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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

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

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How a 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 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 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 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 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 ambassadors, please click here.  
How were the ambassadors selected? According to Eliza Berkon, 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 ambassadors are here for you. Whether delivering goody bags, chatting over coffee, or joining you at a playdate, ambassadors are terrific new-parent neighborhood resources. Click here to sign up, and you will receive: 

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

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

For more information about the 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, 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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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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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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Why is it called #NotTheGala?

Renee Eder on Monday, November 9, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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A gala is typically a formal affair, held for charity fundraisers or special events. Both ladies and gentlemen typically wear formal attire, since there’s a strict etiquette associated with these types of events. Women wear extravagant gowns and glitzy accessories, while men wear a jacket, matching pants, and highly polished shoes. . .even if it's outside their comfort zone. 
Each fall, since the J was established in 1980,  we’ve brought members, supporters, and friends of the J together to celebrate our connections in the larger Jewish community and emphasize and celebrate our connections with Israel. The evening also acknowledges and thanks all the members of our Trustee Circle and Chai Society for their annual, philanthropic leadership that is the cornerstone of our ability to foster a strong community based on Jewish values.  
The event has taken many forms over the years…a brunch, a murder mystery, silent auctions, and galas. Over the past few years, it seems everyone has come to think of our fall event as a big, fancy, expensive to attend, and expensive to host “gala.” So, as we celebrate our 35th year, our "NotTheGala event, has evolved to become a classy, yet casual, event that still features your favorite foods and entertainment, without the formal feel.     
This year, on November 14 at 7pm, we hope you'll join us at the J for an Israeli-style rockin’ good time! The event will feature the following:  
  • Concert by Capaim, performing popular Israeli and Jewish music; 
  • Trustee Recognition; 
  • Presentation of the Eleanor Sue Finkelstein Award for Special Needs to Andrea Vavonese; 
  • Open bar with signature drinks; 
  • Kosher Dinner: Israeli cuisine and NY-style deli;  
  • Dessert reception
Everyone is welcome, and the dress is smart, casual attire. Tickets are $118 each (not tax-deductible). Young Leaders (40 and under) are $72 each. #NotTheGala celebrates and furthers our vision of fostering Jewish Connection, Community and Peoplehood through quality opportunities for every individual to explore the boundless potential of Jewish life.
You can purchase tickets by mail, at the front desk, or online. We hope you will consider supporting this vital fundraiser with your attendance and your participation. For more information about #NotTheGala, please visit or contact Michelle Pearlstein at  We hope to see you there! 
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Do Jewish People Celebrate Halloween?

Renee Eder on Tuesday, October 27, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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Graphic from

To many American Jewish parents, Halloween is viewed as a secular holiday, no different than Thanksgiving or July 4th. However, many rabbis and educators have challenged Jewish participation in Halloween activities, due to it's pagan origins. Whether or not you decide to celebrate Halloween with your family comes down to what feels right for you.

Here’s some background on the different Jewish approaches to Halloween:


To understand why traditional Jewish law might forbid the celebration of Halloween, we must look at the history of the holiday. Halloween originated with the ancient Celts and their celebration of the pagan festival, Samhain, as the harvest season ended. When the Romans conquered Britain, they added the worship of Pomona, the "goddess of fruits and trees," to the holiday. In Judaism, idol worship is one of the three worst sins. On the basis of this, and the belief that there are no real reasons for a child to dress up and collect candy on this specific day of the year, most traditional rabbis argue that trick-or-treating is best avoided.


For most children, free candy and dressing up with friends are reasons why a person would celebrate Halloween. This may be why many Jewish families still decide to partake in trick-or-treating and parties on October 31. Those who think that Jewish children can go trick or treating have no problem separating Halloween’s origins from what it has become–an American holiday of collecting candy and dressing up.

Should Jewish Children Go Trick-or-Treating, or Not?

There will always be those who view Halloween as a pagan holiday that should hold no place in a Jewish home, and others who view the holiday as a secular tradition that children can enjoy. As with most parenting choices, you must decide for yourself how you view the holiday, and how you would like your family to celebrate, if at all.

Whether or not you choose to celebrate, we hope you have fun and safe weekend!

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How to Show Support in Israel During Violent Times

Renee Eder on Tuesday, October 20, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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With violent clashes on the rise in Israel, many Americans who support Israel are feeling frustrated and helpless. Why? We want to do something to show our support for our Jewish sisters and brothers in our Israeli homeland, but don't feel like we have much influence.  

Many are unaware that, yes, we can help and show our support. While we may not be able to stop the violence, we can still take action to lift Israel's spirits and help it contend with an increasingly uncertain situation. And, even if our actions do not appear to influence the overall outcome of events, at the very least, we can offer our support.  

Below are 18 ways we can make a difference (adapted from 

  1. Support Israeli soldiers. 
    Write a letter and express appreciation for Israeli soldier's self-sacrifice in valiantly defending our people and our land. You can even send a care package to a soldier with a holiday gift, etc. through  "Thank Israeli Soldiers," "Yad Eliezer," or  "Yashar LaChayal."  
  2. Pray. 
    Pray to G-d to bring peace to the land, and for Israel's leaders who need wisdom to do what is best for Israel in spite of international pressure. Pray for the safety of Israeli civilians, and the protection of IDF soldiers. 
  3. Speak out! 
    The next time you hear something that puts down Israel, don't wonder to yourself, "What is anyone going to do about it." Write a piece for your local newspaper, set up information tables at your high school or college, or simply talk to people. Be a roving ambassador for Israel by explaining the true facts to others.  
  4. Protest bias in the media. 
    The media has a powerful influence on public opinion and government policy. When you discover a piece of bias, contact the news agency and complain. Keep your remarks respectful and stick to the facts.  
  5. Give Tzedakah (Charity). 
    Give charity to Israel, and encourage others to do the same. 
  6. Go to Israel on vacation, to study, or to visit family. Visiting Israel will show Israelis that you really care, and will make a tremendous difference to your own sense of connection.  
  7. Fly the Israeli flag. 
    Put an Israeli flag in front of your home, to let everyone know that you are proud of Israel. 
  8. Send flowers. 
    You can show family and friends in Israel that you are thinking about them by sending flowers. 
  9. Rally for Israel. 
     Hold a rally in your city. When thousands of people turn out for a public display of support, it affects all segments of your community – the politicians, the media, general public opinion. And most importantly, it engenders unity and pride within the Jewish and pro-Israel community. 
  10. Holocaust education. 
    With the rise of anti-Semitic incidents around the world, and the state-sponsored anti-Semitism in Arab countries, it is important to see the warning signs before a crisis happens. Learning about the Holocaust helps us appreciate the depth of anti-semitism and its root causes.  
  11. Visit your Congressman. 
    Form a concerned citizen’s group, and then make appointment to sit with your Congressman or Congresswoman for an hour in his or her Washington office.  
  12. Strive to be a better person. 
    Be nice to fellow Jews and fellow human beings. Before you go to sleep each night, go through your day, review your behavior, and resolve what you can do better. By setting an example of higher Jewish moral and ethical standards, we can strengthen the nation of Israel and by extension, the State of Israel. 
  13. Teshuva! (Repentance
    If we can elevate ourselves even a little, it can arouse the Almighty's compassion and Jewish lives can be spared. The hope is that each individual who does teshuva brings Israel one step closer to redemption. 
  14. Make a small repair. 
     If you’ve had an argument with someone, simply forgive them. Then ask G-d to forgive His people. 
  15. Donate blood. 
    When you are in Israel, donate blood. With all the recent attacks, there is a great shortage. To give blood is to give life, and it shows a deep solidarity with Israel and the Jewish people. 
  16. Support Israeli citizens. 
    Show Israelis your support, love, and friendship by writing letters, postcards and emails to everyone you know. Become an e-mail pen pal to someone in Israel. 
  17. Thank G-d for His many miracles. 
    Read the news to see how almost every day deadly attacks are averted. And thank G-d! 
  18. Get the Israeli side. There’s a lot of misinformation out there. When an incident happens in Israel, get the Israeli side of the story by following the Israel Defense Forces website, on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr. Also, be sure to follow our shlicha, Na'ama Gold, , for accounts from her friends and family back in Israel that she often shares. And most importantly: Share! 

While Israel is surrounded by countries and organizations committed to her destruction, we hope you will show support and stand by Israel, as we do at the J! 

Upcoming Event: "Israel- Let’s talk about it."

Our shlicha, Na'ama Gold, is hosting an event on Friday, October 23 and Sunday, October 25, titled, "Israel- Let’s talk about it."

Description: You see that something is going on in Israel but don't understand what? You feel like you want to talk about it, but don't know where or with whom? Let's talk.

Friday, October 23rd, 10:15-11:15 AM

Sunday, October 25th, 7:30- 8:30 PM

Open to everyone who wishes to know more. Click here to register.

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What is so Unique about the Maccabeats?

Renee Eder on Monday, October 12, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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The Maccabeats aren’t your grandfather’s synagogue choir, but according to them,  their ideology and identity play an important part in what they do. 

Originally formed in 2007 as Yeshiva University’s student vocal group, the Maccabeats have since emerged as both Jewish music and a cappella phenomena,  with a large fan base, more than 20 million views on their YouTube channel, numerous TV appearances (including The Today Show), a visit to the White House to croon for President Obama, and proven success with three albums, 2010′s Voices From The Heights, 2012′s Out Of The Box and 2014′s One Day More

Many of the Maccabeats got their musical starts at the Shabbat table and shul, places where they still perform. The Maccabeats have emerged as both Jewish music and a cappella phenomena. They perform an eclectic array of Jewish, American, and Israeli songs. They have played sold-out shows to thousands at JCCs, temples, synagogues, shuls, Chabads, Hillels, jazz clubs, festivals, conventions, and theaters across five continents and over thirty states and provinces.  

The Maccabeats were such a hit last time they came to the J that we brought them back for two more shows! Lucky for us, they will be back at the J on Sunday, October 18, for two performances at 1:30pm and 4pm! It's not too late. Find out more and buy your tickets today! 

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Why do Jewish People Fast on Yom Kippur?

Renee Eder on Monday, September 21, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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Yom Kippur is the day when Jewish people atone for the sins we have committed over the past year. Jewish tradition believes that, on this day, G-d places a seal upon the "book of life," affecting each person for the coming year. This year, Yom Kippur begins at sunset on Tuesday, Sept. 22 and lasts through Wednesday, Sept. 23. 

So, why do Jewish people fast on this holy day?  Fasting is an opportunity for each of us to observe Yom Kippur in a most personal way. As we seek reconciliation with G-d and humanity, fasting touches the biological, as well as the spiritual, aspects of our being.

Why else do we fast? (from Our Jewish Learning)

  • Inner awakening: Yom Kippur is a day of self-searching and earnest communication with G-d. This search requires an internal calm which derives from slowing down our biological rhythm. Fasting on Yom Kippur provides the key to our inner awakening.
  • An act of discipline: Fasting on Yom Kippur demonstrates our willingness to submit to discipline.  To set boundaries for our own conduct in this very private matter is to begin the path toward controlling our public behavior. 
  • For solidarity: Fasting on Yom Kippur is an act of solidarity with the suffering of the Jewish people. Through fasting, we are drawn closer to all who live lives of deprivation. 
  • To cleanse ourselves: Upon the completion of our fast, we should turn back to the world prepared to act with love and compassion.

So, what do you say when you see someone who is observing Yom Kippur, since "Happy Yom Kippur" doesn't seem appropriate. You can say, “Have an easy fast” or “May you be inscribed for a good year." It’s also acceptable to say “shana tova” (happy new year). With that, we hope everyone who celebrate has an easy fast, and that EVERYONE is inscribed for a good year!

In observance of Yom Kippur, the J will be closing at 3pm on Tuesday and will be closed all day Wednesday. 



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The Four Jewish New Years

Renee Eder on Tuesday, September 8, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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Rosh Hashanah (or the anniversary of the creation of the world) is a time when Jewish people reflect on their actions and try to make amends with each other and G-d.  It is the most famous of the Jewish new years celebrations, but what many don't realize is that it is one of four times we celebrate the Jewish New Year throughout the year.

In ancient times, as the body of Jewish law was developed, the Jewish calendar served to demarcate both holiday observances and numerous time-bound obligations. To ensure that certain commandments were completed at their appointed times, four different Jewish new years were established to provide boundaries and markers for these activities.  Below is a brief description of each (research from National Jewish Outreach Program (now NJOP)):

  • 1st of Nisan: The first new year is the 1st of the Hebrew month of Nisan, usually in the early spring (April). While Rosh Hashanah is seen as the anniversary of the creation of the world, the 1st of Nisan is seen in a way as the anniversary of the founding of the Jewish people when they escaped from Egypt during the Passover story.
  • 1st of Elul: The second new year is on the 1st of Elul, the sixth month of the Hebrew calendar which usually falls in the late summer (August). In ancient times, this was the new year for animal tithes, or the start date for the animal tithe to the priestly class in ancient Israel (similar to how we use April 15th in the US as tax day). Generally this new year is no longer observed, although the month of Elul does mark the beginning of preparations for Rosh Hashanah.
  • 1st of Tishrei: Tishrei is the seventh month of the Jewish year, and the first of Tishrei is the holiday of Rosh Hashana, which is the new year of the calendar by which Jews calculate the year. The year’s assigned number is calculated from the creation of Adam. Rosh Hashana is also the New Year when a person’s behavior is judged by the Heavenly courts. 
  • 15th of Shevat: Tu B’Shevat is a rabbinical, not biblical holiday, that is often referred to as the New Year for trees. On Tu B’Shevat, there is a widespread custom to eat the seven species by which the land of Israel is praised, including figs, dates, pomegranates, olives, grapes, wheat, and barley. Some Jewish people even get together to eat a special meal on Tu B’Shevat, called a Tu B’Shevat Seder.

Whether you celebrate New Years once a year on Rosh Hashana, only on the secular new year, or all four times, as described, we wish everyone a happy and healthy year!  

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Welcome To Our New Shlicha, Na'ama Gold!

Renee Eder on Tuesday, September 1, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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Since 2006, we have been fortunate to host six creative and passionate shlichim, who connected Israel to our community by spearheading programs, leading meaningful discussions, and engaging with local synagogues.

This year, we are thrilled to welcome Na'ama Gold, who will continue the important work of our shlichim by working at the J, with area synagogues, Jewish agencies/organizations, and at other locations throughout Northern Virginia.

Na'ama was born in a little town named Arad, located near the Dead Sea in South Israel. She served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as an officer in the field intelligence unit. After three years in the IDF, she studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem in a multi-disciplinary BA program called PPE (political science, philosophy, and economics). Along with her studies, she also worked as a guide in the Knesset and the Israeli Supreme Court.

Na'ama has a deep connection to the American Jewish community. In fact, she participated in a delegation to the US from "Partnership 2000," was a counselor for Camp Ramah, and took part in a yearly internship of diplomacy with the Israeli-American Organization, "Stand With Us." In her free time, she loves to dance, sing, and travel, and is getting married this month!

Na'ama is excited to share her passion for Israel with our community. Please join us in welcoming Na'ama to Northern Virginia later this month! Learn more about our JCCNV-JAFI Shiri Rahamim Shlichut Program here.



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Helping Kids (and Parents) Get Over Back-to-School Jitters

Renee Eder on Monday, August 24, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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Like all big transitions in life, the start of a new school year can be scary for kids — and for parents too! How can parents help their kids cope, while keeping their own anxieties in check?
Have no fear! Below is some advice on how to minimize back-to-school jitters:


1. Discuss with your kids what to expect: Allow your child to express what they're afraid of, and make sure to follow-up with validating statements such as, 'I know that must feel so scary. When I was a kid, I felt that way, too.' If they don't open up, try asking, 'How are you feeling about going to school?' but avoid leading questions like, 'Are you nervous about going to school?'"

2. Try a dry run with role-playing: Act out what's going to happen on the first day by driving/walking the route you'll take in the morning and taking turns role playing as the teacher, the child, and even a new friend.  This is a great tool to teach empathy as well!

3. Prepare kids for what the morning routine will be like: If your summer mornings were lazy and unstructured, being rushed to get dressed, eat and being shoved out the door might be an unpleasant shock to your child's system. Run through the morning routine and go to sleep/wake up earlier to get your child ready these last couple of weeks of summer.

4. Teach your child how to make friends fast: Give your child topics of conversation when meeting someone for the first time, such as asking others the best thing they did all summer. Also, suggest that by saying hello first, they will bring relief to other kids who are anxious like they are.

5.  Open up with your kids about your own experiences: Share a story of your childhood of a time when you did something that was hard to do, but was worth the nervousness.

6. Get things ready the night before: Make sure the backpacks are packed with whatever they're supposed to be packed with, that lunches are made and in the fridge, and that school clothes are laid out the night before. 

7. On the first day of school, say a quick goodbye: As tempting as it is to give a few extra hugs, or chat with the other moms in the class, try to keep the goodbyes as quick as possible. Lingering can send mixed messages to your son/daughter, and you want them to feel your confidence, not your hesitation.
8. Parents, it really is OK to cry: It's amazing to see our children grow up — it's what our job is all about. My one piece of advice to parents after sending my own daughter to kindergarten last year: Stock up on the good tissues.


More than anything, let your child know they can talk to you about anything that's bothering them. Provide them with extra encouragement and a kiss and a hug that first morning of back to school. Tell them you can't wait to hear about their first day back and that anyone would love to have them as their friend.


Looking for a warm environment for a preschool-aged or school-aged child? Limited spaces are still available for our Early Childhood Learning Center (ECLC) or our Before-and-After-School Enrichment Program (BASE) program! Good luck on the first day of school!


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Exposing your Family to the Arts

Renee Eder on Tuesday, August 18, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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It is incredible how much of an impact theater and the arts has on families with children. In fact, getting kids involved in the arts not only makes them more well-rounded individuals, it also helps them do better in the classroom.

According to "Growing Up in the Valley," a family magazine in Roanoke, VA, students who attend performances and study the arts, including dance, are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, and three times more likely to be awarded for school attendance. This is why exposure to the arts and music is mandatory in countries ranking consistently among the highest for math and science test scores, like Japan, Hungary and the Netherlands. And, experiencing the arts isn't only good for a child's learning skills, but also his or her social skills, creativity and self-esteem.

Below are some tips for attending performances with children:

  • It is always advisable to turn up at least a half hour before the show starts. This way you can take necessary toilet trips and have them settled before the show starts.
  • Matinee shows tend to be the best time to take children to a show; they are in the middle of the day and do not finish after your child’s bedtime.
  • Do your research – you know what your child does and does not like and can and cannot handle.
  • Explain to your child before you arrive what you will be seeing and what is appropriate behavior in the theatre.

At the J, we recently released our cultural arts schedule for the fall, and it includes several great performances for the entire family, such as the Maccabeats! It also includes programs for adults, so mark your calendars and schedule your babysitter (if needed!) In addition to our shows, another great way to get children involved in the arts is by signing them up for classes. Learn more about our dance classes here!


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Happening Now: JCC Maccabi Games and Artsfest

Renee Eder on Tuesday, August 11, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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Teens from Northern Virginia are among 1,500 participants, ages 12-17, from all over the world, who are competing in this week's annual  JCC Maccabi Games® This past weekend, teens from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Great Britain, Israel, Australia and Poland kicked off the event before 8,000 spectators, during the opening ceremonies held at the BB&T Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The Olympic-style competition offers sports, including baseball, basketball, soccer, swimming, tennis, lacrosse and more. The JCC Maccabi Artsfest®  portion offers acting/improv, culinary, dance, visual arts, vocal music and more.

Since it's inception, the event has come a long way. It was created in 1982 and featured 300 athletes from 21 North American delegations and one foreign delegation. Fast forward 27 years, and the games are attended by 4,000 to 5,000 Jewish athletes from around the world and held in multiple sites around the country. Asked how the games evolved from 300 athletes to the thousands that compete today, organizers attributed the success to “positive word of mouth” and the extraordinary “hospitality of the host families.”

"What makes the Maccabi games special is that unlike other sports tournaments, there is a common bond between athletes [other than playing the same sport], and that is their heritage. During the game, you want to win, but the difference is that after the game there is this connection,” said 16-year-old Sam Elias, a baseball player participating the event. “There aren’t many Jewish athletes in professional sports, so it’s special to get to play with so many and against so many. You don’t get that too often.”

According to the organizers, the JCC Maccabi Games® "offer much more than sports competitions for Jewish teens. The Games are an exceptional experience that provide Jewish youth with a supportive environment that fosters mutual respect and sportsmanship, where they can interact in an atmosphere of fun, democracy, and peace, all while developing an appreciation of Jewish values."

Are you an athlete who is participating in the 2015 event? If so, please comment to this post and let us know about your experience! Want to train for the 2016 JCC Maccabi Games® or simply participate in some of the activities it features? Come to the J and check out the sports and arts offerings here. We offer a variety of sports, aquatics, and dance to help you learn and hone your skills! 


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Israel is the 11th Happiest Place in the World

Renee Eder on Tuesday, August 4, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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Picture from

Guess what? For the 3rd time, Israel is among the happiest places in the world. The 11th to be exact. You can understand the Netherlands and Australia making the list. But with war, terrorism, international condemnation, mandatory army service, high taxes, etc., what could Israelis have to be so happy about? A lot!

So what is it that makes Israelis so happy? (from

  1. They are in sync:  Because Jewish holidays are the national holidays, Israelis worship, remember, cry, and celebrate together.
  2. They don't procrastinate: With so many threats hanging over their heads, Israelis are experts on the fragility of life. Because of that, every day is a bucket list day.
  3. They are healthy: Israelis have the 14th longest life expectancy in the world. That could be due to genes, good health care, or a diet which contains plenty of olive oil, fresh fruit, vegetables, and lots of home cooking.
  4. They are one big family: When push comes to shove, Israel's band together and lend a hand, or some shekels, a ride, a hug, a meal, and more.
  5. They have blue skies: For eight months of the year, the sky in Israel is a "let’s-go-outside" smiley blue.
  6. They love to celebrate: In Israel you may be invited to the bar mitzvah of your next door neighbor’s second cousin and you will go, because it’s a mitzvah, and an excuse to celebrate!
  7. They are tough: Mandatory army service turns Israel's 18-year-old teens into fierce, independent leaders.
  8. They are optimists: Israel's national saying is “ihiyeh beseder” (it will all work out for the best). It is fitting because Israelis do their best to keep their chins up and be optimistic, even in times of violence, war, and terrorism.

Want to learn more about Israel. You will have an opportunity to do so throughout the year when our new shlicha, Na'ama Gold, arrives! Our community shlichim educate and increase awareness, knowledge and pride about Israel’s history, culture and current events, and to promote a better understanding of Israel and its ideals. The program also serves as a catalyst for igniting Jewish journeys, encouraging people to learn more about Judaism and Israel, and finding their own way to connect to the Jewish homeland.  Learn more here.

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Summer Wellness Tips

Renee Eder on Tuesday, July 28, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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The dog days of summer are upon us. For a short number of weeks, we enjoy hot days, warm nights, splashes around the pool, and the children home on summer break.

During the sizzle of summer, the last thing many of us are thinking about is exercising and healthy eating. However, summer is actually a wonderful time to enjoy fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs available from farmers markets and backyard gardens, and to exercise (outside with lots of water, or in the AC!). These summer health tips will make yours a happy and healthy season!

Healthy Eating

  • Satisfy your sweet tooth by eating naturally sweet snacks such as fruit, peppers, or natural peanut butter.
  • Eat dinner together as a family at least 4 times a week. Be sure to serve fruits and veggies with each meal.
  • Visit your local farmer’s market this week instead of the grocery store. Stock up on locally sourced produce and other fresh, healthy foods.
  • Focus on whole grains, vegetables, fruits, fat-free dairy, and lean meats, such as chicken and fish.
  • Whenever possible, meals should be cooked at home using healthy, natural, ingredients.
  • Carry a liter water bottle with you and try to finish it by the end of the day. During the summer heat, water prevents dehydration, heat exhaustion, and even heat stroke.
  • Save 85 calories just by swapping mustard for mayonnaise in a sandwich. 
  • Set a goal to drink 5 8-oz. glasses of water each day.
  • Don’t use food as a reward or to kill time when you are bored.
  • If you don’t buy it, you won’t regret it later: It’s hard to resist the urge to eat unhealthy foods when you have them at home. The best way to resist temptation is to not buy those foods.

Healthy Living

  • Let your child pick one television show to watch each day, and fill in the remaining time with fun crafts, hobbies, outdoor sports and family activities.
  • Dance around the house with the kids to burn calories, build lean muscle, and enjoy some quality family time.
  • Get enough sleep (8-10 hours a night, if possible)
  • Participate in regular, leisure-time exercise activity to achieve and maintain good physical and emotional health.
  • Avoid long periods of vigorous activity in the heat and humidity. If you are outside, be sure to take frequent breaks and drink lots of water to keep hydrated.  Remember, if you want to use the pool in the bug-free, air-conditioning, come to the J to swim laps or bring your family to the pool for leisure swimming.

Engaging in at least 30-60 minutes of exercise daily is recommended for everyone. The list of health benefits to be gained from regular daily exercise is as long as the list of activities available at the J, so come by, take some classes, work out in our gym or swim laps in the pool, and have some fun.

In addition, each month the Health, Fitness & Aquatics department creates a special “Shabbat Workout” to engage the mind, body, and spirit. Be sure to check out these videos, on topics including posture, breathing techniques, setting goals, staying hydrated, and more, for some great tips for the summer and all year long!



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Biking is Good for the Body and Soul

Renee Eder on Tuesday, July 21, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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Do you enjoy riding a bicycle? If so, you probably know that cycling has all sorts of health benefits, such as engaging your legs while being easy on the joints, and providing a sense of freedom and enjoyment. If you still need convincing or are unaware of all the benefits of biking, here’s a list of reasons to hop on your bike:

  • Taking advantage of a beautiful day:  Riding a bike is one of the most active ways to spend your leisure time and to enjoy a nice day.
  • Burning more calories: A relaxing bike ride (<10 mph) burns more calories than an easy walk (2 mph)—281 calories versus 176 calories per hour.
  • Challenging yourself: Powering your way up hills and pushing your speed over 10 mph is a great way to challenge yourself, and supplement an active lifestyle.
  • It's fun: We all have those exercises we dread working on. But, if you hop on your bike and take it seriously, there’s a good chance you’ll love it, despite the difficulty. You will enjoy the reward of a quick, exhilarating ride.
  • It's energizing: Biking can energize you for other exercises you plan to do. Biking instead of driving to the J is a  great way to warm up and cool down from your workouts.
  • It's easier on you body than running: Biking is much easier on your legs, ankles, knees, and feet than running: Running has the potential to take its toll on the body. Biking, on the other hand, is far lower impact and engages the muscles in the legs without as much force coming down on the knees. Therefore, biking is a smoother, lower risk form of cardio you’ll appreciate, especially if you're recovering from an injury.
  • It’s a green method of transportation: If you’re headed to anything important, like work, biking is a completely green form of transportation that’s free (so long as you have a bike) and provides some great exercise.
  • It’s an activity you’ll be able to do the rest of your life: Even if you’re in good shape now, weightlifting and certain exercises aren't going to be so easy years down the line. One of the best things about bicycling is that you’ll be able to enjoy it for years to come.

For all experienced bikers out there, we hope to see you at the Northern Virginia Cycle Fest, an annual community ride that is open to all riders, 12 and over, who are comfortable riding on roads with traffic. Set in October, the ride enjoys the fall temperatures and scenery through Molon Lave Vineyards, in Warrenton.  Learn more here.

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Inspiring Teens to Be Fit

Renee Eder on Monday, July 13, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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Do you have a teenager who spends most of the day texting on their phone, lounging in front of the television, playing video games, or posting messages on social media? If so, you are not alone. According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, only about a half of boys and one-third of girls, ages 12 to 15, have sufficient levels of exercise. This is down dramatically from just ten years ago. How do we inspire our teens to add more physical activity to their daily lives?


Below are some tips from WebMD to help get teens up and moving:


1. Start small: Teens who aren't used to exercising may only be willing to tolerate a little physical activity before wanting to quit. So, it is a good idea to start with small steps, such as a 10-minute walk every day after school. Add a minute more of walking each time, and have your teen track their progress.

2. Limit screen time: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours a day of watching TV or playing video or computer games. So work together to set house rules on screen time. If your family doesn’t want to limit screen time, challenge your teen during commercials. See who can do the most push-ups, sit-ups, or leg lifts!

3. Be a good role model: If your teen is reluctant to exercise, he or she will notice if you do. Routinely do crunches or other exercises in front of them. Show your teen you are dedicated to your workout regimen, and he or she will hopefully follow suit.

4. Make workouts enjoyable: The best exercise program is the one your teen actually enjoys. Does he or she like nature and animals? Then, check out local outdoor clubs or organizations that sponsor hikes. Does he or she enjoy martial arts, dancing, or gymnastics. If so, look for classes that would be of interest. Also, be sure to check out our fitness classes at the J!

5. Encourage participation in sports: If your teen enjoys watching sports, he or she may enjoy playing them just as much. Overweight teens may benefit from joining a sports team that is grouped by skill instead of age. If your teen dislikes or is uncomfortable with the idea of competitive sports, encourage a sport such as cycling or running.

6. Consider Weight Training: Strength training, or resistance training, may be a good activity for teens who are not yet used to aerobic exercise. Call us today to make an appointment with one of our personal trainers!


The J’s Personal Training program provides clients (preteen and up) with the motivation and direction they need to achieve their health and fitness goals! After an initial evaluation to establish baseline health and fitness level, we design a program 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. Learn more here.  Click here to find out more about our group fitness classes.




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Scottish Jews Invented Lox. . . and more about them

Renee Eder on Tuesday, July 7, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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I wonder if you know that Scotland has been home to a dynamic Jewish community for 400 years. Or, that there was such a thing as a Jewish Kilt or Kosher Haggis. Below are some interesting tidbits about the long Jewish history in Scotland (from

  • A Minyan in Prison: One of the earliest Scottish Jews was an aristocratic convert: Lord George Gordon, who was arrested in 1788 on charges of defaming Marie Antoinette and sentenced to five years in prison. There, he continued his religious observance: he hung a mezuzah on his cell door, ate and drank only kosher food and wine, prayed daily with a tallis and Tefillin, and was allowed to pray with a minyan – ten men – on Shabbat.
  • Settling in Scotland: Most Scottish Jews arrived in the 1890s, when Scottish shipping companies were active in transporting Jewish passengers from Eastern Europe to America. Thousands of passengers were routed through Glasgow and when they arrived, many Jewish immigrants decided to cut their journeys short, settling in Scotland instead of New York.
  • Inventing Lox: When Jews began immigrating to Britain in large numbers in the late 1800s, they took their traditions of smoking and brining fish as a way to preserve and imbue flavor with them. British Jews soon discovered the flavorful wild salmon native to Scotland. The Jewish immigrants called their smoked salmon “lachs” from the Yiddish word for salmon, and their invention soon spread to Jewish communities around the world – as well as to Scotland itself, where smoked salmon is now considered a national dish.
  • Jewish Kilts: The Jewish Telegraph, a local Scottish newspaper, approached a leading kilt-maker and asked them to come up with three possible tartans to represent Scotland’s Jews. Designs had to conform not only to Scottish tradition, but also to Jewish law: that meant no mixing wool and linen fibers, which the Torah forbids. A blue-and-white tartan that echoes both the blue and white of Israel’s flag, and the Saltire, the national flag of Scotland was created.
  • Kosher Haggis: Glasgow caterer, Doreen Cohen, is the world’s only purveyor of kosher haggis, the Scottish national dish consisting of sheep’s “pluck” (organs), mixed with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices and salt, and consumed each year on January 25 as the centerpiece in Burns Night Suppers, commemorating the Scottish poet Robert Burns.

Despite its proud history and vibrant community, the Jews of Scotland have felt more insecure in recent years. Many younger Jews have left; the community is now estimated at 7,000-8,000, with most Scottish Jews living in Glasgow. In August 2014, the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities called on national bodies to recognize growing levels of anti-Semitism in the country.

Want to learn Scottish-Jewish culture? This month, in our Bodzin Gallery, check out our newest exhibit: "Scots Jews: Identity, Belonging and the Future” produced by Michael Mail and sponsored by David Bruce Smith. Read more about the exhibit, containing photography by Judah Passow, art glass by Varda Avnisan, and pottery by Susan Fox-Hirschmann.



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July 4th Holiday: Should We Feast or Fast?

Renee Eder on Tuesday, June 30, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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When we think of July 4th in the U.S., we typically think of food, friends, and fireworks. Many of us don't know that every 10 to 20 years, July 4 is also a Jewish holiday and a fast day.

This year, Independence Day falls on a Saturday, which is coincidently the 17th of Tammuz and Shabbat. For observant Jewish people, the 17th of Tammuz is a fast day that commemorates the breach of Jerusalem’s walls by the Romans that led to the destruction of the Second Temple. The observance falls on July 4th about every 10 to 20 years, with the most famous being in 1776. The next time this will happen is in 2034, a Tuesday. Luckily, this year, for observant Jews, since the 17th of Tammuz falls on Shabbat, the fast gets a rain check until Sunday.

How can American Jews  celebrate our religious freedom and retrace what we did when it was threatened? According to Jewish educator and author, Ron Wolfson, the fourth of July is a time when we can "stop and think about the blessings of freedom and independence and the great opportunities that America afforded the Jewish community." One way to do so is to "look into the journeys our families have taken to come to America.” For inspiration, he suggests checking out Freedom’s Feast, a website that implores us to “learn new ways to explore and participate in our American democratic tradition.” Also, be sure to "like us" on Facebook and "follow us" on Twitter to get inspiration throughout the week.

However you choose to celebrate, we at the J wish you a happy and healthy fourth of July!

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Finding the Right Preschool- 20 Questions to Ask

Renee Eder on Monday, June 22, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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It's that time of year when parents are making decisions about where to send their child/children for preschool in the fall. And, with recent studies showing that children with a quality preschool education do better in school and are less likely to do drugs or commit crimes, choosing the right preschool for your child is extremely important. But, with so many preschools out there, how can you choose the right one?

A good first step is visiting preschools. This will give you the chance to check out the school and ask a few questions. Below are some examples of 20 good questions to ask:

1. How long have your teachers been teaching ___ year olds?
2. What kind of background in education and experience in teaching young children do you have?
3. What is your teaching philosophy (In what ways do you believe children learn best)?
4. What is your discipline policy? (How you will handle inappropriate behavior in the classroom)?
5. What kinds of rules will you expect the children to follow and how will you help the children meet your expectations?
6. What type(s) of curriculum (if any) do you follow?
7. In what way(s) do you assess “progress”?
8. What kinds of activities will the children do throughout the day?
9. Do you have a daily schedule I can keep?
10. In what way(s) do you provide parent communication?
11. Will you be having parent/teacher conferences?
12. How do you feel about parents visiting in your classroom (Does the teacher have an open door policy)?
13. How do you feel about parents volunteering in your classroom? In what ways can parents volunteer to help out in your classroom?What age does my child need to be to enter your preschool program?
14. Do you have extended or after preschool hours (if this is needed)?
15. How many students will be in my child’s classroom?
16. How many teachers will be in my child’s classroom?
17. Do you follow the same calendar as the local school systems?
18. What are your policies about illness and keeping children home?
19. Is your preschool licensed or certified by any agency? If so, which agencies?
20. Are there any references I can contact for additional information?

Preschool is the first time in many instances that your child will be separate from you for any extended period of time. It is very important that you choose an environment that is nurturing and positive. The Early Childhood Learning Center (ECLC) at the J promotes developmental growth through creative interaction between children and teachers within a warm, caring environment that’s based on Jewish values. Click here to learn more about The ECLC at the J and please contact Amit Hickman at 703.537.3051 or to schedule a tour!

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