Shabbat Surfing: Nutella

One of my favorite things about working at the J is our once a month staff Shabbat in the Q Street Lobby. We gather together at the end of the afternoon to say prayers, sing some songs and eat challah spread high with Nutella.

As I was getting ready for work this morning, NPR aired a story about the California mom who sued the maker of Nutella for falsely advertising the chocolate hazelnut spread as a healthy choice. I smiled as I remembered that today is a staff Shabbat day and reminded myself to follow my mother’s mantra of “everything in moderation” and to try my hardest to use a reasonable amount of Nutella on my challah.

When I was in Israel last year, I indulged in bread with the chocolate spread Hashahar Ha’oleh nearly every morning. It is a bit different than Nutella but equally as delicious. The makers of the spread are a family business headquartered outside of Haifa and they make three varieties: classic dairy, parve and nut. Their sales double during the two months around Passover, as the spread serves as a perfect matzo topping.

It is a good thing Hashahar is so delicious because Israelis pay about 20% more for Nutella than we do in the United States. Kashrut approval and importing the product impact the price in Israel, of course, but it doesn’t mean that Israelis will blindly accept the higher prices. In 2008, Nutella was at the center of a very different class action lawsuit in Israel than its maker just settled in the US. Its Israeli importer was forced to give out 91 tons of Nutella for free after consumers rose up and protested the fact that jars were reduced in size but not in price.

Nutella lends itself so well to inclusion into Jewish holidays, that it’s no wonder it is so popular here, in Israel, and around the world:

Nutella braided into challah

Donuts filled with Nutella 

Nutella Hamentaschen

Nutella Rugelach

If you’re here at 16th and Q on a Friday afternoon and find us celebrating in the lobby, please come join us.  Shabbat Shalom!

The Shabbatluck Phenomenon

Shabbat potlucks are popping up everywhere. In Cincinnati, Shabbat potlucks are making a difference, as people rave about the strong sense of community these dinners bring. One young professional from that community shared: “It was, and is, amazing to be a part of this young Jewish community. We marveled that people, clearly of so many different backgrounds that, quite honestly, would never socialize together outside of the Jewish scene, came together to enjoy each other’s company and share in Shabbat.” Right here in DC hundreds of Jewish young professionals gather for informal Shabbat dinners through Washington DCJCC’s Shabbat cluster program.

What is it about Shabbat potlucks that win everyone over? Is it the relaxed, informal, ambiance that makes meeting other Jewish people easier? It can certainly be less of a scene and a more intimate way to forge relationships (though for some, big organizational dinners are actually less intimidating).

Or is it the grassroots community-building that has Shabbat potlucks booming among young adults? We also see this grassroots community building with independent minyanim, like DC Minyan at Rosh Pina at the Washington DCJCC. New forms of community are also increasing at an exponential rate, such as Moishe Houses and Ravenna Kibbutz in Seattle, which serve as centers for Jewish conversation and social gathering.  In fact, a recent study entitled “Generation of Change: How Leaders in Their Twenties and Thirties Are Reshaping Jewish Life,” conducted under the auspices of the AVI CHAI Foundation, reveals that greater proportions of young leaders stand aloof from establishment organizations. Independent programs and start-ups have been created by young leaders as an alternative. The Presentense ConnectGen Felllowship is a program that assists these young leaders launch their entrepreneurship or intrapreneurship. One venture through the Washington DCJCC and the ConnectGEN program is a Young Professional Service Learning trip to Assist/Visit Holocaust Survivors in Miami Beach, FL from June 14-19.

But perhaps young Jewish professionals gravitate to Shabbat Potlucks because it gives them a sense of a home away from home.  For many young professionals in DC, ones hometown is often thousands of miles away. Home-cooked potlucks, with everyone contributing a different dish, can create a surrogate home.  On college campuses thousands of Jewish college students flock to campus the Chabad Houses for that very reason. A study entitled, “Home Away From Home: A Research Study of the Shabbos Experience on Five University Campuses: An Information Model for Working with Young Jewish Adults,” conducted by Experiential Jewish Education Scholars Robert Chazan & David Bryfman, discusses the appeal of Chabad for providing a warm family environment to students. They find that young adults who are in the developmental stage of separating from home and family crave the warmth and roots that home represents. Interestingly, the study discloses that even female college students with stronger feminist ideologies assisted the Rabbi’s wife (often on Thursdays) prior to Shabbat dinner and helped her prepare the large Shabbat meals. This need for a home away from home can certainly translate to the desires of young professionals as well.

In my own personal experience as a young professional in New York and Washington DC, I can affirm that these informal Shabbat dinners were definitely a seminal part of my young adult life. I have many fond memories of Shabbat potlucks on Upper West Side rooftops, great conversations with girls that became best friends, and some of the most interesting people I have met. If you have never tried one before, I urge you to create your own. Most of the work involved is the coordination–send out an Evite to people  from different places, co- workers, a friend from the gym, old friends, or new friends and create a wonderful  Shabbat event in your home!

What are your thoughts about this growing phenomenon among young Jewish adults?

Shabbat Surfing: Observing and Commemorating

Some political news you’ve probably already heard is that President Obama has appointed Sabbath-observant Jacob (Jack) Lew as his new chief of staff. Neighbors of his home in the Bronx may not be very familiar with him, but Mr. Lew is a familiar face at Rosh Pina, an independent Minyan that will start meeting at the DCJCC this spring. Perhaps he will maintain his familiarity if President Obama follows President Clinton’s lead and automatically defers to Lew’s Shabbat observance.

While three-day weekends sometimes just seem to mean that public transportation is a bit spottier than usual, MLK weekend is full of meaning for the Jews. Martin Luther King, Jr. was very connected with the Jewish community when he was alive and we can only wonder what the world would look like if it were not for his untimely death.

Still running on the tremendous energy of our 2011 December 25th Day of Service, the DCJCC’s Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service is at it again on Monday with a sold-out Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service project at Community for Creative Non-Violence. Looking for another way to honor Dr. King and connect with the Jewish commitment to social justice? Congregations around the DC area are commemorating his legacy and dedication to love and justice with special Shabbat services tonight and tomorrow morning. It is a “perfect coincedence” that this Shabbat we start reading Exodus which, like Dr. King’s legacy, reminds us of the importance of human dignity.


Joe Lieberman Reminds Us Of Things We Love About Judaism: Sex on Shabbat

Joe hints at what Hadassah looks forward to on Friday night.

In an interview that feels as awkward as watching your parents discuss their favorite Kama Sutra positions, Senator Joe Lieberman and Sally Quinn discuss the mitzvah to have  “intimate sexual relations” on the “Sabbath.” Sally was so excited to discuss the topic that she quotes the page number in Lieberman’s book with the same enthusiasm the girls I knew in middle school whispered to each other about page 72 of Judy Blume’s Forever.

The interview, which is part of the Washington Post’s On Faith series is centered around Lieberman’s new book The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath. Ignoring for a moment this call to the erotic from a politician whose charisma has been compared to that of Droopy Dog, this truly is one of the most awesome selling points of Judaism in-general and Shabbat in-particular. One wonders why some sophisticated Jewish outreach organization hasn’t made more hay out of the ole double-mitzvah.

Religion, as too many of us learn it, often feels like a collection of thou-shall-nots and the traditional observance of Shabbat is chock-full of them. In our modern, individualist age, many of us, when confronted with a list of “forbidden activities” such as we find on Shabbat, instinctively recoil. The emphasis on a commandment that compels us to experience pleasure and intimacy confounds those prejudices.

Of course, the mitzvah in its traditional interpretation is intended only for married couples — and while Joe Lieberman was a co-sponsor of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” he remains opposed to legalized gay-marriage. But I don’t feel like I need to be constrained by the traditionalist messenger from embracing a more inclusive message.

Pirkei Avot tells us “mitzvah goreret mitzvah” — that one mitzvah leads to another. It doesn’t say with which mitzvah you need to begin. JCCs are built on the belief that there are multiple avenues that lead to a committed Jewish life — social action, the arts, study, camp even fitness can beget (no pun intended) a deeper involvement in Jewish life and community. Where you begin is up to you.

So, this Friday night, if you are in a committed, monogamous relationship and find yourselves so inclined, take pride in observing the kinkiest commandment.

Jewish MusicFest, Family Shabbat with ShirLaLa (aka Shira Kline)

Let’s face it. Most kids’ music sucks. Sure you got your Dan Zanes (former Del Fuegos frontman) and They Might Be Giants (former They Might Be Giants)  making kids’ music that doesn’t make you want to stab your eardrums out with a mechanical pencil. Laurie Berkner’s not my cup of tea, but she has her proponents. And then you have… well, its a pretty short list. Narrow your search results further by affixing “Jewish” to “kids’ music that doesn’t suck the life force from parents” and the list gets even shorter. Which is why ShirLaLa is so awesome and why we’re offering a special Family Shabbat Service & Dinner with her on Friday, June 5 during the 10th Anniversary Washington Jewish Music Festival.

shira kline- web

Its not just the wildly dyed hair and the freak-folk energy she brings with her. Shira Kline is not playing at being cool. She is cool. My kids even like her and I don’t let my kids like kids’ music (they’re not quite five and my daughter can identify a Shins song within 3 bars and my son’s current favorite song is this).  And Shira’s music authentically engages children in a warm, positive celebration of Jewish holidays, rituals and Shabbat. She reinterprets classic liturgy like “L’Cha Dodi,” amps up kids’ classics like “Put the Chicken in the Pot” and puts her own spin on niggunim like “Bim Bam” which she takes through several different musical styles including surfer rock, lounge cool, latin jazz and hard rock. Perhaps its just easier to take a listen:

Plus we’re throwing dinner into the bargain! Happy kids, shabbat, and music that doesn’t make you reconsider your decision to become a parent. It’s a win-win-win.

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