ReelAbilities Film Festival: Community partnerships, stigma-smashing film, and fine art

The 2024 festival will open at the J and close at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts at the REACH’s Justice Forum. As per festival tradition encouraging accessibility for all, the films will be screened by partner venues throughout the region.

“These partnerships have been a cornerstone of the festival’s success since day one, eleven years ago,” says the festival’s director, Sarah Berry. “When we moved the festival to February  in commemoration of Jewish Disabilities Inclusion and Awareness Month, many of the local synagogues became participating venues.”

This year, half of the venues are synagogues, and the other half are a combination of arts organizations and direct service organizations. “It’s a privilege to work as a presenting partner with these organizations, we are all driven by similar missions of access, culture, and community,” Berry adds.

This year, our partners include Beth El Hebrew Congregation with Agudas Achim, Congregation Adat Reyim, Congregation Olam Tikvah, Down Syndrome Association of Northern Virginia, Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons, Reston Community Center’s CenterStage, ServiceSource, Temple Rodef Shalom, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The J is hosting the opening night screening, with attendee groups including Hadassah and Our Stomping Ground.

Not able to travel around town? No problem. ReelAbilities Northern Virginia will continue to make all films in the festival available to stream online. The lineup is comprised of contemporary international films, complemented by post-film programs, and an exhibit in the J’s Bodzin Art Gallery. For a full listing of events, visit

To screen the festival online, create an account at

Join us opening night!

We are excited to invite the community for a full program celebrating the arts on opening night. The evening includes a suite of short films celebrating creativity: films will cover topics such as art, entrepreneurship, comedy, filmmaking, and theater, allowing us glimpses into the lives of creatives in these fields, and how they make their art and dreams happen. The films will be followed by a Q&A with Anne Schlachter-Dagan, a local, legally blind painter.

Schlachter-Dagan’s exhibition, Bright Darkness, is now on view at the J’s Bodzin Art Gallery through March 6, offering viewers a glimpse into her personal experiences and highlighting the difficulties she encounters in perceiving light and color.

ReelAbilities Film Festival: Northern Virginia aims to shine light on the lives, stories, and artistic expressions of people with disabilities. Each film selected for the 2024 festival was done so with care by a committee of screeners, as well as each presenting venue. Thought was put into the quality of the films, the messaging, and the goal of each event. Heartfelt thanks for your time, committee members: Harold Belkowitz, LaRue Cook, Joan Ehrlich, Rachel Greenblatt, Dawn Kaye, Nancy Reder, Bill Rosen, BoMi Rosen, Michael Toobin, Charlotte Woodward, and Darcy Woodward.

We look forward to sharing these stigma-smashing films with our community, both in-person and virtually. Reserve your seats now at

Tu B’Shevat is here… How to Celebrate the Trees

🌳 Celebrating Tu B’Shevat: Ideas to Connect with Nature🌿

Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees, is a beautiful occasion to embrace nature, foster environmental consciousness, and celebrate Judaism. This year it starts on sundown January 24th and ends at sundown on the 25th. Here are some ideas to make your Tu B’Shevat celebration fun and meaningful:

  1. 🎂 Make a Birthday Cake for the Trees:
    • Real Cake: Bake a delicious cake to celebrate the trees’ “birthday.” Share it with friends and family, savoring the sweetness of nature.
    • Nature Cake: Get creative with a nature-inspired cake using elements like snow, leaves, or other natural materials. Let your imagination flourish!
  2. 🌱 Plant Parsley for Passover:
    • Planting parsley is not only a wonderful Tu B’Shevat activity but also prepares you for Passover. Watch it grow and use it during your Passover seder as a fresh and home-grown addition.
  3. 🌳 Plant a Tree with the Jewish National Fund:
    • Contribute to the environmental legacy by planting a tree with the Jewish National Fund. Your donation of a tree symbolizes a commitment to the ecological well-being of Israel and beyond.
  4. 🚮 Clean Up Litter in Nature:
    • Park Cleanup: Gather a group of friends or family for a Tu B’Shevat park cleanup.
    • On a Walk: Take a leisurely walk in a your neighborhood and pick up litter along the way. Small actions collectively make a significant impact.
  5. 🌿 Go on a Nature Walk:
    • Northern VA Exploration: Discover the beauty of nature in Northern VA. Whether it’s a nearby trail, a park, or a scenic spot, immerse yourself in the local flora and fauna. Use the attached scavenger hunt sheet to find winter nature!
    • Explore Nature in Israel: If you can’t physically be in Israel, take a virtual journey through the landscapes. Research the diverse ecosystems and imagine the beauty of Israeli nature. How is it different this time of year?

Tu B’Shevat is a time to appreciate the environment, connect with the outdoors, and contribute to the well-being of our planet. Choose one or more of these ideas to celebrate the Jewish Earth Day, fostering a deeper connection with nature and a commitment to environmental stewardship. 🌳✨

Happy Tu B’Shevat! 🌿🎉

Pssst: Want to host a traditional Tu B’Shevat Seder? You will find one of our favorites here.

Tikkun Olam and Tikkun Ha-Lev

On Monday, January 15th, hundreds of people in each community will be volunteering because it is MLK, Jr. Day. The closest Shabbat to this national holiday is celebrated by at least the Reform Movement as Shabbat Tzedek – a time to remember the life and heritage of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Another Jewish connection is the friendship between Abraham Joshua Heschel and MLK – two spiritual and civil leaders of the generation.  

In Jewish tradition, the value most often connected to volunteering is Tikkun Olam (Hebrew for repairing or fixing the world).  It feels good to add your efforts to fixing our not very whole world, right? The interesting aspect of this idea is that the full concept of Tikkun Olam states that if you want to repair the world, you need to start with yourself. It is called Tikkun Ha-Lev (Repairing the Heart). Sounds a bit selfish, but let’s dig into it and maybe it will make sense. If you’ve ever been on a plane, you know that in the event of an emergency, you are told to put your mask on first, and only after you are secure, to help your child/friend/neighbor with their mask.  

Interestingly enough,  research shows that volunteering has all kinds of benefits for the volunteer.  From a form of socialization to improving health, from advancing in one’s career to finding a sense of fulfillment – these are just a few benefits that can come along with volunteering. Repairing the world and repairing oneself could be a parallel and connected processes.  

This MLK Day, Pozez JCC and Horizon Day Camp are partnering with Volunteer Fairfax on the MLK Day of Service: Give Together. Although registration for the event has closed, you can always find volunteer opportunities online! Repair The World (a Jewish organization mobilizing Jews for volunteering and taking action in pursuit of a more just world) has a variety of virtual volunteering options. 

Please, stay tuned for great news coming from Pozez JCC about volunteering in our community and repairing our hearts! 

Let’s Say a Shehecheyanu!

As we start the 2024 secular New Year, I am left reflecting about our start of our school year in September. New beginnings feel like they bring so many possibilities and a great time to recite the Shehecheyanu blessing (a common Jewish prayer to celebrate special occasions) as well as to delve into the newness we feel as we start a new year Shehecheyanu Blessing.indd (1).pdf. The ECLC started the school year introducing our staff to the Shehecheyanu prayer as we thought about new possibilities a new school year holds. This feels just as true as we say hello to 2024. We will continue our school year wondering what possibilities this new year brings and where we can be grateful for what we have in our lives. We look around at our ECLC community within the larger JCC community and continue to build, grow and come together as a community.  As we begin anew with the start of 2024, the Shehecheyanu prayer brings with it a way to have gratitude for the new experiences that come with a new year.

At the ECLC, celebrating Shabbat this school year has opened new possibilities. We have been hosting once a month, in person, Shabbat’s as an ECLC community. This has brought with it extreme gratitude for our families, educators and children at the ECLC who help fill this space monthly with warmth, Shabbat songs and prayers including families helping to lead the weekly Shabbat prayers. This contributes to a greater family-school connection that we look forward to monthly.

I continue to look forward to the new possibilities that come with this new year as we continue reflecting and growing our ECLC and J community.