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Jew of the Week | Rabbi Deena Silverstone builds a modern Jewish community in NYC

Updated: Oct 11, 2022

Rabbi Deena Silverstone fosters Jewish community at Jewish Community Project of Lower Manhattan and has opened the door to the 20s and 30s crowd.

JCP, located in Tribeca, started in 2001 to cater to young families that were moving into the area. It’s a modern approach to a Jewish organization — it isn’t a synagogue with a sanctuary, but it offers the same functions as one, like a preschool, Hebrew school, life cycle events, holiday services, and celebrations.

“We continue to evolve to make sure that the Jewish community in this neighborhood has a home … to have a Jewish community that makes this very big city feel a little smaller and a little less anonymous,” Silverstone said.

Another unique aspect — it’s non-denominational, which Silverstone said offers a rich community where everyone learns from each other.

“The idea was that it wasn’t going to necessarily fit into a box of identity,” Silverstone said. “The founders of the community really just wanted everyone to be able to access Jewish community, whatever that meant to them.”

Expanding the JCP community

When Silverstone joined JCP about seven years ago as a Hebrew school teacher, she realized JCP was missing a demographic. She thought it was a warm and welcoming Jewish community, but it mostly served young families. There was nothing there for someone in 20s or 30s, and she wanted to bring them in.

“People without kids still want community and still want Jewish identity and still want to celebrate holidays and still want to meet new people,” she said.

She talked to leadership, and they tasked her with starting the 20s and 30s community, which she launched as Downtown Jews in 2018.

Downtown Jews host events all year, including an Erev Rosh Hashana service (that I am participating in with my game!) and dinner on September 25, 2022. JCP is also hosting all High Holiday serives. Learn more here.

Path to becoming a Rabbi

Silverstone was always been interested in religion, rituals, and holidays. As a kid, she didn’t realize she could be a rabbi because she had mostly seen men in that role. Then in college, she met women going to rabbinical school.

“That was really inspiring to me,” she said.

It all clicked for her when the head rabbi at Hillel, who was a woman, told her she could be a rabbi. She also solidified her calling when she joined a graduate student’s cognitive research study to find out when religious ideas start appearing in children.

“I just loved when I got to interact with families who would come in,” she said. “That’s when I said, maybe instead of studying religion, I’ll be in it.”

Now, as a Rabbi, she can incorporate her cognitive behavior background. When Jews question things, she can empathize with them, leaving room for exploration and explaining why being religious can add value to your life.

“There are lots of reasons to feel excited about Judaism even if that excitement looks different than it used to,” Silverstone said.

See the video interview here:

Mazel tov to Rabbi Deena Silverstone! Stay up to date with JCP here and on Instagram. I'll keep you posted on more events I'm partnering on with JCP! Look out for a Hanukkah comedy show Dec. 3 and a community seder in 2023.

The JOW is revealed every week (or so...) on social media and in a newsletter. See the archives and subscribe here!

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