In 1984, after the Shabbat service on her daughter, Susan’s, wedding weekend, Joan Sacarob led a march by 150 Torah-carrying guests to the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C. There, they called for freedom of Soviet Jews to emigrate.
The gates to emigration began to open before the end of the decade and Sacarob, a Springfield resident, continued her efforts to improve Jewish life, especially in her adopted Northern Virginia.
Sacarob died on June 18, less than a month after her 87th birthday. Her husband, Don Sacarob, died in September 2022.
Sacarob belonged to two synagogues, Congregation Olam Tikvah and Arlington-Fairfax Jewish Congregation, now called Congregation Etz Hayim. She was a life member of Hadassah and a founder of the Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia.
She was “a force of nature,” said Jeff Dannick, executive director of the Pozez JCC.
Joan and Don Sacarob moved from Annapolis, where they met, to Northern Virginia in 1958. There, Joan Sacarob developed an enviable network of contacts in the growing region, especially in the Jewish community.
Sacarob was “wired with every political leader in the area,” said Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. She helped build the JCRC’s network in Northern Virginia. “She was always willing to make that phone call,” Halber said.
Sacarob served as treasurer of the JCRC and was first chair of its legislative breakfast. Sacarob was a member of the board and served on the executive committee for 20 years. The JCRC honored the Sacarobs with a distinguished service award in 2006.
Rabbi David Kalender of Congregation Olam Tikvah in Fairfax has known Sacarob for 20 years. “She wanted to be of service,” he said.
Was there a birthday party that needed to be planned for a fellow member? Sacarob took the lead. Was there a fundraising campaign that needed to happen? Sacarob galvanized people into donating.
“Part of it was always being willing to stand up in front and say, ‘Come along with me,’” Kalender said.
Jennifer Scher met Sacarob while Scher was The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s Northern Virginia regional director.
Sacarob, as Scher recalled, was active with the women’s Zionist organization Hadassah, JCRC and with the resettlement of Soviet Jews. In addition to her lay volunteer work, Sacarob also made her mark as a professional event planner. She organized the big days for “an entire generation of Northern Virginia Jewish kids,” Scher said.
It became a recurring conversation: “Are you using Joan? You must use Joan.”
“I think that she believed that is what you do,” said Scher. “There was no difference in a local Jewish family member or an Israeli family member or a Russian family member. We’re all part of Jewish life.”
Washingtonian Magazine named her the top Jewish wedding planner two years in a row.
Joan Walder was born on May 29, 1936, in Annapolis, to the late Jerry and Irene Walder. She attended the University of Maryland, majoring in education.
In a 2017 Washington Jewish Week profile, Sacarob recounted her first day of school as a 6-year-old. Someone called her a “dirty Jew” and she went home crying.
Her mother told her: “Don’t you cry. 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.”
In the 2017 profile, Sacarob, then 81, was promoting a new project for Jewish Northern Virginia: a retirement community for Jews.
“I want to live to see [Northern Virginia] get a Hebrew Home,” she said.
Sacarob and Dannick, the Pozez JCC executive director, had been discussing the idea for several years. He called Jewish senior housing a sign of a “mature, thriving Jewish community,” and added, “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.
On Monday, Dannick said that while Sacarob’s goal remains unfulfilled, she was able to move it forward by getting Jewish activities started at Greenspring Senior Living Community in Springfield, with more than 150 Jewish residents.
“If she saw a need, she would make things happen,” Dannick said.
Another senior living community about 10 minutes from the Pozez JCC is scheduled to open this year. “It has already attracted a significant number of [JCC] members and additional Jewish residents,” he said.
“Joan didn’t get discouraged,” Dannick said. “She got more determined.”
Survivors include her children, Harvy Sacarob (Melinda), of Honaunau, Hawaii, and Susan Merin (Lon), of Goshen, N.Y.; grandchildren, Maile Woodhall (Geoffrey), Julie Klein (Sam) and Sydney Silvermintz (Daniel); great-grandchildren, Alana Woodhall and Maya Silvermintz. She was sister to Dicky Walder of Mechanicsville, Md.
Contributions may be made to the Joan and Don Sacarob Endowment Fund of the Pozez JCC of Northern Virginia.