Thursday, April 21, 2005

A Passover Message

The Founding of Panim Hadashot-New Faces of Judaism
First Installment.

I was a reluctant pulpit rabbi. Yet I had served congregations for twenty two years before I founded Panim Hadashot in Seattle in the Summer of 2004. The creation of Panim Hadashot grew out of my experiences as a rabbi serving Jews in congregations. But my willingness to take the risk of starting a different and unprecedented model for Jewish life emerged from two decades of devoted to making congregations more intentional as communities.

During rabbinical school I wanted to be a Hillel rabbi. I had benefited from the tutelage of some of the best Hillel rabbis who served at Berkeley, Harvard, and in Los Angeles during the 70s. These were scholar rabbis who shared their learning and passion so freely with students and who opened the door for me to a rabbinic life. In contrast I found the pulpit rabbis I met or studied with to be more conflicted and dissatisfied by their work. I remember my parent’s account of an encounter they had with my own congregational rabbi of my youth. He was at a reception with my parents. He pointed to a congregant at the other side of the room. He said to them, “I wish I had 10 congregants like him.” My parents, knowing that the congregant had a very difficult reputation, asked him why he would say such a thing. The rabbi replied, “The problem is I have a fifty like him.”

At the seminary in the 70s students encountered a confusing ambivalence about service in the pulpit. The message was that congregations were not serious Jewish contexts, yet the expectation was that all of us would ultimately end up serving as rabbis in them. The pulpit rabbi’s who taught us homiletics and practical rabbinics also left us with a troubling picture of congregational life in which the rabbi morphed into a ritual functionary or communal manager, while fighting to preserve his spiritual integrity as a teacher and mentor.

The difficulty of the pulpit as I discovered later was echoed even by the best congregants. I recall one encounter with a respected and learned congregant several years ago who was discussing with me a knotty issue at the synagogue. At the end of the conversation he looked at me sympathetically and with a tone of sweet condescension said, “You know Rabbi, I told my kids never to become a rabbi. Being a rabbi of a congregation is not a nice job for a Jewish boy.”
But I found myself in a congregational setting in 1981 despite all these mixed messages, due to very limited opportunities in Hillel at the time and the desire to be close to my family in
Southern California.

I took an assistantship at a large congregation where I learned the ropes from a senior colleague and from a superb professional staff that served as mentors in the rough and tumble of congregational life. From these very special people I gained an appreciation of the rewards and challenges of serving a community. They also encouraged my idealism and my reforming spirit which already was a clear part of my rabbinate. After two years as an assistant I left to find a congregation where I could implement my vision of congregational life.

For the next two decades I served in two congregations, four years in Venice, California
and sixteen years in Seattle, Washington. I chose to serve in both congregations because I saw in them the possibilities of shaping a different congregational model. To both congregations I came with a vision and much of what I sought to sow, blossomed in many ways.

In the next installment I will describe my vision of congregational life and what I learned from my congregational service.

Rosh Pinah-Cornerstone: Public Journal of Rabbi Gartenberg
Rosh Pinah: Public Journal of Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Rosh Pinah: The Cornerstone
Public Journal of Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
February 6, 2005 27 Shevat 5765

Dear Readers:

I send out two different types of public writing. One is the weekly Panim Hadashot-New Faces of Judaism Chronicle. These is a weekly chronicle of happenings and developments in Panim Hadashot as it grows and becomes a reality. The Panim Hadashot Chronicles will be posted on the Panim Hadashot web site, There is a place on the website to join the mailing list for the Panim Hadashot which will enable you to receive the Chronicle.

I am establishing a second public writing which has a more general objective of sharing with my readers of experiences, observations and insights about life and the world we live in. I have called this Rosh Pinah-the cornerstone. This writing is a cornerstone for me, a way to anchor life experience. I hope you will enjoy these writings and commentaries. I will send out Rosh Pinah irregularly, but hopefully frequently. I will post them at my blog,, which is meant to be a vehicle for to share ideas and insights of a 23 year career in the rabbinate and a 51 year journey on the earth. May God give me strength to share my unique experiences and insights with you.

I will send out the Rosh Pinah to the Panim Hadashot mailing list. People who just want to get the Rosh Pinah without being on the Panim Hadashot mailing list should send me a note to

Below is the first Cornerstone.

At the Hartman Institute, where I spent my time while in Israel, we study intensively all week long. During the day we study and analyze Jewish texts tied to the themes of our seminar. In the evenings we were treated to programs focusing on contemporary Israeli culture and politics. It is during these evening sessions that we have an opportunity to get a sense of what is going on.

There were three outstanding presentations. We had an opportunity to hear Bambi Sheleg, the editor of an influential journal called Eretz Aheret (Other Land). Eretz Aheret has become one of Israel’s most respected intellectual journals for its courage in facing cultural and political issues and to reach across ideological lines to find the a broad centrist audience. The journal has one English edition a year. From my sources this is the journal to read if you really want to know what is going on in Israeli culture and politics. I especially encourage our friends who are Hebrew readers to subscribe. Touch this link: Eretz Aheret.

We had the opportunity to hear Stuart Schoffman, the American-Israeli journalist and movie critic who showed us a new film called Ushpizin (succot guests). (Schoffman will be here in
Seattle on Monday and Tuesday with the ADL. Check out this link. The film is a first in Israel, created by an Israeli Baal Teshuvah (a secular Jew who became religious) about the Haredi (ultraorthodox) world involving Haredi actors. The film is a wonderful story about a Haredi couple is childless and poverty stricken. A couple of escaped criminals who knew the husband in his past life come to find shelter in the couple’s Succah, leading to a fascinating culture clash. The story is a powerful treatment of Teshuvah (repentance) and the nature of miracles. Schoffman’s analysis afterwards pointed out how the Israeli cinema is maturing beyond its narrow cultural origins as a secular leftist enclave into a serious and multifaceted cultural mirror of Israeli society. I imagine the film will be coming to a festival either this year or next year, but you should not miss it.

The most powerful presentation came from David Landau, editor of Haaretz, who came to speak to us about his view of the ‘matzav’ the situation. His presentation was honest, far reaching, and perceptive. He was off the record, so I won’t quote him, but I would like to summarize some of the main points of his presentation.

Landau opened by a reflecting on the amazing political career of Ariel Sharon, who is now become a hero among the sector of Israel society that despised him and a traitor to the settlers who he championed for so many years.

Sharon’s dogged pursuit of evacuation of the Gaza and Samaria settlements has sent shockwaves in the Israeli political world. Landau called it a reverse cataclysm- a process in which the settler movement was facing full repudiation and political defeat in the face of the most determined foe ever.

Landau focused on the impact of the messianism which emerged among religious Zionists after the 6 day war and how it morphed into a settler movement which has had enormous political influence in Israel. This movement achieved two great accomplishments. It successfully persuaded governments over decades to plant settlements to foreclose the option of a viable contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank. It also established itself as the dominant and self confident ideology over Israel in the last quarter century. Rabin, who stood up to the settlers, lost his life to a fanatic supporter of their cause. No other prime minister has stood up to the settlers until Sharon had his change of heart.

Landau argued that the messianism of the settler movement has had a devastating impact on Israel politics and that their tenaciousness over time has made it necessary for a political leader to stand up to them and to remove their grip on Israeli politics. While there is room for empathy for the pain of the settlers being forced to abandon their idealistic project, Landau warned that people should not be sentimental. He saw that the struggle of the Gaza
evacuation had to be a zero sum game. The settlers must be defeated politically.

The settlers have made common cause with the Christian fundamentalists in the United States
to place pressure via the US government and on Israel directly to relent from the Gaza evacuation. Landau objected to the effort in some quarters in Americato put Israel in the forefront of the clash of civilizations between the West and the Islamic world.

Israel needs to find a way to live in with its neighbors and the Palestinians. He did not want to fulfill anyone’s messianic visions of a war between Gog and Magog. Because the settlers, according to Landau, have drawn a line in the sand and their rabbis now are calling on religious soldiers to disobey army commands Sharonhas no alternative but to reject their efforts.

Landau sees in Sharon the rebirth of pragmatic Zionism and the long awaited repudiation of messianic Zionism of the settler movement. Others like Michael Oren have likened Sharon
to Ben Gurion, whose pragmatism in the early years led to the successful establishment of

Sharon’s pragmatism which includes a complete change of his political stripes will be necessary to save Israel from the messianic politics which has fueled a self-destructive occupation and a delusion of Israeli hegemony over the Palestinians. I was taken by Landau’s presentation and found that his views reflect my own.

My understanding of Jewish history has convinced me that Israel is in the midst of a historic struggle between the pragmatic center and the messianic right. While I was in Israel there was a large demonstration of the settlers (130000) in front of the Knesset. It was striking to see that almost the entire crowd were composed of religious nationalists with a negligible turnout of secular Israelis on the right.

There is no more significant secular right wing in Israel as it was once known. The rage expressed at the rally toward Sharon was chilling. The shrill posters around town were strikingly like the ones about Rabin before his assassination. Everyone I met was worried about bloodshed between Jew and Jew as Israel moves closer to the evacuation. I cannot tell if the anxiety is well founded, but the political earthquake is palpable. Back in SeattleI wonder if anyone realizes what a significant time it is in Israel right now. How will this play out? What will happen in the American Jewish community?

You see, going to Israel is never boring. I was telling my friends: I try to come every 6 months, just when a new government forming. My next trip to Israel is July 2005. I wonder what I will find?

Shalom, Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

We have a new website

Panim Hadashot has a new website. If you're here, you probably know that already. Feel free to give us feedback at info/at/panimhadashot/dot/com. While most of our site is new, there will still be some hiccups for awhile as we slowly transfer over all the functionality. So please be patient and thank you for visiting.