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: https://thej.org/event/battles-over-the-holocaust-polish-jewish-memory-wars-featuring-dr-zachary-mazur/

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!

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 (bit.ly/novaVCAA). 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 (virtualexpos.accessjca.org).

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: https://forms.office.com/r/Ld1DPpRW8V to get involved. We welcome your support and participation!

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

The Dog Days

When I reflect on the month of August, I think of… the dog days of summer, back to school time, and the approach of the Jewish New Year.

While I am always sad to see summer go, I won’t be sad to embrace cooler days in the not-too-distant future. Living in the DMV for more than 30 years, I’ve learned to tolerate the hot, humid summers. But this year, I experienced a heat-related illness that took me to the Emergency Room. After quite a few tests and lab work, and 6 hours of mostly waiting around, I was released and told to seek a follow-up appointment with my primary care physician. I did not have a cardiac event, which was the fear. I likely experienced dehydration and overheating (hyperthermia) which could have led to heat exhaustion or heat stroke if I had not acted.

Because this seemed to come out of nowhere, I wanted to focus a little on preventing heat-related illnesses during the dog days. The most important thing to remember is to keep hydrated, ideally by drinking water or other unsweetened, alcohol-free fluids; those that contain electrolytes are ideal. Here are some other tips… Carry a refillable bottle around with you in summertime. Participate in exercise or physical activity indoors with air conditioning, if possible; but if you do venture outside try to avoid the peak sun and heat times by getting out early or late in the day and look for shady areas. Dress appropriately for the weather by wearing lightweight, loose-fitting clothing. Pick light colors and synthetic fabrics which absorb less heat and draw sweat away from the body, which aids in evaporation. (Did you know that cotton holds water and gets saturated! I didn’t.) And finally, take things slow on those nasty days, giving your body time to adjust to the high temperature and humidity. This commonsense advice could be lifesaving!

The J is participating in a special community/national event that will be taking place in late August. In honor of the 60th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington and his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, 90 organizations are gathering at 11am on Saturday, August 26 at the Lincoln Memorial, to not only commemorate this important day, but to continue King’s mission to combat hate and promote unity and equality for all. If you do participate in this historical happening, please take the above advice to ensure you don’t get dehydrated and overheated at this outdoor event.

Late August, specifically Monday, August 21, brings a new addition to the Adult Services Department! I am thrilled to have Bonnie Sokol join me as Adult Enrichment Coordinator. You may remember Bonnie – before the pandemic Bonnie worked at the J in Guest Services and then as Registrar. Recently, Bonnie has been working in J-Fit part-time. She brings much knowledge and experience and will be a wonderful asset to the ASD. Please welcome Bonnie and stop by our offices on the first floor of the CAC anytime!

As we wind down the dog days, we look to the start of the new year – a new year of school for students, teachers, and staff at the J’s Early Childhood Learning Center and Chai 5 (after school program) and the Jewish New Year which begins at sundown on Friday, September 15. The new year (just like January 1) is a time for contemplation, atonement, and numerous possibilities. For adults at the J, I anticipate new and exciting opportunities for enrichment in the forms of socialization and camaraderie, competition and collaboration, learning and skill-building, as well as health improvement and entertainment. We hope adults of all ages and stages will join us for a wide variety of programs and activities. A calendar of what’s coming up can be found here: Events | Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia (thej.org). As I like to say… there’s something for everyone at the J… from Boomers to Zoomers and more!