Saturday, July 23, 2005

"A Captain without a Ship, A Rabbi without a Shul"

Did I mention I'm betrayed?
I used to be the king
But now I am the fool
A captain without a ship
A rabbi without a shul!

From the Song, "Betrayed" from the musical The Producers

After serving congregations for over twenty years, I decided last year to be a rabbi without a shul. I left something very familiar and very comfortable. There is a certain prestige which comes with serving a congregation. You have one sixtieth (the rabbinic term for a small dimension) a being a king. You are ruler of the bimah, and decisor of halachah. To many you are indispensible as the officiant at the ritual milestones in their lives. Local journalists call you for quotes ; communal leaders request your invocations at gatherings. You get paid more than all the other employees at the synagogue. You have your name on the top of the marquis.
But in truth a rabbi at a shul can become a ceremonial king who is so distracted by the demands of serving a community with endless needs that he no longer remembers why he went into the rabbinate. I woke up in the midst of a congregational crisis to realize that to save my commitment to being a rabbi I had to leave the congregation. But more than leave, I had to find a different way to serve the Jewish people.

In the months after I announced my resignation from my former congregation I reviewed the lessons I had learned as a congregational rabbi. I thought about the reasons that people fall away from or never connect to congregations. I reflected on the constraints of a pulpit rabbi and the structure he works in. I wondered why there is so little Torah in contemporary congregational life.

What emerged from several months of Heshbon Nefesh (soulful reflection) and innumerable conversations with friends and colleagues was a new model which required rabbinic leadership, but was not a synagogue. From the perspective of a year later I will enumerate a number of central insights that led to the founding of Panim Hadashot-New Faces of Judaism. These insights have become more clear over the year as we attempted to implement them in the form of programs and learning.

1. Placing the Emphasis on Learning Over Prayer

The first insight was that the contemporary synagogue had lost the capacity to instill a love of learning. Most congregations define their success on the popularity of their communal worship. The measure of a good member was if he or she was a regular at services. The modern synagogue was organized around worship, yet the dirty little secret was that the great majority of the congregation did not attend and many of those who did attend did so for every other purpose other than to pray. After fifteen years of leading learner's minyans, teaching prayer to converts and congregants I realized that intentional prayer is one of the hardest aspects of tradition to inculcate in others.

What would it be like to build community around learning instead of prayer? Judaism is a tradition which is sustained by a seemingly limitless number of great texts, Torah, Midrash, Talmud, Kabbalah, philosophy. Why not help Jews to make a profound connection to their great texts, open their minds to the profound conversations over the ages. Why not model ongoing learning as an authentic mode of commitment and create an institution which supported people in their desire to learn and grow.

By putting the emphasis on learning, could you open up Jewish life to people with diverse backgrounds who would share the commonality of exploring a text filled with meaning. Wouldn't this be a way to help disconnected Jews to gain a respect for Judaism by showing the great depth and playful quality of our literature.

2. The feast around the table is the bubbling spring of Jewish life.

The most transforming Jewish experiences in my rabbinate were around a Shabbat table. Yet the demands of congregational life make it a secondary dimension of a rabbi's life. What would it mean to build an institution that focused on modeling and sharing Shabbat table feasts that truly inspired a love of Shabbat and Judasim. What would it mean to create Shabbat experience in home that helped people rediscover rest and joy in their overbusy lives? What would it mean to teach a Judaism of kugels, of songs, of salting hallahs, of storytelling, and holy conversation?

I realized that I wanted to build a rabbinate that helped Jews rediscover the home-centered beauty and holiness of Jewish life, giving people the spiritual tool box to bring Shabbat into their homes and among their friends and family. We forget how many Jews have lost touch with these traditions. We forget how Shabbat has vast potential to bring meaning and connection back into our lives.

3. Sharing Our Judaism in an Open Society

I believe that Judasim is a remarkable religious and moral teaching. I chose the rabbinate because I wanted to dedicate my life to teaching its message. But I cannot do this alone. I seek to empower Jews to live and share their Judasim along with me. The reality of synagogue life is that it is structured as a local community to serve its membership. Jews don't join a syangogue to serve the Jewish people. Many join the synagogue to be served.

What would it be like to create a model of Jewish life in which Jews would come together to serve and support other Jews and interested non-Jews in gaining a deeper understanding of its message and way of life. What is wrong with Jews being excited about being Jewish? What is wrong with Jews wanting to share the beauty of their Shabbat with others? We do not live in a ghetto anymore. We don't have to be afraid of the outside? We do not have to be ashamed of our tradition.

The implications of this approach brings us back to the first insight: the emphasis on learning. Jewish learning must help Jews be able to articulate the central teachings of Judaism to themselves and to others. We are no longer living in a time when most Jews grow up with in culturally and religiously rich Jewish home. Most of our Jewish upbringings are thin in practice with shaky, poorly defined values.

There is content to Judaism. It is more than food and feelings. The capacity of Jews to share a joyful and thoughtful Judaism is the key not only to our wellbeing as a community, but also our standing in an open and democratic society. I am trying to build an institution where the content of Judasim is taken seriously while we live out our Jewish lives joyfully.

Then why did I chose the name Panim Hadashot-New Faces as the name of this new model? I was inspired to use this talmudic term because it is associated with a very lovely but little observed tradition in the liberal (Reform, Conservative, Renewal) community. It is a longstanding Jewish custom to extend the joy of a wedding into the week with parties at which blessings were recited over bride and groom. In order to celebrate and bring joy to the couple we are required to bring in new faces-panim hadashot. This custom embodied for me a Jewish value of sharing joy. Judaism is not a religion which focuses on teaching an exclusive truth. It is, instead, concerned with creating relationships between people and God of meaning, commitment, and hope. We want to share our joy, with others in our community and beyond. Cultivating that joy and sharing it with others through learning and celebration is the focus of Panim Hadashot.

So I am a rabbi without a shul. But I am a rabbi who has rediscovered his purpose. Dayyeinu. Over the year many others have come to share the vision of Panim Hadashot. There are many other insights that are emerging from our efforts. I hope you will join us for one of our programs and support our efforts to bring new life to Judasim in the Pacific Northwest.

Shalom, Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Friday, July 22, 2005

Loving Letters of 'Teshuvah'

Jerusalem 15 Tammuz/7/22/05

A dear friend and colleague shared with me a lovely family tradition she does with her family prior to Yom Kippur. Each parent prepares a "Teshuvah" letter for each of the children. In their letters they review the milestones in the child's life during the past year and their perceptions of changes in the relationship over this period of time. They extend praises and and ask for forgiveness for wrongs. The letters provide the parents an opportunity to reflect on their relationships with their children, to validate growth and change, and to convey their deeply held values. The husband and wife write letters to each other as well. The letters are read at the meal prior to Kol Nidre (seudat hamafseket) which they begin in the mid afternoon to allow for time to discuss and reflect on the letters.

What a beautiful family custom and an authentic application of the practice of Teshuvah which marks the season of the Days of Awe. What a wonderful way to bless children and spouses before the entry into the holiest day of the year. This lovely custom reflects a very conscious awareness of Judaism as a religion of convental relationship. The word Brit-covenant-is an critical term in Judaism. God and Israel are connected through Brit. A marriage is called Brit Nisuim-the covenant of marriage. Brit Milah or Brit Bat are rituals in which we mark the 'covenanting' of a child, the act of a parent bringing a child into the covenant between God.

Brit, then, is a way of giving great weight to relationships and the claims they make on us. David Hartman, when talking about his theology of covenant, askes his listeners to understand Judaism as one understands the relationship of a parent to a child. The experience of child rearing places a claim on a parent. Whenever we enter a serious relationship, the very reality of that relationship makes us feel a claim on us toward the other person. In Judaism there is a profound awareness of the claims of relationships, between parents and children, between teacher and student, between husband and wife, between friend and friend, between God and a human being.

In the Talmud there is an expression, 'Gadol hametzuveh v0seh mhalo metzuveh v'oseh'. Greater is the person who is commanded (to perform mitzvot) and does them than the one who is not commanded and does them. This seems completely counterintuitive in our contemporary culture. We are reminded by bumper stickers to perform random acts of lovingkindness. We are told to do acts of charity from the heart. But in Jewish tradition relationships and acts arise out of claims, not just inner feelings. Here is one way to interpret the talmudic dictum. A person's relationships are more meaningful and enduring when there is a claim which is responded to with loving attention.

Teshuvah-repentance makes sense when we see relationships as covenantal-making claims on us. The act of teshuvah, or repairing a relationship with God or human beings is responding to a claim they have on our lives. We seek to repair breaches in our relationships because our most enduring relationships make a claim on us. We cannot ignore these ties; they call out to us to attend to them, to care for, to have empathy for the relationship partner. Judaism is a way of life which commits us to attending to the most important relational claims, family, community, and ultimately God.

The Teshuvah letters of my colleagues' family than is a deeply authentic Jewish practice, one that honors the claims of relationships by attending to them at an auspicious time. I encourage my readers to consider this custom for their own families and significant relationships as we enter the sacred season of the Days of Awe. In this way the act of Teshuvah becomes concrete and our most important relationships can deepen and be repaired.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Monday, July 18, 2005

Heroism at its Twilight

Heroism at its Twilight

As I right thousands of opponents to the disengagement are descending on the boundary of Gaza to confront 20,000 police and soldiers who will not let them enter the closed off Strip. This is just a few days after Hamas send Qassam rockets into Israel and a suicide bomber killed five in Netanya. The papers are filled page to page with coverage of the rising tension and everyone here is nervous about violence breaking out from one of several directions. As you can imagine it is hard to concentrate on anything else. But it should be emphasized that most Israelis support the disengagement and that most of Israel is engaged in a regular work day.

The opponents of the disengagement wear orange ribbons while the proponentss wear blue. A colleague suggested that orange connoted fire and blue connoted ice. Certainly the passion and zeal flows from the settlers and their supporters who seem to get more and more enraged by the day. It is hard to get passionate about disengagement. Its the right thing to do, but no one savors it, especially as everyone here expects chaos to reign in Gaza when Israel leaves. I am one of the icy ones, because I fear the fires ignited by the religious fervor of the settlers will scorch us all.

I am struck by how far Sharon is prepared to go to make the disengagement happen. He has closed Gaza. He has deployed thousands of troops to deter protesters. The authorities have declard the today's huge protest at the southern border to be illegal. People in buses headed to Gaza are being stopped by police in an effort to prevent them from reaching a march at which the organizers are expecting 100,000 people. It appears that Sharon will do almost anything to stop the settlers and their supporters from slowing down the evacuation. My view is that he is showing Abbas the type of political needed to suppress extremists. Abbas is weak. Sharon is not. The bulldozer will crush his opposition. How ironic that Sharon, the champion of the settlers is villified by them and will not back down before their fury. It is amazing to watch all this transpire before our eyes. No one knows how this will turn out. But the next few days appear to be pivotal.

Meanwhile I am in what I call the Hartman bubble. In the Hartman bubble we sail around Jewish history and thought without the distractions of events of the day. We are here to reflect and absorb and shlep our insights back to America. I would say that the spirit of Yochanan ben Zakkai hovers in this place. He was a rabbi who stepped out of Jewish history to continue Judaism in the beit midrash. He was a rabbi who lived during the revolt against Rome. He realized that history would not be kind to the Jews so he decided he had to bring together the rabbis, make accomodation with Rome, and perpetuate Judaism through his gatherings of the sages.

We are not in such dire straights, but Israel's historical current historical drama can become an obsessive concern. So we use the old rabbinic technique of returning to the texts to leave history for a while and see Judaism, Jews, and humanity with the longer view. I come to Israel in the summers to study at the wonderful institute for the month in a special program for rabbis from around North America. This summer the theme is religion, ethics, and violence. So instead of hanging out at demonstrations or making field trips to Gaza or the West Bank, we struggle with the issues as faced by previous generations. The past speaks then in the midst of this uncertain present.

Today David Hartman taught us one of the great texts in Jewish history: the Epistle on Matyrdom. Over 800 years ago Maimonides lost his temper when he read about a rabbi who gave bad advice to Jews who were forcibly converted to Islam. The rabbi urged them to matyr themselves instead of carrying on as Jews in secret. Maimonides rejected with fury the all or nothing approach of his colleague. He argues that the Jews should not matyr themselves, live outwardly as Muslims, but continue their secret devotion to Judaism until better times allows them to reemerge as Jews. Hartman calls Maimonides Epistle a treatment of the question of unheroic behavior. Is matyrdom the only choice?

I hear the echoes of these texts and the accounts of more recent times such as the Shoah. What is the heroic path for Jews today? In the heat of argument in Israel it is the settlers who see themselves as spurned heroes, defending the land, guardians of the outposts facing the enemy. But many in the country do not see them as heroes. There are many who once saw them as heroes but no longer feel this way. In the age of disengagement it is hard to point to heroes. This is the age of accomodation to harsh realities. It is not at all like Jews in Maimonides times who made decisions from a stance of profound vulnerability. Instead Israel has to weigh the limits of its power and the limits of its heroics. During this month as Israel attempts to leave Gaza, it will have to leave behind its illusions about what consitutes a Jewish hero. A new form of heroism will have to emerge.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
7/18/05, Jerusalem

Sunday, July 17, 2005

A Unique High Holiday Experience, Talaris Conference Center, Seattle, WA

A Unique High Holiday Experience, Talaris Conference Center, Seattle, WA

Panim Hadashot will offer a unique and innovative 2005 High Holiday Experience at the Talaris Conference Center open to the Jewish Community in October. We suggest a donation of $180 per person to become a Panim Hadashot Haver-Friend in support of our programming. Please note that you must rsvp for each event you wish to attend (i.e. Rosh Hashannah Seder, Encountering the Great Themes of Rosh Hashannah, Shaarei Tikvah, and Encountering the Great Themes of Yom Kippur).

The Panim Hadashot High Holiday Program is summarized below:
Entering the Holidays Around the Table: Rosh Hashannah Seder-Ritual Feast
Monday, Oct. 3, 2005 6 p.m. Talaris Conference Center Dining Hall.
Join us as we begin the days of Awe together with the unique feast of Rosh Hashannah called the ‘Seder Y'hi Ratzon’. As with all Jewish sacred feasts the rituals, the food, and the song of this seder move us into the distinctive mood mood of this period known in tradition as the Days of Awe. Come experience a beautiful and memorable gathering and an opportunity to participate in a distinctive and beautiful Jewish tradition that sets the tone for the new year. Dietary Laws observed.

Reservations for the Rosh Hashannah Seder are accepted by mail only with $40 per person payment. Please send check payable to Panim Hadashot to "RH Seder, Panim Hadashot, P.O. Box 15151, Seattle, WA 98115. Please note the number of people in your party.

Encountering the Great Themes of Rosh Hashannah: An Afternoon of Learning and Dialogue with Rabbi Dov Gartenberg and Dr. John Gottman
Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2005 12:30-4:15

Because of space constraints, email reservations are required for this free program. Please respond to In the subject line include "RH" and note the number of people in your party.

Starting with the blowing of the Shofar, we will gather for an afternoon of rich learning and public conversation on two great themes of Rosh Hashannah. Dr. John Gottman, the world-renowned scholar on marriage and family, will join Rabbi Gartenberg in a study of traditional texts on the theme of Teshuvah-repentance with the focus on Jewish and modern teachings on the repair of relationships. How do we seriously apply Teshuvah to our lives and to the most important people in our lives?

Following this stimulating conversation, we join for an interactive Torah reading of the Binding of Isaac from chapter 22 of Genesis. Rabbi Gartenberg will take us on a journey through some of the great commentaries that attempt to understand this most perplexing and disturbing text about a father and son and of God and His adherent.

The afternoon will conclude with Tashlich on the beautiful grounds of the Talaris conference center.
12:30 Shofar Blasts
12:45-2:30 The Mitzvah of Teshuvah: Repairing Relationships (Gottman and Gartenberg)
2:45-4:15 70 Faces of Torah: Interactive Encounter with Torah on Genesis 22-The Binding of Isaac.
4:15-4:30 Tashlich-Casting ceremony

Shaarei Tikvah-Gates of Hope: Rosh Hashannah Service for Persons with Special Needs and Their Families.
Tues. October 4th. 4:45-5:30pm Service; 5:30-6:15pm Tashlich and Refreshment.
Talaris Cedar Room.

Because of space constraints, email reservations are required for this free program. Please respond to In the subject line include "ST" and note the number of people in your party.

A community wide non-denominational service for persons with developmental disabilities or mental illness, their families, and supporters in the Jewish community cosponsored by the Jewish Family Service. The service will be lead by Rabbi Dov Gartenberg and Cantor Serkin-Poole of Temple B’nai Torah.

Encountering the Great Themes of Yom Kippur: An Afternoon of Learning and Dialogue with Rabbi Dov Gartenberg and Dr. John Gottman
Thursday, October 13th. 2:00-7:10pm. Talaris Cedar Room

Because of space constraints, email reservations are required for this free program. Please respond to In the subject line include "YK" and note the number of people in your party.

Opening with moving Yizkor-the Yom Kippur memorial service, Panim Hadashot presents an afternoon dedicated to exploring the great theme of Yom Kippur and of the High Holidays, Teshuvah-Repentance and Change. Rabbi Gartenberg will lead an encounter with the book of Jonah, traditionally read on Yom Kippur afternoon. Dr. John Gottman will follow with the second dialogue on the theme of Teshuvah. We will conclude with a simple closing service-Neilah-followed by the final blast of the shofar to end the fast day.

2:00-2:30 Yizkor-Memorial Service
2:45-4:30 70 Faces of Torah: Interactive Encounter with the chapter 4 in the Book of Jonah: God and Teshuvah. Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
4:45-6:30 The Mitzvah of Teshuvah: Repairing Relationships (Gottman and Gartenberg)
6:40-7:10 Neilah-Closing of the Gates and Shofar blast

Location: Talaris Conference Center
Nestled against a large wildlife pond, Talaris Conference Center is located on an 18-acre wooded oasis of lovely landscaped lawns, courtyards, and walking paths. It is located in the Laurelhurst neighborhood just blocks from the University of Washington and features a beautiful dining hall and the cedar room where the High Holiday programs will take place.

Sunday, July 10, 2005


Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
Jerusalem, 7/10/05

I translate Hebrew expression Marit Ayin to mean “attracting the evil eye”. Traditionally the term is used to refer to behavior of a religious Jew that is likely to be misinterpreted by an onlooker. The fear is that the onlooker may judge the Jew harshly for behavior that was not intended to be wrong. In contemporary Israel, the term is used to refer to anyone who uses Jewish religious symbols for a particular political cause that leads a cheapening of those religious symbols in the eyes of the public.

For instance, I heard this week a speaker criticize the settlers in Gaza who cover themselves in tallitot when presenting their case against the withdrawal and evacuation of Gaza. This was a Marit Ayin for many in the Israeli public who react in disgust to the settler’s perceived stridency and fanaticism. The fear is that more people will develop negative feelings for sacred Jewish objects and for the Judaism espoused by the settlers. Unfortunately, a very negative attitude toward religious Judaism is hardening among Israel’s majority of secular citizens.
In Israel this is how many beloved and core practices of Jewish life acquire ‘baggage’. We use ‘baggage’ to refer to complicated chapters of our past, troubled relationships to parents, siblings, relatives. Many people talk about baggage with their religious heritage, bad experiences in religious school, with a teacher or a rabbi, or with an institution. Israel in this sense is baggage central because not only do you have the normal range of ‘baggage’ possibilities with families, local religious figures and institutions the national media serves as a clearinghouse for every alienating use of religion by national figures and causes.

In America we are now experiencing a more strident public discourse on religion in the public square. In Israel it is hard to describe the conflicts over religion as discourse, but rather a shouting match. This leads to widespread disgust and alienation. The use of settlers of Jewish symbols is just another chapter in Israel of groups resorting to ‘public demonstrations’ of Judaism for their own purposes. It is very hard to advocate for progressive Jewish causes in
Israel because of the widespread cynicism about Judaism in the public square. But there are many outstanding organizations that work tirelessly to project a moderate and ethical Judasim into the public realm. I was drawn to the Hartman Institute because of the courageous attempt by its founder, Rabbi David Hartman, to create an alternative discourse on Judaism.

The Institute brings people together to fashion a public Judaism that honors the past but broadens the range of legitimate Jewish expression. By creating a place where Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and secular Jews can learn together, the institute requires all who learn there to dialogue with each other. The teachers and students at Hartman occupy the vital center of Judaism in Israel middle of Jewish life. It is where you can go to recover a sense of the greatness of Judaism.

I have been attending seminars at the Hartman Institute since the late 80s and now participate in a more intensive three-year seminar for twenty five North American rabbis of all streams. The Hartman Institute is one of the main models for Panim Hadashot-New Faces of Judaism. The focus on learning, the centrality of the great Jewish texts, and the pluralistic foundation directly influenced the approach of Panim Hadashot.

My hope is that Panim Hadashot can help Jews deal with their baggage, overcoming negative and disappointing experiences that have marred people’s lives. The way to do this is to create the best conditions for people to encounter a vital Judaism. Over the past year so many people told me how their attitude toward Judaism had changed after studying or celebrating with us. So much of contemporary Jewish life is about changing attitudes, opening up the richness of tradition, and rediscovering the joyful nature of Judaism. In an age of religious fundamentalism and violence, the need for a positive, passionate, and humane expression of religion is the order of the day.

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Report from Israel

Dear Friends,

I am writing to you from Moshavah Germanit, the German Colony neighborhood in Jerusalem. I am here for intensive study at the Shalom Hartman Institute for the month of July. I am a fellow in their Center for Rabbinic Enrichment program in which 25 North American rabbis from all over North America to study in Jerusalem and by remote video conference for a period of 3 years. During this time we study sources from the biblical, rabbinic, and later ages which shed light on the key issues facing the Jewish people in our times. I have been associated with the institute since the early 90s and learning here has sustained my rabbinic career and commitment. This summer our topic which guides our learning is Relgion, Ethics, and Violence. We are exploring a number of important questions including: the morality of war in Jewish tradition; Is God and Torah the only source of morality in Judaism; the theological foundation of Tzedaka and obligation to the other. The signature at Hartman is extraordinary teaching and dialogue which makes it the great center of Jewish learning and intellectual life widely respected around the world. My task during these sessions is to develop my thinking and to transmit the learning and insights I have here to my community in the Pacific Northwest. Over the next year I will integrate the learning here with much of the Panim Hadashot program.
Besides the great learning, I am an active observer in the present moment in Israel. Israel is full of visitors this summer as the security situation has vastly improved after four years of the 2nd Intifada. The streets are filled with tourists. It is hard to find a hotel room in town. The cafes, including the ones which were targets of attacks during bleaker times, are filled with people all hours of the night.

The first thing you notice here is the new color code which marks the political divide in Israel. Orange ribbons on cars and clothes mark one's opposition to the disengagement plan of the Sharon government. Blue ribbons are taken up by those who support the disengagement and the evacuation of the settlers in Gaza. The whole country nervously awaits the August deadline when the army will begin mass evacuations, probably in the face of fierce opposition from many of the settlers and their supporters. There have already been isolated violent incidents including a startlin lynching of a Palestinian teenager by radical settlers last week. There has some Kassam rocket attacks from extremists in Gaza, but overall the situation remains in a brittle calm. People are bracing form more difficulty as the August deadline approaches.
Jerusalem is calm, yet it is a mirror for these tensions with such a strong mix of different religious communities, Palestinian neighborhoods, and secular neighborhoods. Right now it seems sufficient for most to display their colors to let people know where they stand.

We heard the Israeli political philosopher-labor politician, Yuli Tamir, on the second night of the program. She gave a very excellent analysis of the 'matzav' situation. She argued that the disengagement is inevitable and that the real question now is whether the increasingly hysterical opposition of the settlers would lead to a serious delegitimization of the political process and democracy in Israel. The growing radicalization of the religious settlers has been accompanied by calls of their rabbis to settler soldiers to refuse to obey orders from Israeli officers. She cited the bumper sticker of choice of the opponents: Yehudi lo megaresh yehudi-" A Jew does not expell a Jew" as an example of their high stakes language. Her fear is that a large and serious divide is developing in Israel between the predominantly Orthodox settlement movement and the broader secular Israeli society. The continued appropriation of religious symbols by the settlers will lead to a more serious cultural divide in Israel in which the respect for Judaism and Jewish traditions will be deeply damaged within a public that equates it with narrow mindedness and political violence.

In Israel politics and religion are deeply mixed up in ways that make the American debate over religion in public life look mild. But that is why it is always interesting to be here. More later.

Shalom uvrachah,
Rabbi Dov Gartenberg