Getting to know the ECLC Fairfax’s Atelier

Aligning with the principles of the Reggio Emilia philosophy, the Pozez JCC Early Childhood Learning Center established an Atelier in 2010. Over the years the ECLC’s atelier has become an integral part of the children’s learning experiences at school, as an active space where curiosity is sparked and creativity flourishes.

But what is an Atelier in an early childhood context?

Atelier is a French word defined as a workshop or studio. For the young children that attend the ECLC, the Atelier is a space, a laboratory of sorts, where they can express themselves authentically, question, wonder, and discover new knowledge through aesthetic experiences.

Children live in a world of relationships, and use multiple senses, such as touching, smelling, tasting, and listening, to investigate and process connections between themselves and the world around them. This interconnectedness is not limited, but incorporates materials, provided, or discovered. In the Atelier, materials are presented in visually appealing ways, and the quality and authenticity of materials are essential in supporting the children’s thinking and learning. Children are given agency to explore these materials through poly-sensorial investigations. As children become more familiar with a material, it evolves into a ‘language’ for them to further communicate their thoughts and ideas. Intentional considerations of materials demonstrate deep respect for children’s capabilities and the importance of aesthetic experiences in learning.

In the Atelier, small groups of children visit at a time.  There are many benefits to working in a small group context, as there tends to be fewer distractions, establishing a place for children to observe, interact, listen, and learn from each other. Through small group interactions, children not only learn from their peers but also develop crucial social skills and a sense of belonging within the learning community.

This year, the intention of the atelier has been focused on mark-making. The goal is to continually offer a variety of materials to explore different impressions, scribbles, patterns, and shapes, which is simply the beginning of emergent writing. In the early stages of mark-making, utilizing different types of tools, from watercolor paints to clay, strengthens hands while children are engaged in the simple physical pleasures of making marks. When children realize that they can control their marks and share their ideas through these various forms of languages, mark making becomes a form of connection, as the traces that are left are purposeful. Each child is on their own journey, as they practice coordination and creativity through their own aesthetic lens.

A new video highlighting the happenings of the ECLC’s Atelier is being featured in the Pozez JCC lobby. As the children that attend the ECLC are the largest population that inhabit the community center daily, showcasing them and the work that they do shares to the children that they are valued, seen, and are contributing members of the community. Please enjoy!

ECLC Atelier Video

Celebrating Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance & Inclusion Month

February is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAIM or JDAAIM). This year, JDAIM is in its 15th year of existence. It was started to raise awareness and ensure that Jews with disabilities are valued and included in all aspects of Jewish life. As you may be aware, the Disability community is the largest minority group, and estimated to be about 15% of the world population. It is also estimated that 1 in 4 adults in the United States will have a disability at some point during their life. This is a group that cannot and should not be ignored. The Disability community needs to be accepted and included not just in February, but every day of the year.

As part of our celebration of JDAIM, the Pozez JCC and the organization MyZuzah, whose mission is to put a mezuzah on the front door of every Jewish home in the world, are excited to be installing a mezuzah with braille on its face. The mezuzah was designed by local artist, Julie Tonti.

This past week, I listened to a talk by Rabbi Julia Watts Belser about her book, Loving Our Bones: Disability Wisdom and the Spiritual Subversiveness of Knowing Ourselves Whole. She talked about how she is often asked what Jewish tradition says about disability. She offers that we flip the question to ask what disability can offer to Jewish wisdom. Her answer is the message that there is not only one way to move through the world and not only one way of thinking. Rabbi Belser defined ableism as the policies, norms, attitudes, and practices that oppress people assumed to be disabled. She said that ableism runs in conjunction with the idea of productivity culture, where we are only as good as our latest accomplishment. Her idea is that the practice of honoring Shabbat, and taking a day of rest, is the antidote to this form of ableism. This promotes the idea of your value for who you are rather than for what you do.

On this 15th anniversary of JDAIM, it is most appropriate to honor the memory of Judy Heumann just before the occasion of her first yahrzeit. She was an international leader in the Disability Rights Movement who fought for Jewish disability access and for the rights and dignity of all disabled people. Many more people came to know about her life through the documentary movie Crip Camp. When talking about the 504 protests (referring to section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities), shown in the movie, Judy said that they were successful because they did not focus on how they were different, but on their collective purpose. They focused on the community and the humanity in each other. A wonderful quote from Judy Heumann’s memoir Being Heumann is, “I was who I was meant to be. If you were to acquire a disability tomorrow, it would be a change, but I can tell you this: it wouldn’t have to be a tragedy. We are all human. Why do we see disability differently from any other aspect of being human?”

Helpful JDAIM Resources 

“What Do You Pray For?” A series of short interviews with Jews with disabilities.

A sneak peek and conversation about the upcoming film THIRTEEN. The film is based on a true story of a mother fighting to have a Bat Mitzvah for her disabled and terminally ill daughter. The discussion will center around the intersection of ableism and antisemitism and the impact in Jewish communities.
Registration required. Click here.

Resisting Ableism and Cultivating Access: Disability and Jewish Social Justice. Registration is required. Please click here to register

JDAIM Events:

The J = Community Connector for Adults

The Pozez JCC of Northern Virginia is proud to be a CommUNITY Connector and resource provider. In addition to the cadre of diverse programming it currently offers, the J is undergoing a strategic repositioning to better provide meaningful Jewish engagement to the Jewish families of young children in Northern Virginia and engage more adults in social impact activities through a new Volunteer Center. 

The mission of the J’s Adult Services Department (ASD) is to provide opportunities for adult enrichment through educational, cultural, recreational, social, and volunteer activities. Part of the ASD’s mission is to bring awareness of programs and services in Northern Virginia and the DMV to the adult population. 

For those interested in adult learning, the J offers educational programs and courses through its Adult Learning Institute (ALI). Current offerings include Yiddish Level 1 and 2 courses, Beginner and Intermediate Level Spanish courses, and 1-4 session classes on a various topics including Beginner Mah Jongg lessons. Last fall, a new Community Choir, called Makheylah, was introduced to teach students ages 16+ how to sing all kinds of music. ALI strives to offer both Jewish and general education to adults of all ages. Upcoming cultural and educational programs include: “Israel 101” on 2/20 and a “Firsthand Impressions of Gaza” on 3/7, a “Navigating Menopause” workshop on 2/28, a classical Jewish music concert on 3/3, an “AARP Safe Driver Course” on March 4 & 5, a genealogical author presentation on 3/10, and a Purim Prep program on 3/14.

Other opportunities for adult learners can be found at the Lifetime Learning Institute (affiliated with Northern Virginia Community College, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (through George Mason University) and the Haberman Institute for Jewish Studies. Virtual learners can log into Fairfax County’s Virtual Center for Adult Activities for a variety of classes ranging in topics from physical fitness, nutrition and aging to art and music ( The county also sponsors brain stimulating programs through its community and senior centers and public libraries.

For those older adults who are not yet ready to be retired, the Jewish Council on Aging will have its annual free Virtual 50+ Employment Expo on Thursday, February 15, 10am-3pm. This event features workshops on employment opportunities in Fairfax County, showcasing area employers hiring jobseekers of a certain age (

The J’s new Volunteer Manager Emily Braley will be sharing volunteer opportunities to drive seniors, as well as new volunteer initiatives from the JCC. The key priorities include:

  • HorizonWALKS/Horizon Day Camp
  • NV Rides
  • Disability and Inclusion
  • Food insecurity + addressing the needs of the unhoused
  • Israel and Antisemitism
  • Democracy and Social Justice

Volunteer opportunities are also offered by the Pozez JCC in conjunction with partner organizations. In December, the J partnered with Bethlehem Lutheran Church for Hypothermia Prevention Week and collaborated with congregations Beth Emeth and Olam Tikvah to cover more than 80 volunteer commitments during the week! Volunteers included adults and children; see the photo of Leslie Casciato, her two children and friends making sandwiches for shelter guests to eat the next day. Leslie and her children wanted to help the community during their school winter break. HPW gave her an opportunity to teach them about Tikkun Olam. She and her children also helped with cleaning up the sleeping mats at the end of the week. 

For MLK Day of Service, the J partnered with Volunteer Fairfax to prepare 150 activity bags for children being treated for cancer and collected 1,350 pounds of food for a local food pantry! On April 7, the kick- off to Good Deeds Week, additional activity bags will be prepared at Gesher Jewish Day School from 1:30pm-3:30pm and on April 14th all are invited to participate in HorizonWALKS at National Harbor; this fundraiser supports Horizon Day Camp – Metro DC so that kids with cancer and their siblings can attend summer camp at the J free of charge. The Women’s Social Impact Group is looking for ‘a few good women’ to join its dedicated group already performing mitzvot (good deeds).

Those interested in making a profound difference in the community, can complete a Volunteer Interest Form here: to get involved. We welcome your support and participation!

As I always say, there’s something for everyone at the J!

Not Just Another Trip to Israel

How was your trip?” Such a simple question, but as I have discovered since returning from Israel, almost impossible for me to answer. This was my Bar Mitzvah trip, my thirteenth time visiting Israel, and my first time in more than seven years. I had been yearning to return since my last planned trip was Covid-cancelled in 2020, but life always seemed to get in the way. After October 7th, I felt a stronger pull to visit than I had ever felt before, and at the same time, for the first time, I also felt trepidation. Would it feel different? Would it be different?

More than the place, I missed the people. Two people in particular, who I’ve known for twenty years, but who I think of as family, my “brother” Shaul Zohar and my “son” Yonathan Hefetz. For me, no trip to Israel is complete without spending time with these two special men, so when JCCA put together its extraordinary Leadership Solidarity Mission to Israel, I knew that I would be going, and extending my visit.

Shaul and his wife Karin live in the north of Israel in Kiryat Shemona (KS). Shaul’s parents moved to Israel from Iran in 1959, so Shaul has lived in KS his entire life. Karin is originally from Holland, and moved to Israel without knowing a word of Hebrew. They have four children, three of whom I have known their entire lives: Chen (23), Shi (19), Shir (17) and Or (15). In other words, a typical Israeli family.

My usual “home away from home” in Israel is the “zimmer” at Shaul’s house. Not this trip. This time, I stayed with Shaul and Karin in Club Hotel Tiberias, the formerly closed hotel which was hastily refurbished and reopened to accommodate more than 800 evacuees from KS. While many evacuees have since found alternative places to stay, there were still more than 300 at the Club Hotel when I arrived on Friday afternoon. Shaul and Karin share a two-room suite with Or, two of their cats, and their bird. Chen and Shir share another suite with their other two cats and their rabbit, and Shi is deployed at a base in the Golan Heights. We welcomed Shabbat in their room, with wine, a roll, and song, and then headed to dinner in a dining hall filled with evacuees: children, elders, and everyone in between. I have spent so many Shabbat evenings with the Zohar family, but this was like no other.

Shabbat morning we toured the north, enjoying the lush beauty of the Golan Heights and Hula Valley. We picked up Shi at the base and took her out for lunch – it was so strange to see her in uniform. We drove close to KS, but as I promised my wife Marcia, we did not venture into the evacuated area. After three months in Tiberias, the family is bracing for many more. After Havdalah back in the hotel room, we headed to the dining hall for another communal dinner, and then Shaul and I took a long walk together. We talked well into the night, and ended the long day with a long hug.

Sunday morning Shaul drove me to Tel Aviv, and after more hugs, we said l’hitraot and I checked into the beautiful David Kempinski Hotel. More and more hugs as friends and colleagues arrived at the hotel to begin an emotional roller coaster ride together. I began to think of this trip as a solidarity mission sandwich. Nestled between brief visits with my dear friends was an itinerary like no other I have ever experienced or imagined. I know that the details are readily available, so I will confine my writing to highlights, takeaways, and reflections. The mission was overwhelming, exhausting, and inspiring. The source of inspiration was the Israeli people that we met, their resilience, determination and perhaps most extraordinarily, their hope for the future. It was clear from everything that we did and saw that October 7th was a game changer, a pivotal moment in history, and that Israel, the Jewish people and the world would never be the same.

For me, Tuesday was by far the most difficult day, as we traveled to the Gaza Envelope. On the bus, we were joined by Middle East strategic intelligence analyst, Avi Melamed. Avi provided what was for me an illuminating and terrifying tutorial on Hamas, Hezbollah, and other Iranian proxies, describing what he called “Iran’s Hegemonic Vision,” and the implications for Israel and the Jewish people, the entire Middle East, and beyond. We then saw first-hand the manifestation of that vision as we visited Sderot, Ofakim, Kibbutz Nir Oz, and the site of the NOVA Festival which was transformed into a killing field. It is hard to describe the feeling I had as we walked through the makeshift memorial to those who were beaten, raped, killed, or taken hostage that day. I have only felt that way once before in my life, and that was when visiting Auschwitz.

So where does the hope come from? We finished the day sharing BBQ with an IDF unit. We visited with the soldiers, heard about their lives and experiences, shared a few laughs, handshakes and even some hugs. We are, after all, family. At this moment, I understood the idea of Jewish Peoplehood on a very different level than ever before. It wasn’t an intellectual understanding; it was deeper and more personal. We were thanking them, and they we thanking us. That’s right – They were thanking us! They understood why we were there, and it meant something to them. It gave them strength. I don’t know if Israeli and Diaspora Jews have been this close, and mutually dependent, since 1948.

As we wrapped up our mission over dinner in Jerusalem, we all reflected on our experiences together. We are so fortunate to be part of the JCC movement. This group of dedicated, insightful, and inspiring leaders shared their most intimate thoughts, and once again brought light to what could have been a very dark trip. As we headed towards our buses, one heading to the airport and the other back to the hotel in Tel Aviv, everyone was hugging. Some of us were already close to others in the group, but after our shared experience, we were truly bonded. I climbed onto the hotel bound bus, ready to begin the final phase of my trip.

Upon arrival at the hotel, I was welcomed with a bear hug from my dear friend Yonathan. We went into the hotel for a drink and a quick catch-up before he took me to my new hotel, the Brown Brun Hotel in Tel Aviv. Once again, I was the rare tourist among a hotel full of refugees, this time from Kibbutz Erez. It seemed like the perfect bookend of hotel experiences during this surreal visit to Israel.

Two days with Yonathan and his wife Chen was just what I needed after the intensity of the solidarity mission. We had Shabbat dinner with Yonathan’s parents, played tennis (Yonathan was the Israeli junior champion when he was 17), went to amazing restaurants and walked through Tel Aviv markets, neighborhoods and along the beach. Other than a visit to Hostage Square, my time with Yonathan and Chen seemed almost normal. We talked about life, family, jobs, and yes, war and politics. How do Israelis do this? Live their lives in the midst of war? Rabbi Doron Perez speaks of “Gam v. Gam,” but that is a discussion for another time.

After an extraordinary dinner at Claro (Yonathan’s lifelong friend is the chef), I was off to the airport for my flight home. When Yonathan dropped me off, and we shared one last hug, I knew that my relationship to Israel had changed. I will never again let seven years pass between visits. This is my homeland. These are my people. I want to dig deeper into my Israeli roots, meet family who I have never met, but I know are there. I yearn for a peaceful future for Israel, even as I understand that we have a long, challenging, and dangerous road ahead. 

Nobody gives better hugs than Israelis. For this, and many other reasons, I am hopeful.

Am Yisrael Chai!

The Bodzin Art Gallery Presents: Curator’s Conversation with J Artists, with Anne Schlachter-Dagan

There are some conversations that stay with us forever. I was lucky to have one such conversation with Anne Schlachter-Dagan at opening night of the 11th annual ReelAbilities Film Festival: Northern Virginia

Anne Schlacter-Dagan’s oil paintings and digital artworks offer a glimpse into her personal experiences and highlight the difficulties she encounters in perceiving light and color. We spoke about her process as an artist. I was able to ask Anne about her reaction to the four short films, which all focused on artists and entrepreneurs with disabilities, most of them blind. We wrapped up our conversation by talking about how a blind artist can change the world. This blog recounts some of that conversation for you now.

Anne, myself, and our audience were very moved by how powerful it is to share stories that defy what most people hold true. I invite you to come see for yourself how important shifting your perceptions of what a legally blind, color blind artist can do.  “Bright Darkness” is on view in the Bodzin until March 6, 2024.

When did you start making art and what keeps you going?

I discovered my passion for art when I was very you and during high school, I pursued it as my major. However, after life led me on a different journey, I only returned to art in 2015 while living in South America. Under the guidance of artist Paul Birchall, I realized my creative potential. The drive to create new, intriguing things and push my limits keeps me going. I must say though that having a supportive partner enables me to balance art, a full-time job, and raising three children.

How did you gravitate to the medium and style you are working in?

I express my artistic vision through oil and digital paintings. Due to limited vision, working with oils suits me as it allows for a slower pace and easy revisiting, unlike acrylics for example. Discovering the digital medium during my B.A. in Studio Arts, 5 years ago, opened up new possibilities, offering the magic of enlarging everything on the screen.

In terms of style, my focus lies in capturing light. I contemplate its impact – whether harsh or soothing – and through a slightly unreal approach, I draw attention to it. Transitioning from realistic to more emotionally driven paintings took time but enriched my artistic journey.

Since you shared that you have difficulty detecting color, how do you select the colors we can see in your art?

Given my inability to detect color, selecting specific colors is impossible. I often opt for random choices, but I’m influenced by societal color meanings. I incorporate monochromatic elements in each painting so for me, each painting looks colorful.

Do you have any advice to share with aspiring artists?

My main advice is TRY! and don’t shy away from making mistakes—they are steppingstones to growth.  Happy creating!