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

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!

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

The Purim Story… Ultimately, fate is in our hands

Tonight concludes the Jewish holiday of Purim, which celebrates the thwarting of a plot to destroy the Jewish community of ancient Persia. You may know that on this holiday, we tell the story of Queen Esther, who strategically hides her Jewish identity from her husband, King Ahausuerus. Eventually, she bravely reveals her status as a Jewish person to convince the king to stop his advisor from implementing his evil plan, thus saving the Jewish community.

Today, as a community, we are still reeling from the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel and ensuing war, and the outrageous vitriol and antisemitism that has quickly become mainstream. We are reminded that serious challenges occur in every generation. Importantly, we are also reminded that our fate is ultimately in our own collective hands. We are responsible for one another. We must act with purpose and respond to the needs of our community.

You, the members of our community, understand that the J’s responsibility includes our membership but reaches beyond to the entire Northern Virginia Jewish community, and to the broader community. As we further engage people around Jewish values, we will be able to make a bigger impact throughout the region.  Moving forward, you will be seeing the J lean further into social impact, focusing on support for Israel, for democracy, and for repairing the world.

We thank you for your continued partnership in building community. It is your steadfast support of the J that helps us come together to weather challenging times and ensure that our community continues to thrive.

B’yachad (together)

The Day I Started Wearing My Mogen David

Until now, I’ve never worn a Jewish symbol in public. I don’t wear a Kippah, I don’t have a necklace with my name in Hebrew, not even a Star of David jewelry. I never felt like I needed it. Or more broadly, never felt the need the express my Jewish identity physically. Before I came here, I thought a lot about what to wear. What should I do, that will send a clear message about all the different identities I am holding. Mizrachi, Ashkenazi, Israeli, my love for books and mythologies, my taste in music, my heritage. I am always thinking about what first impression people will have of me. None of those involved Jewishness.  

In Israel, the Jewish is the public space. I believed that if you do put on a Jewish symbol, it reflects your level of faith. How strong are your beliefs. And I am not a religious person, quite the opposite. And like me, so are many other Israelis. We feel like Judaism is for religious people, and we have other worlds. But since I joined the Shlichut, I started a journey. Changing the way I view Judaism, changing the place Judaism holds in me.  

And then October happened. And then Antisemitism rose. At first, I felt attacked. My Israeli identity was being attacked; my Jewish identity was attacked. I heard suggestions not to show any Jewish signs, not to provoke, not to stand out. I didn’t follow. I saw many others showing proudly their Jewish and Israeli identity, each one in its own way. I felt more than just Israeli, I felt Jewish. And I wanted to make sure no one was missing that piece. Davka, out of spite. Just because. 

And then a thought came to mind. I felt more complete. Not because I believe there’s a higher power, that’s a different conversation. I felt like I was looking back and seeing 3000 thousand years of history, each one growing through a different challenge. Gam Ze Ya’avor, this too shall pass. From one to another, each one of us is facing our own trauma. And that collective wisdom, of how to act better as a community, to act better as individuals, is making us stronger, more resilient.  

I didn’t believe in phrases like “Am Israel Chai,” now it brings me to tears. I didn’t used to wear a Mogen David, now I wear it wherever I go. Things are changing, or maybe it’s because I am getting closer to 30 and introspective. Who knows. It is a question I will think about for a long time to come. 

 In the meantime, let’s focus on another Jewish holiday where somebody tried to get rid of the Jewish people and didn’t succeed, and celebrate it the only way we know… with food, wine, and company.  And pray that all the hostages, and everybody else, are safe and back in their homes.  

Chag Purim Sameach! 

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.

My New Year Tree

Hello, Pozez JCC community members and friends!

My name is Zina Segal, and I am Pozez JCC’s Senior Director of Community Impact and Engagement. This Christmas Day, I want to talk about The Tree. My New Year Tree. I know, it’s confusing, but let me explain.

I was born in Leningrad, raised in Saint Petersburg (the same geographic location, very different vibe), lived in Israel, and moved to the States 8 years ago. Unlike lots of other Russian-Speaking Jews born during or after the Soviet reign, I always knew I was Jewish. We celebrated Rosh Ha-Shana, Hanukah, Purim, Pesach, and I never hesitated to stand up against Antisemitic jokes. My Jewish identity was (and still is) strong and flourishing.

We had many traditions at home (most of them Jewish, some Soviet, some just family ones), but the favorite one was this: on December 29 or 30, my dad would bring home THE TREE! It seemed that both himself and the tree were equally cold; crispy snow from dad’s coat and tree’s branches created small puddles on the floor. After the rope untangled the bushy tree, it was put into the tree holder, and in a few hours, our apartment was full of the fresh scent of a fir forest. Dusty boxes of New Year tree decorations from the far corners of the mezzanine kept not only sparkly treasures but also the mood of the holiday and the smell of last year’s joy.

Decorating the tree was a duty for myself and my dad, while my mom and grandmother were creating culinary magic from boiled potatoes, carrots, canned peas, pickled cucumbers, and boiled chicken (the masterpiece called salad Olivier). All these smells, objects, and actions were preparation for the main night of every Russian-Speaking family in the world – New Year night! The night when all family members gathered for a very late dinner starting around 11:00 pm to say “Goodbye” to the sunsetting year. Closer to midnight, the bottle of champagne was ready to be opened with the 12th chime of the chiming clock at the Kremlin tower broadcasted by TV. After champagne, hugs, kisses, and joyful cheers, everybody received presents from under the tree. The next part of the festivities was an outside walk with fireworks and games (yes, around 1-2 am, with kids who hadn’t collapsed to sleep yet). Those were New Year Night traditions. The New Year Tree itself stayed at the house until at least Old New Year.

Why am I telling you all this? To make sure you don’t confuse Christmas Trees of your Christian neighbors with New Year Trees in the houses of your Russian-Speaking Jewish neighbors. The tree in their houses has nothing to do with Christmas (well, not totally nothing historically, but absolutely nothing religiously. To explore in depth the history of THE TREE in Tzar Russia and the Soviet Union, check out this article).

Now, you know what a Russian-Speaking Jewish professional will be doing on December 26 – searching for the tree at the closed tree markets =). I’m sure this blog posed more questions than answers for you. I’m happy to (at least try to) answer all of them! Do not hesitate to reach out – email me at Zina.Segal@theJ.org or just stop by my office (right behind the guest services desk) next time you are at the J!

Happy New Year!

Holiday Sale (Fundraiser) 2023… That’s a Wrap!

If you walked into the Pozez JCC this past week, you probably saw tables with merchandise for sale that took up most of the lobby. This year’s Chanukah/Holiday sale included work by several artists with disabilities as well as select members and staff. The purpose of the sale was to highlight the talent of these artists in addition to fundraising for Inclusion and Disability Services programming (and of course to give members, staff, and others an opportunity to buy some lovely items). The sale was a success, exceeding sales from 2022! Thank you to everyone who stopped by and made purchases.

If you are thinking, darn I missed it; you actually have another chance to accomplish these goals. Throughout the month of December, you can buy from some of the artists online, including one artist that was not able to be at the J in person. Below are the artists who have shared their websites.

Let the artists know that you are buying through the JCC sale.

www.EmilyKimCreations.com

Emily Kim’s journey as an artist started at the age of 3, when she was diagnosed with leukemia. Even after several years of treatments, her cancer returned when she was 7.  She underwent a successful life-saving cord blood stem cell transplant but suffered complications resulting in permanent and progressive neurological damage. Despite many setbacks and obstacles over the years, her love for drawing and creating cheerful prints has continued to grow.  According to Emily, “The themes of my art are positivity, hope, whimsy, and imagination. I like to create drawings with bright colors that bring joyful and happy thoughts.”

www.averyoerth.com

The Avery Oerth Company was started so Avery could share his talents and spread kindness. He makes buttons (pins) and magnets. In addition to his art, Avery has an extensive knowledge of rocks, minerals, and gemstones, and is an expert Lego builder. Avery offers over 200 different words or phrases on his buttons and magnets. All of them are positive affirmations. Avery enjoys his work and takes great pride in the quality of his buttons. Like most people, Avery wants to have meaningful work at a job he likes. Avery just happens to have autism.

Instagram @hellolove_cards 

Michael loves drawing animals and characters.  He finds drawing animals to be calming, and that the sensory overload and anxiety that can accompany being autistic seem to go away when he is focused on a picture. Hello Love Cards was born of Michael’s dream to make a difference. In 2020 he began sending notes of encouragement to healthcare workers and elders in facilities. Now with every purchase, a card with Michael’s artwork is sent anonymously to someone who may need that hello. Michael hopes that his art will make people feel uplifted when they see it. 

https://sophiola.com

Sophiola by Sophia Pineda sells prints and notecards bearing art created by Sophia, a young artist who happens to have Down Syndrome. As a baby, Sophia faced life-threatening medical conditions, then later, many learning challenges. Sophia enjoys many activities, including ballet, horseback riding, modeling, and swimming. But it is really art that has Sophia’s imagination and her heart. Today she is vibrant, healthy, and loves to paint, sketch, and help run her business.

 www.gwinnstudios.com 

*Please use code “JCCHF” when you check out to indicate participation in the JCC Holiday Fundraiser. 

Ian Gwinn is a fine art and commercial photographer, specializing in still life, landscapes, and portraits. He loves animals… so you will see lots of animal photos, including images of his favorite subject, Milo, his aging beagle, as well as wildlife and other animals around the farm including frogs, chickens, ducks, geese, and a chameleon.  Ian graduated magna cum laude in May 2016 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

www.mother-clusters.com 

Jessica Tischler was the originator of this Holiday Sale seven years ago, and the long-time Director of the Inclusion and Disability Services department at the JCC. She has Tourette’s Syndrome and OCD.  Jessica wrote two childrens’ books in the hopes that she can educate children on learning important life lessons at a young age so that they grow up as healthy, open-minded individuals…with great senses of humor! Jessica, along with her husband Shy Ashkenazi, are the creators of delicious homemade chocolate clusters. Jessica loves to experiment with different ingredients and fun names for the clusters. Mother Clusters are customizable to your favorite flavors and mix-ins.

The ECLC Explores Chanukah

Chanukah is a fun holiday that has underlying concepts of joy, miracles and light that lead to expanding learning opportunities for our young children at the ECLC. One of our educator’s favorite parts is being able to join in on the JCC’s door decorating contest. It is always exciting to see the creativity of the children and educators as they have fun decorating for Chanukah and bringing the holiday’s spirit into the building.

From the beginning of the school year, our ECLC educators have been taking part in a variety of professional development evenings that offer opportunities to learn about Jewish holidays through multi-sensorial play experiences.  Beyond providing the histories and traditions of these holidays, our intentions are to offer new ways for our educators to think about deeper meanings and consider new connections that can be translated to our young students. During our recent Chanukah professional development evening the educators spent some time in our revamped light atelier – a studio space inspired by the Festival of Lights. In this space, the educators had an opportunity to explore small manipulative lights, including some that spin or project onto the wall, a shadow stage with Hanukkah shadow puppets, and light tables to use with colorful toys and Hanukkah items such as menorahs and dreidels. It is important to provide this time for our educators to explore the beauty and possibilities of light before introducing these concepts in their classrooms. Over the past week and for the upcoming month, small groups of children along with their educators will continue to visit the light atelier to engage in curiosity-piquing, playful explorations, as they engage their senses, and celebrate the miracle of light. 

We look forward to lighting the Hanukkyiah, dressing up for our ECLC Spirit Week, and cooking and eating fried latkes and donuts.

We want to wish everyone a joyful Chanukah as we try to bring in even more light this year. 

CommUNITY through Challah-Making

At the time of this blog post, more than 250 women gathered (Sunday, November 19th) in unity and connection for a shared experience that embraces the spirit of togetherness. The occasion? A communal challah-making event that not only celebrates the mitzvah of making challah but also the bonds within the community and a shared connection to Judaism. This communal challah-making event is not just about flour, water, and yeast; it is a celebration of community, sisterhood, and a shared commitment to preserving and enriching Jewish traditions.

The act of making challah can be symbolic in itself. The braiding of dough mirrors the interwoven connections between individuals, families, and the greater community. We will chat joyfully and laugh together and fill the room with warmth and acceptance, emphasizing the importance of shared experiences in fostering a sense of belonging when the world around us can feel threatening.

Challah making, with its deep roots in Jewish tradition, becomes a way through which we are able to celebrate our shared culture and connect with our Jewish heritage… reminding us of the generations who came before us who also participated in the ritual of making challah, passing down a legacy of community.

Tonight’s event was a sell-out, bringing more than 200 women together to experience the joy that comes from celebrating our connections to each other and to Judaism as a whole.