Bodzin Art Gallery Presents: In Conversation with J Artist Ilana Hever

Since March 21, the vibrant and serene mixed media artworks by local artist, Ilana Hever have been turning heads in the Bodzin Art Gallery. Aptly named “Joyful Journey with People, Places, and Nature,” the exhibition is a 25-piece window into what the artist considers to be the keys to empathy and self-reflection.  Sarah Berry asks the artist four questions about her process, the intersections of art and psychology, and advice for artists on their journeys.

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

I started painting in 1985. I painted for several years then shifted to study Counseling Psychology while holding a degree in Art History and Philosophy from Tel Aviv University.

As a single mother, I dedicated my time to raise my two beautiful daughters and made a living working in art galleries. Using my education, I was able to gain insight on different perspectives and develop a deeper understanding of images, colors and composition which shaped my skills in self-expression and reflection as an artist myself.

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

Impressionism and pointillism are what I admired most while studying art history and this is what I implement in my art. My psychology expertise has contributed to my art by shaping my self-expression, helping develop empathy to nature, to people, and places, and uncovering the story behind an image. Visual analysis and critical thinking also contribute to my art.

In today’s world, everything is visual. We are trained to shift from verbal to visual thinking.

How does your work as a psychotherapist inform your practice as an artist?

Most people have difficulties communicating feelings and thoughts, so I have implemented art into my counseling practice. Counseling  provides a process that gives people focus and can help them make appropriate choices, using art can give people tools to create a picture of their own image and issues – revealing the invisible, making it visible.

Do you have any advice to share with aspiring artists?

Receiving feedback from others can help artists see their work in a new light and inspire them to explore new directions. I am a big advocate of learning and exploring nature, people, and places. Appreciate the beauty of art and nature that surrounds you. Open your mind to philosophical concepts, and connect to all aspects of art. Most importantly, create a narrative in each picture and never stop learning.

Inclusion programs support growth for people with disabilities

More than 1,000 people, ranging from ages 3 to 76, have participated in a series of inclusion programs, headed by Pozez JCC’s Inclusion and Disabilities Services. Guided by Jewish values of respect and empathy, the programs are part of a long-standing effort to engage people with disabilities in the Northern Virginia community, supporting their growth as they navigate different ages and stages of life.

Many have been diagnosed with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or Down Syndrome. To meet participants where they are, each program is backed by research findings and staffed by experienced educators and trained volunteers. 

“Everyone brings their own unique self to come together to make all that we do so special, and to foster a sense of pride in who they are,” said Alison Pasternak, the Inclusion and Disability Program Coordinator at Pozez JCC. “Our inclusion programs are a place where people come to find acceptance, community, friendship, and fun.”

A series of social skills classes, geared for 3 to 15 year olds, focus on emotional regulation and conversation skills. Children learn by doing — everything from asking and answering questions to winning and losing to making and keeping friends to coping and calming strategies. With growth comes more confidence and independence, and of course, they have fun along the way.

The classes were created in 2008 by a team of four professionals, including Melissa Hochberg, the Resource Specialist for Pozez JCC. With her background in special education, she has been able to support children and their families in a safe, comfortable environment.

“Our participants, of all ages, need a place to feel safe and included,” Hochberg said. “Parents feel safe at the JCC because their kids are not only cared for, but they are loved.”

For those very reasons, Melissa Napoli has been bringing her daughter, Sofia, to Pozez JCC since she was 4 years old. Sofia, now 19, has participated in nearly every inclusion program, starting with social skills classes.

“The JCC programming and excellent staff have been an essential part of the infrastructure that has made Sofia who she is today,” Napoli said. “They’ve given her the confidence to successfully communicate her needs, navigate the community, and create relationships with her peers.”

Napoli said her daughter, who is very outgoing and friendly, learned to recognize facial expressions and respond to social cues, giving her a foundation of skills to better understand and respond to different situations. 

As she grew older, Sofia attended Camp Kesher, a Pozez JCC camp for neurodiverse teens and young adults. Through field trips and hands-on activities, she had the freedom to make friends and gain independence in a warm, structured space.

“Sofia has blossomed into an independent woman who advocates extremely well for herself,” Napoli said. “The best part of her growth is that she is aware of her challenges and knows she has a ‘safety net’ or infrastructure she can count on for guidance and support.” 

For Sofia and her peers, social skills classes in particular have served as a gateway to other inclusion efforts, including a group of social clubs called Going Places! Here, teenagers, young adults, and grown adults build upon their skills and make lasting connections in a low-key setting, created for their age group.

Going Places! used to meet every other month. Some days were spent bowling or mini golfing. Others involved a stroll around a mall or museum. Each outing was planned with intention, giving participants a safe space to make friends and memories. 

“Everyone needs a place to belong,” Hochberg said. “Everyone needs to have an opportunity to make friends. To try new things. To have typical experiences.”

Going Places! was co-created by Pozez JCC and Jewish Social Services Agency in 2008. Hochberg was there from the very beginning, serving as facilitator. She attended nearly every single outing, oftentimes with her husband and kids staffing alongside her. 

During her first of 15 years as facilitator, a young woman piped up after an event and said, “I have friends. I’ve never had friends before. I can’t wait two months to see them.” 

“I said, ‘Okay, we’ll meet next month then,’” Hochberg said. 

The want and need for more face time increased the number of get togethers, which have taken place once a month, sometimes more. Over the years, more people have joined Going Places!, bringing the number of regular participants from 17 to 80. 

With growth, came recognition. In 2010, Going Places! was a finalist for the Mutual of America Community Partnership Merit Award, which recognizes outstanding nonprofit organizations and their contributions to society. Participants and their families were invited to an award luncheon.

As the program has grown, the people have, too. 

“I made wonderful friends at the club,” said Valerie Maizel, a participant. “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 club has sparked real relationships, from long-term couples to lifelong friendships. 

Hochberg considers one of the biggest successes to be an ongoing hangout via Zoom, originally created to ease loneliness amid COVID-19. On Monday nights, anywhere from 20-30 people gather virtually to chat, play games, and just be there for one another. 

The group wanted to keep meeting, even after shuttered venues, face masks, and homebound days became norms of the past. So they did, with encouragement from Hochberg. She supported two participants as they learned to facilitate the hangout, and they’ve kept the momentum going.

“They did it,” Hochberg said. “They learned the leadership skills to keep this event on the calendar every week. And that’s a big win.” 

Connections have led to meaningful relationships, which continue long after participants complete inclusion programs at Pozez JCC. Even those who have moved away still make an effort to remain in touch, especially with Hochberg. 

One former participant has become a penpal, sending postcards about her new life in Montana. Others text her with life updates. And some parents still email her for resources, even if their child is no longer a child. 

“These are real relationships,” Hochberg said. “These are real friendships.”

Celebrating Success & Community: 3rd Annual HorizonWALKS

What an incredible day it was at our 3rd Annual HorizonWALKS event on Sunday, April 14, 2024, held at National Harbor on the banks of the Potomac River. This year, bringing his energy and empathy to the stage, Shomari Stone, FOX5 reporter and news anchor, hosted the in-person event that drew participants from all around the Metro DC area.

We are grateful for the strong turnout and unwavering support from our amazing walkers, donors, fundraisers, volunteers, and staff. With 31 spirited teams and more than 150 enthusiastic participants hitting the trail (nearly 200 registered!), alongside the heartfelt presence of 30 devoted staff and volunteers, the sense of community was inspiring. Each step taken was in support of our campers and their families.

This year, it is anticipated that camp enrollment will surpass 100 campers – tripling its inaugural summer of 32 campers. The growth in demand for the camp underscores the importance of having the community step up to help raise the critical funds needed to offer Horizon Day Camp and its year-round programming to these families completely free of charge.

Continuing the Journey

We are thrilled to announce that, thanks to all this support, this year’s WALK has raised nearly $108,000 so far, and every single dollar stays here in the DMV! This incredible achievement ensures that the more than 70 children, who have already registered this year, will have the opportunity to experience the magic of camp and rediscover the joy of childhood, even in the face of cancer.

But our journey doesn’t end here! The HorizonWALKS donation link will remain active until April 30th, providing all of us with the opportunity to continue making a difference. It costs $6,000 per child to provide camp and year-round activities. We encourage you to rally your teams, family, and friends for one final push to help us reach our goal of $125,000 and send even more deserving children to camp.

Together, we are crafting moments of ellation and allowing children to just be children by participating in camp spirit days, swimming, singing camp songs and learning dances, shining during talent shows, and more! Let’s continue our journey, raising the needed funds to bring joy and so much more to the campers.

Thank You 2024 HorizonWALKS Sponsors!

  • Presenting Sponsor: Reston Limousine
  • Sponsor support from: AvalonBay, BARE International, Care Camps, National Harbor, Pride Staff, Golden Boot Soccer, Patient First, EagleBank, All Round Foods, Hardesty Concrete Constructions Inc., Spectra Credit Union, Flight Adventure Park, DC Divas, Tasos Katopodis, Harris Teeter, Select Event Group, and Pupatella

To continue to be part of this incredible journey of hope, community, and celebration, visit our event website at for more information and to get involved.

Spring has Sprung. Passover is Near. Let the Prep Begin.

🌸 Can you feel it? The days are getting longer, and there’s a hint of warmth in the air. It’s like we are all waking up from our long winter nap. Birds are chirping and flowers are bursting into color. And don’t even get me started on those adorable cats lounging in the sun-drenched windowsills – they’re living their best lives!

Along with all this springtime awakening comes a few not-so-fun things, like sudden rainstorms and cars coated in a thick layer of pollen (is your car green yet?). But hey, let’s look on the bright side – those rain showers bring May flowers! And the pollen? Well, it’s just nature’s way of reminding us that change is in the air.

Now, as we bask in the beauty of spring, that also means that it’s time to start preparing for Passover (which begins at sundown on Monday, April 22 and ends at sunset on April 30 this year). We have started the ritual of ridding one’s home of chametz*. This task is more than just swapping out your bread for matzah. Passover prep means diving into some serious spring cleaning – both inside and out; decluttering our homes and our hearts, making space for a fresh start and a renewed sense of freedom. Do you know why? During Passover, we refrain from eating chametz (eg: bread, cake, cookies, pasta, and most alcoholic beverages), from midday before the holiday until its conclusion, in remembrance of the unleavened bread eaten by the Israelites during the exodus from Egypt.

Speaking of freedom, did you know that Passover is about celebrating liberation; it honors the Israelites’ enslavement in Egypt and their eventual liberation to freedom. It’s no coincidence that this holiday falls right in the middle of spring, and that an extra month is added to the Hebrew calendar to keep it there! Just like the earth shakes off winter, Passover reminds us of the power of breaking free from whatever’s holding us back. As we welcome the warmth of spring and the joy of Passover, let’s embrace the spirit of renewal and redemption, and get ready for a season filled with hope and promise. 🌱✨

To learn more about the Jewish holiday of Passover, click here to view the J’s holiday hub (additional holidays will be added as they near on the calendar).

*Chametz: Breads that have risen, leavened grains and foods that have any trace of wheat, barley, oats, spelt, or rye

More Than A Walk

Sometimes it feels like the world is a scary place and then a friend, or family member, or someone you trust comes along and can make the worry go away with just a smile or a hug. Unfortunately, we can’t make cancer go away for the kids who attend Horizon Day Camp, but what we can do, and do REALLY well, is to bring smiles and laughter to their summer… every day they are at camp, that is our goal.

Because the camp is no charge to the families whose children attend, the camp is dependent on philanthropy to cover the expenses.

HorizonWALKS is our largest, annual community event to benefit the J’s Horizon programs which includes a six-week summer day camp, as well as year-round in-hospital programs and fun days for children with cancer and their families.  As mentioned, all programs are free to families and are only possible thanks to the generous philanthropy of community members and partners.  

On April 14th, more than 200 people from across Metro DC will come together at National Harbor to help us reach our $125,000 goal to support this magical program. But it’s much more than a walk. It’s a chance for everyone who cares so deeply to appreciate the smiles, the friendships, the connections, and the support that Horizon provides. 

This year, we are thrilled to have 29 teams walking (at the time of this writing… and teams are registering every day!). Walkers include camper families, counselors, corporate partners, and community champions. Check-in and family fun activities begin at 8am and our short, mile-long walk begins at 9am. 

There’s still time for YOU to join us!  Visit our WALKS site to register to walk with us. Not available on the 14th? Use the same link to make your donation. 

It costs $6,000 per child to provide our year-round activities. Help us bring joy to as many children battling this terrible disease as possible by helping to raise as much money as possible. We are well on our way to meeting our goal and YOU can help us get over the top!