 10 slices

Preheat oven to 325

  1. Combine zest and water in a small sauce pan and heat to a boil for 1 minute, remove from stove, cover and set aside
  2. Combine oil, honey and brown sugar and mix well (wooden spoon or electric mixer)
  3. Add eggs 1 at a time beating/mixing well after each one
  4. Strain zest from water and discard zest
  5. Add 1/3 cup of the warm water to the bowl and beat on low speed 1 minute or with wooden spoon for 1 minute
  6. Add flour and baking soda slowly as you mix in
  7. Put in last 1/3 of lemon or orange water and mix until smooth  (Batter will be very thin)
  8. Pour into a greased loaf pan (9”5”)  (spraying well with Pam or the like is best)
  9. Place loaf pan on a baking sheet.
  10. Bake until cake springs back when touched very lightly in the center or when a wooden pick inserted in the center, comes clean, about 1 hour
  11. Cool cake in pan 15 minutes, turn out

This cake lasts throughout the holiday so enjoy.  Keep fresh by covering  with tin foil or plastic wrap.

Remember to add honey to your homemade round challah and to dip it into honey, rather than the salt used for dipping on Shabbat. If you want to go all out, keep all bitter or sour foods off the table for your holiday meal.

And finally, be sure to say the blessing that marks the festive occasion:
“May it be Thy will to renew unto us a good and sweet year.” 

And so is our wish to you and your families from the staff at the Washington DCJCC.


Good Riddance 5769

You sucked.

Okay, you had some really good things that happened also: an historic election, a pretty good Super Bowl and some decent movies. Here at the J we had a great year of programs: hit shows, our first Helen Hayes Award, amazing parties on Election and Inauguration Nights, incredible authors, musicians and community service accomplishments.

But mostly you sucked.

You were the year of the near-collapse of our economic system. When we were sitting in shul last year, the housing bubble was bursting, the stock market was in free-fall and the auto industry was well on its way to collapse. I remember thinking, “The beginning of 5769 sucks so hard, it can only go up from here.”

I was wrong.

Bernie Madoff happened. If he had just been a ganef of enormous proportions that would have been bad enough. But he compounded his villainy by stealing from charitable organizations and some of the major philanthropists behind the Jewish community specifically, and the non-profit world in-general. Madoff will forever be the dark presence that hovers over 5769.

Israel stumbled through a close election that revealed a deeply divided electorate, created a minority-led government and no real optimism that any current peace initiative has much chance of success.

We were enthralled by the possibility of change in Iran, even as their nuclear development grew ever more ominous and the possible outcomes seemed increasingly less attractive.

We were horrified by senseless killing in our own community at the Holocaust Museum, in the neighborhoods of the District of Columbia, and at the LGBT Center in Tel Aviv.

We lost dear friends.

And yet, tomorrow in shul I will pray for a sweet 5770. And I even have faith my prayers might be heard and answered. Because hope is surprisingly resilient. And as bitter as the after-taste of 5769 might seem now, in a few years we may view it differently. After all, providence can reveal itself in time. How many people would trade a President Barack Obama in 2009 for a President John Kerry in 2004?

May we all be inscribed for a year of peace, a year of prosperity, a year of good health and a year of sweetness.

May G-d Bless You and Keep You
May G-d cause G-d’s countenance to shine upon you
May G-d lift G-d’s face to you, and Grant you peace

Rosh Hashanah Foods Besides Apples and Honey

by Jean Graubart
Director of the Leo and Anna Smilow Center for Jewish Living and Learning

Rosh Hashana, part of the Days of Awe, is a spiritual holiday, calling us to the task of inner reflection, soul searching, and forgiveness. It is also a time to find hope and sweetness in the New Year, and what better way to do that than through food? The most well-known symbol is honey, served on a round challah to represent the cycle of the year.

But there are more traditional treats from many different Sephardic cultures. Some of these Jews serve chewy dates for more sweetness; Moroccan Jews dip the dates into a tasty mixture of ground sesame seeds, aniseeds and powdered sugar. There is even a prayer to be recited over dates: “As we eat this date, may we date the New Year that is beginning as one of happiness and blessings and peace.”

Veggies have a place too. Many Sephardic Jews cook pumpkins or gourds to express the hope that as this vegetable is protected by a thick covering, so may we be protected and kept strong. Leeks are eaten for luck and spinach or Swiss chard or the leafy part of the beet root are eaten to “beat” off enemies and keep us from those who might do us harm. The greens are said to build strength. Israeli Jews often eat at least seven kinds of fruits and vegetables to symbolize the hope for a plentiful year. One favorite dish is carrot salad, with the carrots cut in rounds to represent coins and the hope of a prosperous year. Orange lentils are prepared for the same reason.

Shana Tova says the FishRosh Hashanah literally means “head of the year,” and in many Israeli and Sephardic homes, a fish head is given to a special guest or the head of the household to eat. Besides being a test for the stomach, the food represents the hope that the family will move forward and come out ahead in the coming year.

The pomegranate has become a fixture on the Rosh Hashana table. It is said that every pomegranate contains exactly 613 seeds, the exact number of the mitzvot, Biblical commandments, that Jews are obligated to fulfill. The prayer for this fruit asks that the coming year will be filled with as many good deeds as the pomegranate has seeds. Also, the top of the fruit is said to look like the crown of the Torah, and it is believed that the pomegranate is a symbol of fertility.

Of course there is the classic. Apples are dipped in honey because the fruit’s roundness symbolizes a hope that the New Year will be joyous from start to finish, full circle.

We at the Washington DCJCC, wish you a “Shana Tova”, a year of sweetness and good

Rosh Hashanah: Mixed Faith Families, Mix-and-Match Honey and Apples

Some interesting things from around the interwebnet-tubes today as the countdown to Rosh Hashanah rolls on.

The first item that was brought to my attention by the ever-devoted Dr. Marion Usher, who runs our interfaith couples workshops, is an advertisement from last week’s Washington Jewish Week. 

adas ad -jpeg -contrast

The ad is your typical “Shana Tova” listing from Adas Israel, the largest conservative congregation in-town, except for two details, both of which, I think are very encouraging. First, the ad announces that no tickets are required to attend Erev Rosh Hashanah services on Friday, September 18 at 8:00 pm. Which is nice. More shuls should try and break-through the pay-for-pray perception (which to some extent is reality) which plague large congregations with “no ticket required” High Holiday services. More remarkable is the text underneath which reads,

“Rabbi Gil Steinlauf will usher in the High Holy Day season with a major address on Keruv (outreach) to dual faith families. All are welcome.”

 I don’t know that I recall the last time I saw a rabbi’s sermon topic advertised as a “major address” on a specific topic — kind of like the President addressing Congress on healthcare. But I kinda like it. And the implication is that Rabbi Steinlauf will be using one of the most high-profile nights of the Jewish year to both welcome dual faith families to his congregation, as well as to make the case that this kind of outreach is crucial to the future of his synagogue and the Conservative Movement. It is a commendable act, and I hope it finds a wide and receptive audience. In the meantime, if you’re between 21-35 years-old and are still looking for a service for the Holidays, visit EntryPointDC/Gesher City’s comprehensive marketplace (insert irony) of free and cheap tickets.

The second item comes from the good folks at Tablet who went to the trouble of scientifically combining apples and honey to find the ideal combination. The results, are not kind on the Bear Squeeze Bottle-variety honey — which now makes me self-conscious about my own Yogi & Boo-Boo Bear-inspired purchases. I’m not surprised I could do better, but somehow I feel like we owe the Bear Bottle honey some respect for its uncomplaining work-a-day reliability. Are they abusive to bees or something? Where’s the love?

The Best New Year’s E-card. Ever.

To send yours, click here.

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