Humans of Israel: Photographs by Erez Kaganovitz

The Humans of Israel project combines photojournalism with digital storytelling to give a sense of what makes Israel and the diverse humans in it tick. Here you will find ultra-religious Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and Christians alongside asylum seekers and the one percent on Rothschild Boulevard. You will see Ashkenazi and Mizrahi, American, Russian, and French Jews, and basically all the ingredients that make Israeli society one of the most diverse in the world. After seeing this exhibition, you will better understand what the Israeli story is all about.

With intriguing, thought-provoking photographs and the stories about the humans behind them, the project puts a human face on an extraordinary place and challenges preconceptions those outside of Israel may have by communicating a sense of our shared humanity. The Humans of Israel project offers a fresh look at the rich and remarkably diverse lives of Israelis and showcases Israel’s diversity, multiculturalism, and vibrant civil society.

This exhibition captures fascinating people in Israel to tell the Israeli story as a whole. Each photo and story provide a glimpse into the hearts and minds of a variety of Israelis.

Photographer, native Tel Avivi, Erez Kaganovitz is the human behind the Humans of Israel, Humans of Tel Aviv, and Humans of the Holocaust projects. Through his work, Erez has helped bridge a cultural gap in society both within and outside of Israel. His compelling work brings understanding, emotional connection, and unity to many around the world. His TEDx talk, “The Humans behind the pictures on social media” is an eye-opening discussion on the power of digital storytelling, offering a different approach to how we should tell the stories that we know. Take in the visual journey illustrating the impact of technological storytelling on the world online at 

The Humans of Israel exhibition at the Pozez JCC is presented in partnership with the Edlavitch DC JCC, in celebration of Israel’s 75th Birthday in 2023!

Humans of Israel: Photography by Erez Kaganovitz
On view through October 19, 2023

The Dog Days

When I reflect on the month of August, I think of… the dog days of summer, back to school time, and the approach of the Jewish New Year.

While I am always sad to see summer go, I won’t be sad to embrace cooler days in the not-too-distant future. Living in the DMV for more than 30 years, I’ve learned to tolerate the hot, humid summers. But this year, I experienced a heat-related illness that took me to the Emergency Room. After quite a few tests and lab work, and 6 hours of mostly waiting around, I was released and told to seek a follow-up appointment with my primary care physician. I did not have a cardiac event, which was the fear. I likely experienced dehydration and overheating (hyperthermia) which could have led to heat exhaustion or heat stroke if I had not acted.

Because this seemed to come out of nowhere, I wanted to focus a little on preventing heat-related illnesses during the dog days. The most important thing to remember is to keep hydrated, ideally by drinking water or other unsweetened, alcohol-free fluids; those that contain electrolytes are ideal. Here are some other tips… Carry a refillable bottle around with you in summertime. Participate in exercise or physical activity indoors with air conditioning, if possible; but if you do venture outside try to avoid the peak sun and heat times by getting out early or late in the day and look for shady areas. Dress appropriately for the weather by wearing lightweight, loose-fitting clothing. Pick light colors and synthetic fabrics which absorb less heat and draw sweat away from the body, which aids in evaporation. (Did you know that cotton holds water and gets saturated! I didn’t.) And finally, take things slow on those nasty days, giving your body time to adjust to the high temperature and humidity. This commonsense advice could be lifesaving!

The J is participating in a special community/national event that will be taking place in late August. In honor of the 60th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington and his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, 90 organizations are gathering at 11am on Saturday, August 26 at the Lincoln Memorial, to not only commemorate this important day, but to continue King’s mission to combat hate and promote unity and equality for all. If you do participate in this historical happening, please take the above advice to ensure you don’t get dehydrated and overheated at this outdoor event.

Late August, specifically Monday, August 21, brings a new addition to the Adult Services Department! I am thrilled to have Bonnie Sokol join me as Adult Enrichment Coordinator. You may remember Bonnie – before the pandemic Bonnie worked at the J in Guest Services and then as Registrar. Recently, Bonnie has been working in J-Fit part-time. She brings much knowledge and experience and will be a wonderful asset to the ASD. Please welcome Bonnie and stop by our offices on the first floor of the CAC anytime!

As we wind down the dog days, we look to the start of the new year – a new year of school for students, teachers, and staff at the J’s Early Childhood Learning Center and Chai 5 (after school program) and the Jewish New Year which begins at sundown on Friday, September 15. The new year (just like January 1) is a time for contemplation, atonement, and numerous possibilities. For adults at the J, I anticipate new and exciting opportunities for enrichment in the forms of socialization and camaraderie, competition and collaboration, learning and skill-building, as well as health improvement and entertainment. We hope adults of all ages and stages will join us for a wide variety of programs and activities. A calendar of what’s coming up can be found here: Events | Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia ( As I like to say… there’s something for everyone at the J… from Boomers to Zoomers and more!

Disability Pride

July was Disability Pride Month, so coined to commemorate the July 26, 1990 signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. The ADA is an extremely important civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination based on disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodations, telecommunication, businesses and non-profits that serve the public, and government services. The Disability community represents the largest minority group worldwide. It is a group that spans all ages, races, ethnicities, religions, gender identities and expressions, sexual orientations, and socio-economic status. Disabled people make up approximately 10 to 16 percent of the population.

Disability Pride is a logical extension of the Disability Rights Movement. This movement fights for equal rights, opportunities, and access for people with disabilities, and to end ableism. Ableism is the discrimination of disabled people and the belief that they are inferior to a non-disabled person. Having a disability is not something that needs to be “fixed” and disabled people need to be included in all parts of society.

Pride goes beyond the ADA. Disability Pride celebrates the people, their identities, and their contributions to society. It does not say that there are not numerous challenges, but seeks to end the idea that having a disability makes someone less than or that it is anything other than a natural part of who you are and part of your identity.

In 2021 an updated disability pride flag, which is a symbol of solidarity and acceptance, was created. The flag has different colored diagonal stripes, to represent different disabilities (red=physical disabilities, gold= cognitive or intellectual disabilities, white= not visible or undiagnosed disabilities, blue= psychiatric disabilities, and green= sensory disabilities) on a black background. The colors are muted for greater accessibility for people with seizures or migraines. The diagonal bands (from the top left to the bottom right) represent people with disabilities cutting through society’s barriers. The black background represents mourning for those harmed by Ableist cruelty.

The only way that seems appropriate to end this writing about Disability Pride is to include the thoughts of a member of the community. One of the JCC’s Inclusion Department participants, Valerie Maizel, wrote the following about her experiences here:

“I love going to the J because I meet new people at the “Going Places!” Social Club there. Over the years, I worked hard to overcome a mild disability but still found it difficult to make friends. I made wonderful friends at the club. They offer exciting events each month. My friends and I get together on our own, too. We go to movies, restaurants, and shop. We also meet weekly on Zoom. I have gained confidence, learned how to approach new people, and discovered I can enjoy communicating with them. I greatly appreciate the opportunities I have at “Going Places!” and the positive effect it has had on my life.”

The Inclusion and Disability Services department at the Pozez JCC endeavors to promote connection, community, and pride all 12 months of the year.

Cultivating Lifestyle Changes and Forming New Habits

Habit formation and behavior change are widely discussed, especially because we live in a culture that, for better or worse, is fixated on self-improvement.

I am not a psychologist or motivational speaker. However, I do feel qualified enough to give you the “Too Long; Didn’t Read” version of some works on habit formation from experts in the field. If there is a mountainous goal that has been eluding you, read on!

Laws of Habit Changes from Atomic Habits by James Clear:

Make it obvious: pay attention to your environment and make cues for the desired habit. 

For example, if your goal is to read x number of books for the year, it could be a good idea to place a book on the coffee table where the remote control usually rests.

Make it attractive: the more enjoyable or attractive the habit is, the more likely you are to do it. Try “temptation bundling,” pairing a highly probable and desirable habit with the new habit. 

For example, watching your favorite show while walking on the treadmill if you want to make a habit of walking for thirty minutes a day. This is a way to make our penchant for instant gratification work for us.

Make it easy: remove friction and obstacles that prevent you from performing the habit. Better yet, plan for challenges ahead of time.

For example, if my goal is to save money, I will pack a lunch to take to work. If I know I have a hard time getting out of the door in the morning, I will pack my lunch the night before.

Make it satisfying: Positive reinforcement can help cement your new habits. Track progress and reward yourself for small steps!

Reflect on these laws. Think of a goal you have or a habit you’d like to adopt. Now, read the laws again and think of ways you can make your specific habit obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying.

Other techniques for habit building:

Habit stacking: Identify a habit you already do consistently. Choose a new habit you want to incorporate into your routine. Create a link between the existing habit and the new habit by doing them together.

For example, if you would like to start learning about current events, you could decide to listen to the BCC Global News Podcast every morning during your daily commute.

Habit stacking and temptation bundling are similar, but the difference is that temptation bundling capitalizes on a thing we really want to do and habit stacking uses any existing habit to support a new habit.

“Don’t break the chain”: Comedian Jerry Seinfeld shared that he cultivated a habit of writing comedy every day by marking the calendar with a big, red X when he did, regardless of how much he wrote. By seeing a “streak”, you’re more likely to continue the behavior.

Identity-Based habits: I’m paraphrasing here, but there is a saying that goes something like “everything you do is a vote for the person you are”. Identity based habits are the way to seal the deal and make your new habits stick. Most goals are about outcomes, but identity-based goals are about changing your belief systems. James Clear writes that there are two steps for sustained success: Decide the type of person you want to be and prove it to yourself with small wins.

Don’t underestimate social power. By being open with others about your goals or plan to cultivate a new habit, you are psychologically more likely to be consistent. By having an accountability buddy (or even friendly competition), you increase your chances of making a change.

For example, the app Goodreads shares your annual reading goal with your friends. You can also share your progress for books you’re currently reading, like other readers’ progress updates, and share book reviews with friends!

More on Temptation Bundling and Habit Stacking: 

More on Identity-Based Habits: 

Unlocking Us with Brene Brown featuring James Clear: 

Relationships the day after

As I set down to write my monthly recollections about life here and in Israel, I wanted to write about the wonderful speech the Israeli president, Isaac Herzog, gave to Congress. I wanted to write about the fact that this is an event so rare, it has only happened twice in Israel’s history. And write about how he was cheered for three minutes and thirty seconds by all members of Congress – Democrats and Republicans alike. I wanted to cherish that moment to be thankful for the relationship our two countries have, and the success stories shared by the homes of the two largest Jewish communities today. But as the week progressed, I couldn’t.

Dramatic would be an understatement of past week’s events. The Reasonableness Bill was passed, resulting in what seems to be the largest rift ever seen in Israeli society. But it is not the content of this Bill that is driving hundreds of thousands of protestors to the streets. Israel’s heart is a little less democratic today, but it is still beating. What drove so many people to protest is the sheer will to win and defeat the other side, to do things out of spite, to eliminate the opponent. Democratic culture cannot exist under those conditions. Laws can be re–written, but this rupture will take decades to heal.

It is painful to sit here and watch the country that I love being torn apart. To watch the authentic connections we had slowly breaking. We used to sit around the Shabbat table and discuss everything. Politics, ideas, news, everything. The argument could get heated, but we were always a family. Now it is too painful to talk. We drift apart and decide that because we can’t hear each other anymore, it’s better to not talk at all. And we look for someone to blame.

It is very easy for us to think, if it wasn’t for this specific political figure, we could’ve gotten along just fine! We need to ask ourselves, Is it just because of them? Could we really get along well without them? In our world today, we choose a side because we love our country. We choose a side because we are sure that we know what is right. We are sure that we are walking in the correct lane and that the other lane leads to disaster. We are sure that the other side doesn’t care for our shared fate. We are sure we have nothing in common.

And now what? Separation is not optional. We need to find a way, any way, to talk to each other again. To find a common denominator. A favorite writer of mine, Micha Goodman, once said that today’s greatest illness is Polarity, and that the cure for that could be curiosity – Curiosity for the other side. I believe him. We need to look at our differences and to be eager to learn why. Why do we think so differently? Is it really that different? I could be wrong, but there is no harm in trying.

I am concerned, overwhelmed, and more worried than ever. But I am also hopeful. And to quote another favorite person of mine, the Israeli Rapper Tuna:

“Sometimes we got to keep walking even if we don’t see where to.”