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!

Inclusion programs support growth for people with disabilities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I made wonderful friends at the club,” said Valerie Maizel, a participant. “I have gained confidence, learned how to approach new people, and discovered I can enjoy communicating with them. I greatly appreciate the opportunities I have at Going Places! and the positive effect it has had on my life.”

The club has sparked real relationships, from long-term couples to lifelong friendships. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building Ramps… Not Stairs

If you told me that when I graduated with a degree in social work, that I would be working in the camp field, specifically at an inclusive camp, I would never have believed you.

Hi! My name is Lauren, and I work as Camp Achva’s Inclusion and Belonging Coordinator. My role has two interrelated sides – firstly, by implementing supports for the mental, emotional, social and spiritual health of every camper, staff member, and family that is a part of the Camp Achva community, and secondly, by intentionally creating a safe environment for everyone to be their most authentic self.

I bring to this work a personal perspective on sticking out, the challenges of finding spaces I belong in, and contributing to causes bigger than myself, because, like so many in our community, I am neurodiverse.

Summer camp was my place to just be…me. To show up, and be welcomed fully for who I am, not what I could or could not do. It was a space for me to move away from a diagnosis and be seen for more than my ability level.

I am so grateful that I am in a role where I get to actively help create that space for another generation of campers & staff. It is through working hand in hand with the families and individuals that I, and the Camp Achva team, serve together to create individual success plans – at Camp Achva we believe in people over programming and connection before content. We live that ideal by adjusting our entire program for the one, to better the whole – which is inspired by a training opportunity our team was a part of that talked about their belief in building a ramp instead of stairs. Everyone can use a ramp, whereas only some can use the stairs. There has been a lot of exciting work from the Camp Achva team as we prepare for our best summer yet!

In a practical example of this work, our team has been discussing the length of our activities and how time affects learning outcomes and skill development. Our team has been discussing whether we should move from 30-minute activities to 35- or 40-minute activities. We are looking to adequately balance the need for an activity time length that holds camper and staff’s attention for duration and the number of activities everyone experiences in a day, with giving enough time to build skills and explicitly engage in conversations about what campers are learning. We see benefits of both and are continuing to weigh the pros and cons of each side.

We are working to improve our lunch programming as well – this is a time our campers and staff have given us feedback about, and so we are examining how to make lunch more like a ramp than the stairs it currently feels like to many. Lunch can be overwhelming! To some of our community, lunch feels loud, unstructured, and socially uncomfortable. To others, they feel perfectly in place, with lunch feeling structured and comforting. Our team is working on providing a structure that meets everyone’s needs with ideas from – camp trivia to weather reports, conversation starters to jokes, riddles, and word puzzles.

I am excited to continue these discussions and many others I get to be a part of through my work as the Inclusion & Belonging Coordinator of Camp Achva. I am so grateful for the work that I do. In this past year working with Camp Achva and for the Pozez JCC, I have learned that inclusion is not a choice, it is a lifestyle. I am working to make all the spaces that I am a part of inclusive.

While written in a different context, a quote that I have come to appreciate, rely on, and sums up my inclusion and belonging work is from Ijeoma Oluo: “every time you go through something, and it’s easy for you, look around and say ‘Who is this not easy for? And what can I do to dismantle that system?’”

Free summer camp makes memories for children with cancer and their siblings

For many children battling cancer, hearing “no” is a norm. No soccer or dance or playground fun with others — activities that can harm an already fragile body. But for six weeks every summer, at a camp designed to run on “yes,” children get to have fun in a safe environment, made just for them.

Horizon Day Camp is the only free day camp for 3 ½ to 16 year olds with pediatric cancer and their siblings. The camp opened in 2022, borne of a partnership between Pozez JCC and Sunrise Association Day Camps, which has been running camps and other programs for children with cancer since 2006.

“For our JCC, this is a major social impact program that fills a gap and a need for families in the D.C. metro area,” said Jessica Adams, senior director of development.

Because campers are undergoing treatment, they attend as often as they can, whenever they can. Every day of camp is created to stand alone, ensuring children never feel as if they missed something.

Camp Director Joellen Kriss-Broubalow said Horizon Day Camp is where “every kid can be a kid.” Many of her campers, siblings included, have been forced to grow up too soon. Camp is an opportunity for them to be their own person, outside of the bubble that cancer so often silos them into. 

“We are a camp for kids with cancer, but we are not a cancer camp,” Kriss-Broubalow said. “Cancer is something these kids have, not who they are. We take all of the necessary steps to make sure cancer is not at the center of everything we do.”

And camp starts on the bus, a free service that brings children to and from Pozez JCC. Then comes the best part of camp: activities. Soft sports balls and other adaptive equipment help children fully participate. Some play soccer or take swim lessons. Others make friendship bracelets or do science experiments. 

Specially trained counselors like Bradley Olsen, 18, are there every step of the way. A cancer survivor himself, Olsen pulls from his own experiences to offer hope, compassion and of course, joy.

“Seeing them share laughter, form bonds and create lasting memories is so special,” Olsen said. “Being able to witness these moments and provide a safe, supportive space for them to simply be themselves is truly a gift.”

Alana Cole, another 18-year-old counselor, said, “It’s easy to say that I teach the kids, but in truth, they teach me. The most meaningful part of my work is seeing all of them smile and have fun.”

This June, staff are expecting to welcome their largest group of campers. Horizon Day Camp, which started with 44 children and grew to accomodate nearly 100, already has 48 registrants for this summer. Roughly 20 of them are returning campers.

The driving force: parents know their little ones are in good hands. There is on-site medical support, which includes a team of nurses supervised by a pediatric oncologist. 

With peace of mind, parents can take quiet moments for themselves. Last summer, while their children were at camp, one couple took a vacation day and went to the movies. Another said they finally had time to clean their house, which had been in disarray since their child started cancer treatment.

“I can feel the relief from our parents,” Kriss-Broubalow said. “Everything is being taken care of. Kids are so excited to come to camp every day, and parents haven’t seen their kids this excited in a long time.”

One of those parents is Emily McGilton, whose daughter Brianna has neuroblastoma, a cancer that develops from immature nerve cells. For Brianna, rounds of treatment disrupted her year, pulling her from school and friends. 

Horizon Day Camp was a bright spot.

Brianna, 4, would come home and excitedly recap her days swimming and crafting. Knowing her daughter was having fun, and finding some normalcy in abnormal times, McGilton began to worry less.

“Horizon Day Camp encouraged me to let go a little bit and allow others to help me care for my child,” McGilton said. “I slowly adjusted with the help of her encouraging staff and her big smiles every day at drop off and pick up. She can’t wait to go back.” 

Even though camp is six-weeks long, engagement is year round. Horizon on Wheels brings the magic of camp to children undergoing treatment in hospitals. There are also family fun days, which have included adaptive sports and exclusive museum visits to keep up relationships with camp families. 

The next happening: Horizon Walk. This annual fundraising event, scheduled for April 14, features a 1-mile walk around National Harbor. Attendees include camp families and other members of the community, drawing a crowd of close to 250. 

“When they see you, they knock you over with these huge hugs because they’re so excited to be around camp people again,” Kriss-Broubalow said. “That’s how you know what you’re doing really matters.”

For Kriss-Broubalow, who is a teacher during the school year, camp fills her soul during the summer and all year round.

“Teachers are seed planters. We usually don’t get to see the flowers,” Kriss-Broubalow said. “But at camp, you get to see the flowers. It’s magic.”

You can participate in our annual Horizon Walk by completing this registration form.

Celebrating Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance & Inclusion Month

February is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAIM or JDAAIM). This year, JDAIM is in its 15th year of existence. It was started to raise awareness and ensure that Jews with disabilities are valued and included in all aspects of Jewish life. As you may be aware, the Disability community is the largest minority group, and estimated to be about 15% of the world population. It is also estimated that 1 in 4 adults in the United States will have a disability at some point during their life. This is a group that cannot and should not be ignored. The Disability community needs to be accepted and included not just in February, but every day of the year.

As part of our celebration of JDAIM, the Pozez JCC and the organization MyZuzah, whose mission is to put a mezuzah on the front door of every Jewish home in the world, are excited to be installing a mezuzah with braille on its face. The mezuzah was designed by local artist, Julie Tonti.

This past week, I listened to a talk by Rabbi Julia Watts Belser about her book, Loving Our Bones: Disability Wisdom and the Spiritual Subversiveness of Knowing Ourselves Whole. She talked about how she is often asked what Jewish tradition says about disability. She offers that we flip the question to ask what disability can offer to Jewish wisdom. Her answer is the message that there is not only one way to move through the world and not only one way of thinking. Rabbi Belser defined ableism as the policies, norms, attitudes, and practices that oppress people assumed to be disabled. She said that ableism runs in conjunction with the idea of productivity culture, where we are only as good as our latest accomplishment. Her idea is that the practice of honoring Shabbat, and taking a day of rest, is the antidote to this form of ableism. This promotes the idea of your value for who you are rather than for what you do.

On this 15th anniversary of JDAIM, it is most appropriate to honor the memory of Judy Heumann just before the occasion of her first yahrzeit. She was an international leader in the Disability Rights Movement who fought for Jewish disability access and for the rights and dignity of all disabled people. Many more people came to know about her life through the documentary movie Crip Camp. When talking about the 504 protests (referring to section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities), shown in the movie, Judy said that they were successful because they did not focus on how they were different, but on their collective purpose. They focused on the community and the humanity in each other. A wonderful quote from Judy Heumann’s memoir Being Heumann is, “I was who I was meant to be. If you were to acquire a disability tomorrow, it would be a change, but I can tell you this: it wouldn’t have to be a tragedy. We are all human. Why do we see disability differently from any other aspect of being human?”


Helpful JDAIM Resources 

“What Do You Pray For?” A series of short interviews with Jews with disabilities.
https://vimeo.com/showcase/8327250

A sneak peek and conversation about the upcoming film THIRTEEN. The film is based on a true story of a mother fighting to have a Bat Mitzvah for her disabled and terminally ill daughter. The discussion will center around the intersection of ableism and antisemitism and the impact in Jewish communities.
Registration required. Click here.

Resisting Ableism and Cultivating Access: Disability and Jewish Social Justice. Registration is required. Please click here to register

JDAIM Events: https://jcca.org/jewish-disability-month-events/

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 Bodzin Art Gallery Presents: Curator’s Conversation with J Artists, with Anne Schlachter-Dagan

There are some conversations that stay with us forever. I was lucky to have one such conversation with Anne Schlachter-Dagan at opening night of the 11th annual ReelAbilities Film Festival: Northern Virginia

Anne Schlacter-Dagan’s oil paintings and digital artworks offer a glimpse into her personal experiences and highlight the difficulties she encounters in perceiving light and color. We spoke about her process as an artist. I was able to ask Anne about her reaction to the four short films, which all focused on artists and entrepreneurs with disabilities, most of them blind. We wrapped up our conversation by talking about how a blind artist can change the world. This blog recounts some of that conversation for you now.

Anne, myself, and our audience were very moved by how powerful it is to share stories that defy what most people hold true. I invite you to come see for yourself how important shifting your perceptions of what a legally blind, color blind artist can do.  “Bright Darkness” is on view in the Bodzin until March 6, 2024.

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

I discovered my passion for art when I was very you and during high school, I pursued it as my major. However, after life led me on a different journey, I only returned to art in 2015 while living in South America. Under the guidance of artist Paul Birchall, I realized my creative potential. The drive to create new, intriguing things and push my limits keeps me going. I must say though that having a supportive partner enables me to balance art, a full-time job, and raising three children.

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

I express my artistic vision through oil and digital paintings. Due to limited vision, working with oils suits me as it allows for a slower pace and easy revisiting, unlike acrylics for example. Discovering the digital medium during my B.A. in Studio Arts, 5 years ago, opened up new possibilities, offering the magic of enlarging everything on the screen.

In terms of style, my focus lies in capturing light. I contemplate its impact – whether harsh or soothing – and through a slightly unreal approach, I draw attention to it. Transitioning from realistic to more emotionally driven paintings took time but enriched my artistic journey.

Since you shared that you have difficulty detecting color, how do you select the colors we can see in your art?

Given my inability to detect color, selecting specific colors is impossible. I often opt for random choices, but I’m influenced by societal color meanings. I incorporate monochromatic elements in each painting so for me, each painting looks colorful.

Do you have any advice to share with aspiring artists?

My main advice is TRY! and don’t shy away from making mistakes—they are steppingstones to growth.  Happy creating!

ReelAbilities Film Festival: Community partnerships, stigma-smashing film, and fine art

The 2024 festival will open at the J and close at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts at the REACH’s Justice Forum. As per festival tradition encouraging accessibility for all, the films will be screened by partner venues throughout the region.

“These partnerships have been a cornerstone of the festival’s success since day one, eleven years ago,” says the festival’s director, Sarah Berry. “When we moved the festival to February  in commemoration of Jewish Disabilities Inclusion and Awareness Month, many of the local synagogues became participating venues.”

This year, half of the venues are synagogues, and the other half are a combination of arts organizations and direct service organizations. “It’s a privilege to work as a presenting partner with these organizations, we are all driven by similar missions of access, culture, and community,” Berry adds.

This year, our partners include Beth El Hebrew Congregation with Agudas Achim, Congregation Adat Reyim, Congregation Olam Tikvah, Down Syndrome Association of Northern Virginia, Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons, Reston Community Center’s CenterStage, ServiceSource, Temple Rodef Shalom, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The J is hosting the opening night screening, with attendee groups including Hadassah and Our Stomping Ground.

Not able to travel around town? No problem. ReelAbilities Northern Virginia will continue to make all films in the festival available to stream online. The lineup is comprised of contemporary international films, complemented by post-film programs, and an exhibit in the J’s Bodzin Art Gallery. For a full listing of events, visit www.theJ.org/ReelAbilities.

To screen the festival online, create an account at www.raffnv.filmfestivalplus.com.

Join us opening night!

We are excited to invite the community for a full program celebrating the arts on opening night. The evening includes a suite of short films celebrating creativity: films will cover topics such as art, entrepreneurship, comedy, filmmaking, and theater, allowing us glimpses into the lives of creatives in these fields, and how they make their art and dreams happen. The films will be followed by a Q&A with Anne Schlachter-Dagan, a local, legally blind painter.

Schlachter-Dagan’s exhibition, Bright Darkness, is now on view at the J’s Bodzin Art Gallery through March 6, offering viewers a glimpse into her personal experiences and highlighting the difficulties she encounters in perceiving light and color.

ReelAbilities Film Festival: Northern Virginia aims to shine light on the lives, stories, and artistic expressions of people with disabilities. Each film selected for the 2024 festival was done so with care by a committee of screeners, as well as each presenting venue. Thought was put into the quality of the films, the messaging, and the goal of each event. Heartfelt thanks for your time, committee members: Harold Belkowitz, LaRue Cook, Joan Ehrlich, Rachel Greenblatt, Dawn Kaye, Nancy Reder, Bill Rosen, BoMi Rosen, Michael Toobin, Charlotte Woodward, and Darcy Woodward.

We look forward to sharing these stigma-smashing films with our community, both in-person and virtually. Reserve your seats now at www.theJ.org/ReelAbilities.

Tikkun Olam and Tikkun Ha-Lev

On Monday, January 15th, hundreds of people in each community will be volunteering because it is MLK, Jr. Day. The closest Shabbat to this national holiday is celebrated by at least the Reform Movement as Shabbat Tzedek – a time to remember the life and heritage of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Another Jewish connection is the friendship between Abraham Joshua Heschel and MLK – two spiritual and civil leaders of the generation.  

In Jewish tradition, the value most often connected to volunteering is Tikkun Olam (Hebrew for repairing or fixing the world).  It feels good to add your efforts to fixing our not very whole world, right? The interesting aspect of this idea is that the full concept of Tikkun Olam states that if you want to repair the world, you need to start with yourself. It is called Tikkun Ha-Lev (Repairing the Heart). Sounds a bit selfish, but let’s dig into it and maybe it will make sense. If you’ve ever been on a plane, you know that in the event of an emergency, you are told to put your mask on first, and only after you are secure, to help your child/friend/neighbor with their mask.  

Interestingly enough,  research shows that volunteering has all kinds of benefits for the volunteer.  From a form of socialization to improving health, from advancing in one’s career to finding a sense of fulfillment – these are just a few benefits that can come along with volunteering. Repairing the world and repairing oneself could be a parallel and connected processes.  

This MLK Day, Pozez JCC and Horizon Day Camp are partnering with Volunteer Fairfax on the MLK Day of Service: Give Together. Although registration for the event has closed, you can always find volunteer opportunities online! Repair The World (a Jewish organization mobilizing Jews for volunteering and taking action in pursuit of a more just world) has a variety of virtual volunteering options. 

Please, stay tuned for great news coming from Pozez JCC about volunteering in our community and repairing our hearts! 

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month: Meet Sawyer

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is here and we’re reaching out to ask for your help to support children like Sawyer.

Sawyer was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in February of 2020 when he was just 4 years old, and a month before COVID shut everything down.

Treatment, both inpatient and outpatient, was very isolating to ensure Sawyer’s safety. His family also often had to be isolated from friends and family to protect Sawyer.

Despite the painful journey cancer creates, Horizon Day Camp, in-hospital program Horizon on Wheels, and year-round reunion days provide a place where children with cancer can just be children.

While the days of undergoing treatment were challenging for a social kid like Sawyer, he and his brother Hudson found joyful experiences through our in-hospital Horizon on Wheels program and Horizon Day Camp.

Sawyer’s radiant smile is a testament to the hope and love found at Horizon.

“Horizon has been such an amazing experience for our family. It has given both Sawyer and Hudson the opportunity to make new friends, strengthen their bond with each other and the ability to try new activities and stretch themselves while building confidence.” – Jenna, mom to Sawyer and Hudson

After two years, Sawyer completed his treatment in June of 2022.

What Sawyer has enjoyed most about Horizon has been the activities – especially the sports, dancing, and arts and crafts. He also loves Color War and working hard for his team to bring them to victory. He loves the ability to swim on a regular basis and show off his skills!

Thank you for being part of our Horizon-Metro DC family and helping to bring the joys of childhood to the many children and families we serve.

Every day at Horizon is a new beginning. With your support, we ensure that children like Sawyer – and their families – wake up to brighter days filled with the magic of childhood.

On behalf of your Horizon-Metro DC team, and particularly brave campers like Sawyer, thank you for your kind and generous consideration.