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Making Passover Seders Fun for the Entire Family

Renee Eder on Tuesday, April 16, 2019 at 12:00:00 am 
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When I was growing up, my grandparents were extremely traditional, especially when it came to Jewish holidays. For Passover seders, we would follow the "Maxwell House" haggadah that you would get for free in the grocery story from front cover to back cover. The smell of matzo ball soup and brisket would be wafting in from the kitchen, and everyone could hear my stomach growl. I had trouble paying attention to the Seder because I was bored and couldn't wait to eat.
As I am an adult with children of my own, I realize that Passover seders can be more interactive and educational without losing the meaning and importance of the Seder. Here are some ideas you can incorporate into your seder this year:
1. Dressing up: Wearing costumes doesn't have to stop after Purim. Why not make your seder a costume seder? Dress up as a pharaoh, an Egyptian princesses, or even a wandering Bedouin or burning bush. This makes the seder much more fun, and social-media worthy!
2. Acting out the plaques: When it's time to list all the terrible plagues that occurred when Pharaoh hesitated to let Moses' people go, family members can take turns acting them out, giving others a chance to guess which one they are referring to.
3. Setting the table like the parting of the Red Sea: Ask children to select their favorite Playmobil figures, LEGO® minifigures, smurfs, superheroes, or any other small action figures, and set the table with two tablecloths that are split to represent the water. Lay the table with a gap down the middle, so the figures can march down the middle to freedom.
4. Pause to share parts of the story using picture books: It's a nice change of pace to add a story or two to the seder. For instance, after the Four Questions, take a break and read from a picture book on the subject to keep things interesting for children. PJ Library® Passover books can be great to use for this purpose!
5. Make-your-own charoset bar: Charoset is one of my favorite things on the seder plate. What if you had a "make-your-own charoset" bar to shake things up a bit? Set up an array of diced fruits, nuts and a selection of honeys, wines and juices to choose from, and be creative.
6. Assemble and distribute goody bags: Put together “bags of plagues” for younger seder guests. Go to the dollar store and pick up some plastic sunglasses for darkness, toy frogs, plastic insects (for lice and vermin), Kosher for Passover marshmallows for hail, red dot stickers for boils, and band-aids for blood.
Have the children pull out each one as the plagues are named. Hope you enjoy some of these fun tips and that you have a happy and healthy Passover holiday!
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Explaining Passover Traditions to a Guest

Renee Eder on Tuesday, April 9, 2019 at 12:00:00 am 
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Passover is right around the corner. In thinking of Passover this year, I am reminded that we have not one, but two seders coming up next week. This brings to mind how a friend of mine, Marnie Fienberg, started a non-profit, 2 for Seder, which she created in loving memory of her mother-in-law, Joyce Fienberg, who was murdered at Tree of Life Synagogue last year. Her non-profit helps combat anti-semitism by encouraging Jewish people who celebrate Passover to share it with two neighbors or friends who have never been to a Seder. 

What if you were invited to a Seder and were unaware of some of the traditions? These are my top things that I would share with someone who has never been to a seder:

What is a seder?: A seder is a feast that marks the beginning of Passover. It consists of Jewish rituals and often involves multiple generations of a family.

What is included in a seder? A traditional seder includes discussing the story of Passover, drinking four cups of wine, eating the symbolic foods placed on the seder plate, and reclining to celebrate our freedom.

What is on the Seder plate? A typical Passover Seder plate includes:
- Parsley, which symbolizes the new spring;
- Haroset (sweet fruit mixture made with wine, honey or nuts) to represent the mortar that the Israelite slaves used to construct buildings for the Pharaoh;
-Bitter herb, often horseradish, to represent the bitterness the slaves experienced;
- Another bitter herb, often romaine lettuce;
-Roasted lamb shank bone to symbolize the the sacrificed lamb in the Temple of Jerusalem; and
-A hard-boiled egg, to symbolize the roundness that represents the cycle of life.

Three pieces of matzah and a container of salt water or vinegar would also be on any Seder table.

- Why do we eat Matzah? - Matzah is eaten to remind people of how quickly their ancestors fled Egypt, leaving no time to let bread rise.

- What is the afikomen? Many families have the custom of hiding a piece of matzah (the middle matzah in a stack of three), and children often search for it to win a prize. It is typically saved to be eaten after the meal.

Hope this is helpful for explaining some important traditions of Passover to friends and seder guests. Hope you and your family have a happy and healthy holiday.



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Aging Can Be Positive. . . Let Me Explain!

Renee Eder on Tuesday, April 2, 2019 at 12:00:00 am 
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 I was talking to a friend today about getting older. For me so far, my metabolism is shot and I shrunk a whole inch (I was always 5'4, wasn't I?) Despite these gripes, I'm not upset about getting older. After all, as I said to my friend, you're only as old as you feel! It is entirely possible to age positively!

Here are some tips that will hopefully help you do so:

1. Practice a positive mindset towards getting older. To do this, choose to focus on all the good things that are coming to you as you get older.

2. Take the time to cultivate the activities that bring you joy, while dropping think you don't value. Life is too short!Understand the importance of things like gratitude, forgiveness, and altruism.

3. Choose positivity when you speak to others. Words are not just a way to communicate; they are so much more than that.

4. Spend time with friends and family. Strong relationships can reduce depression, protect your brain from early signs of dementia and even slow down the aging process.

5. Spend quality time with your children and grandchildren.

6. Learn new things and engage in learning to keep your brain active.

7. Try something that has always sparked your interest, such as quilting, cooking, or playing an instrument.

8. Volunteer or help someone by using your skills, knowledge, and experience. Be productive in some capacity, whatever it means for you.

9. Plan for your legacy. What mark do you want to leave in this world? It is never too late to make an impact on those who are around you.

What are some suggestions that have worked for you when it comes to positive aging? Hope the ideas above were helpful for you to at least get you thinking about how aging can be a positive aspect of your life!

Experience Positive Aging this week at the Positive Aging and Wellness Fair on Thursday, April 8, from 8:45am–4pm, join us at the Fairfax County Government Center where the J will once again co-host the Northern Virginia Positive Aging and Wellness Fair. We are planning an exciting day of events which will include keynote speaker, Pat Collins, of NBC4 Washington, along with professionally-led workshops, exhibitors, and optional lunch. This fair is open to the community and is FREE for participants. To register and for more details, visit



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This is Good for Your Body and Mind (And It's Not Necessarily Exercise!)

Renee Eder on Monday, March 25, 2019 at 12:00:00 am 
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I sorted clothes for three years at ECHO, cut bagels at my temple, and brought my comfort dog to a dementia care unit with my children. What do all these things have in common? Most would say that they are volunteer opportunities, and that it is a nice thing to do to volunteer your time to help others. What people don't realize is that volunteering is good for your health — including both your body and mind!

The Greek philosopher Aristotle once said that "The essence of life is to serve others and do good.” If recent research is any indication, serving others might also contribute to good mental and physical health. Here's how (from Harvard Health):

  • Social Connection: Studies have shown that volunteering helps people who donate their time feel more socially connected, thus warding off loneliness and depression.
  • Physical Health Benefits: Volunteering has positive implications that go beyond mental health. People who give their time to others might also be rewarded with better physical health—including lower blood pressure and a longer lifespan.
  • Mental Health Benefits: Mentally stimulating activities, such as tutoring or reading, might be helpful for maintaining memory and thinking skills.

When it comes to lowering blood pressure, the journal, Psychology and Aging, explored how adults who volunteered on a regular basis were less likely to develop high blood pressure than non-volunteers. How can this be? Performing volunteer work could increase physical activity among people who aren’t otherwise very active. It may also reduce stress, and we know that stress is very strongly linked to health outcomes. Lastly, people who volunteer may be more likely to do other things, such as eat a healthy diet or exercise, that lower blood pressure.

Does every volunteer opportunity provide these benefits? Not necessarily. One key for deriving health benefits from volunteering is to do it for the right reasons. Another study in the journal Health Psychology found that participants who volunteered with some regularity lived longer, but only if their intentions were truly altruistic. In other words, they had to be volunteering to help others—not to make themselves feel better.

Interested in volunteering? Then, we have an amazing opportunity for you! On Sunday, April 7, 2019, join us at the J for the annual Sara & Samuel J. Lessans Good Deeds Day, along with hundreds of thousands of volunteers from around the globe for a day of giving back. The JCC of Northern Virginia, in partnership with the J’s Growing Jewish Families program, PJ Library®, Facets, Washington Jewish Week, FIDF and Gesher Jewish Day School will be leading a variety of hands-on projects, including fleece blankets and pet toys for animal shelters, snack packs for after-school programs, activity kits for children and much more! Be sure to join us at 1pm for music, snacks, and letters for IDF soldiers. Sign up here




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What is Purim Like in Israel?

Renee Eder on Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at 12:00:00 am 
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Do you have a list of places you'd love to visit someday? Atop my personal list is Israel, a place I have yet to visit and have dreamed of for years. And, in doing some research, one of the best times to go would certainly be for Purim!

Purim, which falls on March 20-21 this year, is a minor holiday in the Jewish religion. However, that doesn't mean that we don't make the most of celebrating it! The Purim celebration finds its religious roots in the story of how a plot against the Jewish people was foiled. This led to a holiday for feasting – marked by traditions such as exchanging mishloach manot (gifts of food and drink), donating to charity, and sharing celebratory meals.

This year in Israel, Purim celebrations will begin on Wednesday night and continue into the weekend. Like so many cherished Jewish holidays, Purim takes on a life of its own, and is celebrated by the whole nation of Israel – from religious Jews to secular ones. Purim parties take place across Israel, filling almost every city with its street parties and their carnival atmospheres. Those enjoying the holiday drink spirits, don masks and costumes, and engage in general public revelry. During Purim, visitors can enjoy all the experiences of Israel plus a fabulous nationwide costume party!

The largest of all public celebrations in Israel is in Kikar Hamedina in Tel Aviv. It’s a day-long party attended by young and old, families and singles. The Tel Aviv Purim Zombie walk is another fun annual Purim event featuring zombies walking through the streets of Tel Aviv. Children's museums are open for fun family activities and there are of course, costumed parades! Purim in Israel takes place during a time of year with great weather, allowing partygoers to be inventive with their costumes. What are you dressing up as this Purim?

We hope you have a happy Purim, no matter how (or where) you celebrate. Be sure to come to the J in the days and weeks following the holiday to work off those hamentaschen (triangle cookies)!
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Peter Max and Norman Rockwell Paintings and More are up for Auction to Benefit the J

Renee Eder on Tuesday, March 12, 2019 at 12:00:00 am 
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These are the Peter Max and Norman Rockwell paintings that will be up for auction on March 17, 2019 at 1pm at the J!

Ever walk through the Bodzin Gallery at the J on your way to the gym or the pool and see art that catches your eye? It happens to me all the time! I even did a double take recently when I saw a gorgeous, bright Peter Max painting with a starting bid that is 75% less than what it's worth, and a recognizable Norman Rockwell print, as well! 

Speaking of Peter Max, did you know that he is from a Jewish refugee family who fled Berlin in 1938 to avoid Nazi persecution? Max and his parents travelled across China, spending some time in Tibet, before being forced to flee to Israel as Mao Tse-Tung’s army advanced on Shanghai.

Many still likely recognize Max’s work primarily from the campaign to save Lady Liberty. Max would paint the Statue every Fourth of July, but has slowed down to the severity of his dementia. Max’s pals have included The Beatles and presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Max was even commissioned to create the inaugural posters for Bill Clinton’s 1992 term.

Norman Rockwell was not Jewish, but he was the recipient of the Interfaith Award of the National Conference of Christians and Jews for his Post cover painting of the Golden Rule in 1961. Throughout his career, Rockwell was famous for his magazine covers and paintings. For instance, after President Franklin Roosevelt made a speech to Congress in 1941 describing the "four essential human freedoms," Rockwell created paintings of the four freedoms: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. The pictures became greatly popular, and were published in the Post and many other publications. The federal government also took the original paintings on a national tour to sell war bonds, and were instrumental in selling $132,992,539 worth of bonds! (Source of info for Max and Rockwell:

The Norman and Jane Rosenthal collection, currently on display in the Bodzin Art Gallery, was built over a lifetime, and reflects a love of travel, Judaism and Israel, nature, and being seaside. This extraordinary collection includes emerging and known artists (i.e., Peter Max, Norman Rockwell, Howard Behrens, Victor Vasarely, and Shari Hatchett Bohlmann), as well as original photographs taken by Norman. Art is available for purchase in the gallery, and at a not-to-miss art auction to be held on Sunday, March 17 at 1:30 pm at the J, led by Israeli auctioneer, Col. Hagai Golan. All proceeds of the sale will support cultural arts programs at the J.

According to Jane Rosenthal, "Art has defined spaces in our home and hearts. It is a collection of memories, a celebration of life events and support of the arts. The Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia (the J) has played a central role in our lives and we want to give back to the community that has nurtured us. That is the legacy we want to pass on to our children and the next generation."

Learn more about the auction here: Hope to see you there! 

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This Purim, We Celebrate Strong Women!

Renee Eder on Tuesday, March 5, 2019 at 12:00:00 am 
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This month, we commemorate International Women’s Day, celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women all over the world. Gloria Steinem once referred to the day as a “call to action to accelerate the cause of gender equality.” 

As you may know, the story of women in positions of power is hardly a new one. For instance, in the bible, one of the most important examples is of course the one that occurred in the 400s BC starring Queen Esther from the story of Purim. In doing my research, I am so glad that both my mother and daughter are named after Queen Esther!

Esther is such an important woman in Jewish history that she even has her own book – The Book of Esther – where the story of her courage and her intelligence is shared each year in synagogues all over the world during the reading of the Megillah on its own special scroll.

In brief, here’s the story of our heroine Esther and the holiday of Purim: Esther was adopted by her cousin Mordecai after her parents died. Persia’s King Ahasuerus held a beauty pageant in order to find himself a new queen. Lo and behold, beautiful Esther won the pageant and became queen. Mordecai uncovered a plot to destroy King Ahasuerus, and told Esther about it, and saved the king.

At the same time, a mean bigot named Haman (cue: grogger noise), who was the king’s highest official, devised a plan to kill all the Jews in Persia whom he hated, especially Mordecai who refused to bow down to him. When Mordecai heard of Haman’s evil plan, he shared it with Esther who urged her Jewish community to fast and pray for deliverance. And even though it was risky, she knew she had to reveal her Jewish identity to the king (who initially didn’t know she was Jewish) in order to save her people. When she told her husband about Haman’s plot to kill all the Jews which would have included herself, he was enraged. He ordered Haman to be hung on the very same gallows that Haman had prepared to hang Mordecai. The king then elected Mordecai to Haman’s high position and the Jews all over the land were granted protection. (source of story:  

We are all thankful to Esther and all the strong women who came after her! So, eat a hamentaschen and shake your grogger this year when you hear Haman’s name, in honor of the Purim story!



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Another Month to Celebrate Special Needs

Renee Eder on Tuesday, February 26, 2019 at 12:00:00 am 
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Throughout the month of February, we celebrated Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), a month dedicated to raising awareness of people with disabilities in Jewish communities and striving toward fostering inclusive Jewish communities for people with disabilities. Many people don't realize this, but March is also a month designated to advocate for inclusion of people with disabilities in our community and for their full inclusion in all facets of society.

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan declared March to be “Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.” Since then, March has been a time to celebrate progress and recognize challenges facing those with special needs. One of the biggest victories has been the increased involvement of individuals with disabilities in mainstream life.

As a young child, I had no opportunity to interact with individuals of any age who had special needs. Then, as a teen, I spent a few summers as a counselor for children with disabilities. We were close to each other in age, and the line between counselors and campers was blurred. We were really just a bunch of kids hanging out. We became friends, and it changed my life immensely. Today, students of all abilities routinely share classrooms. Actors with disabilities are featured in award-winning TV shows, movies, and commercials. Dolls with disabilities teach children about accepting differences.

Everyone deserves an opportunity to reach his or her personal potential. Each of us is unique, with our own mix of abilities and disabilities. During Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month and every day, let’s pause to consider the ways—large and small—that we can work each day to eliminate the barriers that continue to impede individuals with special needs as they work to build lives that are independent and fulfilling.

Starting this weekend (March 3-17, 2019) is the Reelabilities Film Festival, an event dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with different abilities. Each year, this dynamic festival, powered by the J, presents both domestic and international award-winning films paired with interactive programming that gives us a new perspective and highlights the vibrant personalities, realities, and extraordinary abilities of people who are differently abled. Through film, art and discussion, ReelAbilities Film Festival: Northern Virginia brings together the community to explore, embrace, and celebrate the diversity of our shared human experience. Learn more at


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Make Memories and Gain Life Skills By Swimming Competitively

Renee Eder on Tuesday, February 19, 2019 at 12:00:00 am 
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My best friend's kids always look forward to summer swim team. Having participated on summer swim teams since they were five, spring, winter, and fall have become tough times of year for them to stay in shape and remain competitive when summer meets begin. That was until they decided to join the swim team at the J, where they can swim competitively year round. For the next couple of months, they will work hard at their swim strokes, while interacting with friends (socially and competitively), making new friends, staying healthy and active, and all the while, having lots of FUN. Some of their best memories have been made thanks to their time on swim teams.

As some of you may know, swimming is an essential life-saving skill that’s also great for our physical and mental health. As described above, a year-round swim team is great for children for many reasons. Here are some of the many benefits:

- Reduce Your Child’s Screen Time: Too many children today are glued to their smartphones and tablets. When your child joins a swim team, he or she will be far too busy at the pool working on his swim skills, improving his or her fitness, and hanging out with his friends in real life (and not on a messaging app!) to stare at a screen.

- Meet New People in the Community: Being part of a swim team means being part of a welcoming tight-knit community. Both children and their parents will meet new people and expand their social networks.

Build Lasting Friendships: Being part of a swim team gives children (and parents) the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. As your child cheers on his or her teammates and is cheered on by them, those friendships will continue to deepen and become more meaningful as your child grows.

Engage in Friendly Competition with Other Area Swim Teams: Partaking in friendly competition is important for growing children. Children learn that it’s okay to lose and that they can bounce back from a perceived failure through dedication, hard work, and by having the right mindset. Competition also encourages children to make goals and create plans on how to achieve them. This is undoubtedly a positive life lesson every child should learn that will surely help them in other areas of their life!

Increase Your Child’s Self-Esteem and Confidence: High self-esteem and confidence in children and teens are linked to them making safer and better-informed decisions. Having a supportive group of people to lift your child when he or she feels down and to raise him or her higher when he or she succeeds is crucial, especially during his or her formative pre-teen and teen years. You’ll witness your child blossom into a confident young individual not only at the pool but at home, in school and in his other activities.

- Learn New Important Skills: As a member of a swim team, your child learns proper mechanics, proper breathing technique and competes in competitive length pools – and has no idea they’re learning how to save their own life!

- Promote Teamwork: Although swimming itself is usually an individual sport, swim team creates a team environment for your child to belong. Your kids receive early life lessons on how to win (and lose) as a team, how to give it their best and how to exhibit good sportsmanship.

- Stay Fit: Swimming is an excellent workout since it works your whole body and is easy on the joints. Unlike some sports, swimming is a fitness routine your child can do well into adulthood.

Learn more about the JCCNV Waves Swim Team

The Waves Swim Team is a USA Swimming Club founded on the desire to lead its swimmers in reaching the highest level in their swimming. Swim team helps children acquire the training and experience necessary for competitive swimming while nurturing a love for the sport of swimming and developing the values and skills for success in life. Learn more here.(


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How Tu B'Av Differs from Valentine's Day

Renee Eder on Tuesday, February 12, 2019 at 12:00:00 am 
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Who doesn’t want to meet that special someone? As a Jewish mother who has been married for 15+ years, I can’t help to introduce others and help them find love. If you are a matchmaker, are looking for a match, or if you found one and want to celebrate your love, don’t despair if Valentine’s Day is not a Jewish holiday. We too have a holiday that is all about love, and it’s called Tu B’Av!

Before there was JDate, JSwipe, and the Matzah Ball, there was Tu B’Av, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av, Judaism’s own day to find love and celebrate love. As with many Jewish traditions, its roots are ancient, but it is perfectly adaptable to modern times. Some may compare it to Valentine's Day. In some ways it's similar, while in a lot of ways, it's very different!

Many moons ago, Tu B’Av was a matchmaking day for unmarried women (this was centuries before gender equality) during the Second Temple period, which lasted from 530 BCE until the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. While Tu B’Av went under the radar for a few centuries or so, the modern state of Israel has done its best to rejuvenate the holiday in recent decades. Here are some of its customs:

Similar to Valentine’s Day, Tu B’Av is celebrated in Israel with flowers, cards, romantic dinners, parties and festivals of singing and dancing.
Dancing in the vineyards: In ancient days brides-to-be danced in the vineyards of Shilo in Samaria; in modern times some have returned to celebrate the day in Shilo, dancing in modern vineyards.
Women and men are keeping the tradition of wearing white at Tu B’Av celebrations. The holiday is also considered to be a good date for a wedding. The day is celebrated by religious as well as secular Israelis.
• Drink wine: Jewish men and women drink wine on the Jewish day of love to mark the grape harvest.

Jewish communities outside of Israel have begun to bring the holiday into the modern era, as well. So, come August 15, 2019 (the 15th of Av) spread the word and help Jewish mothers like myself play matchmaker, or make your own match if you are looking for one! If you celebrate Valentine’s Day, we hope that you feel the love and give lots of love this year!


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It's Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM): How You Can Be An Ally to People with Disabilities

Renee Eder on Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at 12:00:00 am 
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Did you watch the Super Bowl this past Sunday? Similar to many of you out there, unless the Redskins are playing, I watch the Super Bowl for the commercials, and for an excuse to make appetizers such as chips and guac and spinach and artichoke dip.

One commercial in particular stood out to me this year. It was for a Microsoft Xbox Adaptive Controller, and it featured a group of children with disabilities to hype the product geared toward them.The customizable controller enables gamers with disabilities to play with whatever abilities they have through their hands, feet, mouth, head or otherwise, enabling them to fully experience the games. I thought to myself when watching the commercial how wonderful it is that something like this exists! It also brought to mind JDAIM, and what it is all about.

February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, a month dedicated to raising awareness of people with disabilities in Jewish communities and striving toward fostering inclusive Jewish communities for people with disabilities.

JDAIM brings to light our obligation to actively include people with disabilities in our community and to advocate for their full inclusion in all facets of society. This month, as we highlight disability inclusion and work toward disability inclusion all year long, here are five easy ways to be an ally to people with disabilities:

1. Listen to people with disabilities.

Listen and learn from people with disabilities and modeling your disability inclusion and advocacy efforts based on their priorities, concerns, and feedback.

2. Educate yourself.

Educating yourself about disabilities is a good way to better understand the many societal and political barriers people with disabilities face.

3. Be conscious of the language you use.

When speaking about people with disabilities, avoid ableist language, which includes words such as “retarded” and “crippled” and derogatory language using disability metaphors (i.e. seeing something wrong and comparing it to a physical or mental disability). Use "person-first" language when you can. For instance, instead of saying "an autistic person," say "a person with autism." As allies, our first responsibility is to respect someone else’s self-label– but as a general rule, person-first language is the most respectful way to reference to people with disabilities.​

4. Work for inclusion in our community.

All communities should be inclusive of people with disabilities, but most were not built with them in mind. While it is important to remove physical barriers to people with disabilities, it is just as important – if not more so – to change attitudes toward people with disabilities.

5. Advocate for disability rights.

We cannot create communities that are fully inclusive of people with disabilities if our laws and societal structures limit the ability of people with disabilities to live independently with economic security. Want to help make a change? You can do so by advocating for disability rights.

Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month is a great time to raise up the issue of disability inclusion in the Jewish community, however, it is essential that we work to be strong allies every month of the year. At the J, our award-winning Special Needs Department ( is committed to helping the community through activities designed to develop physical and social skills for individuals with special needs. In addition, our Reelabilities Film Festival, which takes place from March 3-17, 2019, is dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories, and artistic expressions of people with different abilities. Learn more here:


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How a Chinese Parlor Game Became a Favorite Pastime for Jewish Women

Renee Eder on Tuesday, January 29, 2019 at 12:00:00 am 
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My mom plays Mah Jongg when she is in New York and when she is in Florida. I told her if she came to stay with us, she could come play at the J. All I know is that she truly enjoys it, and even plays certain apps and online games to brush up on her skills.

So, what is Mah Jongg? I hope to find out and share my knowledge with you (and play sometime soon!) My research tells me that four women sit around a table, each with a card of various numbers and colors, arranged like a secret code. Tiles are exchanged: right, across, left, then left, across, right. Tossing tiles into the middle of the table, the players call out mysterious names–“Four Crak! Three Bam! Eight Dot!”– until the winner shouts “Mah-Jongg!” Sounds pretty foreign to me. However, to my mom and some of my friends, this is just a typical evening with the girls, evenings that have been happening in America for nearly 100 years!

Mah Jongg originated in China, and dates back only about 150 years. Around 1846, a servant of the Chinese emperor combined the rules of popular card games of the time, and replaced cards with tiles to create Mah-Jongg. The name itself means "sparrows," an allusion to the pictures of birds often engraved on the tiles.

So, how did Mah Jongg make its way to America? Several historians have different theories about that. One theory was that throughout World War II the game continued to be played among Jewish women’s circles as it increased in popularity and became more prevalent in their lives. Another was that Jews who fled Nazi Europe and made it to Shanghai got involved in local culture and adopted the game. Once those refugees immigrated to America in the mid-20th century, they helped keep Mah-Jongg alive.

A completely different theory comes from Ruth Unger, current president of NMJL. She believes that the game was perpetuated in part because it is a philanthropic money-making endeavor for Jewish organizations, notably synagogue sisterhoods and Hadassah chapters. These groups sell Mah-Jongg rule cards and receive donations from the League.

As newer generations take up the game, they learn that many true friendships can develop from it. Want to play Mah Jongg? Come to the J on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (ongoing), from 10am–noon. Drop-in for a friendly game and conversation in the lobby of the J. Bring your friends! We also offer Mah Jongg Lessons and Evening Games.

Contact the Adult Services Department if you are interested. Hope to see you at Mah Jongg!



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Incorporating Tu B'Shevat Traditions Into Your Snacks

Renee Eder on Tuesday, January 15, 2019 at 12:00:00 am 
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Every time I'm in CVS, I look at my mile-long receipt and think to myself, "I should plant a tree in Israel to make up for all this paper being used!" Well, with it being Tu B'Shevat next week, now is an ideal time to plant that tree! It's also a good time to observe some of the other traditions of the holiday, including the consumption of dried fruits and wine!

Tu B'Shevat, the Jewish holiday known as the “New Year of the Trees,” begins at sunset on January 20, 2019 and concludes in the evening of January 21. The tradition began in the 16th century when the Jewish people instituted a Tu B'Shevat seder in which fruits and trees indigenous to Israel were given symbolic meaning. Their belief was that by blessing and by eating ten specific fruits and drinking four cups of wine in a specific order, human beings and their world would inch closer to spiritual perfection.

Today, Israelis commemorate this ecological awareness day by planting trees while snacking on dried fruits and almonds. If you aren't allergic to nuts, this would be a good time to incorporate Tu B'Shevat friendly snacks into your diet to replace potato chips and other unhealthy snacks. A homemade trail mix makes a healthy and convenient pre-workout or post-workout snack. The combinations of nuts and dried fruits are endless, given the vast array available at all grocery stores.

A 1/3-cup serving of dried fruit and nuts contains two to three grams of fiber, helping to keep you feeling full and satisfied. Dried fruit and nuts are a good source of protein: up to three grams of protein is contained in a 1/3-cup serving. Research also shows that individuals who regularly enjoy dried fruit have significantly higher intakes of vitamins A, C, E, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid, as well as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper and potassium. For more details on traditional Tu B'Shevat foods (including some yummy recipes), visit

This Tu B'Shevat, celebrate nature’s bounty by tossing back some on-the-go trail mix and harnessing the power of spiritual perfection! Then, when you get home, feel free to indulge in the wine (in moderation, of course!) Hope you have an enjoyable Tu B'Shevat!


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Staff Spotlight: Jordyn Barry

Renee Eder on Tuesday, January 8, 2019 at 12:00:00 am 
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I recently had the pleasure of meeting Jordyn Barry, our new Jewish Innovation and Teen Engagement Director. This is a new position at our J, so I jumped on the chance to get to know Jordyn a little better and am excited to share a bit about her with you. Jordyn has a really exciting background with lots of life experiences and travel (I am living vicariously here. . . she traveled to Israel 11 times!) Having a son who is a teenager and a daughter who is a preteen, I’m so excited about the programming that Jordyn is bringing to the J!

Jordyn moved to Northern Virginia from New Jersey in late August and started working at the J right away. She was born and raised in New Jersey, and attended Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania (cue: catchy Billy Joel song) for her undergraduate studies in history and religion. Jordyn is not a stranger to our area, as she interned at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington. She also studied abroad in Spain, Turkey, and at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, and has been fortunate to travel to Israel, Turkey, Italy, Germany, England, Ireland, Czech Republic, Crete, and Spain!

Prior to moving to Virginia, Jordyn worked at the JCC of Central New Jersey as the Director of Teen Outreach and Engagement. In her similar role at the JCC of Northern Virginia, Jordyn acts as the Delegation Head for the Northern Virginia Delegation to the JCC Maccabi Games®, which will be held in Detroit this summer. She is also excited to be starting a year-round teen program at the J in the months to come! In addition to enriching the Jewish programming at the J and creating new opportunities for teens, Jordyn plans to spread the word about JCC Maccabi Games® and grow our delegation to be the largest it has been in 10 years!

Jordyn mentioned to me that she has had many mentors throughout her life, specifically holocaust survivors who are no longer with us. They taught her the importance of Jewish education, specifically for the younger generations. She is so proud to be in a position that enables her to enlighten, teach, and experience Jewish life here in Northern Virginia.

Join me in welcoming Jordyn to the J and be sure to say hello if you see her around!



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Who Knew?. . . There are Four Jewish New Year's Celebrations Each Year!

Renee Eder on Tuesday, January 1, 2019 at 12:00:00 am 
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Last night, the world celebrated the beginning of the secular New Year of 2019. If you enjoyed celebrating, you can actually do so four more times this year. To my surprise, the Jewish people actually observe four New Year’s celebrations each year!

Here are the four Jewish New Year's celebrations:

- The 15th of Shevat is known as Tu B’Shevat, the New Year for trees. This year, it falls on January 20-21. Tu B’Shevat is the day used to determine the age of the trees…it’s their birthday, no matter when they were “born”! Unlike the first of Nisan and the first of Elul, Tu B’Shevat is still widely observed as a minor Jewish holiday. At the J, our Growing Jewish Families program has lots of Tu B'Shevat events this month. Visit them on Facebook or check out our online calendar for details.

- The 1st of the month of Nisan is considered to be like a new year, as it is the first month on the Jewish calendar (according to the Torah). Nisan coincides with March–April on the secular calendar. The Torah calls it chodesh ha-aviv—the month of spring, as it marks the beginning of the spring months. It is in this month that we celebrate the eight-day holiday of Passover, from the 15th through the 22nd of Nisan, commemorating the Jewish people’s miraculous redemption from slavery in Egypt, and the birth of the Jewish nation.

- The 1st of Elul: In early rabbinic writings, various customs arose sometime during the first millennium that designated Elul as the time to prepare for the High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). According to the Mishnah, this was the new year for animal tithes. It was used to determine the start date for the animal tithe to the priestly class in ancient Israel, similar to how we use April 15th in the U.S. as tax day. Generally, this new year's day is no longer observed.

- 1st of Tishrei: Rosh Hashanah falls during the month of Tishrei, and literally meaning the "head [of] the year." We typically refer to it as the Jewish New Year. Unlike festivities with fireworks, drinking, and feasting, Rosh Hashanah, the most widely observed Jewish New Year, is marked with heartfelt prayer.

And, then, as Americans, we typically celebrate the secular new year. Counting last night and today, you can reasonably say there are five New Years! So, if you don't keep your resolutions for one, there is always another one coming up! Regardless, we wish you a happy secular New Year from the J and a year filled with lots of love, luck, health, and friendship! See you at the J!

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What's a Jew to do on Christmas?

Renee Eder on Tuesday, December 18, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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My 10-year-old daughter came to me conflicted the other day. She told me that she loves the pretty lights and catchy tunes associated with Christmas, but was concerned that there isn't much to do for us on that day, because we are Jewish. I agreed with her that most stores, restaurants, and offices are closed on Christmas. But this doesn’t mean Jews (or people of other religious faiths who don’t observe Christmas) are left at home with nothing to do!

Quite the contrary, in fact. There are a number of traditions that Jews and others can choose from on Christmas -- and like many aspects of Jewish culture, most of them involve eating good food. Here are some examples of what non-Christians typically do on Christmas:

Chinese Food: Eating Chinese food is the ultimate Jewish tradition on Christmas day. Many Chinese restaurants are open on Christmas, so they are an easy option for anyone looking for a bite to eat on the otherwise restaurant-unfriendly holiday. Eating Chinese food on Christmas is a fairly well known practice and has made its way into popular culture. Can't wait to dig into some chicken and broccoli this year!

Movies: The other main component of Christmas for Jewish people is a trip to the movie theater. Like Chinese restaurants, movie theaters are open on Christmas when little else is, and seeing a film is a great way to spend time with family without having to talk to them. In recent years, Hollywood has made Christmas Day a huge premiere date for important movies, which has given Jews -- and plenty of others -- a wealth of options to choose from.

Spend Time With Family: Even if Jews don’t celebrate the holiday, most people have Christmas Day off from work, so it can be a great time to catch up with family members and spend a relaxing day together. Some Jews also enjoy hanging out with their Christian friends on Christmas -- after all, there’s plenty to the holiday that doesn’t involve specific religious traditions.

Go To The Matzoball: Are you single and looking to mingle? Many cities hold a Jewish singles event on Christmas Eve, which has been dubbed the Matzoball. It’s a chance for Jews to meet potential matches outside online dating and in real life on a night when there is little else going on. The Matzoball website has a list of cities hosting events this year and more details about what you can expect.

Go To Work: Some Jews will take holiday shifts and work on Christmas so their Christian co-workers can make sure to get the day off to celebrate with their families. In industries where offices have to be staffed throughout the holiday season, Jews often like to work around Christmas so they can take time off during other parts of the year when Jewish holidays fall.

Volunteer: Many charity organizations need volunteers on Christmas, and Jews (as well as other non-Christians) are frequently among those who sign up to help. From soup kitchens to homeless shelters to food and warm clothing drives, many synagogues, mosques and other religious institutions organize volunteer teams to work on Christmas since their congregations won’t be observing the holiday.

Catch Up on Your Reading: I love reading books on Kindle. Christmas day would be a great day for me to curl up with a good book from my favorite author, while snuggling with my pups!

Experience Some Local History: recently published an article that talks about historical sites in our area that are open on Christmas day. What a great day to tour Mt. Vernon, or take a short trip out to Williamsburg.

Cook Something Yummy: Christmas is a great day to experiment with new recipes for dinner and dessert! Cook something yummy? Let us know what it is!

Shop Online: Gotta shop? Amazon and other online stores and auction sites are always open, and there are likely to be some good sales going on!

Whatever you do on Christmas day, hope you have an enjoyable day! For those who celebrate, Merry Christmas!



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How Can I Stop Gaining Weight This Holiday Season?

Renee Eder on Tuesday, December 11, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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I had my fair share of latkes and Chanukah gelt this year. Now, people in the neighborhood are bringing me cakes and homemade cookies, and my daughter is selling me thin mints. Then, there is the chocolate that goes on sale after Christmas. Is it ever going to end?

As you are likely aware, the holiday season is in full swing and has been since Thanksgiving. In addition to spending time with family and friends, the big events of the season seem to involve shopping and eating. This will almost certainly result in big numbers on your credit card bill. And, because holiday weight gain is a reality for most people, on your bathroom scale, too.

The good news is that, despite our worst fears of gaining 5+ pounds, the average American really only puts on approximately one pound during the holiday season — which doesn’t sound like much, unless you gain — and don’t ultimately lose — that extra pound year after year.

The good news is that the weight gain that typically occurs during the holidays can be prevented. Since people tend to gain less than 1 pound, even small changes to what you eat and your activity can make a difference, without taking away from your holiday cheer. Here are some strategies:

1. Stay active. The average holiday weight gain could be prevented by adding 1 mile of walking, or about 20 minutes, per day. Since time may be a factor, you can turn a shopping trip into a chance to be active by taking an extra lap around the mall or parking further away in the parking lot. Go for a walk when you have free time—and take your family and friends (and dog(s)) with you.
2. Stay away from the food. Most holiday parties include lots of food, and usually not the healthiest choices. You can reduce the amount you eat by limiting your time near the food—literally, fill your plate and move away from the food. Using a smaller plate will reduce the amount of food you take, too.
3. Create no food zones. Get rid of the candy dish on your desk at work or the plate of treats on the countertop at home. You are less likely to eat treats that aren’t right in front of you.
4. Don’t drink your calories. Alcoholic beverages, soda, and juice all contain calories and can add up to a big part of your total calorie intake. Many beverages, including hot chocolate and coffee drinks, can easily contain hundreds of calories. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your favorite drinks, but enjoy them in moderation. And make water your beverage of choice at other times.
5. Plan ahead. If you are trying to watch what you eat, have a healthy snack before you go to a party. You will feel less hungry so you will probably be less inclined to eat as much. If you are bringing a dish to a party, make it something healthy that you like, such as cut up veggies and hummus.
6. Focus on family and friends, not food. The holidays are a time to enjoy special meals and events with family and friends, and that should be your focus. You should enjoy your favorite foods and drinks, just do it in moderation.
7. Give yourself a break. Healthy eating and exercise are always important, but they are more difficult to do around the holidays. According to one study, even people who were trying to lose weight over the holidays ended up gaining about a half pound. So, do your best maintaining your healthy habits, accept that you may struggle, and make a commitment to get back on track after the holidays.

Hope you and your family are having a happy and healthy holiday season! Be sure to come to the J now and in the new year to work off those extra cookies and cakes. :)



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Why do we eat Sufganiyot on Chanukah?

Renee Eder on Tuesday, December 4, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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It's Chanukah -- a time for latkes (potato pancakes), chocolate gelt (coins), and sufganiyot (jelly donuts). We know that we eat fried foods, such as latkes during this holiday, as a reminder of the miracle of the oil lasting eight days. But, why jelly donuts?

Sufganiyot are typically deep-fried and filled with jam, and then topped with powdered sugar. Besides the fact that they are fried in oil, if you are wondering why we eat them on Chanukah, here's the history:

The tradition of eating deep-fried pastries on Chanukah was considered even in the time of the 12th-century rabbi Maimonides, whose father, Rabbi Maimon ben Yosef, wrote that "one must not make light of the custom of eating sofganim [fried fritters] on Chanukah."

It took thousands of years, however, for sufganiyot to become a staple for Jewish people during Chanukah. In fact, the custom began in the late 19th century before the advent of the state of Israel. Sufganiyot were originally called bimuelos by Sephardic Jews, and ponchik by Ashkenazi Jews.

During that time, Polish immigrants brought the ponchik to Israel, where they eventually took the Hebrew name sufganiyot, from a ‘spongy dough’ mentioned in the Talmud.”

At first, jelly doughnuts were not widely eaten in Israel, even on Chanukah, as they were difficult and intimidating for many people to make. It was in the late 1920s that the Israeli labor federation championed sufganiyot as a Chanukah treat because they provided work – preparing, transporting, and selling the doughnuts – for its members.


So, in a nutshell, this is why sufganiyot take their place on the holiday table alongside latkes! For an easy sufganiyot in a bag recipe, please check our Facebook feed. We hope to see you at the menorah Lighting at Mosaic tomorrow night at 5:30 PM!



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Chanukah - There's an App for That!

Renee Eder on Tuesday, November 27, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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Ask most Jewish children and they'll tell you that Chanukah is their favorite holiday, hands down! After all, nothing tops eight crazy nights of presents, latkes, gelt, and dreidel.

Since Chanukah is all about my kids, if I really want something, I just buy it for myself. After all, no one knows me, better than me! Last year, I bought myself a Chanukah present – a new iPhone. And, since then, its become like an appendage that's attached to my right arm at all times.

This year, using my beloved gift, I found some amazing Chanukah apps. Now, I can spin a virtual dreidel and I know the secret to making mouthwatering potato pancakes (I'll still buy them at Trader Joe's, due to lack of time and cooking ability)! I will share with you some of the best apps I found below (search the title in the App Store or Google Play to download them):

1. Chai on Chanukah

The top-rated Chai on Chanukah (iOS) educational app helps parents teach their kids about the miracle of Chanukah in a fun, interactive way using a swipe-to-spin dreidel, a menorah to light with a tap, games, rhymes, all the relevant blessings, and, of course, the story of Chanukah, complete with an interactive holiday table and orchestral soundtrack.

2. Menorah - Chanukah - חנוכה
The Menorah - Chanukah - חנוכה (Android, iOS) app will instruct you on the number of candles to light each night of Chanukah and in which direction to light. It also has the accompanying prayers and songs in Hebrew, English, and transliterated, as well as in audio form.

3. iGevalt - AR Dreidel
Even if you don't have your own dreidel, you can still give one a spin with the iGevalt - AR Dreidel (iOS) app, an augmented reality dreidel simulator. Just hold your phone or tablet over a flat textured surface to make the dreidel appear and then swipe your finger to spin. Such fun!

4. Chowhound
Food plays a major role in most Jewish celebrations, and Chanukah is no different. On the holiday, celebrants are encouraged to eat deep-fried foods like potato pancakes and jelly donuts to symbolize the oil that lasted for eight days and dairy dishes to commemorate the heroism of the Maccabees against Syrian oppression. Chowhound (Web) has both traditional kosher recipes and more innovative takes, such as Radicchio, Apple, and Squash Tempura; Chocolate Babka Pie; and a Kale and Roasted Red Pepper Frittata. Chowhound also offers easy brisket recipes (say no more!)

5. Shalomoji - Jewish Emojis
The Shalomoji - Jewish Emojis (iOS) app lets you send Jewish-themed emojis, emoticons, stickers, GIFs, and phrases for Chanukah -- or any Jewish holiday – using your preferred messaging method, with a simple copy and paste.

Hope you enjoy these apps, and have a very Happy Chanukah! Hope you can enjoy some of the holiday with us! Here's what's happening during Chanukah at the J (and nearby)!

Growing Jewish Families Makers Day Program
Sunday, December 2, 10am at the J
Best enjoyed by children ages 2+, children must be accompanied by an adult
Let your kids explore Chanukah with crafts and exciting hands-on experiences. Sufganiyot Decorating Bar (donuts), PJ Library stories, and Dredel Games!
Learn more: 

Light Up the Night! Community Chanukah Celebration and Menorah Lighting
Wednesday, December 5, 5:30pm, Mocaic District, Fairfax
Entertainment, dreidel spinning, sufganiyot (donuts), lighting of the fourth candle at the community menorah lighting
Learn more: 

Chanukah Celebration at the Gateway
Wednesday, December 5, 6pm
Location: The Atlas at the Virginia Gateway, Linton Hall Road, Gainesville
The J is co-sponsoring this event hosted by Chabad of Greater Gainesville and Manassas

Adult Services Department Chanukah Celebration
Author Talk with Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff
"Red Hot Mama: The Story of Sophie Tucker"

Thursday, December 6, 1pm at the J
Ms. Sklaroff will help us explore the life of Sophie Tucker - a star in vaudeville, radio, film, and television
Learn more: 

Performing Arts: Memories & Miracles - A Culinary-Inspired Concert
Sunday, December 9, 3pm at the J
Experience an immersive culinary-inspired concert with Gourmet Symphony and curated food and beverage from Susan Barocas, chef, food writer, founding director of the Jewish Food Experience and guest chef at the 2014, 2015, and 2016 White House Seders.
Learn more: 



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What's Jewish About Thanksgiving?

Renee Eder on Tuesday, November 20, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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Did you know that Thanksgiving is the American holiday most celebrated by Jewish people in the U.S.? And, I must say, I am glad that it is! Every year, my family gathers for turkey and all the fixings. My youngest is ten, but I kept a few pairs of maternity pants just for this occasion!

You may not realize this, but there are strong historical connections between Judaism and Thanksgiving. First of all, most of the Pilgrims who celebrated the first Thanksgiving were Puritans. Although Puritan is a branch of the Protestant faith, the Puritans strongly identified with the historical traditions and customs of the Israelites in the Bible. In fact, in their quest for religious freedom, the Puritans often compared their journey to America to the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. As analogies went, England was Egypt, the king was Pharaoh, the Atlantic Ocean their Red Sea, and the Puritans were the Israelites, entering into a new covenant with G-d in a new Promised Land. In fact, most of the Puritans had Hebrew names and there was even a proposal to make Hebrew the language of the colonies!

Many people believe that the Pilgrims modeled Thanksgiving after the holiday of Sukkot, as they are both harvest festivals that take place in the fall. In Jewish tradition, Sukkot is both historical and agricultural. We dwell in booths to remember how our ancestors lived in sukkot for 40 years in the desert. Sukkot is also known as a time of our rejoicing, as our ancestors gave thanks for the conclusion of the harvest and the bounty of the land. Both Sukkot and Thanksgiving encourage us to stop and acknowledge our blessings. Whether we accomplish that over a slice of Thanksgiving pumpkin pie or by eating a meal with family and friends beneath the leafy branches of a sukkah roof, we understand and embrace what it was that inspired our Pilgrim and our Israelite ancestors during both of these harvest holidays.

As Americans and as Jews, we can celebrate Thanksgiving with pride. From the historical connections of the Puritans to Sukkot, to the primary importance in Judaism of saying thank you to G-d for all of our blessings, Thanksgiving is a holiday steeped in Jewish values. This Thanksgiving, we at the J hope that you are blessed with the bounty of food and the blessing of family and friends.

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Is it Chanukah, Hanukah, Hanukkah or Channukah?

Renee Eder on Tuesday, November 13, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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Hanukkah is just a few weeks away (December 2–10), and my kids sure are excited. We have our dreidels (tops) ready for spinning, chocolate gelt (coins) purchased and hidden so they make it to Chanukah :), Kitchen Aid mixer attachment ready for potato shredding, and menorahs de-waxed and ready to go!

My daughter is writing an essay about Chanukah in school. She asked me a question today, that may seem like a simple question, but it's actually complex because it doesn't have just one answer. The question is, "How is Chanukah spelled?" Is it Chanukah, Hanukah, Hannukkah, Channukah, or something else? Confused? I don’t blame you. Why is this Jewish holiday, also known as the Festival of Lights, spelled in so many ways?

The Right Way to Spell Chanukah

The answer comes down to transliteration. Unlike translation, transliteration is when you “change (letters, words, etc.) into corresponding characters of another alphabet or language.” In Hebrew, the language from which the Jewish festival originates, the word for Hanukkah is not easily transliterated into English. This accounts for why there are so many spelling variants. But Hanukkah and Chanukah are the two versions that are most widely used and accepted, and we typically use "Chanukah" at the J. Honestly, you can use any spelling that you are used to, and the one that works best for you!

No matter how you spell it, Hanukkah is a fun holiday. It lasts for eight days, and commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Although many scholars disagree about how to interpret the Hebrew word for Chanukah, one common interpretation is that it means “dedication.”

On each night of the holiday, a different branch of a candelabrum called a menorah is illuminated. The festival is also celebrated by indulging in latkes, or fried potato pancakes. Children play dreidel each night, and open gifts after each candle is lit. What are some of your family Chanukah traditions? Please answer in the comments. Pics are a bonus!

Looking for Chanukah gifts? Come check out our Annual Jewish Book Fair & Chanukah Sale from Sunday–Tuesday, November 18–20, 9am–noon, 4pm–7pm; Wednesday, November 21, 9am–noon.

Also, don't miss the annual Light Up the Night! Community Menorah Lighting at Mosaic District on December 5 at 5:30 pm. Join us as we light the candles, enjoy entertainment and a Chanukah sing-along, feast on sufganiyot, and spin the dreidel! Learn more here:

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Top Exercise Trends for 2019

Renee Eder on Tuesday, November 6, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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The holidays are almost upon us, which means it's time to start thinking about how to shed holiday pounds after all those latkes. It might seem early, but fitness professionals are already predicting top exercise trends for next year. To get an idea of what's in store for the future, the American College of Sports Medicine surveyed thousands of fitness professionals about health and fitness trends. These are the top predicted fitness trends for 2019, according to the pros:

- Wearable Technology

Wearable technology, such as smart watches, fitness trackers, heart monitors, and more, has ranked in the top three trends every year since 2016. The merging of fitness and tech shows no signs of going anywhere, so expect to see even more ways to track and monitor your fitness in 2019.

- Group Exercise Classes

Group training is any workout with more than five participants. It first appeared among its top 20 trends in 2017, and it remains in the top five for the coming year.

- HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training)

HIIT took the top spot in 2018 (and in 2014), but despite its small drop, experts still see it playing a big role in the industry this coming year. A HIIT workout involves "short bursts of high-intensity bouts of exercise followed by a short period of rest." They're usually 30 minutes or less, though they can be longer.

- Fitness Programs for Older Adults

Exercise is a great way for seniors to maintain bone density and muscle mass as they age, plus reap the numerous other health benefits that come with being active.

- Bodyweight Training

Bodyweight training uses just your bodyweight—think push-ups and planks—to get you sweating. And, they work. Your body itself is truly a great resistance training tool.

- Yoga

The ancient practice of yoga has been on the list for many years. Yoga has taken on many forms, like power yoga, surf board yoga, and hot yoga. Who knows what other forms of yoga the future holds?

- Personal Training

Personal training, or fitness testing and goal setting with a trainer working one-on-one with a client, has been one of the top 10 trends since the survey first started 13 years ago, and it continues to be! Let a personal trainer help you develop a program to help you meet your goals.

Looking to start an exercise program? Be sure to check with your doctor first! Hope to see you at the J as you try some of these fitness trends and other exercises that work well for you! For more details on fitness at the J, please visit

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The Jewish Duty to Vote

Renee Eder on Tuesday, October 30, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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U.S. midterm elections are just a week away! Since the year I turned 18 (many moons ago), I have voted every year. Similar to paying taxes, serving on juries, and registering for the draft, voting is a civic calling, and I am privileged to have the opportunity to vote in this country.

As you likely know, unlike other civic callings, voting is optional. Whatever the stakes, no law compels Americans to vote. In some elections, only a minority of eligible voters cast ballots. What you may not know is that voting is a Jewish duty that dates back to biblical times. Here's how:

- Civic engagement is an important part of our Jewish tradition of community. The great first-century sage Hillel taught, “Do not separate yourself from the community,” reminding us that in the ecosystem of the collective, each of us plays a role in sustaining one another.

- The impulse to participate in the public sphere has become a Jewish cultural reflex. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein taught that as an expression of hakarat hatov (gratitude) "American Jews must participate in our democracy — which safeguards our freedoms — by voting."

- The duty to create and support government is one of the few duties that Jewish law recognizes for all, Jews and non-Jews alike. To Maimonides (1135-1204), the purpose was to ensure public order; while to Nachmanides (1194-1270), the purpose extends to include all social welfare.

-Jewish tradition views government as a human partnership with G-d. Where Torah predicts that Israelites would want civil rulers instead of priests and prophets, Moses told the people: “[B]e sure to place over yourselves the king that G-d elects for you."

As you know and can see from words of wise Jewish sages, it is all of our duty to be civically engaged. On Nov. 6, be sure to to exercise your civic duty and Jewish heritage and vote!


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Zuzana Ruzickova -- the Holocaust Survivor who Brought Back Bach

Renee Eder on Tuesday, October 23, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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I remember learning about the Holocaust as a child. I asked my mother and grandparents questions, as I was inquisitive and curious. I always wondered how some people could have survived the horrific conditions in the concentration camps. Reading about Zuzana Ruzickova today brought these memories back for me, and helped answer some of these questions.

Zuzana Ruzickova survived the gas chambers, devastating disease, slave labor, and crippling hand injuries in Nazi concentration camps to become one of the world’s most renowned harpsichordists and a leading interpreter of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Ms. Ruzickova was born in Bohemia and was the daughter of a prosperous Jewish family. She always loved music and was very talented, so her teacher recommended that the harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, who lived near Paris, take her as a student — that prospect was dashed by the German occupation. When she was 15, her family received what the Germans called “an invitation” to Terezin, which the Nazis considered a model concentration camp for the cultural elite. Her grandparents and father died of disease there.

Within six months, she and her mother were shipped to Auschwitz in German-occupied Poland, where she survived the gas chamber twice — first after lying about her age, and then when the camp’s routine was upset by the Allied invasion on D-Day.

Zuzana credits music with her drive to persevere and survive the concentration camps. According to Zuzana, “I was not a strong child, but I was in love with music from the beginning." With her hands badly damaged during the war, she practiced 12 hours a day to catch up after it was over. She attended the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague from 1947 to 1951, when she gave her first harpsichord recital.

Since then, she has made more than 100 recordings. Her monumental project of recording Bach’s complete keyboard works took a decade, starting in 1965. She stopped performing publicly in 2006.

Zuzana believed up until the day she died last September, at the age of 90 from pneumonia, that “Bach provides a sense of order in a world of disorder." A documentary was made about her by Peter Getzels and Harriet Gordon, titled “Zuzana: Music Is Life," which will be shown at Beth El Hebrew Congregation in Alexandria on Wednesday, October 31.

If you want to learn more about Zuzana's fascinating life and enjoy a wonderful film, bagels, and a presentation from the filmmakers, we hope you can join us! Twice voted Best Documentary at the Washington and LA Jewish Film Festivals, "Zuzana: Music is Life" speaks to the healing power of music, and living for a higher purpose when brutality abounds.

The film will be followed by a Q&A session with the filmmakers. The fee is $10 for all participants (includes movie, presentation, and bagels and cream cheese). Learn more about the film and how to register here: 


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Man Uncovers Music from Concentration Camps

Renee Eder on Tuesday, October 16, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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My grandparents on my mom's side were Holocaust survivors. They never spoke much about it, because the memories were too painful. I learned a lot from books I've read and research I've done, including the fascinating information that I will describe in this post. We are fortunate enough that this is the subject of The Maestro, one of the movies featured in the 2018 Northern Virginia Jewish Film Festival!
Jewish-Italian musicologist Francesco Lotoro has spent the past 30 years uncovering some 8,000 musical works, composed largely in concentration camps and ghettos during World War II.
Lotoro, a professional pianist, has scoured Europe to discover and record music composed clandestinely in World War II camps. He has made it his life’s mission to find, preserve and popularize music that was composed by Jews and other prisoners during World War II – from entire operas written on toilet paper in Nazi camps to love songs created by POWs from all sides of the conflict.
Aided by his wife and a handful of friends, he has archived the scores he found, including symphonies, operas, folk songs, liturgical works, and also swing and gypsy music.
Some songs are slow, emotional, almost weepy symphonies. Others are driving and angry pub songs. A few are sarcastic jazz numbers. Others are shockingly upbeat - happy almost - as if the music lifted the composers out of the Nazi prison camps where they lived, saved them for just a moment from their horrific, torturous existence.
The music of the prisoners was preserved in many ways: passed on from person to person in camps until it was smuggled out, given to family members who were safe from the Nazis or simply found after the camps were liberated.
Many of the songs were written in Theresienstadt, a Czech town where prisoners could stage operas, concerts and cabaret shows. The camp saw many Jewish leaders and prominent artists from all over Europe. But some songs are from prisoners who had never before written music but felt the urge to create something beautiful among their shocking surroundings.
Lotoro has slowly been recording all the music on a set of 24 albums whenever he can cobble together the money and the musicians. Ultimately, he hopes to record all the pieces he's found so far and estimates there are likely only another 1,500 in existence - which he says pales in comparison to the music lost during the war.
Want to learn more about Lotoro and his quest to find lost music written in concentration camps? Join us for The Maestro- In Search of the Last Music on October 21 at Angelika Film Center & Café at Mosaic. The movie will be paired with "Mr. Bernstein," a short film that will be shown beforehand. Learn more and buy tickets here:
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Top Benefits of Using the Sauna

Renee Eder on Monday, October 8, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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Have you ever had the pleasure of using a sauna? In my opinion, nothing is more reinvigorating! Saunas provide a deep, healthy sweat every day. Tension fades. Muscles unwind. Mentally, we emerge relaxed, revived, and ready for whatever the day may bring.

A few minutes a day is all it takes to look and feel better. The body’s response to gentle, persistent heat is well-documented. Here are some of purifying benefits of using a sauna*:

• Stress relief: Heat bathing in a sauna provides stress relief in a number of ways. It’s a warm, quiet space without distractions coming from the outside. The heat from the sauna relaxes the body's muscles, improves circulation and stimulates the release of endorphins — the body’s all-natural "feel good" chemical — and their release provides a truly wonderful "after sauna glow.”
Cardiovascular benefits: Using sauna 2-3 times per week at 174 degrees F reduces risk of fatal cardiovascular disease by 27% and 4-7 times per week reduces risk by 50%.
Reduced risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) with regular sauna use. A 3-month study of bi-weekly sauna use showed reduced occurrence of high blood pressure.
Recovery after intense physical activity. Saunas relax muscles and soothe aches/pains in both muscles and joints. After participating in physical sports, use the heat and/or steam of a sauna to promote muscle relaxation by helping to reduce muscle tension and eliminate lactic acid and/or other toxins that may be present. (Note that the J requires a 15-minute break/cool down between your workout and entering the sauna.)
Saunas flush toxins. Many — if not most — of us do not actively sweat on a daily basis. Deep sweating has multiple proven health benefits, which can be achieved via regular sauna bathing. Deep sweating in a sauna can help reduce levels of lead, copper, zinc, nickel, mercury and chemical — which are all toxins commonly absorbed just from interacting with our daily environments.
Saunas can induce a deeper sleep. Research has shown that a deeper, more relaxed sleep can result from sauna use. In addition to the release of endorphins, body temperatures, which become elevated in the late evening, fall at bedtime. This slow, relaxing decline in endorphins is key in facilitating sleep.
Sauna cleanses the skin. Heat bathing is one of the oldest beauty and/or health strategies in terms of cleansing one's skin. When the body begins to produce sweat via deep sweating, the skin is then cleansed and dead skin cells are replaced.
Saunas burn calories. While some individuals may experience high amounts of calorie burn at first — particularly those individuals in poor shape to begin with — over the long term, saunas are simply treated as one of many tools in our arsenal when it comes to burn additional calories.

*Individuals with the following conditions should not use the sauna unless authorized by their physician: high blood pressure; heart disease, respiratory problems, diabetes, stress and/or emotional disorders, epilepsy or seizure disorders, pregnant, or other health concerns. If you are not certain that you should use the sauna, please consult your physician.

The J is excited to announce that as of Monday, October 8th, the saunas in the Men's and Women's Locker Rooms are open! We hope you'll come relax and enjoy the health benefits!



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Shmirat Haguf: The Jewish Value of Caring for the Body

Renee Eder on Tuesday, October 2, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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It's fall and soon the weather will start getting cooler. This time of year, many of us are tempted to retreat to the sofa to watch football and relax – which is more reason to eat right and continue to work out in the gym and in the crisp autumn air.

Did you know that it’s a mitzvah (commandment) in Judaism to be healthy and well? Jewish tradition calls it shmirat haguf (Shmirat means “to care” or “to protect” and Haguf is “the body.") Judaism views the human body as a precious, wondrous gift from G-d that we are to protect and nurture. It is the home of the soul, the spark of G-d within us. Our body requires care and attention, no matter our age. With proper sleep, diet and nutrition, exercise and physical activity, and by avoiding things that harm the body, we can practice shmirat haguf, helping us to thrive in our everyday lives.

How does one go about fulfilling the mitzvah of shmirat haguf? Here are some things you can do:

Diet and Nutrition: Most current recommendations of the USDA advise us to fill half our plates with vegetables and fruit; the other half should comprise grains and lean protein. Food is so essential to Jewish living, and healthier food choices help us fulfill the mitzvah of taking care of our bodies.

Exercise and Physical Activity: Physical activity and exercise reduce the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and certain cancers. Exercise and physical activity promote general well-being, stronger bones and muscles, improved cognitive functioning among older adults, and the creation of new brain cells in the hippocampus. Physical activity and exercise also have been proven to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. So many health benefits accrue from physical activity that it could be the single most important resolution we make to improve our wellness.

Avoid Things that Harm the Body: Avoid excesses in food, drink, and other physical and mental enjoyments. Smoking, alcohol, drug abuse, and other forms of addiction (including workaholism) rob us of our health and well-being, and cause pain and suffering to our loved ones. Part of the mitzvah of shmirat haguf is recognizing when our behaviors have become harmful to ourselves and others, making necessary changes, and seeking professional help when needed (from physicians, mental health practitioners, or qualified addiction specialists).

Embrace Things that Benefit the Body, such as Sleep: Deprived of adequate sleep, the world can look very different. We may feel irritable, pessimistic, and less able to concentrate and focus on everyday tasks. We can feel fatigued and weak, our memory suffers, and our immune system weakens. We are more susceptible to colds and flus. In addition, sleep deprivation puts us at greater risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Drink lots of water: Your body is composed of about 60% water. The functions of these bodily fluids include digestion, absorption, circulation, creation of saliva, transportation of nutrients, and maintenance of body temperature. When your water intake does not equal your output, you can become dehydrated. Fluid losses are accentuated in warmer climates, during strenuous exercise, in high altitudes, and in older adults, whose sense of thirst may not be as sharp.

This week at the J, we are recognizing the importance of shmirat haguf by focusing onhydration and caring for our bodies. After morning fitness classes, stop by our membershiptable for a bottle of water and sweat towel (while supplies last). This healthy break is provided by INNOVATION HEALTH, whose partnership with the J helps build healthier communities. Hope you continue to take good care of yourself now and in the future!

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Making Sukkot Meaningful for You!

Renee Eder on Tuesday, September 25, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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Sukkot is among my favorite holidays, including Chanukah, Purim, and Rosh Hashanah. It’s a chance to gather friends, eat good food, put my husband's handyman skills to work, and enjoy nature. Sukkot is a seven day holiday that began Sunday evening at sundown, so there are still lots of opportunities to celebrate!
Growing up, I never had a sukkah (temporary dwelling) at my house but some of my fondest memories as a kid are going to my grandparents or the synagogue to celebrate Sukkot under the stars with my family. As I got older and learned more about the holiday, I became interested in exploring how I could celebrate it with my own family. I learned that there are lots of opportunities to experiment and try new things or re-imagine how this harvest festival could be celebrated. Below are some ideas for activities to help you make the most of the Sukkot holiday:
  1. Construct your own sukkah (there’s still time if you haven’t already done so). Don't have a lot of space? Click here for a link to plans to build a sukkah in a small space like a balcony or roof top.
  2. Make a sukkah out of graham crackers or Legos®!
  3. Shake a lulav and an etrog (click on this link for information about the correct way to do it!)
  4. Host a festive meal with lots of plant material and light the candles.
  5. Create your own personal lulav: Invite your friends over to create your own personal version of the lulav by incorporating objects or symbols that represent your own personal community. Take turns sharing and discussing your lulav. Alternatively, encourage guests to bring objects that are important for a show and tell style or storytelling event instead of creating a lulav on paper.
  6. Do something in your sukkah – eat a meal or snack, maybe even do some cooking!
  7. Sleep in your sukkah! Use this as an excuse to do some backyard camping (or even real camping) and sleep out in “nature!” Luckily, it's not supposed to rain all week.
  8. Create something in the sukkah by gathering art supplies to do harvest themed art projects like leaf prints, painting, or tie dye! Get the kids to help you make paper chains to hang in the sukkah!
  9. Gather art supplies and hold a wine and paint night in the sukkah or out in nature or at a park.
  10. Visit a farmer’s market or even a farm to buy or help harvest seasonal fruits and vegetables.
  11. Go apple picking or visit a park to collect fallen leaves and twigs to use as decorations.
  12. Create centerpieces for the sukkah with fruits and vegetables, and plan meals that incorporate a wide selection of local produce.
Don't have a sukkah? You can still enjoy the holiday! Make your home a joyful place with decorations in the spirit of the holiday: decorate your front door with a harvest theme, hang paper chains from your ceilings, and/or bake something delicious with the fresh fruits and vegetables you bought or gathered! We hope that you enjoy Sukkot this year, however you celebrate, and that it's meaningful for you and your loved ones!
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Staff Spotlight: Alexis Medina

Renee Eder on Wednesday, September 12, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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Last week, I had the pleasure of chatting with Alexis Medina, who recently started working at the J as a full-time Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator. Alexis seemed quiet at first, but once she started talking, I realized she is a fascinating person who has tons of great ideas. The J is so excited to expand its marketing team and to have her creative talent working on social media (i.e., Instagram and Twitter), producing short videos to tell the J’s stories, performing website updates, and helping to market our programs and services to the community.

Originally from Fairfax, VA, Alexis attended Fairfax High School and Virginia Tech. Her hobbies include singing, film, acting, traveling, and sports. She also plays the guitar, ukulele, piano and drums. Film is another passion of hers. She loves making short films and documentaries, and believes that when it comes to film, "there are endless opportunities." Alexis loves staying active and is an avid Pittsburgh Steelers and Penguins fan.

Alexis was excited to work at the J because she wanted to learn more about her Jewish culture. From what she remembers growing up in our community, her grandmother, Goldie, had a J membership and she would come here often and play a lot of card games with her friends. Alexis's mother, who is Jewish, is from New York while her father is from El Salvador. To embrace her Jewish background, she joined BBYO her senior year of high school, and went on a birthright trip to Israel with her sister, Sara. She enjoyed the Israeli food and culture immensely.

So far, what Alexis loves most about the J is how everyone is so friendly. Initially, Alexis had the belief that working an office job would be boring, but, at the J, they make every day entertaining and keep her on her toes. She mentioned that if she had a Fitbit, her daily step count would be well over 5,000!

According to Alexis, "(w)hen you are a part of something great, you feel like you belong. The J is like a second home to its members. It doesn’t matter if you are Jewish or not, the J thrives on diversity!"

Since the professional marketing world is relatively new to Alexis, she has already learned that "sometimes it takes several rounds of effort to produce quality content but, that’s okay. The process helps me improve my skills and learn what works and what doesn’t." Alexis hope is that in her position, she can post more content on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube that tells the J’s story, that is fun, entertaining, and engaging!

Please join us in welcoming Alexis to our team!



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JCCNV President's High Holiday Message

Site Administrator on Thursday, September 6, 2018 at 1:30:00 pm 
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The High Holidays for 5779 seems an auspicious time for my inaugural “President’s Message.” For our family, Rosh Hashanah is a time for celebration, preceded by great anticipation as we make plans to connect with family and friends. For me, it also sparks the period of introspection through Yom Kippur—as intended. Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah also present opportunities for celebration and reflection of who we are as a people. Funny how that works.  

All of the emotions sparked by Rosh Hashanah also can be applied to the JCCNV. We are indeed in a time of great anticipation for the commencement of construction of the renovation of the “white house” into the Smith-Kogod Cultural Center, the new fitness facility that will enable us to better serve our members and the community—and the new playground for our children. The Board and staff also are engaged in a bit of introspection and questioning. In light of the demographic study’s exciting findings that the Jewish population in Northern Virginia is larger than many better-known Jewish communities in the United States as well as being the largest Jewish population of the Greater Washington region, the challenge of how we connect many more Jews with our large Jewish community is both daunting but also the object of much study. Well, not necessarily one on one Talmudic study, but study, discussion, spirited conversation nevertheless.

So we face 5779 with eager anticipation. We look forward to presenting the enhanced JCCNV facilities (you can see the new sign now!) that will be better able to serve our members’ needs. We look forward to greater engagement with the Jewish community throughout Northern Virginia in Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, Reston, Gainesville and elsewhere. We look forward to connecting with those pockets of Jewish activity that are sprouting in many parts of Northern Virginia. And we will continue to strive to pursue all of our activities with you consistent with Jewish values and with a “Yiddishe kopf.”  

From the Board of Directors and Staff:  L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu V’Taihatem




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