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 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! 

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!

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.

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 dominating the headlines, shlichim have been thrust into a new, emotionally charged role: helping their communities grieve as they process their own grief.

Dean Bagdadi, who recently finished his first year as the 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,” Bagdadi said. “And when you’re experiencing grief, 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 hung a large poster with their pictures in the lobby of Pozez JCC.

“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 with 1,600 locals. He 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 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 were so many questions to be answered, and people needed and deserved spaces where they could 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 making 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.”

As Bagdadi enters his second year as a shaliach, he is continuing 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.”

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!

Camp Achva’s 55th Summer

Most mornings I have a crucial decision to make – which Camp Achva T-shirt do I wear? This is a pivotal decision. Do I wear one from the early 2000’s with the sun logo? Do I choose one from the late 2010’s with “Camp Achva” written above the logo? Or do I pick one of our current designs? The choice on its face seems simple – pick a T–shirt. However, to me, this is not a simple choice, and this is not a choice that I take lightly.

Camp Achva is in its 54th year of existence and approaching our 55th summer. Over that time, Camp Achva has grown and changed significantly – from the programming thought of and offered, to the size of our camper and staff population, to our registration systems and the sessions offered, to our logos and our name, and to our summer location.

Currently, my team and I are focused on two areas of growth – programming and inclusion.

Programming

In the past two summers, a human foosball court, a slingshot range, mystery trails (a walking version of escape rooms), and a virtual sports room featuring Nintendo Switch Sports & Just Dance have been added to the program offerings at Camp Achva. In the DMV area, we are one of the only camps that has these programs available, and we are certainly the only camp that has all of them available. We aren’t stopping there either. We believe that our program design has lots of room to grow and for our 55th summer we are homing in on teaching lifelong games by adding three different types of golf activities: foot golf, frisbee golf, & bucket golf.

In the next 3-5 years, many more activities will be added. We are already planning for what those are, where they will be, and how to make them accessible and enjoyable for all at Camp.

Inclusion to MESSH (Mental Emotional Social Spiritual Health)

The camp industry, generally, has begun to expand the thinking around disability support services, under the label of inclusion, into the idea of MESSH. At Camp Achva we are fully embracing this notion and are enjoying the learning process as we continue to grow in this area. Our first step was to have a dedicated administrative staff position to elevate our understanding of how to support the authentic self of every person who is a part of Camp Achva. This can be seen in our updated Child Profile Form, in the way that we recruit, interview, and train our staff, in the Camp Achva Pride Flag raised at Gesher and the Pozez JCC Pride logo in our email signatures, as well as, in the language we use by offering our pronouns, for using caregiver &/or guardian, and having space for participants and staff to tell us their gender on all forms.

In the next 3-5 years, we hope to be a camp that fully expresses the word inclusion. We are committed to training our professional and seasonal staff towards this end and we are committed to making Camp Achva as joyful and accessible for our campers, their families, and our broader Pozez JCC CommUNITY.

Through all this change and growth, there are Camp Achva traditions that live on and provide continuity within our framework – wearing white on Shabbat, having Ruach (a weekly showcase where each group performs), Maccabbiah (color war), field trips, changing the color of the t-shirt, & the long lines at carpool that we try to move as smoothly as possible. In recognition of our Camp Achva traditions, we look ahead to our 55th summer and the theme we have conceived to match this moment.

55 Summers of Impact

In 2024, Camp Achva is celebrating our 55th summer impacting children from all across Northern Virginia. This year’s summer theme, “Camp is More Than a Bagel,” was inspired by the Camp Achva album Jewish Is More Than a Bagel, Songs for Jewish Children, by Shirley Grossman. Through her unique perspective and awe-inspiring songwriting skills, Shirley wrote songs for Camp Achva with Broadway flair. She, along with our founders Adele Greenspon, Shirley Waxman, and Judy Frank, created a recipe for a Camp that has become more than just one thing – Camp Achva is a community, a family, a home. In honor of our founders, Shirley, our alumni, our current campers, families, staff, and the wider Pozez JCC community, we are proud to say that Camp Achva is more than a bagel!

Each Director has helped Camp Achva grow and change to fit the needs and wants of the community around it in their own way along with input from stakeholders. I have seen the growth and change firsthand as a camper, a staff member, the Assistant Director, and now as the Director. Camp Achva has always been my home, no matter the logo, the theme, the programming offered, the location, or the T-shirt color. Deciding which Camp Achva T-shirt to wear is a hard and pivotal decision for me because each one says something different. It says what programs we offered, what field trips we took, what Ruach presentations happened, who won Maccabbiah, who the Director of the time was, and what theme was explored each summer. Each T-shirt is a memory and a reminder to me that I have the most important and wonderful job I could have ever hoped for – to make Camp Achva a home for those now coming to Camp and to dream of how to make it a life-impacting experience for those coming to Camp Achva in the future, as it has been for me and so many others.

By the way, Tuesday, November 7, 2023 is International Summer Camp T-Shirt Day… I hope all who have fond camp memories, Camp Achva or otherwise, will proudly wear your favorite camp t-shirt!