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 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!

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!