Our JCPodcast for Thanksgiving!

Welcome to the second episode of the JCPodcast! Every few weeks, in lieu of a written D’var Torah, Rabbi Deena and Rabbi Jacob will share a brief discussion about an interesting and relevant Jewish topic. This week, in honor of Thanksgiving, we’re talking about Jewish practices that help us cultivate and express our gratitude. Listen to the podcast here and check out the animated version on our Youtube channel!

If you’re looking to give back during this season of gratitude, we hope you will join us to volunteer. Check out our community service opportunities here! 

We hope that you and your loved ones had a meaningful Thanksgiving. We’re so grateful for our JCP community. 

Shabbat shalom, 

Deena & Jacob

Tot Shabbat

Join Rabbi Deena and Musician-in-Residence Molly Rose for a joyful and musical Shabbat morning experience for families with children up to five years of age! Come together for song, dance, prayer, and stories, followed by grape juice and challah. This event is free of charge. 

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Finding Blessings in the Darkness

In this week’s Torah portion, we read about Jacob’s famous wrestling match with an angel. On the eve of the reunion with his estranged brother, Esau, Jacob can’t sleep. All night, he wrestles with a mysterious being, sustaining a hip injury. Finally, as the sun begins to rise, the mysterious stranger says: “Let me go.” “Not until you bless me,” Jacob replies. 

So many questions arise from this story: Who is the mysterious stranger who appears in the dark of night? What does it mean to ask for a blessing? And, as always, what can this story teach us about our lives today? 

Let’s start with the request for a blessing. We typically think of blessings as gifts in our lives, their timing and essence decided by God. A blessing often refers to something out of our control, not something we can ask for or even demand. Yet here Jacob is, in one of the most terrifying moments of his life, unable to sleep, yet able to demand a blessing. 

Furthermore, in response to Jacob’s demand, the angel gives him a new name: “You shall be called Yisrael, for you have struggled [yisra-] with God [El] and prevailed.”  And we, the Jewish people, get our name – Israel – from this very moment. 

In other words, to be a Jew does not mean that we must accept our circumstances, no matter how challenging. No, we are people who get to make our lives our own, even when it means struggling with the Divine – with the seemingly predestined. 

In a commentary on this story, Rabbi David Kimchi (France, 1160-1235), explains that this encounter with the mysterious stranger happened at night because “night is the time of fear.” Who among us hasn’t in their lives been afraid of the dark? Or who among us hasn’t lamented how early the winter sun sets bringing its swift fall of darkness? And who among us hasn’t been worried during a time of challenge and sadness? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you understand the fear that night can provoke. 

Our story reminds us that we don’t need to be afraid of the dark, or even if we are, that the mystical beings that appear to us in the dark don’t always need explaining. We don’t have to fully understand their essence to be changed by the experience. And the wrestling we do (emotional or spiritual) during times of darkness can lead to blessing. 

Friends, the past few weeks have been dark: literally with daylight savings, and metaphorically: in Israel and in Gaza. As we continue to pray for redemption for all the hostages, and as we refuse to lose hope for an abiding peace, we can take comfort in our Torah’s stories. The time of darkness is never the ending, always only a prelude. And as we turn toward the season of Hanukkah , of kindling lights in our homes, of reminding ourselves and others that miracles are possible- let us not be afraid to dwell in the dark. Perhaps we might even find, or seek, a blessing. 

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Sam

B’nai Mitzvah in Israel Info Session with Rabbi Galit Cohen-Kedem

Join us for an informational session about celebrating your child’s b’nai mitzvah in Israel. We will be joined by our Israel-based partner, Rabbi Galit Cohen-Kedem, of Congregation Kodesh v’Chol in Holon, Israel. Even if your child’s ceremony is far in the future, we encourage you to meet with Rabbi Galit in-person if you are considering holding a ceremony in Israel.

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Who Frees the Bound

Baruch Atah Adonai Elohienu Melech Ha’Olam, Matir Asurim

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Source of Life, who Frees the Bound 

This is one of the several morning blessings, often called Nisim B’chol Yom or “Daily Miracles,” recited by many Jews upon waking each day. These blessings have a special place in my heart. I always appreciate that Jewish tradition offers us the chance to reflect upon the things for which we are grateful, first thing in the morning. The list of blessings calls our attention to the very foundations of our lives: For the ability to distinguish between day and night, for freedom, for being made in God’s image, and for having strength when we are weary, just to name a few. 

Each year around Thanksgiving—a day when the American calendar and our Jewish tradition align so beautifully—I like to teach about these morning blessings as a way to reflect on all of the gifts of our lives. 

I always understood this blessing, Matir Asurim, a prayer about “freeing the bound” to be a metaphor. Perhaps, in this prayer, we give thanks for being freed from sleep and regaining consciousness each morning. Perhaps it is about gratitude for being freed, or working toward freedom, from emotional patterns and behaviors that keep us stuck. 

But sadly, since October 7, this prayer is literal: We fervently hope and pray for the release of all those who were taken captive during Hamas’ brutal attack. 

As I write this, there is talk of a deal to pause the fighting and release many of the hostages. Last week, I was at the home of a JCP community member who hosted family members of five Israeli hostages. Their bravery was nothing short of awe-inspiring as they told their stories of trauma, loss, and fear for the safety of their loved ones who are in captivity, whose ages range from 3 to 80 years old. The hope that their family members will be released from captivity to return home is what is keeping them going and motivating them to speak to anyone who will listen to their plea, including politicians, faith leaders, and journalists. As one said: “There will be no victory in this war without the safe return of hostages.” 

This year, while we reflect on the blessings in our lives, the gratitude and joy of our Thanksgiving tables is diminished as so many of our Israeli siblings are being held in captivity. 

May our prayers and demands for their return very soon be answered. 

Shabbat shalom, and Happy Thanksgiving, 


Friday Evening Shabbat Service

Join Rabbi Deena Silverstone and Musician-in-Residence Molly Rose Hoenig to celebrate Shabbat at 6:00 p.m, located at 146 Duane Street.