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Why We Celebrate Lag B'Omer

Renee Eder on Tuesday, April 24, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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Lag B’Omer is considered a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, but in my opinion, even a minor holiday is still a holiday and therefore worth celebrating! The interesting part about this holiday is that it occurs in the middle of a time of reflection and non-celebration, which is more the reason to make the most of it!

Lag B’Omer represents the 33rd day of the counting of the omer, the fifty days between Passover and Shavuot. While Passover celebrates our freedom from slavery, Shavuot celebrates our receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The word lag represents 33 and an omer is a measurement. Between these two holidays, while counting the days, Jews traditionally brought an omer of grain to the Temple.

The counting of the omer presents a special opportunity to reflect back on where we’ve come from as well as to look forward to where we are going. It is a time for self-awareness, self-growth, and community development. Traditionally, many Jews refrain from open celebration during the counting of the omer. However, Lag B’Omer is a day during this season upon which marriages, haircuts, and other celebrations are allowed to take place!

The most famous Lag B'Omer celebration is held at the village of Meron, near the northern city of Safed in Israel. People come from all over the country to make their way up the mountain where Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the mystical Jewish text The Zohar, is said to be buried. Crowds of 500,000 gather at his tomb for this very happy celebration, roasting marshmallows and potatoes, dancing around the fires that lift their spirits, and filling the air with song.

At the J, we are looking forward to celebrating Lag B'omer with the community. On May 3, we invite you to join the Northern Virginia Jewish Community, in partnership with Chabad Lubavitch of Northern Virginia and Gesher Jewish Day School, for the 3rd Annual day of family fun celebrating Lag Baomer and our community! This year's celebration features entertainment including a drum circle; zipline; moonbounce; inflatables; activities; facepainting; petting zoo; bonfire; and more! Food will be available for purchase. Learn more and buy tickets here:

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Families Who Volunteer Together. . .

Renee Eder on Tuesday, April 17, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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Good Deeds Day is coming up on April 29, and it's truly a blast. Yes, my son has service hours he needs to complete for middle school. But do they need to be a drag? Not at all!

My family volunteers together at Good Deeds Day (GDD) every year. (You should see my collection of GDD t-shirts that I wear to the gym!) In the picture above (taken last year), we were making non-slip slipper socks for children in need. We also put together soups, made blankets for pets at the shelter, and wrote thank you notes for Israeli soldiers. My entire family left Gesher that day feeling like we made a difference, and we had fun doing it! 

Does your family volunteer together? If not, why not give it a try! If you're looking for an activity your whole family will enjoy, volunteering can be a dynamic, rewarding way to bring your family together. Whether you’re organizing a food drive, cleaning up a street or a park, or volunteering at Good Deeds Day, volunteering amplifies your impact in the community—and gives you some quality time together. Service can get everyone thinking positively and prioritizing what’s important. Plus, you’ll make some great family memories!

Good Deeds Day is an annual, international celebration of Doing Good! Join more than two million volunteers around the world, and 8,500 in our community for this day of service. Roll up your sleeves and make an impact through a variety of hands-on volunteer projects. Good Deeds Day in our area is produced in partnership with the J, Federation’s Jconnect, Federation partner agencies, congregations and other organizations. 

To register to volunteer at Good Deed's Day at Gesher, please visit  If you are interested in being involved with the event, contact Hope to see you there!


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J in the Community: Going Places! Turns Ten

Renee Eder on Tuesday, April 10, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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My friend's daughter has Autism Spectrum Disorder. She's in a tough spot now that she's a teenager. Academically, she is a straight-A student with a bright future ahead, but socially she has some deficiencies and has had trouble making friends in middle school. Luckily for children like her, there's a program here at the J that can help, and this year it is celebrating its 10th anniversary!

Going Places! is an award-winning social club for teens, young adults, and adults who are diagnosed with Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder (formerly Asperger’s Syndrome and PDD- NOS). The club provides social opportunities in a supportive environment with guidance from professional staff to help participants improve their social skills and overall comfort in social situations.

Going Places! age groups include teens (ages 14-18), young adults (ages 18-26), and adults (ages 26+). Activities are monthly and may include mini golf, bowling, swim parties, dances, community service projects, museum trips, movies, holiday parties and more! Events are open to people of all backgrounds, and are led by the J's Resource Specialist Melissa Hochberg, M. Ed., who I had the opportunity to speak with about the program this afternoon.

Melissa is extremely passionate about her dual role at the J, as the head of the Going Places! program and as the ECLC resource person. Her role in Going Places! began at the second event in 2008, shortly after she started working at the J. She recalls a young lady who attended the events every other month that year, who explained her desire for the events to be more frequent, because, for the first time in her life, she was making friends. She is still a member today and enjoys the more frequent monthly events! In another instance, at the most recent ice skating outing, an adult went onto the ice for the first time in his life. When he first stepped on the ice, he fell on his stomach. This didn't stop him. He got back out there and kept skating. Although he held onto the wall the whole time, he felt so accomplished as he made his way around the rink multiple times. This gave him a newfound confidence and a drive to try new things and not give up. Other members have found lifelong friends and a few even found love in the group!

We are thankful to Melissa and her staff for all that they do for special needs community members and for making Going Places! such a rousing success over the past decade. If you, a friend, or a loved one could benefit from Going Places! and would like to learn more or attend a program, please call 703-537-3040 or email





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JCC Waves Swimmer Makes it to Junior Olympics

Renee Eder on Tuesday, April 3, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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Spring break is over, and I'm happy to say we visited the pool at the J twice this past week. It was one of the highlights of my kids' break. For them, it's a way to splash around and have fun, and be active when they would have otherwise been sitting in the house playing video games. For other children who are more experienced swimmers, it's much more than that! One of those children is Brooke Butts, a 12-year-old swimmer at the J who made it to the Junior Olympics!

Brooke started swimming at the J in 2008 at the age of three, when she began lessons with Ms. Brenda. Shortly after, she joined the Mantua Mini Marlins receiving her first ever award for making the most prolific bubbles in the water. For that and for her happy, bubbly personality, she was named, ‘Bubbly Brooke.’ She later joined the Mantua Marlins swim team for the summer.

In 2016, after a break out summer in swim, Brooke decided to focus fully on swimming and to hang up her ballet shoes and gymnastics leotard and joined the J’s Waves Swim Team. Under Coach Stephen Oakes, Brooke is blossoming into a stronger, more technical swimmer and leader. Brooke has been fortunate to participate in Divisional's, All Stars, and now the Junior Olympics!

When she isn't swimming, Brooke is a straight-A student at Frost Middle School. She enjoys music, including the Hamilton soundtrack and Taylor Swift, hanging out with friends, and cooking. Brooke hopes to be a surgeon one day. We are very proud of Brooke, and wish her lots of luck in swimming and in all of her endeavors!

Want your child to be the next Brooke Butts (or do you simply want him or her to learn how to swim and enjoy the benefits of it)? It’s essential that every child learn to swim, especially to be water-safe. But there are so many levels of swimming and benefits that come along the way. Introduce your child to swimming early on so that they have the skill for their whole life. This can help improve their overall physical and mental health. Hopefully, they will fall in love with the sport and lap it up for years.

If you are interested in swimming lessons at the J, or if you are already a swimmer interested in the swim teams we offer, click here. If you would like to receive more details, and or emails with pool schedule updates, closings, etc., please contact

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How to Explain Passover to Non-Jewish Friends

Renee Eder on Tuesday, March 27, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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Image result for passover seder non jewish friends

One of my best friends, who is not Jewish, sent me a text yesterday to say "Happy Passover." I thanked her and mentioned that it starts on March 30, and then she asked me what it's all about. Yikes! It was then that I realized that I’ve been celebrating Passover for my entire life, and besides the part about eating matzah, I don't know the best way to explain the holiday to others who don't celebrate it.

For my friend, going through a week without bread products isn't different at all. She stays away from carbohydrates as part of her diet. I realized that there are plenty of other aspects to the holiday that can bear some explanations. After doing some research, I realized that if you want to go the extra mile and educate others about your faith, there are ways to explain Passover to your non-Jewish friends, as follows:

- The Passover story: Most people of any faith know the story of Passover from the Bible story about the Israelites in Egypt. To simplify things, you could mention movies such as The Ten Commandments or The Prince of Egypt, and explain that the events described in these films commemorate the holiday of Passover.

-The Unleavened Bread: Mention that you don't eat anything leavened — i.e anything with yeast — during this time because when the Israelites were leaving, they didn't have time for their bread to rise. As a result, it was flat like a cracker.

-The Seder: Explain how the seder is held on the first two nights of the holiday, and how the word "seder" means "order". The seder dinner is done in a special order, and it's held around a table, often with families or friends.

-The Importance Of The Number 4: Many aspects of the Seder meal pertain to the number four, such as the four questions. If this doesn't matter to your friend, just add that you're supposed to drink four cups of wine over the course of the meal. That may help pique his or her interest.

-Go Over The Questions: Newcomers to Passover can probably relate to the role of the child who is supposed to ask the four questions during the Seder meal. For instance, the first question is: "Why is this night different from all other nights?" You can explain why the questions are asked and enlighten him or her about the answers to the questions.

-The Symbolism: If your friend appreciates symbolic thought, then Passover has some great concepts for him or her. During a Seder meal, the foods on the seder plate and the actions described in the haggadah (Passover seder booklet) symbolize the story of Passover. Even the way you recline at the table demonstrates freedom.

-Discuss What Being "Kosher For Passover" Means: Many people who do not normally keep kosher will adhere to it during Passover. For something to be "kosher for Passover," though, it should be free from leavened bread, and marked as "kosher for Passover." There is some variation to this practice, and some people who do not keep kosher everyday will give up bread for Passover, and create some interesting concoctions during the week such as Matzah pizza and Machos (Matzah nachos).

-Go Over The Length Of The Holiday: Explain that there's more to Passover than the seder and that the entire holiday goes on for eight days. That's plenty of time for delicious matzah and other Passover treats.

Hope you have meaningful seders and a good Passover holiday!

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Fun Things to do with Matzah

Renee Eder on Tuesday, March 20, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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Passover is not my favorite holiday. As I mentioned in a previous article, I get sick of matzah after day 3. This may change this year, as I found sound out-of-the-box things you can do with matzah, that I will share with you, as follows: 

Variations on Kugel: 


I love kugel, and am happy to say I found some new varieties of it! For a sweet kugel, I enjoy this Apple Matzah Kugel from epicurious. If you in the mood for more of a savory dinner, check out this Cheese Matzah Kugel recipe.

Matzah Mansion:

It's not just a house, it's a mansion! This matzah home isn't exactly traditional, but tons of fun and a great way to use extra Passover candies. Check out POPSUGAR for inspiration.

Matzah Lasagna/Spanakopita

Go traditional with tomato sauce and cheese, or try Whole Foods’ recipe which tastes a little like spanakopita.

Matzah Bark


Why not ditch the macaroons and opt for this easy dessert from Half Baked Harvest with just five ingredients, and five minutes prep time?



You don't have to give up nachos this Passover! Try these matzo nachos aka machos from What Jew Wanna Eat. This recipe uses matzah in place of tortilla chips.

Matzah Crusted Salmon


Use Matzah in place of breadcrumbs or panko on salmon in this recipe from Whole Foods.

Matzah Latkes:


Who says latkes are just for Chanukah? Why not enjoy traditional Hanukkah food turned kosher for Passover? Recipe is from Martha Stewart.

Matzah Ball Soup:


Sick? Not sick? Either way, why not enjoy the quintessential Jewish penicillin? Make it from scratch with this recipe from Bon Appétit.

We hope you have a happy and yummy Passover! 


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Five Things You May Not Have Known About Passover

Renee Eder on Monday, March 12, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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Wow! All these Start-Up Companies Started in Israel?

Renee Eder on Tuesday, February 27, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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Ever use Waze when you are looking for the best route to get to work? Or, have you sent a swab of saliva to MyHeritage to learn of your ethnic origins? These and many other start-ups originated in Israel!

Israel produces an impressive number of highly successful tech startups for a country with a population of just 8 million. In fact, Israel is sometimes referred to as a "Startup Nation" thanks to the sheer number of entrepreneurs building businesses there, particularly in the coastal city of Tel Aviv. In addition, multinational tech companies such as Google, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft all have research centers in Israel!

These are just a handful of the many start-up companies that originated in Israel:

  • Vroom has built a website that allows people in the US to buy and sell cars. It claims to have over 150,000 customers and hundreds of car makes and models on offer. ·
  • SalesPredict is an analytics startup that was acquired by eBay. SalesPredict claims that its platform can help B2B companies increase revenues by identifying who their best potential customers are.
  • Wix is a web development platform that allows people to build HTML websites and mobile sites. The company's platform boasts 90 million users in 190 countries.
  • Mobileye develops vision-based advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), that provide drivers with a warning if they are about to have a collision and help them to avoid the incident.
  • Flytrex builds personal delivery drones that can transport small packages, taking on UPS, Fedex, and DHL in the process. The company's drones, which can be controlled via an app, come with a "loading bay" for small parcels.
  • Gett is a startup that developed an app that allows people in the US, Israel, Russia, and the UK to hail a taxi, and get things delivered to them on demand via a courier service.

Interested in hearing about Israel start-ups from the experts? On Thursday, March 1, join thought leaders from across the Israeli\American tech industry in a discussion about why Israel is a hub for achievement and innovation in business. Speakers include Asher Kotz, Jonathan Chashper, Ronit Gudes Totah, and Yifat Alon Perel. Read more about them here.

Liat Lisha, the community shlicha at the JCC, who served in the 8200 elite intelligence unit and worked for IBM in Tel Aviv for 2 years will host the panel that is for all ages to attend and introduce ‘Code.IL,’ an 8-week leadership and coding program for teens that begins March 12. Hope to see you there!

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Healthy Variations on Mishloach Manot (Purim Food Baskets)

Renee Eder on Tuesday, February 20, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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One of the most fun Jewish holiday traditions is the mitzvah of mishloach manot – preparing and delivering gifts of homemade goodies to friends and neighbors on Purim day. I'll never forget my days in Hebrew school when I hoped there would be a halvah or an extra hamentaschen in my bag when classmates traded with each other!

These days, I'm trying to be more health conscious. I'm trying not to have a Costco sized tray of hamentaschen (3-sided cookies) sitting in the kitchen, as they might not make it to the Purim baskets! So, I'm going to share with you how you can make your mishloach manot a little healthier this year!

  • Go nuts! Nuts are a healthy, nourishing snack and can be easily purchased in bulk, which is great for assembling multiple mishloach manot packages. You can find multi-packs of peanuts, cashews, almonds etc. at the grocery store, Costco or BJs! It may be a good idea to inquire about allergies before sending these, though!
  • Brew Peace. Historically, sending mishloach manot celebrates the theme of harmony, in the nature of sending gifts to resolve discrepancies among people. Embody this ideal through the purchase of fair trade coffee. Or, send the calming effects of tea!
  • Add color. Tuck in a few beautiful, locally-grown apples, beets, carrots, or other root vegetables in your mishloach manot basket. Spring is right around the corner, so now is the best time to celebrate the winter harvest, one last time.
  • Go Savory. Purim can be a time of serious sugar overload. Do your friends and family a favor by sharing some non-sweet treats such as wheat crackers, wasabi peas, vegetable chips (kale chips?) and even savory hamentaschen!
  • Mediterranean inspired. The savory tastes of Israel can be packed inside a bright, happy and very functional mishloach manot basket. To create, fill a small colorful colander (purchase at Home Goods or Bed, Bath, and Beyond?) with spiced pita chips and tri-color hummus!
  • Wine and Cheese. This is easy, delicious, and loved by most. Red wine even has heart health benefits, when consumed in moderation!

We at the J wish all who celebrate a happy, festive, and healthy Purim!

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Staff Spotlight: Lisa Gladstone

Renee Eder on Tuesday, February 13, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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When you think of the requirements for a front desk administrator, what comes to mind? The first thing some would say is a smiling face that greets you when you walk in. Others would think of a knowledgeable person who answers the phone with a friendly greeting, or someone who knows what's going on and where it's happening. When you think of Lisa Gladstone, one of the J’s front desk administrators, all of these things come to mind.

A native to our area, Lisa was born in Washington, D.C. and grew up here in Fairfax. She lived in New Jersey for the past 20 years and recently returned to Northern Virginia in July 2017. Lisa's husband was stationed in Afghanistan for the past year, and previously lived here for five years working at the Pentagon. While he was away, she stayed in New Jersey to raise their three children, Elayna, Josh, and Sarah. Elayna is 20 and goes to University of Mary Washington, and Sarah and Josh are twins who attend Northern Virginia Community College and University of Rhode Island, respectively. Lisa also has four cats, who she also refers to as "her babies"! In her free time, she loves to travel, go shopping, go dancing, and eat out.

The JCC was a natural fit for Lisa. In her current role, she answers the phone, responds to inquiries, processes registrations, and greets people as they enter the J. She used to work at the Katz JCC in New Jersey for 10 years as a Membership Associate. There she performed similar tasks, as well as membership-related duties. Lisa hopes to be the best she can be in her position, and continues to learn everyone's names!

In Lisa's opinion, someone would want to join the J because of all we have to offer in fitness, cultural arts, adult education, early childhood, before and after school care, camp, and so much more. Lisa is a second generation J member, as her dad is also a J member and loves to play bridge.

Lisa loves engaging with members on a daily basis, as she is a people person and it's her favorite part of her job! Be sure to stop by on your way in and say hello to Lisa!

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It's JDAIM's 10th Anniversary!

Renee Eder on Tuesday, February 6, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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Do you know someone who is blind or deaf, or who has an autism spectrum disorder or a physical disability? Most of us know and love a differently-abled person, and this is the month to celebrate them and grow awareness!

For those of you who didn't know, this month is known as Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), and what makes this year special is that it's JDAIM's 10th Anniversary! The J is proud to join together with other Jewish organizations and communities from around the area and all over the world in this unified effort to raise awareness and champion the civil rights of people with disabilities.

Here are some things you can do for JDAIM:

  • Talk about the Jewish value of  B’tzelem Elohim, that we all are unique individuals created in the image of God.
  • If you have children, read the book, Lucky Broken Girl, with them. It was the 2017 Finalist for the National Jewish Book Award in Children’s Literature.
  • Spread messages of kindness and inclusion with kindness rocks. Find small rocks outside, clean them, and use paint pens or permanent markers to write positive messages on them. Place the rocks around your school, community center, or neighborhood to spread kindness to those around you.

At the J, we are committed to helping those with special needs through activities designed to develop physical and social skills especially for them. The program features small participant-staff ratios and offerings such as adapted aquatics, social groups, family events, and recreational social skills classes. As a result of the increased demand and support by the community, we are excited to grow the program this year. Learn more about special needs at the J, our special needs camps, and about our upcoming Reelabilities Film Festival next month!

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Six Amazing Benefits of a 30 Minute Daily Walk

Renee Eder on Tuesday, January 30, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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Every day when I take my kids to school, I see my 85-year old neighbor, Ruth, taking a brisk stride around the neighborhood. For 85, she is healthy and vibrant. I aspire to be like Ruth one day!

Right now, I am lazy, and don't work out nearly enough. But, my mind can be swayed, and after reading this research and thinking of Ruth, it likely will be. Here's what you can expect when you start walking for just 30 minutes every day, most days of the week.

1. Your mood will improve.

Research shows that regular walking actually modifies your nervous system so much that you'll experience a decrease in anger and hostility. In addition, walking outdoors exposes you to natural sunlight, which can help stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)—making it a potential antidote for the winter blues. Don't want to deal with the elements? Come to the J and hop on one of our smooth, state-of-the-art treadmills! 

2. Your creative juices will start flowing.

Whether you're feeling stuck at work or you've been searching for a solution to a tricky problem, research shows it's a good idea to get moving! In fact, going for a walk can spark creativity!

3. Your jeans will fit a little looser.

As you continue to walk, you may notice your pants begin to fit more loosely around your midsection, even if the number on the scale isn't moving much. That's because regular walking can help improve your body's response to insulin, which can help reduce belly fat.

4. You'll reduce your risk of chronic disease.

The physical benefits of walking are well documented. In fact, the American Diabetes Association says walking lowers your blood sugar levels and your overall risk for diabetes. Researchers found that regular walking lowered blood pressure by as much as 11 points and may reduce the risk of stroke by 20% to 40%. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that those who walked 30 or more minutes a day on 5 or more days per week) had a 30% lower risk of cardiovascular disease, compared with those who did not walk regularly.

5. You'll keep your legs looking great.

It is so not fair, but as we age, our risk of unsightly varicose veins increases. However, walking is a proven way to prevent them from developing, says Luis Navarro, MD, founder, and director of The Vein Treatment Center in New York City. If you already suffer from varicose veins, daily walking can help ease related swelling and restlessness in your legs. Also, if you are genetically predisposed to have varicose and/or spider veins, walking daily can help delay the onset.

6. Your other goals will start to seem more reachable.

When you have a routine in place, such as walking every day, you are more likely to continue with the activity and take on new healthy behaviors. Walking regularly can also help you to accomplish other goals you set your mind to, making them seem more attainable!

Are you also convinced about walking? Come on down to the J and check out our treadmills. Turn on your favorite music, and 30 minutes should fly by! Best wishes to you on a new healthier lifestyle!

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Which Jewish Summer Camp is Right for my Child? – Part 2

Renee Eder on Tuesday, January 23, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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Looking for the right summer camp experience for your child? Selecting the right Jewish camp may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. In part 1 of this blog, we discussed whether day or overnight is the best fit, whether your child is looking for a more relaxed or active camp, and whether he or she would prefer a traditional or specialty camp.

In part 2, we will look at questions you should ask when it comes to staff, safety/security, transportation, and more. You can use these questions to narrow the options and determine which camp experience would be the best fit for your child.


High-quality staff are critical to the success of any camp. In addition to serving as positive role models, camp counselors may help your child with anything from tying a shoelace to sorting out a social situation to reacting to an injury. Great staff members love kids and have the skills necessary to give your child a safe summer to remember. Here are some questions you can ask:

  • How does the camp screen, hire, and train staff?
  • What type of training do staff members receive before and during camp?
  • Does the camp perform background checks on staff members?
  • How old are the counselors?
  • What is the staff return rate?
  • What is the camper-to-counselor ratio?
  • Is this the community I want for my child?


  • What do the pick-up and drop-off processes look like?
  • Is transportation provided to and from camp?
  • Will the camp be transporting children to and from the camp location and another site?
  • Are camp vehicles regularly evaluated for safety and are the drivers’ records reviewed each season?
  • Does the camp offer insurance, should an accident occur?

Safety and Security

  • Will my child be safe while in camp?
  • What type of security do you have?
  • What kind of emergency and safety protocols does the camp have in place?
  • What does water supervision look like?
  • Are campers swim tested?
  • Is there on-site medical staff for assessment and treatment of minor issues like injuries, allergies or accidents?
  • Can counselors help apply sunscreen? 


  • How does the camp handle discipline?
  • If your child is acting out, how will they be handled? Time out? Expulsion? It’s important to not only know how your child will be disciplined, but how disagreement or issues between other campers are handled.
  • How does the camp handle camper vs. camper conflict?


  • Can campers call home when they want to?
  • What is the camp’s cell phone policy? Can and should campers bring their phones to camp
  • Will they get in trouble if they use them?
  • Is the camp director available by phone at all times?

Use these and the questions from part 1 during your visits to the camps you are considering. Hopefully, you will find the best summer camp that will meet the unique needs of your family.

Planning for summer camp? Be sure to check out jCamps here to learn more about all of the camp offerings at the J and to register.

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Which Jewish Summer Camp is Right for my Child? – Part 1

Renee Eder on Tuesday, January 16, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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It’s freezing outside and for all we know, we may have another snow day this week. Isn’t it too early to think about summer camp? The answer is no, not really—not if you’re a planner like me. In fact, registration for J camps is open now.

Day or overnight? Relaxed or active? Specialty or traditional? With so many options available, selecting the Jewish camp that’s right for your child may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. You can use these questions to narrow the options and determine which Jewish camp experience is right for your child.

Day or overnight?

Both day camp and overnight camp experiences can facilitate lifelong Jewish friendships, increased self-confidence, and a connection to the Jewish community. So how do you pick the format that is best for your child and your family?

1. How old is your child? Day camps typically begin serving kids as young as 4 or 5 while most overnight camps require campers to be at least 7 or 8 years old to attend.

2. Is your child comfortable spending the night at a friend’s house? Does being away from home excite and enrich your child or does it cause anxiety and tension?

3. What is your budget? The cost of day camp is typically lower than the cost of overnight camp. However, many day and overnight camps offer scholarships. Reach out to camps to find out about financial aid and other discounts.

Is the camp’s program/structure a good fit for my child?

Ok, so now that you’ve determined day or overnight, you can just pick the camp your friend recommends, right? Actually, there are several other factors to consider.

1. Does your child need structure or does he/she thrive on freedom, flexibility, and choice? Understand a typical day at the camp.

2. Is your child active or does he/she prefer more relaxed activities? Find out the activities the camp offers.

3. Does your child have special physical, intellectual, or emotional needs? Make sure the camp is able to provide the attention your child needs to enjoy and thrive in the program.

4. Does your child like to do several different activities during the day or prefer to focus on one? Traditional camps embrace variety while specialty camps focus on a specific activity or theme. Some traditional camps include an element of choice that allows campers to select activities that interest them.

How does the camp approach Jewish programming?

Just as individual synagogues and day schools embrace different approaches to Judaism, you’ll find that each Jewish camp has its own unique way of delivering Jewish content.

1. Is the program religious (involving prayer, Torah study) or culturally Jewish (exposing campers to Jewish cooking, art, dance, etc.)?

2. Is Jewish content integrated throughout everyday camp life or do campers experience Judaism only at specific times like Shabbat?

We haven’t covered staff, safety/security, location, transportation, session length, reviews, enrollment size, or input from your child – all of which are also important factors in selecting a Jewish summer camp. But, we will certainly do so in part 2 of this post.

Planning for summer camp? Be sure to check out jCamps here to learn more about all of the camp offerings at the J and to register.

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Tu B'Shevat is All About the Environment

Renee Eder on Tuesday, January 9, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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I have always loved Tu B'Shevat (Jewish New Year of the Trees), because it's like having earth day twice a year! Although Tu B'Shevat is a minor Jewish holiday (occurring January 30-31 this year), it provides a great opportunity to express joy and thankfulness for trees, harvests, and the natural world, and a perfect time to celebrate and teach children about the environment. Many Jewish people plant trees at home and in Israel, and eat delicious fruits and greens in celebration of Tu B'Shevat.

During this agricultural festival, Jews around the world consider it our obligation to care for the environment and our sacred responsibility to share the fruits of G-d’s earth with all. Here are some ways you can incorporate the environment into your Tu B'Shevat celebration:

  • Host a Tu B'Shevat Seder: The Tu B'Shevat seder is a festive meal where we eat fruit that is customary for the holiday, including wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. Often we group the fruits into three types: fruits with tough outer shells and edible interiors (melons, peanuts, pomegranates, coconuts, citrus, etc), fruits with edible exteriors and inedible pits (dates, olives, plums, peaches, apples, etc) and fruits that are entirely edible (berries, figs, grapes, etc).
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: In honor of Tu B'Shevat, make a commitment as a family or with friends to focus on one or more of these environmental practices: Reduce waste by buying products that use less packaging. Use the reverse side of paper as scrap paper or for art projects. Learn about your community’s most up-to-date regulations on recycling.
  • Get Back to Nature: Together with family members and friends, you can informally “adopt” a park, stream, or roadside simply by pledging to clean it regularly and advocating to the local government for its needs. Cleaning up a natural area near home can make a big difference – not only to the ecological health of the area itself, but to the esteem of the neighborhood around the area. Helping restore such areas may also give local children a safe place to play.
  • Plant a Tree: Each year on Tu B'Shevat, Israelis and other Jews across the globe plant trees to celebrate the New Year for Trees. Over the past 113 years it has been a primary focus to plant trees in Israel to help green the lands. During this time, more than 250 million trees have been, creating and building over 240 reservoirs and dams, developing over 250,000 acres of land, and establishing more than 2,000 parks.

However you celebrate, we wish you and your family a Happy Tu B'Shevat and an environmentally friendly day!

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How is the Secular New Year Celebrated in Israel?

Renee Eder on Tuesday, December 26, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Do you celebrate the secular New Year? Most of us in the U.S. do in one way or another. When I was single or dating my husband, I used to get dolled up and go out on New Years Eve. Since we had kids, we usually spend our New Years at home celebrating with the family, barely staying up to see the festivities in Times Square. :)  

So, we know how New Years Eve is celebrated in the U.S. But do they celebrate it in Israel, and if so, how? I did a little research, and found out that in Israel, the secular New Year is celebrated, and it's referred to as "Happy Sylvester!" Huh?  

Let me explain. When immigrants from Western Europe first came to Israel, they wanted to celebrate the secular New Year as they had done in their home countries. Throughout Israel, especially in Tel Aviv, the last day of the year is “party night.” On December 31, Israelis celebrate along with the rest of the world but they don't shout “Happy New Year.” Israelis do something different to avoid confusion with the Jewish New Year, since the secular new year isn't particularly meaningful in the Jewish religion. As the year turns from one year to the next, Israel’s Jews will wish each other a “Happy Sylvester,” a New Year’s greeting that invokes, of all things, the name of a Catholic saint! But why Sylvester?  

Historian Georges Duby speculates that Sylvester may have been Peter Sylvester, who was the bishop of Beauvais in 1431 when Joan of Arc was arrested in his city. Apparently Sylvester was the only cleric who did not believe that young Joan was acting under the influence of the devil. Although Sylvester’s colleagues were determined to bring Joan to trial and subsequently execute her, Sylvester spoke out against such harsh treatment.  

On the morning of December 31st, Sylvester himself was arrested, thrown into jail and tortured there. Several minutes before midnight, the 82 year old Sylvester died, but not before saying his final words, “The year ends and so do I.” Bishop Sylvester, as one who died for his beliefs on the last night of the secular year, became the “Sylvester” of the Israeli greeting offered at the beginning of each secular year. So in his honor and memory, Happy Sylvester!  

So next time you are in Israel for the Jewish New Year, be sure to say, "Happy Sylvester!" However, if you are there on the eve of the first day in the Hebrew month of Tishrei for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), you can greet friends and family with “Shanah Tovah,” a Hebrew phrase that means “a good year,” or “Happy New Year.” However you celebrate, hope you have a happy and healthy 2018!

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Staff Spotlight: Petya Ivanova

Renee Eder on Tuesday, December 19, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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My kids are off from school for break. And, the first thing they wanted to do was to come to the J and go for a swim in the heated pool! While I was at the J, I ran into one of my favorite co-workers, Petya Ivanova.

Petya has always fascinated me. Not only is she a reiki master, she is also very knowledgeable about holistic healing and essential oils. She explained to me how boar bristle brushes are great if you are experiencing hair loss, how frankincense can help tremendously with joint pain, and how castor oil works really well as a face mask. If you want to know about alternative healing, Petya is your resource! She is even teaching a series of wellness classes on the subject, which will be held every Friday next month. It will cover topics such as meditation, reiki group energy, essential oils, and more!

Petya was born in Bulgaria and came to the United States in 2004. She has been at the J since 2011. You may have seen her friendly face at the front desk in the past, teaching strength training 1 classes, and in wellness videos on our YouTube channel! Petya loves working at the J because she sees it as one big family. She thinks a major benefit of J membership is how there is something for all ages and interests, from 5 months to 95 years old, and from ping pong to adult learning classes. I completely agree!

Petya wishes everyone a happy holiday! If you see her at the J, be sure to say hello... I'm sure it will warm your day! If you are interested in holistic or alternative healing, be sure to take one of her classes and pick her brain! 

Season's best to all of our readers!

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8 of the Most Fun Menorahs this Year

Renee Eder on Monday, December 11, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Chanukah is a super fun holiday for plenty of reasons, including the latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts), playing dreidel with friends, and lighting the menorah for eight nights. Speaking of the menorah, if you're looking to jazz up your Chanukah a little more, we found eight fun and surprising menorahs that can help kick your festivities up a notch.

  1. This Menorah is elephan-tastic!

2. This emoji menorah will keep you and the kids happy for all eight nights! This menorah is available for sale at our Chanukah sale, going on now!

3. This donut menorah features a baker and his delicacies. YUM!

4. Are you a dog lover? This menorah features 9 different breeds of dog!

5. Ahoy mateys! If you love pirates, then this menorah is for you!

6. Want to light your menorah in outer space? Use your imagination, and check out this space-themed menorah!

7. Are you a soccer enthusiast? If so, check out this colorful soccer menorah!

8. The raceway Menorah is made to look like a real raceway!

Whether your menorah looks like a spaceship, is pretty basic, or is made by your child of noodles, we hope your family has a fun Chanukah celebration! Want to come see a giant menorah being lit. 

On Sunday, Dec. 17, at 4pm, come to our Community Candle Lighting at Mosaic District.  Come "chill" with us on the sixth night of Chanukah! Your family helps make our community celebration even brighter! Questions? Contact

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8 Ways to Celebrate Chanukah that Don’t Involve Gifts

Renee Eder on Tuesday, December 5, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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I love celebrating Chanukah with my family. In fact, I have a countdown app in my phone that says it’s just 7 days away. My daughter checks it every day to see how much closer we are! In my family, we don’t give huge gifts. We typically give something under $10 each night, including gift cards that the children can accumulate and spend on a bigger item.

Gifts are nice to give and receive. But, Chanukah is more than gifts. It’s about traditions, as well. So, in addition to gifts, why not incorporate some traditions into your Chanukah celebration:

  1. Play with light! Do a flashlight scavenger hunt, use glow paint, pull out your old Lite-Bright, make shadow puppets with a candle, have a glow party, search Pinterest for light play ideas that appeal to the interests and abilities of your kids — the list is enormous and tons of fun.
  2. Eat some cheese! Sure, everyone knows about the oil and that we eat foods cooked in it to celebrate this holiday – but there is a long tradition of celebrating Chanukah by eating cheese! Make fondue, make grilled cheese latkes, or check out some of these other cheesy Chanukah recipes.
  3. Go shopping… for someone else. Help others this holiday season. Buy and wrap a new toy, collect items in your home to donate, or otherwise find a way to give to someone in your community who is in need. If you don’t want to buy gifts for others, consider giving a donation to the J, as part of our December Challenge (gifts will be matched by a generous donor, up to $100,000!)
  4. Retell the Chanukah story. Your kids have probably heard some variation of the tale of Judah Maccabee. Find out what they know, decide if you want them to know more, and figure out a way that they can share the story themselves.
  5. Host a dreidel tournament. Gather the ones you love and play dreidel using whatever currency makes sense for your family (gelt, money, poker chips, etc.). Sure, you can play the classic variation, but try to make up new games and rules, too! Who can make it spin the longest? Who can aim their dreidel to spin in a particular direction? Who can predict the length of a particular dreidel’s spin?
  6. Clean out your house and find something you lost. The Chanukah story teaches that, as the Jewish people worked to clean up the destroyed Temple, they looked for the little bit of oil that miraculously lasted through tumultuous times. It’s a safe guess that in most North American households, a thorough cleaning and organizing of closet and playrooms (or wherever else you keep your stuff!) can yield discovery of all sorts of treasures, including toys that have been forgotten, clothing you can donate, items you can repurpose, and more. 
  7. Play Chanukah music. There are some fun Chanukah songs out there. Why not have a family sing-a-long?
  8. Share your traditions. Every year, we go to our non-Jewish neighbor’s house around the holidays, and bring Chanukah food, dreidels, and gelt, and we share each of our fun holiday traditions!

Whether or not you celebrate Chanukah, and no matter how you celebrate, we hope you have a very happy holiday season!

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The History of the Latke

Renee Eder on Tuesday, November 28, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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I love latkes. How could you not?---they are warm, crispy, shredded potato goodness! Each year, my mother-in-law hand-grates the potatoes, and fries up dozens of them. I enjoy dousing mine with both sour cream and apple sauce. On a sad note, this only happens one time each year, unless I make them myself (and when I do, they are typically frozen and from Trader Joes). On a happy note, Chanukah is almost here, which means it's almost latke time!  

Ever wonder where latkes originated?  According to my research, the first connection between Hanukkah and pancakes was made by a rabbi in Italy named Rabbi Kalonymus ben Kalonymus (c. 1286-1328). According to The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Gil Marks, the Rabbi included pancakes “in a list of dishes to serve at an idealized Purim feast, as well as a poem about Chanukah. After the Spanish expelled the Jews from Sicily in 1492, the exiles introduced their ricotta cheese pancakes, which were called cassola in Rome, to the Jews of northern Italy. Consequently, cheese pancakes, because they combined the two traditional types of foods–fried and dairy–became a natural Chanukah dish.”  

Potato latkes are a more recent Ashkenazi invention that gained popularity in Eastern Europe during the mid 1800′s. A series of crop failures in Poland and the Ukraine led to mass planting of potatoes, which were easy and cheap to grow. But before potatoes came on the scene, the latke of choice was cheese. Who knew?  

In addition to acting as a vehicle for religion-sponsored oil intake on Chanukah, latkes have become a canvas for a variety of toppings, most commonly applesauce or sour cream, or both (the way I like them!)   Want to try some amazing latkes?  Celebrate the miracle of oil as new Chanukah tradition takes hold right here in Northern Virginia. Latke Fest is a regional celebration of food and community. Visit our Participating Restaurants during their regular business hours between December 12-20 and try their version of the latke.   Don't forget to vote online at (or at the J) for your favorite latke for a chance to win a $50 Visa Gift Card. Polls will open December 12. All posts tagged on Facebook (JCCofNOVA) and Instagram (@JCCNV)with #NVLatkeFest will be entered in a drawing for a $50 Visa Gift Card. Learn more about the event and participating restaurants here.

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Is Thanksgiving a Jewish Holiday? - Teaching Thankfulness to Children

Renee Eder on Tuesday, November 21, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Thanksgiving is an American holiday. Nearly everyone celebrates it. I have fond memories of time spent with my family indulging in a glorious feast - turkey, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, kugel, and whatever else earned a place on the menu, and then taking a long tryptophan-induced nap afterwards. We all know that Thanksgiving is certainly American - but is it a Jewish holiday? 

Setting aside the feasting and football, we discover that there is a way to bring our Judaism into our observance of Thanksgiving. Some  use it as a means of teaching our children one of our most important values: thankfulness. The idea of giving thanks is a familiar theme in Jewish tradition. Judaism views every day as a day of thanksgiving; every day is a chance to say "thank you" to G-d for the many blessings we have.
Here are some things we can do with our children to teach them about thankfulness and the Jewish connection to the holiday at the Thanksgiving table:
- Talk about why we celebrate Thanksgiving. Connect your celebration to the original story of the fall harvest celebration that brought together struggling, starving Pilgrims and generous Native Americans.
- Discuss how Thanksgiving is similar to the Jewish holiday of Sukkah. The first Thanksgiving meal in 1621 is said to have been eaten outdoors, which would correspond to the Sukkot tradition of dining outside in the sukkah. Sukkot, like Thanksgiving, is a holiday of welcoming; the Pilgrims welcomed the Wampanoag Native Americans to the original Thanksgiving table just as Jews are encouraged to welcome friends and extended family to dine in the sukkah.
-Talk about family traditions and tell stories. If your celebration involves multiple generations or multiple families, talk about traditions, "the good old days," and your own childhood. Stories teach children about life and history.

-Be thankful. Focus on the things you are thankful for; ask everyone at the table to say what they are thankful for or make a list of what your family is thankful for. To take this gratitude lesson to the next level, you could perhaps even hang poster board on the wall and ask everyone to write things they are thankful for throughout the day.

Share & donate. Thanksgiving is a celebration of sharing and abundance. Develop a tradition of sharing with those who have less and involve children in contributing to a food shelter or other charities. This can help children to be thankful for what they have and learn the importance of helping others. This also embodies the Jewish tradition of tzedakah (or charitable giving.)
From our family at the J to yours, however you spend your day, we hope you have a safe, healthy and meaningful Thanksgiving with family, friends, and neighbors. We'll see you at the gym afterwards, to work off all the stuffing and pumpkin pie!

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The Time When I Donated My Car to the J

Renee Eder on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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I tried everything to extend its life, but it was time to face the facts — nothing was going to bring our old red Taurus back to life. She was a good car while she lasted, but now it had been too long that she sat abandoned on the street in front of our house rusting away.  

Our beloved car was too far gone and likely getting her running again just wouldn’t be worth the expense. We wouldn’t know until we had her towed to the mechanic – expense number 1 – and then waited for the diagnosis of how expensive the repair would be to get her up and running again (expenses number 2 for the estimate and 3 for the repair).   We couldn’t just leave this vehicle in the street with no purpose and no one seemed interested in buying it, so my husband and I talked about the future of our car and what our options were. We love the J for the positive difference it makes in people’s lives, so it seemed natural that when we found out that we could donate our car, the J would be the perfect beneficiary.   

What many people don’t realize is that in most cases, you can donate a running, or even non-running, car to charity – even if there’s little to no chance that your car will ever run again. Unless it has been stripped down to the chassis, there’s a very good chance that there will still be some value assigned to the car. And, because you’ve donated the car, you will see direct benefits as well! Not only will you rid yourself of the unwanted burden of an unusable car, but you’ll also set yourself up to receive a minimum tax deduction of $500 once it’s all said and done.  

Once the J accepts your donation, the vehicle will be sold at auction, where even a car that won’t run can still have value. Buyers may be interested in purchasing the car so they can salvage parts such as doors, dashboards, or even gear knobs — and be sold as replacement parts. The J typically receives a check within two months and will then issue you an acknowledgement identifying how much the car was sold for, which may be used for tax purposes. Tax laws stipulate a donated vehicle receives minimum $500 tax-deduction – that means, if your car sells for more, you receive a deduction of the amount for which it sold; if it sells for less, you receive the minimum $500 deduction.  

Thinking about donating your vehicle? Contact the J’s Development Associate, Michelle Pearlstein ( We accept all vehicles, regardless of the condition, and you’ll have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that all of the money from the resale of your donated vehicle goes to support the J’s mission and programs.   We make donating a vehicle as simple for you as possible. Just tell us about the car, who you are, and where it is located — we’ll handle the rest. Reach out to us today and find out how we can help!

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Staff Spotlight: Sharon King

Renee Eder on Tuesday, October 31, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Following a productive meeting at the J with my amazing co-workers in marketing, I came across a smiley face in the cultural arts office. She introduced herself as “Sharon” and I couldn’t help but notice the picture of the sweetest baby boy hanging over her desk. She was kind and pleasant to talk to, and I looked forward to learning more about her to write this article.

Sharon told me a little bit about herself. She hails from Sunnyvale, Ca, right in the heart of Silicon Valley. Seems like a perfect place for such a sunny, happy person!

Sharon attended college to be a stage manager at Southern Oregon University. Right after college, she moved to DC for an internship with Theater J. She met her husband, Jesse, while working at the J and ended up staying in the area.  In 2016, she got her Masters in Management from George Mason University and gave birth to a baby boy! She now resides in Petworth, DC with Jesse, Baby Marty (Martin) and their cat, Ginny.

When asked what she loves most about working at the J, I wholeheartedly agree with her answer. She enjoys high fiving the babies as they come by for their walks! How can you not? And, her office is situated in the perfect place for this — adjacent to the lobby!

At the J, Sharon works with Sarah Berry, Cultural Art Director, to produce cultural programs. Together, they strive to bring the best in performing visual, literary, and cinematic arts programming to the J. Sharon hopes to use her background in performing arts to help bring new and exciting programming to the J.

Although she is very familiar with the Jewish community in other areas, Sharon is fairly new to the Northern Virginia Jewish community. She is happy to know that there is a vibrant and active community here that has welcomed her with open arms. 

Be sure to say hi to Sharon next time you’re at the J!

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Can Exercise Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer?

Renee Eder on Tuesday, October 24, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And, my goal this month and in general is to do what I can to stave off the terrible disease. I read recently that studies found a link between regular exercise and a lower risk of breast cancer. If this is true, I’m going to need to start exercising more often!

How exercising lowers breast cancer risk is not fully understood. It’s thought that physical activity regulates hormones including estrogen and insulin, which can fuel breast cancer growth. Regular exercise also helps women stay at a healthy weight, which also helps regulate hormones and helps keep the immune system healthier. So it’s a win-win to get to the gym!

How much exercise do women need?

Unfortunately, there is not a magic number of hours that a woman can exercise to prevent cancer from occurring or to lower the risk. But we do know that some is better than none, and that more vigorous activity is more effective than less vigorous activity. The American Cancer Society recommends all adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75-minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week, preferably spread throughout the week.

So, what happens on days when you want to fit some exercise in but can’t find the time to come to the J and exercise? Here are some ideas:

  • Limit time spent watching TV and using other forms of screen-based entertainment.
  • Use a stationary bicycle or treadmill when you do watch TV.
  • Use stairs rather than an elevator.
  • If you can, walk or bike to your destination.
  • Exercise at lunch with your coworkers, family, or friends.
  • Take an exercise break at work to stretch or take a quick walk.
  • Walk to visit co-workers instead of sending an e-mail.
  • Go dancing with your spouse or friends.
  • Plan active vacations rather than driving-only trips.
  • Wear a pedometer every day and increase your number of daily steps.

For people who haven't exercised in a while, it makes sense to start slowly and build up gradually. And clear any new activity with your doctor.

Hope to see you at the J in the weight room, on a treadmill, or at the new Bollywood Fit or SUP Yoga Class (which was an amazing workout- I did it last week!)

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How to Exercise for Brain Health

Renee Eder on Tuesday, October 17, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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I've decided to become more physically active. In fact, today I am trying one of those free SUP Yoga classes at the J. I am making this change in my life not only because I'm overweight and enjoy more than an occasional donut. Research shows that exercising your body is also good for your brain, and I need all the help I can get, since most people on my father's side have or have had dementia.

These are some examples of physical activity that have been shown to help improve your brain health and keep your mind sharp:

  • Taking a Brisk Walk: If you don't exercise now, it's easy to start. Just walk out your door and keep going. Start small. Build up from 10 minutes walking a day until you get to at least 30. And if you can, pick up your pace. Getting your heart rate up will maximize the benefits to your brain! Don't want to walk outside? Come to the J and walk on one of our treadmills, while listening to your favorite motivational tunes.
  • Challenge Yourself: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that older adults get 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise each week, which is five 30-minute workouts. But the biggest boost in brain health has been linked to exercise sessions of 45 to 60 minutes. So try consolidating some workouts into a longer session. Or gradually work up to 45 to 60 minutes, five days per week.
  • Resistance Training Can Help, Too: Resistance training, exercise that causes muscles to contract, is meant to strengthen, but it may also help protect against cognitive decline. And you don't need weights or other equipment. The CDC recommends resistance training at least twice per week. Here are three tips to get you started:
    • Stand up, sit down, repeat. As long as you're steady on your feet, try standing up from a chair without using your hands. Do this in sets of five or more anytime you find yourself sitting around the house.
    • Make daily tasks harder. Choose stairs over elevators and escalators. You'll get an aerobic workout and build muscle at the same time.
    • Join a class at the J. Group programs incorporating resistance and aerobic training were beneficial for the brain. Check out the offerings at the J, and remember to talk with your doctor before you start any new exercise program.

Exercise can also boost your mood, help you maintain a healthy weight, and keep muscles strong. If you don't do so already, come on down to the J and take a class, hire a trainer, or simply go for a run, or a swim, or lift some weights in our gym!

Want to learn more about brain health, nutrition, technology, travel, and more for seniors? Be sure to attend the Northern Virginia Positive Aging and Wellness Fair presented by Innovation Health on Sunday, 10/22, at the Inova Center for Personalized Health Conference Center (formerly ExxonMobil, across from Inova Fairfax Hospital). The fair includes more than 30 interactive and informative workshops promoting active aging through healthy lifestyles that may help you live longer, more independently, and more positively. Bob Levey, former columnist for The Washington Post, is the keynote speaker. There will also be a trade show featuring more than 35 exhibitors, nonprofits, and government agencies offering one-on-one assistance and resources. Admission is $20 per ticket. The fair is geared for adults 50+. Visit for more details!


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But, I Don't Want to Go!

Renee Eder on Tuesday, October 10, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Every morning, I hear the same thing from my kids: "I don't want to go to school!" They seem to think I will say, "That's fine, you can stay home," even though I won't. In reality, unless it's Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur that day, or they have 104 fever, they're going! Not sure what fun things they think I do while I'm working all day?   

Dr. Rene Hackney, one of our awesome speakers from our upcoming Baby2Tot Fest, offers some great advice for parents of children whose kids complain about going to school every day, as follows:

Smooth, calm morning: If your kids lose it in the morning, try and stay calm. Be the rock. 

Matter of fact empathy: When your child is upset, acknowledge the emotion, then continue with the routine. On a difficult morning this might sound like, "I know you are upset, you don’t want to go,” as you help put on their shoes.” “I hear you want to stay home. I like staying home with you too,” as you walk them in. You are recognizing emotions and moving forward. 

Avoid starting with denial or reasoning: Denial would be, “You like school. This shouldn’t be so hard.” Reasoning is, “All of your friends are there, you’ll have fun at school.” Denial and reasoning are fuel for the argument.

Start Earlier: If it is truly difficult to get through the morning, you might also start 15 minutes earlier to give everyone a chance to relax.

Note any patterns: Most things are easier when you see them coming. Knowing the pattern can help you plan.

Speak with teacher: Whenever there’s a school related difficulty, good to check in with the teacher. The teacher may be able to point to something specific happening at school, or may let you know everything seems fine once child is there. Either way, it’s helpful information.

Speak with your child: Occasionally, ask them what’s going on in the mornings before school. Ask if there’s anything they are happy about, worried about, excited about, or scared about at school. One question here and there, in a relaxed tone ,at a calm time, may be helpful.

Address any known causes: If there are academic concerns, talk to the teacher, find new ways to practice the needed skills, and/or hire a tutor. If it’s a social concern, meet with the guidance counselor, coach your child on ways to manage, and/or follow up with the teacher. On either front, continue to monitor and follow up with interventions, as needed. Do what’s needed to support your child wherever they need it the most.

Again, these great tips are from Dr. Hackney, who will be leading one of six parenting workshops at our Baby2Tot Fest on 10/22. The event will also feature vendors, on-site demos, a play area, an ask-a-professional café, giveaways, and more. To learn more or to register for the event, click here. Hope to see you there!

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What We Do and What We Eat on Sukkot

Renee Eder on Tuesday, October 3, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Fall is my favorite season. I enjoy the crisp, colorful leaves, the hot apple cider, and just about everything made with pumpkin. The harvest festival of Sukkot (which begins tomorrow night) is another reason why I adore this season!

For those who may not know, let me tell you a little about the holiday, Sukkot. Many of you are likely aware that the main symbol of Sukkot is the sukkah, the decorated outdoor booth that provides families a wonderful opportunity to invite friends and neighbors to share a snack or come together for a meal. The Sukkah commemorates the temporary dwellings in which the Israelites lived during their desert journey to the Promised Land. Not only do we eat and gather with friends in the sukkah, some of us even sleep in it (weather permitting!) during the seven-day holiday.

What we eat on Sukkot

In the spirit of the holiday, we typically eat seasonal fruits and vegetables, along with several kinds of grains, as a reminder of the fall harvest. Another Sukkot culinary custom is to serve foods filled with rice or other grains. Kreplach, blintzes, cabbage, squash, and other vegetables are perfect examples. 

For dessert, lemon-flavored treats always are welcome and refreshing, since lemons are in the same citrus family as the etrog, or citron, one of the four species used ritually during Sukkot. (The other three species are the palm, willow and myrtle.) 

Hope you have a chance to build or visit a sukkah this year! We wish you and your family a fun and happy holiday!

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Three Yom Kippur Customs Explained

Renee Eder on Tuesday, September 26, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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I'll be honest with you. Yom Kippur is my least favorite Jewish holiday, because you can't eat! But, on the other hand, I understand why we fast: to slow down our biological rhythm during a day of meaningful self-searching and earnest communication with G-d. Plus, sometimes it's healthy to cleanse your body during a day of fasting!
Most people know that we fast on Yom Kippur. But, there are three customs that you may or may not know about: wearing white, wearing a tallit (religious shawl) for Kol Nidre, and avoiding leather. This is why we do these things:
Wearing white: Some say that we wear white on Yom Kippur to be like the angels. On this day, we yearn to be lighter, more clear, and transparent. Another interpretation is that we wear white on Yom Kippur because of the white garments in which we will be buried, making white a reminder of our mortality. 
Avoiding leather: There is a custom on Yom Kippur of avoiding wearing anything made of leather, because leather requires the death of a living creature. For this reason, you will see some people wearing canvas shoes, or even rubber Crocs, instead of leather shoes.
Wearing tallit at night for Kol Nidre: Kol Nidre evening is one of the very few times in the Jewish year when a tallit is worn at night. Ordinarily a tallit is only worn when it is light out and we can see the fringes. One reason why we wear a tallit to Kol Nidre is that we sing the Thirteen Attributes. Another reason is that tallitot are frequently white, and when we wrap ourselves in white tallitot, we can see ourselves as being like the angels, garbed in white light (see "wearing white" above!)
If you are fasting on Yom Kippur, we hope you have a meaningful fast. May you and your loved ones be inscribed in the book of life!

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Pomegranates and Rosh Hashanah: What's the Connection?

Renee Eder on Monday, September 18, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Pomegranate iced tea, chocolate-covered pomegranates, pomegranate margaritas. . . Pomegranates are in a lot of the foods we eat and are delicious by themselves. But, why do we hear so much about pomegranates at Rosh Hashanah and what makes them special? 

The pomegranate has been growing in the Mediterranean region for thousands of years, and has become a symbol of Judaism, Israel, and Rosh Hashanah. In fact, in Israel and in many American homes, the pomegranate is the centerpiece on the Rosh Hashanah table. But why?

The pomegranate (רימון, rimon) is written about in the Bible. It is one of the seven species identified with the land of Israel, and it is also mentioned as a symbol of royalty.

The seeds of the pomegranate are also unique and special. In fact, according to the Midrash, every pomegranate contains 613 seeds – the same as the number of mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah. So, eating a pomegranate can be a symbolic way of displaying the desire to fulfill the mitzvot.

Hope you enjoy the pomegranates, apples and honey, and round challah at your Rosh Hashanah dinner! We at the J wish you and your loved ones L'Shana Tovah (Happy New Year!) 

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Friendship in Jewish Culture

Renee Eder on Tuesday, September 12, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Pictured: Author's son, Max, with his best friend, the late Flaubert (2004)

My best friend is one of the most amazing people I know. It is so remarkable when two people from completely different places, with completely different backgrounds, can be so alike. When I am sad, I talk to her, and she brightens my day. She knows what makes me unique, and she appreciates it, and I know she has my back no matter what. Honestly, I don’t know where I’d be without my best friend.

The amazing thing about best friendship is that it can start any time in your life. You can meet your “bestie” as a tot, by being in the same playgroup and growing up together. You can meet him or her as a teenager, when there are so many changes going on, or in college, when you have your first taste of independence. Or, you can encounter this person (or people. . . or pets. . . you can have more than one best friend!) when you are a little older, like I did.

In the Jewish context, friendship is more than a social connection. Friends offer each other help, loyalty, protection, support, unselfish love, and moral guidance. Judaism defines friendship as one of the primary relationships in life, a tie at times exceeding that which bonds blood relatives.

The benefits of friendship are appreciated and expressed in the bible, as follows: Ecclesiastes wrote, “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falls, for he has not another to help him up” (4:9-10).

Do you have a tot or a child who already has a best friend? Well, we have a perfect opportunity to share adorable pics of their friendship and for you to have a chance to win a $25 Target gift card when you attend the Baby2Tot Fest at the J on October 22. Have a little cutie who loves their buddy? Then join our #BabyBFFs contest! Rules below:

1. Must be following [the J's Instagram account] @jccnv

2. Post a pic of your kid & his or her BFF (pets included!) with the hashtags #B2TFest and #BabyBFFs (not case sensitive)

3. Post once, post twice, post as many times as you’d like! No limits to how many pics you can post. See your baby or tot featured on our page (if you don't want your pic reposted here, simply tell us in your caption/ comments).

4. Find out if you're the lucky winner at the Baby2Tot Fest on Sunday, October 22! Winner is selected at random. (Note: You must attend the Baby2Tot Fest, but need not be present when the winner is announced in the afternoon. To register for Baby2Tot Fest, click here (note: each person must be registered individually).

Best friends can be hard to find.

Give your best friend a hug, and let him or her know you love and appreciate them. Can’t wait to see your pics!

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