This Week On Metro Connection: Traditions (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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This Week On Metro Connection: Traditions

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And it's hard to believe, but it's that time of year again, time for annual Traditions show. We've headed all around the region this week to find intriguing customs and rituals being practiced, from family traditions…

MS. ANN SABLOSKY

It may just be for a few minutes, but we have this very special time with our family.

SHEIR

…to community traditions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE

Tell them that it's very festive.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD

Very festive.

FEMALE

And that you enjoy seeing all the lights.

CHILD

I enjoy seeing all the lights.

FEMALE

It makes you happy, doesn't it?

SHEIR

And, lest you think we're just focusing on the holidays, we've found plenty of traditions around the everyday stuff of life.

MR. NEERAJ MISTRY

These are chapattis and we grew up eating this in South Africa.

SHEIR

But we'll start with a fairly new tradition in Washington, D.C., one that began right here in a church basement in Foggy Bottom. It's 8:15 on a Monday and dozens of people, mostly men, gather around the big, brightly lit room. Some sit at tables, polishing off plates of French toast. Others wander around, chatting and joking. And others, half a dozen or so, sit at a table in the corner.

MS. GRACE OVERBEKE

So it looks like The Group is already assembled.

SHEIR

…waiting.

OVERBEKE

So we can just go over there and sit with them and start the workshop.

SHEIR

Grace Overbeke is the head of this workshop, where participants tell personal stories based on the week's chosen theme. Today it's Hurricane Sandy.

CHUCK

I waited in the rain until 8:30. I went to Union Station. I scrounged some food. Went back to sleep on the steps of a church…

TODD

If someone had to sleep outside, then it could be very, very difficult to survive in those…

JOHN

Because I know when we had the storm and stuck in the shelter for two days and couldn't leave and then the subway was shut down, the bus was shut, that was depressing for me.

SHEIR

Picking up on a trend here? Well, here's the thing, the members of Grace's Monologue Group, as it's called, have one very particular thing in common.

OVERBEKE

They're experiencing homelessness.

SHEIR

See, the basement we're visiting is actually the headquarters of Miriam's Kitchen, a day shelter that provides Washington's homeless with food, clothing, haircuts, legal aid and now an opportunity to tell their story. Grace began the Monologue Group in May after an encounter with a homeless woman near Logan Circle.

OVERBEKE

She asked if I had any money for food. And I was like, well, I was actually just about to get a sandwich. So she came and we got a sandwich together. And she started talking about her experience at this shelter where she had just been kicked out because she had got in a fight over a sleeping bag.

SHEIR

This conversation, says Grace, opened her eyes.

OVERBEKE

It was such a humanizing afternoon.

SHEIR

And her ears.

OVERBEKE

And it made me very interested in people's stories.

SHEIR

Grace works full time at Theater J, which has been partnering with Miriam's Kitchen by offering guests free tickets to shows and personal post-show discussions with cast members. So in June, Grace took that partnership one step further with the very first "Stories From the Kitchen," an evening of monologues culled from her Monologue Group and performed by D.C.-area actors at Theater J.

OVERBEKE

The guests whose stories were told were so moved because they felt like someone was listening to them and that the actors playing them knew how they felt, which they did because they put in all this time and work, you know, hearing their words and getting to that point where they could feel what that person felt.

SHEIR

The idea, Grace says, isn't for actors to imitate guests' voices, but rather to use their rhythm and cadence to capture their character, their personality. That's why, as she prepares for the next "Stories From the Kitchen" on Dec. 19, she uses a hand-held recorder to record her Monologue Group members, like one of the guys we heard from earlier, John.

JOHN

Because I know when we had the storm and stuck in the shelter for two days and couldn't leave and then…

SHEIR

Then Grace plays the recording…

SHEIR

…for the actor performing the monologue, in this case Sasha Olinick, so he can rehearse it.

MR. SASHA OLINICK

There was a guy, he was locked in the shelter and he was talking the Bible for two days. I mean, it's cool, but it was like really getting on my nerves, you know. And not being able to go anywhere, but he made one good point about Sandy and how in the Gospels, it says in the parable of the wise and the foolish builders that the wise man builds his house on a rock, but the foolish builder builds his on the sand. And when the wind comes and the storm comes the house that's built on the rock stands, but the house that's built on the sand falls. And it kind of reminded us about Sandy, you know, and what was going on.

SHEIR

Normally, actors and guests don't meet until the performance. But Sasha and John met a few months ago, at one of Theater J's post-show discussions. In fact, John actually requested that Sasha perform his piece.

OLINICK

I'm really honored, but you feel a sense of wanting to be very careful with the material because people are being very open in sharing their lives and sharing their experiences. And you're going to be performing for the people who have shared this material and so you really want to do it justice.

SHEIR

As for what Wednesday's material will entail, Grace Overbeke says it runs the gamut.

OVERBEKE

There's one piece that is of the genesis of this wonderful writer Baracka's views on race and there's also a really beautiful biography by Darlene about her experiences growing up in this small town just south of Canada. And Jimmy is a wonderful writer and so he wrote this beautiful poem.

SHEIR

And these writers, Baracka, Darlene, Jimmy, John, the many others, Grace says, they run the gamut, too.

OVERBEKE

In the monologues, you hear people referencing their time in graduate school, they'll reference their time, you know, working on a construction site, in government. Really, it's every imaginable background.

SHEIR

Just as Grace had her eyes and ears opened by that homeless woman near Logan Circle, she hopes people who attend "Stories From the Kitchen" will have their eyes and ears opened, too, and realize that behind every person they encounter there's a lifetime of stories just waiting to be told.

SHEIR

The next "Stories From the Kitchen" is Dec. 19 at Theater J. The performance is free and open to the public. For more on the show and to watch a video clip from June's production, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Now, tradition definitely comes into play when you're talking about faith. I mean, people of different faiths have sorts of customs and rituals they observe. For Jewish families one of these traditions is welcoming Shabbat or the Sabbath each Friday night by lighting the Shabbat candles. But what happens when families can't be together in person to usher in the Sabbath? Well, the family we're about to meet faced that very predicament when their children began heading off to college and traveling overseas. And as members of the family shared with Rebecca Blatt, they've found a way to use 21st century technology to keep ancient traditions alive.

SABLOSKY

I'm Ann Sablosky and you're at the Sablosky/Rockower household. And soon we will Skype with Paul, who's in Tajikistan, I think, and Ellen, who's in Seattle and Harry, who's in Charleston, S.C., so that we can say the prayers as a family.

MR. STEPHEN ROCKOWER

I'm Steve Rockower. I'm the father of the family. It's a way of keeping the family together and keeping the traditions alive of Judaism. It's one of the things that we're supposed to do, is to remember the Sabbath and bring it in and have the family together during the Sabbath.

MR. NORMAN SABLOSKY

I'm Norman Sablosky. Ann is my daughter. I think it's marvelous to talk to them, as well as see them.

ROCKOWER

Let's go to Skype. Ellen is there. Hello?

MS. ELLEN ROCKOWER

Hi.

ROCKOWER

Hi. How you doing, sweetie pie?

SABLOSKY

Hello.

ROCKOWER

Good. How are you? All right. Paul, are you there?

MR. PAUL ROCKOWER

I'm here. I'm in Kazakhstan. I'm in…

ROCKOWER

Oh.

ROCKOWER

…Astana. I’m in…

SABLOSKY

Once we get everybody on the phone or on Skype, there are a number of traditions that we follow to welcome in the Jewish Sabbath. The first is that we light the candles and say a prayer over the candles.

SABLOSKY

And then we take a glass of wine and say a prayer over the wine.

SABLOSKY

And then we say a prayer over the bread, called a HaMotzi.

ROCKOWER

There's a traditional blessing for the children that has been handed down for years and years and years. May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord shine his countenance upon you, be gracious unto you and grant you peace.

SABLOSKY

Amen.

ROCKOWER

Amen.

ROCKOWER

Amen.

SABLOSKY

We belong to a synagogue called Temple Micah. And one of the real hallmarks of Temple Micah is making Judaism and our traditions meaningful for us as American Jews in the 21st century. And this is just another way that we do something as part of our community that does that.

ROCKOWER

There are a times when somebody is traveling and literally in a car. So he'll eat a cracker just to have, you know, be part of it.

SABLOSKY

It may just be for a few minutes and then everybody goes about their business, but we have this very special time with our family every Friday night and we all really cherish it.

ROCKOWER

Bye, love you guys.

SABLOSKY

Love you, too.

ROCKOWER

Love you, love you, too. Bye-bye.

SABLOSKY

Bye.

SHEIR

This story was produced by Rebecca Blatt and came to us through the Public Insight Network or PIN. It's a way for people to share their stories with us and for us to reach out for input on topics we're covering. To learn more about the Network or to join, go to metroconnection.org/pin. Oh, and while you're on our website, we have this really cool slide show featuring all sorts of photos, along with Washingtonians waxing quite eloquently about their personal traditions. So check it out.

SHEIR

Time for a break, but when we get back, the return of our series D.C. Gigs and a guy who works one of the most traditional gigs there is.

MR. JOE ALONSO

That's the second oldest profession, you know. You know what the first oldest was.

SHEIR

That and more in a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir. And welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today we're talking about traditions. In just a bit we're going to discuss some holiday traditions, but first, let's hit the books and learn about some pretty radical changes in the traditional ways we teach kids math. D.C. and Maryland have joined more than 40 states in embracing what's known as the Common Core Standards. That's an effort to establish uniform expectations for what students should learn every year, from kindergarten through high school. D.C. Public Schools rolled out new reading standards last year. This year, students are learning how to do math differently. Kavitha Cardoza brings us this crash course in this new approach to education.

MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA

Counting the times table is just one of many ways students in Jerriel Hall's third grade class learn math. They especially love it when they get to stomp their feet or twirl around, but as soon as they get too noisy or off track.

MR. JERRIEL HALL

Scholar position.

CARDOZA

Scholar position means sit in your place with your hands on the desk and be quiet. Once students have settled down, they continue with the lesson, making angles with their arms.

HALL

Show me intersecting lines. Parallel. Touchdown.

CARDOZA

The Common Core State Standards are an effort to get away from the often criticized mile-wide-and-inch-deep approach to teaching in the U.S. Under the old standards, D.C. public school teachers, like Hall, covered 45 topics. This year they have to cover 28. That brings the U.S. more in line with high-achieving countries such as Finland, Japan and Singapore. Hall says third grade is a critical year, but in the past he had to race through challenging topics such as multiplication and division only to find his students didn't quite understand or remember what he taught. Now, he says, he has almost twice as much time to cover topics.

HALL

We just spent about six to eight weeks on fractions. And that was beautiful. Last year when I taught fractions I spent about maybe three weeks.

CARDOZA

Hall says fractions are the building blocks of math. If students don't master concepts here, they will have to struggle later with algebra. He does say teaching is far more challenging this year.

HALL

It is definitely forcing me to think of activities and strategies, getting them to reason with each other and lesson planning around showing our work in different ways, like in diagrams or in number lines or in tables or using our arms.

CARDOZA

Daniel Assael teaches seventh grade math at Deal Middle School in northwest D.C. He likes that students can no longer guess the answers to a math question. They really have to understand the concept to answer questions accurately.

MR. DANIEL ASSAEL

In the past, they would have gotten a formula, here's the formula, here's some examples, try and figure out what the area of this trapezoid is. Whereas this year, they get a refresher on the area of a triangle, that should be enough to figure out the area of a trapezoid.

CARDOZA

Some students weren't buying this new approach.

ASSAEL

Where's the formula? Why can't I have a formula? Just give me the formula. I'll be able to do it. But the whole idea is that students develop that on their own. So that when they're faced with unfamiliar situations they're more apt to try and tackle it, rather than just shut down.

CARDOZA

The Common Core Standards are far more rigorous than DCPS's previous standards. Assael says his advanced students love the new material, but he worries about his struggling students.

ASSAEL

This is almost another barrier because you're asking them to do so much more.

CARDOZA

Amadour Jomuada is helping 10th graders after school.

FEMALE

They are similar because they have the same angles.

MR. AMADOUR JOMUADA

Did you figure out angle C?

FEMALE

No. I just guessed.

JOMUADA

No. You need to find this out.

FEMALE

Find it out, okay.

JOMUADA

But we know that three angles…

CARDOZA

He teaches at Benjamin Banneker High School in northwest D.C. Jomuada says it's a challenging time for students and teachers, even at this high performing school, because students are still transitioning.

JOMUADA

So we are doing Common Core in our 9th graders and they are not ready because in their 8th grade they were not taught with the Common Core.

CARDOZA

He likes that there's now an emphasis on real world applications. His students learn about proportions by figuring out the height of the different buildings in D.C. or volume by studying how the shape of different bottles affects how much water they hold. And Jomuada says students always want to learn lessons about percentages by calculating discounts in a mall. He says they had an Aha-moment recently when they realized a 15 percent discount on top of a 20 percent discount, wasn't a 35 percent discount.

JOMUADA

And then, oh, man, I was outsmarted right there. Okay. Mr. Jomuada, I need to be with my mom all the time so that I can tell her that, oops, that's not the right thing because this one right here is better than that one. They love it.

CARDOZA

Several math teachers in D.C. are concerned the Common Core State Standards have been rolled out too fast, with little professional development to support these significant changes. They work longer hours scrambling to find lesson plans and worry these rigorous new standards will mean a drop in test scores. Michael Coen, president of the non-profit Achieve, that helped write the new standards, says test scores may well fall, but they will be an honest and accurate reflection of how students in the U.S. are doing.

MR. MICHAEL COEN

The students will not have gotten dumber, right. The teachers will not be worse. The schools will not have failed, but we will have held our students or begun to have held our students to a higher standard that is necessary in order to prepare students for success after high school.

CARDOZA

But more than anything, educators, such as Daniel Assael, the 7th grade teacher, are hoping the new Common Core State Standards will help change the conversation around math, so it's no longer a subject everyone's afraid of.

ASSAEL

And unfortunately, it has been something that has been accepted. Oh well, I wasn't good at math either when I grew up, so it's okay. You'll be good at other things. Whereas, it's not okay.

CARDOZA

Because he says the skills you need to solve a math problem, critical thinking, creativity, precision, persistence, those aren't just math skills. Those are life skills. I'm Kavitha Cardoza.

SHEIR

So this week's theme is, of course, traditions. And the man we'll meet next has one of the most traditional professions there is and one that's quite fitting here in this city of grand monument and buildings. Joe Alonso has been a stonemason with the National Cathedral for 27 years. He's one of the guys helping to rebuild parts of the Cathedral damaged in last year's earthquake. In the latest edition of our series, D.C. Gigs, Alonso explains what it's like to construct and reconstruct some of our city's most iconic structures.

ALONSO

A mason is, I guess, one of the oldest professions on earth, right? The second oldest profession, you know. You know what the first oldest was. My name is Joe Alonso. I'm the head stonemason here at the National Cathedral. Every one of these pieces of stone that you see here is pretty much hand-cut, handmade, fitted together by hand. I'm always amazed by it.

ALONSO

All these arches and columns and just this incredible work all around me. And just a tremendous amount of skill and effort goes into building something like this. You know, everywhere you look there's, you know, American history everywhere. You walk by a couple interesting things. Of course, this is the tomb of President Woodrow Wilson. He's the only president of the United States buried in the District of Columbia. And then up above here, this is probably the most famous stained-glass window in the Cathedral. We call it the Space Window. It looks like outer space and the heavens. And you see that big red circle up there and the little dark disc in the center? That's a sliver of moon rock, actually, that was brought down by the Apollo 11 astronauts and presented to the Cathedral.

ALONSO

My dad was a mason. As a kid, I would go around with him and help him on his side jobs. So I've been around, you know, brick work, stonework, mortar, all that stuff since I was a kid. Right out of high school I was fortunate enough to get an apprenticeship in the Stonemason's Union here in Washington, D.C. D.C., of course, is a great stone town. All the magnificent structures, monuments, buildings, you know, block by block.

ALONSO

You see, every one of these steps is an individually cut block of stone. And you see how it forms the spiral as we're going up. For a stonemason, at least in my opinion, the Washington National Cathedral is the ultimate. Late 1984, early '85, the west towers were still being built. So it was the opportunity to be a part of the final phase of construction of the Cathedral. And Sept. 29, 1990 President George H. W. Bush was here. I was up on the scaffold lowering that huge finial onto the base there, setting the final stone on the Cathedral, 83 years to the day, I think to the hour, that the first stone was laid.

ALONSO

But we're going up to the highest point in D.C. One more padlock to go. A little breezy up here. This Cathedral is in such a prominent spot in the skyline of D.C. I mean, look, what do you see when you're up here, sticking out the most? You see the Cathedral, the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol. When you look up at these pinnacles now, what's missing is about 16 feet of stone. Pieces that were shaken so badly in the quake it was unbelievable.

ALONSO

And now the Cathedral has this massive scaffold around the top of its tower. Then this pinnacle rotated tremendously in the earthquake, as if a giant hand just took it and rotated it counter-clockwise several degrees, all these chunks coming out. And we've got to rebuild. You know, this building is such an important part of the city and of the nation. I've been on it now for 27 years and it's a part of me.

ALONSO

I mean, look, we're almost 300 feet up in the air and look at all the beautifully carved little angels. I mean, look at their little noses and eyelids and all of that. Every one of these pieces of stone was hand-carved. You know, we want to put it back the way it was and we will.

SHEIR

That was Joe Alonso, head stonemason at the National Cathedral, speaking with reporter Jocelyn Frank.

SHEIR

If you have a distinctively D.C. gig you think we should feature on the show, let us know. Send an email to metro@wamu.org or tweet us. Our handle is @wamumetro.

SHEIR

Our next two stories are about the traditions of families. More particular, families working to blend different religious or cultural customs and beliefs. We begin with Neeraj and Allison Hodges Mistry. They live in D.C.'s Petworth neighborhood with their two daughters, three-year-old Nayna and eight-month-old Zayne. While Neeraj's family originally hails from India, he grew up in South Africa, during Apartheid.

SHEIR

Allison had quite a different upbringing. She was the daughter of a rancher in western Texas. Now, the Mistrys are trying to teach their kids about all of their family traditions and even make up some new ones of their own. Rebecca Blatt stopped by the Mistrys' house as the family was making dinner and sent us this audio postcard.

MISS NAYNA MISTRY

Can I do it with you?

MISTRY

Okay. Let it cook a bit more and then we can flip it. These are chapattis, also known as rotis. And we grew up eating this in South Africa and they are wonderful to have with curries. But we've also found other ways of actually using it. So we have grilled chapattis, as we have like grilled sandwiches. So we've just found different ways of using traditional foods that we have and creating new dishes.

MS. ALLISON HODGES MISTRY

So, Nayna, do you want to do your advent calendar? Yeah? We have a little advent calendar and we just put it on a little piece of string, like we have these little envelopes and inside every envelope we wrote kind of a different thing that we're going to do that day. And so tonight it was to light our angel chimes.

MISTRY

Okay. And then these angels…

MISTRY

They hang off the triangle. How cool is that, Nayna?

MISTRY

Wow.

MISTRY

You know, I had one of these when I was your age. Okay. We're going to leave it and then we'll light it…

MISTRY

When I do things that I did as a kid that my mom did with me, I see her. I kind of get misty. And I don't think you ever know what it is that your kids are going to--what's going to like transmit or really going to go through them.

MISTRY

Nayna, you could make the wish now. What do you wish for, babe?

MISTRY

I wish you a merry Christmas. I wish you a merry Christmas. I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

MISTRY

Yay, that was so great.

MISTRY

I just hope--and I think it's already starting to show--that irrespective of who they're with or where they are, they're just going to be loved by people because they're going to exude this openness to everyone. And then irrespective of their vocation or profession that they choose, they'd apply those values and that sort of inner-heart and emotion to whatever they do. And that would make me the happiest father.

SHEIR

The Mistry story was produced by Rebecca Blatt and comes to us through our Public Insight Network or PIN. If you missed our plug for PIN earlier in the hour, you can learn more about it at metroconnection.org/pin.

SHEIR

Now, of course, blending different traditions can be a challenge. And this next story deals with interfaith marriages between Jews and Christians. The most recent statistics from the University of Miami show that about 40 percent of married Jews in our region have partners from outside their faith. And that's where the Interfaith Families Project comes in. It's a community of more than 100 families with one Christian partner and one Jewish partner. It was started nearly two decades ago by four women looking for help, as they raised interfaith children. Emily Berman headed to Kensington, Md. for the Project's weekly gathering, to see how these two traditions are taught and practiced side by side.

MS. EMILY BERMAN

When Mary Elizabeth Cisneros and Michael Rosenman decided to get married, no one raised any objections about the fact that they come from different faiths.

MS. MARY ELIZABETH CISNEROS

But as soon as we started talking about children or raising the children, what we kept hearing from friends and family was you can't do both. They'll be confused. It doesn't work. It's not possible.

BERMAN

Mary Beth was raised Catholic and she wasn't just going to give that up. And Michael is a Jew, which wasn't just his religion, he says, but his culture.

CISNEROS

And we just weren't comfortable choosing one.

BERMAN

But as their kids got older they realized they'd have to figure something out pretty fast.

CISNEROS

We just wanted to give them a basis because bad things are going to happen and for me, when those bad things happened, having my faith to fall back on was a great tool.

BERMAN

So they decided their household would be both Jewish and Christian.

CISNEROS

But until we found this community, we didn’t know how we were going to do it.

BERMAN

The Interfaith Families Project begins each Sunday with a service. This week the theme of the service is Hanukkah.

BERMAN

The gathering is led by a rabbi, a minister of the United Church of Christ and members of the community. The service is different each week, but one thing you'll always here is the Shammah, which is in Hebrew and affirms the Jewish belief in one God.

BERMAN

You'll also hear the Lord's Prayer, one of the central prayers of Christianity. After the service the kids and adults split off. Adults have a group discussion and the kids go to Sunday School classes.

MR. NATHANIEL ROSENBERG

I'm Nathaniel Rosenberg (sp?), ten years old. My mom is Roman Catholic and my dad is a Jew.

BERMAN

Nathaniel's been a member since he was three months old. He says, though the classes do clearly define the differences between the religions, they spend much more time talking about the similarities.

ROSENBERG

There's always light. And different people perform miracles. And they both have one God.

BERMAN

Nathaniel says he loves learning about both religions and for now he doesn't feel any pressure to choose just one.

ROSENBERG

And that's more presents and everything. So it's all fun.

RABBI HAROLD WHITE

And what we're doing would not necessarily work everywhere.

BERMAN

Rabbi Harold White is the group's Jewish spiritual leader.

WHITE

For example, it would not work well in a small town where intermarriage is almost unknown. But Washington is a very interesting place because we have lots of hybrids here.

BERMAN

Rabbi White's counterpart, Reverend Julia Jarvis says from the beginning there's been one big challenge in practicing both Judaism and Christianity, how to talk about Jesus.

REV. JULIA JARVIS

I mean we used to say that Jesus was the elephant under the huppah, you know, and that no one really wanted to talk about because it was--that's hard.

BERMAN

Because Christianity believes Jesus to be the son of God and Judaism does not. Reverend Jarvis and Rabbi White frame the conversation in a way that they could all feel comfortable with, Jesus as a historical figure.

JARVIS

He was born a Jew and he lived as a Jew and he died as a Jew. And, in fact, the first people to follow Jesus were all Jews.

BERMAN

Talking about Jesus, for some couples, has been their common ground. Matt McGrath and his wife Randi Field have been part of the group for nearly two decades.

MS. RANDI FIELD

I'm 100 percent Jewish, but I now have a connection to Jesus. And I have tremendous respect for Jesus, which before IFFP I didn't have that. I had no knowledge of the historical Jesus.

MR. MATT MCGRATH

I'm 100 percent Christian, but my appreciation for the roots of Christianity is profound.

BERMAN

Sunday classes wrap up just before noon and three-year-old Alana Kliner (sp?) runs over to her parents, holding a sticky art project.

MISS ALANA KLINER

I glued the candles on this.

FEMALE

What is it Alana?

KLINER

It's menorah.

FEMALE

Yeah.

BERMAN

This week the focus is Hanukkah, but next week the fifth graders will put on a nativity play. Mixing traditions can be a little overwhelming, says Rabbi White. But for an interfaith couple the upside is huge.

WHITE

I think we've made many of our Jewish partners more Jewish and many of our Christian partners more Christian.

BERMAN

And as for the kids, Rabbi White says, the goal is to teach the history, the prayers and the culture and leave the big decisions up to them. I'm Emily Berman.

SHEIR

If you are part of a family that's working to blend two different faiths, we'd love to hear from you. You can reach us at metro@wamu.org.

SHEIR

Up next, the story behind one of D.C.'s most bling-tastic, over-the-top, holiday displays.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE

Straight out, I tell them I'm from Panama. So they wanted to show me the house with the lights. So at first I was like, huh. The house with the lights. As soon as we pulled up, I was like, wow, it's the house with the lights.

SHEIR

It's coming your way on "Metro Connection," on WAMU 88.5.

SHEIR

Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And this week we're bringing you our annual show on traditions. Coming up we'll swing by a glowing megawatt extravaganza of Christmas cheer at one D.C. home. And we'll continue our own "Metro Connection" tradition with the return of our weekly trip around the region, Door To Door. But first, let's turn to a Washington tradition that's been going strong for 30 years. A tradition that just so happens to sound like this…

SHEIR

And this…

SHEIR

And this…

SHEIR

These festive tunes are among the dozens you'll hear in the Christmas Revels, the annual solstice celebration put on by…

MR. GREG LEWIS

Washington Revels.

SHEIR

…a local group dedicated to performing traditional music, dance and stories all year long. Greg Lewis is their executive director.

LEWIS

Last year we did a total of 55 different programs, of which The Christmas Revels, albeit our biggest, was just one.

SHEIR

The Washington Revels are among ten nonprofit, independent Revels organizations across the country. And of all the professional and nonprofessional singers, actors, musicians and dancers involved here in D.C., Lewis says…

LEWIS

Well, I probably go back farthest.

SHEIR

So far back that he can remember Washington's very first Christmas Revels in 1983. Unlike the 2012 incarnation, a two and a half hour spectacular spectacular with 100 performers, dazzling costumes and a splashy, multi-story set, the original production was far simpler.

LEWIS

We had a bunch of trees dotting around and the director said, just don't stand behind a tree. And that was it. There was no other--blocking notes didn't exist. It was, don't stand behind a tree.

SHEIR

Every Christmas Revels has a particular theme. And back in 1983, that theme was medieval English.

LEWIS

And we've probably done English, oh, I don't know, seven, eight, nine times.

SHEIR

But since then, the Washington Revels have moved farther afield, exploring Celtic…

LEWIS

Early American.

SHEIR

Italian.

LEWIS

French.

SHEIR

Even Russian, Scandinavian and French-Canadian. This year the Washington Revels are revisiting their 1984 theme, Haddon Hall, one of England's oldest and most romantic manor houses. The year is 1929 and on a dark and snowy solstice eve, the 9th Duke of Rutland brings his wife and children to his long-abandoned family home, with plans of selling it to make way for a new road.

SHEIR

But the Duke's only half right. No one living has been here for 217 years. Each winter solstice, spirits of Haddon Hall's former residents appear to make merry on this shortest day of the year.

SHEIR

But, spoiler alert, after dancing and singing with these cheery ghosts all night long our Scrooge-like Duke ditches the bah-humbug and decides to save Haddon Hall.

SHEIR

Now, lest you think this story sounds like mere visions of sugarplums, executive director Greg Lewis says, think again.

LEWIS

The story that was portrayed is true. It actually was. The 9th Duke of Rutland was going to take it down and there was going to be a motorway. And we're not exactly sure whether it was Revels ghosts that persuaded him otherwise, but we think it makes a nicer story.

SHEIR

We, in this case, are Lewis and his fellow Revels directors, Roberta Gasbarre…

MS. ROBERTA GASBARRE

I'm the artistic director of Washington Revels and the stage director of the Christmas Revels.

SHEIR

…and Elizabeth Miller.

MS. ELIZABETH MILLER

I’m the music director of the Washington Revels and of this Christmas Revels show.

SHEIR

Gasbarre joined the group in 1991, Miller in '93. And while long-timer Greg Lewis still has her beat, Miller says she's been around long enough to get a powerful sense of the Revels' continuity.

MILLER

We get assigned stage families. And in one of my early Revels shows, my child/daughter that year, Rhianna Nissen, is, this year, my assistant music director. So I've had her start from a child and now she's sort of graduated to the production level.

SHEIR

And she's not alone, says Roberta Gasbarre.

GASBARRE

We have a little saying that says, once a Reveler, always a Reveler. And we consider that for the audience as well. They are a vital part of the show. It's exciting to see them all singing and dancing in the aisles.

SHEIR

Not sure how I failed to mention that one, the audience. Listen, if you think watching 100 people singing and dancing on stage is a spectacle, imagine more than 1,000 people doing the same thing in the audience. Audience members leap in and out of their seats during "The Twelve Days of Christmas," and during the Act One finale, "The Lord of the Dance," they clasp hands and snake their way through the aisles.

LEWIS

And the fun is when people who first came, they brought their children. Now, their children are bringing their children. And oftentimes we'll have four generations in the audience. I don't think we've ever hit five, but we've had a good number of fours.

SHEIR

And if the Washington Revels keep on keeping on for another 30 years, who knows? It may just be a matter of time.

SHEIR

The Christmas Revels runs one more weekend at the George Washington Lisner Auditorium. For performance information and to see the flying canoes from the 2008 French-Canadian Christmas Revels, no joke, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

While we're on the subject of holiday spectacular spectaculars, you know how in every neighborhood, there's like that one house that has Christmas lights covering every available surface? Maybe there's even like a life-sized Santa and reindeer floating above the roof? Well, at one house in Northwest D.C., this tradition goes all the way back to the 1960s, when a charismatic religious leader wanted to bring light to a city in need of Christmas cheer. Jacob Fenston has the story.

MR. JACOB FENSTON

When George Ford, Jr. was a kid growing up in Washington, he used to love going to see the Christmas displays in department store windows, stores like Hecht's, downtown.

MR. GEORGE FORD JR.

Early years in Washington, D.C., the department stores had, around Christmas time, beautiful display, where the children would go and just 'ahhh' and swoon over the mannequins in the window. And after the riots, of course, that was no more.

FENSTON

The 1968 riots, after Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, the Hecht's flagship store on 7th Street was one of hundreds of businesses damaged in the violence. In the years following, the Christmas displays downtown just weren't the same. So the Bishop of Ford's church decided to put on a Christmas display of his own.

FORD JR.

He wanted for those children who had no place to go to see this kind of lights, like they used to do.

FENSTON

The bishop was Walter McCollough, who led the D.C. based faith, the United House of Prayer for All People, for more than 30 years. The Christmas lights began as a few strands on the bishop's house, and evolved over the years into a massive display with lights on every part of the house, every tree and shrub. Ford is a lifelong member and apostle in the church, and has been involved in decorating the bishop's house since the very beginning.

FORD JR.

We have teams, and they're assigned to do certain phases of the project.

FENSTON

So the lights go kind of all the way up the hill behind the house.

FORD JR.

Yeah, come on.

FENSTON

There's a Santa on a sleigh, a manger scene, and lots and lots of angels. Ford says last time they tried to count the lights, there was something like half a million of them. The bishop's house is in the leafy northern tip of the city, near Silver Spring. The Christmas display is a local institution, drawing thousands of parents and kids each year. Stopping here is a family tradition for many, spanning generations, as well as religions and ethnicities.

MALE

Yeah, we usually come every year.

FENSTON

How many years, do you know, how many years have you been coming?

MALE

I believe, like, around 15 years. Yeah.

MR. JOSIMAR TAYLOR

I've been coming here since I was like 10, since like '97. Yeah, December '97. Yeah, my family brought me out here, straight out. I'm from Panama, so they wanted to show me the house with the lights. At first I was like, huh? The house with the lights? As soon as we pulled up, I was like, wow. It's the house with the lights.

CHILD

I've been here when I was a baby.

FENSTON

How old are you now?

CHILD

I'm 8. It's fun to see Christmas lights. And I love Christmas, and I love getting presents, and it's just beautiful.

MR. TOM ROSZKOWSKI

I'm 41 years old now, so I've been coming here basically my whole life, and seeing these lights every year. So now I share it with my kids.

CHILD

I like...

CHILD

I like the manger.

MR. ROBERT WOODS

It takes me back to my childhood, you know, because things have gotten so commercialized with Christmas now. This takes me back to, you know, when we sang "Silent Night" and it meant something.

MALE

I know this area for a long time, and I used to bring my children. Now I brought my granddaughter.

MS. FRAN ALVES

Tell him what you saw...

CHRISTIAN AREVALO

A camel.

ALVES

You saw a camel, and the ark and cows, and baby Jesus.

AREVALO

And baby Jesus.

ALVES

Baby Jesus?

AREVALO

Yeah.

ALVES

Yes. Tell him that it's very festive.

AREVALO

It's festive.

ALVES

And that you enjoy seeing all the lights.

AREVALO

I enjoy seeing all the lights.

ALVES

Makes you happy, doesn't it? I have been coming here for years, since my daughter, my daughter is 30, so I get excited. This makes me excited, it gets me ready for the holiday season. From a religious standpoint, you think about Heaven and how glorious it is, and this is only a piece of it. It's just, it's beautiful.

FENSTON

Those were the voices of parents and kids outside the bishop's house, including Fran Alves and her 2-year-old grandson.

ALVES

Christian Arevalo.

AREVALO

I'm Christian Arevalo.

FENSTON

Also, Thomas Sathyanathan, Robert Woods, Tom Roszkowski and his kids Decker and Gray.

CHILD

Look how big I am.

FENSTON

Josimar Taylor, Brianna Acevedo and Getachew Mekonnen. The Christmas lights will be up through the beginning of January, but if you miss them this year, there's always next year, and the year after, and the year after. I’m Jacob Fenston.

SHEIR

If you can't get out to North Portal Drive, you can still check out the lights on the bishop's house. We have photos on our website, metroconnection.org. Also, we want to know where the big light displays are in your neighborhood. Send us an email. Our address is metro@wamu.org.

SHEIR

And now, our weekly trip around the region. On today's "Door to Door," we visit Logan Circle in northwest D.C., and Benning Heights in southeast D.C.

MR. TIM CHRISTENSEN

My name is Tim Christensen, I’m 56 years old, and I live in the Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The boundaries are K Street on the south, S Street on the north, and Ninth Street on the east, and 16th Street on the west. The population of Logan Circle probably has a higher proportion of LGBT residents than any other neighborhood in Washington, D.C. It's a very welcoming community. The era from 1968 to the 1990s, which was the peak of the crack epidemic, was very difficult in Logan Circle. Times have changed, the issues are different, people talk more about parking now than they talk about prostitution, but there are still issued that need to be dealt with, and they do draw the community together.

MR. TIM CHRISTENSEN

Logan Circle has a couple of icons that are worth of note. One is the beautiful statue of Gen. John Logan, which sits in the middle of Logan Circle Park. The circle was originally called Iowa Circle and was changed to Logan Circle in 1930. Another icon in Logan Circle neighborhood is, of course, the fabulous Studio Theatre, which is part of the bedrock of this community. Whether it's shopping, dry cleaning, hardware store, great dining, terrific theatre, terrific bars, everything I need is within a few blocks of my front door.

MR. BENJAMIN E. THOMAS SR.

My full name is Benjamin Earl Thomas, Sr., and I am 92 years old. I live in Washington, D.C. I'm in the Benning Heights area. I've been there since 1958. I live three blocks south of the Maryland line, right in the tip end of southeast Washington. I live between Benning Road and Pennsylvania Avenue. Of course, that's big Fort Dupont Park in between that area. The nearest grocery store is down on Minnesota Avenue, which is probably, I'd say three or four miles from my house, but they have a couple of corner stores.

MR. BENJAMIN E. THOMAS SR.

Most of the people that moved in at the same time as I did, we started buying our own homes. Most of them have sold or passed on. It's not as family friendly like it was at one time. Quite a bit has changed, and a lot of the kids that grew up, very few has come back to live in the neighborhood. I'm probably the only one in my block that sits on my porch regularly, because a lot of people there are single widows, the women that live by themselves, and they're afraid to come out. What I really like about it is that it's still a quiet neighborhood. I can sleep at night.

SHEIR

We heard from Tim Christensen in Logan Circle, and Benjamin Earl Thomas, Sr. of Benning Heights. Your neighborhood can be a part of "Door to Door" too. Just send an email to metro@wamu.org, or visit us on Facebook, that's facebook.com/metroconnection.org. And to see a map of all the doors we've knocked on so far, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Kavitha Cardoza, Rebecca Blatt, Emily Berman, and Jacob Fenston, along with reporter Jocelyn Frank. WAMU's managing editor of news is Meymo Lyons. "Metro Connection's" managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our intern is Rachel Schuster. Lauren Landau, Rachel Schuster, and John Hines produce "Door to Door." Thanks, as always, to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.

SHEIR

Our theme song, ''Every Little Bit Hurts," and our "Door to Door" theme "No, Girl" are from the album "Title Tracks" by John Davis and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. You can see all the music we use on our website, that's metroconnection.org. Just click on a story and you'll find information about its accompanying song. Also on metroconnection.org you can find our Twitter and Facebook links, you can read free transcripts of stories, and if you missed part of today's show, you can hear the whole thing by clicking the "This Week on Metro Connection" link.

SHEIR

To hear our most recent episodes, click the podcast link, or find us on iTunes. We hope you can join us next week when we'll present a show we're calling Follow-Ups. You know all those "Metro Connection" stories you hear and you wonder what happened next, after the story aired? Well, next week, we'll let you know, by bringing you the long awaited second act, if you will. We'll check back in with the opera superstar whose career was nearly derailed by illness. We'll visit with kids who were struggling with obesity to see how they're faring now, and we'll get the full story of a man we heard from in our recent report on Lorton Prison, a man who's turned his life around in a major way.

MALE

You know, I went in as a young addict, you know, out of control, and I came out as a minister, educated, with a new purposed in life.

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir, and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 news.
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