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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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18 Creative Mishloach Manot (Purim Gift Basket) ideas

Renee Eder on Tuesday, March 7, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Purim is this weekend (beginning at sundown Saturday night and ending at sundown on Sunday!) That means fun, costumes, celebration, and mishloach manot (purim gift baskets)! Traditionally, mishloach manot contain two food items (from different food groups) and are sent to at least two friends. Over the years, mishloach manot have developed into sometimes more elaborate food packages that are sent to many friends and family in your community.

Mishloach Manot can be extra special and memorable. Here are a few ideas. Note that hamentaschen can and should be included in each one of these:

  1. Breakfast-Themed: Some people like to give out their mishloach manot first thing in the morning so that their package is waiting at the front door. Breakfast baskets can contain cereal, muffins, yogurt, bagels & lox, and more.
  2. For the over 21 crowd: Wine and cheese or beer and nuts
  3. For children or families with kids: Homemade cookies and milk
  4. British: Tea and scones
  5. Israeli: falafel balls, hummus, Israeli cookies and chocolate, and pita bread
  6. Greek: olives, tzatziki, pitas, and tapanades
  7. Jewish grandmother: A kugel, some kreplach or matzo ball soup, some whitefish salad, a challah, and a bottle of borscht and/or Manischewitz
  8. Mexican: chips, salsa, and a small bottle of tequila
  9. Italian: uncooked pasta, a bottle of sauce, and a small bottle of red wine
  10. American: a package of uncooked hotdogs, buns, ketchup, mustard, chips, and a couple cans of coke
  11. Chinese: a box of fortune cookies, some Chinese tea, some soup, and some crispy noodles that go into soup.
  12. Make your own hamentaschen basket: This can include dough, a triangle cookie cutter, and several hamentaschen fillings including fruit, jellies, and mun.
  13. One-color: red (Red Hots, strawberries, licorice, apples, etc.) or yellow (Lemonheads, lemonade, pineapple, yellow cake, etc.)
  14. Rainbow: Foods of each color of the rainbow, including those listed in #13, and rainbow hamentaschen!
  15. Things That Can Be Frozen: Chances are, lots of food is exchanging hands on Purim. People always appreciate something delicious they can eat later.
  16. Baseball: You can include peanuts, Cracker Jacks, baseball-shaped chocolates, beer, and any other game time favorites!
  17. Healthy snacks: You can include fruits, veggies, trail mix, and other healthy snacks!
  18. Donate to charity: There is lots of food floating around on Purim. Many families choose to donate to a charity instead of giving out dozens of mishloach manot.

Hope these ideas are helpful for your mishloach manot baskets. Hope everyone who celebrates has a Happy Purim!

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8 Meshugena (Crazy) Kinds of Hamentaschen

Renee Eder on Tuesday, February 28, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Like many Jews, Purim is my favorite Jewish holiday of the year (this year it’s on March 11-12!) I enjoy dressing my children in costumes, the mishloach manot baskets, the groggers my kids make, and most of all, the hamentaschen!

"Hamantaschen" is a Yiddish word meaning "Haman’s pockets." Haman is the villain in the Purim story, which appears in the Biblical Book of Esther. Jews eat hamantaschen on Purim as part of the celebration of the holiday, which commemorates how Jews escaped Haman's plot to have all the Jews in the kingdom massacred. One explanation for the triangular shape of these pastries is that Haman wore a three-cornered hat. Another explanation is that the three corners represent Queen Esther's strength and the founders of Judaism: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and others believe they represent Haman’s ears.

Popular fillings for hamantaschen are poppy seeds, prunes, and other fruit fillings. Below are eight other (more outside of the box) types of hamentaschen that I would like to try!

  1. Sushi hamentaschen: In a video, Sushi chef Moshe at Meshuga 4 Sushi takes fried-rice triangles, and tops with guacamole, baked salmon, and spicy mayo. And he doesn’t stop there: later in the video, he demonstrates how to make triangular sushi rolls, filled with sushi rice and fish.
  2. Pita and Hummus hamantaschen: Move over prune, pita and hummus hamantaschen are in town! See how to make them here.
  3. Baklava hamentaschen: Chanie Apfelbaum at Busy in Brooklyn takes her favorite Purim dessert all the way to the Ottoman Empire with her baklava hamantaschen.
  4. Rice Krispies Treats hamantaschen: The best part about this recipe is that there is no oozing of filling, no seams of the dough breaking, and NO BAKING.
  5. Unicorn hamantaschen: The cheery pastel colors, sparkly sprinkles, fluffy cotton candy and pillow-y marshmallows all contribute to this cookie’s magic.
  6. Pizza hamentaschen: If you can make a half moon-shape stuffed pizza and call it calzone, why not a triangle shape and call it pizza hamantashen.
  7. Neopolitan hamentaschen: These neapolitan version are strawberry with chocolate filling and vanilla drizzle.
  8. Red velvet hamentaschen with cream cheese filling: These are red velvet, chocolately cookies with cream cheese filling and drizzled chocolate.

Whether you prefer traditional hamentaschen or some of these meshugena varieties, we at the J hope you enjoy, and wish you a Happy Purim!

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Two Jewish Milestones and a Conference for Women this Year

Renee Eder on Tuesday, February 21, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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This year marks a double simcha (celebration) for American Jewish women. It is the 45th anniversary of the ordination of the first woman rabbi and the 95th anniversary of the first girl to become a bat mitzvah during a worship service.

Ninety-five years ago, Judith Kaplan pioneered the bat mitzvah at her father Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan’s synagogue in 1922, two years after women got the right to vote. In a mere nine and a half decades, the bat mitzvah has become commonly celebrated across the Jewish spectrum, from secular to orthodox. During the last quarter century, the bat mitzvah has come to look identical to the bar mitzvah in all but traditional congregations, and even ultra-Orthodox Jews recognize a girl’s coming-of-age. With the emergence of the women’s rights movement of the 1970s, the practice of bat mitzvah was all but normalized. With these expanding opportunities, women broadened their Jewish knowledge and skills, culminating for some who didn’t have the opportunity earlier, in adult bat mitzvah.

Fifty years later, Sally Priesand was ordained as the first woman rabbi. Sally Priesand’s ordination in 1972 spawned a revolutionary change in Jewish life. Celebrating the twentieth anniversary of her rabbinate in 1992, Priesand again voiced her long-standing critique that the institutions of Reform Judaism have still not fulfilled Reform’s historic commitment to equality of the sexes. On her twenty-fifth anniversary, she received an honorary doctorate from the HUC-JIR, and her congregants contributed toward the establishment of the Rabbi Sally J. Priesand Visiting Professorship in Jewish Women’s Studies at the College-Institute. The position in her name has helped enable the Reform movement to fulfill Preisand’s mandate of religious egalitarianism. As the first female rabbi, Priesand has always stood in the forefront of those who have struggled to carve a place for women and their perspectives in contemporary Judaism.

Jewish women, including Kaplan and Priesand, have empowered countless girls and women to seek leadership in their communities. Since these two simchas have changed the landscape for Jewish women, it has become the collective responsibility of girls, along with supportive parents and rabbis, to speak up and out.

Want to learn about women’s empowerment, self-confidence, and social entrepreneurship? On March 25, you are invited to a Women’s Conference — a transformative day of presentations, networking, empowerment, and more — for women of all ages and stages in the Washington, DC area! Learn from our presenters, five engaging women entrepreneurs who will share their knowledge and wisdom on their success and experiences. Their insight will enlighten your mind, empower you to dream of the possibilities, and motivate you to make them happen! The conference is perfect for women who are ready to catapult their life and career forward! Learn more here.

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T-Shirts in the Gym- Part 2

Renee Eder on Tuesday, February 14, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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I never thought about it until now, but, when I go to the gym, I typically wear Washington Nationals shirts, because I am a big fan and have lots of them, or shirts from my favorite bands from the 80’s including The Smiths or The Cure. What shirt do you wear most when you work out?

Last week, we learned about Dan Kubiske, a member at the J who sports a dinosaur shirt, and chats with other members about their cool and interesting t-shirts to learn more about them! Today, we will learn about four more members that Dan had the opportunity to talk to:


BJ wears a t-shirt that she bought in 1981 when she went to Zimbabwe with her husband, who at the time was her boyfriend. She wore it for a while and then put it in the closet because it didn’t fit anymore. Twenty-four years later, she took it out of the closet because she started working out at the J and lost 50lbs. Now the shirt fits again, and it is now her go-to shirt for working out at the J.
She works out at the J because she likes the warm and friendly environment and her family was among the founding members. So, according to BJ, she “was a member before it existed.” She always watched her husband and friends use the gym, and now she certainly makes use of it as well. According to BJ, “The J is so convenient and the fitness center had all the equipment I needed to get in shape. Now I keep coming to maintain my fitness goals and can’t wait until the J’s new fitness center is constructed to continue my journey!”
Marty Siepel

Marty bought his favorite workout shirt at the Smithsonian. He collects t-shirts from local historical sites, including Mt. Vernon and Monticello. Like me, he can also be seen sporting a Nats t-shirt and a Nats cap.  Go Nats! Marty loves coming to the J because he enjoys the pool!

Tex Blair

Tex’s t-shirt is from his grandson, who lives in New York City. It is the elementary school he goes to, and it is special because he gave it to Tex as a gift.

Tex enjoys the convenience of the J. He trains four times a week, with our trainers: twice with Jane Hansen, and twice with Matt Alvin.  He works out the remainder of the days using the machines and treadmill.

Betty Boyd

Betty’s shirt was given to her by a cancer survivor. She comes to the J because 18 years ago, she went into cardiac arrest. Once she started training, she enjoyed it very much, because according to Betty, “the people were wonderful.”  Betty is a Baptist, and calls herself a “Jewish Baptist,” because of how much she loves the J!

Hope you enjoyed this series about t-shirts at the J. Please send me a picture of your t-shirt and your story, and I may include it in future articles! As always, thanks for reading and for working out at the J.


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T-Shirts in the Gym- Part 1

Renee Eder on Monday, February 6, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Dan Kubiske, a member at the J, is super-friendly and social, and makes it a point to talk to others who are working out in our gym, especially those with cool and interesting t-shirts! He realized that everyone has a story, and a good way to start a conversation and get to know someone is by asking about his or her shirt and what it means! In this series, we will explore some of the t-shirts that Dan has spotted, and discuss the meaning, as described by the J member who was wearing it!

First, we will start with Dan himself. This is his t-shirt:

Dan is a member at the J, who first joined for the pool and to expose his sons to educational programs about Jewish culture. He now uses the gym regularly with his wife, and our trainers, and is excited about the progress they are making.

His t-shirt is from one of his favorite NPR stations, WEMU, which is in his hometown of Ypsilanti, Michigan. WEMU broadcasts blues and jazz, as well as the regular NPR news. He has been listening to this station for about 13 years on three different continents.

Stuart Eder

Another person Dan talked to was none other than my father-in-law, Stuart Eder. Stuart is famous as the man on the treadmill on the J’s “Big Shlep” poster (you can see it around the J right about now). You can regularly see him (and my husband) in Cleveland Cavaliers (and Indians) t-shirts, because they are from Cleveland and still love the teams, despite living in this area for nearly 40 years! They were beyond thrilled when the Cavs won it all this past year. My father-in-law is kind and friendly, and is a regular at the J, and I can honestly say he is in better shape than most people in our family!

Grace Bae

Grace Bae has only been a member at the J for a few days, and she is already taking full advantage of all the gym has to offer. She explained to Dan how Urban Promise is a program in Wilmington, DE, designed to equip children and young adults with the skills necessary for academic achievement, life management, personal growth, and leadership.. Her sister worked there, and she "borrowed" the t-shirt from her!   

In future articles, I will share more of Dan’s photos and the stories behind them. If you are wearing a cool t-shirt in the J’s gym, and a friendly man comes up to you and asks about it, it’s probably Dan and you may see yourself in a future article! Hope to see you (in your favorite t-shirt) at the J!

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Celebrating Tu B'Shevat: A Time to Start Anew

Renee Eder on Tuesday, January 31, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Tu B’Shevat in Hebrew means the 15th day of the month of Shevat. It will begin this year on the evening of Friday, February 10th and will be observed during the day of February 11th. To most, this holiday marks the beginning of a New Year for the trees, when trees start another fruit-bearing cycle. To me and to many others, Tu B'Shevat has a deeper meaning. It is a celebration of a new beginning, responsibility, reflection, and overcoming personal setbacks.

So, how is Tu B'Shevat celebrated? During the 24 hour period in which the holiday is observed, the people of Israel celebrate Tu B’Shevat by eating fruit as instructed by the Torah. This includes eating from the trees that produce nuts, figs, olives, pomegranates, and dates. Here are some ways that you can personally celebrate the Tu B’Shevat holiday:

• Plant Trees: During Tu B’Shevat, people plant trees to replenish what was used. Trees produce the oxygen we breathe, and they give us life. Every seed we plant counts, and is a gift to the next generation!

• Protect the Environment: Tu B’Shevat is the opportunity to preserve, protect, and clean our environment. Set up a time to volunteer to clean up a local park, river, or lake. By preserving the environment, we allow future generations to experience it's divine beauty.

• Take time to reflect: Connecting with your emotions and thoughts is a way to grow spiritually. Take a walk in the park, the woods, or take the time to observe the world around you. Although, it is simple, taking this time will help you reflect and feel restored inside.

• Eat fruit: Enjoy the fruit of your labor by eating fruit, of course. Enjoy the fruits of the trees, and be mindful when you eat figs or the pomegranates. Think of the earth and how we are provided with an abundance of wonderful things to eat.

• Cook: Enlist the family to do some baking with the fruit that you bought for the holiday! Make apple turnovers, fruit smoothies, or fruit and cheese plates. You can make chicken dishes with the dates or make a chopped salad with apples and pears dressed with olive oil. Invite people over and offer them wine with their fruit assortment. For something special, send people home with seeds for their gardens for the spring so they can enjoy fresh herbs.

We hope you have a meaningful Tu B'Shevat. At the J, we have two fun events going on to celebrate the holiday! On Saturday, February 11th, we will be having a Tu B'Shevat seder: An Evening to Delight the Senses (for adults 21+), hosted by our shlicha, Na'ama Gold.  Come celebrate the evening by awakening your senses & taste buds with music, kosher wine, traditional seder snacks, and dessert. To register, visit: On Sunday, February 12th, we will have a family friendly (all ages welcome) traditional Tu B’Shevat Seder at Gesher. Explore how celebrations differ in Israel and in America, and learn about food sustainability through hands-on activities. We will also care for those in need through a hunger awareness service project. To register, visit: Hope to see you at one or both events!

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#WeRemember on January 27, 2017

Renee Eder on Tuesday, January 24, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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My grandparents died when I was twelve years old. I realize now that I was lucky to have known them at all. I was an inquisitive child, who asked lots of questions, and whenever I asked them about the Holocaust, my bubbe and zeide (grandma and grandpa in Yiddish) would cry. They never told me much, because it was hard to talk about.  However, my mother told me that their entire families were killed, including aunts and uncles and great-grandparents that I never had the chance to meet. Six million of our Jewish sisters and brothers and five million others perished in the Holocaust. This is why I make it a point to observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is observed on January 27 each year, as an international memorial day for the victims of the Holocaust. The Holocaust is the genocide that resulted in the annihilation of six million European Jews, as well as millions of others by the Nazi regime. The day was designated by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution on November 1, 2005.

January 27 is the date, in 1945, when the largest Nazi death camp (Auschwitz-Birkenau), was liberated by Soviet troops. The Resolution establishing January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day urges every member nation of the U.N. to honor the memory of Holocaust victims, and encourages the development of educational programs about Holocaust history to help prevent future acts of genocide. It rejects any denial of the Holocaust as an event and condemns all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment, or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief.

Another day to commemorate the Holocaust is Yom HaShoah (יום השואה), which is observed as Israel's day of commemoration for those who perished in the Holocaust. It was inaugurated on 1953, anchored by a law signed by the Prime Minister of Israel David Ben-Gurion and the President of Israel Yitzhak Ben-Zvi. This year, it begins at sundown on April 23, 2017, and many of us light a candle in observance.

On their website, the United States Holocaust Museum, discusses ways to remember the Holocaust, including films, using your social networks, and engaging others. Haaretz also has a helpful article, “How Young Is Too Young to Teach My Child About the Holocaust?,” which offers ideas about teaching children about the Holocaust. We hope this is helpful, and invite you to share your suggestions in the comments.




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Staff Spotlight: Amy Vermillion

Renee Eder on Tuesday, January 17, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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We’re into the first month of 2017, and I just realized we haven’t done any staff spotlights in a while. So, for our first spotlight of the year, we will look at someone who has been at the J for a whopping 21 years—our Director of Early Childhood Services, Amy Vermillion.

Being a director of early childhood services is a challenging, yet rewarding job. Amy directs and leads her staff, oversees daily activities, and prepares plans and budgets. She is responsible for all aspects of the early childhood program at the J, and at the same time, she gets to see children grow from infant to toddler to kindergarten-ready.

Amy’s tenure at the J began as a teacher for the first 14 years of her career, and for the past 7 years, she has been the Director of Early Childhood Services.  When she’s not working at the J, she enjoys traveling, the beach, and gardening.

When Amy hears the phrase, "There's Something Special About the J," it reminds her that the J is like a big family, and a place where everyone feels welcome. Advice she would give members is to take advantage of all of the wonderful and varied offerings and programs at the J. She wants everyone to know that the staff really cares about the mission of the J, the programs they specialize in, and about each and every member.

Amy enjoys working in a place that is multi-generational and appreciates the warm and diverse members and guests who come to the J every day. She is grateful for the opportunity to work with a really great team in a career she truly loves. She is currently hiring experienced full-time teachers to join her team of caring and dedicated professionals. Are you a teacher who is looking for a job that is rewarding and that will inspire the next generation? Come work in the J’s early childhood center. Learn about this and other job openings on our career opportunities page! If you are a parent looking for a wonderful preschool for your child(ren), learn more here!

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Learning Never Has to End

Renee Eder on Tuesday, January 10, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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My son had his first bar mitzvah lesson last week. I sat with him and his tutor, and learned things I never knew before. Despite going through Hebrew school and learning how to read Hebrew pretty proficiently, I was learning again from the tutor about Hebrew, Torah trope, and how you can look at each parshah (torah portion) and find elements that relate to your own life. I truly enjoyed expanding my horizons (as did my son!)

One of the best things I realize about life is that we never have to stop learning. There are always new skills to learn and techniques for us to adopt. In fact, for us to live life to the fullest, we must continually look for ways to improve.

Learning is tough, however, and can be frustrating. This is especially true when we talk about taking on new sports like Crossfit, or pushing our brain to the limits. Although the task seems hard, nothing is greater than reaching your accomplishment. For highly challenging goals like beating our personal running time or learning a new skill at work, it is such an amazing feeling when you achieve your goal. When we play sports or work out, beating our personal records gives a high like none other.

Several studies have shown that the more ambitious goals that we set, the happier we are. And when we decide our own goals, our happiness is not reliant on others. We pick how many hours we practice, and we take ownership over what we achieve. Personal development is a way to guarantee us serenity from within.

Want to keep learning? The J’s Adult Learning Institute (ALI) is our adult lifelong learning center. Its mission is to provide intellectually stimulating, enjoyable, and engaging opportunities to expand your mind and your knowledge with other adults of all backgrounds and ages. Registration for the Winter 2017 semester is now open. Please take a moment to review the courses on our website and sign up for one (or more!) of these fabulous opportunities to continue your lifelong learning with us!

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Why Secular New Year’s Resolutions May Be Unrealistic

Renee Eder on Tuesday, January 3, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Every year, on both the secular and Jewish new years, I make the same resolutions: to lose 20 lbs, exercise 4x a week, and eat less take out and more healthy home-cooked meals. I consider myself to be a trooper, that is, until the day after when I am snacking on Chinese takeout and postponing exercise until the next day. This is why I make the same resolutions every year on both holidays! Initially, they sound like good resolutions, but maybe they are just impractical? According to, here are some examples of how some of the most common secular resolutions might be unrealistic for many of us:

  • Reduce stress: To many of us, stress is a motivator! In fact, our tolerance for stress is biologically higher than any other creature found in nature. For many of us, the more stress, the more we and our dearest feel we’re “on the job.”
  • Spend More Time with Family & Friends: Over half of the U.S. population resolves to spend more time with loved ones. Jews have spent 3,500 years nailing this one. Many of us bring our 40-year-old children brisket, check-in twice a day, and wonder why they don’t call or visit more often.
  • Eat healthy/Lose those extra pounds. 66% of adults are overweight or obese. Eating healthy is important for everyone who is overweight so we can all live longer. But there is so much good Jewish food out there! I guess it’s true that we need to do everything (including eating bagels and lox and snacking on rugalach) in moderation.
  • Travel and enjoy life more: This is a good goal for many, especially if we have vacation time and like to travel. For many of us, however, our goal is to stay put. We’re happy with our home in the suburbs, where traveling consists of going to mom’s house in NY and an annual trip to the beach, at least until our children are grown or we are retired.

Get fit

Studies have shown that exercise helps us live longer, lowers blood pressure, is good for arthritis, makes us look better, and perks up our mood. There is no excuse not to get in shape, especially with the J right up the street, and this goes for everyone (including me!) This is why we have our “New Year, New You! Join. Commit. Come Get Fit.” January Specials!

  • Join the J in January and your registration fee will be waived ($75 value).
  • Join January 1st-7th to receive 20% off your membership dues.
  • Join January 8th-31st to receive 10% off your membership dues.

Why not enjoy all the fitness opportunities the J has to offer, including a 25-meter, heated, indoor pool, fitness center, personal training, group exercise classes, full-court gymnasium, and more? To schedule a tour and for more information, call 703.537.3042. This excludes anyone who was a member in 2016, as well as these membership categories: Teen, Au-pair/Nanny, Kehilla, Silver Sneakers upgrade, and J Friend.

Hope to see you working out at the J soon!


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It's Chanukah! Ideas to Make Each Night Special

Renee Eder on Monday, December 26, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Chanukah is an eight-day celebration commemorating the miracle of the oil. Since it began on Saturday night, my family has lit our candles, exchanged gifts, played dreidel, ate sufganiyot, and enjoyed many of the local events. Now, we're lookin for what else we can do to make every night of the holiday special.
Each night of Chanukah provides a new opportunity for families to spend quality time together. To help inspire Jewish family moments this Chanukah, PJ Library put together this list of possible evening themes. Here are some ideas:

Tzedakah dreidel night: As a family, ante up coins. Each player chooses a tzedakah recipient, and all the dreidel winnings are donated to the tzedakah cause of the winner's choice. Click here to learn how to play. P.S. All this week (December 23rd-30th), you can give your Tzedakah to the J and see someone get a whip cream pie in the face! Look for our menorah display in our lobby!

Friends and neighbors night: Invite a friend or a neighbor over. It could be someone who doesn't celebrate the holiday or maybe just someone without any family nearby. Share your family Chanukah traditions.

Skype or FaceTime night: Call a friend or relative and read a story together over the phone. Better yet, use Skype or FaceTime to light candles together, say blessings, make a recipe,` or read stories together. For more ideas, see How to Keep in Touch With Grandparents.

DIY gift night: Make Hanukkah gifts for friends or family members by hand. Need some ideas? Check out 12 Hanukkah Activities We Love. The website, Little Loving Hands also sends families boxes that include DIY and crafting ideas that help people in need.

Video night: Watch something Jewish with friends or family. Don't know where to start? Check out Shaboom! You can also stream a Hanukkah themed movie or special or head over to YouTube to watch some Hanukkah themed videos.

Sufganiyot night: One of the tastiest Hanukkah traditions involves eating foods cooked in oil. Sufganiyot are delicious fried jelly donuts. You can make your own with this recipe.

Mitzvah night: Join with another family to visit a local senior facility or read a story to elderly neighbors. Consider having your children go through toy closets to pull out donations for the local family homeless shelter.

Hope this list is helpful and that every night of Chanukah is fun and special for you and your family! If you are interested, there are two candlelighting events going on this week! Join us for the Chanukah Community Menorah Lighting (Gainesville) on Thursday, December 27at 6pm at the Virginia Gateway for community fun with latkes, donuts, entertainment, and music. The Chanukah Community Menorah Lighting (Mosaic District) is also this week on Thursday, December 29, at 5pm. Hope to see you there!

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Why do Jews eat Chinese food on Christmas? How the tradition has evolved over 100 years

Renee Eder on Tuesday, December 20, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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The Hebrew year is 5777 and the Chinese year is 4714. That must mean, as the joke goes, that against all odds the Jews went without Chinese food for 1,063 years. This must not have been easy, because Jewish people (including myself) love Chinese food, especially on Christmas. In fact, it is a tradition that dates back more than 100 years!

Over the years, Jewish families and friends have gathered on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at Chinese restaurants across the United States to socialize, to reinforce social and familiar bonds, and to engage in a favorite activity for Jews during the Christmas holiday. According to Joshua Eli Plaut, author of A Kosher Christmas: ’Tis the Season to Be Jewish, "The origin of this Jewish tradition of eating out at Chinese restaurants dates to the end of the 19th century on the Lower East Side. Jews found such restaurants readily available in urban and suburban areas in America where both Jews and Chinese lived in close proximity."

This is the timeline of events for the Chinese food on Christmas tradition:

• 1899: The first mention of Chinese food on Christmas was in the American Hebrew weekly journal

• 1903: The Yiddish-language newspaper the Forward coined the Yiddish word oysessen — eating out — to describe the growing custom of Jews eating outside the home in New York City.

• 1910: Approximately one million Jews had settled in New York City, constituting more than one quarter of the city’s population. Soon, immigrants were exposed to non-Jewish ethnic foods and tastes. In the neighborhoods in which Jews first settled, Chinese restaurants were plentiful.

• 1936: The Lower East Side publication, East Side Chamber News, reported that at least 18 Chinese “tea gardens” and chop suey eateries had recently opened in the heavily populated Jewish area. All were within a short walking distance of Ratner’s, the famous Jewish dairy restaurant in Manhattan.

• By the end of the 20th century, after only 100 years: Immigrant Jews all over the U.S. were more familiar with sushi than with gefilte fish, and Christmas for Jewish people became synonymous with eating Chinese food!

Michael Tong of Shun Lee Palace in New York talked about Chinese Food in a 2003 interview with The New York Times. He explained it well, saying, "While most restaurants close for the holiday, or in a few cases, stay open and serve a prix fixe meal laden with froufrou, thousands of diners, most of them Jewish, are faced with a dilemma. There's nothing to celebrate at home and no place to eat out, at least if they want a regular dinner. That leaves Chinese restaurants..."

Does your family eat Chinese food on Christmas? If so, you can come enjoy it at the J this year! Join your friends, family, and community for JFest, an afternoon screening of Pixar’s classic movie “UP” and kosher Chinese food. Register early for this very popular event! The cost is $12/adult and $6/child for Chinese food and the movie, and $3 for movie only. Please RSVP by December 22, if you are having Chinese food. Learn more here. Hope to see you there!

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Chanukah Customs from Around the World

Renee Eder on Monday, December 12, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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In less than 2 weeks, we will begin Chanukah, a fun holiday when Jewish people from all over the world commemorate the rededication of Jerusalem’s Holy Temple, which was reclaimed by Jews from the Syrian Greek empire in the second century BC. My family loves Chanukah for the pretty blue decorations, lighting of the candles, dreidel (spinning top) and Chanukah gelt (chocolate money), and of course for the eight nights of presents.

Once a relatively minor celebration on the Jewish calendar, Chanukah became more widely honored in recent times, with menorahs lit in Jewish homes and lighting ceremonies in many cities and towns. Similar to other holidays, the ways in which Chanukah is observed varies, with different cultures putting their own unique spin on things. Here’s a look at some of the ways Jews around the globe celebrate Chanukah:

Eastern Europe
Jews in Eastern European countries celebrate the holiday by eating latkes (oil-fried potato pancakes), which took advantage of the availability of potatoes in this part of the world. Jewish immigrants then brought the custom to North America.

Indians of Jewish heritage light their menorahs with wicks that are dipped in coconut oil rather than candles, a different way to honor the miracle of the oil, says Simon J. Bronner, Ph.D., distinguished professor of American studies and folklore at Penn State University. Also in India, some Jews replace latkes with a food called burfi, a confectionary made with condensed milk and sugar, says Bronner.

“Among Yemenite Jews, the seventh night of Chanukah is set aside as a women's holiday,” says Bronner. "The night commemorates Hannah, sometimes spelled Channah, whose story is told in the Book of Maccabees. According to the text, Hannah and her seven sons defied the Syrian Greeks who ruled Jerusalem at the time, and she and her sons were killed for refusing to give up their beliefs."

In Israel, Jews feast on sufganiyot (round jelly donuts). Similar to latkes, sufganiyot are fried in oil. The oil symbolizes the small amount of oil the ancient Jews had with them to light their temple, which lasted eight days. This sweet tradition increasingly makes it to dinner tables in America and other parts of the Jewish Diaspora. 

In Istanbul, Jews sing a song commemorating the eight menorah candles called “Ocho Candelas,” and eat oil-fried fritters known as “burmelos.”

Jews in Morocco also celebrate by enjoying fried jelly donuts. Their version, called Sfenj, is made with the juice and zest of an orange.

Italian Jews share recipes for a lightly sweetened, olive oil infused, honey-covered treat called precipizi, which originated in Turin.

However your family celebrates, we at the J wish you a Happy Chanukah! We hope you will join us at JFest on December 25 for a movie and chinese food and at the Menorah Lighting at Mosaic on December 29

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Fun Menorahs for Chanukah

Renee Eder on Tuesday, December 6, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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I sent my daughter to school today in a super cute Menorah (a nine-branched candelabrum used for Chanukah) shirt we found at Target. Since she is one of two Jewish children in her class, she will likely be explaining what the menorah is and what Chanukah is to mostly everyone. She doesn't mind though (this happens every year!) She enjoys sharing about our culture and teaching her class how to play dreidel (spinning top game) and eating Chanukah gelt (chocolate coins) with her friends!

For those of you who don't already know, Chanukah is known as the festival of lights, and is an eight-day Jewish Holiday beginning on the 25th day of the month of Kislev, which falls anytime from late November to late December. This year Chanukah 2016 starts on Christmas Eve, Saturday, December 24.

Chanukah celebrates the re-kindling of the Jewish Temple menorah at the time of the Maccabee rebellion. The festival is observed in Jewish homes by the kindling of lights on each night of the holiday – one on the first night, two on the second, and so on – using a menorah. To make the holiday extra fun, I found these adorable menorahs that you could make or buy, that I will share with you:

  • Bicycle menorah: For bike enthusiasts, check out this menorah that is shaped like a bicycle!
  • Lego menorah: Try making a lego menorah! You can make a simple menorah or one that's more complicated. It's a fun activity and a great way to get children involved with the holiday.
  • Emoji menorah: Emojis are hot this year. Show your happy emotions with this fun menorah!
  • Pez menorah: Use some of your favorite Pez dispensers to make a fun, colorful menorah.
  • Pasta menorah: A menorah made of pasta and spray-painted is easy and inexpensive to make!

Whichever menorah you decide to use, we hope you have a Happy Chanukah! Be sure to check our calendar all month long for lots of fun Chanukah events!!

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Staff Spotlight: Renee Eder

Renee Eder on Tuesday, November 29, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Hi, I'm Renee Eder, author of this blog and the J's trusty social media person. I have been at the J for nearly 2 1/2 years, and it just dawned on me today to write a staff spotlight about someone I know quite well, myself!  For those who don't know me, I figured: why not put a face with the name?

I am a mom of two, who is originally from Rockland County, NY, a suburb of New York City. I have been in the DC area for 18 years now, which is why I don't have much of a New York accent, unless I am talking to another New Yorker. I went to school at Binghamton University, and then went to an even colder place for grad school- Syracuse University. So, I know a lot about cold weather and driving in snow!

For most of my career, I have been a professional writer, webmaster, social media person, and web content strategist. I also do graphic design. I enjoy my job at the J immensely, because I write about what I enjoy and the content is all about Jewish culture, so it comes naturally to me. It all just makes sense!

When I am not at the J, I am usually schlepping (taking) my kids someplace. Whether it be soccer or scouts, I am driving them somewhere singing way too loud to my favorite Pandora radio station. I volunteer often at my kids' schools and enjoy crafting, playing scrabble, and spending time with family and friends.

In my opinion, the J is a GREAT place to work and to belong to because we offer EVERYTHING here. If my children want to go for a swim in the middle of the winter, or I want to be challenged at a weight training class, it's all at the J. If I want to attend an expo for my son's bar mitzvah, or need something to do with the kids on Christmas besides eat Chinese food, it's also at the J. I hope all of our members take advantage of all the great things here, because there are so many of them!

If you enjoy this blog, thank you! Please continue to read it and follow the J on Facebook. I welcome your comments and suggestions, and would love to receive your guest post. Please inquire at See you on social media, and hopefully at the J!

P.S.: Since it's #GivingTuesday, if you are feeling charitable, please consider giving to the J! It's a truly worthwhile cause!!! Thanks in advance for your loyalty and your generosity!

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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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