Greater Washington Coalition for Jewish Life


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September 2022


Dear Coalition Community,

As we enter into Elul, the month of preparation for the Jewish high holiday season, I am thinking about the role that the Coalition, and Jewish community, plays in my own life. It is not just that the community is a place of celebration, but rather it is a place of gathering for moments of importance. Community is also a place of deep concern for others and a place of acknowledging that each of us is a reflection of the Divine image – a piece of God’s presence in the world. In that way, the Talmud is correct in its assessment that “kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh – all Israel is responsible for one another.” But, it is not just that we are responsible for one another. Rather, we are responsible to one another. We are obligated to be connected with those we care about.

Recently, a teacher of mine posted something about having a medical procedure on his social media. Jen and I sent a meal to his family, and I got a nice message back. He was surprised that we would reach out from across the country to connect in this way. I was frankly shocked at his surprise. This is what we are supposed to do! It was a lesson my parents taught me as a child when we prepared meals for soldiers deployed to guard the base during the first Gulf War, or when my parents hosted Passover seders for dozens of people at our home. I shudder to think at how my mother would have responded if I had done nothing!

The pandemic was complicated in so many ways, but one of the gifts of that time was how we bridged the gap of physical space through technology. Zoom, which was once reserved for IT professionals and educational institutions, became the standard way for many of us to connect with dear friends during a period of deep isolation. It was in that virtual space where we continued to care for one another and shared our responsibility to be in relationship with one another. It held so many communities, including our Coalition community, together between 2020 and now. For that, we are grateful.

As we prepare to return to in-person programming, the Coalition’s leadership has been contemplating what kind of technology might allow us to maintain a virtual presence in a way that is meaningful for those on the other end of the screen. How can we gather in person, and also create a vibrant space to connect with people who live out of the area, are not feeling well, or are just not yet comfortable returning to in-person gatherings? To answer that question, I want to take us back to one of my first in-person meetings with a Coalition member during the pandemic – to Murray Haber (of blessed memory).

Last year, I drove down to Washington Depot to visit with Murray and Susan. While I was there, Susan gifted me a copy of Murray’s memoir, and I had the chance to get to know Murray a bit. He was someone who cared deeply for the community, and when Susan worked to found the Coalition decades ago, Murray was an active supporter. Their home was the host location for many early Coalition events. Recently, Susan told me about Sukkot celebrations, and a Selichot observance that happened at their home in those early days. At Murray’s funeral, we heard about the many ways in which he loved to connect with people. Whether it was through sports, work, or the Coalition, he was committed to that connection and those relationships. So, it is fitting that through a gift in his memory the Coalition is investing in an Owl Meeting device. This device is designed with a 360-degree swiveling camera and microphone, and will sit in the middle of our gatherings and move with the noise. For folks on Zoom, this will create a more vibrant virtual experience and allow them to see the entirety of our community as we gather. Paired with a computer screen, people in-person will be able to see our virtual participants as well.

If we are responsible to one another, then this is a logical next step. I am so grateful for our Coalition’s leadership for seeing the importance of these connections. And, I am grateful that Murray’s memory can be honored as the Coalition continues a tradition of creative ways of community building. I hope that your Elul is meaningful and reflective, and that you have the opportunity to be responsible to others in your circles of connection this month, throughout the holiday season, and into the new Jewish year. Until then, I wish you a shanah tovah umetukah – a sweet and joyful New Year!

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!