CommUNITY through Challah-Making

At the time of this blog post, more than 250 women gathered (Sunday, November 19th) in unity and connection for a shared experience that embraces the spirit of togetherness. The occasion? A communal challah-making event that not only celebrates the mitzvah of making challah but also the bonds within the community and a shared connection to Judaism. This communal challah-making event is not just about flour, water, and yeast; it is a celebration of community, sisterhood, and a shared commitment to preserving and enriching Jewish traditions.

The act of making challah can be symbolic in itself. The braiding of dough mirrors the interwoven connections between individuals, families, and the greater community. We will chat joyfully and laugh together and fill the room with warmth and acceptance, emphasizing the importance of shared experiences in fostering a sense of belonging when the world around us can feel threatening.

Challah making, with its deep roots in Jewish tradition, becomes a way through which we are able to celebrate our shared culture and connect with our Jewish heritage… reminding us of the generations who came before us who also participated in the ritual of making challah, passing down a legacy of community.

Tonight’s event was a sell-out, bringing more than 200 women together to experience the joy that comes from celebrating our connections to each other and to Judaism as a whole.

In a Crazy World…Gratitude & Self-Care are Key

I googled the phrase ‘world gone crazy’ to find a song I was remembering with those lyrics. As it turns out there are numerous songs with that title or something very similar! Some are recent and the videos on YouTube show photos depicting images associated with the pandemic, Black Lives Matter movement, and other times where hate, destruction, and war were prevalent. I suppose the world has always had times that were crazy, but we still must keep on living.

This blog is dedicated to finding opportunities for gratitude and thankfulness despite the craziness and to performing acts of self-care despite what’s in the news. November is usually the month associated with gratitude and thankfulness since “Thanksgiving” always occurs on the 4th Thursday. This holiday is a time when we gather with family and friends to share our bounty of food and express gratitude for each other and what we have in this world. People travel near and far to do this. In fact, Thanksgiving is one of the most traveled holidays in the United States, causing traffic delays on the roads, tracks and in the skies – which can be quite stressful.

Let’s see what we can do to make mid-November and Thanksgiving a little less stressful and healthier all around. First, be grateful for the variety of foods we eat on this American holiday that are native to our country and continent. Second, limit the amount of time you take in ‘the news’ and do things that provide a little bit of an escape from our harsh reality. And third, engage in activities that help others and repair the world – in keeping with the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam.

Eat Native Foods:

Did you know that potatoes (considered a starchy vegetable) were cultivated by the Incas in South America 1,800 years ago? Potatoes with colored skins (purple, gold and red) as well as sweet potatoes are more nutritious than white potatoes. They also add pleasing color to your meal. Corn (botanically a fruit but classified as a starchy vegetable or grain) provides many vitamins and elements that the body needs in moderation. Pumpkins are seasonal to autumn and pumpkin pie is often a dish we see for Thanksgiving dessert. But don’t forget about the other kinds of squash (winter, butternut, spaghetti, acorn, etc.) that bring color and nutrients to a dish or can be made into a hearty winter soup.

Other healthy native American foods that can enhance your Thanksgiving table include cacao bean, tomatoes, and chili peppers. Cacao is the basis for chocolate which was used by the Mayans in Central America to make a bitter “drink of the Gods;” it contains antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties. Beans (black, white, red, kidney) and legumes (like as lentils and green beans) are a good sour of protein and very versatile to use in dishes. Green beans are native to South and Central America and are often found in the popular creamy casserole on Thanksgiving but they can be cooked in a heathier way (roasting, steaming, sautéing). Tomatoes, also native to South America have many vitamins, minerals and are known for the phytochemical lycopene and are versatile all year round. Finally, chili peppers (considered berries) are native to South America and cultivated in Mexico, bring taste and heat to any dish they are cooked in. The chemical they are known to provide through ingesting or topically is capsicum.

Limit news watching time and do leisure activities:

It is easy to get caught up in watching the news. It is available 24/7, after all. But it is not ideal. Whether it is first thing in the morning or in the evening after work, limit how much time you read the newspaper/news feeds, watch television, or listen to the radio/podcasts. Take a break by doing something that takes your mind off of current events – engage in a favority hobby, exercise, cook, knit, read a book, socialize with friends, take a long shower/bath, walk in nature or participate in a Pozez JCC adult program,. To find a list of upcoming programs click here: Events | Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia (

Help Repair the World (perform Tikkun Olam):

In this time of gratitude and thankfulness, it is our moral obligation to help others in need. The Women’s Social Impact Group (WSIG) was created with this vision in mind. Currently, WSIG is working to combat homelessness and hunger and improve the environment with its mission of recycle, repurpose, reuse. One of our most important commitments is to the annual FACETS Hypothermia Prevention Program where we assist Bethlehem Lutheran Church each winter in hosting guests for a week; December 24-31 is our week this year. You can support this effort in a few ways:

  1. Buy raffle tickets for the Baskets of Love FUNdraiser in the J’s Lobby (through November 15)
  2. Volunteer for JCC Days during Hypothermia Prevention Week – click on the signupgenius link for opportunities to provide meals, food/snack items, gift cards, supplies and assistance: Pozez JCC: Hypothermia Prevention Week: JCC Days (
  3. Become a member of WSIG and/or the Community Impact & Engagement Department’s new Volunteer Center.

I hope you can take time out to be good to yourself this month…eat healthy (and include native foods this Thanksgiving), pursue pleasurable activities to destress, feel gratitude and thankfulness for what you do have, and give back to the community. Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

Camp Achva’s 55th Summer

Most mornings I have a crucial decision to make – which Camp Achva T-shirt do I wear? This is a pivotal decision. Do I wear one from the early 2000’s with the sun logo? Do I choose one from the late 2010’s with “Camp Achva” written above the logo? Or do I pick one of our current designs? The choice on its face seems simple – pick a T–shirt. However, to me, this is not a simple choice, and this is not a choice that I take lightly.

Camp Achva is in its 54th year of existence and approaching our 55th summer. Over that time, Camp Achva has grown and changed significantly – from the programming thought of and offered, to the size of our camper and staff population, to our registration systems and the sessions offered, to our logos and our name, and to our summer location.

Currently, my team and I are focused on two areas of growth – programming and inclusion.


In the past two summers, a human foosball court, a slingshot range, mystery trails (a walking version of escape rooms), and a virtual sports room featuring Nintendo Switch Sports & Just Dance have been added to the program offerings at Camp Achva. In the DMV area, we are one of the only camps that has these programs available, and we are certainly the only camp that has all of them available. We aren’t stopping there either. We believe that our program design has lots of room to grow and for our 55th summer we are homing in on teaching lifelong games by adding three different types of golf activities: foot golf, frisbee golf, & bucket golf.

In the next 3-5 years, many more activities will be added. We are already planning for what those are, where they will be, and how to make them accessible and enjoyable for all at Camp.

Inclusion to MESSH (Mental Emotional Social Spiritual Health)

The camp industry, generally, has begun to expand the thinking around disability support services, under the label of inclusion, into the idea of MESSH. At Camp Achva we are fully embracing this notion and are enjoying the learning process as we continue to grow in this area. Our first step was to have a dedicated administrative staff position to elevate our understanding of how to support the authentic self of every person who is a part of Camp Achva. This can be seen in our updated Child Profile Form, in the way that we recruit, interview, and train our staff, in the Camp Achva Pride Flag raised at Gesher and the Pozez JCC Pride logo in our email signatures, as well as, in the language we use by offering our pronouns, for using caregiver &/or guardian, and having space for participants and staff to tell us their gender on all forms.

In the next 3-5 years, we hope to be a camp that fully expresses the word inclusion. We are committed to training our professional and seasonal staff towards this end and we are committed to making Camp Achva as joyful and accessible for our campers, their families, and our broader Pozez JCC CommUNITY.

Through all this change and growth, there are Camp Achva traditions that live on and provide continuity within our framework – wearing white on Shabbat, having Ruach (a weekly showcase where each group performs), Maccabbiah (color war), field trips, changing the color of the t-shirt, & the long lines at carpool that we try to move as smoothly as possible. In recognition of our Camp Achva traditions, we look ahead to our 55th summer and the theme we have conceived to match this moment.

55 Summers of Impact

In 2024, Camp Achva is celebrating our 55th summer impacting children from all across Northern Virginia. This year’s summer theme, “Camp is More Than a Bagel,” was inspired by the Camp Achva album Jewish Is More Than a Bagel, Songs for Jewish Children, by Shirley Grossman. Through her unique perspective and awe-inspiring songwriting skills, Shirley wrote songs for Camp Achva with Broadway flair. She, along with our founders Adele Greenspon, Shirley Waxman, and Judy Frank, created a recipe for a Camp that has become more than just one thing – Camp Achva is a community, a family, a home. In honor of our founders, Shirley, our alumni, our current campers, families, staff, and the wider Pozez JCC community, we are proud to say that Camp Achva is more than a bagel!

Each Director has helped Camp Achva grow and change to fit the needs and wants of the community around it in their own way along with input from stakeholders. I have seen the growth and change firsthand as a camper, a staff member, the Assistant Director, and now as the Director. Camp Achva has always been my home, no matter the logo, the theme, the programming offered, the location, or the T-shirt color. Deciding which Camp Achva T-shirt to wear is a hard and pivotal decision for me because each one says something different. It says what programs we offered, what field trips we took, what Ruach presentations happened, who won Maccabbiah, who the Director of the time was, and what theme was explored each summer. Each T-shirt is a memory and a reminder to me that I have the most important and wonderful job I could have ever hoped for – to make Camp Achva a home for those now coming to Camp and to dream of how to make it a life-impacting experience for those coming to Camp Achva in the future, as it has been for me and so many others.

By the way, Tuesday, November 7, 2023 is International Summer Camp T-Shirt Day… I hope all who have fond camp memories, Camp Achva or otherwise, will proudly wear your favorite camp t-shirt!