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

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

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

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

Experience Films about People with Different Abilities for Yourself

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

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

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

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Ready or Not? It's Back to School Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Why All Children Should Play Soccer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Bisl (Little Bit) of Yiddish

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

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

Here are 18 words you should know:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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Cycling is Good for the Body and the Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you want to try cycling, or if you are an intermediate or advanced rider, join us for Cycle Fest this year on September 11. Enjoy a Sunday morning ride in beautiful Warrenton, departing to and from Molon Lave Vineyards. Riders, friends, and family are invited to come and enjoy the day. This event benefits the Wounded Warrior Project, whose purpose is to raise awareness and enlist the public’s aid for the needs of injured service members; to help injured service members aid and assist each other; and to provide unique, direct programs and services to meet the needs of injured service members. Learn more here.

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

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Teaching Anyone to Swim

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

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

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

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

Need help teaching your child swimming skills?

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

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Staff Spotlight: Carla Rosenfeld

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Are We Really Too Busy to Work Out?

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

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

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

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30 Questions You Can Ask Your Camper on the Ride Home

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

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

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

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

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


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Staff Spotlight: Brian Grossbard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Helen Pafumi Talks Redder Blood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Their Awesome Summer at the J. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About J Camps

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

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Staff Spotlight: Heidi Palchik

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

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

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

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

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


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Ever Been to Israel?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Finding My Jewish Identity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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Exercise Your Brain at the J

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Do You Need a Personal Trainer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yom Ha’atzmaut: Happy 68th Birthday Israel!

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

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

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

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

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

Yom Ha’atzmaut in Israel is always preceded by Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for the fallen soldiers. The message of linking these two days is clear: Israelis owe their independence–the very existence of the state–to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for it.

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

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How to Age Well

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rice and Hummus on Passover? - Things Are Changing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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!


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:, code#7343; or

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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

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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