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Celebrating Giving Tuesday

Renee Eder on Tuesday, November 22, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Thursday is Thanksgiving — my favorite holiday. Every year, I enjoy spending time with my family, watching football (Redskins versus Cowboys this year!), showing gratitude for all that I have and for my loved ones, and who am I kidding . . . I LOVE the food!  During this time of year, I also especially love to give back. And there is an actual day for me and others like me to do so!

Giving Tuesday is a day that follows Thanksgiving on the Tuesday after (this year it falls on November 29).  The day was created to help the “giving season” get started, reminding people that there is more to holidays than consumerism and commercialization. On this day, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.

The History of Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday was created when two organizations, the 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation came together in 2012, about a month before that year’s Thanksgiving. Their intention was to set aside a day that was all about celebrating the generosity of giving, a great American (and Jewish) tradition. Many thought leaders in the areas of social media, philanthropy and grassroots joined together to promote the important day, and it gained an enormous amount of popularity in a short period of time. The hashtag #GivingTuesday was created to raise awareness about the needy and encourage people to give to charities.
Giving Tuesday is organized and celebrated each year with the simple aim of encouraging individuals, families, schools, businesses, and other organizations to give to the less fortunate. Giving Tuesday has been praised by many, including the Chronicle of Philanthropy, a newspaper that covers the nonprofit world, as an antidote to consumer culture and a way for people to give back.

This Giving Tuesday, you can help ensure the needs of the J are met with your tax-deductible donation. Your investment in the J will help us continue to nourish a strong Jewish Community Center that meets the needs of Northern Virginia’s diverse community today, tomorrow, and for generations to come. Learn more here.

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Giving Tuesday!

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Helping Others: A Central Theme in Judaism

Renee Eder on Tuesday, November 15, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Before my son and daughter go to Hebrew school, they check to make sure they have change in their book bags to put in the Tzedakah (charity) box. They sometimes wonder where the tzedakah goes and about the people it helps. Regardless, they feel good about the mitzvah they have participated in as long as they can remember. This is one of the ways they have learned about helping others and giving back--a central theme in Jewish education.

For thousands of years, Jews have been dedicated to taking care of others and giving back to society. In fact, in Deuteronomy it says, “If. . . there is a needy person among you … do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. Rather you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs.” The Talmud teaches: “Charity is equal in importance to all other commandments combined. Based on these and other biblical teachings, every Jewish child, regardless of denomination, in every Jewish educational setting learns about the need to give tzedakah.

At the J, we like to emphasize tzedakah in our school and in our community, to teach this fundamental Jewish value and celebrate charitable giving. This year, for the first time, the J is partnering with FACETS and reaching out to the community to hold a holiday toy drive in our lobby from November 1-December 1. The toys collected will be used for the Sibling Shopping Party on December 15 at Wedgewood Community Center in Annandale. These parties present an opportunity for the youth living in low-income housing to pick out a holiday gift for their sibling or parent. Volunteers are paired with a young person to take them around the... community center and help them shop for a gift for their brother, sister, or parent. Contact if you are interested in volunteering for the Sibling Shopping Party to help set up, wrap gifts and/or shop with a resident on December 15. If you would like to donate a gift for a child, teen, or adult as part of the gift drive, please contact Carla or Shelley Adler at for more information and a flyer that has helpful guidelines for gifts. We hope you will participate in this charitable giving event.

In addition, if you feel like giving to a worthwhile cause this holiday season, please consider the J's Capitol Campaign to fund renovations, new engagement activities, and programs and initiatives outside of our building– throughout Northern Virginia. Learn more here.

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Staff Spotlight: Michelle Leichty

Renee Eder on Tuesday, November 8, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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When my children were preschool age, I took them to the J for fun Jewish-themed events. Now, with the j. family ambassador program, there are even more ways to connect and more events closer to where I live. The program presents a great way to engage children and to get to know other Jewish families who live nearby.

One of our ambassadors, Michelle Leichty, a Northern Virginia native, serves the areas of Aldie, South Riding, Chantilly, Fair Lakes, Centreville, Gainesville, Manassas, and Haymarket.  She welcomes parents of babies/toddlers who are younger than 36 months old with a bag or j.toddler tote, treats them to a coffee talk, connects them with neighborhood resources, and helps them meet other local families raising Jewish children.  She also introduces and includes them in local Growing Jewish Families programming.

Michelle has three children of her own. Professionally, with more than 15 years of human resources experience, she truly enjoys working with people, helping them, and supporting their needs. Other passions include traveling, hiking, running, cooking and baking – and making challah!

Michelle enjoys working at the J, because in her opinion, every staff member is very kind and genuinely happy to be there. In her role, she really believes that she is making a difference and building community- one family at a time.  She often meets families similar to her own in South Riding (where she resides), who know very few other Jewish families. She is excited to see them become more connected to their local Jewish community by helping them meet other local families and introducing them to programs. The connections she makes is what Michelle feels makes her position truly rewarding!

Our ambassadors are here for you. Whether delivering bags, chatting over coffee or joining you at a playdate, ambassadors are terrific new-parent neighborhood resources. For more details and to find your local ambassador, please visit the ambassadors page on our website.

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Learning to Bake Challah and Connecting with Other Jewish Women

Renee Eder on Tuesday, November 1, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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I love Jewish foods. I love to read about them, write about them, and of course, eat them. But cooking them, not so much. In fact, the last time I attempted to make a challah, it didn’t even bother to rise.

I also love events where I can meet and connect with other women. I feel so energized and exhilarated afterwards! This, and my desire to learn how to make challah will make the first Northern Virginia Great Big Challah Bake on Thursday, November 10 at 7pm at Congregation Olam Tikvah a perfect event for me!

When I read about The Northern Virginia Great Big Challah Bake, the idea of enjoying the aroma, taste, and spirituality of making challah bread with a diverse group of local Jewish women really captured my senses. I am hoping to feel the “Flour Power,” as I knead, braid, and share in the wonderful tradition of making and baking Shabbat challah with other local Jewish women!

I can’t believe that, for only $18, I get baking supplies, instructions, braiding demos, music, light refreshments, an apron and a take-home package. And the challah baking is great for a non-cook like me, because everything is pre-measured out for you in a bowl! I am also able to give a $36 donation if I choose to honor my mother or sister, or someone who is special to me!

The most incredible part about the event, in my opinion, is that when the dough is ready, together all the women who participated will say the 4,000 year old traditional blessings that the biblical matriarch Sarah said as the first Jews baked challah. The best part for my family is that they will be able to enjoy the challah I take and bake in my home.

Lastly, and I’m not sure if you knew this. . . our local event is part of something a lot bigger! It’s a precursor to a larger, international event on Friday and Saturday, November 11 and 12, a coordinated action taking place at the same time in 500 cities around the world that all Jews can be part of (but is not necessary to attend this event).

I hope to see you at The Northern Virginia Great Big Challah Bake. To register for this empowering experience, visit

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Yom Kippur Traditions

Renee Eder on Monday, October 10, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Yom Kippur (or “Day of Atonement”) is probably the most important holiday of the Jewish year. Beginning on the evening of October 11th this year and going through October 12th, it is 25 hours set aside to atone for the sins of the past year, and to demonstrate your repentance and make amends.

I grew up in a reform family, but for us and for most of my Jewish friends, whether reform, conservative, or orthodox, Yom Kippur was a holiday we observed. These are some of the customs that are followed on that day:

  • No work can be performed on that day;
  • It is a complete fast beginning before sunset on the evening before Yom Kippur and ending after nightfall on the day of Yom Kippur. You are supposed to refrain from eating and drinking (even water);
  • It is customary to wear white on the holiday, which symbolizes purity and calls to mind the promise that our sins shall be made as white as snow;
  • Most of the holiday is spent in the synagogue, in prayer. In Orthodox synagogues, services begin early in the morning (8am or 9am) and continue until about 3pm. People then usually go home for an afternoon nap and return around 5pm or 6pm for the afternoon and evening services, which continue until nightfall. The services end at nightfall, with the blowing of the tekiah gedolah, a long blast on the shofar. Then we eat!
  • There are additional restrictions that are less well-known, including washing and bathing, anointing one's body (with cosmetics, deodorants, etc.), wearing leather shoes (Orthodox Jews routinely wear canvas sneakers under their dress clothes on Yom Kippur).

When can these restrictions be lifted?

  • Any of these restrictions can be lifted where a threat to life or health is involved.
  • Children under the age of nine and women in childbirth (from the time labor begins until three days after birth) are not permitted to fast, even if they want to.
  • Older children and women from the third to the seventh day after childbirth are permitted to fast, but are permitted to break the fast if they feel the need to do so.
  • People with illnesses should consult a physician and a rabbi for advice.

No matter how your family observes Yom Kippur, we at the J wish you a meaningful day!

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Sweet Food Traditions for Rosh Hashanah

Renee Eder on Monday, September 26, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) marks the beginning of the autumnal High Holy Day season. For the Jewish people, it is a time when humanity is judged for its deeds during the prior year. For those who celebrate, it is a time of inner renewal and divine atonement.

One of the reasons that I love Rosh Hashanah, is because like many of our holidays, Rosh Hashanah's rituals revolve around food, with a number of symbolic dishes being served. For instance, it is customary to have big feasts on both nights of Rosh Hashanah and there are a plethora of delicious customary dishes, including: brisket, tzimmes and other traditional Rosh Hashanah recipes. On Rosh Hashanah, we try to refrain from bitter, sour and tart foods, and to eat foods that symbolize hope for a sweet, pleasant year ahead. The following are some of the sweet foods of Rosh Hashanah:

  • Apples & Honey: Sweet honey represents the wish for a sweet new year. On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, apple slices are dipped into honey and a prayer is said to ask for a sweet year to come.
  • Round Challah: Challah, a braided egg bread, is shaped into rounds to represent the unending cycle of life and the prayer that another year will be granted. It is often dipped into honey for the same reason as the apple slices.
  • Pomegranates: Pomegranates symbolize the hope that good deeds in the upcoming year will be as plentiful as the many seeds of the fruit. It is also said that the pomegranate contains 613 seeds, just as there are 613 commandments in the Torah.
  • Honey Cake: Many households bake honey cakes for Rosh Hashanah as well. The cake is generally made with autumnal spices (such as cinnamon, cloves and allspice) and different family recipes may call for the use of coffee, tea or orange juice for added flavor.
  • Whole Fish: Rosh Hashanah literally translated is “head of the year” in Hebrew, and some Jewish communities traditionally serve a fish with the head intact during the holiday meal. It is also an ancient symbol of fertility and abundance.

At the J, we wish the entire Jewish Community, L’Shanah Tovah – “For A Good Year!” For those who celebrate, we hope you enjoy a meaningful holiday with family, friends, and lots of delicious (and sweet) foods to enjoy!

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7 Ways to Get Ready for Rosh Hashanah

Renee Eder on Tuesday, September 20, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) is less than two weeks away. We all have our own customs and traditions prior to and during what Jewish people refer to as "The High Holy Days." For me, the holidays are about forgiveness, making the month and days preceding them a good time to talk to the people I may have had challenges with in the past year and strive to make amends — to ask for forgiveness.
 To clarify some of the things you could do to get ready for the holidays and make this time meaningful, Rabbi John Rosove offers these suggestions, as follows (excerpted from Jewish Journal):
1. Relax: Slow down. Think about where you are in your life, what you want and need, whether you are happy or sad, fulfilled or frustrated.
2. Be self-critical: Identify those things that keep you from being your better self. Commit to breaking at least one bad habit in the New Year. For example, let go of the anger, resentment, and hurt that you’ve allowed to build up over time. 
3. Meditate: Meditation is a means to become more self-conscious, self-aware, and calmer. Meditating can be done anywhere and at any time, when listening to music, looking at fine art, reading wonderful literature, exercising, walking in nature, and sitting still. Meditation trains us to listen mindfully and to be present fully with our loved ones, friends and even strangers. Become at-one with your environment.
4. Exercise: Walk, swim, ride a bike, go to the J, keep your body toned. Whenever possible, walk stairs and park at the far end of a parking lot. The calories burned this way will shed pounds of fat over time, lower your heart rate and blood pressure, and afford you a greater sense of well-being. 
5. Do at least one of the following each day:
 • Have an ice cream
 • Eat a piece of dark chocolate
 • Buy a loved one a gift for no reason
 • Stretch whenever you feel like it
 • Sing in the shower
 • Say hello to and smile at a perfect stranger
 • Let that guy cut in front of you in traffic
 • Pet a dog
6. Say “No” to requests if you feel already overtaxed and exhausted. Say “Yes” whenever you know doing so will feed your soul and open your heart. 
7. Friendships: Apologize to the people that you’ve wronged and do so without condition. Don’t blame anyone for your own mistakes. Express gratitude freely. Compliment people when they have done something that inspired your gratitude and praise.
May the New Year return each of us to lives of kindness, wonder, sweetness, goodness, family, friends, and community. L'shanah tovah u-m'tukah (For a good sweet New Year)

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Staff Spotlight: Sarah Berry

Renee Eder on Tuesday, September 13, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Since its inception, the J’s cultural and performing arts programming has brought our community exceptional events that celebrate essential aspects of Jewish and community culture. As we are kicking off our fall season, I can’t wait for all the fun and exciting events that are planned!

From j.talks, to ReelAbilities, to our Performing Arts Series, planning all the cultural arts events is a lot of work, as you can imagine. I thought you’d be interested in meeting the person who spearheads the programming, Sarah Berry.

Many of you may already know Sarah. Although she is pretty new to her role as Cultural Arts Director, having started in May, she is not new to the J! Sarah originally served in the role of Programming Director for BASE and head of Camp Omanoot (theatre camp), from 2006–2008, and as the delegation head for the JCC Maccabi ArtsFest in 2007 and 2008. She was so excited to have been welcomed back to the J as the Cultural Arts Director.

Sarah has quite a background and a love of cultural arts. Sarah received her BA in Psychology with a minor in Arts and Visual Technology from George Mason University in 2006 and her MS in Arts Administration from Boston University in 2011. Before moving back to Northern Virginia, Sarah was Program Manager at The Art Connection in Boston for almost five years. As a lay-leader at Jewish Arts Collaborative, she developed and produced Boston’s first Jewish public arts event, 8 Nights, 8 Windows. Sarah is also a photographer who taught photography and curated exhibitions for the City of Boston’s Parks and Recreation Department and interned with Smithsonian Photographic Services at the National Museum of American History.

According to Sarah, “(t)he most special thing about the J is that there are so many unique things to choose from — whether it’s a service you need or a passion you’re pursuing, you can find it here (and meet great people while you’re at it)!” If she had advice to give to our members, she would tell them to “indulge themselves… See a play. Tap your foot at a concert. Slow down in the hallway to enjoy the artwork in our Bodzin Art Gallery. Meet a contemporary Jewish author. Gather your folks for dinner and a movie during our two annual film festivals. Life is sweeter when you take time for the arts!” Sarah enjoys working at the J because she loves to plan creative events, and enjoys the never-ending parade of smiles in the hallway from friendly people of all ages.
Arts and cultural programs at the J include the JCCNV Performing Arts Series, Northern Virginia j.talks, The Northern Virginia Jewish Film Festival, The Bodzin Art Gallery,, and the ReelAbilities Film Festival (which begins next week on September 18 and runs through September 24). To learn more about cultural arts at the J and to get a schedule of upcoming programs, please click here.

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People with Different Abilities Can Do Amazing Things: On and Off the Big Screen

Renee Eder on Tuesday, September 6, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Photo from ReelAbilities Film, "The Finishers"

This morning, a  CBS News article caught my eye. It included the following quote: "It’s been said the only limits are the ones you set for yourself." To illustrate the quote, it discusses 8-year old Mather Stover-Ling, who was born with spina bifida and has no use of his legs, Chanelle Houston, whose spine was broken in a car accident, and Dr. Jonathan Lessin, who suffers from Parkinsons. All three of these individuals are remarkable in that they participate in indoor rock climbing. You may ask how this is possible. The answer is simple... It's their determination that drives them to accomplish things they never thought were possible.

I thoroughly enjoy reading about amazing things that people with different abilities can do, as in the article described above. Equally, I enjoy watching people with different abilities do amazing things in films, as it plays a major role in promoting appreciation and awareness. I have found when it comes to films, different abilities can be the focus of a movie (think "A Beautiful Mind" or "Rain Man") or it can be mainstreamed as a character who happens to use a wheelchair or is deaf.  From blockbusters such as "Forrest Gump" to lesser-known films like "Frankie Starlight" and classics such as "It's a Wonderful Life," Hollywood has made some worthwhile films featuring characters with different abilities.

Experience Films about People with Different Abilities for Yourself

ReelAbilities (which takes place in our area September 18-24) is the largest film festival in the country dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories, and artistic expressions of people with different abilities. Initiated in NY in 2007, the festival presents award-winning films by and about people with disabilities in multiple locations throughout each host city. Post-screening discussions and other engaging programs bring together the community to explore, discuss, embrace, and celebrate the diversity of our shared human experience.

Through the annual ReelAbilities Film Festival, the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia (JCCNV) partners with local organizations to maximize outreach, media attention, and festival participation. For a complete list of all the films and to purchase a film festival pass visit:

P.S. At  the J, we are committed to helping those with different abilities through activities designed to develop physical and social skills for especially for them. The programs feature small participant-staff ratios and offerings such as adapted aquatics, social groups, family events, and recreational social skills classes. Learn more about special needs at the J.

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Ready or Not? It's Back to School Time

Renee Eder on Monday, August 29, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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My children are starting 6th and 2nd grades next week. Those who know me need not ask if I'm ready, because I was ready two months ago. Ask the children and you'll hear a whole different story. Whether or not we're ready, it's happening! Below are some tips so this school year gets off to a great start.

Practice getting there: Whether it's new to them or as a refresher, walk or ride the route your child will take and make note of school patrols, crossing guards and high traffic areas along the way. If they are walkers, talk to your kids about NOT talking to strangers and find out what, if any, policies your child’s school has regarding early arrivals or late pick-ups. Learn about the school’s entrance and exit policies. If your child is new, be sure to pop in and check out what the inside of the school looks like during orientation.

Meet your child's teacher: Introduce yourself to your child’s teacher and ask him or her about the preferred method of communication. (Some teachers are active on email and social media, while others prefer the phone or in-person meetings.)

Make homework time a daily habit: Find a quiet and consistent place at home where your child can complete his or her homework. Show interest and praise your child’s work. If your child is having difficulty with his or her homework, make an appointment with the teacher sooner rather than later.

Help your kids get back on track: During the summer, children aren’t always on a schedule, which is understandable. But, proper rest is essential for a healthy and productive school year. Help your kids get back on track sleep-wise by having them go to bed earlier and wake up earlier at least a week in advance of when school actually starts.

Feed them healthy food: Studies show that children who eat healthy, balanced breakfasts and lunches do better in school. Fix nutritious meals at home, make sure your child eats breakfast, and pack healthy lunches or open an account so they can purchase lunch at school.

Make reading a priority: Make a plan to read with your child for 20 minutes every day. Your example reinforces the importance of literacy, and reading lets you and your child explore new worlds of fun and adventure together. An idea I do with my daughter is Skype reading with a best friend from school. They take turns and both earn a prize after a certain amount of nights. It works really well, and they look forward to reading together!

Need a place for your children to go before or after school? Our before-and-after school enrichment (BASE) program provides school age kids a safe and structured environment for each child to grow and develop in a friendly atmosphere. Our junior (grades K–2), senior (grades 3–5), or home (grades 6-8) BASE rooms stocked with age-appropriate toys, games, and books. In addition, we offer organized sports and team-building activities in our full-sized gymnasium and outside on the playground, and swimming in our heated indoor pool.  Read more on our Website.


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Why All Children Should Play Soccer

Renee Eder on Tuesday, August 23, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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At the age of five, my daughter started soccer. She was a statue for about six months, and eventually became a cherry picker, until she scored her first goal. That same day, she scored three more, and a soccer player was born. Two years later, she absolutely loves soccer, and I love all the benefits she gains from playing on a soccer team!

Currently, approximately 1,800,000 youngsters participate in youth soccer leagues in the U.S. The reason soccer has become such a popular sport for youth is because children like to participate in activities where they can succeed. And, there is a place for all children in soccer, at every level and any position. There are also important medical and psychological benefits to playing soccer, as well.
Soccer at the J is a great place to start, and there are so many benefits to playing, as follows:

Playing soccer stimulates cardiovascular fitness and develops agility better than any other sport. The average soccer player runs about seven miles during a game, which is certainly not the case in baseball or football. The continuous action of soccer makes it an excellent way of getting aerobic exercise.

Soccer develops social skills at an earlier age. Players quickly learn they are most successful when they work together as a team and develop meaningful bonds with their fellow players.

Communication is also quickly learned because it is key for when players support each other from various positions around the field.

Confidence building: Soccer training can also benefit a child’s self-confidence because players must work together as a team to be successful. Additionally, because less athletically inclined children can develop their skill in a friendly team environment.

Youth soccer training should be considered by all parents trying to keep their children on a healthy track while giving them the ability to learn valuable life lessons about teamwork, self-confidence, and communication.

At the J, Tamir Linhart Golden Boot Soccer is celebrating 18 years of soccer training! This fall, Golden Boot will offer a variety of training programs for youth players ages 3–18 including Lil’ Boots, Player Development, Art of Scoring Goals, Goalkeeper Training, Speed & Agility, High School Prep, Cogno-Motoric and Cogno-Technical. The programs are run by Golden Boot’s professional soccer coaches. J members receive a special discount. For more information, click here.

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A Bisl (Little Bit) of Yiddish

Renee Eder on Monday, August 15, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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My grandparents were Holocaust survivors, who didn’t speak much English. I remember when we visited them every weekend, and they used to speak Yiddish to one another and to my mother. They thought I didn’t know what they were saying, but little did they know I started to pick up the language, and for those who know me, it’s still part of my every day vocabulary. I enjoyed Yiddish so much, I will share some of the words I learned with you!

The Yiddish language is a source of rich expressions, especially terms of endearment, with a heavy dose of complaints and insults. Jewish scriptwriters introduced many Yiddish words into popular culture, which often changed the original meanings drastically. You might be surprised to learn how much Yiddish you already speak, but also, how many familiar words actually mean something different in real Yiddish.

Here are 18 words you should know:

  • Baleboste: A good homemaker, a woman who’s in charge of her home and will make sure you remember it.
  • Bubbe (or bobe): grandmother. A zaidy (or zeide or zayda) is a grandfather.
  • Bupkes: It’s often used by American Jews for “trivial, worthless, useless, a ridiculously small amount”
  • Chutzpah: Nerve, extreme arrogance, brazen presumption. In English, chutzpah often connotes courage or confidence, but among Yiddish speakers, it is not a compliment.
  • Feh: An expression of disgust or disapproval, representative of the sound of spitting.
  • Klutz: Literally means “a block of wood,” so it’s often used for a dense, clumsy, or awkward person.
  • Kvetsch: In popular English, kvetch means “complain, whine or fret,” but in Yiddish, kvetsh literally means “to press or squeeze,” like a wrong-sized shoe. Reminds you of certain chronic complainers, doesn’t it? But it’s also used on Yiddish web pages for “click” (Click Here).
  • Maven: An expert, often used sarcastically.
  • Mentsch: An honorable, decent person, an authentic person, a person who helps you when you need help. Can be a man, woman, or child.
  • Mishegas: Insanity or craziness. A meshugener is a crazy person.
    Mishpocheh: It means “family,” as in “Relax, you’re mishpocheh. I’ll sell it to you at wholesale.”
  • Oy vey: Exclamation of dismay, grief, or exasperation. The phrase “oy vey iz mir” means “Oh, woe is me.” “Oy gevalt!” is like oy vey, but expresses fear, shock, or amazement.
  • Shlep: To drag, traditionally something you don’t really need; to carry unwillingly.
  • Schlock: Cheap, shoddy, or inferior, as in, “I don’t know why I bought this schloky souvenir.”
  • Shmaltzy: Excessively sentimental, gushing, flattering, over-the-top, corny. This word describes some of Hollywood’s most famous films. From shmaltz, which means chicken fat or grease.
  • Shmooze: Chat, make small talk, converse about nothing in particular. But at Hollywood parties, guests often schmooze with people they want to impress.
  • Shpiel: A long, involved sales pitch, as in, “I had to listen to his whole spiel before I found out what he really wanted.” From the German word for play.
  • Shmutz: Dirt – a little dirt, not serious grime. Something you’re known for doing, an entertainer’s routine, an actor’s bit, stage business; a gimmick often done to draw attention to yourself.
  • Chatchke: Knick-knack, little toy, collectible, or giftware.

Did you know that at the J we offer beginner Yiddish? Join this level one class if you have some knowledge of Yiddish and would like to continue to learn to speak and read the language. Learn more here.


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Join us for a Part-Romance and Part-Twisted Fairy Tale

Renee Eder on Tuesday, August 9, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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I remember growing up in New York, and my parents taking my sister and I to New York City many times to see musicals. It was so thrilling and exciting. I also remember fondly, some of the shows at my schools and at the local JCC. I am excited to expose my children to the same thing here in Northern Virginia, and I think I found a fun musical that they will love right here at the J.

This Thursday, August 11, my family is looking forward to seeing Camp Omanoot’s performance of Shrek the Musical Jr.!

At Camp Omanoot, the young performers get to experience being in a theatrical production, focusing on individual and group creativity while working collaboratively as a team. The campers worked hard on learning and rehearsing for a show, they experienced the rehearsal process, and learned songs, dances, and scenes, which they will perform on Thursday night.

So, what is Shrek the Musical Jr. about and why should your family see it? For children of ALL ages, Shrek the Musical, Jr. is based on the Oscar-winning DreamWorks film, Shrek. All the beloved characters you know … Shrek, Fiona, Donkey, Gingy and more, will come to life on stage, singing and dancing their way into your hearts! They will prove that there is more to the story than meets the ‘ears.’ As the curtain rises, you’ll be transported to the land of Duloc, where the green ogre Shrek finds himself on a life-changing journey alongside a wise-cracking donkey, a feisty princess, a ‘short’-tempered bad-guy (Lord Farquaad), a cookie with an attitude, and dozens of misfit fairytale characters. When Shrek sets off with a wise-cracking donkey to confront Lord Farquaad, he’s handed a task — if he rescues feisty Princess Fiona from the Dragon-guarded tower, his swamp will be returned to him. But, a fairy tale wouldn’t be complete without unexpected twists and turns along the way. Part romance and part twisted fairy tale, Shrek the Musical Jr. is an irreverently fun show for the whole family.

At 5:30pm, everyone can bring their own dinner, and at 6:30 pm, the show begins. Tickets are $5/nonmember and $3/J member. We hope to see you there! Click here to download the registration form.


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Cycling is Good for the Body and the Mind

Renee Eder on Monday, August 1, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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With the 2016 Summer Olympics around the corner, one of the sports that comes to mind is cycling. I, personally, have never done cycling, but may have to try it. Why? I found out in my research that cycling provides significant health benefits that go far beyond a basic cardiovascular boost. These are five surprising ways cycling can improve your mind and your body (excerpted from Vogue magazine):

1. It sharpens your focus: Though studies have long linked regular exercise with better concentration and memory, cycling, in particular, has recently captured researchers’ attention. A 2012 survey of some 20,000 schoolchildren in Denmark discovered that those who biked or walked to school focused better than their peers for roughly four hours, while a small 2013 study found that 30 minutes of moderate cycling lead to consistently higher scores on various cognitive tests (memory, reasoning, planning) in healthy adult males.

2. It boosts your immune system: Could cycling be better than a flu shot? Perhaps. A self-reported study of Dutch employees found that bike commuters took far fewer sick days than their coworkers during the same one-year period—and the more often or further they rode, the less sick they were on average. A similar analysis that pulled data from a Commuting and Health in Cambridge study concluded that bicycle commuters called in sick less often and reported better mental well-being, overall.

3. It will make you less tired: Compelling evidence suggests that casual cyclists are rarely exhausted, but rather, energized—as long as they don’t overdo it. Researchers at the University of Georgia found that 20 minutes of low-intensity exercise three times a week raised energy levels by 20 percent and curbed fatigue by 65 percent, which was more effective than moderate-intensity exercise. The activity tested? A leisurely spin. 

4. It improves sleep: According to a Stanford University study of insomniac adults who added regular low-impact exercise to their routine—including biking—the additional leg-focused activity can deliver nearly one extra hour of rest and help you fall asleep twice as fast. It’s particularly effective when done about every other day for roughly 30 minutes in the late afternoon or early evening.

5. It brings peace of mind: There is something inherently meditative about pedaling on the open road—a gut feeling that researchers are hoping to back with science. According to Harvard psychiatrist John Ratey, “Cycling is also increasing a lot of the chemistry in your brain that make you feel peaceful and calm,” thanks to the soothing rhythm and focus required—a research area that merits continued examination.

If you want to try cycling, or if you are an intermediate or advanced rider, join us for Cycle Fest this year on September 11. 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 the Wounded Warrior Project, whose purpose is to raise awareness and enlist the public’s aid for the needs of injured service members; to help injured service members aid and assist each other; and to provide unique, direct programs and services to meet the needs of injured service members. Learn more here.

To get in shape for Cycle Fest, or just to get in shape, be sure to try our cardio cycling classes at the J! See our group exercise class schedule for details on classes.

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Teaching Anyone to Swim

Renee Eder on Tuesday, July 26, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Mr J teaching swimming at the J

Do you get nervous every time your child gets within arms-length of a body of water? Do you equip your child with floaties, a kickboard, a noodle, and anything else you can find to keep him or her safe, confine him or her to the shallow end, and watch him or her like a hawk? I used to be that way. That is until my son took swimming lessons at the J.

Though a bright boy, my son’s attention span is really short. He was way too distracted to pay attention to a swimming instructor, and after several attempts, we nearly gave up on swimming lessons. This was all until we found Mr. J and the Adapted Aquatics Program at the J!

Mr. J has the patience of a saint, and a special way of teaching kids with disabilities, such as those with a very short attention span. And I know from being there, the other instructors do, as well! After some lessons and lots of practice laps, my son can now experience the relaxing pleasure of being in the water, while at the same time feeling comfortable, safe, and independent. He is not as limited, and can play with his friends in all areas of the pool. And at the beach, I am not as afraid of him drowning, which makes summer vacations much more enjoyable. Now, I can also experience peace of mind, and have a chance to chat with the other moms or check my email or Facebook on my phone for a few minutes (something I couldn’t do before!)

Need help teaching your child swimming skills?

Whether or not your child requires adapted swimming lessons, we’ve got you covered at the J! We offer private, semi-private, and group lessons for children and adults. The J features a heated, six-lane, indoor 25-meter swimming pool with a graduated depth from 3.5’ to 8’. A permanent, handicapped access ramp provides 0’ to 3.5’ depth access for use by individuals in wheelchairs, small children, and others with special needs. Locker and shower facilities, including a family restroom, are also available to our members. Learn more and access the schedule of aquatics classes here.

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Staff Spotlight: Carla Rosenfeld

Renee Eder on Monday, July 18, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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As we grow older and retire or move to a new community, we may not have quite as many opportunities to socialize as we did when we were younger. For many of us, if you're not heading to an office or getting out and about each day, you may be missing out on important social interaction that is needed to stay sharp, healthy, and maybe even ward off dementia. Staying socially active and maintaining interpersonal relationships and social interactions even help protect against illness by boosting your immune system.  

For adult programming in this area, the J is the place to be! This month, we will focus our staff spotlight on our Adult Services Programming Director, Carla Rosenfeld, whose been at the J for 15 years!

Originally from New York, Carla was born in Brooklyn, and raised in Westchester County.  She has lived in the DC area for over 30 years. Before coming to the J in 2001, she worked in Association Management with several different associations as a manager in both membership and conferences.  As the Adult Programming Director at the J, she plans programs, classes, cards and games, and special events. According to Carla, “(m)aybe someday when I retire I will develop some hobbies.” For now, she loves what she does at the J so much she can almost consider it a hobby.

To Carla, she doesn’t just see the J as a place to work out or take classes. She sees it as a family of people who care about each other – both staff and members. It’s a place to hang with friends after class, go to lunch, schmooze, etc. Carla feels the J is especially important, because the Jewish population in this area is so spread out and it provides a central location that all Jews and others can feel welcome, no matter what denomination they are.

Carla’s advice to members is to look beyond what they are currently doing at the J, and to find out what else is going on in our building, since there is so much to offer! She feels that way too often, people tend to stick to the specific interest that brought them to the J, without finding out about all the other things going on.  Carla thinks members should take the opportunity to “make friends and learn something new.”

Of course, Carla’s favorite thing about working at the J is the people.  When she meets someone who is new to the Northern VA area and they just discovered the J, she loves getting them involved and seeing them make new friends and become a part of our community. This happens all the time and is the most rewarding feeling and the reason she absolutely loves what she does.

The Adult Services Department at the J offers social and self-development programs and activities for adults of all ages. Subject areas include cultural activities, such as films, concerts, and lectures; Judaic programs, such as Hebrew and Yiddish language classes; outreach programming for adults 55+; and, social activities such as day trips and theatre outings. Click here to learn more.


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Are We Really Too Busy to Work Out?

Renee Eder on Tuesday, July 12, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Most of us have crazy busy schedules, but somehow find the time for television, social networking, or performing dull household tasks. However, many of us feel that it’s nearly impossible to fit a workout in. I have been quite good at finding excuses for why I don’t have time to squeeze fitness into my life. Now that summer’s here, I’m hoping to put the excuses on the shelf. Here are some promising strategies I’ve found to help me make time to get fit… maybe they’ll help you too!

  1. Make a Plan: The best way to make time for exercise is to have a written plan. Decide on the best time for exercise in your schedule and actually enter it into your computer or cellphone calendar as a repeat event.
  2. Subdivide Your to-do list: Rather than making one long to-do list you’ll never complete, divide your list into categories based on importance. Remember, it’s okay to have dirty clothes in your hamper. It’s also okay if you don’t read every email the moment you receive it. However, it’s not okay to cheat your health.
  3. Find five minutes: Even if your day is packed with meetings and other commitments, you absolutely can take five minutes for yourself.  A five-minute walk can easily turn into daily 30-minute walks a few weeks from now. You have to start somewhere.
  4. Be an active watcher: When you watch TV, make the most of it and exercise. Or use the commercial breaks to mix in brief cardio intervals.
  5. Think positive: Psychologists suggest that actively editing your negative self-talk patterns is a powerful way to support healthier lifestyle choices. For example, anytime you catch yourself thinking, “I am too busy to work out,” rephrase the thought in more positive, empowering terms, such as, “I choose to make myself a priority.” Or, “I do have time to be healthy.”
  6. Socialize on the move: Next time a friend suggests meeting for lunch, dinner or drinks, counter with an active invitation. How about joining you for an exercise class? Instead of spending time on the phone or emailing back and forth, suggest that you catch up on the latest news while trying an athletic pursuit that neither of you has ever tried.
  7. Find a cheerleader: Nominate a friend, family member, life coach or personal trainer to be your cheerleader and encourage you (positive messages only; no nagging) on a daily basis.
  8. Bring the family: If family obligations prevent you from fitting in regularly scheduled workouts, get the family involved too. When the kids see that exercise is important to Mommy and Daddy, it will most likely be important to them, as well.

Looking for some motivation and guidance to get started? The JCCNV Health, Fitness & Aquatics Department offers a variety of personal training packages to meet your needs. From TRX training and small group sessions, to packages for beginner exercises or rehabilitation from an injury — choose the package and the trainer that’s right for you!  Learn more.

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30 Questions You Can Ask Your Camper on the Ride Home

Renee Eder on Tuesday, July 5, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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When asking a camper about his or her day, many parents get the same answer. It is typically, “it was good,” or “it was fine.” You know that your son or daughter spent the whole day having fun, going swimming, and playing with friends, so the day had to have been more than “good” or “fine.”  So, why is it so tough to get your child to share the details with you? Maybe you need some good open-ended questions in your arsenal!

To help you out, the JCC of Chicago recently put together a list of questions that you can pick and choose from, that should result in more thorough responses or, at least, a multi-word answer from your camper. Hopefully, you will hear lots of good stories!

1. What was the best part of your day?
2. Rate your day on a scale from 1 to 5. Why did you choose this number?
3. What was the funniest thing that happened today?
4. What did someone do for you that was really nice?
5. What games did you play today?
6. When did you feel most proud today?
7. What is something special your counselors did today?
8. If you could do just one activity at camp for a whole day, which one would it be? Why?
9. What is your group’s favorite activity to do together?
10. If aliens invaded your camp today, what would they have seen happening?
11. Who is the kindest person in your group?
12. I’d love to learn some of the songs and cheers you do at camp. Please teach me one.
13. What did you do at (insert activity name)? What did your counselors do when you were there?
14. Who had the best looking lunch today? What was it?
15. What activity didn’t you have today that you hope to have tomorrow?
16. Tell me about something that made you laugh.
17. Who did you enjoy talking to the most?
18. It looks like you had a fun day. What did you do to get your shirt so dirty?
19. How did you help someone today?
20. If you could be the counselor tomorrow, what would you do?
21. Who do you want to be better friends with in your group? Why?
22. What did you do today that you think I would like to do too?
23. What was the most challenging thing you accomplished?
24. What happened today that you wish hadn’t happened?
25. When were you happiest today?
26. What did you do today to make sure that everyone felt included in the group?
27. Tell me two cool things you did today.
28. If someone in your group could be the counselor, who would you want it to be?  Why?
29. I heard there was a special entertainer at camp today. What did s/he do with campers?
30. What are you looking forward to doing tomorrow?

Of course, if you still can’t get information from your camper and the photos and emails aren’t explaining enough, call or email us. We are always happy to fill in the blanks for you.

If your child attends camp at the J (or anywhere else), we hope they have a great summer!


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Staff Spotlight: Brian Grossbard

Renee Eder on Tuesday, June 28, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Summer is here, making it the perfect time to take a closer look at the fun-loving man who runs our camps and school-age services, Brian Grossbard.

Brian is originally from Connecticut, and has spent his entire working life in Jewish Communal Services. In the past, he has worked for BBYO, Hillel, and JCRC, and is now in his second year as an employee here at the J, serving as the Director of School-Age Services and Day Camps.

Brian is a huge history buff and is quite knowledgeable about everything Washington, DC. In fact, when he first moved to the DC area, he got a tour guide license for all of the DMV. If you see him around the J, be sure to try and stump him on DC area history!

When asked, “when you hear the phrase, ‘There's Something Special About the J,’ what does it make you think of?” Of course, Brian is quick to describe the amazing Camp Achva experience! According to Brian, summers at the J are “packed with a wide range of fun camp activities including Color Wars (spirit competitions), field trips, morning and afternoon mifkad (flag raising/lowering ceremonies), swim lessons, Israeli dancing and singing, arts and crafts, sailing and horseback riding, music, cooking, drama, outdoor adventure, and much more! Campers are encouraged to discover new skills and interests they never knew they had.”

What’s special about the J’s camp is that it “weaves Jewish values, culture, and traditions into the fabric of camp, helping campers to connect to their own identity and the larger Jewish community. At camp, Jewish and Israeli culture is celebrated through song, food, art, and dance. Whether they’re creating artistic masterpieces, learning about the environment, or playing kickball, campers have a great time in a safe, nurturing, and fun environment.”

Brian’s advice to members and guests not enrolled in the camp experience is to take full advantage of our fabulous programs. What he loves most about working here are his coworkers! Brian hopes everyone is as excited about camp as he is!

So, whether you’re a camper, a parent, or a member coming to take advantage of all we have to offer, if you see Brian around at the J, be sure to say “hello.”

Continue to check out this blog regularly for articles about fitness, Jewish culture, Jewish holidays, Jewish food, and more, and now our newest feature articles about staff and members. Please email me if you know of a staff member or J member who you think should be featured. Thank you for reading!

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Helen Pafumi Talks Redder Blood

Renee Eder on Tuesday, June 21, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Last month, Helen Murray Pafumi won the 2016 Jewish Playwriting Contest for her comedy, "Redder Blood." The play is being co-produced by the J and The Hub Theatre, and is slated to receive its world premiere at the New School of Northern Virginia, from July 8–31, 2016.

In the play, Sadie (the main character) has heard the voice of G-d her entire life. But she has never answered back. As her parents’ marriage crumbles, and her own love interest takes off, Sadie’s life takes a comical turn toward the absurd. In the midst of it all, she must come to terms with her own worth and whether or not it’s time to let in the voice.

In a recent interview with the Jewish Plays Project, Pafumi shared that Redder Blood' "was a story I struggled to tell, reckoning with such questions as the role of G-d in today's world and how we deal with clashes of cultures and beliefs playing out in our own families." According to Pafumi, "I can only hope that I have illuminated the conversation in a way that is entertaining and that makes people feel how connected and worthy we are."

Pafumi was thrilled to be among the exceptional finalists for this year’s Jewish Plays Contest, and even more elated to have so many audience members and readers connect to the play. She says, "Winning the contest is icing on an already beautiful cake."

In the interview, Pafumi also discusses her love of comedy, and explains why the play is funny. She says, "if we laugh together as an audience, then we will confront the dark truths with more honesty. We have a better time expecting the truth when we’ve first laughed together. I love seeing people leaving a theatre wanting to be better, to do better, and wanting more. We want more, as an audience, when something in us has been uplifted. I want people to walk away not just thinking about the play, but “feeling” about the play."

We hope you will come see "Redder Blood." For details and a link to purchase tickets, please  click here.

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Their Awesome Summer at the J. . .

Renee Eder on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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School is out in less than two weeks, which means it’s almost time for camp! I don’t know about you, but I cannot wait!

When I decided to write about J camps today, I put out a message on my personal Facebook account calling all friends whose kids had an awesome experience at our camps. I got a great response with lots of glowing things to say. One person in particular who had three kids attend our camps, stuck out to me, so I decided to interview her for this piece. Hopefully, her insights will provide a picture of how fabulous camps at the J really are!

As is the case for many of us with kids, she preferred not to be named. For the purpose of this article, we will call her “Achla,” which means fantastic in Hebrew.

Achla’s kids started at our camps in Olim Alpha and continued on through Olim Bet, so they have been attending camp at the J for about 5 years. Her daughter also participated in several summers of dance camp (and is now an amazing dancer!)

Her children adored the many field trips they went on, which is why they love Olim Bet so much. According to Achla, “You go on a lot of field trips.”

One memory that stood out to her was her daughter performing a dance recital at lunch for the entire camp. She enjoyed the diversity of the dance camp.

Achla would certainly recommend J camps! According to Achla, “I think the counselors love their jobs and are engaging and fun.  The camp comes up with lots of interesting things to do.  I also like that they had mandatory swimming lessons when they were younger.  They are now all strong swimmers.”

About J Camps

At the JCCNV, our camps are filled with opportunities for campers to play, explore, and experience all that camp has to offer in an environment based on Jewish values and culture. Our camp programs, which are inclusive for kids of all ages and backgrounds (you don’t have to be Jewish to attend J camps) includes indoor and outdoor activities, singing, dancing, sports activities, swim lessons, field trips, and more! Limited spaces are still available. To learn more and to sign up, click here.

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Staff Spotlight: Heidi Palchik

Renee Eder on Tuesday, June 7, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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As a new feature on our blog, we are going to begin featuring J staff once a month. This is a great way to learn about the people you encounter when you come to the J. This month, for our first feature article, we will take a closer look at the smiling face you see in the glass office as you enter the building: our membership director, Heidi Palchik.

Heidi is a native to our area. In fact, she was born and raised in Fairfax. She is a fixture at the J, in that she has worked here since 1996 (for 20 years!) in some capacity. In her spare time, she enjoys singing, playing with her daughter (a JCC preschool alumna), and spending time with her friends.

When asked, “(w)hen you hear the phrase, "There's Something Special About the J," what does it make you think of? What is so special about the JCC of Northern Virginia, in your opinion?,”  Heidi simply answered that “the J is family.” According to Heidi, “there is always someone to chat with, to joke with, to share special moments with, to help support (or to get support from) through the tough times.”  Heidi believes that at the J, “there is a place for everyone in every aspect, for mental, emotional, and physical well-being.”

Heidi’s advice to members at the J is that they should try something new! In Heidi’s words, “(w)hether it be a class, program, fitness, or film, try something new!”  Heidi also mentioned that her favorite thing about working at the J is once again, the family! She is excited about how it keeps growing each time we get a new member or have a big community event.

So, if you see Heidi around at the J, be sure to say “hello.” Be sure to check out this blog regularly for articles about fitness, Jewish culture, Jewish holidays, Jewish food, and more, and now our newest feature articles about staff and members (coming soon!) Please email me if you know of a staff member or J member who you think should be featured. Thank you for reading!


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Ever Been to Israel?

Renee Eder on Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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I have never been to Israel, but I love everything about the place, from the kind, beautiful people I’ve met to its rich Jewish history. I thoroughly enjoy Israeli foods, like falafel and shawarma, and can’t get enough of the lively music and dance. And, of course, what’s not to love about the Israeli market with some great finds? I don’t know when I will make my trip to Israel a  dream come true, but until then, I can still experience all of my favorite things about the Jewish homeland right here in Northern Virginia! And, I hope you will join me in doing so.

This year, on June 5 at Lerner Town Square @Tysons II, 8025 Galleria Drive Tysons, VA, (corner of 123 and International Drive), The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and the JCC of Northern Virginia present Israel Fest 2016. I hope you will join me and many from our community to celebrate Israel @ 68!

IsraelFest will include engaging events and interactive activities throughout the day, including IDF Musical Ensemble, “Lehaka Tz'vait”, and:

  • 65’ obstacle course and moon bounce
  • Gaga Pit
  • Picture yourself in Jerusalem (Green Screen)
  • Krav Maga demonstrations
  • Wine Tasting
  • Shesh Besh (backgammon)
  • Shop the Shuk (market place)
  • Visit the Kotel (Western Wall)
  • Exhibits…and more!
  • Food available for purchase

FREE Admission, FREE on-site Parking and METRO accessible (Silver Line Tysons Corner Metro Station)!

This program is in partnership with The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and in collaboration with area synagogues and Jewish agencies. Learn more about this exciting annual event here or contact Laurie Albert, Director of Community Engagement at the JCC of Northern Virginia, at or 703.537.3064.

Come enjoy Israeli culture with family and friends. We look forward to seeing you there!

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Finding My Jewish Identity

Emily Adler on Monday, May 23, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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The morning of my confirmation, I sat in my mom’s office and cried about my frustration with Judaism. I took great issue with standing in front of a congregation of people explaining my personal connection to a religion I felt I knew nothing about.

Here were the things I knew: I knew my parents were Jewish, I knew my paternal grandfather survived the Holocaust, I knew mandel bread, challah, matzah ball soup, and latkes; and I knew my Mom hung Jewish decor around the house. But as a young girl, I had absolutely no understanding of how it connected to me. I had so many questions. Why did I have to go to Hebrew School? Why did I recite prayers in a language I couldn’t speak or understand? Why did I have to attend services every week? Why did I have a bat mitzvah? And WHY did I have to give this speech when I didn’t know how to answer a simple question like “What is Judaism to you?”

After a long talk with my mother, I was, in the end, reassured that it would all make sense when it came time to share the religion with my children, I reluctantly agreed to go through with my confirmation and gave my speech feeling like a liar. Any moment I knew the rabbi would stand and walk me off the stage sensing that my speech was half-hearted. He didn’t. The years following, I was everyone’s Jewish friend who didn’t feel very Jewish. That’s not to say that I didn’t try and find a connection! I reached out to rabbis for book suggestions and read The Jew and His Duties and Harold Kushner’s To Life: A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking. I attended JCC Maccabi ArtsFest, worked as a camp counselor at the JCC, and tried to help the local rabbis bring together Jewish kids my age for hip events like movie nights and field trips to local DC theaters. I tried to feel connected but there was always a piece of me that felt like I was playing the part of a Jew because I had been told that it was who I was and who I would always be.

And then there was Birthright. Finally, I had an excuse to take 10 days to face my feelings about Judaism head on. I figured that everyone else on the trip was grappling with the same question of how Judaism fit into our lives as “Jew-ish” Americans. Of course, everyone had different ideas of how to connect to the religion on this trip. Some people felt a spiritual connection to the land while others aimed for a romantic connection with fellow participants on the trip. I already had a cute boy at home for smooching, so I wasn’t going to find Judaism that way. I marveled at the sites, breathed a little deeper to take them in and took a lot of photographs, but I couldn’t connect religion to the land. Instead, I found Judaism the way everyone always said I would—by asking questions.

My Birthright group worked through an exercise where we arranged a variety of Jewish customs based on how Jewish it made a person. Some customs included: has read the Torah, had a bat mitzvah, married a Jew, believes in Zionism, made aliyah, and believes in G-d, to name a few. It was this exercise that opened my mind to the wide definition of a Jew. That looming question, what is Judaism to me, became what makes me Jewish? And I realized that for me it had less to do with keeping kosher and lighting candles every Friday. I wasn’t Jewish for having read a Haftorah or for attending Hebrew School for 15 years. No, Judaism is something much different.

Judaism to me is red lipstick on each cheek. It’s handwritten thank-you notes and adding one more chair to the table. Judaism is speaking out and speaking up. Judaism is moving away from home only to find a community waiting with open arms.

After all the times I felt like a Jewish imposter, I had finally put together the pieces that connected me to being Jewish. Nothing had clicked for me as a child but my mother was right in the sense that my connection deepened with time. I have a community of loved ones who share the same values as I do and together create a family that I can rely on regardless of where I am or what I’m doing.  I may not have realized it at the time, but my Judaism helped get me to where I am today and I look forward to seeing where it brings me in the future.


We invite members to submit guest posts, as we love receiving and reading them. However, due to volume, we do not guarantee they will be published.


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Exercise Your Brain at the J

Renee Eder on Tuesday, May 17, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Last week, I went to the Spring Into Health Fair as a J staff member, an observer, and a participant. I saw a good crowd of people who were visiting the vendors, getting their body fat, BMI, and balance tested, and getting tested for Alzheimer's.

In speaking to people, and getting advice from Michelle, a registered nurse who did my Alzheimer's screening, I realized something that will probably change my life: Engaging in regular, aerobic activity may be as good for the brain as it is for the body.

As soon as I came home, I did some additional research on this and it is, in fact, true: "Movement is medicine for the mind." Here's what exercise can do for your brain:

1. It spurs brain growth: As we get older, the birth of new brain cells slows, and our brain tissue actually shrinks. Exercise may be able to reverse that trend. One brain-scanning study of healthy but sedentary people aged 60 to 79 showed significant increases in brain volume after six months of aerobic fitness training. In fact, cardio boosts blood flow to the brain, which delivers much-needed oxygen (the brain soaks up 20 percent of all the oxygen in your body).

2. It boosts brain-building hormones: Much like plant food makes plants grow faster and lusher, a chemical known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, stimulates the growth and proliferation of brain cells. The more you exercise, the more BDNF you produce.

3. It fights depression and anxiety: Depression slows the brain’s ability to process information, makes it more difficult for us to concentrate and reach decisions, and causes real memory problems. For milder cases, exercise may help lift your mood. It cranks up the body’s production of serotonin and dopamine, brain chemicals crucial to happy mood. And it boosts levels of the feel-good chemicals called endorphins.

 4. It improves your brain’s executive function: Executive function includes cognitive abilities, such as being able to focus on complex tasks, to organize, to think abstractly, and to plan for future events. It also encompasses working memory, such as the ability to keep a phone number in your head while you dial. When researchers set out to analyze the effects of exercise on executive function, they looked at 18 well-designed studies and found that adults aged 55 to 80 who did regular exercise performed four times better on cognitive tests than control groups who didn’t work out. Effects were greatest among those who exercised 30 to 45 minutes each session for longer than six months, but substantial benefits were seen in as few as four weeks of exercise.

If all that isn't motivation to get down here and exercise, I don't know what is! I will see you at the J on the treadmill, in the pool, or by the free weights!

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Do You Need a Personal Trainer?

Renee Eder on Monday, May 9, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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We’re just a few weeks away from pool season, which means we’ll have to be seen in a swimsuit soon. Whether you're new to working out or have been at it for a while, hiring a personal trainer can help you get ready. Here are 8 benefits to enlisting the help of a trainer at the J:

1. Help Avoiding Injury: A trainer can teach you the proper technique to working out, so you are less likely to get injured. He or she will emphasize good mechanics and form and when to go hard and when to rest.

2. Accountability: Many of us need help being held accountable for the choices we make on a daily basis. Personal Trainers are there to keep you accountable, and to give you the extra push to keep going.

3. Motivation: A good personal trainer knows how to motivate you in different ways while working out, to get you moving in the right direction and to help you stay on track.

4. Personalized Fitness Plan: Everyone's body is different. Your personal trainer will design a customized fitness plan that is tailored to you, specifically, and will help you achieve your overall goal.

5. Encouragement: We all face defeat and feel discouraged at times. Having someone there to encourage you when you need it the most can have an incredible effect on your workout. 

6. Knowledge: A “certified” personal trainer means they have acquired the knowledge necessary to teach you how to understand your body better and how to best meet your individual needs. Knowledge is the first step to solving any problem areas.

7. New Skills: When you start working with a personal trainer, they will teach you routines, workouts, and facts about your body that you may have never known otherwise. Personal trainers know a lot about fitness, and it’s exciting to learn something new each time you meet with them.

8. Getting over your fears: Sometimes we can be our worst enemy, and facing change isn’t easy. Having the extra support from a personal trainer to guide you and having someone to lean on can give you the confidence that you need to keep going until you reach your goals!

At the J, our Personal Training program will provide you with the motivation and direction you need to achieve your health and fitness goals! After an initial evaluation to establish your baseline health and fitness level, your program will be designed to meet your individual needs — whether that’s weight loss, recovering from an injury or surgery, cardiovascular fitness, strength training, or just general health and fitness. Read more and find out how you can get started with personal training at the J!

P.S. If you are attending the Spring Into Health Fair this Thursday, May 12, they are doing personal training assessments during the fair!

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Yom Ha’atzmaut: Happy 68th Birthday Israel!

Renee Eder on Tuesday, May 3, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Israel’s Independence Day is celebrated on the fifth day of the month of Iyar, which falls on May 12 this year.

In the State of Israel, Yom Ha'atzmaut is a formal holiday, very similar to July 4 in the U.S., almost everyone has the day off. For Israelis in the homeland, the festivities begin the evening before, when they take to streets across the country to attend outdoor concerts, parties and barbecues, as well to watch fireworks displays. Friends and families gather together the next day, usually outside or at nature reserves, museums and other attractions, which remain open to the public free of charge. Also on Yom Ha’atzmaut, teens compete in the country’s Torah championship, and the Israel Prize, the country’s highest honor, is awarded in a formal ceremony in Jerusalem to individuals who excel in their chosen field.

On the evening of the holiday, celebrants and officials gather at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem. A ceremony with speeches and a parade of soldiers concludes with the lighting of twelve torches, representing the 12 Tribes of Israel.

Yom Ha'atzmaut can be celebrated anywhere in the world! To celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut, consider:

  • hosting a party or a special meal to celebrate the occasion. Find an Israeli recipe that appeals to you and give it a try!
  • changing your Facebook profile picture to that of the Israeli flag.
  • doing a Yom Ha'atzmaut craft with your children, like creating flags, pretty painted planters, or celebratory pinwheels.

Yom Ha’atzmaut in Israel is always preceded by Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for the fallen soldiers. 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.

At the J, we wish Israel a Happy Birthday, and thank those soldiers who fight for Israel's freedom!

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How to Age Well

Renee Eder on Monday, April 25, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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We’re all growing older. And, in my opinion, like fine wine, we get better with age. However, to make the most of getting older, it’s important to understand what’s going on with your body and to take the right steps to stay healthy.

Some of the changes in our body as we age are good, and some are not so good, but most of them are within our control! Below is a list of things we may experience, many of which can be thwarted with starting good healthy habits now:

  • Bones: Bones can become thinner and more brittle in old age, especially in women. It's recommended that adults get at least 30 minutes of exercise (including weight and strength training) each day to strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis.
  • Heart: While a healthy diet and regular exercise can keep your heart healthy, it may become slightly enlarged, your heart rate may lower, and the walls of the heart may thicken as you age.
  • Brain and nervous system: Getting older can cause changes in your reflexes and even your senses, which is why it is common for people to experience “senior moments” as they get older. Non-repetitive brain games are a good way to keep the wheels turning!
  • Digestive system: As you age, your digestive tract becomes more firm and rigid, and doesn't contract as often. This change can lead to problems such as constipation, stomach pain, and feelings of nausea; a good diet can help. To aid digestion, eat your fiber, eat smaller meals throughout the day, and exercise!
  • Senses: You may notice that your vision and hearing aren't quite as sharp as they once were. You may start to lose your sense of taste — flavors may not seem as distinct to you. Prevention Magazine offers great tips on sharpening your senses here.

Many bodily changes are a natural part of aging, but they don’t have to slow you down, as long as you protect your body and keep it as healthy as possible. Here are some healthy aging tips that are good advice at any stage of life:

  • Stay physically active with regular exercise.
  • Stay socially active with friends and family and within your community.
  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet — dump the junk food in favor of fiber-rich, low-fat, and low-cholesterol eating.
  • Don't neglect yourself: Regular check-ups with your doctor, dentist, and optometrist are even more important now.
  • Take all medications as directed by your doctor.
  • Limit alcohol consumption and cut out smoking.
  • Get the sleep that your body needs.

Want more tips for healthy aging? Join us at The Spring Into Health Fair on Thursday, May 12, from 9am-1pm.  Come hear Dr. Fotuhi, a nationally recognized neurologist who has made extensive media appearances on CNN, ABC, Fox News, and the Today show, speak on ways to improve your memory and brain health. It's sure to be a fascinating presentation!

The day also includes: wellness vendors, free mini group fitness classes, free personal training assessments and screenings, raffle prizes, giveaways, healthy snacks, and more! Learn more about this and other health and wellness offerings here.

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Rice and Hummus on Passover? - Things Are Changing

Renee Eder on Tuesday, April 19, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Every Passover, one thing I miss dearly is rice. Especially brown rice. There were times where I secretly wished I was Sephardic, so I could enjoy rice and hummus (another favorite), and take a little break from the Matzah. This year, for the first time, I can indulge in these things without breaking tradition.

Passover, which starts on Friday with a holiday meal known as a seder and ends on April 30, commemorates the flight of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. Back in the 13th century, a rule was put in place that prohibited Ashkenazi Jews outside Israel from eating a group of foods known as kitniyot - rice, corn, peanuts, beans and other legumes - during Passover. This past November, a change was approved by Judaism's Conservative movement, to take these foods off the “forbidden” list for Passover.

Why the change? “The move comes partly in response to the growing popularity of gluten-free and vegan diets,” said Rabbi Elliot Dorff, chair of the Conservative movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards. He said “it is also a recognition of a changing composition and traditions of the Jewish faithful in the United States, which has the world's largest Judaic community outside Israel.”

For Conservative Jews who have observed the centuries-old prohibition against eating kitniyot over Passover, this year's seder promises to be like no other. Menus might be expanded to include sushi, which is made with rice; rice and beans; hummus; chicken satay with peanut sauce and other once-forbidden foods. 

Still taboo for all Jews during Passover is hametz (or any foods that are leavened including such grains as wheat, barley, oats, rye and spelt). The only approved way to consume grains is in the form of matzo, a cracker-like food that symbolizes the Jewish flight from slavery, when there was no time for bread to rise.

Whatever you choose to serve at your seder, I hope it turns out to be a festive time with family! We at the J wish all those who celebrate a Happy Passover!

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Did Your Grandmother (Bubbe) Show You How to Cook?

Renee Eder on Monday, April 11, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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I never sat down with my bubbe to learn how to make her matzo ball soup, brisket, or babka. I regret it now, because sadly, I can’t cook-- especially not the traditional Jewish foods. I’m embarrassed to say that my matzo balls come from a box, and my latkes from Trader Joes.

I remember walking into my mother-in-law’s home for the first time and eating a meal reminiscent of the ones my bubbe, Toby, used to make, and that helped solidify the fact that my husband was “the one.” That also made me realize that my children should really learn from her. It’s like a second chance I never thought I would have, that is now bestowed upon them!

Now, with Passover around the corner, I insist that my children take the time to learn from their grandparents and ask about our family history. I hope that they will  observe my mother-in-law rolling those matzo balls and making that delicious apple cake. I tell them to watch her get the seder (traditional meal with symbolic foods, prayers, and stories) plate ready for Passover, and pay attention to the creative things she can do to make eight days of eating matzo more bearable. I emphasize that they should learn from her, because they surely won’t learn from me. Unfortunately, they are often too busy playing Minecraft with their cousins. I am hoping this Passover will be different!

Check out this article, “Cooking from Memory,” for another account from a Rabbi about why it is so important for your children to learn about traditions from your parents and grandparents (especially during Passover). 

Grandparents. . . How Can You Pass on Your Traditions to Your Grandchildren?

One idea to get the children engaged is to use family recipes for brisket, latkes, or matzo balls and teach the grandkids how to become chefs in “Bubbe's Jewish Cooking School.” While you're creating, be sure to share family memories of how, when and why these Jewish foods were eaten. Invite your own children to sample the feast. The Passover seder is a great time to have your grandchildren help you organize and cook foods for the dinner table.

Hope this Passover holiday helps your children discover an interest in Jewish food and traditions, that they can pass on for generations to come.

Interested in learning more about Jewish food, particularly Israeli cuisine? Be sure to check out the film, "In Search of Israeli Cuisine," which is showing this Friday, as part of the Northern Virginia Jewish Film Festival.

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