Late one night last month, my wife was sharing three things for which she was grateful  - a daily practice we'd begun together. I didn't respond - not entirely unusual; my distractedness is not something for which she is grateful.

I was distracted by an electrical short in an extension cord, shooting sparks onto the carpet. In a moment, we had a full-blown fire in our bedroom.


Three fire engines later, the fire was contained, no one was hurt and aside from the insurance deductible and the inconvenience of living at a hotel for the last month, we emerged unscathed. When we finally arrived at a motel in the wee hours of that first night, we picked up where we had left off: we were grateful that the fire was not worse, that we were awake when it happened, and that no one was hurt.


The fire was the latest in a string of "unfortunate incidents" that have filled a year of near misses. Among them - a bicycle accident in which I broke my hip, leading to surgery and a lengthy convalescence.


As I was recovering, I was struck by how grateful I was - that it was not worse, that I received excellent medical care, that I had good health insurance, that so many family and friends helped out. Though my life was arguably better the day before my accident, I had not been filled with gratitude then - far from it. Noting how each calamity during this year only increased my sense of gratitude, I wondered why it was that my gratefulness increased when things were "bad." Perhaps it was the near-miss quality of these events. Like the man in the story, "It Can Always Be Worse" - who complains that his house is too small until the rabbi advises him to bring a goat, a chicken and a cow into his house - these events highlighted how much worse it could have been and helped me to appreciate what we have, and what had not been lost. My kavanah (intention) became - to feel gratitude EVEN WHEN THINGS ARE GOING WELL.


Gratitude is a core Jewish value. Our very name (Jew) is derived from the Hebrew word for thanks - we, the Jewish people, are the people of gratitude. But what does this mean?


"Who is wealthy?" asks Pirke Avot. "HaSameach b'chelko - One who is happy with their portion." But is that it? Is contentment with our lot the key to happiness?


In his story Bontsha the Silent, the Yiddish writer I.L. Peretz lampoons the extreme humility of diaspora Jewry embodied by the title character whose deepest desire is for nothing more than a hot roll with butter each morning. Observing our gratitude in the face of a series of calamities, some of my friends questioned its authenticity. "It's ok to feel anger about all this," they counseled. Which led me to wonder - can gratitude be a form of denial? Or surrender, accepting what should not be accepted?


Historically, the Jews have not been known for being happy with our portion. From Jacob, wrestling with angels to so many modern Jews in the vanguard of so many social justice and revolutionary movements - acceptance of the status quo is not the dominant image of the Jewish people. We are, as Moses continually reminds us over 40 years of wandering, a troublesome and cranky people.


Robert Emmons, a UC Davis professor who has devoted his career to the subject, defines gratitude as the acknowledgement of having received a gift, recognition of the goodness of the gift and of the fact that the source of the gift is from outside of ourselves. In other words, not a blind acceptance or settling for what is, but the ability to take note of goodness and to understand that it is not an entitlement.

This is consistent with the Jewish definition of gratitude -hakarat hatov (recognizing the good). In the last century, Abraham Joshua Heschel elevated this notion to a sense of wonder or, as he called it, radical amazement. "...to get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted...To be spiritual," Heschel asserted, "is to be amazed." Gratitude is about being present in order to appreciate the gifts we receive.


In this sense, gratitude becomes not simply the attitude of gratefulness, but a cognitive process - a way of perceiving the world. There is a midrash, a story of two men among the children of Israel crossing the Red Sea. They are amidst the entire nation - hundreds of thousands of people - crossing from Egypt to Sinai. In this sea of humanity, they could not see Moses, they could not see the parting of the waters. Their heads down, they only notice that they are traipsing through mud. "We had mud in Egypt, and here we have more mud. What's the difference?" they kvetch. Surrounded by a miracle, they only see mud. "Wonder," Heschel suggests, "is a state of mind in which...nothing is taken for granted."


Who is wealthy? Asks Pirke Avot. Perhaps a richer translation of HaSameach b'chelko would be - one who rejoices in their blessings. If we learn this lesson well, we will indeed be "the people of gratitude."


With warm wishes for a happy and healthy season of gratitude,

David Waksberg     

CEO, Jewish LearningWorks 

  • Holiday Resources   
    Take control of your Hannukah celebration when you visit our growing 
    DIY (Do It Yourself) section for craft ideas, rituals and prayers, recipes and more. 
    "Thanksgivukkah is an invitation to celebrate the places where Jewishness enriches America, and where America enriches the Jewish peopleRead up on Thanksgivukkah in this interesting article from e-jewishphilanthropy.


    InterfaithFamily.org offers a great downloadable booklet which explains the holiday, the blessings and much more. 
    We use Pinterest to keep track of our favorite recipes, activities, holiday goodies and projects for kids.  Check them out for some holiday inspiration!
    Jewish Gateways has created a treasure trove of fantastic Thanksgivukkah resources from madlibs to bingo.
    Our friends at Hazon showcase activities, rituals and tips on making the holiday sustainable,
    E-cards, table décor, craft projects, games and more, no, it's not local, but  has everything you need to celebrate Thanksgivukkah in style! 
    Especially for educators, these Classical Hannukah Texts from the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education are sure to spark some inspiration.  
    Do you have resources to share for Hannukah or another holiday?  Send them to astern@Jewishlearningworks.org 
    for inclusion in our DIY Toolkits!
     Jewish Community Library
    Hanukkah comes early this year, so get your books ready! 
    Find dozens of great children's books to enhance your celebration at the Jewish Community Library.
    Some of our favorites include:
    Celebrating the Jewish Year: The Winter Holidays, by Paul Steinberg 

    In the Light of the Menorah: Story of a Symbol, edited by Yael Israeli 

     Celebrate Hanukkah,
    by Deborah Heiligman

    Menorah Under the Sea, by Esther Susan Heller
    A Horse for Hanukkah
    by Myriam Halberstam 
    Latkes, Latkes Good to Eat, by Naomi Howland
    The Count's Hanukkah Countdown, by Tilda Balsley and Ellen Fischer
    Nathan Blows out the Hanukkah Candles, by Tami-Lehman-Wilzig
        For more books and for fall and winter events, visit the 
    Like the Jewish Community Library on Facebook for articles and updates. 


     Named Among Best Jewish Inclusion Programs 
    In North America:  

    Slingshot Guide Highlights the Best of the Thriving Jewish Nonprofit World  


    INCLUDE North Peninsula, a partnership led by Jewish LearningWorks and the SF-based Jewish Community Federation & Endowment Fund,
    has been named one of 18 leading Jewish initiatives committed to fostering inclusion of people with disabilities in a new supplement to the Slingshot Guide.  Read the Full Story or read the press in  J. the Jewish News Weekly
    Congratulations to all of our community partners

    Check out Include's event calendar for opportunities in your area.


    Positive Parenting:   


    Feel better about the relationship you have with your teen. 

    Join parents of Jewish children in middle and high school for an

     interactive, idea-packed, supportive parenting group.

    Walk away with tools to connect more easily with your teen.


    Wednesday November 20, 12:45-3:00pm

    Thursday December 5, 9:15-11:30am

    Wednesday December 11, 12:45-3:00pm


    Jewish LearningWorks

    601 - 14th Ave, SF 


    About our Educators: Nina Kaufman and Elana Reinin are parents and CTI certified coaches with over 15 years of experience. Bringing compassion, expertise and creativity to parents' lives, they teach, listen, invite sharing, and encourage practicing new skills. 


    Contact Elana and Nina for more information or to RSVP at 



    Kesher logo
    Check out everything Jewish for families on the Peninsula when you visit Kesher's events page and like us on Facebook.

    Kesher is here to help you add Jewishness to your life in ways that work for you - in your home, with friends, within the community. 
    Our service is free and open to all families on the Peninsula.

    Email Kesher@Jewishlearningworks to get connected! 

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    When you have upcoming events or new, interesting resources, we heartily encourage you to post them to our Facebook Page.

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    Follow our Pinterest page where we have boards dedicated to DIY, holidays, cooking, videos and much more!


    November 2013 /  Kislev 5774



    Rooted in Jewish Mystical Teachings

    6-Week Series
    Mondays Oct7 - Nov 11
    7:00pm - 8:30pm
    This 6-week series spans the High Holy days, encouraging students to connect to this time of transformation and reflection through physical movement.  This gentle Iyengar-based yoga and movement practice is appropriate for all adults. No previous experience with Yoga or Judaism  required.
    8-session series Wednesdays     
    Oct 2- Nov 20

    Experience the groundedness of a gentle Iyengar-based yoga series. Each week we will focus on a unique theme to enhance our asana practice as we learn Jewish mystical teachings about connecting all levels of being - mind, body, heart, and spirit. 

    Presented in conjunction with the Lehrhaus 360 Conference, Broken Glass, Shattered Communities: The 75th Anniversary of Kristallnacht. Join us as we watch the film followed by a conversation with filmmaker Steven Pressman and Paul Shapiro, director of the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
    The conference features workshops on the causes and consequences of Kirstallnacht. Panelists and participants include John Efron and Andrea Sin (UC Berkeley), Edward Dickinson and David Biale (UC Davis), Elliot Neaman (University of San Francisco), lawyer Howard Simon, historian Fred Rosenbaum, and survivors of Kristallnacht.


    Tanuro Shel Akhnai - The "Snake" Oven
    From Prophecy to Plurality  
    with Carol Booth
    Tuesday November 12
    Join us as we wrestle with this famous Talmudic passage.  Even if you have studied it before, you may be surprised to read "the rest of the story." Ultimately, the focus of Tanuro shel Akhnai.


    A presentation by Lucienne Allen
    Jewish Community Library, SF
    In conjunction with the Library's exhibition,  A Shared Eye: Photographs by father and daughter Ernest and Lucienne Bloch, Lucienne Allen will share her impressions and understanding of the photographs of her great-grandfather, Ernest Bloch, and her grandmother and namesake, Lucienne Bloch.
    A presentation by 
    Rabbi Sheldon Lewis
    Wednesday November 20
    7:00pm - 8:30pm
    Torah of Reconciliation seeks to illuminate this primary value through diverse scriptural and texts. Following the annual cycle of Torah readings, thematic verses are interpreted and expanded. revealing the resources available in Judaism for the crucial task of peacemaking in the modern world.


     INCLUDE Family Time: 

    Sunday December 01   
    10:00AM - 12:00PM

    INCLUDE is partnering with the PJCC to present a sensory-friendly Hanukkah event! This year, the PJCC is holding a Hanukkah-themed Family Gym day, with activities such as Hanukkah Hokey-Pokey and decorating the gym. INCLUDE will be providing a sensory-friendly parallel Family Gym program in collaboration with MyGym, with Hanukkah-themed sports activities specially designed for all types of learners. 



    Free Spirit
    A presentation with Joshua Safran

     Thursday December 5 

    7:00PM - 8:30PM 
    Free Spirit, the compelling and often disturbing story of his unique upbringing, while representing a survivor of domestic violence, Deborah Peagler, who was serving time in a maximum security prison for women. Free Spirit has been praised by Publishers Weekly as "a beautiful, powerful memoir...introspective, hilarious, and heartbreaking."

    Genealogy Clinic

    Sunday December 8
    12:00PM - 2:00PM
    Whether you're trying to find your great-grandmother's elusive town or your grandfather's passenger manifest, take advantage of the Library's extensive reference collection and Internet connection to countless searchable databases - all with one on-one guidance from experienced  genealogists.


    Assessing Synagogue Inclusivity:
    Best Practices & Ways to Improve

    Sunday December 8  
    2:00PM - 4:30PM

    The series is designed for all synagogue leaders, including congregational rabbis, educators, teachers, board members, staff, and lay people. The first of four sessions for  Navigating Difference, Embracing Inclusion:Opening Your Synagogue Door Even Wider. Over the course of four Sunday afternoon workshops offered at various locations throughout the Bay Area, participants will delve into the sometimes complicated issues that arise around inclusion, assess their own institutions' inclusivity and discover new ways of building inclusion for all into their worship, education, and community programming.



    A presentation with Ruth H. Sohn 
    Thursday December 12
    7:00PM - 8:30PM
    Sohn takes us on a remarkable journey as she encounters the many faces of Cairo. In the epilogue, she returns to Cairo after the fall of Mubarak to find a newly exuberant and infectious patriotism and hope. 



    Sunday December 15
    Experience a fun, dynamic, creative approach to Jewish learning in community with other women on Sunday December 15. This workshop is one taste of Jewish LearningWorks' larger initiative, in partnership with the Peninsula Jewish Community Center, for Jewish Wellness and Embodied Jewish Learning - opening new doorways to connect with Jewish wisdom and practice. 
    Sunday December 15 
    11:00AM - 12:00PM

    Storytelling has always been a vital part of the Hebrew tradition, and children love stories! Children ages five and younger will enjoy singing, playing, and listening to stories that will awaken their imagination and a love for books. Grown-ups are welcome to join in and share the fun.

    Sunday December 15  
    2:00PM - 3:30PM

    Jim Van Buskirk facilitates a lively discussion at the Jewish Community Library. This season's titles relate to themes in Dara Horn's A Guide for the Perplexed, this year's One Bay One Book selection. Pick up your copy of the book at the Library or have it sent to a Pushcart branch at the Palo Alto or San Francisco JCC.


    For more details, visit our 

    Event Calendar and 

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    With a donation to Jewish LearningWorks 
    in their name!
    boy in kippah raising hand 
    Your donation of $36
    provides a book and the creation of a discussion guide for our Jewish Community Library's Book Club in a Box program.


    Your donation of $50 
    teaches an educator how to ignite a passion for Israel in two preschoolers.


    Your donation of $100 
    provides one hour of training for a Shalom Explorer parent leader. Our "scouting" program helps families seeking a weekend alternative to traditional Sunday school.


    Your donation of $180 
    provides scholarship assistance for one child to attend special needs family camp.
    Your donation of $500 
    brings an innovative Jewish talk to parents while their children are in religious school.


    Jewish learning is fundamental to Jewish life and community.  Celebrate Hannukah with a donation to Jewish LearningWorks and help us reach students of all ages and learning styles and the educators who teach them. 


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