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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 Laurie.Albert@jccnv.org 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.

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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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Matzo Nachos (Machos), Anyone?

Renee Eder on Monday, April 4, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Passover is around the corner. If you're anything like me, you get bored with matzo this and matzo that. Chances are, after two or three days, you’ve eaten your fair share of the salt-free, woefully bland cracker-like bread with whipped cream cheese and lox, Passover butter with no taste, or even chopped liver. When you get to this point, you don't think you can down another bite of the stuff. Don't despair — I will share ideas that will help you power through Passover, and I am sharing them now so you can get to the supermarket and stock up before they sell out of the ingredients. Enjoy!

1. Matzo Brei Pizza
Prepare your go-to matzo brei recipe, but leave it slightly underdone and pale, not golden brown as you would serving it straight out of the pan. Transfer your slightly underdone matzo brei to a baking sheet, then top it with  marinara sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese, and your favorite vegetables (if you desire). Bake at 450°F until cheese is bubbly and toppings are cooked through, about 10 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve.

2. Matzo Nachos (Machos)
Break a few matzot into 2-inch by 3-inch pieces and spread out on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Use a spray bottle to coat the pieces lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, then flip and repeat on the second side. Bake at 300°F for 15 minutes and remove from oven. Crank the oven up to 425°F, then top your matzo nachos with shredded cheddar and jack cheeses, a dollop of sour cream, slices of pickled jalapeno, and any of your other favorite nacho toppings. Return to the oven until cheese is bubbly and matzot are browned but not burned, about 7-10 minutes.

3. Open-Face Smoked Salmon Matzo Bites
Here’s an easy appetizer or delicious snack (anything with lox is delicious!) Break matzo into 2-inch squares — they should be small enough to eat in one bite. Spoon a dollop of cream cheese onto each square, then top with a slice of cold-smoked salmon, a pinch of minced shallots, and a few capers. It's a little fancier than your standard matzo, cream cheese, and lox. And if you feel like getting really fancy, you can arrange the salmon in a rosette on top of each bite.

4. Whole Wheat Matzo Maple Granola
Break five whole wheat matzot into bits, about the size of rolled oats (alternately, you can use matzo farfel, a pre-broken matzo product sold in canisters). In a large mixing bowl, combine the broken matzo with a cup of raw walnut or pecan baking pieces. In a small saucepan over low heat, bring 1/2 cup maple syrup and 1/4 cup vegetable or coconut oil up to a low simmer, then pour into bowl with matzo and nuts and toss to combine. Bake at 300°F for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

5. Garlic Matzo Crackers
Preheat oven to 325°F and line a couple of baking sheets with foil. Lay a few matzot down in a single layer, spray or brush with olive oil, then before the oil has a chance to soak in, quickly sprinkle with a fine layer of garlic powder, fine sea salt, and ground black pepper. Flip and repeat on remaining side. Bake until the tops are a bit browned, about 8 minutes. Flip and bake until the other side is browned, about 8 more minutes. Allow to cool, then break into cracker-sized pieces.

6. Baked Matzo Pakoras
Preheat oven to 375°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Break two matzot into small pieces, then blitz in the food processor with a teaspoon each of ground cumin, coriander, and salt. Stir in a half cup of plain whole yogurt and a cup of defrosted chopped spinach until the mixture becomes a thick paste, adding more yogurt if it is too stiff. Spoon tablespoon-sized dollops onto the baking sheet, then bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve hot with chutney of your choice.

7. Matzo Hot Dog Bites
In a shallow dish, whisk together an egg and three tablespoons of water. Place a whole matzo in the dish, turning once to coat with the egg mixture. Let soak for a few minutes, until the matzo becomes pliable. Wrap the matzo around a hot dog. Heat a teaspoon or two of oil in a non-stick skillet, then cook until the matzo is crisp and the hot dog is heated through, turning often. Slice into one-inch pieces and serve with mustard for dipping.

Got any extra-creative ways to use up all that matzo? If so, please share them with us. Hope this Passover will be a delicious one (with not much boredom of Matzo) for you!

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The Birth of the Jewish Film Festival

Renee Eder on Monday, March 28, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Natalie Portman, Gal Gadot, Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, and Mila Kunis: they are all household names in Hollywood – and they’re all Jewish. So what significance does the prevalence of Jewish artists have in film history, and how did film festivals that feature Jewish films and artists come to be?

A Brief History

Jewish films and Jewish film directors have a long history in Hollywood. For nearly as long as films have been made, movies have been influenced by Jewish characters, themes, and plots, as well as by Jewish directors, actors, and especially, executives and producers. Jewish people played – and continue to play – a pivotal role in the Hollywood movie studios, while Jews and Judaism have appeared in films in different ways and degrees throughout the history of film. For more on the history of Jewish film, dating back 100 years ago, please read our blog post, "Jewish Influence in Film."

Jewish Film Festivals

For more than two decades, Jewish film festivals, which spotlight these films, have been held not only in such obvious places as New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, but also in Omaha, Fresno, and northeast Pennsylvania (and of course, Northern Virginia!)  Others are held in Canada and some two dozen in foreign cities, including Brighton, England; São Paolo, Brazil; La Paz, Bolivia; and Hong Kong. “It is a remarkable network that has developed — big, small, and medium-sized festivals — all over the place,” says filmmaker Bonnie Burt. “They are cropping up like little mushrooms.”

What is nice about the Jewish film festivals, in addition to creating a community, is that they offer a venue for us to celebrate what being Jewish is all about — to rejoice in the best things about Jewish culture, history, accomplishments and identity and to critically address the tough issues and challenges that face us as a people. And, the festivals aren’t only for Jewish people. They are a place where others can come and learn about us, and because Jewish films so often explore the diversity of Jewish identity we can all learn about other cultures.

The Northern Virginia Jewish Film Festival is April 7-17, 2016

The 16th annual Northern Virginia Jewish Film Festival, powered by the JCCNV, will screen 14 contemporary Jewish-themed and/or Israeli-made feature films that explore identity and place in the world. Opening night on April 7 features the new British comedy Dough; other films to be screened are À la Vie, A Blind Hero: The Love of Otto Weidt, Belle and Sebastian, Bulgarian Rhapsody, In Search of Israeli Cuisine, Laugh Lines, Raise the Roof, Rosenwald, Sabena Hijacking – My Version, Suicide, Time to Say Goodbye, To Life, and  Wedding Doll. Learn more and buy tickets  here.

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Five Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Purim

Renee Eder on Monday, March 21, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Purim, which starts at sundown on Wednesday, March 23, is one of Judaism’s most fun holidays. Most of us know about the Megillah (the book of Esther), hamentashen (three-sided cookies) and making noise with groggers (noisemakers) when we hear the evil Haman’s name. Below are a few things about this holiday that might surprise you (from My Jewish Learning):

1. Esther was a vegetarian: According to midrash (torah-based stories taught by rabbinical Jewish sages of the post-Temple era), while Queen Esther lived in the court of King Ahasuerus, she followed a vegetarian diet consisting largely of legumes so that she would not break the laws of kashrut (keeping Kosher). For this reason, there is a tradition of eating beans and peas on Purim. (After all, you’ll need something healthy after all the hamantaschen.)

2. You’re supposed to find a messenger to deliver your mishloach manot, the gift baskets traditionally exchanged with friends and family on Purim. Why? The verse in the Book of Esther about mishloach manot stipulates that we should send gifts to one another, not just give gifts to one another. As a result, it’s better to send your packets of goodies to a friend via a messenger, than to just give them outright.

3. The Book of Esther is the only biblical book that does not include G-d’s name. The Book of Esther  also makes no references to the Temple, to prayer, or to Jewish practices such as kashrut.

4. Purim is celebrated one day later inside walled cities than it is everywhere else. The Book of Esther differentiates between Jews who lived and fought their enemies for two days within the walled, capital city of Shushan and those who lived in unwalled towns, where only one day was needed to subdue the enemy. The Rabbis determined we should make that same distinction when memorializing the event. Accordingly, if a person lives in a city that has been walled since the days of Joshua (circa 1250 B.C.E.), as Shushan was, Purim is celebrated on the fifteenth of the month of Adar, a day referred to as “Shushan Purim.”

5. Hamantaschen might have been designed to symbolize Haman’s hat — or his ears or pockets. Some say these cookies represent Haman’s ears (the Hebrew name for them, oznei Haman, means just this), and refer to a custom of cutting off a criminal’s ears before his execution. Another theory is that the three corners represent the three patriarchs whose power weakened Haman and gave strength to Esther to save the Jews. Yet another theory: Because the German word tasche means “pouch” or “pocket,” the cookies could signify Haman’s pockets and the money he offered the king for permission to kill the Jewish people.

Hope this was enlightening, if not interesting (it was for me!)  For all those who celebrate, we wish you a Happy Purim!

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How to Talk to Your Children about the Election (from a Rabbi's Perspective)

Renee Eder on Monday, March 14, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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The election is being discussed everywhere these days. Your children, no matter how old, are aware of it. So, there is no reason not to talk with them, share your views with them, and involve them in the process. According to Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu, the Director of Rabbis Without Borders at CLAL – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, it is "one of the best ways to fulfill our civic duty."

This is what else Rabbi Sirbu has to say:

1. Let children know that healthy debate is good. They can be curious about the opinions of others and ask questions. Jewish tradition encourages this.

2. Be polite. In spite of the current climate of the political process, the teaching of Rabbi Hillel still stands, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” When talking with someone who shares different views from you or your family, do not call them names or insult them.

3. Many scary things get said about the future in presidential debates. If children are getting upset by what they are hearing, talk to them about it. Ask why they are upset, and talk through the issues and the political process.

4. Be aware of your own behavior. Your children will model what you do and say. How do you want them to be behaving? What do you want them to take away from this election cycle?

5. Talk about the issues and how they can get involved. Many kids want to feel a part of this process. Find out what issues may interest them and empower them to act. Small acts can make a big difference. If nothing else, take them with you to vote. They can learn that every vote counts and that their voice is important.

Let kids know that even though they can't vote, they can encourage the adults in their life to register to vote and to campaign for their favorite causes and candidates.  For more details on talking to children about the election, please see PBS parent's guide, "Helping Kids Understand the Election." For details on where candidates stand on Israel and other issues important to many Jewish people, please click here.

 

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What is Purim Like in Other Countries?

Renee Eder on Tuesday, March 8, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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This month, Jewish people around the world are celebrating Purim, one of the most joyous and fun holidays on the Jewish calendar. It commemorates a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination. Purim 2016 begins at sunset on Wednesday, March 23, and ends on Thursday evening, March 24.

In the United States, we listen to the Megilla (the book of Esther) on Purim, to relive the events that are told about Esther, Mordecai, and Haman. It is customary to twirl graggers (Purim noisemakers) and stamp one's feet when the evil  Haman’s name is mentioned. Many Jewish people give to the needy around this time of the year. Food baskets or food gifts called Mishloach Manot are also given away. Some Jewish schools have Purim carnivals filled with activities, costumes, food and games.  Special prayers are also included in evening, morning and afternoon prayers.

As you can see, and as many of you know first-hand, Purim in the U.S. is a lot of fun! So, how is this joyous Jewish holiday celebrated in other parts of the world.  To find out, see the details below, from the Jewish Agency for Israel:

Israel: In the Tel Aviv suburb city of Holon, several hundred spectators in colorful costumes watch the annual parade, featuring cartoon and animal floats. Israeli policemen cordon off the street for a parade packed with adults and children in colorful costumes, who come to watch the biggest Purim parade in Israel.

Germany: In one town in Germany, on the eve of Purim, two candles are lit in the synagogue. One is called "Haman" and the other "Zeresh" (Haman's wife). The candles are allowed to burn completely, and are not extinguished. Haman (doll)-shaped cakes are also prepared, and the children eat them with great glee.
 
Italy: In one town in Italy, Jewish children divide into two camps and throw nuts. Adults ride through the streets of the town on horseback, with cypress branches in their hands. They also place an effigy of Haman in a high place, and encircle it to the sound of trumpets.

France: Some Jewish children take smooth stones, write or engrave Haman's name on them, and strike them together during the Megillah reading whenever Haman's name is mentioned.

Tunisia: In a town in Tunisia,  Jewish schoolchildren participate in burning an effigy of Haman. The younger children make small Hamans out of paper, and the older children make a large Haman out of rags, old clothes, and straw. A large bonfire is prepared and children throw the "Hamans" they had made into the fire.

Libya: The Jewish youngsters throw an effigy of Haman into the fire and jump over it, competing to see who could jump highest.

Afghanistan: The Jewish children draw pictures of Haman on planks or cardboard. During the Megillah reading, the planks are thrown to the ground and trampled on, making a lot of noise. Wooden sandals are held in the hands and clapped together, also making a loud noise. The synagogue carpets are taken up and the congregants trample underneath them, in case Haman is hiding there.

No matter where you are, we at the J wish you and your family a fun and happy Purim holiday!

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The Top Five YUMMY Hamantaschen

Renee Eder on Tuesday, March 1, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Purim, which is celebrated this month, is a Jewish holiday where one is commanded to “eat, drink, and be merry.” During the holiday, Jewish people observe the mitzvah of reading the Scroll of Esther (the Megillah) and using noisemakers to drown out the name of Haman (the evil vizier).

One of the traditional foods of Purim is a pastry called a hamantaschen. The three corners, depending upon custom, are either for Haman’s pockets, Haman’s ears, or Haman’s hat. Below are the top five hamantaschen flavors, in my opinion with links so you can make them yourself:

1. Rainbow/Tie Dyed hamentaschen: Purim is a noisy, happy celebration - so these tie dyed hamataschen fit right in! They are not quite rainbow – but more like marbled with rainbow colors, so my kids describe them as “tie dyed,” rather than simply rainbow (but you can call them either)!

2. Coconut Cheesecake Hamentaschen  I love these because the filling is creamy, with a hint of coconut inside, and the perfect amount of toasted coconut on top.

3. Cannoli Hamantaschen: There is something about a sweet, creamy cannoli filling, rich chocolate chips, and crunchy shell has always been the trifecta of what a dessert should be. So why not put that delicious filling into an iconic Jewish pastry–hamantaschen!

4. Red Velvet Hamentaschen: Anyone who knows me knows that I love red velvet anything. And, hamentaschen is no exception! These are red chocolatey cookies feature a cream cheese filling and chocolate drizzle- YUM!

5. Cheddar Biscuit Hamentaschen: For those who like savory hamentaschen and cheesy deliciousness, these contain flaky buttermilk biscuits, mashed potatoes with broccoli, and lots of cheddar cheese!

If you like Hamentaschen and everything else about Purim, join Growing Jewish Families this Sunday for an exciting Purim celebration that will be fun for the whole family!

Details:

Purim — It’s a Laugh

Sunday, March 6, 3pm–5pm

Location: Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, 8900 Little River Turnpike, Fairfax, VA

There will be:

• Take and Bake — make your own hamantaschen (triangle cookies) with Lauren Katz, the winner of ABC’s Great Holiday Baking Show!

• Experience The Great Zucchini; no one makes preschoolers laugh as much as he! Voted Best Children’s Entertainer by the readers of Arlington Magazine

• Dress children in their favorite costume for the Purim Parade

• Mishloach Manot (food gifts) Mitzvah (good deed) — help make bags for the hungry

• Crafts for all ages even your newborn

Fee: $5 per person; Adults and children 2+ (including snack); FREE Children under 2 Register online at: JCCNV.org, code#7343; or www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2506048

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What are the Traditions at a Jewish Wedding?

Renee Eder on Tuesday, February 23, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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A traditional Jewish wedding is full of meaningful rituals, symbolizing the beauty of the relationship of husband and wife, as well as their obligations to each other and to the Jewish people.

Albeit, a while ago, I had a traditional Jewish wedding, so I can tell you a little bit about what to expect (with help from Aish.com):

1. The Wedding Day: This is the happiest and holiest day of one’s life. On this day, the chatan (hebrew for groom) and kallah (bride) forgive past mistakes as they merge into a new, complete soul.

2. Badeken: The Ashkenazi custom is that the chatan, accompanied by family and friends, proceeds to where the kallah is seated and places the veil over her face. This signals the groom's commitment to clothe and protect his wife.

3. Chuppah: The wedding ceremony takes place under the chuppah (canopy), a symbol of the home that the new couple will build together. It is open on all sides, just as Abraham and Sarah had their tent open all sides to welcome people in unconditional hospitality.

4. Circling the groom: Under the chuppah, the Ashkenazi custom is that the kallah circles the chatan seven times. Just as the world was built in seven days, the kallah is figuratively building the walls of the couple's new world together. The number seven also symbolizes the wholeness and completeness that they cannot attain separately.

5. Blessings of betrothal: Two cups of wine are used in the wedding ceremony. The first cup accompanies the blessings, recited by the rabbi. After these are recited, the couple drinks from the cup.

6. Giving of the ring: In Jewish law, a marriage becomes official when the chatan gives an object of value to the kallah (and of course, I gave him a ring too!). This is traditionally done with a ring. The ring should be made of plain gold, without blemishes or ornamentation (e.g. stones) ― just as it is hoped that the marriage will be one of simple beauty.

7. Ketubah (Marriage Contract): The ketubah outlines the chatan's various responsibilities ― to provide his wife with food, shelter and clothing, and to be attentive to her emotional needs. Protecting the rights of a Jewish wife is so important that the marriage may not be solemnized until the contract has been completed. The document is signed by two witnesses, and has the standing of a legally binding agreement. The ketubah is the property of the kallah and she must have access to it throughout their marriage (Ours is hanging in the living room!). It is often written amidst beautiful artwork, to be framed and displayed in the home.

8. Breaking the Glass: A glass is placed on the floor, and the chatan shatters it with his foot. This serves as an expression of sadness at the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and identifies the couple with the spiritual and national destiny of the Jewish people. This marks the conclusion of the ceremony. With shouts of "Mazel Tov," the chatan and kallah are then given an enthusiastic reception from the guests as they leave the chuppah together.

If you have a simcha, such as a wedding or a bar mitzvah coming up, we wish you mazel tov! As you probably know, a lot goes into planning such occasions. Let us help you this Sunday at our Simcha Expo, from 12-4 at the J!  This one-stop shopping expo will feature invitations, DJs, party favors, caterers, photographers, venues, decorations and much much more… we’ll have it all! For more on the Simcha Expo experience, please read our previous blog post on the subject.

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Jewish People and Jazz Music

Renee Eder on Tuesday, February 16, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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With our "Jews and Jazz with the Roy Assaf Trio" event coming up on Saturday night, it's a great time to look at the Jewish origins of what many of us believe is America's greatest single musical innovation - jazz.

It is widely believed that jazz originated in New Orleans in the late 19th century. What many of us don't know is that during that time, Jewish immigrants from Europe mixed in New York and Chicago with black immigrants from the Deep South to write songs and create unique sounds, blending urban jazz and klezmer riffs with gospel harmonies and African rhythms.

A couple of decades later, Jewish singer and entertainer, Al Jolson, popularized jazz and was best remembered as the star of The Jazz Singer (1927), the first full-length 'talkie' movie (movie with sound), which tells a fictional story about a cantor's son who becomes a jazz singer. Classically trained and musically innovative, Benny Goodman, was also one of the first major white musicians to play openly with black colleagues during the swing period. George Gershwin also incorporated jazz motifs in compositions like ‘American in Paris’ and ‘Rhapsody in Blue’. His brother Ira continued with the Tin Pan Alley tradition. Several Jews were also modern pioneers, such as saxophonist Kenny G, the Brecker brothers, saxophonist Herb Geller, Argentine composer Lalo Schifrin, pianist Stu Katz, and even Jewish rock stars with a jazz background, such as Billy Joel.

Join us on Saturday Night!

As performers, producers and educators, Jews remain deeply involved with jazz. To see for yourself, we hope you'll join us this Saturday for "Jews and Jazz with the Roy Assaf Trio." In their performance, award winning Israeli jazz pianist, Roy Assaf, drummer Jake Goldbas, and bassist Ravi Markovitz, deliver fresh color to the world of music. In the past, they have performed at venues such as The Blue Note and the Rubin Museum of Art, and recently toured to the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and Finland. No matter what song or style they play, there are always elements of melody, emotions and groove in their music. Learn more and buy your tickets here.

 

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My Experience at the Simcha Expo (and why YOU need to attend!)

Renee Eder on Monday, February 8, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Last year, we were two years away from my son's bar mitzvah. We just received his date, and as someone who plans in advance, I wanted to see what's out there (since Bar Mitzvahs now are much different then they were in the 80's!) My family decided to attend the Simcha Expo at the J, and will be doing so again this year!  I highly recommend it to anyone who has a wedding, b'nai mitzvah, bris, sweet 16, or any occasion in the near or distant future, for the following reasons:

    1. You get ideas for things you would have never thought of otherwise. For instance, I thought a photo booth would be fun for my son and his friends, but I didn't know about the extent of computerized props you can add. We took a sample photo, and had very realistic tigers in the background. I still get nervous looking at it!
    2. You can taste delicious samples. This, in itself, is reason to attend (Aw, come on, I know you're thinking the same thing!) You could have left my son at the cheese table all day, and left me at the hummus samples! I got some great ideas about what to serve, and tried food from places I never experienced before.
    3. You can see samples of photography, invitations, centerpieces, and more, and get some creative ideas! 
    4. You can save lots of money because many of the vendors offer special pricing at the expo!
    5. You can get free swag and giveaways. My daughter took home a balloon last year shaped like Cinderella, for which she was thrilled. 
    6. You can meet others in the same situation. I saw lots of other families I know from the J, from my synagogue, and from my kid's schools that were also looking for ideas for their upcoming events. It's a great place to be if you want to chat and compare notes! 
       

So, what's not to love?! Now that my son's bar mitzvah is next year, things are getting serious! So, hopefully, I will see you at the Simcha Expo this year on February 28 from noon–4pm at the J. If you attended in the past, please indicate in the comments some of your best takeaways! Thanks in advance and mazel tov on your upcoming simcha!

 

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February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM)!

Renee Eder on Tuesday, February 2, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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"People with disabilities live in our neighborhoods, go to school with our children, shop at our stores, but too often, we don't know them. We notice their presence, of course, but we don't always consider how to accommodate their needs so that they can participate fully in Jewish life. We too often don't look at our institutions of Jewish life and ask whether these places and the programming they provide are accessible to everyone."- William Daroff, in Washington Jewish Week

This week marks the start of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), a time when the American Jewish community comes together to raise awareness about disabilities and to promote support efforts. The goal of JDAIM is to provide meaningful inclusion and full participation of people with disabilities and their families in Jewish life.

JDAIM started seven years ago, when the Jewish Special Education International Consortium decided to encourage inclusion programming to raise awareness in one single month in our own communities. It has grown to include individual organizations, Jewish communities, organizations and the movements. JDAIM is meant to be a call to action, challenging us to go beyond awareness to action all months out of the year.

According to J Connect, a program of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, "an inclusive community is a stronger community." Jewish people with disabilities and their families have needs that are universal to all families and should be included in all aspects of the Jewish communal life.  To advance this ideal of disability inclusion requires the active involvement of those already involved and those outside the disability community.

At  the J, we are committed to helping those with special needs through activities designed to develop physical and social skills for especially for them. The program features small participant-staff ratios and offerings such as adapted aquatics, social groups, family events and recreational social skills classes. As a result of the increased demand and support by the community, we are excited to grow the program this year. Learn more about special needs at the J, our special needs camps, and about our upcoming Reelabilities Film Festival in September! Also, learn how you can get involved and be part of our Special Needs Committee!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Going Stir Crazy? 25 Things To Do With Kids On A Snow Day

Renee Eder on Tuesday, January 26, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Many of us view snow days as an unexpected gift. Suddenly, for no reason you get a WHOLE DAY off! But after six days in the house, including the weekend, many of us start to go a little stir crazy! 

As adults, we have to do our best to let go of anxiety about all the things we're “supposed” to be getting done and enjoy these special days to connect with our kids.  With a little thought and inspiration, you can use snow days to build special memories! 

To get you started on your own snow day fun, here are 25 fun things to do: 

1.  Stay in your PJ’s all day. 

2.  Make homemade play dough. 

3.  Build a snow fort. 

4.  Too cold outside? Build an indoor fort out of old boxes & sofa cushions. 

5.  Build a tent with a sheet. 

6.  Watch old musicals like Singing In the Rain. 

7.  Have an indoor picnic. 

8.  Make challah. For extra fun, let the kids “sculpt” with the dough — their creations can be baked & eaten. 

9.  Bake cookies or brownies. 

10.  Make snow cones and use coloring/flavors to try new varieties. Remember, to avoid yellow snow. yuck!  

11.  Curl up on the couch with a hot cup of tea (or hot chocolate) and read a good book. Or two. Or three. (My kids probably won't let me do this. Not sure about yours?) 

12.  Make homemade soft pretzels, like from the mall. 

13.  Write letters to Grandma or  to your congressman. 

14.  Play board games.  Maybe have a tournament. 

15.  Play card games. Teach your kids how to play Go Fish or Crazy 8s, or another fun game you played growing up.  

16. Do snow art. Paint and sculpt in the snow! Post your creations for us to see on Facebook! 

17.  Play video or computer games. 

18.  Make a torn paper mosaic.

19. Feed you bird friends by stringing popcorn to hang on a tree or making a pine cone birdfeeder. 

20.  Let the kids choose the dinner menu and have them help you cook. 

21.  Have a pretend fashion shoot. 

22.  Have a snowball fight!!! 

23.  Make a snowman. 

24.  Make snow angels. 

25.  Go snowshoeing or cross country skiing. 

So, what are some of YOUR favorite ideas for fun things to do on a snow day with kids? Please share them with us in the comments or on Facebook. Hope you have fun and safe snow days with your children  (however many more there end up being this week!) We look forward to seeing you at the J soon!

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Keeping Dr. King’s Dream Alive: How MLK Stood Up for Israel

Renee Eder on Monday, January 18, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day became a federal holiday in 1986, making 2016 its 30th anniversary! For many, MLK Day means a welcome break from work. For Jewish people, there are hundreds of questions to be asked about the intersection of Judaism with King’s work and legacy, and his support of Israel. 

MLK had expressed support for Israel throughout his life, believing that that the history of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust made it a moral cause worth defending. According to King, "Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect her right to exist, its territorial integrity and the right to use whatever sea lanes it needs. Israel is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security, and that security must be a reality." 

In fact, in 1967, on the eve of the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War, King lent his name to an open letter published in The New York Times urging U.S. support for Israel. But, according to experts, King privately rued the decision, worrying that Israel might itself become the aggressor.  

Despite King's changing views, according to Clayborne Carson, a leading King historian at Stanford, “I think he was for the Zionist project as he understood it.” And, today,  Israel’s more ardent Jewish supporters are more likely to quote a pro-Israel statement King made months after the Six-Day War ended. In fact, in a letter written to Morris Abram, president of the American Jewish Committee and a longtime King supporter, King wrote that “Israel’s right to exist as a state in security is incontestable.” 

In addition to MLK's support of Israel, he preached "repairing the world," which aligns with the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam. He also brought people from diverse backgrounds together to discuss questions of racial justice and equality, as Shabbat dinners “open up a space for respectful, passionate, and structured conversations about racial injustice in America and beyond.” 
 
In recognition of MLK day, the Maccabeats teamed up with Naturally 7, an African American a cappella group, to produce a touching cover of James Taylor’s “Shed a Little Light” for this Martin Luther King day. The music video, which sees the two groups on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where MLK delivered his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” and in front of the relatively new MLK Memorial, is a hopeful, joyful reminder of the historic collaboration between African Americans and Jews. Check it out
here.  

Whatever you're doing to celebrate MLK day, hope you enjoy a peaceful day with loved ones.  

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How a j.family Ambassador Can Help YOU!

Renee Eder on Tuesday, January 12, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Are you a new or expecting parent raising Jewish children in Northern Virginia? If so, a j.family ambassador could be the person you are looking for to make connections with other families to chat about local Jewish family programming, the experience of becoming a parent, available resources, and more. 

The j.family ambassadors program began when The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington awarded a  two-year grant to the JCCNV. This initiative, to make connections — one family at a time — gave the J the opportunity to hire five part-time “ambassadors” who are each assigned to a “zone” around Northern Virginia. Once relationships begin to form, the j.family ambassadors program will help families become part of the larger community through the J’s very popular Growing Jewish Families network which provides ongoing programs and activities for families with young children up to 8 years old.

The j.family ambassadors include: 

  • Rebecca Greene (Annandale, Oakton, Vienna, West Falls Church) 
  • Julie Koppel (Ashburn, Herndon, Leesburg, Reston, Sterling) 
  • Michelle Leichty (Centreville, Chantilly, Gainesville, Manassas, South Riding) 
  • Julie Rezmovic-Tonti (Burke, Fairfax, Lorton, Springfield) 
  • Melissa Weinstock (Alexandria, Arlington, Falls Church, McLean) 

For a bio of each of the j.family ambassadors, please click here.  
 
How were the j.family ambassadors selected? According to Eliza Berkon, j.family ambassador and community engagement coordinator, "We have chosen ambassadors who have warm and welcoming personalities and who are eager to provide the support needed by the families to make connections to the Jewish community.”  

Laurie Albert, the J’s community engagement director, said that she is excited about the initiative that builds and fosters relationships between individuals, families, and the community. This program, and the J’s Growing Jewish Families program, help fulfill the J’s strategic plan to meet people where they are both within and beyond the walls of the JCC.

Ready to sign up? Our j.family ambassadors are here for you. Whether delivering j.baby goody bags, chatting over coffee, or joining you at a playdate, j.family ambassadors are terrific new-parent neighborhood resources. Click here to sign up, and you will receive: 

  • A j.baby goody bag for parents of children 1 year and under 
  • A coffee date with your neighborhood j.family ambassador 
  • Our monthly digital newsletter 

The j.family ambassadors program is made possible thanks to the generous support of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

For more information about the j.family ambassador program, please visit the New Parents page on our website and read the article about the program in Washington Jewish Week
 

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Sticking to Your New Year's Fitness Resolutions

Renee Eder on Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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As part of our new years resolutions, many of us set goals to get fit or lose weight. Since the holidays are over and 2016 is here, now is the time to begin the journey to stick to these resolutions. But, with excuses like “it’s too much money” or “I don’t’ have the time” how can we motivate ourselves to do so?

Below are some helpful tips to stay on track:

Set attainable goals: Some may not meet their expectations because the benchmark they set for themselves is not attainable. To be realistic, make sure your goals are measurable and specific.

Stick with what you want to accomplish: Try something new, such as a fitness class or a new machine, so you can find the right fit for you. You may find something you didn't know was fun and exciting, which will keep you coming back.

Work with a trainer: Working with a trainer is one of the best ways to stay motivated. They will tailor a program to your individual needs.

Build it into your schedule: If you work out first thing in the morning, you're less likely to have other things pop up during the day that might interfere with exercising. Studies have shown people who work out first thing in the morning are more likely to stick with it. Pick a class and put it on your calendar

Find a buddy to work out with: This will keep you both accountable! If you don't have one, attend group fitness classes. You'll get to know people and make new friends.

Join a fitness community, like the J: You have a better chance of reaching your goals if you surround yourself with others who have similar goals.

The top things people typically say are important to them in their lives is the health of themselves and their family. Therefore, health and fitness is an investment, and it's certainly worth it. We hope to see you at the J in the new year!

January New Membership Special

Join the J in the month of January and you'll pay no registration fee and receive 10% off* your membership dues! Such a deal.

 *Cannot have been a member in 2015. Not eligible for Teen, Au-pair, J-Friend, Kehilla, and Silver Sneakers Upgrade categories.

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Should Jewish People Celebrate the Secular New Year?

Renee Eder on Tuesday, December 29, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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For Jewish people, Rosh Hashanah marks the new year. In September, we dipped apples in honey to celebrate 5776. Three months later, we dip chips in salsa to ring in the secular new year. Should we be participating in such customs since we already celebrated the Jewish new year?

According to Wikipedia, January 1st as New Years day has a clearly pagan origin, as follows:

The Romans dedicated this day to Janus, the god of gates, doors, and beginnings. The month of January was named after Janus, who had two faces, one looking forward and the other looking backward. This suggests that New Year’s celebrations are founded on pagan traditions. Some have suggested this occurred in 153 BC, when it was stipulated that the two annual consuls (after whose names the years were identified) entered into office on that day, though no consensus exists on the matter. Dates in March, coinciding with the spring equinox, or commemorating the Annunciation of Jesus, along with a variety of Christian feast dates were used throughout the Middle Ages, though calendars often continued to display the months in columns running from January to December.


However, according Rabbi Michael Broyde, a rabbi and law professor in Atlanta,  the reality seems to have completely changed. New Year’s Day – like Valentine’s Day and unlike Christmas – seems to have completely lost its Christian overtones. According to Broyde, "In contemporary America, there is little religious content or expression to New Year’s Day." and "few would classify it as a religious holiday." In fact, he cites the following three reasons why it's okay to celebrate the secular New Year:

  1. The conduct the individuals engage in can be rationally explained independent of the gentile holiday or event.
  2. The pagan origins are so deeply hidden that they have disappeared, and the celebrations can be attributed to some secular source or reason.
  3. The activities memorialized are actually consistent with the Jewish tradition.

So, keep making those resolutions, kissing loved ones at the stroke of midnight, and dipping those chips! We, at the J, wish you and yours a happy and healthy secular new year! See you at the J  (to keep the gym resolution :) in 2016!


Special Offer to Keep Your Fitness Resolution


Join the J in the month of January and you'll pay no registration fee and
 receive 10% off your membership dues! Such a deal.

Cannot have been a member in 2015. Not eligible for Teen, Au-pair, J-Friend, Kehilla, and Silver Sneakers Upgrade categories.

Also, if you are already a member of the J, join us on Monday-Friday, January 4-8 for Members Matter Week: Come to the J all week for treats and giveaways. It's our way to say, "THANK YOU for your continued support and for being a part of our J family!"

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How to Survive (and Enjoy) the School Winter Break with Children

Renee Eder on Monday, December 21, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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The school's winter break can be an enjoyable time for families with young children, but it can also be a stressful time for some of us. With schedules and routines being disrupted and bedtimes being pushed back, it can be challenging for children (and parents) to survive the winter break in one piece. Here are some tips:

Sticking to routines: Kids love the much-needed break from school and everyday schedules, but, at the same time, it can be comforting to children to stick to some routines, if possible. If you have an event or a family gathering that forces your schedule to go completely off track, try to get routines back on course as soon as possible. For example, if you are out late for a function past your child’s bedtime, try to stick to quiet, calm activities the next day and get your child to bed on time the next night.

Keep kids busy: If you are traveling for an extended period of time during your child’s winter break, make sure to pack multiple activities for him or her to do, and plan for plenty of breaks. Fresh air and exercise can boost a child's mood and allow him or her to run around and play to get a much-needed break.

Avoid over-scheduling: As appealing as it may be to accept every invitation for social engagements for your family, particularly for your kids, try to limit holiday parties and activities so that you and your child are not overwhelmed. A couple of events over the holiday break may be completely fine, but having a commitment most days of the vacation can lead to extra stress and anxiety in children.

Keep an eye on your child's diet: Along with the change in your child’s normal routine, can come a change in your child’s healthy diet. Add in the extra sugary holiday foods and the lack of time to engage in family meals regularly, and it can be easy for kids to eat less healthy foods. Whenever possible, offer healthy snacks, especially when traveling, and try to limit the sweet stuff and extra treats.

Manage your own expectations: Give your kids the space to not be perfect, and appreciate the ways in which they find joy and contentment in the things that make them happy.

Family time and giving back: A great remedy for the stress that comes at this time of year is to spend some quality family time together and to give back in the community! Look for ways your family can help others in need through your synagogue or local charitable organizations.

Looking for something to do with the family on December 25? Come on down to J Fest, and enjoy spectacular fun, food, and entertainment! There is so much fun to be had at the J, including arcade games, moon bounces, and other inflatables. Plus, you can enjoy the magic of Benjamin Corey — a comedy magician/illusionist who also includes mentalism in his performances. Come have some delicious pizza from Ben Yehuda's, and bring new or gently used coats to donate for those less fortunate. Then, stay for Yentl, a classic movie starring Barbra Streisand. Find out more about J Fest/Yentl here. Hope to see you there!

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Navigating the December Dilemma

Renee Eder on Tuesday, December 15, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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What happens on December 25 and the days leading up to Christmas, if you are Jewish? Do you ignore Christmas altogether because it's not your holiday, go to a movie and eat Chinese food, or celebrate the holiday with non-Jewish friends or family? (Read the last paragraph for another really fun option!)


The weeks leading up to Christmas are a time when some American Jews feel conscious about not being part of the Christian majority. With all the lights on houses and in stores, holiday music playing, cookie baking, and parties, parents of young children often feel pressure to make Chanukah extra fun, which it undoubtedly can be. With Chanukah being over already, how can you teach your children to respect other people's holidays and traditions, even if you don't celebrate them yourself?


One of the most important Jewish values you can give your child is that we treat everyone with respect, no matter their religion. Reassure your children that we’re all made in G-d’s image — whatever g-d we believe in — and so we all deserve respect. This basic Jewish value is in style year-round, but can  feel even more important during the holiday season.


So, what is your family doing on December 25? Come on down to J Fest, and enjoy spectacular fun, food, and entertainment! There is so much fun to be had at the J, including arcade games, moon bounces, and other inflatables. Plus, you can enjoy the magic of Benjamin Corey — a comedy magician/illusionist who also includes mentalism in his performances. Come have some delicious pizza from Ben Yehuda's, and bring new or gently used coats to donate for those less fortunate. Then, stay for Yentl, a classic movie starring Barbra Streisand. Find out more about J Fest/Yentl here. Hope to see you there!

 

 

 

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Jeff Dannick and Samantha Brown Appear on Good Morning Washington

Renee Eder on Tuesday, December 8, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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Sunday night was the first night of Chanukah, an eight-night celebration commemorating the victory of the Maccabees over the armies of Syria in 165 B.C.E. and the subsequent liberation and "rededication" of the Temple in Jerusalem. 

Many families want to make the most of this fun holiday, but don't know where to start. On Monday, December 7, our very own Executive Director, Jeff Dannick, and Community Engagement Coordinator, Samantha (Sam) Brown, appeared on WJLA-TV (ABC) Good Morning Washington to discuss things to do with your family on Chanukah. Jeff educated viewers about a brief history of the holiday and how it centers around family. Sam talked about upcoming events in the community, demonstrated how to make a LEGO® menorah, and revealed the trick to spinning a dreidel. In their accompanying article, WJLA stated that "The Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia is a great resource to take part in the celebrations and learn a little more about the holiday." We were so thrilled by this endorsement, and to have had the opportunity to appear on the show.

Jeff and Sam hope they provided families in the area with ideas for fun things to do on Chanukah. One of the things they mentioned is the upcoming Chanukah event, "Light Up the Night! Community Menorah Lighting at Mosaic," at Mosaic District on Sunday, 12/13, at 4 pm. Participants can see the lighting of the candles, sing songs, enjoy entertainment, eat sufganiyot (donuts), and spin the dreidel!  We hope to see you there.

We wish the entire Jewish community a Happy Chanukah!

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How Chanukah is Celebrated Around the World

Renee Eder on Monday, November 30, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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Chanukah (which means "dedication") is a joyous eight-day celebration during which the Jewish people commemorate the victory of the Maccabees over the armies of Syria in 165 B.C.E., and the subsequent liberation and "rededication" of the Temple in Jerusalem. The modern celebration of Chanukah in the United States centers around the lighting of the menorah; foods prepared in oil including latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts); singing songs and playing dreidel (spinning top game). 
 
Some Jewish people in other countries have their own customs and traditions to celebrate Chanukah. Here are 5 customs and ideas to help make your celebration just a little more global. (from My Jewish Learning):
 
1) Israel: There is a custom of placing your menorah in a place where people will be able to view the lights burning and appreciate the miracle of the holiday. In some neighborhoods, there are spaces cut into the sides of buildings so people can display them outside. In addition, from the early days of nation building in Israel, the orange came to be associated with the holiday of Chanukah, as the famed Jaffa oranges came into season in time for the holiday celebrations.
 
2) France: In Alsace, double-decker Chanukah menorahs are common with space for 16 lights. The two levels, each with spots for 8 lights, allowed fathers and sons to join together as they each lit their own lights in one single menorah.
 
3) Morroco and Algeria, and even some communities in India: Some Jewish people hang a menorah on a hook on a wall near the doorway on the side of the door across from the mezuzah. In addition, in Morocco, the rich culinary traditions of the Jewish community knows not of potato latkes or jelly doughnuts. Rather they favor the citrusy flavors of the Sfenj doughnut, which is made with the juice, and the zest of an orange.
 
4) In Yemenite and North African Jewish communities, the seventh night of Chanukah is set aside as a particular women’s holiday commemorating Hannah, who made sacrifices rather than give in to the Greek pressure to abandon Jewish practice. The day also honors Judith, whose seduction and assassination of Holofernes, the Assyrian emperor Nebuchadnezzar’s top general, led to Jewish military victory.
 
5) In Santa Marta, Colombia, Chavurah Shirat Hayyam (a Jewish community) has started their own traditional Chanukah recipe: instead of eating fried potato latkes, they eat patacones, or fried plantains.
 
No matter how your family celebrates, we at the J hope you have a Happy Chanukah!
 
Come Celebrate Chanukah With Us
 
Our Chanukah Lights and Lego Party is this Sunday, December 6, 2015, at Gesher Jewish Day School. Bring your family and join us for an afternoon of exciting Chanukah fun!

Highlights include spin art with dreidels and other cool crafts, latke (potato pancake) bar with 8 toppings, music, dancing, and singing for all ages, and more. For an additional fee, children who are age 6 and up can build their own Lego® menorah and dreidel to take home (MUST RSVP in advance).
  
To register visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com/, or call the J at 703.323.0880 and our staff will be happy to assist you. This event is in partnership with the JCCNV’s Growing Jewish Family, Gesher Jewish Day School and PJ Library®
 
  

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How to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

Renee Eder on Tuesday, November 24, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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Picture from delish.com

With Thanksgiving being this week and Chanukah following shortly after, it's that time of year when extra calories lurk around every corner. What happens when co-workers bake cookies and bring them to the office, your neighbor invites you over for eggnog, or you find yourself snacking on the Chanukah gelt (chocolate coins) you bought for playing dreidel (a spinning top)? All these extras add up, and if you're like most Americans, you'll put on a pound or two by New Year's Day. 

So what's the harm in a little holiday weight gain, especially if it's just a pound? According to researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), most Americans don’t lose the weight they gain during the winter holidays. The pounds add up year after year, making holiday weight gain an important factor in adult obesity. 

But you don't have to fall into this trap. It is possible to enjoy holiday goodies without putting on a single pound. Below are tips to help you avoid overindulging (from WebMD): 

1. Never arrive hungry: Don't go to a party when you're starving. Try to have a nutritious snack beforehand. If you do arrive hungry, drink some water to fill up before filling your plate. 

2. There's more to a holiday party than food: Don't look at a holiday party as just a food event. Enjoy your friends' company, and take your mind off of food and focus on the conversation. 

3. Pace yourself: Putting your fork down between every bite gives you more control and enables you to pace yourself when you are eating. 

4. Outsmart the buffet: When dinner is served buffet-style, use the smallest plate available and don't stack your food. Load up on fresh fruits and vegetables and watch out for sauces, dressings, and dips. 

6. Limit alcohol:  Avoid drinking too much alcohol at holiday parties. It's not just about calories but about control. Remember, if you drink a lot, you won't have as much control over what you eat.

7. Be choosy about sweets: When it comes to dessert, limit your indulgences to small portions and only on the things you truly love (like chocolate, for instance!) If you know you're the type who can't stop at one bite, you're better off taking a small portion of a single dessert than piling your plate with several treats you plan to "try." 

8. Bring your own treats: Whether you're going to a friend's party or an office potluck, consider bringing a low-calorie treat that you know you'll enjoy. Bringing your own dessert will make the more fattening alternatives less tempting. 

9. Limit 'tastes' while cooking: If you do a lot of cooking during the holidays, crack down on all those "tastes."  Instead of tasting mindlessly every few minutes, limit yourself to two small bites of each item pre- and post-seasoning. 

Walk It Off 

Come to the J and walk off the calories. Walking not only benefits you physically but also puts you in a mindset to be more careful about what you eat. There's something about activity that puts you in control!  

P.S. If you haven't been a member of the J in 2015, you can take advantage of our RED HOT BLACK FRIDAY SPECIAL (only on Friday, November 27). Waive the registration fee and take 50% off. Call 703.323.0880 for details! 

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Is Thanksgiving a Jewish holiday?

Renee Eder on Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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Image source: unitedwithisrael.org

Many of us have fond memories of time spent with family, indulging in turkey, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, and whatever else has earned a place on our family's Thanksgiving dinner table. As decades have passed, Thanksgiving has retained less of its original English Pilgrim origins and most American Jewish people have absorbed the holiday into their own traditions. We know Thanksgiving is an American holiday, but is it also a Jewish holiday?
 
Some rabbis argue that, yes, it can be! Setting aside the feasting and football, we discover that there is a way to bring Judaism into our observance of this traditional American holiday. How?

  • Teaching Thankfulness: Thanksgiving can be used as a means of teaching our children one of Judaism's most important values: thankfulness. You can do so by asking each person sitting at the table to share the things for which she or he is thankful, and teaching them that "every day is a day to give thanks for what we have."
  • Thanks to G-d: If we take the time to say a few words of thanks to God - whether for bringing the family together or for giving us the food on our plates-we can make Thanksgiving have more Jewish meaning.
  • Being Thankful for Loved Ones: Hugs and kisses all around are not required, but certainly loving gestures that show our family that we are thankful that they are there.


Even Jewish Americans living in Israel get together to celebrate Thanksgiving, often ordering turkeys months in advance and going out of their way to find American staples like canned cranberry sauce and pumpkin. 
 
For more details on the chronological history of Thanksgiving and the Jewish people, please read our previous post on the subject. At the J, we wish our entire community a Happy Thanksgiving! We also would like to take this time to express our gratitude to all of our members, supporters, Board, and staff.

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