Greater Washington Coalition for Jewish Life


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July 2022

Dear Coalition Community,

This past week, I had the chance to go to see the musical Hamilton while it was playing at the Bushnell in Hartford. It was a really joyful experience and a much-needed break during this incredibly busy summer season. More importantly, it was a chance to reflect on this piece of American culture, talk about an American hero that seems to be under-represented in American lore, and see how the story of America’s founding is influenced by the music and culture of spoken word and hip hop – things that are decidedly not the same as old white men with wigs.

My favorite song in the show, “One Last Time” is a song that President Washington sings as he reflects on his tenure as President and tells Secretary Hamilton that he does not intend to run for reelection to a third term. In it, he quotes a verse from Micah 4:4 that says: 

Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid

Although every founding father had their own idea of what America would become, Washington’s vision, which Lin-Manuel Miranda pulled from Washington’s actual farewell address, is one where America is free, where all citizens live without fear, and where we see the peace of transitions of power. A president can return to sit under their own vine and fig tree and leave behind the fanfare of office.

This phrase, “vine and fig tree,” appears several times in the Hebrew Bible – in Micah and also in Kings and Zechariah. It actually appears in President Washington’s writings even more frequently – showing up nearly 50 times! And I get it. I love this verse! One of the most famous uses of this verse is actually from Washington’s letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Rhode Island, one of America’s earliest synagogues. In it, he writes, “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants – while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.” This use of vine and fig tree is particularly important because the reference reinforces America’s core principle of freedom of religion and Washington’s own ecumenical leanings in his use of a Hebrew biblical verseto a Jewish communal institution.

This past month has felt like a lot. Between mass shootings, Supreme Court decisions, hearings in Congress connected to the January 6th insurrection, and in so many other ways big and small. It is easy to feel like we are slipping out of control. Instead, I invite you to take in Washington’s words – and the words of our Hebrew Bible – which offer a pathway towards calm and quiet reflection. I would not argue that everything is perfect. And yet, I do believe that there is a lot of good in this world, and a lot of possibility in our country. As we reflect on our upcoming Independence Day, I hope that you are able to sit under your own vine and fig tree, take a moment alone in the shade, and reflect on this nation that our ancestors built for us, that we have inherited, and that we are continuing to improve for the sake of our children and their children.

Kol Tuv (Be Well),


Rabbi James





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.



March 2022 UPDATE, from Carolyn Setlow Project Chair

The Washington Refugee Resettlement Project is all ready for its soon-to-arrive family. Our Housing Team has rented and furnished through donations a lovely duplex apartment in downtown New Milford, right off the Green.  Some of you have already generously contributed your new or slightly used furnishings, others have sent in generous donations.  More details soon on this great initiative that has come to fruition so successfully, thanks to the good and large efforts of many, thank you!




“Transcendent Kingdom,” by Yaa Gyasi
A beautifully written novel about “a Ghanaian family in the contemporary South, both a profound story about race in American and an extraordinary portrait of a young woman reckoning, spiritually and intellectually, with a large and unwieldy loss. Gifty, a sixth-year doctoral candidate in neuroscience at Stanford Medical School is studying reward-seeking behavior in mice and the neural circuits of depression and addiction. Her brother, Nana, was a gifted athlete who died of a heroin overdose after an ankle injury left him hooked on OxyContin. An exceptional story about faith, science , religion and love.” Not to be missed!

“Yiddish Civilisation,” by Paul Kriwaczek, “The Rise and Fall of a Forgotten Nation”

Review: “Vital… remarkable… Artfully reveals the Zarathustrian hinges of Iranian culture… Written with the prescient elegance of a curious traveler and in the hope that ideas that once changed the world may do so again.”

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…”



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!


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.



Do not miss “The Queen’s Gambit.”  A fictional story, this 7-part Netflix mini-series follows the life of orphan chess player, Beth Harmon, from the age of eight to twenty two. The story begins in the mid-1950’s and continues into the 1960’s. The casting, acting, screenplay, music, photography, etc., etc. are all flawless. Riveting and powerful, it is a work of art. And within the context of the game of chess, it cleverly brings issues of our society, different cultures, politics and…life into “play.” See it!



A<em>corn (BBC), Apple + (“Central Park”);  HBO, Amazon  (“The Plot Against America”);  Channels 95, 96 (C-SPAN) for live coverage of important political and academic meetings.



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