Greater Washington Coalition for Jewish Life


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February, 2023

Dear Coalition Community,

The beginning of February coincides with Shabbat Shirah, the Shabbat where we read the Song of the Sea and retell the story of the Israelites crossing the Sea of Reeds. After they cross through the Sea on dry land, they sing out in joy at being free from slavery in Egypt. This story permeates everything about contemporary Jewish life; our commitment as a community to justice and care for vulnerable populations is based on our mythological memory as a people who experienced that kind of vulnerability and exploitation. In fact, the biblical commandment to welcome the stranger is the most-repeated commandment in the entirety of the Torah. That is important – not just interesting!

But why do our ancestors sing after the crossing of the Sea while the Egyptians are swallowed by the water as it returns? This question has always puzzled me. Both Moses and Miriam speak of this singing in Exodus 15. The chapter begins by saying:

Moses and the Israelites sang this song to God. They said: I will sing to God, for God has triumphed gloriously; horse and driver God has hurled into the sea.

Later in the same chapter, we read:

Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, picked up a hand-drum, and all the women went out after her in dance with hand-drums. And Miriam chanted for them: Sing to God, for God has triumphed gloriously; horse and driver God has hurled into the sea.

There are subtle but important differences in these two texts that tell us something about how Moses and Miriam interpreted their experience at the Sea of Reeds. For Moses, the experience is personal. “I will sing to God,” Moses offers. Miriam’s praise is offered in the form of a command as she says, “Sing to God.” And that may be understandable given their experience. Moses is the leader of his people, and his leadership is often by example. In offering his own gratitude prayer, Moses is inviting others to join him. It is a model of leadership that I continue to think is powerful and compelling.

Miriam doesn’t just command people to join her. Those who follow her bring out instruments. I am fascinated by the idea that a people who can’t wait for bread to rise and who are fleeing in the middle of the night manage to grab their hand-drums! It is a reminder of the power of music not just in worship, but in life. Her leadership is about reminding the Israelites of what is important to them; the music and hand-drums represent their humanity and their power when they join together in praise. It is about the collective – not the individual.

This month, as we continue to retell our ancestor’s story of liberation and relive this key moment in our development as a nation, I invite you to consider not just this historical memory, but the contemporary experience of those fleeing persecution. Many of us have our own family stories of immigration and being refugees. And, there are currently an estimated 100 million people who are forcibly displaced around the world, including more than 32 million who are identified as refugees. Miriam and the women of Israel packed hand-drums. Perhaps your family has a similar artifact that was carried across the sea? Miriam, Moses, and the Israelites sang a song of liberation. Did your family have music that carried them through their journey?

As we sing our own song of liberation this month, we pray for a world where there is no need to carry family heirlooms and songs through the refugee journey, and for a peace that is global, lasting, and complete.

Kol Tuv (Be Well),


Rabbi James


JEWISH News and Culture:




“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…”


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 Swimmers,” on NETFLIX.



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!



Helping families in need has always been a focus of the Coalition. During this desperate time for many, we are hoping to direct our attention to our neighbors who struggle with food insecurity and several other critical needs.




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!