Greater Washington Coalition for Jewish Life


Want to stay updates on the latest news and events from the GWCJL? Click here to join our email list.



September, 2023

Dear Coalition Community,

I hope that this summer has been kind to each of you and that you are looking forward to a meaningful and holy holy day season. For many Americans, the fall is about the changing of the leaves and the turning of seasons. For some, though, it is a welcome return to football season. I happen to be one of those Americans whose heart jumps at the word “Touchdown!” And yet, I often have complex feelings as I read stories of NFL players being arrested, and finding little or no consequence to their actions which are often quite public and, at times, violent.

As many of you know, I went to seminary in Philadelphia and became a Philadelphia Eagles fan during my time there. For those who don’t remember, or who don’t follow sports, Michael Vick was an NFL quarterback – one of the elite quarterbacks in the league. At one point, he was actually the highest paid player in all of professional football. However, while I was at seminary in Philadelphia, his career came tumbling down when it was revealed that he had been running and financing a dog-fighting ring. He was arrested, convicted and sentenced to 2 years in Federal prison. Fast forward to his release – Vick is released from custody in July, and in August, signed a multi-million dollar, 2-year contract to play football again – in Philadelphia! Animal rights activists and many others were troubled by his ability to play again – and in doing so act as a role model for so many young people – given his criminal past. At a recent Shabbat service I was discussing this trend of football players who are convicted of a crime but continue to play professionally or in college. When asked about what I thought of this reality, I shared about this idea of a spiritual accounting:

Elul, the Jewish month preceding the High Holidays, is a time of reflecting, of checking in with ourselves and seeing how the year went. Most importantly, it is a time to perform heshbon hanefesh, or an accounting of our souls. The rabbis teach us that true teshuvah (repentance) can only occur when we turn away from the action so that, in future instances, we take a different path rather than repeat the same old sins. We acknowledge that we make mistakes in life and we also recognize the power to make positive change in our lives. If a person is truly repentant and has performed this act of heshbon hanefesh, then s/he enters into Yom Kippur with a clean slate, free from all of the past transgressions. Thus, if we perform this act justly and righteously, Yom Kippur should be a day of joy as opposed to one of great sorrow and mourning.

To be sure, this is not always the case, but I want to use Michael Vick as one example, because it was so prevalent in my mind. Vick’s first months free from federal custody were spent with seemingly an accounting of his soul. He attended events with the ASPCA, rallied with others on behalf of animal rights and worked with children to teach them the lessons of his own life. At a press conference in Philadelphia announcing his signing with the Eagles, he shed tears as he spoke of the cruelty he inflicted upon the dogs he owned and taught to kill. He recalled crying each night in prison as he thought of the harm he had committed in this world. He also spoke quite plainly about the cost of his transgression; his profession was taken from him and he declared bankruptcy with over $20 million in debts.

But the question remains in my mind even after all these years, was the accounting of his soul complete? Did Vick enter his new career, just as we enter our new Jewish year, with a clean slate? I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone besides Vick himself can ever truly know the answer to that question. What I would say, however, is that he was given an opportunity to perform the teshuvah he so desperately needed – both to account for his soul and to revive his career. For each of us, who live our lives with far more anonymity than a NFL quarterback, his public declaration might serve as a powerful inspiration for our own work this season. And, perhaps our atonement looks quite different. But I can’t help, even after all these years, to think of that moment at the start of the football season. It brought home for me the importance of a public atonement, which is a core part of the high holy day liturgy, in our teshuvah process.

Whether you like your football on Saturdays or Sundays, or not at all, I believe there is a meaningful lesson to be learned. As we prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I invite you to take your own accounting of your soul. What have you done this year that you would like to have back? What brings you to tears as you think of your own transgressions? Most importantly, how can you plan to make this coming year different than the last?

Jen, Talyah, Kol, and I wish each of you a shanah tovah, a good year and a meaningful holiday season. I look forward to seeing you on September 15th as we welcome in the New Year of 5784 together in joy and happiness, and with clean slates all around.

Kol Tuv (Be Well),


Rabbi James




During this desperate time for many, we think of and reach out to the many who are struggling.

HIAS : “Welcome the Stranger. Protect the Refugee” The oldest refugee agency in the world, established in 1902 as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

American Jewish Committee: addressing challenges Jews are facing worldwide, defending Democratic values for all.


JEWISH News and Culture:



Go to“Learn” tab, scroll down to “Jewish Resources” and click  “MY JEWISH LEARNING” (or go directly to

Here you’ll find an aggregator that is regularly updated with a huge breadth of content and all sorts of goodies and surprises!

For example, the“Daily Guide to Zoom Events, Livestream and Other Online Resources.” Among the wide range of subjects, programs and activities you’ll see here are: “The Only Jewish Miss America” (Museum of Jewish Heritage), “Mindfulness Melodies” (Jewish Life in Maine), “Art as a Spiritual Practice,” A Midwives, Musicians, Soldiers and Rabbis: Whose Stories will Become History?,” “Bioethics During a Pandemic,” etc., etc.

And other treats too! Recipes for the holidays and everyday: “Potato Chip Schnitzel, Shwarma Chicken Kabobs, Roasted Butternut Squash with Orange Tahini, Briskett Tacos, Ethiopian Red Lentil Soup,” etc., etc…

Come visit and linger, you’ll be glad you did!





“The Swimmers,” on NETFLIX.




A Pigeon and a Boy,” by Meir Shalev

Review: “A powerful novel of two love stories, separated by half a century but connected by one enchanting act of devotion — of how deeply we love, of what home is, and why we, like pigeons trained to fly in one direction only, must eventually return to it…”


My Russian Grandmother and her American Vacuum Cleaner,” also by Meir Shalev

Review: “A charming tale of family ties, over-the-top housekeeping, and the sport of storytelling in the small village of Nahalal…”


“The Baron, TYCOON Baron Maurice de Hirsch (1831-1896) by Matthias b. Lehmann

Review: “Philanthropy combines genuine compassion with the display of power”

In his lifetime, Hirsch was a giant of the “gilded age of Jewish philanthropy.” He was a German-born Jew who lived in a palace in Paris and kept his office in Vienna. He cut his biggest deal, a railway, with the Ottoman sultan.  (When Hercule Poirot took the Orient Express, his train ran on Hirsch’s tracks!)

Hirsch funded schools and vocational training for Jewish communities not only in the Ottoman cities, but the Russian Pale, the French colonies of North Africa and in large areas of Argentina. The Jewish Colonization Association, the vehicle for his Argentine settlements, was the largest charitable organization in the world at a time when philanthropy was the principal form of Jewish political action…”


Visit LINKS OF INTEREST (on this site under “For Members” tab) to read an excerpt of an essay on Baron de Hirsch, his vision and involvement with Jewish farming in Connecticut.



The Great Courses,  learn a language, instrument or subject; create something new or master a skill… and more. — Jigsaw puzzles. Be forewarned, (mildly) addictive!