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This Month’s Inspiring Story

A Fighting Spirit

As a new year begins and many of us resolve to live a healthier lifestyle, Bender JCC member Darryl Weiler is an example to emulate. Since retiring in 2014 after a career as a software quality assurance engineer and systems analyst, three-day-a-week workouts have become an essential part of Darryl’s routine.

Why is the Bender JCC Darryl’s choice of fitness centers? “The staff is nice and they listen to you. The fitness center has the equipment I need and the atmosphere I want,” he remarks. Asked to elaborate, Darryl says that individuals who exercise here are accepted for who they are and for what they can do. “There’s an appreciation that whatever you do, it’s better than doing nothing. Just being here is half the battle.”

As for the other half of the battle, having lost 65 pounds since Darryl started working out here is evidence to the fact that it’s going in his favor.

The Jacksonville, Florida native has been involved in many sports — karate, judo, fencing, soccer and baseball among them. But boxing is the one that is in Darryl’s blood. His father, grandfather and uncle were boxers. Darryl fought Golden Gloves (annual competitions for amateur boxing) in high school, and he sparred with pros in college.

The best part of working out, according to Darryl, is how much better he feels when he’s finished. “After I start warming up, my aches and pains are gone.” Asked if he has days when he just doesn’t feel like exercising, he says that that happens all the time. How does he handle it? “I just do it. I don’t quit.”

An illness in June — during which he spent a considerable amount of time in the hospital and at a rehabilitation facility — only strengthened Darryl’s determination to get back on the bike, literally. By September, Darryl had returned to the Bender JCC health & fitness center, going through his usual circuit which includes riding the recumbent bike, hitting the punching bag and doing reps on many of the strength-training machines. By December, he had climbed back almost to the level he had reached prior to becoming ill.

What does Darryl consider the worst part of working out? After all he’s been through, he says there is no worst part; he’s just glad to be here. “If I had to choose a worst part, it would be the traffic on the way.”

For information on starting your journey to health and wellness at the Bender JCC, please contact Dahhia Smith-Johnson at 301.348.3894 or


Senior Satellite Program Offers Winter Warmth

The winter months can be an isolating time, which is one of the reasons that the Bender JCC’s Selma Sweetbaum Senior Satellite Program is such a vital asset for senior adults in our community.  Offering opportunities for nutrition, socialization, entertainment, exercise and education, the program meets in Rockville at the Bender JCC and Ring House, in Wheaton at Har Tzeon Agudath Achim, and in Silver Spring at Young Israel Shomrei Emunah Congregation. Results from a recent survey indicate that we are meeting our goals of providing better nutrition, socialization and quality of life for seniors.

90% said that the program has significantly improved their quality of life
80% said they were eating better
92% rated the social environment as good or very good.

The Bender JCC collaborates with community partners to fill critical gaps in needed services for seniors. Partners include: The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington; Meals on Wheels of America; Montgomery County Health & Human Services and Recreation; Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy and Charles E. Smith Life Communities; Leisure World; and Jewish Council for the Aging’s Senior Community Service Employment Program.

We also partner with local hospitals and healthcare professionals to offer free wellness programs and health screenings— including blood pressure, bone density and glaucoma testing—to Montgomery County seniors year-round. Partners include Adventist Healthcare; National Parkinson’s Foundation Center of Excellence at Georgetown University Hospital; and Shady Grove Adventist Hospital.

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Infusing Jewish Spirit through Partnerships

Rabbanit Chava Evans recently joined the Bender JCC staff as director of Jewish life. Through this position, Rabbanit Evans hopes to build personal relationships and work collaboratively across departments, with a variety of constituencies and with partner organizations, to enrich Jewish life and infuse Jewish spirit throughout the Bender JCC and the communities it serves. 

The Bender JCC is grateful to Yeshivat Maharat, Aviv Foundation, Mayberg Foundation and Sharon and Steven Lieberman for helping to fund this position. Through funding partnerships, we are able to offer valued resources such as this to our community, enabling individuals and families to explore Jewish heritage and culture.

Please read on to learn a little bit about Rabbanit Evans.

Please tell us where you’re from.
I am from Boston, and I moved with my mother and siblings to a small town in Vermont when I was in 7th grade. When I was 18, my family moved to Europe and I spent my vacations from school with them in Germany and Italy. Eventually they moved back to the States, but I moved to Israel for several years in my early 20s. Since then, I’ve been gradually making my way down the East Coast — Boston, Providence, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York and finally, Rockville.

Please tell us about your family.
My husband, Mark, is a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins. We have three children: Gilah Channah, 7, Hadar Chasyia, 4, and Micah Lev, 21 months.

What is your educational background?
I initially trained as a painter and worked in children’s illustration and educational publishing for nearly a decade before going to rabbinical school. I have a dual degree in Illustration and religious studies from Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). I then went to Betzalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem for a year, but transferred to an atelier (also in Jerusalem) run by painter Israel Hershberg.

While there, I also studied Talmud and Halacha at Nishmat: Center for Advanced Torah Study for Women. Then I came back to the US and got my MFA at the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia.  I worked in Philly for five years in a great illustration/toy design studio before we had our first child and moved to Baltimore. I worked for another four years in Baltimore as a free-lance illustrator and studio artist before matriculating at Yeshivat Maharat in the Bronx. Yeshivat Maharat is the first Orthodox institution to grant semikah (rabbinic ordination) to women. There are about 20 graduates now working in Jewish leadership, education and Jewish communal service worldwide.

In what other positions have you served?
I have served as rabbinic intern at Pearlstone Center, B’nai Israel in Baltimore, and the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in the Bronx. I have taught Torah at numerous institutions in the Baltimore and New York areas.

What are some projects you’re working on at the Bender JCC?
In the three months since I began working at the Bender JCC, I’ve worked with the preschool and school-age children, Women’s Connections (a group for women), senior adults and the health & fitness department to enhance Jewish life and infuse Jewish spirit at the Center. Two projects I’m currently working on are Noah’s Art and the Jewish Ethical Wills Project.

What is the Noah’s Art initiative?
Noah’s Art is an intergenerational art project conducted in conjunction with JCC Budapest. Bender Preschool children learn about Noah, and meet with senior adults from our Tuesdays @ the J program to work on art projects inspired by Noah’s Ark. The pieces they create will be made into a mural. The JCC Budapest is simultaneously working on the same project, and the two centers are communicating about their experiences via Skype. The joint venture will culminate in a brochure — written in Hungarian and English — documenting the works and experiences of both JCCs.

Please tell us about the Jewish Ethical Wills Project.
Through a grant provided by the Jewish Theological Seminary and in collaboration with the JCC Manhattan, the Bender JCC is one of three pilot JCCs involved in this initiative. I am being trained on how to assist others in creating an ethical will, which describes a moral legacy shared through favorite stories, life lessons and blessing for the future. When I complete the training, I will offer an ethical wills class at the Bender JCC designed for the baby boomer generation.

J Play: Connecting Families within Neighborhoods

For decades, the Bender JCC has served as a gathering place where families with young children can connect with each other and the larger community. In response to the growing trend of young Jewish families moving throughout the county, we have established J Play, a partnership with PJ Library. Through Jewish-themed programming that is geographically accessible, this family engagement initiative helps to build cohesive Jewish communities within neighborhoods.

Participant Cindy McAllister says that she and her daughters love going to JPlay events because there are always fun crafts to make, and everyone who runs the programs is so warm and friendly. She appreciates that it provides the chance to spend quality time with current friends, and the opportunity to make new friends.

Cindy says that anytime she receives notice of an upcoming J Play activity, she eagerly signs up. “I know it will be a good time for my kids and me, and a way to create meaningful memories.”

Family Programs Coordinator Jennifer Radosh says that J Play is a great opportunity for Montgomery County families to come together for fun Jewish experiences outside the walls of the Bender JCC.

“J Play offers the chance to make new friendships or strengthen old ones. It can introduce people to the Jewish community or deepen one’s Jewish identity,” Jennifer states.

Through J Play’s program Challah Tots, held approximately twice a month at area Whole Foods Market stores, young children and their parents read stories about Shabbat and braid challah dough to take home and bake.

“My girls love Challah Tots; it’s one of their favorite activities,” Cindy says. “They get excited to go, and they have fun at Whole Foods. At home, they brush on the egg wash, sprinkle on sesame seeds, and watch the challah rise. Then we enjoy sandwiches on it all week!”

In our outreach efforts, we are pleased to partner with many community organizations such as The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, Strathmore Hall, Montgomery Parks/M-NCPPC, Meadowside Nature Center, Locust Grove Nature Center and congregations Beth El, B’nai Israel and Shaare Torah. In addition, we have joined forces with businesses such as Barnes & Noble Booksellers, BounceU, Butler’s Orchard, Dawson’s Market, The Fresh Market, Menchies, Pinstripes, Rockville Town Square, Stella Barra Pizzeria, Strathmore, Tutti Frutti Frozen Yogurt, Whole Foods Market and ZBounce.

For more information about J Play, please visit or contact Jennifer Radosh at 301-348-3848 or

Inclusion at Camp JCC

The nationally-recognized Camp JCC inclusion program has afforded campers with special needs the opportunity for a fun and fulfilling summer camp experience alongside their typically-developing siblings and friends. 

The program also has a profound impact on counselors and typically-developing campers, who learn acceptance, tolerance and sensitivity. As a result, Camp JCC changes attitudes toward inclusion that extend far beyond the walls of our building.

In this article, Torie Atkin and Marc Silverman reflect on their experiences as counselors in the Camp JCC inclusion program.

For more information about the Camp JCC special needs and inclusion program, please contact Camp JCC Director Phil Liebson at 301-348-3880 or

Dinner of Champions, the Bender JCC’s annual fundraiser for the Camp JCC special needs and inclusion program, will be held on Saturday, November 18. For details, please visit

Torie Atkin (top) with her camper, Camp JCC 2016

Torie Atkin: “As I walked into Eva’s [Eva Cowen, director of Kochavim, Camp JCC’s transitional program for teens and young adults with a wide range of disabilities] office four years ago for my camp interview, I had no idea how much it would change my life.  When I applied, the only jobs left were working in the inclusion program with teens with disabilities. I had no experience but said that I was willing to learn and try my best. That was good enough for Eva.

As I went through my first day, I was surprised at how easy it was to connect with the campers.  They liked movies and sports and cheesy jokes and before I knew it, coming to work felt more like hanging out with my friends than a job.  I came home every day with stories about my campers, like how one camper jumped on stage to teach a Zumba dance and how another taught me to speak a different language. I fell deeper and deeper in love with the campers.

That isn’t to say that my job isn’t hard at times. There have been countless times where I have felt frustrated, confused and even sad at camp. But one of the best things about our program is that you are surrounded by other counselors who can step in and help you, so you are never facing anything alone.

After that first summer, I became addicted to camp and to working with people with disabilities. It has changed my life.  I started college as a journalism major but after my first summer at camp, I changed my major to exercise science so that I could become an occupational therapist and work with people with disabilities for the rest of my life.”

“I started working at Camp JCC in 1993. I have cerebral palsy and wanted to work with children with special needs. My second summer, I was a counselor-in-training with a small group of children who would eventually become part of the inclusion program the following year. From 1995-2001, I was a counselor for the teen program, which served adolescents with special needs from the ages of 14-21.

The campers with whom I worked had a diverse range of developmental disabilities.  Some had autism, as well as hearing and visual impairments. For several summers, I was a one-to-one counselor for an adolescent who was legally blind and had a developmental disability.

I worked with Eva Cowen and Sara Milner [former Camp JCC director]. Their support was the best. If there was a challenge or difficulty, I always felt comfortable confiding in my colleagues and superiors. Eva and Sara provided thorough and excellent training.

Working at Camp JCC as a special needs counselor definitely influenced my career choice, helping to solidify my goal of wanting to help people. I loved working with both campers and the staff.  It truly was a warm and nurturing atmosphere, one that I remember with great fondness.

I graduated from the University of Hartford in 2001 with a major in sociology and a minor in human services.  I attended Columbia University School of Social Work, graduating in 2003 with a master’s degree. I am a licensed clinical social worker, working in the field of domestic violence in a high school setting.

The Camp JCC special needs and inclusion program is an excellent program.  It allows campers with special needs to be part of a larger community.  It was a great thrill to see my campers year after year and watch their progress.  My heart is always with the program and the campers.”

Having the Courage to Start

If you had asked me 10 years ago if I would become a running coach in my retirement, I would have said that you are crazy!”— Karen Craney

An instructor in the Bender JCC’s Couch to 5K program, Karen Craney, 61, started running 14 years ago. She has since completed all major running distances—5K, 10K, 10 mile, half marathon and marathon—and has participated in overnight running relays such as the Ragnar Relay (having recently completed one in Niagara Falls, Canada).  Karen finds that the running community is comprised of supportive and wonderful individuals. “I am proud to be a part of this community.”

A New Jersey native, Karen is retired from Montgomery County Public Schools after 33 years as a special education teacher and then a pupil personnel worker. Keeping active in retirement, Karen’s hobbies include running, walking, hiking, rollerblading and biking. She also loves to travel. “Every year I take a biking trip to Italy, visiting a different region of the country. My most recent trip was a hiking/wine tasting/safari in South Africa.”

Upon retiring, Karen became a nationally-certified running coach. She is a member/volunteer of Montgomery County Road Runners Club and the race director of Run Under Lights 5K, which takes place every November in Seneca Creek Park, Gaithersburg.

In the spring of 2016, Karen began teaching the Couch to 5K program at the Bender JCC. It was repeated in the summer of 2016 along with a “next step” component for runners who had completed the Couch to 5K program. “A number of runners from that first next-step program have gone on to running longer distances such as 10K, 10 miles and even a half marathon, which has been very exciting!”

Sue Winarsky, a runner who has been in Karen’s programs for a few years, remains impressed that Karen is knowledgeable and invested in ensuring that all her participants have a good experience, regardless of their starting fitness level. “Karen works with each runner to help them reach their personal goal. She promotes camaraderie and works to bring out the best in those who participate in her programs. And, she makes it fun!”

Karen says that it is a thrill to see people do something that they never thought they would be able to do—complete a 5K run. The program starts off with walk/run ratio intervals (3 minutes walking, 1 minute running) and slowly progresses to the point where participants are doing more running than walking and eventually, all running.

“The program is so gradual and supportive that it surprises people who often approach it with apprehension and anxiety. They discover that they actually can run a 5K,” Karen remarks.

The program has an educational component, addressing topics such as running gear, nutrition, hydration and injury prevention.

“My coaching experience has included 5K, 10K, 10-mile, half-marathon and full-marathon programs, but my heart lies with the Couch to 5K program and seeing people become runners,” Karen reflects.

For individuals who are thinking about taking a beginning running program, Karen advises, “Just do it! You will be surprised at how much it will change your life.”

Karen’s favorite quote is by John Bingham, a nationally-known running coach: “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”

Are you interested in running in the JCADA (Jewish Coalition against Domestic Abuse) 5K on October 22? Then now is the time to sign up for Couch to 5K!

Camp JCC Changes Counselors Too

Mark Silverman

With Camp JCC in full swing, we reflect on the profound effect our nationally-recognized Camp JCC inclusion program has on campers with disabilities by offering them the opportunity for a fun and fulfilling summer camp experience alongside their typically-developing siblings and friends.  The program also has a strong impact on counselors and typically-developing campers, who learn acceptance, tolerance and sensitivity.

Marc Silverman, a licensed clinical social worker, was a Camp JCC counselor from 1993 through 2001. He has cerebral palsy and wanted to work with children with disabilities. The campers with whom he worked had a wide range of developmental abilities. Some had autism, as well as hearing and visual impairments. For several summers, he was a one-to-one counselor for an adolescent who was legally blind and had a developmental disability.

Marc says that the Camp JCC inclusion program is an excellent program that allows campers with disabilities, who might otherwise be isolated, to be part of a larger community.

“Working at Camp JCC as a counselor for children with disabilities definitely influenced my career choice,” Marc asserts, saying that it helped solidify his goal of wanting to help people. He graduated from the University of Hartford in 2001 with a major in sociology and a minor in human services.  He then attended Columbia University School of Social Work, graduating in 2003 with a master’s degree. Marc currently works in the field of domestic violence in a high school setting.

Camp JCC changes attitudes toward inclusion that extend far beyond the walls of our building. The support of our generous donors helps to make that happen.

Music for the Soul

Jeanette Greenberg at the piano

Jeanette Greenberg looks forward to every Tuesday at the Bender JCC when she sings and plays piano in the senior adult chorus.

“It feels very comfortable when I am with people who also enjoy singing,” says Jeanette. “It’s a very sociable thing to do.”

Scholarships can be the determining factor for participation at the Bender JCC. 132 seniors, like Jeanette, receive financial assistance so they can a part of our community and participate in the many activities here.

Click here to listen to Jeanette’s inspiring story!

Fitness for All

Joanie Steinberg

Joanie Steinberg is a participant in the hybrid fitness class — a mix of strength, yoga, Pilates and balance work-geared toward improving flexibility and enhancing state of mind for those with Parkinson’s.

Among the many fitness programs offered by the Bender JCC are classes like hybrid fitness for the Parkinson’s community. Held in partnership with MedStar Georgetown University Hospital as part of The Edmond J. Safra National Parkinson’s Wellness Initiative of the National Parkinson Foundation, the program is designed to improve the lives of those impacted by Parkinson’s disease through fitness, support, education and socialization.

“The people running the program and the instructors are extremely dedicated and interested in making it a successful and helpful experience for all involved,” Joanie states. “I think it’s awesome that the Bender JCC offers this program to the community.”

Dawn Hubbard-Powell, Health & Fitness Director. says that our Parkinson’s Wellness Initiative classes are highly valued by those we serve. ”The chance to connect with others who are going through similar experiences helps our participants realize that they are not alone. They show us that it is possible to thrive with Parkinson’s. It’s inspiring to be a part of this initiative!”

This story is one of many examples of how the Bender JCC provides a warm and welcoming place for those of all abilities, and is committed to improving the quality of life for all.

Building Families at the Bender JCC

Jauss Family Photo

Lindsay and Fred Jauss joined the Bender JCC when their older son. now 7, was 2 years old and they were looking for a preschool.

“The biggest selling point for us is how loved and safe our children feel in the community. The JCC is a truly inclusive and welcoming place for a diverse population. The teaching staff is second to none.”

As an interfaith couple [Lindsay isJewish and Fred is Catholic]. Lindsay says that they appreciate  how the preschool weaves Judaism into the everyday.

“Children are taught the foundations of Judaism- kindness. caring…things we all can strive for. The tone and language used by the staff focus on inclusiveness for all sorts of families.”

This story is one of many examples of how your support enriches lives and enables us to embrace and welcome the diversity of our community. There’s something about this place.

Support for All to See

Lee Greenwald

“Just because I’m blind doesn’t mean I can’t see what’s important,” says Lee Greenwald, 91, a regular participant in Bender JCC’s senior adult programs.

A Bethesda resident, Lee used to take public transportation to the Bender JCC. Now that it’s harder for her to get around due to her vision impairment, she appreciates the specialized “door-through-door” transportation service funded by Bender JCC that enables her to attend activities here twice a week.

Lee enjoys all aspects of the Bender JCC’s senior adult program, from chair exercise to a delicious hot kosher lunch to entertainment by talented performers. She’s also thinking about taking a ceramics class here. For Lee, it’s really about getting out of the house and meeting new people.

This story is one of many examples of how your support enriches lives.

Generations of Inclusion at the J

Zac Tolin Shooting Hoops

Zac Tolin claims that he has shot more baskets in the Bender JCC’s gym than anyone else.

“Let’s see…100 baskets a day x five days a week x 52 weeks a year x 44 years = 1,144,000 baskets.”

Zac is part of a four generation family that calls the Center a second home. From his grandfather participating in Bender JCC programs when he lived at the Hebrew Home to his parents standing at the grand opening ceremony in 1969 to meeting his wife while working out in the fitness center in 1993, and now his kids regularly taking part in classes, Camp JCC, swimming and much more.

Zac’s story is one of many examples of how your support enables us to be a place of celebrations, connections, education, friendships and healthy bodies…for life.

Mom's Group

Mom’s Group

For Ali Levingston, becoming a parent for the first time was an exhilarating experience. It was also overwhelming, which is why it is often helpful to have other new parents with whom to celebrate and – occasionally – commiserate. The Bender JCC’s Bender-Dosik Parenting Center is proud to serve as a catalyst for so many young families in our community to form lifelong connections, offering experiences to grow as Jewish parents. Ali found her community here three years ago when she formed close and lasting friendships with several other moms.

“I am grateful to the Bender JCC for bringing us all together. When we were first-time moms, it was so important to have other mothers to share experiences with and offer support, advice and humor.”

This story is one of many examples of how your support enables us to be a place of celebrations, connections, education, friendships and healthy bodies….for life.

A Special Place for the Most Special People

Chiara Jaffe & son, Jake

“My 8-year-old son, Jake, has Down syndrome and requires additional support to address his special needs. Jake has limited opportunities for interactions with typical peers during the school day.

That all changes after school when Jake attends Kids After School (KAS) at the Bender JCC. Here, Jake is fully included in all activities thanks to his amazing counselors, and the wonderful director of special needs and inclusion who keeps on top of anything going on in his life that may impact his after-school experience. All of the counselors, not only Jake’s assigned ones, go out of their way to get to know Jake and to promote interactions between him and his typical peers.

When I pick Jake up from the Bender JCC in the evenings, he has a huge smile on his face. As we say goodbye and I help him into the car, I say to myself, ‘I love this place.’” ─Chiara Jaffe