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How to Exercise for Brain Health

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

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

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

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

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


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But, I Don't Want to Go!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What We Do and What We Eat on Sukkot

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

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

What we eat on Sukkot

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

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

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

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Three Yom Kippur Customs Explained

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

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Pomegranates and Rosh Hashanah: What's the Connection?

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

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

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

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

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

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Friendship in Jewish Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best friends can be hard to find.

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

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Making Apples and Honey Exciting for Adults

Renee Eder on Tuesday, September 5, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Pictured: Apple Nachos

Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) is among my favorite holidays. And, I'll be honest with you, it's because I have a sweet tooth and I love the food that we eat, and the symbolism behind it! On Rosh Hashanah, we eat both sweet and rich foods, symbolizing happiness and prosperity, such as round challah bread (instead of the typical braided one) to celebrate continuity and the circle of life, and pomegranate seeds to represent an abundance of good deeds to come.

Of all the classic holiday foods associated with Rosh Hashanah, none are as universal as honey and apples, which remind us of the Garden of Eden and the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve.

Each year, kids love to dip their own apple wedges in a bowl of gooey honey. This year, it's time for the grown-ups to get a little more creative with apples and honey, as follows:

Pink Pearl Tart: A delicious and gorgeous way to enjoy apples and honey.

Apple Nachos: This recipe doesn't technically call for honey, but it should. So feel free to add it!

Apple and honey madeleines: These madeleines are delicious dipped in coffee or tea.

Grilled Apples with Cheese and Honey: Dessert meets the cheese plate when you drizzle grilled apples and flavorful cheese with honey and toasted pecans for a quick and healthy appetizer.

Fontina, Walnut, Apple and Honey Grilled Cheese: It's super easy to make and incredibly delicious.  You could pair it with a salad to serve as a complete lunch but it was divine with a cup of coffee

Chicken and Apples in Honey Mustard Sauce: Simple and quick chicken breast with apples cooked in broth, with a honey mustard sauce.

Apple, Pear and Gin Cocktail: Raise a glass to the new year with this delicious cocktail!

Want to pick some apples just in time for Rosh Hashanah, that can be used to make some of these delicious recipes? Come to our Community Apple Picking on Sunday, September 17, from 1pm - 3pm at Stribling Orchard. Get ready for school and Rosh Hashanah with an afternoon of picking delicious apples to go with your honey! Bring a picnic and enjoy breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains while learning about the Jewish New Year. Enjoy PJ Library® stories and making fun apple crafts, then go out and pick apples at this 8th generation orchard. Do a mitzvah (good deed) and donate a portion of your picked apples to Food for Others, a local food pantry in Fairfax. Remember to bring a hat, sunscreen, and a snack. Please register by September 13. Program and entrance to orchard free. You pay for your own apples. Contact for more details.


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Staff Spotlight: Shahana Lal

Interview by Renee Eder, featuring Shahana Lal on Tuesday, August 29, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Shahana Lal is the newest addition to the marketing and development team at the J. The amazing part about her being part of the marketing team is that I get to work with her! I had the chance to interview her yesterday, and I learned a lot that I will share with you. When you make it to the J, be sure to say hello to Shahana! She is truly a friendly, smart, and creative person, with a fascinating background! Below are the answers to the interview questions that she provided:

Renee: Tell us a little bit about yourself (where you're from, your hobbies, your education, your hopes and dreams (jk :)

Shahana: Hi! I'm from Bethesda, but was born and grew up in India before moving to the US as a teen. I studied Sociology at the University of Maryland due to my passion for and interest in social justice and women's empowerment. In my free time, I love to sketch and draw illustrations, go on nature hikes, binge watch Game of Thrones and anything on Netflix, feed my caffeine addiction, and check off as many countries as I can from my travel bucket list!

Renee: What do you like most about working at the J?

Shahana: While it's tough to pick just one thing, one of the first things I noticed about the J is how it feels like one big family. There are so many people who go way back, sharing so many memories and friendships at the J, and everyone is so inclusive and welcoming. I love walking into the building and seeing groups of friends at all age levels-- preschool children giggling together, young campers sharing jokes over lunch, camp counselors high-fiving their campers, young parents picking their kids up after their fitness class, friends playing cards in the lobby and adult lounge. So I guess ONE of the things I like most is the people!

Renee: What do you do in your position at the J?

Shahana: As the Marketing and Development Coordinator, I support the J with its fundraising goals, highlight the J's vast range of programming and services that have something for everyone from infants to octogenarians, help articulate their importance to the community, support the Capital Campaign to improve the J experience for our members and guests, and give everyone a window into the J through our Instagram - don't forget to give us a follow @jccnv!

Renee: Why would someone want to be a member at the J?

Shahana: To be in a supportive and motivating environment where one feels encouraged to accomplish their fitness goals, have opportunities to strengthen one's mental wellness, expand one's cultural and artistic tastes, get educated by instructors who foster independence, find ways to serve the community, make lasting friendships, and most of all, have fun! Need I say more?

Renee: What have you learned so far in your position?

Shahana: A lot! I've taken many great notes from my wonderful bosses, but one of my biggest takeaways so far is how to work hard and have a lot of fun at the same time, which isn't so hard when you love what you do!

Renee: What do you aspire to do at the J?

Shahana: Help the J's vision for nurturing a sense of community by finding more ways to give back, educate, and respond to instances of injustice or inequality. As someone who's been passionate for social change for as long as I can remember, I seek out sources of inspiration and hope, and the J is definitely a place of inspiration! Since it first opened its doors, the J has been a symbol for progress and fostered a sense of culture, diversity and inclusion. I feel lucky to be a part of this community, and look forward to continuing this legacy with my colleagues and fellow members.

Thanks so much, Shahana! J And, as I responded back to her in a text, "You rock!"

P.S. As Shahana mentioned, she updates our Instagram regularly. To reiterate what she said, please give us a follow at @jccnv. She posts some fun and creative pics, contests, etc.

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The Fears and Realities of Cycling

Renee Eder on Tuesday, August 22, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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I'll be honest with you- I haven't ridden my bike in a long time. I have thought about it though, especially with my daughter enjoying her bike so much these days. Similar to me, most of us that don't ride bikes have found plenty of reasons NOT to go riding, so let's take on those fears one by one.

Fear #1: Biking requires too much gear.

Reality: The basic necessities for cycling are just you, a bike, and a helmet. While other gear is nice to have, it can come later. Just get on a bike and go.

Fear #2: It's costly to buy a bike and cycling gear.

Reality: Maybe, but it's far cheaper than buying and operating a car. Per a 2013 AAA study, a car costs an average of $9,122 per year to operate (based on 15,000 miles). Bikes, on the other hand, don't need gas and are free to park. They have fewer components and require less-expensive maintenance.

Fear #3: Only expensive bikes are any good.

Reality: While pricey bikes can be "nicer" to ride, almost any bike in good working condition can get you to where you want to go. It may take you longer or not have gears for up-hills, but you will get there.

Fear #4: Biking takes too much time.

Reality: It usually requires extra planning and riding time, but, depending on the distance and traffic, it might actually take less time to bike than it does to drive. Plus, you burn calories and can run errands while you ride.

Fear #5: Bicycling is too dangerous.

Reality: Most cyclists ride for many years without mishap. Acting like a driver, being predictable, wearing bright clothing, being aware of your surroundings, anticipating driver behavior, making eye contact with drivers, having hands ready on brakes, watching for car doors opening, following traffic rules and claiming your lane will help improve your safety.

Fear #6:  Bike seats are uncomfortable.

Reality: Bikes usually come with a generic, unisex saddle. If yours feels uncomfortable, try upgrading to one with gel padding or one that's gender specific. Bike seats also come in different sizes and shapes, such as cutaway models.

Fear #7: I'm too out of shape to ride.

Reality: Riding your bike will help you get back into shape. In the beginning, don't be afraid to stop and walk, especially on a hill. The more you bike, the easier it will get. Of course, if you have a serious health condition, check with your doctor before riding.

As you can see, there are lots of great reasons to dust off your bike (or even ride for the very first time). In fact, if you want to try cycling, a good place to start are our cardio cycling classes at the J! See our group exercise class schedule for details on classes.

If you are an intermediate or advanced rider, please join us for Cycle Fest this year on September 24. Enjoy a Sunday morning ride in beautiful Warrenton, departing to and from Molon Lave Vineyards. Riders, friends, and family are invited to come and enjoy the day. This event benefits Semper K9, a local, veteran-run nonprofit that trains rescued and donated dogs to assist injured members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Semper K9 provides service dogs for psychiatric alert and mobility challenges free of charge to wounded service members. Learn more here. Hope to see you there!

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Welcome to Our New Shlicha, Liat Lisha

Renee Eder on Tuesday, August 15, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Since 2006, we have been fortunate to host seven creative and passionate shlichim, who connected Israel to our community by spearheading programs, leading meaningful discussions, and engaging with local synagogues.
This year, we are thrilled to welcome Liat Lisha, who will continue the important work of our shlichim by working at the J, with area synagogues, Jewish agencies/organizations, and at other locations throughout Northern Virginia.
Here’s a brief bio so you can get to know her better:

Liat was born and raised in Ashdod, Israel to a family of Moroccan descent. Prior to becoming a shlicha, she worked in Tel Aviv, as a Web Fraud Content Analyst for IBM, and also worked for the non-profit SheCodes, a group that aims to bring gender equality to the Israeli hi-tech industry. Liat served as an Intelligence Analyst in the IDF for three years, and was the head of an intelligence team of 12 soldiers.
As a teen, Liat was chosen by the Israeli Ministry of Education to take part in a summer program called Seeds of Peace, where she brought together Israeli, Palestinian, American, Egyptian, and Jordanian teens to have an open dialogue about tolerance and acceptance. She continues to work with this group as a project manager.
Liat loves to be physically active, and enjoys meeting with people to discuss Israeli politics, social issues, tech, the Israeli economy, and fashion. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and trying new recipes, music, and basketball.
You can learn more about Liat and our JCCNV-JAFI Shiri Rahamim Shlichut Program here.

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Northern Virginia Delegation Heads to Maccabi Games

Renee Eder on Monday, August 7, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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I don’t play a sport, and sadly I am far from being a teenager. But, if I did and if I was, I would certainly want to participate in the JCC Maccabi Games®! Last night (Sunday, August 6) at the Times Union Center in Albany, NY, hundreds of Jewish athletes, coaches, and fans from around the world gathered for the opening ceremonies of the 2017 JCC Maccabi Games® and Artsfest, an Olympic style sporting competition held for Jewish athletes that are between the age of 13 and 16.

This year, there are 21 delegations from around the world competing in sporting events ranging from basketball and hockey to swimming and golf. The athletes will be competing in venues around Albany, starting last night and ending on August 11.

Around 2,600 Jewish teens participate in the JCC Maccabi Games every summer, including our local athletes from the Northern Virginia Delegation, including 16 athletes, 3 coaches, and 1 delegation head (Allison Merims). Our delegation is specifically comprised of:

  • Athletes: 9-16U* baseball, 2-14U tennis, 1-16U tennis, 2-16U ice hockey, 1-14U basketball, 1-16U swimming (all boys!) Our baseball, ice hockey, and basketball athletes will all be playing on Mixed Teams in their respective sports. They will be playing with athletes from other delegations to comprise a full team.
  • Coaches: 2 baseball, 1 tennis (Jeff Dannick, our Executive Director, and an accomplished tennis player, is our Tennis Coach)

The JCC Maccabi ArtsFest® is also happening concurrently. Specialties include musical theater, acting/improv, vocal music, rock band, star reporters (Journalism/TV), visual arts, jazz ensemble/world music, and dance.

This year’s NoVA Delegation is the largest that NoVA has sent in many years, and we wish them lots of luck in their respective sports. We will continue to provide updates about the NoVA Delegation on our Facebook page! Please also check out the Maccabi games page on our website to learn more and see how you or your teenager can get involved in future games!

*denotes age of players on team

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Tu B’Av — Valentine’s Day’s Jewish Older Sibling

Renee Eder on Tuesday, August 1, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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I love my husband, kids, pets, good friends, and my job at the J! Next week, I can express all this love during Tu B’Av, the ancient day of love, which starts Sunday night (8/6) and goes through Monday (8/7).

Did you know that, in ancient times, Tu B’Av started as a singles mixer, of sorts? According to the Talmud, Jewish women would go dancing in the vineyards and unmarried men would go to the fields to pick out a wife. The women would wear white dresses that they had borrowed, so that no one would be embarrassed if she didn’t own the proper garments.

Today, the day is celebrated in Israel, much like Valentine’s Day in the United States, with flowers, romantic dinner dates and evening soirées. It is considered to be a good date for a wedding. Lovers taking an evening stroll outside can enjoy nature’s mood lighting, since the holiday often falls on an evening with a full moon.

If you are in the U.S., whether Tu B’Av is a time for a romantic date, to hang out with friends, or catch up on cat videos, the holiday  is a good excuse to connect with the world around you. Here are seven clever ways to celebrate the holiday.

  1. Host a White Party: Host a Tu B’Av party for single friends, where all partygoers wear snappy, all-white attire, to commemorate the Tu B’Av custom of wearing white from ancient times.
  2. Do a Clothing Swap: On Tu B’Av, the women used to borrow dresses from one another so the men could not tell the ‘haves’ from the ‘have-nots.’ Why not hold your own clothing swap with friends and family?
  3. Send Tu B’Av Greetings: Tu B’Av is the perfect time to send a message to someone you’ve had your eye on. Send greetings to wish them a happy Tu B’Av and express your love!
  4. Fill Up Your Cup… Mazel Tov!: Since this holiday marks the grape harvest, why not celebrate with a glass of wine and make a toast for the season’s blessing.
  5. Gather with Friends: Although Tu B’Av is traditionally an acknowledgment of love between husband and wife, it’s still a perfect time to get together with the people you love… even if it’s platonic.
  6. Tell Someone You Love Them: If you’ve been waiting to move your relationship to the next level, Tu B’Av gives you the perfect reason to pop the girlfriend/boyfriend question. If they are not ready, you can just say the power of the Talmud made you do it.

However you spend Tu B’Av, we wish you lots of love and good times with the ones you love!

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Who are the Jewish Major League Baseball Players?

Renee Eder on Tuesday, July 25, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Photo: Joc Pederson, Credit: JTA

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a die-hard baseball fan. Thirteen years ago, when I heard the news that we were getting a baseball team, I nearly flipped out from happiness and excitement. Since then, I haven’t missed a Washington Nationals game (I’ve mostly watched them on tv, but have also seen some great games at Nats Park!)

I remember wondering if Ryan Zimmerman and Max Scherzer were members of the tribe. Turns out that they are not, but 11 other players and a manager are. Below is the list of some of the Jewish major leaguers. Click on the player’s name below for details about him and his stats:

  1. Ryan Braun (RF/LF), Milwaukee Brewers
  2. Alex Bregman (SS), Houston Astros
  3. Scott Feldman (P), Cincinnati Reds
  4. Brad Goldberg (P), Chicago White Sox
  5. Ian Kinsler (2B), Detroit Tigers
  6. Joc Pederson (CF), Los Angeles Dodgers
  7. Kevin Pillar (CF), Toronto Blue Jays
  8. Danny Valencia (1B/3B/OF), Seattle Mariners

Speaking of baseball, did you know that the J has a baseball team that is going to the JCC Maccabi Games® as part of the Northern Virginia delegation? At the Maccabi Games, for five days, teen athletes/artists participate in tournaments, community service projects, and exciting social events with Jewish athletes and artists from around the world! Learn more here.

Want to experience major league baseball with members of the Jewish community? Come out to the ballgame on Sunday, August 27, 2017 for Federation’s third annual Jewish Community Day at Nationals Park. Join more than 1,500 community members at Grand Slam Sunday and watch the Nationals take on the Mets! Get your tickets here for the J's ticket block here: Hope to see you at the game!

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Yay! I'm having a Birthday Party at the J!

Renee Eder on Monday, July 17, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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When I asked my daughter what kind of a birthday party she wants this year, she was very particular. She said she wants a party where she can learn to cook, and can invite her whole soccer team, the Brownie troop, and some of her other best friends. My first thought is that there is no way I can fit all these children in my kitchen, followed by the fact that I can't cook, so I shouldn't be teaching other people how to do so, followed by the dread of having to clean my house before and after the party.


Then, I opened Centertainment and wa-la! The J offers themed birthday parties (including cooking) for a reasonable price for up to 25 kids. All we have to do is show up, order a few pizzas, and bring a cake. Seems like a no brainer to me!


Are you considering the J for your child's upcoming party? Here are some of the themes available:


 -Arts and Crafts Party

Ages 5 and up 
Partygoers will enjoy creating their own masterpieces at this artsy-party! Art projects are a great way for children to express themselves and discover their creativity. 

-Cooking Party
Ages 5 and up
Partygoers-turned-pastry chefs will enjoy baking their own tasty treats! They’ll also get to decorate their own aprons or toques (chefs’ hats) as keepsakes to use in future culinary experiences! 

-Games Party
Ages 5 and up
Relay races, Freeze Tag, What Time Is It Mr. Fox?, Red Light, Green Light, and more—Parachute activities, all sorts of sports; your favorite games galore!

-Gym Jam Party
Ages 3-4 years old
Doesn’t everybody love a good ‘Jam?! Party includes free play and activities such as mini basketball, soccer, scooters, tunnels, and a moon bounce! The last 15 minutes of the party includes a fun parachute activity for both parents and children. 

-Pool Party
Kids will enjoy an hour in the pool with our staff as we play games and splash around in our heated pool at any time of the year! 

-Ballerina Party
Give your budding ballerina a birthday to remember! Our enthusiastic, energetic dance instructors will lead a 45-minute ballet session, including a ballet class, demonstrate dances from the theme ballet, and invite party participants to dance roles of various characters using costumes and props! We will also lead a craft such as decorating pointe shoes, wands, tiaras, or another craft relating to the theme of choice! Choose from Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, or the Nutcracker for a special ballet-themed day! Boys are invited too — just let us know so we can plan accordingly! 

-Hip Hop Party
Does your dancer dream of starring in their own music video? Let them get a taste of the spotlight on their special day as our professional dance instructors lead a fun Hip Hop dance party! This will include a warm-up, dance games, and the creation of a dance routine to your birthday girl or boy’s favorite song!


You can make your child’s birthday celebration one to remember at the J, while making it a stress-free event with minimal work for yourself! J parties are available on Sundays from either 11a–1p or 1p–3p. The first hour is reserved for party activities while the second hour is reserved for food/cake etc. 


All parties and fees accommodate up to 15 children (with an additional fee for more children- up to 25). Fee includes:

• Party room for two hours

• Set-up/clean-up

• Party staff (staffed accordingly)

• Paper products and generic room decorations available


Interested in learning more? Email or call 703.537.3097. 

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Protein-packed Lunches to Pack for Camp

Renee Eder on Tuesday, July 11, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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As the school year came to a close, I was especially happy about one thing: not having to pack lunch for my kids for a while! It was always a challenge trying to figure out what to pack-- particularly what they would eat as opposed to what would end up in the trash, or what would come home with one bite missing and the rest intact.

When I signed my kids up for camp, I remembered that the lunch dilemma was far from over. I am still tasked with coming up with a variety of enticing and delicious well-balanced lunches for my kids.  Here's a list of some protein-rich favorites (and how much protein is contained in each) to ensure your kids get a well-balanced and nutritious meal that fills them with energy and keeps them smiling all day long:

(1) Greek yogurt (1 cup = 17 grams) Greek yogurt, also called strained yogurt, is a very thick type of yogurt. It tastes delicious, has a creamy texture, and is rich in many nutrients. Non-fat greek yogurt has protein at 48% of calories. One 170 gram (6 ounce) container has 17 grams of protein, with only 100 calories. Try to choose one without added sugar. Full-fat Greek yogurt is also very high in protein, but contains more calories.

(2) Hard-boiled eggs (1 Egg = 6 grams) Eggs are loaded with vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, eye-protecting antioxidants and brain nutrients that most people don’t get enough of. Whole eggs are high in protein, but egg whites are almost pure protein.

(3)  Broccoli (1 cup = 5 grams) Broccoli is an incredibly healthy vegetable, loaded with vitamin C, vitamin K, fiber and potassium. Broccoli also contains various bioactive nutrients believed to help protect against cancer. Calorie for calorie, it is high in protein compared to most vegetables.

(4) Avocado (1 med. avocado = 3 grams) Fresh avocados can be a creamy and delicious addition to a sandwich or they can be enjoyed as a lunchtime snack. They can be a great substitute for foods that are high in saturated fats, and are also the main ingredient in guacamole (yum!)

(5) Tuna fish (1 cup = 39 grams) Tuna is low in both fat and calories, so what's left is mostly just protein. Like other fish, tuna is also very high in various nutrients and contains a decent amount of omega-3 fatty acids.

According to the USDA MyPlate program and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, protein should be incorporated into a healthy diet. Hope your child is enjoying camp and the healthy protein-packed lunches you are packing!

Did you know?. . . If your child is not going to camp at this time, you can still sign him or her up for camp at the J! Our 2017 J Camp registration is now open!

Camp runs from July 3-August 18, from 9am-4pm. We offer swim lessons - field trips - special guests - and more!

Check out all of our camps by clicking here!

Complete the Camp Forms!


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Fitness Tips On-the-Go

Renee Eder on Tuesday, June 27, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Today we live busy lives; however, most of our jobs don't require much physical activity. The only running we sometimes do is to the next appointment or meeting. And if you are anything like me, when you're finally home and can take a breath, you play games, watch TV, or read. Over time, this physical inactivity can take a toll on us both physically and emotionally.

So, what can you do as a fill-in if you can’t make it to the J to work out? Check us out on YouTube. These are some of the videos you will find on our channel to help you target certain areas of your body:

If you feel like you don’t have time for exercise, it’s important to make time! Regular physical activity can reduce your chance of diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and some forms of cancer. As you age, being more active can make it easier to get around, and even decrease the chance of falling. It's also a big factor in maintaining a healthy body weight. Being active can make us feel better, and help us manage depression and anxiety.

What are your reasons to become more active? How will regular exercise benefit you? Come to the J and use our gym, take our classes, and hire one of our personal trainers. You will be glad you did. I hope to see you at the J soon! Until then, I hope these and other exercises will be helpful when you can’t make it to the gym!

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Staff Spotlight: Michelle Pearlstein

Renee Eder on Tuesday, June 20, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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When you think of a development professional, what comes to mind? The first thing some would say is raising money to support an organization. Other would think of the compelling opportunities that person creates for donors, while others recognize how the development person makes the experience of giving satisfying and rewarding. When you think of Michelle Pearlstein, the J’s Development Associate, all of these things come to mind.

Local to our area, Michelle has been with the J for seven years. What makes her unique is that she had no big dreams of raising money. She just wanted to help people in our community have access to the programs they enjoy, and knows that raising money and awareness are both essential to do so.

Michelle moved to Northern Virginia when she was 6 year old. She started that same summer at the J’s Camp Achva. For middle school and high school, she attended Lake Braddock and later went on to study history and religion at Miami University in Southwest Ohio.

After college, Michelle spent a year in Israel on a gap year program, and worked for the American Jewish Committee organizing programs for interfaith families in Jewish life. It was her dream job (in her dream location), but he realized it was not sustainable when she had kids.

She returned to Northern Virginia, and worked part time teaching high school students and as the Israeli specialist at Olam Tikvah Hebrew School. She then assumed the role as a part-time staff member at the J in Community Engagement, supporting the Growing Jewish Families and PJ Library programs. After a year, she moved to the development position she is in today. Michelle has a husband named Dave, and two children, Jacob (16) and Sarah (14), who both went through Camp Achva!

As someone who has always worked at non-profits, Michelle believes she does her best work when she works for an organization that she cares about. She says that the people who come to the J make it fulfilling for her; as do the people she works with. At the J, we are all truly one big family. In fact, more than 40 staff members at the J have already contributed more than $105,700 to support facility improvements and programmatic development through the Our J. Our Community. Our Future. Capital Campaign.

Michelle, along with all the staff at the J, know that more comfortable and inspiring space will enhance programs in our building, and new programming will help even more people feel connected to the Jewish community! Check out some of the amazing updates so far, here.

We hope you will come enjoy everything the J has to offer, and consider donating! Every gift makes a difference as we work towards our goal!


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Why Challah. . . and not Pumpernickel or Rye?

Renee Eder on Monday, June 12, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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At a Friday night Shabbat dinner, the blessing over the challah is typically done. Sometimes, I look at the bread and wonder, “(w)hy can’t we be doing this prayer over pumpernickel, cinnamon raisin bread, a New York bagel, or even a loaf of Wonder bread?” Why does it have to be challah? I also wonder if there will be any left for French toast the next morning!

Is it the delicious aroma and scrumptious sweet taste of the freshly baked special Jewish bread that makes it the first choice at our Friday night dinners? Not exactly!  Challah is eaten rather than any other bread, because Challah is both sweeter and richer, being made with egg as well as wheat. A sweeter, tastier “rich man’s food” is a more fitting a symbol of the Manna which G-d provided.

Challah is also a braided bread, and the braids have meaning. We braid each one with three strands, together; the two Challah’s it's customary to eat have six strands total. This signifies the six days of the week preceding the Shabbat. When we braid the Challah, we signify bringing those six days together creating unity and harmony in our lives by celebrating Shabbat.    

The braiding of the challah may also symbolize:

  • A symbol of the intertwining of the holy days with the secular days of the week, as Friday passes into the Sabbath.
  • A symbol of the connectedness the Sabbath brings, with its purpose of allowing time for family, friends and relationship strengthening. Like the segments of the braid coming together, Shabbat brings unity.

According to My Jewish Learning, “(c)hallah, however you bake it, continues to play a central, delicious role in the rhythm of Jewish life. Through migration, diaspora, and agriculture, it became something just as diverse as the people who bake it every Friday.”

Here are some recipes for different types of challah that you and your family can make:

Classic Challah

Honey Whole Wheat Challah

Savory Za’atar Challah

The Ultimate Gluten-Free Challah

Vegan Challah

Rainbow Challah

Hope you are able to spend many Shabbat meals with your loved ones enjoying challah, however you like to make it!

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Jewish Apps You’ll Love

Renee Eder on Tuesday, June 6, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Apps can be fun, educational, and can even save you money (i.e. Cartwheel!) They keep kids busy for hours on long trips, and can even teach them new things.

Every now and then, an app comes along that actually offers users the opportunity for spiritual reflection. The following apps, designed for people who are interested in Judaism, can make learning about Jewish holidays and other Jewish stuff fun for families:

  • Jonah Run: An Infinite Runner Game Set in Temple Times! Test your reflexes as you race along in Jewish Temple times over the ancient docks of Jaffa, across the sea enroute to Tarshish, and into the belly of a fish while you control Jonah, son of Amittai, as he runs away from his mission to bring the Lord’s prophecy to the people of Ninevah. You can try your hand at running forever or repent and be forgiven. Either way, Jonah Run is downright biblical. Cost: Free Available On: App Store and Google Play 
  • Jewish Baking App: Let’s Bake Challah: Make challah without getting your hands sticky. Mix it, braid it, bake it, decorate it, bless it and eat it - it’s the whole challah experience for your mobile device. Cost: Free Available On: App Store
  • Mighty Shofar: This app enables you to build your own authentic shofar sequences and songs. You can choose from three different kinds of shofars: Yemenite, Gemsbok, or Ram’s horn. Four sounds are available with each horn: Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah, and the Tekiah Gdolah. Record and store your own sound sequences through the apps recorder. Once your sequence or sound has been played simply shake your device and hear the replay of your most recent sound or sequence. Cost: Free Available On: App Store and Google Play
  • Omer Counter: The 49-day period between the second night of Passover and the holiday of Shavuot is called the omer. Many Jews participate in a special practice of counting these days Sefirat HaOmer. Chabad’s Omer Counter & Assistant helps keep track of those days and offers daily meditations in Hebrew and English. Cost: Free Available On: App Store and Google Play

Hope you and your families enjoy these fun apps. Hope the see you soon at the J!



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Did You Know that this Month is Jewish American Heritage Month?

Renee Eder on Tuesday, May 30, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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I didn’t know it was Jewish American Heritage Month this month. Did you? They don’t publicize it a lot, but it’s true. . . we have our very own month! And there are lots of reasons to celebrate!

By Congressional resolution and Presidential proclamation, MAY is Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM). JAHM is a national month of recognition of the more than 360-year history of Jewish contributions to American culture. JAHM acknowledges the achievements of American Jews in fields ranging from sports and arts and entertainment to medicine, business, science, government, and military service. This year, the theme is American Jews in Medical Research.

Examples include:

  • Biochemist Gertrude Elion (1918-1999) developed life-saving drugs, including the first chemotherapy for childhood leukemia and treatments for lupus, hepatitis, arthritis, gout, and other diseases.
  • Virologist Jonas Salk (1914-1995) created the first vaccines against polio.
  • Geneticist Baruch Blumberg (1925-2011) both discovered the Hepatitis B virus and helped develop the first vaccine to prevent it.
  • Mathilde Krim (b. 1926), the founding chair of amfAR (the American Foundation for AIDS Research), received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000 for her commitment to AIDS patients and research.
  • Neuroscientist Eric Richard Kandel (b. 1929) received the 2000 Nobel Prize for his research on the physiological basis of memory storage in neurons
  • Medical physicist Rosalyn S. Yalow (1921-2011) became the second woman to win a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine when she shared the 1977 prize for her work in the development of radioimmunoassay, a technique used to measure minute amounts of substances in the body.

The groundbreaking medical research conducted by these dedicated individuals, among countless others, continues to improve and save lives. The JAHM Website features stories of Jewish Americans that were selected for their contributions to and impact on the American public. Learn more here.

Hope you enjoy the rest of JAHM and that you are your family have a Happy Shavuot (a holiday that begins tonight and goes through tomorrow that commemorates the giving of the Torah)


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Why Do We Eat Cheesecake on Shavuot?

Renee Eder on Tuesday, May 23, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Next week we celebrate the Jewish holiday of Shavuot and it involves one of my favorite things — eating cheesecake!

Shavuot is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. The two day long holiday, which begins on May 30 this year, marks the end of the seven week Counting of the Omer– the time period between Passover and the day God delivering the Torah to Moses and the Israelites on Mt. Sinai. 

So, what's with the cheesecake? Actually, there could be a number of reasons for the association of dairy with Shavuot. One reason is that some believe 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, as explained in Tribe Magazine, 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.

In Israel, Shavuot is celebrated with fun water fights, lots of dairy dishes and desserts, and farmers from different parts of the country taking turns bringing their fruit and vegetable samples to Jerusalem – to the president. 

 However you celebrate, we hope you and your family have a happy Shavuot (with lots of cheesecake, if you desire it!)

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Celebrating 69 Years: Amazing Israeli Technology

Renee Eder on Tuesday, May 16, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Israel is 69 years young, and you would be amazed what the small, but mighty, country has accomplished during this time. In honor of Israel’s Independence Day, let’s look at some of the amazing technology that was invented there! These were excerpted from the Times of Israel, where there are 64 other reasons to celebrate Israel this year:

  1. Israelis invented Waze, as well as a way to save children/pets locked in hot cars: Creators of the popular Israeli navigational app Waze introduced a new feature to greatly reduce the number of children left inadvertently by parents in hot vehicles, which sometimes ends tragically. Thanks to the innovation, called Child Reminder, users are notified when they arrive at their destination not to forget their child when exiting their vehicle. The customizable notification can also be used to remind people not to forget their pets, groceries or anything else.
  2. Israel helped secure the Rio Olympics: Several Israeli companies provided key components in the measures Brazil deployed to ensure a safe event. These included a high-resolution imaging satellite, street level surveillance, special consulting and video-synopsis technology. Israeli firm International Security and Defense Systems (ISDS) was the main supplier of security solutions for the Games.
  3. Israel invented “smart road” technology: Israeli startup ElectRoad is testing the first under-the-road electric technology that not only charges a car’s battery but powers a vehicle in real time. In Tel Aviv, the company, in partnership with the Municipality, began a study of the country’s first electric road, which could be used to charge electric cars as they drive. Its objective is to see how the “smart road” technology responds to traffic and weather over an extended period. If successful, electric cars could have smaller batteries, making them lighter and less expensive.
  4. Israeli invention helps stroke victims walk again: The Times of Israel reported that Yokneam-based ReWalk Robotics, the innovative medical device company which has developed bionic walking assistance systems, is working with Harvard University on a new exoskeleton “soft suit” for MS and stroke victims who can’t walk by themselves but are not paralyzed to get around. Previously, the ReWalk system made it possible for quadriplegics to walk again. The new lighter-weight, lower-cost device will help a much larger cohort to move about.
  5. Israeli scientists have further developed breathalyzer technology so that it can now diagnose 17 diseases, including cancers and neurodegenerative conditions. Med Device Online reported in early January the project, led by Hossam Haick from the Technion Institute of Technology, collected data from 1,400 people to create “breathprints” for diseases like cancer, ulcerative colitis and multiple sclerosis and then uses artificial intelligence to make a diagnosis.

Do you love Israel as much as I do? If so, I hope to see you at Israel Fest this Sunday at the J! Highlights are as follows: Climb Masada on the Rock Wall • Hands-on activities & exhibits • Food for purchase • PJ Library Activities • Go Gaga for the Gaga Pit • Moonbounces • Green Screen • Israeli Dancing with Markid Mike • DrummingWorkshops • Giant Size Games in Gan Sacer Park • Sidewalk Chalk Art & Murals • Israel-style shuk (market) • Face painting • Kotel • Balloon twisting • cotton candy • Meet Canaan Dogs • and MORE! Find out more here!

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Emotional Benefits of Exercise

Renee Eder on Tuesday, May 9, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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If you come to our gym and ask some of the people why they work out, you would hear reasons including, “I want to lose weight,” “I have an (event) coming up and want to fit into my (dress or suit),” or “I can’t be seen in a swimsuit like this!” What many people don’t realize is that exercise has emotional benefits, as well.

Whether you are running, doing yoga, or lifting weights, moving your body on a regular basis can help you feel great in more ways than one. Some of the emotional health benefits of exercise include:

  • Reduced stress and less anxiety: Research on anxiety and depression shows that exercise can help you relax, boost your confidence, and improve your mood, in addition to the physical benefits of an active lifestyle. Exercise makes you feel less tension by reducing levels of the body’s stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline.
  • Improving mood: Working up a sweat with a run or a workout class can also help put a smile on your face. Exercise stimulates the production of endorphins, also known as “happy” chemicals. Endorphins are neurotransmitters in your brain that induce feelings of euphoria and act as the body’s natural painkillers.
  • Positive self-image: Adding exercise into your daily routine will help increase your sense of pride and build back your self-esteem over time. Shedding those extra pounds and noting your body’s newfound strength and stamina can encourage a positive “can-do” attitude to tackle all areas of your life with a sense of optimism.
  • Greater energy: Research suggests regular exercise can increase energy levels, even among people suffering from chronic medical conditions associated with fatigue, like cancer and heart disease. It may seem counterintuitive, but researchers say expending energy by engaging in regular exercise may pay off with increased energy in the long run.
  • Better sleep: As little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise, such as walking or cycling, can dramatically improve the quality of your nighttime sleep, especially when done on a regular basis.

Exercising should be fun and tailored to who you are! Take a weight training class with your friends. Listen to your favorite music and run on the treadmill at the J. Swim a few laps at our pool with your kids. Choose something that gets your heart pumping and that you enjoy doing to make it easier to be consistent.

Mother's Day Gift Idea from the J's Health & Fitness Dept.

Moms are the heart, soul, and cornerstone of a family. Show yours how much she means to you by giving her the gift of health!

Special Mother’s Day Personal Training Gift Certificates are available from May 8 to May 14th. A 10% discount is being offered  on new client starter packages. Treat Mom (or yourself) to a special personalized workout. Email to purchase your gift certificate! Learn more about our wellness offerings, including classes, workout facility, and trainers here. Hope to see you at the J!


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Staff Spotlight: Shae Agee

Renee Eder on Monday, May 1, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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You need to be a special person to be a membership director. Not only does someone in this role bring in new members; he or she has to keep current ones coming back and make sure customer service and customer satisfaction are of the highest quality. The membership director is also tasked with generating excitement and interest in the J and in the community.

At the J, we have a special, talented person who is pretty new in this role at our center. Her name is Shae Agee, and she previously served in a similar position at the YWCA in Washington, DC and at the Trinity Center for Women in DC.

Shae was born in Georgia, but as an Army brat, she lived mostly in the DC area and in NJ, near the shore. She has been an athlete her entire life; playing soccer, softball, tennis and basketball, and has been in the health and fitness industry for 20 years and loves it! She is also a singer and sings for a professional group in DC, and is married with a 3-year-old son, who is the light of her life!

Shae feels like the J is special, mostly because of the members and her co-workers. She sees the J as a “place for unity in a time of turmoil in our country.” In Shae’s experience wellness is something that is very personal for each member. It can be losing weight, delving into cultural arts, gardening, swimming… She says, “Once you find what works, stick with it!”

So, if you see Shae around at the J, be sure to say “hello.” Also, please join us and tell your friends that we are having a “Spring Fling: It’s a J Thing” May Open House on May 7 from noon- 4pm. There will be membership specials, activities, etc. Hope you can join us. Learn more here:

Please email me at if you know of a staff member or J member who you think should be featured. Thank you for reading!

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Yom Hazikaron & Yom Haatzmaut Are Quickly Approaching: What That Means

Renee Eder on Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Israel was established 69 years ago, in 1948. Since I can't be there to commemorate this glorious day in history,  I will explain how they do it in Israel (and have an Israeli dessert to celebrate!)

In recognition of  the establishment of Israel, two holidays were added to the Israeli calendar: Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day). In Israel, these holidays are observed as national holidays- one as a somber day of remembrance and the other as a day of celebration.

Yom Hazikaron

The Israeli Knesset established Yom Hazikaron as a Memorial Day for soldiers who lost their lives fighting in the War of Independence and in other subsequent battles. In observance, national memorial services are held in the presence of Israel's top leadership and military personnel and many religious Jews say prayers for the souls of the fallen soldiers at this time. Yom Hazikaron in Israel will begin this year on the evening of Sunday, April 30 and ends on the evening of Monday, May 1. 

Yom Haatzmaut 

Yom Haatzmaut, or Israeli Independence Day, marks the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948. In Israel, many people hold parties or sing and dance in the streets to celebrate and fireworks are set off. It is also common to display the Israeli flag prominently on homes and cars. Many religious people may read the Torah, pray, or blow the shofar (an instrument made from a ram's horn). Yom Ha'atzmaut 2017 will begin on the evening of Monday, May 1 and ends on the evening of Tuesday, May 2.

Why These Holidays are Linked

The message of linking these two days is clear: Israelis owe their independence -the very existence of the state - to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for it.

Celebrate Israel's Independence Day at the J

To celebrate Israel's Independence Day, the J presents: IsraTED: Israeli Stories Worth Sharing on Tuesday, May 2, at 7pm, with speakers including President of the JCCNV, Scott Brown, Executive Director, Jeff Dannick, Anton Marks, Gloria Graham, Ella Tessler, and more. Also, coming up later on May 21 is the Israel Fest: Israel @69. Hope to see you at these events!


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What's New on the Seder Plate?

Renee Eder on Monday, April 10, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Passover starts tonight, which means tonight we have our first seder. The Passover seder (a word that means order or arrangement in Hebrew) is a Jewish ritual feast that marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover. During the seder and throughout the holiday of Passover, we commemorate the liberation of the Jewish people by G-d from slavery in Egypt and their freedom as a nation under the leadership of Moses.

At the head of the table at the seder is the beautiful seder plate. Before the Seder we arrange the seder plate by placing three whole matzot (unleavened bread) in a cover or special compartment under the plate. Then we arrange six items on top, each one reminding us of the Passover Story:

Zeroah: A Roasted Bone
 This reminds us of the Pesach offering we used to bring in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Beitzah: A hard-boiled Egg
 This reminds us of the festival offering which was brought to the Holy Temple on Pesach.

Maror: Horseradish Root
 These bitter herbs symbolize the harsh suffering and bitter times we endured when we were slaves in Egypt.

Charoset: A mixture of chopped apple, walnuts and red wine. Ground up together, Charoset resembles bricks and mortar, reminding us how hard we were forced to work when we were slaves in Egypt.

Karpas: This can be a small slice of onion, boiled potato or sprigs of parsley. We dip the Karpas into salt water at the beginning of the Seder, representing the salty tears we cried when we were slaves.

Chazeret: Romaine Lettuce
 This is the second portion of bitter herbs which we eat during the Seder. This is eaten in a Matzah sandwich together with Maror.

Some people are including the following new additions to their seder plates:


​Many families and congregations have begun adding an orange to the Seder plate as a way of acknowledging the role of people who feel marginalized within the Jewish community.

Miriam's Cup

With this new custom, we recognize that women have always been – and continue to be – integral to the continued survival of the Jewish community.


In 1991, Israel launched Operation Solomon, a covert plan to bring Ethiopian Jews to the Holy Land. When these famished,  Jews arrived in Israel, many were so hungry and ill that they were unable to digest substantial food. Israeli doctors fed these new immigrants simple boiled potatoes and rice until their systems could take more food. To commemorate this at your seder, eat small red potatoes alongside the karpas (parsley).

Fair Trade Chocolate or Cocoa Beans

These can be included on the seder plate to remind us that although we escaped from slavery in Egypt, forced labor is still very much an issue today.

No matter what you have on your seder plate, for those who celebrate, we hope you have a Happy Passover!

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How to Make the Passover Seder Fun and Meaningful for Everyone

Renee Eder on Tuesday, April 4, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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When many people think of Passover, long boring seders with kids asking “can we eat yet?” come to mind. I have found in my experience that it doesn’t have to be that way. There are ways to make the Passover seder both fun and meaningful, so that everyone is engaged and the tradition is passed along from generation to generation.

These are some ways to enliven your Passover seder:

  • Add props: Buy or make Passover props for the 10 plagues, 4 questions, and more. Have the kids help you make puppets and put on a little Passover puppet show.
  • Add Decorations and art work: Make your own seder plate with the kids, using crafting supplies, and use fun place cards either you or the kids make. Decorate the seder table. For example, I have seen Legos being used in a parting of the red sea scene on the seder table. How fun!
  • Have each person sign his or her haggadah: Each year, you can look back and see who has joined you in the past, offering an opportunity to recall funny stories and memories of past guests who can no longer be at your table. (If you’re not comfortable writing during the seder, ask people to sign them before the holiday festivities begin.)
  • Make a haggadah with your family: Assign everyone a page or section of the haggadah before the seder; adults and teenagers can be responsible for the text and children for the drawings. Then, collect and collate each section and make enough copies for all your participants.
  • Make some yummy Passover food: Passover does not equal bad food! Yes, some of the Passover food is pretty yucky, but it doesn’t have to be. Check out Facebook pages, such as Jewish Food, Jewish Food Experience, and Jewlish for some creative Passover recipes.
  • Use bright fruits and vegetables to brighten up the table: If you are feeling adventurous maybe try and create your own Passover recipe with colorful fruits and veggies.
  • Involve everyone: Assign everyone a section of the haggadah to study before they arrive.
  • Think about incorporating new traditions. Plenty of new seder ideas have cropped up over the last few years, including modern additions to the seder plate such as olives to represent peace in Israel, an orange to stand for women’s rights, a tomato to call attention to contemporary slavery, and/or a piece of pineapple to represent solidarity with refugees. You can include them or create your own traditions with your family!
  • Have more than one version of the haggadah at your seder: While most haggadot have the same essential elements, they may have specific themes, or include additional discussion questions. Some haggadot are also themed (I saw a Harry Potter one!), condensed for a shorter seder, or fun for children.

Happy Passover! Hope your family has a fun and meaningful seder.


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Creative Ways to Eat Matzo this Passover

Renee Eder on Tuesday, March 28, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Passover is one of my favorite holidays. And, it's not because I love matzo. I actually get sick of matzo by the third day, but I realized you can actually be pretty creative with an oversized piece of unleavened bread.

First, for those who may not know, the eight-day festival of Passover is celebrated in the early spring, from the 15th through the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nissan (April 10–18, 2017). It commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. It is observed by avoiding leavened bread, and highlighted by Seder meals that include four cups of wine, eating matzah and bitter herbs, and retelling the story of the Exodus.

Back to matzo. . . Here are some things you can do to make it extra yummy:

- Matzo with lox and cream cheese: Who needs bagels, anyway? Just toast matzoh with butter, onion, and garlic powder, then deck it out with your favorite appetizing fixings. Mine are lox and cream cheese with tomatoes and onions!

- Apple-matzo kugel: Who doesn’t love a good kugel? Recipe here.

Matzoh-crusted chicken cutlets: Good way to switch up your breading routine at any time of year. Recipe here.

- Spinach matzo pie: Like spanakopita, but without the phyllo dough. Recipe here.

- Matzo s'mores: S’mores were never really about the graham crackers, anyway. Recipe here.

- Passover lemon cheesecake: The crust is made with matzoh meal and almonds. Recipe here.

- Matzo latkes: Latkes aren't just for Chanukah! Recipe here.

- Matzo brei: There are many ways to fry a brei, but this is a pretty simple one. Recipe here.

Hope you and your family enjoy Passover, whether you are eating your matzo with cream cheese or making a 9-layer no-bake matzo layer cake!


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Jewish Women in Film — How It All Began

Renee Eder on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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The 17th Annual Northern Virginia Jewish Film Festival is beginning this week (Thursday, March 24th). Did you know that our 2017 Festival includes 6 films directed by women, and two films based on the true stories of strong women? So, today I’ll take a look at Jewish women, and our history in film!

Many of us don’t realize this, but a large number of Jewish women have contributed to the development of the film industry. However, as you can imagine, they have had to fight for their place. From the early years of the silent era through today, the struggle of Jewish women to be recognized for their talents has been a difficult, yet successful one. 

Jewish Women Behind the Scenes

In the early days of film, Jewish women made their presence profoundly felt in the area of screenwriting, and continued to do so for the rest of the century. Ethnicity was less a problem for those out of the glare of the limelight, but jobs such as directing and producing were closed to most women. Many women, however, became screenwriters, and Jewish women obtained such work from the beginning. Some of the most influential films with Jewish themes were either written by Jewish women for the screen or adapted from novels and stories they wrote. Examples of famous early screenwriters were Anzia Yezierska and Fannie Hurst, whose novels and stories contributed to silent and later sound films.

Jewish Women in Films

In the first three decades of the 20th century, Jewish women also acted in roles that fell into a couple different categories. Most memorable were the Jewish mothers, matronly women who cooked for their families and provided unqualified love to their children. The younger women played the sweet ingenues of the ghetto. The third stereotype Jewish women were allowed to play was the vamp (or sex symbol). In fact, Theda Bara (a Jewish actress in the ‘20s and ‘30s) is often cited as the first sex symbol of the movies.


With the advent of sound (corresponding with the 1930s and the Great Depression), the roles Jewish women played in mainstream Hollywood films rarely reflected their ethnic or religious heritage. By 1939 Jewish representation in film had all but disappeared, for a great many reasons. As the major Jewish film moguls became more assimilated themselves, they reflected the American philosophy of the time: It was un-American to focus on an individual’s ethnicity, as opposed to his or her “Americanness.”

This trend continued through the end of the 1950s, with a few notable exceptions. Jewish actors with successful Hollywood careers during this period included Sylvia Sidney, Lauren Bacall, Judy Holliday, Shelley Winters, and Lee Grant. Stage stars who also made successful forays into film included Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, and Stella Adler.

Jewish Actresses Today

You probably know a few Hollywood actresses of today who are Jewish. For instance, Natalie Portman was born in Israel, to Jewish parents. Her birth name is Neta Lee Herschlag. Gwyneth Paltrow converted to Judaism after her "conscious uncoupling" from Coldplay frontman Chris Martin. Mila Kunis comes from a Russian-Jewish family, who eventually left Russia due to antisemitism. And there are many more. . .

The new opportunities created by these Jewish pioneers have affected all women in the film industry, as well as all women who watch their films. These pioneers used their newfound influence to bring more of women’s lives and experiences to the screen. And, many have used their creative talents to bring Jewish stories to the screen.

We hope you will join us at the 2017 Northern Virginia Jewish Film Festival. Experience the full lineup of films and buy tickets at

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Staff Spotlight: Matt Alvin

Renee Eder on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Need a motivation boost or are you new to our gym? Why not get acclimated and shape up with the help of a personal trainer?

Today, we will get to know Matt Alvin, our fitness director, who has been in the fitness industry for more than 30 years and has been working in the JCCNV Sports, Fitness and Aquatics department since 1996. Matt is an experienced certified personal trainer through AFPA, certified kickboxing/boxing coach, and holds a 3rd degree black belt from the American Karate/Kickboxing Institute. He specializes in fitness boxing training, kickboxing, strength and conditioning and injury rehabilitation.

What Matt most enjoys about working at the JCCNV are the people, particularly the friendly members and being able to share his love of fitness. His advice to members is to drink more water and keep moving! His training philosophy is “fitness is forever.”

In his spare time, Matt enjoys riding his Harley with his motorcycle crew, competing in mixed martial arts, and playing with his Boston Terrier.

Thinking about working with a personal trainer like Matt?

Personal trainers provide you with the accountability to keep up your fitness endeavors and transform your approach to training and exercise. Our trainers also teach you exercise safety, and form and technique based on your experience level, age, and abilities.

These are some considerations for choosing a trainer:

  • Be honest with what you need: What drives you? A bit of tough love or ample positive reinforcement? Everyone will have a different coaching style, but they should all share one main trait: empathy.
  • Make clear any special considerations (injuries, dislikes, etc.) from the get-go and ask how they can work around them. I believe being able to have a comfortable open and honest relationship with a trainer is one of the most important factors.
  • Remember, attentive trainers will usually get to know you better, beyond your training history (perhaps they might ask about behaviors, lifestyle, idiosyncrasies, etc.). This is important to build rapport and so they learn about your experience with exercising, any injuries you may have, and your personal fitness goals.

Hope this is helpful. For more details, please read our previous blog post, “Do You Need a Personal Trainer?” For more information about personal training and to learn more about our trainers at the J, click here.


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