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The Symbolism of a Bagel

Rener Eder on Monday, August 6, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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I love bagels, especially if there is cream cheese and lox (smoked salmon) on them! I grew up in New York, where good bagels were plentiful and learned to love bagels here in Virginia, too. Plain, everything, cinnamon raisin, chocolate chip, and pretzel… I could never be on a low-carb diet!

I'm sure many people out there share my sentiments about delicious, round, boiled then baked bagels. But I wonder if you bagel-lovers know all of these really cool facts about them, and why bagels are even considered symbolic for Jewish people.

Here are the facts:

- The word bagel means “bracelet” in German.
- Because of their shape—with no beginning and no end—bagels symbolize the eternal cycle of life.
- In the old days, bagels were supposed to be a protection against demons and evil spirits, warding off the evil eye and bringing good luck. For these reasons, they were served at circumcisions and when a woman was in labor and also at funerals, along with hard‑boiled eggs.
- Similar to challah, bagels are of South German origin, but they came into their own in the Polish shtetl.
- Bagels were first sold on the street by vendors with baskets or hanging on long sticks, and they had to have a license. Illegal selling of bagels by children was common to help their poor families.
-When the Jews left Eastern Europe in great masses for America, Canada, and Europe, many sold bagels from pushcarts on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and in the East End of London.

Although so many new varieties of bagels have now appeared, purists will have only the original plain water bagels, which are made by throwing rings of risen dough in boiling water for a few seconds, then draining, cooling, and baking quickly till golden, shiny, and crisp. They are wonderful when very, very fresh and of course, delicious when served with cream cheese and lox, plain, or with other topping combinations!

Fellow bagel lovers: I invite you to post where you go for the best bagels in town!




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A Jewish MVP and Other Notable Jewish Baseball Stars — Who Are They?

Renee Eder on Monday, July 30, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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Photo credit: JTA

As a die hard baseball fan, it was so incredibly exciting to see the All Star Game being played in our home stadium this year. What was equally great was seeing a member of the "tribe" being named MVP. His family members must've been kvelling (feeling happy and proud)!

After winning the World Series last year followed by the MVP trophy in the All Star game, Alex Bregman (Houston Astros 3rd Baseman) became a household name. It turns out that Bregman's family has some history here in Washington also. Bregman's grandfather was the general counsel for the Washington Senators, and his dad grew up with Ted Williams (the Senator's manager at the time). So for Bregman, winning the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award in DC was extra special. Bregman is sure to be a mainstay in one of the best infields in baseball for many years.

Below is a list of other Jewish baseball players currently in the Major Leagues.

Ryan Braun
Milwaukee Brewers, outfielder

The veteran all-star, who is often called the "Hebrew Hammer," has batted .303, with 302 home runs and 989 runs batted in. Last year, he passed Hank Greenberg for second on the list of all-time hits for a Jewish player, only trailing Shawn Green.

Ian Kinsler
Anaheim Angels, second base

After spending the first 12 years of his career with the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers, Kinsler is now a Los Angeles Angel in 2018. Batting in front of Mike Trout, Justin Upton and Albert Pujols will add to Kinsler’s resumé. For his career, Kinsler has used his power/speed combo to bat .273 with 234 home runs, 225 stolen bases and 1,149 runs scored.

Kevin Pillar
Toronto Blue Jays, outfielder

A regular starter in Toronto’s outfield, Pillar finished 2017 with a career-high 16 home runs and 54 extra-base hits. He started off this season with a bang, as well, homering on opening day against the New York Yankees. His bat has continued to progress in his third season as an everyday player and his glove in center field is one of the best in the game.

Joc Pederson
Los Angeles Dodgers, outfielder

The “other” Jewish athlete to make it to the World Series last year, Pederson was limited to 102 games in 2017 because of injury. After hitting 25+ home runs in 2015 and 2016, Pederson hopes to bounce back and provide the Dodgers with some pop from the left side of the plate. At just 25 years old, this could still be a key year for Pederson.

Danny Valencia
Baltimore Orioles, 1B/3B/DH

The “Jewish Journeyman,” Valencia has played for the Twins, Red Sox, Orioles, Royals, Blue Jays, Athletics and Mariners. This year, he is back in Baltimore for a second tour. Valencia, who has 87 home runs and 369 RBIs in his career, will mostly be a platoon player against left-handed pitchers this season.

Other current notable Jewish MLB stars include Richard Bleier (Baltimore Orioles, relief pitcher), Zack Weiss (Cincinnati Reds, relief pitcher), Ryan Sherriff (St. Louis Cardinals, relief pitcher), as well as Gabe Kapler (Philadelphia Phillies, manager).

Do you love baseball as much as I do? Then join us for Grand Slam Sunday on August 19! You can still buy tickets through the Nationals HERE with promo code JCD. Hope to see you there!




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Tu B’Av (The Jewish Day of Love): Why People Wear White — and Other Fun Facts

Renee Eder on Tuesday, July 24, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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Tu B'Av, the fifteenth of the month of Av, will occur this week on July 26-27. Tu B'Av is the "Jewish day of love," which was celebrated at the end of the Israelites' forty years of wandering in the wilderness.

I wish I knew about Tu B'Av when I was single!

In Talmudic times, young girls would go down to the vineyards dressed in white linen to dance. The eligible bachelors would then be matched up with them. This week, all over the world, white parties are taking place for Jewish singles.

Here are some other interesting facts you may not know about the Jewish day of love:
1. In biblical times, the white dresses the women wore were typically borrowed, so that no one would be embarrassed if she didn’t own the proper garments.

2. The holiday’s Hebrew name simply translates to the date: the 15th of the month of Av. “Tu” is short for the Hebrew letters Tet (which represents “nine” in Hebrew numerals) and Vav (which represents “six”), adding up to the number 15.

3. Tu B'Av is considered to be a good date for a wedding!

4. From the end of the Second Temple era until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 Tu B’Av was only commemorated by the omission of “Tachanun,” a penitential prayer included in the weekday morning and afternoon services. It’s not clear why the holiday was revived by Israelis.

5. Since the holiday falls on an evening with a full moon, the holiday provides a great setting for an evening stroll to enjoy nature’s mood lighting.

However you choose to celebrate, we hope you feel the love this year on Tu B'Av!




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What is Tisha B'Av All About?

Renee Eder on Tuesday, July 17, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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My kids heard that another Jewish holiday was coming up on July 21-22, and it's not a happy one. They wanted to know — what is Tisha B'Av all about, and why are we eating so many veggies lately?

Tisha B’Av, the ninth of the month of Av, is a day of mourning for Jews. It is the day Jews remember the destruction of both Temples that once stood in Jerusalem as well as a number of other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people over the course of history. Tisha B’Av is a full fast day, so the last meal must be eaten before sunset prior to the ninth of Av. The meal often is comprised of round foods like eggs or lentils, which symbolize mourning in Jewish tradition because they evoke the cycle of life. Additionally, nine days prior to the holiday, traditional Jews do not eat meat, cut their hair, or wash their clothes unless they are to be worn again during the nine days.

Similar to Yom Kippur, in addition to abstaining from food or drink during Tisha B’Av, Jewish tradition also mandates refraining from wearing leather, washing one’s body, and using perfume or other such ointments. Traditional Jews do not get married or celebrate other joyous festivities in these three weeks. All these actions are considered signs of joy or luxury inappropriate for this time of mourning.

I mentioned earlier that we eat lots of veggies during the nine days leading up to Tisha B’Av. Here are a few examples of veggie recipes you can make whether or not you celebrate Tisha B'Av:

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What the Reggio Emilia Philosophy Really Means

Renee Eder on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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Ever walk by a preschool classroom at the J to see smiling children playing with natural elements in a bright, engaging classroom. The happy faces, cheerful colors, and nurturing environment will likely have you intrigued by the education method. Allow me to enlighten you about the Reggio Emilia child-driven approach to early childhood education.

What is Reggio Emilia?

Reggio Emilia is an approach to early childhood learning named after the town where it originated in Italy. Founder Louis Malaguzzi believed children were in need of a more holistic kind of education after World War II. He began the Reggio Emilia style based on the principle that every child is unique and will express their unique interests in many different ways. 

Reggio Emilia believes that children have special knowledge and are powerful in their own way. This belief expresses itself in a co-learning environment, where teachers learn with the children and work in a lateral relationship as opposed to a hierarchical one. That partnership is also intended to encompass the parents and community of each child. 

Reggio Emilia also revolves around the children’s senses, relying on sight, sound, touch and even taste and smell to assist with learning. As a result, Reggio Emilia classrooms tend to look different than your average preschool with large common spaces, natural elements and lots of light. 

Another element that sets the Reggio Emilia philosophy apart is that children can demonstrate their ideas in many different ways  other than just numbers and letters, including dance, paint, wire, clay, pencil, nature materials.  In addition, the Reggio philosophy recognizes the importance of community in a child’s life, which means teachers try to involve parents and family in the work of education. 

Reggio Emilia at the J

Reggio Emilia could very well be the perfect learning approach to encourage your little one’s development. Want to learn more? The preschool at the J follows a Reggio Emilia-based philosophy and involves the children as an active part of their own learning and the direction it takes. Our nurturing educators use a developmental approach to understanding children's abilities and enabling them to gain confidence and independence. Learn more here:


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Family Fun with 0–3 year olds

Renee Eder on Tuesday, July 3, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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What do you do when you’re entertaining a baby or a toddler, and it's way too hot to go outside? Find fun indoor activities in the AC, of course!

I am rusty at this toddler activities stuff, but I do know as a mom of two that there are lots of games and activities you can do with your child to have fun together and get them developing important skills early on. Skills they can learn at this early age include speaking and listening and developing eye-hand coordination. Here are some ideas:

1. Sing together
Children enjoy exploring and experimenting with language and it helps them to learn new words and their meanings and also to listen to the sounds that make those words. So sing, rhyme, shout, whisper, rap and dance to the beat!

2. Painting and drawing
Give your child lots of opportunities to draw and paint. This is not only fun, but also can help to develop eye-hand coordination and control. Let them experiment with lots of different materials – paint brushes with a range of widths, pencils, crayons, chalks and finger paint. You could try playing music when they paint and draw as this can help to create a relaxing environment.

3. Hands-on games
Use non-toxic modeling clay to get creative and develop fine motor skills. Threading beads, macaroni or cotton reels on wool or string can help with eye-hand coordination and control. Joining the dots and drawing paths through simple mazes are not only fun but are a great way to develop eye-hand coordination and pen control. Enjoy jigsaws together and chat about finding the right pieces!

4. Reading books of all kinds together
Have fun reading books of all kinds to your child: picture, words and pictures, pop up, information and poetry. Why not choose a book from the local library or PJ Library® to share together?

5. Talk about numbers around you
It’s never too early to explore numbers with your child. Numbers are all around us, from calendars to the remote control, the telephone to car registration plates. Talking about numbers around you early and often will help your child to recognize numerals and show them that numbers are part of everyday life.

6. Take your child(ren) to a kid-friendly show
To The Clouds is a perfect interactive play for children ages 0-3 and their families. It's on Sunday, July 15, at both 10am and 11:30am. Through movement, puppetry, and found object animation, To the Clouds is driven by a soundtrack of classical music and creates a captivating world of transformation. This performance is presented by Arts on the Horizon. Tickets are $6/ $5 members. Learn more and buy tickets here:

Hope you enjoy your summer with your little ones! As you've likely heard from everyone — they grow up way too quickly! Enjoy! :)

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The 8 Best Jewish Instagram Pages

Renee Eder on Tuesday, June 26, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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Millennials love Instagram, while Gen X'ers like me still love Facebook. I thought I'd take a look to see what all the fuss was about, and now, I am hooked on Instagram, as well! I can see why even before the photo-sharing application was bought by Facebook, it was already making waves among the masses, and now I'm one of them!

You may not realize, but fellow Jews have some fascinating Instagram accounts that are certainly worth checking out. A wide array of funny, cultural, delicious, religious and Israeli Instagram accounts have been established to illustrate what it means to be a Jew. While some use memes to relate Judaism to the modern world, others take a more traditional approach by documenting stories of the Jewish people, and sharing delicious recipes (I don't cook, but as you can tell on Facebook, I love a good recipe!)

Here’s our list of the ten best Jewish Instagram accounts out there. Note: We’ve refrained from mentioning political or news-related accounts.

1. I'll start with the most important IG account to follow, ours! (@jccnv):
If you aren’t following us already, we hope you will now! We fill your Instagram feed with only the best of the best of what's happening at the J, contests, pics, and more. You'll love it... trust me!

2. What Jew Wanna Eat
Amy Kritzer’s account, What Jew Wanna Eat, documents photos of your favourite Jewish nosh. Corned beef, shakshuka, bagels, lox and cream cheese, challah, donuts, gefilte fish, rugelach, hummus, falafel and matzo ball soup. Kritzer displays a smorgasbord of mouth-watering Jewish food to her 38,000+ followers. It’s also all kosher, which allows for some delicious recipe ideas.

3. Humans Of Judaism
A spin-off from Humans of New York, Humans of Judaism showcases Jews from across the globe with an emphasis on what Judaism and Israel means to them. With 117,000 followers, Humans of Judaism features many Jews’ captivating stories.

4. Crazy Jewish Mom
Make no mistakes, Crazy Jewish Mom is one of the funniest and most original accounts out there. The profile has over 785,000 followers who tune into the daily text conversations between Kate Friedman Siegel and her crazy Jewish mother. Kate’s mother prefers to go unnamed, though we do know that she refers to her daughter as “spawn.” Whether or not all the texts are real, the account emphasizes the quintessential Jewish stereotype (overbearing mothers), which is something we can all relate to, Jewish or not.

5. Visit_Israel
Do you love Israel? If so, this Instagram account is for you! Get updates on the latest events taking place in Israel, see pictures the most beautiful Israeli scenery, wet your appetite with delicious looking foodie photos, and imagine the sounds of the ocean while enjoying pictures of Israeli beaches.

6. Challahhub
Who doesn’t love Challah? We surely do! If you agree, this Instagram account with 11,700 followers will have you wishing for Friday night.

7. MitzvahMemes
Like the name implies, this one is for all the meme lovers out there! MitzvahMemes has all the memes you love. And are all about Judaism!

8. Seinfeld 2000
Still don’t want to come to terms with the fact that Seinfeld, an institution in Jewish comedy, is over? Neither do I. Seinfeld 2000 boasts 262,000 followers, and publishes an extensive variety of Seinfeld-related content. Seinfeld 2000 presents classic Seinfeld comedy, but updated for a 2018 audience.

Hope you enjoy these Instagram pages. Please comment if you have others to share! And, if you don't follow us already, please be sure to follow the J on Instagram at @jccnv. See you on Instagram and Facebook!

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Fitting Yoga into Your Schedule

Renee Eder on Tuesday, June 19, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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Since the day I realized the many spiritual and health benefits of yoga, I’ve wanted to practice it daily. But the reality of fitting it into my busy schedule is something I have been wrestling with ever since. It still does not come easy, but knowing the positive outcomes to body and mind, I’m hoping to find a way to squeeze it in each week.

For most people, trying to fit a new habit, such as yoga, into your daily routine for longer than a few weeks can be difficult. These are a few motivational tips that I use for myself that I hope you will find helpful:

1. See it as a necessary part of your day:
One of the main barriers to yoga or any kind of exercise is, "I don't have enough time in the day." Yes, life is busy for many of us—especially if you're juggling caring for children or loved ones with work and projects. But, taking care of your body and mind is important, especially if you are caring for others — whether that's through daily yoga and meditation or some other practice to get your body moving.

2. Try to do yoga (or any type of exercise) at the same time every day:
After many years of trying to be flexible and fitting in yoga around the rest of my day, I have learned that this approach does not work well for me. It’s too easy to keep putting it off until "there is a better time” and then I end up not doing anything at all. When I do yoga at the same time every day I find it much easier to keep the daily habit.

So, what time is the best time to practice? For me, it is first thing in the morning. I am most likely to practice then and keep up with it then. After that, I can enjoy the benefits all day. Everybody is different though, and if after work or evenings are better for you, that’s fine too. Find your time slot and try as much as you can to stick with it.

When you do not have a schedule in place, your daily habits take over and again, it can be very difficult to bring something new into your daily routine. So, plan a time for yoga or meditation. Or better, find a class that you like and include it as part of your schedule.

3. Attend a class:
We now have several yoga classes at the J, which are designed to help you develop a regular habit of yoga by giving you a different variety to keep things fresh and interesting. Here are some options:

Sunset Yoga with DC Fray
Tuesdays, July 10-August 14, 7pm
Register here:
Get zen as the sun sets! Bring your mats, and DC Fray will bring the FUN (& glow sticks.) Whether you've been doing Yoga for years or it's your first time, all levels are welcome. Register here

Therapeutic Yoga
Classes begin June 24
Registration is now open! Class sizes are limited to 5 per class.
This is a great class for those who have experienced neurological or autoimmune imbalances; are affected by chronic pain related to fibromyalgia, arthritis, Parkinson's disease, depression, or cancer or other chronic conditions; or want a gentler yoga to revive and heal you. Three classes are available. Contact for details.

PIER (Post Injury Exercise & Rehab) Program has begun.
The PIER program addresses post rehabilitation needs related to injuries and chronic issues. It will also be offered as the next step after physical therapy and occupational therapy. The PIER program is an aquatic program that can incorporate exercises on land. Types of conditions that will be addressed: Back and Joint pain, Fibromyalgia, Heart Disease, Major and Minor Stroke, Achilles Tendon Tears, Arthritis, Auto-immune Diseases, Diabetes, Sports Injuries, Cancer And others as needed. Contact for details.

We also offer What' SUP Yoga (Stand Up Paddleboard Yoga) on Wednesday nights and Saturdays! Learn more here:

Hope to see you soon at a yoga class!

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JCCNV Co-Produces Play that Explores Jewish Value of Inclusion

Renee Eder on Tuesday, June 12, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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In Jewish teaching, Hillel (an important religious elder in Jewish history) challenges us to view our treatment of ourselves and others through the lens of our community’s values. He teaches that if any community exists only for itself, we aren’t being true to the lessons in Judaism that teach us to be inclusive, to “welcome the stranger,” and to incorporate those who are different from us. Inclusion is certainly a Jewish value to work toward.

Helen Murray (director) and Marc Acito (playwright) will present The Secrets of the Universe (and other songs), a play that focuses on the Jewish value of inclusion, and other Jewish values such as empathy and respect. The play will be performed from July 6-29, 2018 at the John Swayze Theatre in Fairfax, Virginia. This play is a co-production of the Hub Theatre and the J.

A description of the play is as follows:

In 1937, a physics professor at Princeton University received a call. The internationally renowned classical singer Marian Anderson was giving a concert at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton. But because she was African-American, Anderson was denied a hotel room. Instead she accepted an invitation to stay at the professor's home. That professor was Albert Einstein. The Secrets of the Universe is based on the true relationship of these titanic figures, a union of hearts, minds and souls in a quest to unlock the secrets of the cosmos.

The Secrets of the Universe (and other songs) is the 6th play Helen Murray has directed for the Hub Theatre since she co-founded it with Maggie Ulmer and Marey Oakes in 2008. The show marks Murray's artistic farewell to the DC area, as she completes her move to Colorado. A talented cast of DC area performers will bring this world premiere to life. The show is sponsored by David Bruce Smith Productions, a company that specializes in creating, designing, and composing limited-edition books on a variety of subjects: authors, historic figures, artists, and leaders. Learn more and buy tickets for the play here:

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Channeling Your Kids Boundless Energy with Dance

Renee Eder on Tuesday, May 29, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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Sometimes my kids get restless sitting around the house. I often wonder what the best way is to channel their seemingly boundless energy. I have come to realize that while traditional team sports are a good way to get some kids physically active, they are not a good fit for everyone. Dance classes are a great alternative to team sports, and at the J, we offer lessons for children as young as two or three and up to adult.

In my research, I have come to realize that participating in dance classes can be beneficial for kids of all ages. Let me explain how:

Dance Promotes Creativity

Participating in dance lessons promotes creativity and helps a child develop an appreciation for the arts. Dance is a form of self-expression. Children who explore the world of dance at an early age will find a constructive outlet for their creativity and a positive way to express themselves. Honing their creativity at a young age will help them later in life.

Dance Improves Classroom Performance

Studies show that children who participate in dance lessons tend to perform better in the classroom. Dance requires discipline and focus, which translates to an improved academic performance. In addition, dance lessons help reinforce educational basics, like counting. Children also learn to differentiate right from left and fast from slow.

Dance Improves Self-Esteem

During dance lessons, a child gains a better understanding of his/her body and how it moves. Children with a background in dance are typically more comfortable about their body and have improved levels of self-confidence. It takes great courage and confidence to dance on stage in front of an audience, and dance helps encourage both of these wonderful qualities. Dance also helps foster a positive attitude. The instructors at the J help create an encouraging environment that helps turn each dance lesson into a positive, constructive experience.

Dance Encourages Socialization

Dance lessons are a great place for kids to make new friends. With each class, children learn to improve their communication and social skills by interacting with other dancers in their class. They also learn how to work together as a team. In time, students learn how to cooperate and trust in one another. It's not uncommon for children to forge lifelong friendships from dance. If your child is fearful of performing in public or shy, taking classes at the J can help alleviate these fears and help your child feel more confident.

Dance Encourages an Active Lifestyle

In today's technology-driven world, it is becoming increasingly important for children to adopt a physically active lifestyle early on. Dance is the perfect way to keep kids physically active in a fun way. By bringing your child to the J, they will improve their flexibility, range of motion, stamina and their strength. The movements in dance also help improve balance, coordination and posture. Dance focuses heavily on proper body alignment and learning how to move the body to create fluid motion. It's no wonder dance has been used to help train athletes in some of today's most competitive sports like football and basketball.

Dance Helps Improve Behavioral Issues

Dancing is a skill that requires intense focus, discipline and coordination. Many parents find that dance lessons help improve behavioral issues, such as hyperactivity. Classes designed for young children are not quite as demanding, but as your child progresses in dance, their lessons will require more focus, dedication and discipline. The art of dancing tends to have a calming effect on children and also helps them release pent-up energy.

Dance is Fun!

This is perhaps the greatest benefit. Dancing is so much fun for kids. It allows them to stay active in a fun and exciting way. All the while, your child develops important social and emotional skills without even realizing it. As your child progresses, they can explore different areas of dance and make new friends in the process.

Dance Classes and an Upcoming Performance at the J is a dance program at the J that provides classes in ballet, modern, tap, jazz, hip hop, and acro for preschool, children, teens, and adults. To learn more about these classes, visit To learn more about summer camps, visit If you’d like to see if your preschooler is interested in taking lessons, bring him/her to the Preschool Performance of “It Could Always Be Worse,” an adaptation of the book written by Margot Zemach. The show is Sunday, June 3rd at 10:30am. For more information, contact

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8 Reasons to Come to the J Membership Meeting

Renee Eder on Tuesday, May 22, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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2018 marks the 40th year the JCCNV has held its annual membership meeting. That's almost as old as me! Have you attended an annual membership meeting in the past? The Annual Meeting is a great opportunity for our closest stakeholders to come together to appreciate the wide variety of time, treasure, and talent that it takes to run our thriving organization. We have a lot to highlight this year.
The meeting on Wednesday, May 30 at 7:30pm is certainly one to attend and here’s why:
  1. The entire community is invited. Come meet other J members, staff, volunteers, and leaders.
  2. Be in the know: If you are a member of the J, you’ll want to hear first-hand from our outgoing and incoming Presidents, as well as our Executive Director what is happening in the building and beyond it's walls.
  3. We will welcome incoming President David Yaffe: David Yaffe is a lawyer, an adjunct professor at GW Law School, and he and his wife, Deborah, have been members of the J since its inception. He was past co-president of his synagogue, Agudas Achim, and previously served as the chair of Hillels of Greater Washington. He was a board member of the Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning and has been active at the J for the past few years as a board member and chair of the JCC’s leadership development committee. He's also a husband, father of two, and proud grandfather. Join us in welcoming him.
  4. Our Keynote Speaker will be fascinating: Gil Preuss, Federation's new CEO, will speak to the future of our community as informed by the recent Brandeis University study that reported the plurality of Jews living in the Greater Washington area has shifted to Northern Virginia - surpassing Suburban Maryland and Washington, DC. What will this mean for our community? What should be the J's role in a changing landscape? We'll begin the conversation at the annual meeting but will be answering these questions for years to come.
  5. Staff and community members will be recognized for their leadership: The J will be awarding the Manny Gale Award for Volunteerism to Helen Getter; the Suzy Goldhammer Award for Service with Children and Youth to Dina Backer; the Eleanor Sue Finkelstein Award for Special Needs to Naina Chernoff; and the President's Recognition Award to Ed Faggen and Bob Shapiro.
  6. If you haven't seen our new renovations, this would be a great time to check them out!
  7. Refreshments will be served.
  8. Following the annual meeting, the new Capital Campaign Donor Wall will be revealed and toasted.
It’s a night that's not to be missed. We hope to see you there. If you have any questions about the event, please email
Prior to the annual meeting, volunteers from the past year are invited to attend the Annual Appreciation Reception which begins at 6:30pm. If you would like to attend, please RSVP to
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Shavuot Menu: The Cheesier the Better

Renee Eder on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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I love cheese- whether it's cream cheese, in a cheesecake, or by itself. Therefore, one of my favorite Jewish holidays is Shavuot -- a holiday where cheese is plentiful and encouraged! This year, Shavuot begins at sundown on Saturday, May 19 and ends at sundown on Monday, May 21.

Why is dairy encouraged on Shavuot?

One reason we eat dairy on Shavuot is the belief that because the Israelites had not yet received the kosher laws, they had prepared foods on the first Shavuot that did not follow kashrut. When they received the Torah, they read the new laws of kashrut and realized their meat dishes were not kosher, in accordance with God’s will– so they opted to eat dairy dishes only. Another reason is that the Hebrew word chalav (milk) has a numerical value of 40, which corresponds with the number of days Moses spent on Mount Sinai receiving the Torah. Still others say that Shavuot occurs during the fertile spring period, when animal mothers produce lots of fresh milk, and the abundance of milk is why we consume dairy.

It’s such a luxury to have an excuse to try different cheeses in every dish of the Shavuot meal. Here are some recipes you can try this year!

Shavuot at the J

To celebrate at the J, staff will be participating in a Shavuot Dairy Bake-Off! Awards will be given out to winners in multiple categories including: Creativity, Presentation, Taste, and Overall. We will share pics of the winning dishes on social media. In observance, the J will be closed at 5pm on Saturday, May 19, and all day on Sunday, May 20 and Monday, May 21 in observance of the Shavuot holiday.

However you celebrate, we wish you a happy Shavuot holiday!

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Things to Know About Jewish Day Camp

Renee Eder on Tuesday, May 8, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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I love spending time with my children. But, sometimes togetherness can make for a challenging time, especially during the summer when I'm working from home. Ideally, I could hope that my children will keep themselves busy for a few hours for a promised afternoon visit to the pool or the playground. But, it doesn't take long until they interrupt me for a glass of water, or because they are bored. What's a working mom or dad to do?
How can you provide your darlings with a meaningful and fun summer experience, while you are trying to get your work done? Maybe you’ve only heard about Jewish summer camp in passing. Maybe you or your partner already think it’s a great idea but one of you isn’t quite sold. Here’s what you need to know about how Jewish day camp can be a good fit for ANY family:
Because Jewish day camps are located much closer to home than Jewish overnight camps, the friends your child makes at camp are also close to home, making it that much easier for Jewish day camp friendships to last throughout the year. Camp events can also offer you and your entire family an entry portal into Jewish life and a way to meet new people in the community!
When it comes to camps, there is a diverse spectrum of choices in size and program right here at the J. We provide fun and formative experiences for school-age children from grades K-10. Through daily scheduling, field trips, special events, and leadership opportunities, campers from our youngest unit (Tzofim) to our oldest (Olim Bet) will look forward to augmented programming each year. For those who love dance, we have dance, and for those who love to swim, we have that too! There is something for everyone at J Camps!
Many Jewish day camps offer short (one or two weeks) and flexible (all different points throughout the summer) sessions so that your child can try out the experience without a serious time or monetary commitment. You could even try multiple camp programs in one summer, and make time for family vacations and beach trips. You might quickly find, however, that you’ve found the right fit for your family, and you’ll want to stay put.
The Jewish values curriculum is accessible and relatable to most, whatever your faith or affiliation. Jewish camps, such as J Camps, infuse values such as tikkun olam (repairing the world), kehillah (community), simcha (joy), manhigut (leadership) and more into the everyday camp culture. These are values that many parents agree are important for their children to learn and practice. This makes it very easy all families to connect with the content and feel comfortable in a Jewish environment.
J Camp registration is now open! For a summer of fun for your children, check out our camp brochure here and register here. Learn more at
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Staff Spotlight: Jennifer Kanarek

Renee Eder on Tuesday, May 1, 2018 at 12:00:00 am 
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A few years ago, I met Jennifer Kanarek, the NV Rides/J Rides manager here at the J. I instantly connected with her because of our shared desire to help seniors. This week, I’ll share what I’ve learned about Jennifer, her program, and an exciting upcoming event.

Jennifer grew up in Florida, and was fortunate to have all of her grandparents nearby. Throughout her life, she observed the challenges her parents faced in caring for her aging grandparents. Jennifer believes that this experience helped shaped her interest in helping older adults.

So far, Jennifer's career is testament to her desire to help the aging population. She has worked in non-profit management for 18 years, primarily in the Jewish community. After graduating from the University of Florida with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, she later pursued an MSW in Management and Community Practice from the University of Tennessee. There, she completed her field work at the Knox County Area Agency on Aging. Prior to joining NV Rides, she served as the volunteer coordinator for the Senior Companion program, and as an intern for a transitional housing program for homeless seniors. She started at the J as a Community Engagement Coordinator and is now the manager of NV Rides, a program that supports a network of volunteer driver programs administered by community-based organizations. 

The NV Rides program is a partnership between the J, Jewish Council for the Aging (JCA), and Fairfax County. Through the program, Jennifer and Gina Cocomello helped the J develop J Rides, a volunteer driver service that helps non-driving seniors stay engaged in their community. Both programs can always use the help of volunteer drivers. According to Jennifer, "if you are looking for a meaningful volunteer opportunity, please consider becoming a J Rides volunteers. We are in need of drivers throughout Northern Virginia, and you can set your own schedule." You can contact Jennifer at 703-537-3071 to learn more, or visit and

NV Rides is offering an opportunity for seniors and volunteers to learn more about their program and services. On May 17, join NV Rides in Clifton as it hosts “NV Rides: Safe Driving As You Age,” a morning of workshops offering tips and best practices to help you stay on the road safely and for as long as possible. Seniors, volunteers, and caregivers can attend this free safe-driving workshop to learn how to improve your health and well-being on and off the road, and explore safe and reliable transportation alternatives for you and your loved ones. The event will include speakers, an exhibitor fair and a light lunch. Click here to learn more. RSVP to Gina Cocomello, or call 703.537.3070


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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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