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Bringing Israel's Culture to Northern Virginia

Renee Eder on Tuesday, April 28, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Israeli culture?  Is it the rich Jewish history and Hebrew language that has endured for centuries? Is it delicious foods like falafel and shawarma, or the Israeli market with some great finds and fresh produce? Or, is it the lively music and dance, or exciting technological innovations?

With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Jewish independence, lost almost 2,000 years earlier, was renewed and Israeli culture still stands strong. Now, throughout the United States and in cities all over the world, synagogues, schools, and Jewish organizations come together to sponsor events celebrating the rich and complex culture, history, and people of Israel.       

This year, on May 31 at the Village at Shirlington, we hope you join us to celebrate.

Israel Fest: Israel @ 67.  Engaging events and interactive activities will run throughout the day, including Yoni Jahasi, Israeli singer/songwriter, and:

  • Hands-on activities
  • Food for purchase
  • Israeli dancing
  • Israel-style shuk (market)
  • Exhibits…and more!

And, there is free admission and free parking!

The event is presented by the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia 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.

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

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Celebrating Yom Ha'atzmaut

Renee Eder on Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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Celebrated this year on Wednesday, April 22 through Thursday, April 23, Yom Ha'atzmaut is a modern holiday commemorating Israel's independence. The holiday marks the 67th anniversary of the day when members of the “provisional government” read and signed a Declaration of Independence in Tel Aviv in 1948. 
In Israel, Yom Ha'atzmaut  is always preceded by Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for the fallen soldiers. The two days are linked because Israelis owe the very existence of the state to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for it.  On Yom Hazikaron, a flag is raised from half staff for the fallen soldiers and the president of Israel delivers a speech. The following day, on Yom Ha'atzmaut, soldiers representing the army, navy, and air force parade with their flags, and Israelis celebrate with dancing, singing, picnics, and hikes. In addition, army camps in Israel open for civilians to visit and to display the recent technological achievements of the Israeli Defense Forces. The festivities conclude with a torch lighting ceremony in the evening and  granting the “Israel Prize,” recognizing individual Israelis for their unique contribution to the country’s culture, science, arts, and the humanities.
Most Jewish communities around the world have incorporated Yom Ha'atzmaut into their calendars as a way to express solidarity with the State of Israel. In many congregations, the holiday is observed by additional readings added to a religious service, and usually, the singing of Hatikvah (the Israeli national anthem).
At the J, our connection to Israel is made in large part by our wonderful Shlicha, Dana Kalishov, who spearheads programs, leads meaningful discussions, helps Hebrew speakers brush up on their skills, and engages with local synagogues. Learn more about Dana and our Shlichut program, and be sure to attend one of her upcoming programs!
We wish you and your family a Happy Yom Ha’atzmaut, and hope to celebrate for many years to come.

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Scapegoating and Expressing Emotions Through Art

Renee Eder on Monday, April 13, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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The Jewish people have been scapegoats throughout history, unfortunately. In fact, many of the stories behind our holidays commemorate how we have overcome scapegoating and came out victorious and stronger in the end.

Scapegoating involves a person or group that is made to bear blame for others. When we think about scapegoating, an example that always comes to mind involves the most notorious person who blamed the Jews as scapegoats, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. In his book Mein Kampf (My Struggle), he blamed the plight of Germany at the end of World War I on an "international Jewish conspiracy" and used terms such as "extirpation" and "extermination" in relation to the Jews. As leader of Nazi Germany, he was responsible for killing six million Jewish people, as well as other minorities. To remember those who perished in the Holocaust, we observe Yom Ha'Shoah this Wednesday night and Thursday within the synagogue as well as in the broader Jewish community.

On a positive note, although the journey of the Jewish people has been fraught with great suffering, our lingering spirit has persisted through time. One way we have expressed our spirit is through artistic expression.  The artists that are featured in our "The Psychology of Scapegoating" exhibit, which is currently underway in our Bodzin Art Gallery, have contributed works that reflect this theme, and their expression of the Holocaust, through different media, including paintings, tapestries, and pottery.

The exhibit, which runs from April 7 -  May 25 and commemorates Yom Ha’Shoah, is held at the same time as this year’s Jewish Community Relations Council’s (JCRC) Annual Holocaust Commemoration (on April 19 at the J). Our hope is that with the power of their artistic vision, the exhibit will create an understanding of the injustice and inhumanity of the scapegoating. For more information and to read about the talented artists and their work, please visit the exhibit webpage.

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Passover Fun with Children

Renee Eder on Monday, April 6, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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Looking for some fun things to do with your children this Passover? Whether you are trying some yummy recipes, making matzo houses, or attending a model seder, there are so many ways to spend quality time with family this holiday.

Crafts and cooking together in the kitchen are fun options for teaching children the many important reasons you celebrate Passover. You can use the following ideas to prepare before the holiday or have fun during the eight day celebration::
1. Ceramic (or cardboard) seder plate: Paint the plate with all the symbolic foods, including a shank bone, charoset (made with chopped walnuts and apples, spiced with cinnamon and sweet wine), bitter herbs, hard-boiled egg and leafy, green vegetable. Explain to children what each part of the plate symbolizes.
2. Matzo House: This is a Passover version of a gingerbread house! It is delicious, and makes a wonderful centerpiece on any seder table.
3. Planting Karpas (parsley): You can plant your own parsley for the Passover seder karpas with the kids in a little pot at home. Little ones can take care of the herb all year long, reminding them of the important holiday.
4. Lego Seder Table: You can use legos to recreate the seder plate and table.
5. Bake Passover Brownies: It is always fun to bake with little ones. And, these are so yummy, you would never know they are kosher for Passover!
There is a lot going on at the J this Passover. Join us for some fun and exciting events. Please see the calendar on our home page for more details.
We at the J wish you and your family a Happy Passover!
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Attention Children: Chametz Removal Fun at the J. . . Win Prizes!

Joelle Kelenson on Tuesday, March 31, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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How do the Jewish people celebrate our exodus from Egypt after being enslaved by the Pharaoh for 400 years? With seders (festive meals), matzah (unleavened bread), and Passover fun, of course.  
Many of us at the J are celebrating Passover, which begins on Friday night and lasts until the following Saturday. To commemorate the events that are the basis for the holiday, we do the following:

  • tell the Passover story at the seder;
  • eat matzah, and
  • go through our homes and remove any chametz (or products that are prohibited on Passover, such as those containing wheat, oats, rye, barley, and spelt).

Here at the J, we will be removing OUR chametz starting tomorrow until Friday, and WE NEED YOUR HELP. Throughout the building are hidden pieces of chametz that look like this:

Please help us find the chametz! Once you locate a piece, please turn it into the front desk for a tasty Kosher for Passover treat or a fun toy to enhance your seder! Happy Passover!

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Planning a Simcha- We've Got You Covered!

Renee Eder on Wednesday, March 18, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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Everyone wants their simcha (celebration) to be a day to remember! However, to make a memorable b'nai mitzvah or wedding happen, there are many details that go into planning, which can sometimes be overwhelming and costly. Luckily, we are here to help with most of the things on your planning checklist:

  • Guest List: Your guest list will largely determine the size of the venue you need, so preparing a list of guests is  a good first place to start.  
  • Venue: Things to consider include the budget, total number of guests expected, where your guests are coming from, and whether you have certain dietary requirements (e.g. if kosher food is needed).
  • Entertainment: A DJ or a band will give guests a chance to dance and celebrate the occasion. Novelty ideas, such as a photo booths, are also fun, especially at bnai mitzvahs!
  • Seating:  When making your seating arrangements, try your best to  keep your guests happy.  Although music should never be offensively loud, it will be loudest  closer to the dance floor.  Therefore, older adults/non-dancers appreciate being sat further away from the dance floor. 
  • Theme: Many simchas are planned around a theme or colors.  Decorations make the setting more festive and there are plenty of ideas to choose from.  Florists and designers will have books filled with ideas based on other b'nai mitzvah themes and/or wedding colors for you to look at and brainstorm.  
  • Food: In addition to a proper cocktail hour, lunch or dinner, consider something fun like a chocolate fountain, cupcakes, and/or an ice cream sundae buffet!
  • Cake: Of course, you cannot forget the cake. There are many cake designs and ideas that could be a hit (as well as delicious). Think about tying your theme/colors into the cake design.
  • Favors: Favors are a nice way for those who attended remember the special occasion, and can range from simple candles and chocolate, to t-shirts, frames, and other fun themed-items.

Did you know that you could get some GREAT ideas for the items above all in one place? The 2015 NoVa Simcha Expo (A "Party Planning" Experience) is this Sunday, March 22nd,  from noon – 4pm at the JCC of Northern Virginia (8900 Little River Turnpike Fairfax)

If you are planning a birthday, baby naming's, bris, sweet sixteen, bar/bat mitzvah, anniversary, or any other kind of celebration...plan to attend this one-stop shopping expo! There will be music....dancing...tastings... AND giveaways (hotel stays, dinner, etc.) and more!

Free Admission, Free Parking! Lots of Fun for the Whole Family! Click here for information: 2015 NoVa Simcha Expo; visit:

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The Benefits of Volunteering

Renee Eder on Thursday, March 12, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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Looking for new ways to spend quality time with the family? Volunteering is a great way to pass on family values, problem solve, learn new skills, and create new experiences.
Research has shown that children have fun when they volunteer, and volunteering also:

  • increases self-esteem, responsibility and an interest in learning and provides opportunities to apply newly learned material.
  • enhances social skills.
  • helps children develop empathy and learn that one person can make a difference.
  • makes children less likely to become involved in at-risk behaviors.
  • creates a lifelong ethic of service. Children who volunteer or who observed their parents volunteering have a much higher probability of being a volunteer in their adult years.
  • advances the common good, and children realize that they can be part of the change.

Did you know that this Sunday, March 15, from 1-4 at Gesher Jewish Day School, the Jewish community of Greater Washington will join Israel and countries from around the globe for a day of community service.
Established in Israel in 2007, Good Deeds Day celebrates the value and importance of giving back to the community in which we live. Last year, in our community alone, we had more than 5,000 volunteers who took part in this initiative. This day will offer our entire community a variety of hands-on volunteer projects where you can roll up your sleeves and make an impact. There will be projects for even the youngest members of our community! 
The Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia is proud to partner with Gesher Jewish Day School and several local synagogues to provide a variety of volunteer opportunities for all ages at Gesher Jewish Day School. To register as a volunteer, please visit If you are interested in being involved with the event, contact

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Jewish Influence in Film

Renee Eder on Wednesday, March 4, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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For nearly 100 years, Jewish directors, writers, producers, and actors have made notable contributions in film. Jewish people played, and continue to play, an important role in Jewish-themed and American films from pre-WWII silent films tocomedies in the 70s and 80s featuring actors and directors, such as Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, and Steven Spielberg.

The 1980s and '90s saw the growth and popularity of Jewish film festivals. The first was held in San Francisco, and within a few years other cities followed suit, even those with small Jewish communities. The trend continues today with Jewish films featuring famous actors, directors, and writers and festivals showcasing their work. So, what is a Jewish film? According to a recent article in Tablet Magazine, Jewish films can be based on the identity of their creators, feature Jewish cultural themes, spotlight Jewish history, and showcase Jewish influence on pop culture.

Want to see some great Jewish films? With the theme of "I am everyone," the 15th annual Northern Virginia Jewish Film Festival, powered by the JCCNV, will screen more than a dozen contemporary Jewish-themed and/or Israeli-made feature films that explore identity and place in the world. Festival home from March 19-29 is Angelika Film Center and Café at Mosaic. Films to be screened include 24 Days, Above and Beyond, Apples from the Desert, Arlo & Julie, Beneath the Helmet, Disobedience: The Sousa Mendes Story, God’s Slave, The Green Prince, Kidon, Life as a Rumor, Magic Men, The Outrageous Sophie Tucker, The Prince of Egypt and Touchdown Israel-Tackle Football in the Holyland; plus a live storytelling event by SpeakeasyDC. Read more on our #NVJFF2015 web page.

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The History of the Hamentashen

Renee Eder on Friday, February 27, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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The Jewish holiday of Purim is marked by costume parties, reading of the megillah, carnivals and delicious triangle-shaped cookies called hamentashen. Purim celebrates a foiled plot to kill all of the Jews in ancient Persia and falls on March 4-5 this year.

A brief history of Purim
Haman was one of the Persian king’s royal advisers who had it in for the Jews, and especially for a particular Jew named Mordecai. Unfortunately for Haman, the king took a liking to Mordecai’s beautiful niece, Esther, and made her his Queen. By wielding her royal influence, Esther convinced the king to save the Jews and kill Haman instead.

Hamentashen are triangular cookies traditionally made of a delicious shortbread dough and filled with fruit preserves, poppy seeds, marmalade, or many other creative fillings. The word “Hamentaschen” translates to “Haman’s pockets” and there are a lot of theories about what they represent — his hat, his ears, his pockets full of evil bribe money.  In celebration of their salvation, Jews eat them during Purim. The graphic below shows you how to fold them:


For some fun Hamentashen recipes, including those filled with chocolate chip cookie dough, white chocolate cherry, Hamentashen baklava, and more, please check out our #32daysofhamentashen on Facebook and Twitter. For fun purim events for the family, check out “Purim Pastry Parties: Parades, Masks, Groggers (noise makers), and Stories, Oh My!” on Sunday, March 1 in Herndon and Alexandria, Virginia, and Challah Tots on March 5, where we will make challah hamentashen. Happy Purim!

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JCC in the Community: Members Volunteer at WETA Fundraiser

Renee Eder on Thursday, February 19, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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On March 3 at 8pm, WETA (a PBS station) will be showing The Jewish Journey: America, a documentary that traces 350 years of Jewish migration. We’re excited that several of our Board members and lay leaders, along with volunteers from the JCCGW and DCJCC will be helping to man the phones during WETA’s pledge breaks. 

The one-hour film, directed and written by Andrew Goldberg, explores how many Jews came to America seeking refuge from persecution by authorities, and how millions more came for economic reasons — to build better lives for themselves and their children in the New World. The new immigrants went through hard times and struggles, and integration into the New World was rarely easy. In an illuminating interview in the film, New York Rabbi Marc Angel recalled the dual pressure from his grandfather to strive for success in the U.S., but to also retain the Jewish traditions. Watch a trailer of the film here. 

We hope you will tune in on March 3, and watch this powerful film that spotlights Jewish history and personal stories.  



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Celebrating Tu B'Shevat

Renee Eder on Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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Ever take a moment to admire the beautiful trees around us? On Tu B'Shevat, or the new year for trees, we celebrate the earliest blooming trees in Israel, as they emerge from their winter sleep and begin a new fruit-bearing cycle. On Tu B'Shevat falls on February 4 this year (or on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat).

How do we celebrate On Tu B'Shevat? Often, we mark this holiday by planting saplings and eating fruit, especially grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. On the night before Tu B'Shevat, many set a festive table with platters of dried and fresh fruit and nuts, and some embue the holiday witheven greater meaning by participating in a On Tu B'Shevat seder. At this seder, fruits, nuts, and wine or graape juice are often on the menu. Besides the seder, many families spend Tu B'Shevat planting a tree, working in a garden, eating special fruit, or doing something else to show some love for trees and the earth. Check out these great ideas for crafts and recipes on Pinterest.

Want to attend a Tu B'Shevat seder? As part of our upcoming Art of Jewish Food event, join us for a Tu B'Shevat seder, where we will enjoy Israeli wine, a light dinner, and exotic foods that celebrate the bounty of Israel. There will be a special guest presentation by Susan Barocas, founding director of the Jewish Food Experience, on the Seven Species and the Biblical Shemittah Practice. Tickets are $18/ $15 J members. View this flier for more details. We hope to celebrate with you there!

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Jewish Identity and Food

Renee Eder on Tuesday, January 20, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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When you think of Jewish culture, what is one of the first things that comes to mind? Of course, it's food. Food is a large, important part of our culture, and we can't imagine it not being a core part of our Jewish identity.  In fact, we are famous for lox and bagels, latkes, white fish salad, challah, and matzo ball soup, and we are proud to be. I don't know about you, but I am getting hungry!

For Jewish people, food tells us a lot about our identity, our values, and our history. It gives information about the roles men and women have played in the family and the Jewish community. As we learn about food, we learn how Jewish families survived as an economic entity in different periods of history.

Here is a sampling:

  • For Jewish women, the story of food preparation is a story of our strength and our leadership in Jewish families. Women have been the chief preparers of food in many traditional Jewish homes. Generations of hardship and oppression honed the survival skills of women so they became fierce in their struggle to feed their children and give them the best shot at surviving and thriving.
  • For men this is also an important story. In the past, it was the men who were the food merchants, bringing different ingredients to communities around the world. Their literacy and the common languages of Hebrew, Yiddish, and other dialects made it possible for Jews to set up trade routes around the world. In contemporary times, many men are also enjoying cooking more in Jewish kitchens.

You can learn a little more about Jewish history and get some recipes for some traditional Jewish foods at Judaism 101.

Since food plays such an integral part in our lives and history, it is important that we celebrate it at the J. And guess what? For two weeks, that is exactly what we are doing. The Art of Jewish Food is an inaugural event of theatre, film, music, chefs, cookbook authors, plus cooking demonstrations and tastings, spanning from Saturday–Sunday, January 31–February 15. Events include a Tu B'Shevat seder, an event that celebrates wine and chocolate, a make, take, and bake event, and much, much more. Check out “The Art of Jewish Food” webpage and view this flier for more details. We hope to have a “nosh” (snack) with you there!


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What is there to do on Martin Luther King Day?

Renee Eder on Monday, January 12, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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You have the day off from work and the children are off from school. What are some fun ways to spend a day of family togetherness, in keeping with a day that celebrates life, volunteerism, and freedom?

Martin Luther King (MLK) Day is a federal holiday that commemorates the achievements of an influential American civil rights leader. It is seen as a day to promote equal rights for all Americans, regardless of their background. It is also a cold, wintry day that could be spent watching cartoons and the news on TV. Why do that when we have activities for all ages and stages here at the J, including:

  • Ivivva Athletica Trunk Show, 9:30am–1pm: Inspired by active girls. Made by Lululemon athletic wear — made to move. Ivivva Vienna will host an exclusive trunk show just for us!
  • Electra Entertainment Booth, 9:30am–1pm: Event specialists — defining entertainment. Stop by to chat with the DJs and make your next event unforgettable! And, guess what—the awesome DJs will be the same ones that will be at our Winter Bash, the hottest dance event ever at the J, on January 24!
  • Camp Kick-off, 10am–noon: Want to learn more about camps at the J and register at a discounted rate? Today is the day camp registration opens! Register that day and the $50 registration fee will be waived!
  • Give Together: A Family Volunteer Day, 10:30am–3:30pm: Families join together throughout the county — and here at the J — for a number of meaningful community service projects. You must register in advance. For more information:
  • Torah Comedy! 10:30am and noon: Some rap music, some comical accents, and some imaginative reworking of well-known biblical stories. Tickets: $10 adults | $6 students | ages 3–5 free. Free admission to any child registering for 2015 summer camp on this morning!
  • Adult Monthly Discussion Group Our World Today and in the Future Topic: Post Summer Fallout and Summary of the Protective Edge Operation in the Gaza Strip, 12:15pm–2pm: Speaker: Dana Kalishov, Community Shlicha. Bring your meatless lunch. Coffee and tea provided. $3/ Free for members
  • Family Ice Skating at Fairfax Ice Arena, Pickett Road, 2pm: Wind down the day outside the J — on the ice rink! Group tickets rate:  $6.25 (for groups of 7 and larger;) RSVP required for discount. Complete program registration form and return to the front desk.

Click here to download the flier.

As you can see, there is something for everyone! We are excited for this fun-filled day, and we hope to see you there!

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Special Needs Children: Emphasizing Social Skills

Renee Eder on Tuesday, January 6, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 
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Does your special needs child need help reading and understanding social cues? Social challenges affecting special needs children can lead to social anxiety and withdrawal as they get older. What are some ways to help your child become more socially aware, maintain eye contact, stay on topic, and read emotions, while they are still young? Below are some activities that can help:

  • Eye Contact: Good eye contact shows others that you are interested in what they have to say. One exercise to emphasize good eye contact at home is to place a sticker on your head. Encourage your child to look at the sticker when talking to you. It may not be exactly looking at your eyes but it is training them to look in the right direction in a funny, less threatening way. (Idea from: “Children Succeed”)
  • Taking things literally: Idioms are confusing for even typically developing children, and can be maddening for a special needs child. To help your child, you can create a matching game with an idiom on one set of cards and the meaning on another. Have the child try to pair them up. You could also add in the literal picture of the idiom to visualize what the idiom that is being used actually looks like.
  • Interpreting emotions: Many misunderstandings arise from kids misinterpreting the emotions of others. One way to emphasize how to interpret emotions with a child is to write down feeling words on pieces of paper. Take turns picking a slip of paper and then acting out the word written on it. You could substitute written words for pictures showing the emotion, if your child is a visual learner.
  • Staying on topic: Sometimes it is hard for special needs children to stay on topic and take part in a regular conversation. One way to work on this is to put pictures of different emotions face down on the table. Players can take turns picking cards and making up stories and building on each other’s ideas.
  • Social groups: JCCNV offers social groups for children, teens and adults with special needs. Trained staff assists participants in navigating through challenging social interactions and engaging in meaningful relationships. Events are planned on a monthly basis and vary from activities at the JCCNV to outings in the community. For more information visit our website or contact Arlene Lechner at or 703.537.3032.

At the JCC of Northern Virginia, we are committed to helping the community through activities designed to develop physical and social skills for individuals with special needs. Our program features small participant-staff ratios and offerings such as adapted aquatics, social groups, family events and recreational social skills classes. Learn more here.



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What do Jewish People do on Christmas?

Renee Eder on Wednesday, December 24, 2014 at 12:00:00 am 
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Some Americans think of Christmas as a secular or cultural holiday, although most recognize the religious significance of the holiday. Since it is one of the most religious days of the year for Christians, most Jewish people don't celebrate Christmas. However, we do admire the beautiful trees and decorations and the idea of spending time with family and exchanging gifts.

So if you are Jewish and don't celebrate Christmas, then what is there to do on December 25? Here are some ideas for Jewish families:

  • Go out for Chinese food: Many Jewish people go out for Chinese food on Christmas. There are a lot of good Chinese restaurants in Northern Virginia that are open on Christmas day. In Maryland, there are several kosher-certified Chinese restaurants to choose from, so that even the most observant Jew can eat Chinese on Christmas.
  • Go to a movie: Many movie theaters are open on Christmas day, and some new movies are even released on Christmas for families to enjoy.
  • Get together with family: It's often tough to get the whole family together for dinner, especially when the children are grown up or not living in the immediate area. Christmas is a time when everybody is sure to have the day off and a great day to plan a family meal.
  • Volunteer: Jewish people often volunteer on Christmas to help those in need in the community, by making casseroles, or helping out at food banks or homeless shelters.

And, of course, we saved the best idea for last. You can take your family to J Fest for a day of spectacular fun, food, and entertainment!  Attendees can experience the magic of Jay Mattioli, who electrified the nation and awed the judges, during his appearance on NBC’s #1 hit show “AMERICA’S GOT TALENT,” where he was selected as a Quarter Finalist!  In addition, children can come dressed up as their favorite character and join us for a “Frozen” Sing Along. There will also be kosher food available for purchase, a moon bounce, arts and crafts, face painting, a community service and more.  And, of course, everyone is welcome!

Following J Fest, enjoy a free screening of The Frisco Kid Join us for the screening of this hilarious 1979 comedy/western starring Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford. Plot: A Polish rabbi wanders through the Old West on his way to lead a synagogue in San Francisco. On the way he is nearly burnt at the stake by Indians and almost killed by outlaws!  Please see this flier and visit our website for more details.

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No Need to Buy New Pants! Tips for Healthy Holiday Eating

Renee Eder on Monday, December 15, 2014 at 12:00:00 am 
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Planning for eight crazy nights of chocolate gelt, noodle kugel, and fried latkes (potato pancakes) with sour cream? Can't stop at just one latke? The holiday season is a time to celebrate with family and friends. Unfortunately, for many it also becomes a time for over-indulging and weight gain. According to the National Institutes of Health, holiday eating can result in an extra pound or two every year. Over a lifetime, it really adds up. How can we enjoy the holidays, while staying healthy?

  • Modify your food: According to Weight Watchers, baked latkes are just as crunchy as fried ones and go much better with the traditional condiment of applesauce. Shredded zucchini also makes delicious veggie pancakes. For kugel, they recommend you try chopped broccoli and whole wheat pasta, for a much healthier, savory version.
  • Plan time for exercise: Exercise helps relieve holiday stress and prevent weight gain. A moderate and daily increase in exercise can help partially offset increased holiday eating. Try a class at the J or 20-30 minutes in the weight room/on the treadmill three times a week.
  • Fill up on healthy snacks: Before leaving for a party, eat a light snack like raw vegetables or a piece of fruit to curb your appetite. You will be less tempted to over-indulge.
  • Eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed: Savor your favorite holiday treats while eating small portions. Sit down, get comfortable, and enjoy.
  • Drink in moderation: Alcohol can lessen inhibitions and induce overeating; non-alcoholic beverages can be full of calories and sugar.
  • Take the focus off food: Turn cookie making time into non-edible Chanukah projects like making dreidel snow globes or painted wine bottle menorahs. Plan group activities with family and friends that aren’t all about food.
  • Bring your own healthy dish to a holiday gathering: Bring a salad or something light and healthy like a bowl of fruit that can be your go to if everything else is high in calories, fat, or carbohydrates.

Give the gift of health and wellness this holiday season! If you’ve been looking to get back into shape, want to add some new challenges to your current workout routine, are recovering from an injury, or still thinking of what to get for your family and friends, a gift membership to the J or Personal Training gift certificates make a fantastic holiday gift! To learn more about purchasing a membership to the J for yourself or for a friend, click here. To purchase a Personal Training Gift Certificate, please contact or call 703.537.3052.

We wish you a happy and healthy holiday!

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Chanukah: Engaging Your Children

Renee Eder on Wednesday, December 10, 2014 at 12:00:00 am 
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Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights that lasts eight fun-filled nights, is next week! Besides the presents and chocolate gelt, what are some ways to get children excited about the holiday?

For young children especially, crafts, cooking, and decorating are always fun ways to engage them. Sometimes, however, with the hustle and bustle of daily life, there isn't a lot of time. Below are some quick and easy ideas to do with your children to emphasize how much fun Chanukah can be!

  • Felt Dreidel Banner for Railing and Mantle: Outline the shape of a dreidel on blue felt with a pen and cut it out. Use this shape as a template for other dreidels, cutting eight in all. Snip circles, squares and triangles from the yellow and white felt and then glue these shapes to the blue dreidels. Cut an eight-foot piece of string, glue the dreidels to it and then allow them to dry. Use the tape to hang the banner.
  • Chanukah Collage Cards: Why not make your own chanukah cards this year? Cut strips from magazine pages into shapes of skinny rectangles and flames. Glue the shapes into a menorah design on the face of the card and voila! You have cool DIY invitations or thank-you notes!

  • Acorn Dreidels: Pull off a small chunk of the clay and shape it to an elongated ball. Stuff the clay into the acorn shell, and mold it to a point at the top. Stick a lollipop stick into the center of the clay. That's it! Now it's time to give it a spin.

  • Grilled Cheese Latkes: On Hanukkah, we eat foods fried in oil to symbolize the oil that lasted eight days when the Maccabees rededicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after their victory over the Greeks. Grilled cheese latkes are a great way to combine traditional latkes with an American favorite, grilled cheese. Check out this easy recipe that is fun to make with/for children on My Jewish Learning.

For some other ways to celebrate Chanukah with children, you've come to the right place. The following are JCCNV and community Chanukah happenings this month. We hope to see you there!

  • Hands on Chanukah. Sunday, December 14, 2014, noon-3pm. Get ready for Chanukah with a day of music, arts and crafts, face painting, story time and more! Everyone is welcome.

  • Gainesville Community Menorah Lighting. Tuesday, December 16, 6pm. Location: Gainesville Atlas Walk at Virginia Gateway. Music, dancing, dreidels, latkes and oil pressing demonstration.
  • Growing Jewish Families: Menorahs, Dreidels and Miracles! Wednesday, December 17, 4pm–5pm. Have some Chanukah fun — enjoy PJ Library® stories, get crafty, and spin a dreidel (spinning top) or two!
  • Light Up The Night: Community Menorah Lighting at Mosaic. Sunday, December 21, 4:30pm-6:30pm. It’s Chanukah and we’re bringing the celebration to you! Join the community as we celebrate the holiday together by lighting candles, singing songs, enjoying entertainment, eating sufganiyot(donuts)and gelt (chocolates) and spinning the dreidel (top)!

For more details visit the Events Calendar on our Website.



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Olympic Gold Medalist Klete Keller Visits the JCCNV

Renee Eder on Tuesday, December 2, 2014 at 12:00:00 am 
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Black Friday meant shopping for some, and swimming with an Olympian for others! Last Friday afternoon, three-time Olympian, Klete Keller, visited our pool. Athletes of all ages had the opportunity to learn from and swim with Klete, who is an incredibly talented swimmer (you can imagine) and a nice and humble person, as well!

Athletes who attended received personal attention as Klete worked with them in and out of the water on strokes and technique. Out of the water, the young athletes were able to ask Klete questions about his swimming career and life outside the pool. He provided valuable, personal experiences of balancing swimming with school, persevering through disappointment, maintaining perspective in sport and much more. Klete then posed for pictures, signed autographs and even brought one of his five gold medals. It was fascinating to see what an Olympic gold medal looks like in person.

According to, 32 year old Keller was part of some of the most memorable Olympic swimming races of all time and won five medals in six career events spanning three Olympics. He retired after the 2008 Beijing Games. Read more about Klete Keller here.

Interested in learning more about swimming at the J? The JCC Junior Galim, Mini Waves, and Waves Swim Teams were founded to help swimmers achieve the highest level in their sport, while developing values and skills for success in life. Learn more here.

Check out more photos on our Facebook page.

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Do Jewish People Celebrate Thanksgiving?

Renee Eder on Wednesday, November 19, 2014 at 12:00:00 am 
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"Giving thanks" has always been an important part of Judaism, from reciting blessings after meals to the pilgrimage festival of Sukkot. Given the importance the Jewish religion places on thanks, do Jewish people celebrate the American harvest holiday, Thanksgiving?

The answer is revealed when you look at the chronological history of the holiday:

  1. The first Thanksgiving - attended by 90 native Americans and 50 English Pilgrim settlers in 1621- closely mirrored ancient harvest feasts, such as the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.
  2. More than 200 years later, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving as a national holiday.
  3. In 1868, in response to a proclamation to celebrate Thanksgiving issued by Pennsylvania Governor John W. Geary that was viewed as "apparently intended to exclude Israelites" from the celebration, Philadelphia’s rabbis condemned the encroachment on the freedom of religion and expressed the sentiment that national holidays should be devoid of religious content.
  4. As years have passed, most American Jews have absorbed the holiday into their own traditions. Unlike some other celebrations like Halloween, Jewish people participate in Thanksgiving because the holiday today is secular and is about giving thanks, without religious origins and undertones.

At the JCC of Northern Virginia, 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, and staff.

P.S. A few days after celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends, when the tryptophan wears off, we hope to see you in the fitness room or at a class working off the big feast!

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Take a Journey Through Time with the JCCNV!

Renee Eder on Wednesday, November 12, 2014 at 12:00:00 am 
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What if you could take a journey back to the fall of 1969? Can you imagine that the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia as you know it today was just a dream — a vision of 14 dedicated Northern Virginians?

So, how did your Northern Virginia center for Judaism, education, wellness, and good spirit come to be? Below is a brief chronology:

  1. It all began in the fall of 1969 when 14 Northern Virginians met to discuss the idea of a Jewish Community Center in Northern Virginia.

  2. Originally served by outreach programs based in Rockville, by the late 1970’s, interest increased for a location closer to home.

  3. In 1980 until 1990, the white house you see when you enter the parking lot served as an interim facility for the JCC, Jewish Social Service Agency, the Council for the Aging, and Senior Adult Services until funds could be raised for a permanent structure.

  4. In December 1990, the Henry S. Reich building celebrated its grand opening, and the JCCNV quickly became a vibrant hub of activity which continues to this day.

  5. Emphasizing health and wellness, the JCC now offers group exercise classes, certified personal trainers, classes that explore weight management, swim lessons, swim teams, sports leagues, early childhood learning, dance and much much more. Read more about JCCNV history here.

To “chronicle our past, celebrate our present, and create our future,” we will hold our annual fundraising celebration at the Stacy Sherwood Center Sunday evening, December 7. The event is not to be missed, featuring entertainment by Daniel Cainer, international musical storyteller extraordinaire and delicious fare. Learn more and reserve your ticket today.




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Finding Your Journey

Renee Eder on Tuesday, November 4, 2014 at 12:00:00 am 
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Do you want to have a fulfilling life? Of course, everyone does! Often times, people spend years of their life trying to figure out who they are and seek clear direction of what their journey will be.

At our j.talks, “Being the Other” event on Sunday evening, three authors will share their unique stories about finding their own personal journeys:

  • S. Bear Bergman was one of the five original founders of the first Gay/Straight Alliance, a frequent lecturer at high schools and colleges on the subject of making schools safe for GLBT students, and a founding commission member of what is now called the Massachusetts Safe Schools Project. His religious and cultural lives have shaped one another and he discusses what it is like to be both Jewish and queer.

  • Julie Greenberg studied at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) and was honored with a Doctor of Divinity honorary degree. Not only was she a gay activist and rabbi, she became a single mother in 1987, bringing five children into her family by birth and by adoption. She discusses parenting her children (two of who attend Ivy League colleges) and how she was one of the first rabbis in the world to do same-sex weddings, to welcome interfaith couples and families, and to work closely with clergy from other faiths in co-officiations.

  • Leah Vincent was born into an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family. At sixteen, she was caught exchanging letters with a male friend, a violation of religious law that forbids contact between members of the opposite sex. She found a place for herself when her family moved her to New York City, and was unprepared to navigate the freedoms of secular life. She discusses how she grappled with her own self-actualization and sexuality in a world that was completely different from the one in which she grew up.

It’s never easy to find life purpose. In fact, it’s one of the most difficult things to do. We invite you to hear how these three remarkable authors found their purpose in life and how it has played a big role in their unexpected journeys. Please join us on Sunday evening at 7pm for an eye-opening, engaging evening at the J. Learn more here.



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Project Welcome Home: Engaging Jewish Military in the Community

Renee Eder on Wednesday, October 29, 2014 at 12:00:00 am 
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Did you know that there are 1,500 Jewish men and women in the U.S. Army (the largest branch of the U.S. military), out of a total of about 500,000 active Army personnel? Despite this small percentage, Jewish people have a rich history in the US military that dates back to the Revolutionary War. For centuries, Jewish men and women and other courageous heroes in the armed forces have made notable contributions to the peace and freedom of our country.

Project Welcome Home, a JCC Association initiative, addresses the needs of our returning military and their families. As participants in this program, JCCs across the US are committed to supporting returning veterans through membership incentives, partnerships, and service opportunities in the Jewish community. The JCC of Northern Virginia is proud to be part of such an important program.

To show our appreciation, on November 7, we would like to honor and thank veterans and their families, and all those who have served in the military (both Jewish and non-Jewish). All are welcome to share the joy of Shabbat and to honor individuals in the military and military families in our community. Together, we will light the candles, sing the blessings and feast on a delicious Shabbat dinner. Following dinner everyone is invited to participate in a fun and interactive program. Come be a part of the Shabbat experience! Find out more here and view the event flier for more details.

To learn more about Project Welcome Home, please click here. To experience Jewish military history, you can see Jewish veterans’ memorabilia, artifacts, records and many exhibits, from colonial times to the present at the National Museum of American Jewish Military History in Washington, DC.



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Five Good Reasons to Get in the Pool

Renee Eder on Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 12:00:00 am 
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When you envision a pool, does children playing or families having fun come to mind? Swimming at the J is that, and so much more. In fact, swimming is an excellent form of physical fitness and a great complement to an existing exercise routine. These are five reasons why:

1. It is good for your body: Swimming provides unparalleled cardiovascular conditioning, and is good for your heart. It builds long, lean muscles that complement the shorter denser muscles that develop from weight training. It helps boost metabolism to keep calories burning longer. Lastly, and important for many of us, people who consistently swim strenuously enough to elevate their heart rate do burn calories and lose weight.

2. It gives your body a break: Swimming gives your body a break from higher-impact activities like basketball, running, and weightlifting. Also, after running, cycling, or weights, an easy swim helps flush out toxins preventing muscle tightness and soreness the following day. In addition, by creating a balanced workout routine, athletes avoid injury by allowing their body time to heal.

3. It strengthens your core: Swimming develops core body strength because it utilizes all the body's muscles simultaneously. Although 70 percent of a swimmer's effort comes from the upper body, kickboard and fin workouts can provide an excellent leg workout.

4. It increases your endurance: Those who swim regularly are able to swim longer than they can what they could sustain doing other activities. With the right technique, a swimmer will be able to train for longer periods of time than if he/she were running and, as a result, more calories are burned.

5. It offers social benefits: Swimming can be social. Fitness classes in the pool and team programs offer peer motivation and swim classes for children and adults can provide you with a chance to interact with others, while bettering your technique and increasing performance results.

Whatever your reason, swimming at the J should be part of your fitness routine. The JCCNV Aquatics Center features a six-lane indoor 25-meter swimming pool with a graduated depth from 3.5’ to 8’. Programs include adult swimming, adapted swimming, instruction for children and adults, water aerobics and Aqua Zumba, and more. Learn more here.

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Raising a Strong, Powerful Girl

Renee Eder on Tuesday, October 14, 2014 at 12:00:00 am 
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Do you have a daughter? Of course, as a parent, you want her to be secure in herself, make positive choices, and think critically about the world around her. How can we help our daughters feel confident and grow up to lead full, valuable lives?

Below are some ideas to help you raise strong, confident young women:

  • Encourage your daughter to pursue a passion: Finding an activity she loves will boost her self-esteem .

  • Let her have a voice in making decisions: Whenever possible, let her make constructive choices about her life.

  • Encourage her to solve issues on her own rather than fixing things for her: In a trying personal situation, let her decide what she wants to do (within reason). Even if you disagree with her choice, you give your daughter a sense of control over her life and show her that she is responsible for her decisions.

  • Encourage her to take physical risks: Urge your daughter to go beyond her comfort zone. For example, encourage a girl who’s scared to ride her bike downhill to find just a small hill to conquer first.

  • Get girls working together: Encourage your daughter to participate in team-building activities or join organizations that rely on teamwork.

To help build confidence, independence, and physical and mental strength, the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia is proud to bring back the JCCNV G.I.R.L.S. (Giving back, Independence, Ruach (spirit), Leadership, Strength) Wellness Program. The G.I.R.L.S. Wellness Program was developed to inspire and educate young girls in our community, combining physical activity, team building, tikkun olam (repairing the world). The purpose of the program is to encourage life-long healthy habits, positive thinking, and character building through group discussions, hands-on activities and projects, and group exercise classes.

Over the course of the 10-week program, the girls are inspired, educated, and motivated by community leaders, physicians, athletes, cancer survivors, nutritionists and group exercise instructors. Participants create journals, take on leadership roles, and work together to carry out a social action piece for our community. This program is offered at no cost for all participants and is limited to 15 registrants. Learn more here.


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Benefits of Group Fitness at JCCNV

Renee Eder on Wednesday, October 8, 2014 at 12:00:00 am 
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On Rosh Hashanah, we don't typically make resolutions like we do for the secular new year. If we did, however, they would closely mirror those that we typically make every year on January 1. Of course, one of the top resolutions would be to exercise and get in better shape.

So, why wait until January? Why not start now? If you want to fit into those pants that are a smidge too tight or are looking for a change from your treadmill routine, then we have the answer right hear at the J.

Our 40 group fitness classes offer members a variety of training techniques, environments, and challenging workouts. No need to be shy if you don't know the steps! At our fitness classes, you don’t have to be a professional dancer or a kick boxing expert; it’s all about getting your heart rate up and having a good time.

Don't risk the buttons popping on your pants. Join us for group fitness, and experience the following benefits:

  1. Proper Instruction: Knowing the correct technique of any workout prevents injuries and will maximize your results. A group class will teach you the proper way to work your muscles.
  2. Motivation: Going to a class with a friend or exercising beside a stranger is a great way to enjoy exercising and stay motivated. Attendees are typically driven to keep up with others, and push personal boundaries.
  3. Make New Friends: In a group fitness setting you have the opportunity to meet new people who you may not normally meet, and make new friends.
  4. Stick to a Routine: Scheduled classes are great for people who like to stick to a fitness routine. You can mark your calendar, attend the class, and know you got your workout in for that day.
  5. It’s Fun!: Working out in a group fitness setting is fun. Our classes have energetic music and instructors to keep you pumped up and get you going.

So, whether you have a lot of experience with workouts and fitness, or if you are just getting started, all members are welcomed and encouraged to take group fitness classes at the J. Be sure to view our schedule of classes on our website, and hopefully, you will find some that appeal to you. We look forward to seeing you here!


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Uses for the Etrog after Sukkot

Renee Eder on Friday, October 3, 2014 at 12:00:00 am 
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What if you went all out this Sukkot (a time of harvesting)? You constructed and decorated your sukkah (a 3-sided temporary structure) with the kids, filled your calendar with friends and family to enjoy a meal in it, and purchased a lulav (palm, myrtle and willow bundled together) and etrog (a citron). When the holiday ends, everything goes back into storage, but what about the fragrant etrog you spent $30 on?

An etrog is a citrus fruit that is ritually important during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Many people purchase one, and simply toss the exotic fruit in the garbage when the holiday ends. This seems wasteful, especially when there are many uses for fragrant fruit after the holiday!

Before you toss your etrog, below are some examples of possible uses:

  • Scented Oil: You can make etrog-scented oil simply by infusing oil with the zest. Grate the peel of a cleaned etrog and put it in a small glass bottle so it fills half the bottle, then add almond oil, light olive oil, or another oil to the top. Set the bottle in a sunny place for a few days, shaking it a few times every day, then store at room temperature. Add a few drops of this scented oil to a bath, or fill a spray bottle with water and a few drops of the etrog oil for a pleasant air freshener.

  • Spice Box: Another way to employ the etrog’s lovely fragrance is to pierce the skin of the fruit and fill the holes with dried cloves, covering the etrog completely. As the etrog dries, it releases a wonderful scent and the whole fruit may be used as a “spice box” for the Havdalah ceremony to mark the end of the Sabbath.

  • Grow an Etrog Tree: Remove the seeds from your etrog, wash them, and plant them in a well-drained potting mix. Keep the plants warm and moist, and repot when necessary. If you are patient and care for your citrus plant well, in about four or five years you may have your own home-grown etrog to use on Sukkot—and after the holiday ends.

  • Pregnancy and Childbirth: A variety of old world practices connect the etrog to pregnancy and childbirth. According to the Talmud (Jewish scriptures), a childless woman who wanted to bear a son was advised to bite the pitom (tip) of the fruit. A pregnant woman who ate the etrog after Sukkot would give birth to a “good” child. And a woman in labor could ease the pain of childbirth, it was said, by placing the etrog’s pitom under her pillow. Wish I knew that ten years ago-- I surely would have saved our etrog!

  • Food and Drink Around the World: After Sukkot, John Kirkpatrick, an etrog-farmer in California, sells great quantities of the remaining fruit to St. George Spirits for its citron-infused vodka. The citron peel has also been used to flavor other beverages, such as lemonade or sangria. In Sicily, people cut the pith into thin slices and sprinkle them with salt or sugar for a snack, or combine them in a salad with fennel, oil, salt, and pepper.

What if you don't have an etrog or a sukkah at home? No worries. Come celebrate with us! We have some great events for families on Sukkot at the JCCNV!

  • On October 7 in Ashburn, families can enjoy a PJ Library® story time, build their own mini-sukkah and shake the lulav (special branches) and etrog. Learn more.

  • On October 12, families can enjoy yoga in the sukkah at our Stretch in the Sukkah event at Gesher.

  • On October 21, we have our Fall Jewish Holiday Jamboree featuring dinner in the sukkah, a petting zoo, and more. Check out this flier for more details on this exciting family event.

We hope to see you at these fun events!



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JCCNV Early Childhood Learning Center Students Celebrate Rosh Hashanah

Renee Eder on Wednesday, September 24, 2014 at 12:00:00 am 
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The month of Tishrei (September – October 2014) is a busy month filled with learning and celebration at the JCCNV Early Childhood Learning Center (ECLC). There are a total of 12 days of Yom Tov (or Jewish holidays) this month, which include the High Holy days (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), and Sukkot, which occurs four days later.

In preparation for the holidays, children of all ages at the ECLC sing songs, eat apples and honey, and learn about the shofar. In keeping with the ECLC's Reggio Emilia-inspired philosophy, classes explore apples in various ways, such as using them to practice colors, counting, and words (i.e., “sweet” and “tart”), create art, and explore new recipes in the kitchen. For the older children, there is more of a focus on what we can do better in the coming year, including learning from our mistakes, and going on tashlich walks (which means “to cast” pieces of bread into a body of flowing water to rid ourselves of sins).

Want to try some fun crafts at home with your children this Rosh Hashanah? Here are five activities that the entire family can enjoy for the first of the High Holidays. Want to learn more about the JCCNV ECLC? Find out more here.


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Welcome To Our New Shlicha, Dana Kalishov!

Renee Eder on Monday, September 22, 2014 at 12:00:00 am 
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Eight years ago, bringing an Israeli representative to our community to deepen the connections between Northern Virginians and Israel was a dream. That dream became a reality at the JCC of Northern Virginia, thanks to the vision and support of several community leaders and the efforts of board and staff. In fact, in the past eight years, we have been fortunate to host five 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 Dana Kalishov, 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.

Dana was born in Tel Aviv and grew up in Herzliya, Israel. She served in the Israel Defense Forces for more than 3 years as a military education officer and left as a First Lieutenant in the Israeli Navy. This past summer, she completed her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology/Anthropology and Management at Ben-Gurion University. Having gained a broad education in leadership, history, Zionism, and Israeli culture, Dana is excited to share her passion for Israel with our community. Please join us in welcoming Dana to Northern Virginia! Learn more about Dana and our Shlichim program.


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Cycle Fest Attracts More Than 100 Riders

Renee Eder on Wednesday, September 17, 2014 at 12:00:00 am 
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The 5th Annual Northern Virginia Cycle Fest took to the streets this past Sunday, September 14, 2014. Set in beautiful fall weather, more than 100 riders enjoyed the scenery through the hills of Northern Virginia. Four ride options, departing at 7:30am, ranged from 11 to 62 miles.

This community ride was hosted by the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia (JCCNV), in partnership with our sponsors. Proceeds benefited the Wounded Warriors Project, a group that assists injured service members, and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), an advocacy group for bikers.

We are grateful to all of the riders that helped make this annual charity event a success. We hope to see these riders and some new faces at the next Cycle Fest in May 2015. Learn more and view pictures/videos from the event.


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8900 Little River Turnpike, Fairfax, VA 22031
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