In Conversation With Artist Sandra Dovberg

The J’s Bodzin Art Gallery-goers have been excited to take in the new exhibition with curiousity to know if all the artwork is by the same artist. Sandra Dovberg’s mastery of both landscape paintings and abstractions have impressed many of us. In this blog, Sarah Berry, the gallery curator, speaks with Sandra to learn what inspires the artist, how she decides what to paint when faced with a blank canvas, and how she defines her vast style. See the exhibit “UNBOUNDED” before it closes on July 5.

When you sit down to paint, do you have an idea whether you will paint a landscape or an abstract before you approach the canvas or do you let the inspiration flow once you are in front of the blank canvas?

I work with common compositional patterns that can work with either abstract or expressive realism.  The subject matter stems from experience, memory and photo references that I take in my daily journeys. The first step is to commit to covering the canvas with paint, using a personal choice of color temps from warm to cold and or dark to light value changes.  Various tools are used to apply paint, not just paint brushes.  Be brave, have courage!

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

Early on in elementary school, my parents and teachers recognized my interest in working with my hands to create.  In school I was always selected to make holiday decorations: murals for windows, blackboards & bulletin boards, sometimes alone or leading the pack.  My parents bought me paint by number oil sets, a woodburning set and finally a sewing machine for my 8th grade graduation.  Making clothing led eventually to my extensive career in silversmithing and original jewelry creations.  In college, I majored in Studio Art leading to a deeper understanding of color theory, composition, drawing, painting, and especially working with metal and enamels.

You place your art in the category of Neoexpressionism.  What is that, and why do you think that is the term that best captures what you create?  

Expressionism came into being during and after WWI. Famous artists, such as Egon Schiele and Edvard Munch were seeking to depict not objective reality but rather the subjective emotion & responses that objects and events aroused in a person.  

Neo Expressionism came along later in the 70s.  In my work, I often combine elements of figurative portrayal with abstract  emotional color and mark making in order to tell a story.

Do you have any advice to share w/ aspiring artists?

Try not to make making $ your main goal. Constantly explore and don’t rely on just one teacher.  Take workshops or college level courses from many different teachers,  Overcome your fear of that expensive blank piece of paper or precious metals and gems.  Take a breath and force yourself to get started and then the MOMENTUM will push you forward.  Get involved with an arts organization where you will be constantly stimulated by challenges to produce, learn how to hang and display shows, how to develop the business side of making art and make friends of like-minded people.   

A living bridge to Israel: Being a shaliach after Oct. 7

Shlichim — Hebrew for “emissaries” — have long served as faces and voices of Israel. Stationed in Jewish communities worldwide, they play the role of cultural ambassador, helping people connect with Israel through conversations and experiences.

Oct. 7 upended their lives and their jobs. 

With Israel still dominating the headlines nearly eight months later, shlichim have been thrust into a new, emotionally charged role: helping their communities grieve as they process their own grief and standing strong as emotions run high as the war rages on.

Dean Bagdadi, who is in his second of a three-year commitment as the senior shaliach at Pozez JCC in Northern Virginia, said people need to hear from an Israeli who is “hurting but still going.”

“Collectively, as a Jewish community, we’re processing grief and anxiety,” Bagdadi said. “And when you’re experiencing these emotions, everything is valid. Anger. Resentment. Frustration. Denial. Everything goes.”

Among the 360-some shlichim in America, every single one of them knows someone who was murdered, kidnapped, or injured by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7. Bagdadi is friends with one of the hostages, Noa Argamani, who is from his hometown of Be’er Sheva in Southern Israel. 

To ensure Noa and the other hostages are not forgotten, he and his coworkers have displayed a large poster with their pictures in the lobby of Pozez JCC. Another initiative is to share and cook favorite recipes of the hostages so that when those dishes are being enjoyed, thoughts are reflected on the hostage and their family to keep them present.

“We can’t forget that families are missing their loved ones, who are alive but not safe,” Bagdadi said. “This is an open wound”.

To provide support, Bagdadi has helped Pozez JCC organize meaningful gatherings, including a vigil following the terrorist attack with 1,600 locals in attendance. He has also moderated a panel discussion with four survivors of Oct. 7, drawing a crowd of roughly 340 people.

Michelle Pearlstein, who serves as Development Director of Pozez JCC, said this high level of engagement has impacted a broad spectrum of people, who have found Bagdadi to be a calm, knowledgeable voice on Israel.

“Dean has been a source of strength, comfort, and a trusted resource for so many people, including those who are already connected but were in search of a little piece of Israel right in our community,” Pearlstein said.

Bagdadi has also been creating informal, safe spaces where people can just ask questions, addressing a communal ache to understand the complexities of Israel. The 28-year-old has met with adult groups at every synagogue in the area and led a one-hour Israel crash course for teens, among other engagement efforts. 

“What do we do now? How do we show up for Israel? How do we support our Jewish community here in Northern Virginia? How do we combat antisemitism? There are so many questions to be answered, and people need and deserve spaces where they can safely ask those questions,” Bagdadi said.

And he is well equipped to answer them. Bagdadi has been leaning heavily on his degree in political science from Ben-Gurion University, political nonprofit experience, and his personal Israel story.

While his efforts are making an impact in Northern Virginia, he carries the weight of being an ocean away from home. 

As Israel was plunged into war, Bagdadi was called to serve as a reservist commander, having formerly served as a logistics officer in the Israel Defense Forces. He was also called by the Jewish Agency for Israel, which runs the shlichim program, to support Northern Virginia, home of the largest Jewish population in the Washington, D.C. region.

Bagdadi had to make a choice: go or stay.

“Where would I be more valuable? Israel or Northern Virginia? All the pressure was on me to make that decision. And on a daily basis, I’m continuing to make the decision to stay,” Bagdadi said. “Right now, I feel like I’m more valuable here because I’m connecting people in Northern Virginia to Israel during a complicated and complex time.”

Former Pozez JCC President Scott Brown said there has never been a stronger need for an Israeli person, program, and presence. Northern Virginians need a shaliach like Bagdadi, who can help them know, wrestle with, and love Israel.

“Dean Bagdadi has been an enormous community resource,” Brown said. “He has stepped up and in, like the soldier he is. He has done it with amazing professionalism, sensitivity, and strength.” 

Pozez JCC Board Member Ryan Gardiner said Bagdadi has galvanized the community, and he is continuing to do so.

“Dean understands the importance of keeping our community not just engaged but informed, active, and connected to Israel, “ Gardiner said. “His advocacy work and engagement with us at both the individual and group level remains vital to maintaining Israel’s centrality to our community in Northern Virginia.”

Bagdadi continues to build community around Israel engagement. The goal to connect with others remains the same, even though the “how” has changed.

“Before Oct. 7, we were building community. After Oct. 7, we are still building community,” Bagdadi said. “So much has changed, but strengthening our community and making sure that Israel is a big, valuable part of it remains the same.”

Taking the Plunge: Getting Little Ones to Love Water

The throughline of water safety at any age is having a positive relationship with water. Depending on age and ability, there are different tactics you can use to get a new or reluctant swimmer in the water.

It is common for infants and toddlers to love water. For littles, you can create a positive association with water using some of these methods.

  • Start with bath time! By using toys or little buckets, you can gently introduce babies to the fun of playing in water.
  • With toddlers, the bath can be a great place to try on goggles for the first time in preparation for a more structured swim program at the J or another swim school.
  • Gradually introduce your little one to water and model enjoyment. We all know how fun a kiddy pool or splash pad can be for little ones. When you do decide to take your infant or toddler to the pool, hold them close so they know they are safe. Make sure you express how fun swimming is, by smiling and showing enthusiasm.
  • Remember – little ones should wear a swim diaper in pools until they are fully potty trained.

A crucial part of a child’s swimming success is establishing a routine. This could be a combination of things including one private lesson a week combined with swimming with mom or dad at the pool once a week. You could say something like, “You’ll be in classes with Miss Molly on Sunday mornings, but you and I will play in the pool on Wednesday mornings!” Kids have lower anxiety when something is routine or regular.

Another tip for new swimmers to swim class is to let them know what to expect in class. For a child 3-4 years old, this could be their first foray into instruction from an adult other than a parent or caregiver. You could prepare your child for class by talking about the upcoming class in the week leading up, letting the child know the instructor’s name, and explaining how class might go.

This could sound something like, “You will be swimming with other kids in your class with Miss Molly on Sundays. You will each get to take turns swimming with Miss Molly. When it isn’t your turn, you can sit on the stairs with the other kids so Miss Molly will know you are safe. After you spend time learning new things, your class will end by playing with pool toys! Doesn’t that sound like fun?”

If you have or know a child that is afraid of being in the water, validate and acknowledge their fears. Introduce them to water slowly – using stairs or ramps in a large pool or dipping their feet in shallow water. It is extremely important to respect the pace of the swimmer. Any negative experience could set them back in terms of overcoming their fears. Additionally, celebrate their small successes, like sitting down in shallow water, blowing bubbles with their mouth, or putting their face in the water.

While this blog focused on getting little ones into the pool, please know that the J can help with any stage of a person’s swimming journey. Everyone should be able to experience the joy and security of knowing how to swim, and it is never too late to learn. Contact for more tips or to get information about swim programs currently offered.

The Yoms

Seven months ago, our world shattered. No one knew which direction we were going to go, or what we should do next. Anger. Sorrow. Fear. Pain. Not much room for Optimism, or Hope. With broken hearts, we had to keep moving, to start from a defensive point. In Israel, it started with regaining control of the invaded areas by Hamas. Here, it was protecting our Jewish communities, and fellow congregants, supporting those who needed it. Then, we moved to offense, in Israel, the war initiated bringing back the hostages and restoring security. Here, it was to start condemning all those who forgot who we are. It’s a difficult battle, with multiple fronts.

Who would have thought that seven months later, we’d still be knee deep in these troubling times? With ongoing war and public statements that smell like Europe of 1930. When I started thinking about how we’re going to commemorate Israel this year, I had a hard time. I couldn’t even plan a week ahead, nonetheless months. I questioned how can we celebrate Israel this year, with all this pain, all this sorrow — not even starting to mention the 133 hostages.

It comes with a price. I tend to break more often. Some songs move me to tears, and I am not always positive. A few days after the October 7th attack, we held a community vigil and I said that even when it’s dark, we have to keep walking. That is still true. We pray that our children will never have to go to the army, but they will. We pray that they will never hear another missile alarm siren again, but they will. We pray our families will be safe. They’re not. But we have to keep walking, to believe that things can get better, and they will, eventually.

With broken legs, we get back up. With tear-soaked eyes, we look ahead. With a heavy heart, we start walking. And we move forward, one step at a time. Like with grief, we embrace the pain, understand that we lost people we love, and we need to continue to live.

For Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) it’s the same. We remember those we lost, and we are grateful for their sacrifice. We’ll celebrate the fact that we are here, alive, with our country and our freedom, and also the price we pay for that.

Gam Ve’Gam (this and that). This year we’ll say, “They are trying to get rid of us. Many have tried before. They will not succeed. Yom Ha’Atzmaut is officially a Jewish holiday.”

Am Israel Chai

My Solidarity Trip to Israel: An Experience Unlike Any Others

Hello and Shalom, my name is Helen Taubman. I was practically born at the JCC, having been in the first 3 year old preschool class when the doors opened in 1989.  I am now an early childhood educator in Pozez JCC’s Early Childhood Learning Center for the past seven years. Recently, my family and I took an inspiring trip to Israel to lend our support. Although we have been to Israel many times before, this was an experience unlike any others. It is important to me to share our story.

The week-long solidarity trip was organized by the Chabad Jewish Learning Institute (JLI). We traveled with a group of 170 people from all over the US and Canada. This was the largest solidarity mission to Israel since the dark days of October 7th. We went to strengthen those in Israel in this time of war… they strengthened us even more. Israel needs our full-throated support now more than ever, economically, spiritually and emotionally, and we were proud to oblige. 

For us, this trip represented both the highs and the lows of the current wartime situation.

It was with difficulty that we: 

  • Heard from hostage families and families of those who were brutally and cruelly murdered by Hamas terrorists on October 7th, as well as from heroic soldiers and first responders who helped save hundreds of lives on that horrible day and for days immediately afterwards.
  • Went to the Nova Festival site and K’far Aza to witness what remains of a modern-day pogrom that few civilized people could imagine.
  • Traveled twice to Har Herzl (Israel’s equivalent of Arlington National Cemetery) to pay tribute to recently fallen soldiers and those from past wars, and we attended the solemn funeral of Sgt. Illai Tzair, a 20-year-old soldier who lost his life in Gaza protecting Israel and its people.
  • Paid a shiva call on the widow of Yossi Herskovitz, a 44-year-old school principal and father of five who insisted on going into harm’s way in the army even though he was exempt based on his age and parental status.  He gave the ultimate sacrifice for the Jewish people, and we honor him.
  • Visited Hostage Square in Tel Aviv to see what grieving families have created as they wait and pray for their loved ones to return. More than 130 hostages are still enslaved in tunnels by Hamas, from babies to grandparents, with no word to their families or reports on their condition.
  • Visited the Shura army base, which was turned into a morgue on those dark October days, a place where volunteers performed tahara and ensured decent Jewish burials for hundreds of soldiers and civilians.
  • Visited brave wounded soldiers at the Sheba Tel Hashomer rehab hospital and gave them gifts and wishes for a complete healing.

These were often somber visits, but they renewed and strengthened my bond with the Jewish people and the land and people of Israel. Especially after we returned and Passover arrived, I was able to see the deeper meaning of so much of our liturgy and traditions, including the much quoted verse from the Hagadah “Vehi Sheamda … Not in one generation but in every generation they rise up to destroy us.”  As a result of this visit, I am more determined than ever to support and defend our collective homeland, the State of Israel.  

The trip also provided moments of joy and pride as our group:

  • Packed lunches for soldiers and wrote notes of thanks and encouragement that went into each lunch bag.
  • Celebrated in Hebron with the Jewish community and baked challahs for the soldiers who protect us.
  • Happily witnessed a bar mitzvah at the Kotel of a boy whose family had to flee the north of Israel due to Hezbollah/Iranian rocket attacks. We enjoyed a dinner celebrating his bar mitzvah in the evening, along with celebrating the bat mitzvah of a girl whose father, a police officer, was murdered on October 7 defending Sderot.
  • Visited the new Magen David Adom National Blood Bank. This high-tech building is a modern miracle of Israeli ingenuity funded in large part by American philanthropists Bernie Marcus and Sheldon Adelson.
  • Got our hands dirty picking kolrabi (a root vegetable) with Leket, an organization that runs food banks and provides meals to those in Israel who are in need.
  • Hung mezuzot at an army base two miles from Gaza, and sponsored and cooked a barbeque for hundreds of combat soldiers, complete with live music. We gave those soldiers the cards and notes that ECLC children and Pozez JCC community members had written. (Thank you to those who wrote cards, as every soldier appreciated them and smiled.)

We are so blessed to have been able to go to Israel and to do so many mitzvot, to give and receive strength and encouragement. It was wonderful to see Israelis of all stripes volunteering and working together, even in tragic times like these, to care for one another and to ensure victory over cruel adversaries. 

Am Yisrael Chai. עם ישראל חי!

May: Celebrating JAHM & Commemorating The Yoms

When I turn the calendar page to May, I typically think of beautiful flowers, Mother’s Day, and Memorial Day. For Jews, the month of May holds added significance. First, it is Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM), and second, it often contains several important days on the Jewish calendar – what we refer to as The Yoms.  

This May, three “Yoms” take place within ten days of each other…Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day),Yom HaZikron (Israel Memorial Day), and Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day) — between May 5th and May 14th. They are even more relevant and poignant this year because of the attack on October 7thwhich left devasting death, injury, and destruction, a horrific hostage situation, and led to war between Israel and Hamas. Going into its 7th month, the war has led to growing antisemitism in the U.S. and around the world.

Focusing on Yom HaShoah, which began at sundown today (Sunday, May 5th) and will continue through sundown on Monday, we take a moment to recognize the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust by the Nazis and their collaborators, as well as the Jewish resistance that took place in that period. The first official Yom HaShoah commemorations took place in 1951, and the observance of the day was anchored in a law passed by the Israeli Knesset in 1959.

This solemn holiday is marked with observances where names of those who perished in the Holocaust are read, testimonies of Holocaust Survivors are shared, memorial prayers are spoken and special memorial candles – usually yellow candles – are lit. Locally, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington holds an Annual Yom HaShoah Commemoration Program virtually on Zoom. This year’s observance, held this afternoon, was in memory of those lost, in honor of those who survived and their families, andto provide a forum for the community to come together to reflect and strengthen our resolve at a difficult time of unprecedented antisemitism on college campuses. No doubt, it was a meaningful event for many, and reminds us to never forget.

The Adult Department of the Pozez JCC is presenting a virtual educational program in conjunction with Yom HaShoah on Monday, May 6 at 2pm. The program, “Battles Over the Holocaust: Polish-Jewish Memory Wars,” features Dr. Zachary Mazur, Senior Historian at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. Join us for this complimentary program to learn more about how Jews and Poles have very different recollections of the events that occurred in Poland during WWII. Click here for more details including registration:

In addition, the J is offering a very special program made possible by a Federation grant:  Zikaron BaSalon (Memories in the Living Room). Families in Northern Virginia are invited to host a meaningful discussion in their homes any weekend during the month of May. Each Zikaron BaSalon gathering will be unique – reflecting diverse perspectives and personal reflections on the Holocaust and its lessons. It is an excellent opportunity to educate family, friends, and neighbors on the Holocaust. For more information, click here.

Judaism teaches us to constantly learn and question, as well as to live an ethical life that is led by our shared values (middot). One value that comes to my mind daily is gratitude (Hakarat HaTov). As I was thinking of a positive way to end this somewhat somber blog, I came across an email from Chai Mitzvah, an organization that promotes Jewish community and learning. Their newsletter, Chai-lites, reminded me that expressing the middah of gratitude does not mean ignoring that there is pain and hardship in the world. It means working hard and making a daily effort to see that along with the difficulty there is good in life and in history that is worth appreciating. So, during Jewish American Heritage Month, let’s celebrate the many accomplishments of Jews in the US and say, “L’Chayim” – to life!