Joan Sacarob remembers her first day of school in Brandywine, in southern Prince George’s County.
“My first day of school, I was called a dirty Jew.”
The 6-year-old went home in tears. “Don’t you cry,” she remembers her mother saying. “You go back to school tomorrow and you tell them that they’re absolutely right. You are a Jew, and you’re cleaner than them, and you’re smarter than them.”
Sacarob, now 81, has devoted her life to Jewish community, playing integral roles in Northern Virginia’s Jewish institutions for the past 60 years. She isn’t out of causes yet.
“I want to live to see [Northern Virginia] get a Hebrew Home,” Sacarob says, referring to a Jewish retirement facility. She and her husband, Donald, briefly considered moving from Northern Virginia to Maryland to live in a Jewish retirement community, but found the excessive driving made being active in Northern Virginia unfeasible.
They eventually settled on a retirement facility in Springfield, but it doesn’t have a kosher kitchen like one run by the Jewish community would.
Jeff Dannick, executive director of the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, characterizes Sacarob as “a force.”
For several years, he and Sacarob, a founding member of the center, have discussed the idea of a place for Jewish seniors to live out their final years, one that caters to Jews. He called it a sign of a “mature, thriving Jewish community,” he says.
“I’m still optimistic that long before Joan and Don are no longer with us, we’ll find a way” to build it in Northern Virginia, he says.
Sacarob speaks about the center with profound admiration and credits it as being a magnet that pulls Northern Virginia’s Jewish community together. But her history with Jewish institutions extends beyond the JCC.
When Rabbi Sholom Deitsch came to Fairfax in 1991 to become director of Chabad Lubavitch of Northern Virginia, most community members he spoke to recommended he reach out to the Sacarobs.
The Sacarobs are “one of those [couples] that if you want to do something, they’re ready to step up and be supportive,” Deitsch says. Their four decades invested in the community is a “demonstration of where their heart and soul are.”
Joan Sacarob eagerly stepped up in 2004 when the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington hired Debbie Linick to be its director of Virginia government relations. Linick says Sacarob was ready to make introductions and provide advice.
“She has a keen understanding of government advocacy, but government advocacy with a heart,” Linick says. Sacarob understands “that a relationship with elected officials is not just a one-time event. She would visit them or invite them to her house. That’s the kind of person she is.”
Sacarob served as a JCRC board member and was on its executive committee for 20 years. The JCRC honored the Sacarobs with a distinguished service award in 2006.
“She is one of those rare volunteer leaders who calls and asks what needs to be done, and doesn’t wait to be approached,” says Ron Halber, JCRC executive director.
In 2006, Virginia’s House of Delegates recognized the Sacarobs with a resolution commending their leadership in the community.
Joan Sacarob was also one of the first people Rabbi David Kalender met in Northern Virginia when he arrived 19 years ago at Congregation Olam Tikvah in Fairfax. The Sacarobs are members there, and Kalender said Joan Sacarob’s presence can be felt every Shabbat morning.
She is “not just there for [her] own sake, but [she also makes] a point of talking about how somebody else has grown Jewishly,” he says.
At every event where Kalender spots Sacarob — which is most — she “doesn’t just show up. She shows up with a smile.”