Round up: J Street conference – first full day

I was fortunate enough to get interviews (on video!) with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative and Mona Eltahawy, both incredible thinkers and speakers.  The internet at my hostel (and at the conference) is incredibly slow, so I’ll post them once I’m back at home.

More generally, though, the conference this year has a different feel than the last.  The moments of complete inspiration are a bit fewer, but there’s much more of a sense of cohesiveness between sessions.  J Street has really matured as an organization, and I think a lot of the credit for this goes to the work of the locals, who provide a reference to the real conditions that activists face in attempting to advance the Israel-Palestine discussion on the ground.  This isn’t to enforce the view of all Washington politicians as part of a bubble, totally disconnected from the outside world, just to say that a connection to those who are actually the constituents is an invaluable asset for an organization that values its supporters’ views.

Now more than ever, I feel that J Street values mine.

Strengths and weaknesses of indie minyans and why I don’t get to go to Zoo Minyan tomorrow

Crossposted to The Reform Shuckle

Zoo Minyan, an independent minyan that meets in the neighborhood around the zoo in DC, is not meeting for davening this week. Why do I care? And why is this interesting? Let me back up:

I’m on the Bolt Bus, headed down to DC for the J Street Conference. The conference proper doesn’t start until Saturday night, but I’m heading down to spend Shabbat in DC, hoping to get some good shul-hopping done for your reading pleasure.

My plan was to go to multi-denominational, non-membership, convention-defying synagogue Sixth and I tonight and to the still-extant, just had their 40th birthday, proving all the “indie minyans will never last people wrong,” first-wave chavurah Fabrangen tomorrow morning.

But then, while emailing back and forth with Mah Rabu blogger and fellow Jewschooler BZ, he suggested the I try out Zoo Minyan instead. Apropos my post from the other day about feminizing the theology of Kaddish Shalem, he thought I might like Zoo Minyan. During their service, they apparently alternate between masculine and feminine names for God. So I got a little excited to see that in practice.

Then, as I’m sitting here on this bus, I get this e-mail from BZ with this post from their blog:

Zoo Minyan – No Davvening, but some learning, Sat. Feb 26

Zoo Minyan is not meeting for davenning Sat. Feb 26.

Sorry folks! Insufficient leyning turn-out for Zoo this shabbos, wouldn’t be lichvod Torah. Apologies for the short notice / change of plans.

But feel free to stop by for some learning after davenning elsewhere (or after shaarei sheina / sleeping in, as is your custom).


So, it’s Fabrangen for more tomorrow, after all.

But it’s not a total waste because I have some thoughts to share that came out of this failure to launch. The first time I heard such an attitude from an indie minyanaire was from an organizer of the ultra-lightweight London minyan Wandering Jews. They don’t organize anything other than a place and time. They refuse to beg people to be hosts. If no one volunteers to host, there’s no davening. If not enough people bring stuff for the potluck, there’s no communal dinner. Etc.

I heard a woman speak about this approach at Limmud Colorado a couple of years ago. She said, if people value Wandering Jews, they will make it happen. And if they’re not making it happen, then it isn’t valuable and they should just let it go and slip away. This stands in about the starkest contrast possible to the synagogue continuity-obsessed folks.

And at Zoo Minyan, it seems there is a somewhat similar attitude. And now I don’t get to go. Oh well, their loss. And Fabrangen’s gain.

ANOTHER SONG WILL RISE: An evening of song in memory of Debbie Friedman

For those of you in the DC area: The community is joining together on Tuesday, January 18, 2011, at 7 pm, at the Religious Action Center, 2027 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington DC, to sing the songs of Debbie Friedman z”l and remember her far-reaching legacy. Please spread the word to your friends and communities. You can RSVP at the Facebook event page.

For those of you who aren’t in the DC area: What’s been going on in your area?

Caroling Against Unemployment

Guestpost by Amanda, comedian, occasional blogger, and paper bag puppeteer.

While writing cover letters to try and end my five-month long spell of unemployment, I was also reading a book that discussed Depression-era unemployment protests, which were apparently pretty kickin’ and often involved singing. Since I enjoy writing rhyming songs, I thought it would be fun to sing songs about unemployment rates, my belief that we need more government investment to create jobs, and extending unemployment benefits.

On Sunday December 5th, I am gathering with other people who enjoy singing and hate high unemployment rates on the sidewalk in front of the White House (Pennsylvania Avenue between East and West Executive Avenues) between 3 and 4pm (and rehearsing at 2) to sing about our desire for more employment. I hope you will join us in a singing protest of unemployment rates, unemployment insurance, and the needs for increased government investment –all to the tunes of Christmas and Hannukah songs. If you are interested in joining me in trying to increase awareness of unemployment and have a hopefully very fun protest, please RSVP.

And to get you excited (or not, depending on how much you enjoy hard to parse lyrics), here are two sample songs:

To the Tune of Jingle Bells, with the profound lyrics taken from FDR:

Jobs for all, Jobs for all!
Unemployment has to go!
Give us a jobless recovery, we’ll put you in the snow.

No country however rich
Can afford the waste
Of its human resources!
Caused by vast unemployment
Is our greatest extravagance.
Morally it is
The greatest Menace to our Social Order

Jobs for all, Jobs for all!
Unemployment has to go!
Give us a jobless recovery, we’ll put you in the snow!

To the tune of I Have a Little Dreidel:

We had an economy with more jobs
Some provided good fair pay
Oh jobs, jobs jobs
Why did 8.2 million of you go away?
Oh jobs jobs jobs
We miss you here this day
Oh jobs jobs jobs
Come back to us today

Snow Shabbat’s ripple effects

(Crossposted to Mah Rabu.)

Back in February, we blogged about how Segulah‘s and other Mid-Atlantic Jewish communities’ Shabbat plans were affected by what some called “Snowmageddon”. It turns out that that snowy Shabbat has had more profound impacts on one family. Go and read Washington lawyer Viva Hammer’s inspiring story about it, published in the Jerusalem Post.

Two lessons of this story (beyond the explicitly stated ones) include:
1) When we build communities, they can have powerful effects on individuals beyond what anyone expects.
2) It’s always a good idea not to be intimidated by the snow, and to let life (and Shabbat) go on.

Hasty generalization

(Crossposted to Mah Rabu.)

A wise person I know says “Whenever I read articles where I know something about the content, I always find mistakes or misunderstandings, which makes me wonder how many mistakes there are in articles where I’m not familiar with the topic.” We get to see this principle in action as the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz tackles American independent minyanim.

Over the last 10 years, the massive surge in independent minyanim has attracted media attention from both the American Jewish press and the American secular press. (After a while, this has converged so that they seem to write the same article over and over.) But this Ha’aretz piece might be the first time this phenomenon has reached the Israeli media.

The author of the piece, a self-identified secular Israeli, visited DC Minyan, and apparently did little or no research or fact-checking beyond what she saw and heard there. Thus she arrived at the unsupported conclusion that all or most independent minyanim (which in reality display a great deal of diversity) are similar to DC Minyan.

(However, on the plus side, this may be the first news article on 21st-century independent minyanim that doesn’t include a quote from Jonathan Sarna!)

To set the record straight, I’ll give the article a mild fisking:
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Jeremiah goes to Washington

It’s (almost) another year on the Hebrew calendar, and that means it’s time for another cohort of DC Jeremiah Fellows. This fantastic program is run by Jews United For Justice, DC’s local Jewish social justice organization. If you live in DC and are in the right demographic, consider applying this year; otherwise, tell other people who might be interested. Shanah tovah!


  • Access a dynamic network of activists, organizers, scholars, and religious leaders.
  • Develop new skills in community organizing, advocacy, and leadership.
  • Explore DC through the lens of social justice and Jewish texts, traditions, values, and history.
  • Build a lasting community of friends, colleagues, and mentors.

Jews United for Justice is thrilled to announce that applications are now online for the 2010-2011 Jeremiah Fellowship! Brought to you by a partnership between JUFJ and California’s Progressive Jewish Alliance, the Jeremiah Fellowship is an innovative program to train a select group of young adults (approximately ages 25-35) to become the next generation of Jewish social justice changemakers.
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The The Bronx Minyan?

(Crossposted to Mah Rabu.)

Everyone agrees that there was a wave of independent Jewish prayer communities founded in the 1970s, and another wave founded after 2000, with some but not nearly as many founded in between. And many attempts have been made to draw distinctions between these two waves, but they all fail in one way or another to capture the entire data set, whether it’s the use of the word “minyan” vs. “havurah”, liturgical choices, the way the chairs are set up, or membership vs. no membership.

But I think I’ve come up with a distinction between the two principal waves of independent Jewish communities that is 100% airtight so far (though maybe you know of an exception). There are a number of minyanim, old and new, that are called “[name of city/neighborhood] Minyan”. The test for whether such a minyan is part of the older or the newer generation is whether people use a definite article when using the name of the minyan in sentence.

[UPDATE: To clarify, this hypothesis is intended to apply only to minyanim whose names fit the pattern “[name of city/neighborhood] Minyan”, not to other minyanim.]


  • “I’m going to the Highland Park Minyan this Shabbat.”
  • “I’m going to DC Minyan this Shabbat.”

More examples:

  • Founded in the 1970s: the Highland Park Minyan, the West Side Minyan, the Newton Centre Minyan
  • Founded after 2000: DC Minyan, Cambridge Minyan, Mission Minyan

(Do you know of further examples that either support or disprove this hypothesis?)

Note that even for the minyanim that usually get a definite article, “the” isn’t part of the name. It’s not an integral article as in “I’m going to a The Newton Centre Minyan event * “. This is just a question of how the name of the minyan (which does not itself contain an article) is treated grammatically, like “Ukraine” vs. “the Ukraine”.

My sources in Highland Park, New Jersey, report that a new independent minyan is in formation there. So I suggested that, in keeping with contemporary trends, they call it “Highland Park Minyan”, to avoid confusion with the Highland Park Minyan.

“So… Wot’s it Like?”*

Thursday May 27th is a typical DC summer day: hot, humid as a sauna, and threatening rain.
What wasn’t typical were the 200 or so Jewish guests of the White House. Although President George W. Bush established May as Jewish Heritage Month in 2007, this was the first time the White House hosted an event to honor it. Jewschool was honored to be apparently the only Jewish blog invited (as press, anyhow. The basement of the White House is really quite basement-y. In any case, there may have been others, but we were the only ones attending, as far as I could tell…)

A curious mix of guests included an odd emphasis on sports figures, including Dara Torres and Zoe Taylor (youngest member of the national telemark team)… and the great Sandy Koufax, still mentioned whenever there is need of a model Jewish sports figure, perhaps because unfortunately, in these days, few Jewish sports figures will distinguish themselves by refusing to play on Yom Kippur – as Rabbi Brad Hirschfield of CLAL (also present) commented to me, Koufax was perhaps one of the greatest rabbis in America for that act. A thought worth considering.
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גילה רינה דיצה וחדווה

Mazal tov to Jewschool’s own ZT, on the occasion of his marriage today to BR! ZT has blogged extensively about the elements that make Jewish wedding celebrations so joyous, from sheva berachot to shtick, based on experiences with many different semachot, and so we wish BR and ZT the joy of all those celebrations combined.

Star and Shamrock

We’d like to believe that a new restaurant in DC, Star and Shamrock, was inspired by dlevy and my innovations in progressive kashrus (read: let’s deep fry!) and brave experimentation with organic spray food.

We’d also like to think that we could have come up with this idea ourselves. (And, seriously, we did. We just weren’t thinking big enough. Next time, we won’t limit our culinary cleverness to our kitchen – we’ll strive to open a restaurant!)

So what the heck am I talking about? I’ll let DCist tell you about it:

Think deli with an occasional sprinkle of Irish/Jewish fusion sprinkled in.

There’s a fried food-heavy appetizer menu, featuring fried kosher pigs in a blanket, fried pickles, fried chicken livers, fried matzo balls, and latkes all priced at $5.

The matzo balls are cut in half, griddled and served with sautéed onions and “au jew” instead of au jus. The balls stand well enough on their own with a slightly crisped exterior – not too hard, not too fluffy – especially when you combine a bite with the caramelized onion. Dip a forkful in the “au jew,” a salty chicken consommé, and you get a more traditional matzo ball soup taste experience.

…This Irish/deli-themed bar is far from a kosher joint with bacon included in a number of menu options. Not to mention the nods to an Irish kitchen are few and far between. There’s Shepherd’s Pie, Irish Potato & Cheddar Soup, and a McTuna Melt with Irish cheddar. There’s also The Clogger, a disgusting (or delicious! -ed.) sounding sub made with beef brisket, provolone, bacon, gravy, garlic butter, and mayo.

Ireland is more appropriately channeled via several Irish whiskeys, including selections from Jams, Knappogue Castle, Yyrconnell, Killbeggan, Connemara, Greenore, Clontarf, as well as several standards. And naturally you can choose from Guinness, Harp, and Kilkenny Cream Ale on tap. The rest of the beer list is heavy on Brooklyn Brewery, Coney Island, and He’brew bottles. If you’re in the mood for rye, their list is lengthier than most, but doesn’t feature any stand outs.

There were no ballads or klezmer tunes playing in the background on our visit, though there is a small stage to host the occasional Irish band. There’s not a wall full of “Guinness is Good for You” or too much baloney about all the craic you’ll have (though there is Jewish Bologna on pumpernickel for $6.50). But perhaps that lack of manufactured flair makes for a more authentic Irish tavern experience in the end. That and a menu full of Jewish kitsch.

Folks in the DC area, let us know what you think of the knew eatery.

Tip o’ the nib to JMG.

Shabbos Dinner: All the cool kids are doing it…

So you’re looking online, trying to find some like-minded folks in your area to share a shabbos meal with. Maybe you’re new to town and are trying to meet new people. Maybe you just haven’t had a shabbos meal in a long time, and you’re looking for that sense of community. Maybe you start perusing Craigslist or Idealist in hopes of finding

EeGADS! Extra Eclectic Gentiles Are Doing Shabbos!

“SHABBAT IS MORE FUN IF YOU YOURSELF COME.” Meet with us Friday evenings for a little liturgy, music & meditation, poetry, prose, and prayer, BREAD & WINE…and of course a good vegetarian shabbos meal together. What more could you ask for?! Non-goyim are welcome, too. Straight friendly. We need all the help we can get! Most of us, though, are Christians, of one sort or another. For information:

(That was fully unedited, of course.) Vegetarian queers hosting a lovely shabbos dinner? What more could you want…? Oh right, some Jews…

h/t Leah!

Ready for immigration reform? Here’s what you can do.

Jewish Bagel Brunch, Interfaith Service and Immigration Rally

Sunday March 21, 11:00 am – 4pm

If you’re in Washington DC, you can be part of history and help change the future for millions of our immigrant brothers and sisters. Join tens of thousands of people of faith from across the United States for “March for America: Change Takes Courage and Faith.” Register here:

National Jewish Conference Call on Immigration Reform

Sunday March 21, 6pm

Learn about the Jewish imperative to call for immigration reform on a conference call with Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Rabbi David Saperstein (Reform), Rabbi Morris Alan (Conservative) and Rabbi Menachem Genack (Orthodox) and other leaders.

Register Here:

National Lobby / Call In Day

Monday March 22, 9 am – 5 pm

The We Were Strangers Too coalition is helping to organize lobby visits with members of Congress. Please register at the following site if you are able to stay in town:

For individuals who cannot travel to Washington on the 21/22, we need you to call your Members of Congress and advocate for reform. Everyone who registers for the March 21 Jewish conference call will receive an email with the information for the national call-in day on March 22.

Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, Jewish Community Action, and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society are the co-conveners of We Were Strangers Too: the Jewish Campaign for Immigration Reform.

Snow Shabbat

The DC area and other parts of the Mid-Atlantic region were hit on Friday and Saturday with significant amounts of snow. Many areas are still without electrical power (ours came back on around 5:30 pm on Saturday), many institutions are closed (some school districts have already preemptively closed through Tuesday), and only the underground parts of the Metro system are operating.

Because the snowstorm was over Shabbat, some Jewish congregations canceled their services, while others went on as usual. At Segulah, we went on with the show (thanks to our host, Tifereth Israel, which never closes on Shabbat), and I’m glad we did. We got a respectable showing of 20 people or so. The missing demographic was young children and their parents, who quite understandably stayed home, but all other ages were represented from 14 to 70s. We also had the earliest average arrival time ever: at least half of the people who showed up were there at the very beginning or right after, and almost no one arrived after the Torah service began. This is probably because on a day like that, you’re either going to do it or you’re not; it’s not worth trekking through a foot of snow (the streets and sidewalks hadn’t really been plowed/shoveled yet) just to show up for the last half hour. We continued with a potluck lunch in an apartment that was powerless and electrically heated, but well-insulated and naturally lit. Everything else may remain shut down for a while, but nothing stops Shabbat!

If you’re in the affected area, and your power is on (or you can access the Internet with your phone), how was (or wasn’t) your Shabbat affected by the snow? Share your stories in the comments!

Inside the Activists’ Studio 2010… in DC!

Did you miss Inside the Activists’ Studio 2009 last month in New York? Don’t worry: Jewschool is proud to co-sponsor…

Inside the Activists' Studio 2010
Inside the Activists' Studio 2010
Inside the Activists' Studio 2010
Inside the Activists' Studio 2010
Inside the Activists' Studio 2010
Inside the Activists' Studio 2010
Inside the Activists' Studio 2010
Inside the Activists' Studio 2010
Inside the Activists' Studio 2010

Best of all, it’s totally free! Register now!

Ride the Purple Line this Shabbat!

Purple Line

The short version: Segulah! DC’s newest independent minyan, with “full-liturgy, energizing, songful, and participant-led egalitarian davening in a warm and welcoming neighborhood community”. Shabbat morning services this week, January 2, 2010, 9:30 am, Shabbat Vayechi, Reamer Chapel at Tifereth Israel Congregation, 16th & Juniper St (7701 16th St NW; enter off Juniper), Washington DC, two-table potluck to follow at a nearby home. All ages are welcome. RSVP to segulahminyan at gmail or on Facebook, and/or join the email list.

The longer version:
DC Boundary Stone

All the way in the northernmost reaches of our nation’s capital, in the very last alphabet, is the neighborhood of Shepherd Park, and just over the Maryland line is the unincorporated urban area of downtown Silver Spring (home of NOAA, the American Film Institute, and the Discovery Channel). (The picture at right shows the north boundary stone marking the border between DC and Maryland.) This multistate (or one state and one something else) neighborhood is more affordable than central DC but more walking- and transit-friendly than the burbs, and therefore it’s no surprise that it contains one of the most diverse and fastest-growing Jewish scenes in the Washington area.

The Jewish epicenter of the neighborhood is upper 16th Street, or “Sheish Esrei Elyon”, where a single two-block stretch contains three congregations that are exceptional in different ways: Fabrangen is a historic first-wave havurah that started in 1971, born out of the activism of that time, and continues to this day. Ohev Sholom is an Orthodox synagogue that has reached out to the LGBT community. Tifereth Israel is home to JuggleK, a kashrut certification that certifies both conventional kashrut standards and ethical standards, whose first and only client is a vegan soup subscription service. Other Jewish highlights of the neighborhood include Moishe House Silver Spring, the offices of KOL Foods, and the former synagogue building that is now the Ethiopian Evangelical Church.

Segulah is the latest addition to this constellation, and meets in various locations on both sides of the state line. In addition to its other meanings, “Segulah” means “purple”, a reference to the Purple Line (pictured above) that will one day link Silver Spring to the other loose ends of the Washington Metro (and which Jews United For Justice is working on making fair). Attention New York: we challenge the Second Avenue Subway to a race!

In addition to being purple, Segulah is also a treasure! And we’ll be meeting this Shabbat to complete the book of Genesis, share song-filled prayer, and eat lunch. Details are at the top of this post. See you there!

Movement, Denominations, and Minyanim…oh my!

A little while back, in addressing recent discussions of minyanim and reacting to Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, BZ posted:

Rabbi Kaunfer writes “New self-proclaimed movements sprung up — Reconstructionism, and the Renewal and Chavurah Movements.” The “Chavurah movement” is not now and has never been a “self-proclaimed movement” parallel to the “big three” or the Reconstructionist movement. Rabbi Kaunfer himself has argued for why the latest wave of independent minyanim do not constitute a “movement” in that mold, and the same is true for earlier waves of havurot.

This has led me to think about the similarities and differences between what people tend to refer to as Chavura, Conservative, Independent Minyan, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Reform, and Renewal. (note that I alphabetized them rather than forcing them into a spectrum that doesn’t quite fit). Of course these labels have substantial overlap. Some are parallel. Some are not. They all come about because people want quick categories that they can use to label the Jewish approach of themselves and others.

–This next paragraph can be skipped, it defines a few terms and frames the issue, but some might find it needlessly semantic–Some of these labels are (what I’ll call) institutional, ideological, and/or aesthetic. Institutional groupings are based on a subset of Jews being unified based on connection to an institution(s). For instance, The Conservative movement is an institutional grouping since it’s people are connected through camps, schools, youth groups, an other institutions. It is also an ideological grouping since it has positions on many questions that it endorses. Conservative Jews have tendencies to think about Israel in certain ways, egalitarianism, etc. Of course, some differ and there is some diversity, but certainly, you can see what I mean by ideological grouping. By aesthetic, I mean a preference for decision-making model, prayer approach, or something else which is not explicitly Ideological. In many cases these issues are deeply moral, so I don’t mean to imply that this is in any sense superficial. Minyanim, for instance are united by a desire for lay-ledness and thus “Minyan” is an aesthetic grouping. This is a rather arbitrary nuance but there certainly is a nuance between how people think about the world (ideology) and how they prefer their prayer specifically (prayer aesthetic) that while influenced by the former is a slightly different issue.

Now I’ll take a look at a few common groupings and examine what they are, where they come from, and which they are parallel too, and not.
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Coming to our senses

We have already posted on the UN Human Rights Council’s endorsing of the Goldstone report, and of the mainstream arms of the Jewish community’s attempts to paint Goldstone as the anti-Semite par excellence (I’ve even seen several places where people use Goldstone as the measure of all things anti-Semitic -”Even Goldstone says….” and the like), as well as the conference call between Judge Goldstone and a group of American Rabbis to discuss the report, so I won’t again go into how appalling it is that a certain group of American Jews are continuing the business-as-usual attempt to try to turn the report – and its author -  into a “poor us, everyone hates us” PR move.

J Street is new, of course, but it’s doing work that people in the Jewish community having been doing for a while. The “new” part is that “mainstream” Jewish organizations are just now taking notice that they might not actually represent as many people as they pretended to, and they’re starting to screech about it much more loudly. There is a new wave of attention being paid to Jews who aren’t so enthralled with the “mainstream” presentation of “facts” about Israel’s regional conflicts.

As MJ Rosenberg notes over at HuffPo:

The hits on J Street won’t stop after the conference. The goal is to shut it down in order to perpetuate the myth that the American Jewish community supports not only Israel but any and all policies of the Israeli government. This is a a strange idea considering that Jews are overwhelmingly liberal and tend to be well to the left of their own governments, including the Obama administration. (78% of Jews voted for Obama but 62% even voted for George McGovern and 80% for Walter Mondale).

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