Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Is a Religious Project Worthy of Support in the Era of Religious Violence?


Is a Religious Project Worthy of Support in the Era of Religious Violence?

During the month of December, I am writing short pieces that give insight into the initiatives of Panim Hadashot to inspire support for our innovative work. This piece is the The Religious Inspiration of Panim Hadashot I just finished reading Sam Harris books, The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation.

Sam Harris shines a bright light on religious faith and finds it to be the source of evil in our times. In many ways, his analysis is compelling. He identifies how faith and belief can become irrational. Irrational faith combined with violent zealotry becomes terribly lethal. In his sweeping book, he finds fault even with religious moderation. Many people I have spoken withare fascinated by his writings and by other writers such as Richard Dawkins who are engaged in an angry attack on all expressions of religion.

It is hard to build support for a humanizing and passionate approach to religious life in this climate of polarization between advocates of atheistic scientism and fundamentalist faith. As a rabbi and a Jew, I draw from the resource of the Maimonidean tradition that is deeply aware of the capacity of religious life and Jewish religious life in particular to become a form of idol worship. I follow this traditions understanding that all human beings are very prone to idolatry and we must be always on guard for this slippery slope of religious life. Religious teachers bear an onerous responsibility to fight their own tendencies toward idolizing their ideals and practices and conveying an idolatrous approach to their tradition in the teaching and mentoring.

I have tried in creating Panim Hadashot to convey a religious vision of Judaism that is passionate, deeply religious, yet modest and humane in its religious message. Our message focuses around the centrality of hospitality as a religious practice. Mi Kol Melamdai Hiskalti-From all my teachers I have learned, says the psalmist. Hospitality is the act of regard for the other, for the stranger. It is the willingness to learn from all people, from each individual. It is the willingness to create encounters with the other.

Hospitality is the delicate act of opening up to another and sharing something dear to you that emerges from your deep felt values. But in sharing with another, we do not negate or judge the values and deep felt beliefs of the other. The hospitable person wants to share, but also to learn from the other. A life of hospitality is then creating ongoing experiences of sharing, of opening to new experiences of relationship.

Panim Hadashot focuses on teaching and modeling what we feel are the most sublime aspects of Jewish tradition. We also focus on those aspects of Jewish tradition that convey Judaisms deepest intuitions and wisdom about life, community, holiness, friendship, and sacred time. That is why we focus on a type of Jewish learning the interactive and participatory study of the great texts of our tradition and the Jewish genius of turning a meal into a sacred occasion of holiness and fellowship.

We have discovered that by focusing on these dimensions of Jewish life we are able to transcend the divide between secular and religious and Jew and non-Jew. Great learning and profound celebration open doors and connects people. Combined with a practice of hospitality these Jewish practices spread wisdom, understanding, friendship, and good will.

If you believe that this approach to religion is good and important, then please consider supporting our efforts. We rely on the good will and support of friends across the community to help us extend this religious and humane vision to new faces. You can easily and securely make a donation online by going to www.panimhadashot.com.

Shalom, Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Outreach and Public Displays of Jewish Symbols


There was a very widely covered flap between a Chabad Rabbi and the Seattle Port Authority about the display of a Menorah at the Seattle International Airport. The Rabbi threatened a lawsuit to get the Port to put a Menorah at the airport along with the Christmas Trees that were already there. The Port, wanting to avoid the suit, removed the trees which in turn created an uproar that made its way to national news outlets.

Many have already commented about the issues about the separation of religion and state. I want to focus on the outreach goals of Chabad in its effort to put Menorahs in public and prominent private spaces. Chabad's main goal is to bring Jews back to a life of observance. One of the ways they do this is to appeal to Jewish pride. They are saying, "We are not afraid to proclaim our Jewishness in public." Jews in these public spaces see the Menorah and feel pride that their symbols.

Chabad is not interested in creating a public dialogue about religion. This is the key criticism I have of their outreach. Chabad does not engage Christians. Their views about non-Jews are not clear, yet a reading of their main sources shows a traditional outlook that views Torah as an exclusive truth and that other religions are false. This is a widely held belief of fundamentalists from many different religious perspectives. Chabad is unique because of their exceptional ability not to judge other Jews and to play down their fundamentalist views regarding non-Jews and the choseness of the Jewish people.

I am committed to outreach like Chabad, but do not feel it is necessary to place Jewish symbols next to Christian ones. I favor an approach that engages people of different religions in a true sharing of our faith traditions and wisdom. We live in a truly multicultural world in which intermarriage and the mixing of culture is the norm, not the exception. That means that Jews can prouldly share Hanukah with their non-Jewish friends and family in ways that reveal the teachings of this holiday and its particular insights.

Synagogues and Jewish homes should invite non-Jews to experience our Hanukkah celebrations. And Jews should graciously accept invitations to be guests with Christians in their churches and in their homes to share their experience and joy of their holiday. This means an open validation of the wisdom of other traditions outside our own and the capacity to share religious experience while accomodating difference.

Judaism has much to offer to the general culture, but I think the foisting of Jewish symbols into the public square is an ineffective approach and can backfire as we recently saw.

Another Observation unfortunately I think the focus of Jews should be responding to the Holocaust Deniers Conference in Iran rather than pushing for Menorah's at the Seattle airport. This is an extremely serious development and reveals a growing trend to stoke Jew hatred and deny Israel's right to exist. Holocaust education and fighting anti-Semitism while fostering real dialogue with other communities should be very high on the agenda of all Jewish groups and individuals.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Monday, October 30, 2006

On a Personal Note

Dear Friends,

I have not made entries to my blog over the past few weeks as I planned my wedding with my fiance, Robbie. We were married this past Thursday, 10/26/06 in a small family ceremony at Congregation Herzl Ner Tamid in Seattle. We were joined by our parents and our children. Robbie has two children, a daughter, Alexandra, who is a freshman at UW and a son, Matthew, who is a freshman at Bellevue High. My oldest, Zachary, is a sophomore at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Moriel, is a special education student at Kentridge High School, and Fay is a junior at the Northwest Yeshivah High School.

Robbie is an active member of Congregation Herzl-Ner Tamid. She grew up in San Diego in a family with a strong Mexican Jewish heritage. Her maternal grandparents came from Tijuana which had a small thriving Jewish community. She is a fluent Spanish speaker and is a lover of Latino cultures. Robbie is trained as a teacher and is a partner in a business with her family from San Diego.

Robbie and I have made our home in Bellevue in the Enatai neighborhood. We look forward to opening our home for Shabbat and Festivals.

I thank people for their well wishes ourl simchah. We hope to respond by bringing more simchah to our community and sharing our joy with 'panim hadashot', new faces.

Shalom, Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Friday, September 29, 2006

Judaism: A Symphony of Feasts

Dear Friends and Readers,

I wish each of you a Gemar Hatimah Tovah (to be sealed in the Book of Life). I hope you have a chance to glance at the text for the Feast before the Yom Kippur Fast known traditionally as the "Se'udat Hamafseket". For me this is the highlight of everything Panim is doing these High Holidays. I have experienced many powerful moments around the table with family and friends. I love the joyful spirit of a Shabbat table, the pageantry of a Passover table, the sense of newness of a Rosh Hashannah table, the vulnerability of a feast in the Sukkah, the sense of nature's power at a Tu Bishvat seder, and the outrageous playfulness of a Purim feast. But the feast before Yom Kippur, like Yom Kippur itself is on another level entirely.

Several stories in the Talmud dwell on this meal, telling stories of the sages returning from the academy to their families. In typical fashion, the Talmud reveals the truth of these encounters. They are not all lovely and filled with accounts of reconciliation or repentance. However, clearly the ancients regarded this meal as a time for people to gather and make one last great push to repair relationships and to bring about reconciliation. It was in essence a Teshuvah feast. This tradition is deeply inspiring to me. It is yet another example of how Jews have made feasts times of opportunity and spiritual power. It reveals a religion in which relationship is so important, so concrete, and so necessary of our personal attention regardless of who we are and where we are in our lives. Judaism is not an abstract religion; it is a religion which places relationship in the center: our relationship with family, with nature, with God.

Before I spend the day in personal communication with God, I prepare for it with personal and attentive conversation with family and friends around a table. The urgency of the meal is in the word 'mafseket 'meaning ending or interruption. This meal ends the time for repairing relationships with humans and transitions us to repairing our relationship with God. The link is illustrative. You first have to attend to humans and then attend to God. Not the other way around.

Shannah Tovah,
Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Overcoming a Mitzvah Learned by RoteObservations on Spiritual Renewal Before Yom Kippur, 2006

Overcoming a Mitzvah Learned by Rote Observations
on Spiritual Renewal Before Yom Kippur, 2006
Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

On Yom Kippur, we read in the morning the stirring passage from the prophet Isaiah from chapter 58. The prophet questions the religious piety of Israel who engaged in a fast. "To be sure, they seek Me daily, eager to learn My ways... They are eager for the nearness of God: Why, when we fasted, did You not see? When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed." The prophet dismisses their so called piety and points out what is missing in their religious priorities: "Because you fast in strife and contention and you strike with a wicked fist...Is such the fast I desire?"

Isaiah, the biblical prophet, exposes disordered and misplaced spiritualityof people who appear to be pious. In chapter 29 Isaiah (who according to biblical critics is a different prophet than the one in 58) describes a people who have lost sense of the purpose of prayer. 'Because the people has approached Me with its mouth and honored Me with its lips, But has kept its heart far from Me, and its worship of Me has been a commandment of men, learned by rote.' Isaiah describes people who follow God's law with thought or intention-"mitzvat anashim melumadah."

This pointed complaint about habituated religious ritual is the precedent of an oft repeated criticism within Judaism and a familiar attack on Judaism from without including the passages from Paul of Tarshes polemics of the Pharisees in the New Testament. But it is fair to say that Isaiah's concern is a deeply Jewish time honored concern, one that is found across the generations from Maimonides in 12th century Egypt to the Hasidim in 18th century Russia.
My vision of Panim Hadashot is deeply indebted to Isaiah's concern. As an observant person, I know how easily mitzvot and practice can become habituated or taken over by conventional considerations.

There is a time in our lives when we need to renew, reinvigorate, reorient what is familiar. This is true of spiritual life as in all other areas of life. I believe that it is critical in a serious spiritual life to be ready at times to change perspective, to move out of one's customary seat, to change the seder of things. Our eyes would open up to things we could not see or did not sense. We may return to the original place we started but we will see things differently.

This need for "refreshing one's perspective" is particularly critical concerning the mitzvah of fixed communal prayer. Contemporary communal prayer in all the denominations is governed by conventions of decorum, music, and contemporary culture, which often obscure the deeper meaning, and experience of prayer.

Most modern Jewish institutions from synagogues, schools, and camps attempt to teach the forms of prayer, but often neglect how a worshipper accesses the inner life. Another problem is that prayer is usually taught in connection to life cycle events such as Bar Mitzvah making it seem like a ritual task to be put on display as opposed to a lifelong skill for self-reflection and self-judgment. Another very common contemporary problem is the one identified in Isaiah 58: the ritual of prayer is not placed in the context of a concern for the moral life and social justice.

How then do we prevent prayer from becoming a "mitzvah melumadah?" I think there needs to be a place in the community for people to renew their prayer life. It should not be an alternative community because prayer in any community becomes captive to communal expectation and convention. Rather there should be a place you go to shake things up a bit, to get a different perspective, and return to one's prayer home with a mitzvah mehudeshet-a mitzvah refreshed.

That is the aim of the services Panim Hadashot offers on the High Holidays. We offer people a prayer experience outside of the regular mode which makes it possible for them to get in touch with the original inspiration of prayer in Judaism. The purpose of such gathering is not to form community, but to inspire and evoke renewal and reorientation. It is meant to seed reflection and to plant the source of insight. My hope is that insight gained in these gathering will deepen this person as they connect to a more permanent community of prayer.

The metaphor to describe what Panim Hadashot does with our approach to High Holidays is "recharging batteries". Everyone needs a recharging of batteries in their spiritual lives. That is one way we can respond to Isaiah's challenge of a mitzvah done by rote. Allow yourself the opportunity to renew and that can make you "return" home with a greater field of spiritual vision than you had before.

Gemar Hatimah Tova,
Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
September 2006

The Great Feast Before the Fast: A Personal Reflection

Dear Friends and Readers,

I wish each of you a Gemar Hatimah Tovah (to be sealed in the Book of Life). I hope you have a chance to glance at the text for the Feast before the Yom Kippur Fast known traditionally as the "Se'udat Hamafseket". For me this is the highlight of everything Panim is doing these High Holidays. I have experienced many powerful moments around the table with family and friends. I love the joyful spirit of a Shabbat table, the pageantry of a Passover table, the sense of newness of a Rosh Hashannah table, the vulnerability of a feast in the Sukkah, the sense of nature's power at a Tu Bishvat seder, and the outrageous playfulness of a Purim feast. But the feast before Yom Kippur, like Yom Kippur itself is on another level entirely.

Several stories in the Talmud dwell on this meal, telling stories of the sages returning from the academy to their families. In typical fashion, the Talmud reveals the truth of these encounters. They are not all lovely and filled with accounts of reconciliation or repentance. However, clearly the ancients regarded this meal as a time for people to gather and make one last great push to repair relationships and to bring about reconciliation. It was in essence a Teshuvah feast.

This tradition is deeply inspiring to me. It is yet another example of how Jews have made feasts times of opportunity and spiritual power. It reveals a religion in which relationship is so important, so concrete, and so necessary of our personal attention regardless of who we are and where we are in our lives. Judaism is not an abstract religion; it is a religion which places relationship in the center: our relationship with family, with nature, with God.

Before I spend the day in personal communication with God, I prepare for it with personal and attentive conversation with family and friends around a table. The urgency of the meal is in the word 'mafseket 'meaning ending or interruption. This meal ends the time for repairing relationships with humans and transitions us to repairing our relationship with God. The link is illustrative. You first have to attend to humans and then attend to God. Not the other way around.

Shannah Tovah,
Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Friday, September 15, 2006

HIGH HOLIDAY…SEDERS? by Emily Moore appearing the JT News

The High Holidays. We know them well, right? They are the time for us to go to synagogue with the yearly desire to understand ourselves and our behavior, to set right our misdeeds before God and with our community, to resolve to do better, to hope the slate may be wiped clean. A time to see everyone we may not have seen all year, a time to deeply contemplate the meaning of tzedaka, to shed tears over loved ones passed, to commiserate with kids squirming in their seats and a time to just make it through the fast one more year. But seders, full of ritual foods and discussions of the meanings of the holiday and wonderful smells and tastes-- for Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur?

This year in Seattle, Panim Hadashot, a wonderful new organization dedicated to bringing greater personal meaning to Jewish rituals and traditions through the (very Jewish) path of discussions, small Shabbat gatherings, and feasts, is holding unique seders for both erev Rosh Hashonah and the meal before the fast on Yom Kippur. Founded and led by Rabbi Dov Gartenberg, Panim Hadashot (whose chosen descriptor is "New Faces of Judaism") will gather the community in the beautiful dining hall of Bastyr University for pareve ritual meals that it hopes will begin new traditions during the Days of Awe.

But although Panim Hadashot is bringing what certainly seems to be a new concept to life in this season of ancient teachings and known rituals, the idea of a seder for Rosh Hashonah, at least, is not new. The Gemarra, in tractate Kersius declares: "At the beginning of each year a person should accustom him (her) self to eating gourds, leeks, fenugreek, beets and dates", all of which represent good "omens" or have positive connotations. One interpretation of why the authors of the Gemarra admonish us to eat these helpful foods is the idea that ingesting them will remind us that merely eating the "good" will not be enough for us to be seen as truly good on this Judgement Day: We also have to search our own hearts for goodness and repent the bad deeds we have indulged in. Another view indicates that by eating what represents goodness we are asking to be remembered for a good year internally and not by overtly petitioning in our own favor.

Blessings and "Yehi ratzon" ("May it be Your will…") prayers are said for each of the foods stated in the Gemarra, and for a few others that have attracted Rosh Hashonah significance over the centuries: Challas with round or other descriptive shapes, apples and honey, pomegranates, fish and the head of a sheep or a fish.

How these particular foods became honored with places in the ritual focus of Rosh Hashonah lies with the ancient practice of matching the name of a thing with a concept whose name has a similar sound. For example, the Hebrew name for leek is karti which is chosen because it sounds like karet, to cut, to cut out or to destroy. So, the concept and the prayer related to leeks might be "Yehi ratzon, may it be Your will to destroy my adversaries" or "Yehi ratzon, may You help me in destroying my will to do (a) bad deed" or "Yehi ratzon, may you help me by cutting out my will to yell at my kids", or whatever "Yehi ratzon" is most appropriate for you in your life. Of course, the leader of the seder will chose a meaning (s)he feels is most appropriate, but this seder tradition leaves much room for individuals to bring their own intimacies to the prayer that the food/concept brings up.

An interesting side note about these food names/idea names is that because this referencing practice is ancient and most Jews have moved away from the Middle East where these particular edibles are common, other foods are also referenced as having the same name as the original ones mentioned in the Gemarra. "Rubiyah", the Hebrew name for fenugreek, also comes up as the name for beans and black-eyed peas, two foods that were probably common in different areas where fenugreek was either hard to get or unknown. The sounds-like concept word for "rubiyah" is "yirbu", to increase. So, while some seders direct you to eat black-eyed peas for the prayer "Yehi ratzon, may it be Your will to increase my virtues", in others (Panim Hadashot’s, for example) you will be eating leek fritters for the same prayer concept. And while the word "k’ra", phonetically related to the word for "proclaim/read" or "to tear", was known to the ancients as meaning gourd, "k’ra" is also found to mean red lentils. So, although the Panim Hadashot seder will serve a savory pumpkin-filled pastry to be eaten accompanying the prayer entreating: "May it be Your will that our merits be proclaimed before you" or "…that the decree of our sentence be torn up", you might find the same prayer has you are eating a lovely red lentil stew in another place, another year.

That lentil stew will not be spicy, however; the general ideas for foods to be eaten for the High Holidays consider that nothing sour or overly spicy should be consumed so that we can better concentrate on hoping internally for a "good, sweet year" by eating (of course) apples with honey, honey cake and any fabulous traditional family sweets. The lore that has developed for honey cake is well-known: Ask a friend to give you a piece of the cake on Rosh Hashonah and you will not have to ask them for anything else all year. Or, if it has been declared in heaven that a person is to become a beggar, through this request for food the decree has been fulfilled and it therefore can be annulled. Traditions about eating pomegranates on the New Year abound, but one of the most enriching is the notion that there are 613 mitzvot and there are also exactly the same number of seeds in a pomegranate, making the fruit the embodiment of good deeds. Fish are eaten because they are so numerous that consuming them will promote a prosperous year. The head of a sheep (yes, really eaten in many Jewish cultures over the ages) represents the ram that was sacrificed by Abraham when God released him from having to give up Issac. Eating any "head", sheep, fish or, for beef, maybe just the tongue, also promotes the idea of being at the "head" in the world and not at the "tail". Challas for the holidays may be studded with dried fruits for sweetness and shaped into rounds for the cycle of the year, or formed into ladders, suggesting Jacob’s ladder (where again we want to be at the top!)

What about a seder for Yom Kippur when we know we will be fasting for twenty-five hours? On the day before Yom Kippur it is as much a mitzvah to eat twice as much as usual as it is to fast for the Day of Attonement! So, clearly a "Feast before the Fast" must first of all live up to its title so that worshipers will have the strength and stamina to get through the rigors of the following holy day. Practical suggestions are that salty foods be avoided to inhibit thirst and foods that produce heat in the body, like garlic, spices and (?) eggs also be left out. But what will be the substance of a ritual meal that must also prepare the mind, the heart and the soul for the holiest and most difficult day of the year? Although Rosh Hashonah seders have been celebrated over the Jewish millennia, and indeed Panim Hadashot had its first last year, a Yom Kippur Feast before the Fast is a new creation. Rabbi Gartenberg has divided the seder into seven parts, each relating one of the central themes of the holiday to a symbolic food that expresses and expands the meaning of the concept, in keeping with referenced lore and literature from Yom Kippur texts.

The first part, called "Chet: The Acknowledgement of Sin", references red as the color of sin (for the red string tied around to neck of the goat sent out into the wilderness carrying the sins of the Children of Israel), and the food eaten will be a salad of roasted tomatoes, sweet red peppers and beets. The second section, "Teshuvah: Turning to Repentance: Revealing the Truth" brings foods that must be opened up to reveal a hidden truth, the peeling away of artichoke leaves to find the heart, the discovering of a sweet/savory filling in a kreplach (also a carb—highly recommended for stamina!) "Tefilah: The Self-Reflection of Prayer" begins with the ephemeral and a whiff of rose water, then we accompany a contemplation Jonah’s relationship with God and the gourd vine that Jonah loves so much with the crunch of toasted pumpkin seeds.

"Tzedakah: The Act of Righteousness" takes us to the definition of righteous acts in Leviticus where we are directed to leave the "small grapes" (unripe bunches) on the vine during harvest so the poor may collect them; we eat tiny, sweet grapes as we reflect on our own acts of tzedakah. In "Kapparah: Attonement" the goat who "carries away" our sins comes up again and in reflection we eat fresh, white goat cheese in pure, fragrant olive oil. "Purity: Taharah" is accomplished with the ritual washing of hands and brings us to "Mahzor: The Cycle of the Year" when we dip pieces of round challa in honey and wish all at the seder "L’Shana Tova!" And then comes the meal!

To get more information on the Panim Hadashot High Holiday seders and to receive registration forms, call Cynthia at Panim Hadashot, (877) 643-7274

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Lessons from Whole Foods and The Mitzvah of Hospitality

During the past few weeks I have had a booth at the local Whole Foods sharing apples and honey and telling people about Panim Hadashot. People are actually excited to talk with a Rabbi in the market and the conversations have been exhilarating and fascinating. From these many encounters I have found it helpful to open with an explanation of the meaning of Panim Hadashot.

I tell people that the word in Hebrew means New Face or New Faces. The Talmud uses the term in reference to a newly married couple who are feted during the first seven days of marriage with parties. At these parties the 7 blessings, which were chanted under the Huppah, are chanted again and the joy and celebration is extended from the original wedding date. The Talmud requires that these parties can only happen if there is a minyan (a quota of 10 Jews) and 'Panim Hadashot' are present. A new face must be included who was not present at the wedding. I go on to interpret the meaning of the rabbinic law to people at the booth. The purpose of the requirement of Panim Hadashot is to extend the joy to others outside one's immediate circle of friends and family.

When I tell people this at the market, their eyes open wide and they smile. "What a beautiful tradition," people tell me. My opening causes a lot of people to tell their stories. One of the most common stories of the Jews is the inhospitality or cliquishness of synagogues. Other Jews are simply fascinated with a Jewish organization that emphasizes hospitality and the sharing of Shabbat and festivals around a table. Many non-Jews come to the booth and ask us about the food traditions. Many others ask about Panim Hadashot which leads to fascinating discussions about religion. Many of the non-Jews have Jewish friends and even family such as the young non-Jewish man wearing a T shirt from his cousin's Bar MItzvah.

The Whole Foods booth has taught me how much Jewish demographics have changed. Jews have fully integrated in Seattle. Many are intermarried, they do not socialize exclusively with Jews, and their idenities are complex in which Judaism is only a part of who they are. It has also taught me the value of educating non-Jews about the beautfiul traditions of Shabbat, festivals, and home traditions.

These conversations have clarified for me the contribution of Panim Hadashot to Jewish life. By making hospitality our primary value and goal we reverse a very negative view of Judaism held by many Jews. They view Jews and Judaism as clannish, standoffish, cliquish, and unfriendly. This perception is inaccurate in many cases, but I have learned that it is widely held among Jews who hesitate to affiliate or connect to organized Jewish life. That view is even common among affiliated Jews.

I started Panim Hadashot from an awareness of this blind spot in the organized community. I saw it as a pulpit rabbi when the most committed Jews were indifferent or even hostile to newcomers. I see the problem of cliquishness in most synagogues which unintentionally fall into becoming communities of closed circles, of committed cores with larger numbers of indifferent and disengaged members in the periphery. Most of all, I see the problem in the fact that most Jews do not even come close to seeing hospitality (hachnasat orchim) as a mitzvah.

So many of the Jews we meet at Whole Foods are surprised and excited to hear of a Jewish organization that is open and welcoming. One of the participants called us a "clique buster" and felt that Panim was the first Jewish organization that he would feel comfortable in. I would put it positively. The emerging core aim of our work is to restore hospitality as a mitzvah of living a Jewish life. It should not be the goal of an organization, but the personal commitment of every Jew. To make this so, not only involves instilling a more welcoming outlook in Jews, but a reappropriation of the practices of Jewish life most adapted for sharing. That is why I have emphasized the linking of Shabbat and hospitality for Shabbat is the great Jewish teaching and way of life that should be shared in all its beauty and greatness.

After all the other meaning of Panim Hadashot is Shabbat, for the Sabbath presents a "New Face" to us each week. It is also time for us to welcome it and share it with others.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Monday, September 11, 2006

What 9/11 Did to Me

9/11 made me realize how traumatic events distort politics and community.

9/11 made me realize how deep the hatred was toward the United States, Israel, and the West.

9/11 made me realize how destructive human belief and action can potentially be.

9/11 made it much harder for me to explain the world to my children.

9/11 made it harder for me to teach the value of faith and devotion to God.

9/11 forced me to review how I conceived of God

9/11 distorted my relations with Muslims, creating an awkward religious dialogue in which repudiation played a greater role than attestations of faith.

9/11 made me realize that we would be sucked into violent wars while ignoring the greater challenge of global warming.

9/11 made me an apologist for religion when more and more people began to see it as toxic.

9/11 sobered my view of human nature, religion, and culture.

9/11 made me understand the concept and reality of the word, enemy.

9/11 made it harder to argue against the apocalyptics amongst us.

What did 9/11 Do to You?

Thursday, September 7, 2006

The Jew as an Outsider

David Grossman, the Israeli novelist and essayist wrote this piece in the book I am Jewish:

Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl. You might recall that Grossman lost his son in the last hour of this summer war with Hezbollah. This is an exquisite expression of Jewish identity through defiant alienation. I personally relate to this description even though my rabbinic training has made me a Jewish collectivist. This piece will be one of the study texts of the "Why Be Jewish" forums Panim Hadashot is holding on Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur afternoon. For more information go to www.panimhadashot.com.

For me, to be a Jew is to be an outsider. An outsider in relation to human situations in which a collective of any sort comes into being, composed of many who speak (or roar) in a single voice;

an outsider with that slight suspicion of whatever makes that collective possible;

with that sense of loneliness that takes hold of the individual in the presence of such a collective, even if he does not want-or is unable-to be part of it; with the feelings of uniqueness and election that accompany that loneliness;

with that trace of (not entirely comprehensible) pride that accompany those feelings, pained incessantly by the fact that that uniqueness and election place an invisible but real barrier between him and the others;

with the constant skepticismthat lies-or ought to lie-within regard to those feelings (which have turned, for the Jewish people, into the concept of "the chosen people"), because all too often it seems as if those feelings are nothing but a scab that has formed over the wound of loneliness, of the Jews tragic distinctiveness;

with the knowledge that this distinctiveness-and who knows whether it was imposed from the start on the Jews by others or whether the Jews chose and refined it-has made "the Jew" into an almost universal symbol of the absolute alien;

with pain at the fact that this attitude has caused the Jew and his history to become, in the eyes of humanity, a story that is larger than life, and therefore something that is not really part of life itself, something detached from the course of nature and history experienced by other nations.

To this I must add the sense of profound, instinctive, familial identification that I feel toward Jews throughout the generations. I share their fate, their way of thinking, their culture, their language, and their humor. But perhaps what I really identify with, more than anything else, is precisely that sense of loneliness, injury, and persecution, the feeling of being foreign in this world, ever anxious about the tenuousness of existence. But whenever I feel that by identifying this way as a Jew, I become part of this particular collective, the Jewish collective, I take a step back, and have some serious (and very Jewish) doubts about belonging to it.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Don't Trust Experts in Judasim

Judaism is huge. Even having a rabbinic education only gives you a partial understanding of Judaism. Its vastness and history are beyond the grasp of any individual. That is why it is so endlessly interesting. Beware of people who say they are experts in Judaism. They are lying.

The Mitzvah of Hospitality

The sages believed that the mitzvot of the Torah were there to act as counterweight to our natural tendencies. A mitzvah is by definition hard to do because it may go against our nature, our drives. The other day it dawned on me why Hachnasat Orchim-hospitality is a mitzvah. It is really hard to reach out to the other. As human beings we are naturally tribal, familial, and self centered. To regard and welcome the other you have to step out of your context and extend yourself.

When I was a rabbi of a shul, I always heard outsiders complain that the congregation was cliquish. It drove me crazy when I heard that criticism because I thought that hospitality is at the core of what it means to be a Jewish community. Yet in reality it isn't. Communities default into cliques and circles, like a full cup of tea that cannot absorb anymore. Yet the mitzvah of hospitality challenges the notion that we are full and cannot take in anymore. Welcoming and extending our hand to the other is something we are commanded to do. So the question becomes, how does one fulfill the mitzvah as a part of one's life? How is one intentional about the mitzvah?

Sunday, September 3, 2006

Emerging Sacred Communities

I just returned from an unusual gathering in New York City of a "Working Group of Jewish Emerging Sacred Communities". I was invited to participate by the organizers of the meeting, Synagogue 3000, a think tank based in Los Angeles dedicated to synagogue transformation. The staff at Synagogue 3K has followed the emergence of Panim Hadashot with great interest and have sought my participation in two meetings to share ideas and to bring together Jewish spiritual innovators across the country. I am honored to have been invited. I would like to share a bit of what I learned.

Ron Wolfson, the director of Synagogue 3000, offers this as their organizing principle: "The future of the Jewish community in America is directly connected to the effectiveness of synagogues in transforming the Jewish people. By "transforming," I refer to two things: (1) the spiritual transformation of Jewish individuals and families and (2) the physical transformation of the Jewish community through incentives to increase our numbers through population growth, outreach to unaffiliated Jews, and welcoming and encouraging of non-Jews in Jewish relationships and families to become Jewish and/or to raise their children as Jews.

Transformation is about changing people's lives. It is not about membership or affiliation. It is not about numbers. It is about transforming the spiritual lives of individuals, one at a time. It is about "forming" a Jewish identity through the experience of living in a sacred community."

Synagogue 3K set up the Emerging Sacred Communities group to explore the burgeoning of new and alternative communities and initiatives within the Jewish community. The participants were mostly Rabbis in their 20s and 30s who are starting new communities in cities around the country. Also participating were 3 Rabbis from Israel engaged in building new communities and approaches. The emerging communities represented at this gathering were diverse and hard to characterize. Some are attempting to create alternatives to conventional synagogues.

Some are trying to transform older synagogues into something else. Some like myself were creating completely different models distinct from synagogues. Some of these communities organized themselves around social justice causes, while others were working on revitalizing and reformulating Jewish prayer. There were representatives from all the major denominations and many who identified themselves as post-denominational. Everyone agreed that the current Jewish communal structure is in crisis and that the modern synagogue and congregational rabbinate is in a struggle for legitimacy and relevance among many Jews.

My colleague, Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum, participated in the conference as well representing the community she is leading, the Kavanah Cooperative. One way of getting a taste of the emerging responses would be to compare the two innovative approaches of the Kavanah Cooperative and our effort, Panim Hadashot-New Faces of Judaism. Kavanah, like a number of other initiatives around the country is attempting to form a new model of Jewish community. Like Ikar in Los Angeles, Kavanah eschews the label synagogue.

The uniqueness of Kavanah is the choice of the word, cooperative. One of the central aims of Kavanah as I understand it is to form an intentional community. In the business world, a cooperative is different than a conventional market. The PCC cooperative requires membership and fosters a commitment to organic or alternative foods. In the world of Jewish communal life, synagogues are not considered 'intentional communities' (even though it takes a lot of intention to join one) because they do not ask members to make more than financial commitments at the time of joining.

Kavanah is attempting to build strong community by asking members to commit to dedicating time to an array of mitzvot, social justice, study, prayer, or community building. Kavanah has also defined itself as non-denominational as opposed to affiliating with a movement. Its programming differs from a conventional synagogue by creating a wider array of choices and balance of communal activity. There are multiple points of entry and there are fewer barriers to participation. I am excited for Kavanah and support its emergence and growth.

Panim Hadashot, however, is a very different model than Kavanah. First, Panim Hadashot is not about building a single cohesive community. Our emphasis is strictly on offering people powerful and meaningful Jewish experiences of celebration and study and to share these with others. Once Jews are engaged or reengaged in Judaism there are many communities to choose from and we will help people navigate that choice. I conceived of Panim Hadashot as a bridge to the organized Jewish community, a context for people to celebrate and study and experience Judaism more directly and without barriers. We are deliberately non-denominational, so we can reach out to every kind of Jew and also serve the many non-Jews who are connected to Jews through marriage and family.

We are focused on bringing a living and vital Judaism to homes and offering intensive and relationship building celebrations and learning experiences. In Panim Hadashot the Rabbi functions as a teacher, mentor, coach, and connector. I reach out to anyone who is interested and I go to where they are, in their homes and among their friends and circles of relationships. I am not trying to gain members or build a specific community, but rather to engage people with Judaism and help each to develop a practice of hospitality of sharing a enlivened Judaism with others.

In the past few months we have expanded our programs to serve congregations and Jewish organizations. We offer a program that intensifies and strengthens the Shabbat home and table culture of the congregation. We help to make communties more hospitable, more spiritual, more integrated between the private and public sphere. So it might be best to summarize Panim Hadashot as a catalyst for Jewish community building which is a resource for everyone in our diverse community.

I think Seattle needs both Kavanah and Panim Hadashot. Kavanah offers Seattle a serious experiment in building a more intentional community, a Jewish collective with a distinctive focus and ideal. Panim Hadashot offers a way to reclaim a Jewish home life and path to a more engaging Judaism that makes one appreciate the many choices that the Jewish community offers. Together we are part of a fascinating change taking place in American Jewry. Our gathering in New York was an ongoing attempt to make sense of the very creative spiritual ventures growing around the country. I is thrilling to be part of this creative ferment.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Prayer and the High Holidays

Services for the Ambivalent:Exploring Prayer and Jewish Spirituality for God-Challenged People

Go to www.panimhadashot.com to see our high holiday offerings.

I have had a lot of laughs and acknowledgment over the use of "God-Challenged people". I decided to offer these services as a bow to truth. The services of the high holidays are not only long, they are extraordinarily difficult to understand and to endure. The great majority of Jews today struggle to make sense of these prayers. And even if one has a mastery of the Hebrew and parts of the liturgy, the theology of the siddur presents a huge challenge to a thoughtful person.

For years during my time in the pulpit I would watch people come in for their hour and half and then check out when the sermon, or the shofar blowing, or the yizkor ended. How could there be a 'service' which acknowledged these challenges. I knew that most of these people did not relate to the prayers or did not have the education, skilll, or motivation to crack through their meaning. Is it possible to present a service which has depth but addresses the spiritual, religious, and cultural obstacles that these services present.

The Services for the Ambivalent are an attempt to do this. Here is what I plan to do.1. Simplify and Shorten. Most services are too ornate, complex. I want to get to core prayers, not overwhelm people with liturgy.2. Study and Explore. Use time during services to explore meaning, tradition, issues that arise from prayers.3. Debate and Reflect. Allow people to express doubt and debate the assertions and assumptions of the liturgy. People should be able to raise hard questions.4. Reaffirm and Reconsider: How can prayer become meaningful? Is there a way to reframe it that makes sense in people's spiritual lives? Can people come away with a respect for the spiritual attempts of the rabbis to address the issue of standing before God?

One of the key things that I will introduce at these services is making a sharp distinction between the Shema and the Amidah. I will treat them as two different types of experience. These two core sections of the Mahzor (HH prayerbook) follow one another, but in reality they are two completely different forms of religious expression. Understanding this is critical to appreciating the spiritual aims of Jewish prayer.

Why are these services free? A few years ago a woman told me that she never goes to synagogue because she refuses to pay to pray. I understand all the justifications for collecting funds and issuing tickets for the HH. Institutions have to survive. But maybe there is another way to address instituional survival without sullying prayer.

Prayer is first a matter of the heart. It is an approach, a petition. An entrance fee renders prayer a commodity, a protected resource. The issue is not so much money, but when money comes into it. The giving of funds should come as a form of gratitude for the opportunity to pray. First there is an invitation to pray and to gather as community. It is only after we have had the opportunity to do this that we may consider the material means to help sustain the community.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Weekly Emessage from Rabbi Dov Gartenberg 8-10-06

Weekly Emessage sent with Panim Enewsletter 8-10-06. You may sign up to receive this on our website: www.panimhadashot.com.

In this E-Newsletter I wanted to give our readers specific recommendations about responding to the recent crisis in Israel and to the shooting at the Jewish Federation in Seattle. I also want to let you know about Panim Hadashots upcoming plans.

Helping Victims of the Seattle Jewish Federation Shooting: A special fund has been established to help the victims of the shooting at the Jewish Federation Seattle headquarters. The funds will be used to benefit direct and indirect victims and their family members including medical assistance and psychological counseling, and necessary personal expenses incurred as a result of this hate crime, as well as rehabilitation, repairs or security enhancements to Federations facilities.

Please make checks payable to:Jewish Community Federation ofSan Francisco - Seattle Victims FundAddress: Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco,the Peninsula, Marin & Sonoma Counties121 Steuart StreetSan Francisco, CA 94105

Support for the Beleaguered Residents of Northern Israel: Many people have asked me for guidance on the best way to help Israelis who are suffering from the daily missile barrages in Northern Israel. There are many organizations seeking funding, and many of them are worthy. After considerable reflection, I felt that the best way to help is to donate to the Israel Emergency Campaign 2006 under the auspices of the United Jewish Communities. I am confident that this fund will get resources to those most affected by the war.

Many people forget that this war was unexpected. The new Israeli government was poised to address social disparities and social economic problems. However, the effort to secure Israels Northern border has diverted funds and attention away from these efforts.Furthermore, as in all wars, it is the poor, the disabled and the vulnerable who suffer most. Many of these people cannot work, or adequately protect themselves. I believe that the Emergency Fund will be most effective in addressing the needs of these populations and communities. I encourage charitable donations to organizations helping innocent civilians on the Lebanese side. The ICRC is working both in Israel and in Lebanon to aid those innocents caught up in the conflagration. This organization is strictly humanitarian and it provides immediate and direct aid to those in need.

Panims High Holiday Packet and registration is now available on our website. I am excited about our High Holiday initiative. We are attempting to create a more multi dimensional spiritual experience which incorporates festive meals, learning, dialogue, and outdoor experiences. You may come to part of it or all of it. You may spend some time at your synagogue and some with us. Or this may be the alternative approach you have been hoping for. In any case, try it out. Please be mindful that you must register. Because our learning programs and services are free I suggest registering asap. I also welcome input and suggestions about the program.

Shabbat around Seattle: During the next week, we will be doing a push to sign up hosts for Shabbat around Seattle. If you are interested in hosting, please contact me at rabbidov@panimhadashot.com

If you have not already, become a friend of Panim Hadashot. We need your support to do the great things we are doing.

Shalom, Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Monday, August 7, 2006

Why Be Jewish in a Time of Danger

This passage is a continuation of reflections on Jewish Identity. Panim Hadashot's theme for our High Holiday program is "Why Be Jewish?" Please go to www.panimhadashot.com to see the schedule.

The Rabbis make a distinction between temporal matters and eternal matters: Hayei Sha'ah and Hayei Olam Haba. These days of summer 2006 throw us back into the mode of Hayei Sha'ah. The war in Israel and Lebanon, the shooting at the Jewish federation here in Seattle consume our attention and our anxiety. Being concerned with Hayei Sha'ah is not bad, in fact it is necessary for survival. The state of 'hayei sha'ah' is a physical concern for safety and the fear of danger. I hear many people express fear for Israel's existence. I hear others talk about concern for their safety at a time of when anti-semitism and anti-Zionism appears to be much more widespread.

Leon Wieseltier writes that "Identity in bad times is not like identity in good times.... And those qualities of identity that seem vexing and impoverishing in good times-the soldierliness and the obsession with solidarity, the renunciation of individual development in the name of collective development, the reliance on symbolic action, the belief in the cruelty of the world and the eternity of struggle-are precisely the qualities that provide social and psychological foundations of resistance. For this reason it is impertinent to address the criticism of identity to those whose existence is threatened."

At times like these many Jews with uncertain identity or commitment find themselves returning to the Jewish people. Identity is awakened and a sense of purpose is found. "In every generation someone has arisen to destroy us." is a famous line from the Passover Haggadah. It is an old Jewish survival mechanism that turns hostility from outside into community on the inside.

As a rabbi and educator I personally have difficulty using this narrative to turn a Jew from a latent identity to an active and committed association with other Jews. I undertand its power and necessity. However, I remain convinced that Jewish identity is ultimately nourished by that aspect of Judaism that is Hayei Olam Haba-the eternal dimension of the Jewish teacihng and living. I resist relying on a negative definition of being Jewish. I seek a positive understanding of Judaism that inspires me to live its wisdom and also to sacrifice in its name. That is the reason for asking the question of "Why Be Jewish?" What is it that makes Judaism wise and enduring? How is it a precious legacy that is worth defending?

People are now dying on behalf of the Jewish people. Many are sacrificing their lives and their property to defend the right of the Jewish people to have a state. I support this sacrifice and participate in it. But my main focus is to help people in America to build a firmer foundation for what it means to be a Jew. This project is important even when the demands of the hour-Hayei Sha'ah-are so pressing.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

The War Spills Over

The day I came back from Israel a demented, hateful man shot up the Jewish Federation in Seattle. He killed one employee and wounded five others. One of them is still struggling to survive and appears to have long term injuries. The civic and religious communities here are still in shock. People are asking how this could happen here, especially in a city which is famous for its tolerance. The response of the wider community, however, was impressive and very reassuring. Despite the tragedy there is a sense that the community will not let hateful acts destroy our civic virtues. Along with so many others I pray for the recovery of those who are injured. I want to thank the staff and leadership at the federation for their courage and persistance in a very difficult time. Thank you to the communal leaders, especially the mayor, Greg Nichols, for coming to the support of the Jewish community in its time of distress.

The women who died in the incident, Pam Waechter, was a very lovely person who was an exemplar of Jewish outreach. We shared a commitment to this type of work in the community. Pam was called a matyr in the eulogies. I don't think most people who choose to become Jewish professionals or volunteers, and those who choose do outreach work think about becoming matyrs. But I suppose we need to ask ourselves if we understand the dangers of being 'public Jews', serving the community in a way that exposes us as 'soft targets' for terrorists or deranged hateful persons.

Jews in other communities, the Jews of Argentina come to mind, have been much more exposed over this issue. Our tragedy here made me think a lot about the horrific bombing in Buenos Airies of the equivalent of the Jewish Federation in which 85 people died. The perpetrators have never been caught. In Argentina and in many other countries, serving the Jewish community is a commitment that exposes you to danger. The incident in Seattle brings us a bit closer to our fellow Jews around the world.

Now we have to think like them about our readiness to risk our lives for our purpose driven work. Maybe we are back to a time when to do Jewish outreach to assimilated Jews would mean having to work to confront the exposure to danger question. I know that some Jews hide, for fear of persecution or exposure to hatred. Who wants to be hated, especially a hatred that seems so infathomable and so irrational? What do you say to people to motivate them to explore Judaism. Or sometimes we do the opposite.

We sell Judaism because just to be a Jew is to be a heroic soldier standing up to all this hatred and persecution. Either way, antisemitism and hatred of Jews, seems to be a catalyst in standing up or hiding for many Jews. While I was in Israel a planeload of French Jews came to Ben Gurion to make aliyah. The war in the North had been raging for over a week. The immigrants were interviewed on Israeli TV in an impressive display of idealism and love of the Jewish people. The commentator kept on asking, "Aren't you crazy for coming here." He kept on repeating the comment.

Pam Waechter was a convert. Like every convert, I am sure she was asked about her awareness of the hatred of Jews and antisemitism. Converts, new immigrants to Israel, the loners in the Israeli army who come to defend Israel without the support of family are all impressive people. They sign on knowing the dangers. Other Jews think they are crazy. Maybe it is worth exploring why people become passionate about being Jewish despite the risks. Thank God for those crazy Jews who love the Jewish people.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

A Jewish Community Gathering for Healing

After the tragedy....

Now is the time to come together as a community to begin the healing process and prepare to move forward.

"Hiney ma tov u-manayim shevet achim gam yachad"

"How good and how pleasant it is for all brethern to dwell together in unity."

Wednesday, August 2nd 2006
Temple De Hirch Sinai
1511 East Pike Street, Seattle

The Jewish Federation of Seattle invites you to join them in a community for an hour of readings, remembering, and a renewal of hope.

For questions contact Lisa Schultz Golden, Jewish Family Services at 206-461-3240.

In observance of Tisha B'Av the service will conclude within an hour.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

The Joys of the Sabbath Table: Sabbath Gatherings to Learn the Home Traditions

The foundation of a joyful Jewish life takes place around the home table. Yet many Jews have lost the traditions and customs that make the Sabbath table a place for good food, engaging company, thoughtful conversation, and contagious song. Join Rabbi Gartenberg for this monthly opportunity to learn Sabbath home traditions and to build the foundation for a joyful Sabbath celebrations at your home. Children are welcome. Please rsvp: at 1 877 –Midrash (877-643-7274) or write rabbidov@panimhadashot.com. This will be potluck so think of a dairy/parve dish you would like to bring.

This gathering will take place at Rabbi Dov’s home at 3827 NE 90th St. Seattle, WA 98115
on Saturday, August 5, 2006, 4:30 – 6:30pm

Monday, July 31, 2006

Steadfastness in the Face of Crisis: A Shabbat Morning Gathering

Steadfastness in the Face of Crisis: A Shabbat Morning Gathering

Shabbat Morning 10am to 12 noon

Panim Hadashot Beit Midrash, 3827 NE 90th St. Seattle, WA 98115

Join Rabbi Dov Gartenberg for a special Shabbat morning gathering of study and discussion about the current world crisis generated by the war in the Middle East and the recent shooting at the Jewish Federation in Seattle. Rabbi Gartenberg just returned from a month of intensive study in Israel at the Shalom Hartman Institute. Rabbi Gartenberg will share some of the learning from his visit and will share his perceptions of what is happening in Israel. We will devote a period of time for prayer and reflection while addressing the emotional-spiritual challenges of facing a world in chaos and uncertainty. There will be light refreshment served at the conclusion of the gathering at noon.

Please be so kind to rsvp by writing to rabbidov@panimhadashot.com or call 877 Midrash.

Forum: What are the Long Range Implications of the crisis in Israel-Lebanon?

Forum: What are the Long Range Implications of the crisis in Israel-Lebanon? Rabbi Dov Gartenberg and Michael Newman

Sunday Morning, Sunday, August 6, 2006 10-11:30am

Panim Hadashot Beit Midrash3827 NE 90th St. Seattle, WA 98115

The events in Israel and Lebanon threaten world stability and seem to portend a new turn in the 60 year old Israeli-Arab conflict. Come join a thoughtful discussion on a complex and important topic.

Michael Newman is a close reader of the situation of the Middle East. He has taught adults, college, and high school students about the history of Israel and the Middle East Conflict. Rabbi Dov Gartenberg has just returned from a month in Israel where he was a fellow at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. He will bring perspectives on the recent crisis and a longer view from his broad knowledge of Jewish history.

Please rsvp with Rabbi Gartenberg at rabbidov@panimhadashot.com or call 1877 Midrash.

Reflections on a Thirty Two Year Old Relationship

Reflections on a Thirty Two Year Old Relationship

Over thirty-two years I have come to Israel, to study, to live, to teach, and to celebrate. Each time I have come, Israel presents itself anew. Each time I came, my love and commitment to Israel deepened. Over this time Israelbecame familiar to me, it was almost like home. I would spend more time with my friends and family than touring. I saw them change as well over this time.

In 1974, I came to Israel as a twenty year old to study at the Hebrew University for my junior year. I came in the summer, following the Yom Kippur War. My first experience of Israel was as a people suffering the agonizing pain from nearly losing a war. Over three thousand soldiers died despite a late and impressive victory. Many students who served in the reserves had died or had been wounded. Their absence was palpable at the university. The survivors were somber and subdued.

I came back in the summers of 1977 to 1980 as head counselor for a high school program from Los Angeles. These were times of change and hope in Israel. The opposition Likud came to power after 29 years in the opposition. Soon afterwards, Anwar Sadat decided to come to Jerusalem.

The country entered a euphoric phase with the hope of peace with Egypt. I recall those hopeful times in Israel, the beginning of a peace movement. At the same time with the support of the Likud government settlements began to grow in Judah, Shomrom, and Gaza (as the West Bank was called by the government). The settlers were young and idealisticand captured the imagination of Israelis. A few people began to warn about the impact of the settler policy, but few heeded it. There were dramatic terrorist attacks from the PLO, but they were sporadic and did not paralyze the country.

I came to live for a year of rabbinical school during the year of 1979-1980. I recall traveling to Egyptduring Passover. Travel for Israeli and American tourists had opened up that year. My trip to Luxor and Cairo was remarkable. I experienced the warm hospitality of Egyptians and felt a sense of greater optimism from most of the people I met. Also on that trip I met the first Islamic fundamentalists, students at an Islamic University in Cairo.

They came to hear a talk by Richard Murphy, a diplomat from the state department. One student from Lebanon told me bluntly that Islamic law could not tolerate a non-Islamic entity in a land formerly under Islamic rule. He promised me that the Jews would live more happily under a Muslim state in Palestinethan under a corrupt, Westernized rule of the Zionists. I thought he was a kook. This was a couple years after the Iranian revolution and I did not yet appreciate the growing Islamic fundamentalism emerging in the Arab countries.

I came back for extended visits in 1984 and 1988. These years I remember as times of growth in Israel. The Russian and the Ethiopian aliyah were beginning to take place. There were wars too, Israel was in Lebanon where it threw out the PLO, but soon got mired in a war of attrition which lasted 18 years. In 1988, I came during the first Intifada. On all my previous visits it was easy to go into the West Bank, to visit Hevron, to stop in the Arab markets or towns. But I did not go during that summer. From that point on the West Bank became foreign to me, partly out of choice, partly out of security. The settler movement was politically powerful and insisted on large resources to fuel its growth. I despised Ariel Sharon who gave the settlers power and influence. Israel was a politically divided country and I identified with the burgeoning peace movement.

During late 80s and early 90s, I came over to Israel on periodic summers, beginning my association with the Hartman Institute. I would come over for two weeks of intensive study and was brought up to date on Israeli culture and politics. I missed the gulf war when Israelis were confined to their sealed rooms to protect themselves againstthe threats of Sadam Hussein. The beginnings of a peace process were stirring, but it was slow. More and more Russians were coming and the country was changing.

My family and I came over to Israel during the year 1994-5 as the Oslopeace process began to be implemented. I recall the year as being a hopeful time, yet over the time of our stay, we felt growing suspicion and opposition to the process. Three were dramatic suicide bus bombings by Hamas, whichopposed the process. The settler movement began to organize against the accords and by the time we left Rabin and his government were vilified in posters and in public places. Oslowas extremely divisive in Israel and there was a great deal of intense political debate and struggle. A few months after we left Rabin was assassinated as this debate reached a boil.

I continued to visit Israel during summer visits to the Hartman Institute in the late 90s. These were seesaw years as a labor government of Barak replaced a right wing administration of Netanyahu. The pace of political change seemed to get faster. Israel was prospering. Israelis would talk about being independent from American Jews. The settlements continued to grow and to exert their political clout. Barak's victory sped up political change. I remember this brief period as a peaceful one. Israelis wanted out of Lebanonand Barak got them out after 18 years in a unilateral withdrawal. The peace process was heating up and moving toward a final agreement. I remember this time as one of growing hope.

When I returned for several extended visits staring in the summer of 2003 I found a very different country. For three years the 2nd Intifada had ravaged the Palestinian and Jewish population. I came toward the end of the crisis when Israel had launched operation Defensive Shield and had severely weakened the Palestinian terrorist organizations. The West Bankfence was being erected and it had reduced the incidents of suicide bombers. But with the death toll diminishing the hope index was at an all time low. My Israeli friends despaired of a peace partner. During this time a new idea emerged, Unilateralism. In the name of preserving a Jewish demographic majority, Israel was prepared to withdraw from Gaza and leave it to the Palestinians. In the summer of 2005 the drama of the disengagement played out in Israel. The result was a difficult but peaceful pullout of Gaza.

I have just returned from my most recent summer visit to Israel. This summer brought sudden and dangerous war to Israel, prompted by a vicious Hezbollah attack that caused Israel to open hostilities against Hezbollah in Lebanon. This was the first time in my 32 years that I was in Israel during a major war.

Israelis are sadly accustomed to war. This war has a different feel. It comes long after the peace process had collapsed and found most Israelis in a deeply pessimistic mood regarding the prospects of peace. Israeli young people do not speak of peace in their lifetimes. They think more about their careers, their personal hopes. They accept their national obligations to serve and understand the need to defend the country, but they have suppressed their hopes. There is a search for comfort in religion and spirituality. There is a renewed interest in Judaism among some secular youth and a widespread search for meaning among them in Eastern forms of religion.

The second thing I observed is that Israelis believe that no matter how many concessions they make, regardless if the government withdraws from occupied territory, they will be subject to attack. This is the lesson of Lebanon and Gaza. This is all the more poignant because most Israelis have abandoned their romance with the settlers and the settlements. Israelis feel that they are now is a prolonged fight for their existence; they are defending their homes.

One of the most noteworthy comments during my month in Israelwas made by Ami Ayalon, the former Shin-Beit director and member of parliament. He felt that until the Palestinians could be given hope of an improvement of their condition that Israelwould face a hostile Palestinian people. Today there is an overbearing feeling of mutual hopelessness. Maybe another round of war will create the conditions for hope, but it is a historical truth that hopelessness is an appetizer for warthan for peace. I fear that the strivings for peace will remain underground until enough people on both sides say enough. We are not there yet by any means.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

On the Shooting at the Jewish Federation

Dear Friends,
'Sinah Mkalkelet hashurah-Hate destroys the order of life' (from the Talmud). An act of hate descended on our community and left good and innocent people dead and wounded. We mourn the death of Pam Waechter. Pam and I shared a common passion for Jewish outreach and worked on several projects together. She also was a participant this past year in the joint Panim Hadashot-Federation long distance seminar with the Hartman Institute. We have lost a devoted servant of the Jewish community.

We pray for the quick recovery of those injured. We express our solidarity with the staff and volunteers of the Jewish Federation during this time of trial and anguish. We join the voices with the wider Seattle community, which condemn this hate crime and the virulent anti-semitism that feeds it. This is a time for all religious and ethnic communities to come to together to renew an active commitment to tolerance and civil rights. This is a critical time for inter-religious and cross-cultural dialogue to build commitment to a civil and peace loving community. I particularly support efforts for the Jewish and Muslim communities to build stronger relations and to work together to fight hatred.

It is also important to understand the broader significance of this tragedy. One of the by-products of the conflict and the current crisis in the Middle East is a hatred for Israel that spills over into a hatred for Jews. We must not be afraid to confront this hatred and to challenge those who minimize it or deny its significance. This is not a time to put our heads in the sand and hope the problem will go away.

Panim Hadashot is an educational and outreach organization, which is devoted to sharing Judaisms meaning and relevance in the modern world. We are committed to illuminating Judaisms great teachings, whichinspire us to act justly, to enhance Jewish life, and to contribute the betterment of the world. In the coming weeks we will offer opportunities for people in the community to come together for study and dialogue.

Lech Lshalom-Go to Peace,
Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
Panim Hadashot-New Faces of Judaism

Monday, July 24, 2006

Report from Israel, 7/24/06

Just a few notes on a busy day full of learning. The best article of the day is here. Dershowitz writes lucidly about the issue of civilian casualties. This is an article to carry in your wallet when you get into discussions about the war. This is the first time in a very long time in which Israel is getting support from many quarters. It seems that much of the world is waking up to the real dangers of Islamic fundamentalist terror. However many well meaning people do not see the consequences of accomodating a terrorist organization. The Prime Minister of Israel seemed to capture the moment in his speech: "Ad Kan" (meaning in Hebrew-no more.)

The learning today at the Hartman Institute was extraordinary. Today Moshe Halbertal took us through a section of the Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 30b and 31a. We immersed ourselves in the discussion of the proper mood one requires to pray the Tefilah. This is a classic Talmudic debate on the nature of prayer. This section of the Talmud is a wonderful example of the capacity for the rabbis to accept different points of view and to challenge attempts to establish a single norm. In the case of prayer, the rabbis essentially recognize what moderns would call a pluralism of spiritualities. While all agree that a relationship with God is a critical dimension of life, the Talmud entertains several different stances toward God from submission to defiance.

The hero of this section of the Talmud is Hannah (1Samuel, chapters 1ff) who become the paradigm of a person who prays to God out of defiance. For those who are looking for one of the origins of the Jewish trait of Hutzpa, this is a passage you should definitely look at. I plan to include this text during our study sessions on the High Holidays. I consider it one of the classics of all of Jewish literature.

Beside this marvelous sessions we had excellent sessions on the Binding of Isaac (Gen 22) in comparison with 2 Samuel 24. The session could have been titled "Sacrificing before God or Sacrificing before the People. A third session in the evening was a thought provoking session on how popularization of Jewish mysticism in contemporary culture. This session was given by Yoni Garb who is one of the outstanding scholars of Kabbalah.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Report from Israel 7-23-06

Report from Israel th day of the war. I continue to stay and study in Jerusalem. Jerusalemis calm and life continues in its routine. However, we all know what is going on. The war continues to rage in the north. Hezbollah targets continue to be hit by the Israeli air force. There is a huge wave of refugees in the Lebanon along with many civilian casualties there since Hezbollah conducts its operations amidst a civilian population. The northern part of Israel continues to be hit by missiles and nearly two million people find themselves largely confined to shelters. Thousands of Northerners are in Jerusalem, staying with family, friends, welcoming strangers, and hotels. There are around a hundred in my hotel. A huge sign hangs in the on the Valley of the Healers Street (Emek Refaim), Inhabitants of the North, We are with you!

It is now the 12

It appears that this war will be long and will bring with it a high price in both human and material costs. Ultimately, there will have to be a political settlement, but that appears beyond the horizon for the time being. Israel continues to benefit from strong support from the United Statesand surprising tacit support from many other countries including several Arab states, which fear the power of Hezbollah and its Iranian and Syrian backers.

Israelis fighting a just war. No country could tolerate a dangerous terrorist force along its border, armed with thousands of missiles and ready to provoke and terrorize at will. Fighting such a force is very difficult and we are now beginning to see the costs that it involves. The determination of Israelis is impressive as they fight this war. More than ever Israel needs moral and material support. I call on you not to forget Israel during this new and dangerous trial.

Please give generously to organizations in the Jewish community that are raising funds to support Israelis who are suffering from the impact of this war. Educate yourself and others about Israels history to understand better what is happening in these times. Question the accuracy and depth of your media sources and seek out the best sources of information. Be in contact with Israeli family and friends and extend to them moral support. Join in uniting our community behind Israel during its time of need.

Amos Oz spoke in Seattle several years ago about the consequences of Israeldeciding to move back to its older boundaries in an effort to make peace. He argued that once Israel was fighting for its homes instead of occupied territories, the country would be united and determined in its defense. Ozs observation has come true and so Israel is in a war in defense of their homes.

While there is clarity in purpose there is still the enormous frustration and sadness about having to forced to fight again. Israelis are a very stubborn people, realistic about its enemies, and absent of apocalyptic obsessions. There are messianistsand apocalysts on the periphery, but their cultural and religious influence is minor. Last year it appears Israelgave up on its ideal of the settlers. Now Israel will have to give up on its hope of unilateralism. It is unclear what lies ahead, but it is certain that Israel will be in a defensive stance for years to come.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Weekly Message 7-20-06 Cacophany

Dear Friends,

I am entering my last week of my stay in Israel. The purpose of my visit has been to study at the Hartman Institute. We have kept to our rigorous schedule of studies, but even our teachers admit to severe distractability. When we are free we are watching the TV or looking for news on the internet. A war is like a black whole. It sucks everything up, your attention, your anxiety, your thoughts, your peace of mind. Jerusalem is calm, so I am not feeling the brunt of it like those in the North. We carry on and try to stay focused on our routine and our particular world of interest.

One of the themes for our month of study is Israeli spirituality. The theme was chosen to expose diaspora rabbis to spiritual trends arising amongst secular and moderately traditional Israelis ( who form the great majority of the Israeli population). We have heard from groups that are doing fascinating work. One group called Beit Knesset Israeli has created a community in Tel Aviv for prayer which combines traditional liturgy, modern Israeli poetry, and music. It is aimed at secular Israelis who seek a spiritual community but cannot find a home in a synagogue. Another group shared with us their efforts to revive classical Hebrew liturgical poetry, piyyut. There is a small but growing trend of Israelis who gather to sing and chant this body of poetry stretching 2000 years.

It is interesting to see the connection between Israeli and American attempts to create new spiritual and religious models. Panim Hadashot is one example. It is exciting to see the blooming of this creativity and searching in Israel and to form connections with them.
Please feel free to write me at rabbidov@panimhadashot.com.

I wish you a Shabbat Shalom and pray for peace.
Shalom, Rabbi Dov Gartenberg 7/20/06

Monday, July 17, 2006

No Room for Catastrophizing: Report from Israel: July 17

The last 5 days have been so absorbing. Calm continues in Jerusalem, but Northern Israel and its two million inhabitants are mostly in shelters. Missles have reached the lower Galilee. But it is always worth repeating that Israelis have not paniced and that the country which overwhelmingly supports the military response of the IDF, understands that this will be a painful period.

Sacrifice has real meaning in Israel and loss here is framed in that language whether you are a civilian or a soldier. Donniel Hartman made a wonderful point about the IDF. Israelis worry about the safety of their army as much as they expect the army to protect them. The pictures of fallen soldiers are always on the front pages of the newspapers. In a citizen army everyone has someone in harms way. This puts great pressure on the leaders, whose own children serve. I remember the Michael Moore interviews of congressman in Fahrenheit 9/11 when he askes them if their children serve in Iraq. In American many parts of the population do not know people in the army. That is not so here. That means more worry, but more civic concern and greater engagement in policy debates and elections.

I am more and more impressed by the ability of Israelis not to 'catasrophize' their crises. Even now Israelis understand the need to be pragmatic and hold onto their awareness that their country is capable of bearing the current challenge. There is much courage and fortitude here. I would not call this country stoic, because people mourn here with great emotion. They play with a certain abandon. But this is a marvelously adaptive country with great inner resources.
Israelis are relieved that their leadership has embarked on its response to the attacks of Hezbollah. They will adapt to what they have to due and will laugh at the threats of Nasrallah even as they try to anticipate what he plans to do next. Israel's great accomplishment was to turn the Jews into a pragmatic and self-confidant people. This quality comes through during times of trial. It is crappy here right now, but I would not want to be around anyone else but my Israeli friends.

Friends in the States ask me what to do. I recommend that you support Israel financially to help it recover from the physical and material blows. Don't rush to come, but come in the future to study or to spend time here. Don't make Israel a place that you consider only when it is in crisis, but come here to appreciate the spirit and the accomplishments of this nation and its people. The accomplishments of Israel and its culture are considerable and worthy of attention at good times and bad. It is also fine to criticize Israel because that is a way to engage it. Israelis themselves do not treat their country like a sacred cow and are very much in touch with its flaws.

I have been critical of Israel in the past and will continue to express concern about its failings, but my concern about Israel comes from a place of love and engagement and a long effort to understand the history that lead to its creation. The drama of Israel continues to astonish and amaze. Don't despair and don't panic. Ain Bereira-No choice.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Sunday, July 16, 2006

From Jerusalem 7-16-06

Dear Friends,

Several have written me out of concern for the situation. I am glad to be here. The country is unified. Everyone is worried, but there is no panic. I know that trips are being organized for American Jews to come over to express solidarity. Come. It is important to be here.
I recommend reading David Brooks piece in the New York Times. Link It is the best piece I have read which gives perspective on the historic moment.

Here is a quote from the piece:
"The core issue is that just as Israel has been trying to pull back to more sensible borders, its enemies have gone completely berserk. Through some combination of fecklessness and passivity, the Arab world has ceded control of this vital flashpoint to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Bashar al-Assad. It has ceded its own destiny to people who do not believe in freedom, democracy, tolerance or any of the values civilized people hold dear.

And what’s the world’s response? Israel is overreacting."

During our studies today we reviewed a famous text by Maimonides (12th century) on his notion of the days of the Messiah. His vision of that time was striking: "The Sages and the Prophets did not want an end time in which Israel would rule over the world, or that it would have dominion over the ages, or that it would rule over other nations, or would enjoy a world of material enjoyment. Rather Israel would be free to engage in Torah and wisdom. "

In this medieval language, Maimonides expressed a profound ideal which in some ways remains central to a larger Jewish vision. There is no desire by to control others, to rule over others, to oppress others. In the case of Israel, a state formed by the Jewish people, the aim is to live in peace and security with its neighbors and to foster a society which can pursue peacefully the ideals of Judaism and the Jewish culture. The great majority of Israelis have no desire to rule over Palestinians and have no interests to conquer Lebanon.

The aggression Israel faces now seeks to undermine and destroy Israel entirely. Israel faces forces that deny the validity of a Jewish state entirely and thrives on a religious ideology and messianic vision that is triumphalist, intolerant, and will use any means to achieve its aims. These forces are distorting modern Islam and bear violent intentions toward the West.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Winds of War, Jerusalem 7-14-06

I am out of harms way in Jerusalem. Life is completely normal here. The streets were full of Shabbat shoppers and the cafes were crowded with tourists and locals. Of course, everyone is talking about the 'matzav'. Most Israelis I talked to said, "It is about time." Israel has restrained itself vis a vis Hezbollouh for several years, despite various provocations. In general you do not find anyone in an apologetic mood, even with the deaths of civilians on the other side. Most of the Israelis feel they have no choice because Hamas and Hezbolouh operate amongst civilians, making them hostages. Hezbolouh has made all of Lebanon hostage to its actions.

I do not fear for my personal safety, but I am glued to the internet and the tv like everyone else. My perception which is backed up by several articles I have read is that moderation in the Arab-Islamic world is in retreat and that this past week is a vivid example of how extremist groups can instigate a conflagration. The statements coming out of Iran are odious and everyone in the world should be very concerned about the prospect of that nation getting a nuke. It appears very likely that Iran is behind the actions of Hezbolouh and the Hamas militants.

The challenge for Israel is not to go crazy and to act effectively and pragmatically. That is the debate here. How do you deal with weak states which allow for rampant terror? How do you deal with governments that deny your right to exist. This was a problem for Israel from its inception and it is used to dealing with it. But now the enemies have missles that can hit Haifa and other population centers. The enemies use terrorism and target civilians. They are engaged in a war of terror and attrition.

We are entering a new period which will require Israel to be aggresive before its uncompromising enemies. This is not going to be pleasant. This is not a time for weakness. It is also not a time to bow to our own extremists who would have us sink to the level of the haters of Israel . This will require tremendous and historic leadership. I hope we have it.

My concern is that Americans will give up on the Middle East and on Israel and will let the Islamicists be victorious. I think this would be terrible for Israel, but for the West. Bush has shot himself in the foot with Iraq and American weakness is palpable in the region. That is another reason you see Hezbolouh doing what it is doing. Iran through its proxies is poking America in the eye.

I think American Jews need to come here to witness the courage and the determination of Israelis. It is impressive on many levels. I am reminded of it while we are here in the middle of a major crisis. Israelis refuse to be cowed. I heard a story about a young woman who was at a coffee shop during the worst of the intifada. A suicide bomber had entered the place and was wrested down by the guards and the waiters before he had a chance to explode his package. Everyone had evacuated the restaurant and it was closed for several hours. The young woman had just received her order when the incident took place. So she left, but made sure to come back when the restaurant reopened and reordered her plate.

I saw the same thing. Last night on TV we saw a building ablaze in Naharia from a direct hit by a missle from Lebanon. This morning the we saw the charred building and on the first floor was the fruit and vegetable stand open for business. It was crowded with Shabbat shoppers. The Israelis are brave and not intimidated. It is worth coming over here to see that.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
July 14, 2006 18 Tammuz

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Feeling the Dilemmas

The breaking news of kidnappings and Katushkas in the North has shaken a lot of people. A couple of the major newspapers (Maariv and Yediot Ahronot) had huge headlines with the word Milhamah-war. It is not war, but clearly a worsening of the security situation and Israel's leaders face very difficult dilemmas in their choice of response. I am watching TV like everyone else, so I do not have a close perspective on what is happening. I feel no direct threat to my security and it has been a very pleasant summer from the perspective of a visitor. But it is clear that Israel is entering a new period in which it faces difficult challenges of dealing with terrorist organizations who are taking advantage of weak or dysfunctional states with the aid of radical states such as Syria and Iran.

Israelis feel frustrated, but the country appears unified as it faces these new threats. The government is new and untested and people are waiting to see how it will respond. I would not be surprised to see a unity government. Meanwhile people live their lives for the most part and worry. They also know that the terrorist threats will not disappear and that the problems we see now will be with Israel for a long time. Unfortunately there does not appear to be a quick solution to the incidents we have seen in the last few weeks.

I am inserting a link to a piece by Ari Shavit which is the best thing I have read about the current situation. Link I think he is right that we are entering a new phase and the end of unilateralism.

Humor in Israel

Amidst all the tension I went to hear a comic yesterday. His monologue describes his three conversions, Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox, followed by a aliyah to Israel. It is a hysterical act and does exemplify the many bizarre stories you run into here in the German Colony and Baka where many American Jews have settled. The comic is Yisrael Campbell.
He had a couple of good lines I will repeat: "It does not matter which denomination you belong to as long as you are ashamed of it." "I did not want to go to hell, so I changed my religion." His stories were hysterical.

He had a good quote from Heschel

When a Jew is in pain, he cries.
When he is in more pain, he is silent.
When he has even more pain, he sings.

In the morning we had a magisterial session on the quality of humility by the scholar, Moshe Halbertal. He compared Aristotles depiction of honor and humility with Maimonides (12th century, Egypt) and the writings of Moshe Hayim Luzzato (17th century, Italy). The lesson was a window into the great cultural divides within Judaism and also between Judaism and the Hellenistic tradition. The session also reminded me of the choices we have as parents and educators in how we convey the value of modesty and honor and how difficult it is in our times to model a spiritual cultivation of humility. Great stuff!!

Sunday, July 9, 2006

"Jewish Tradition Does Not Learn From the Bible"

"Jewish tradition does not learn from the Bible. It teaches the Bible what it is saying." This was the most memorable line today in a memorable lesson on the Abraham narratives. The joy of learning at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem is the capacity of teacher after teacher to bring Jewish texts and ideas to life. In particular the faculty at Hartman demonstrates the remarkable genius of the texts of the rabbis and their capacity to reinterpret the biblical text in the most imaginative and courageous ways. It is a truism that Judaism does not find comfort in a literal reading of scripture. But Hartman teaches its students to fully engage the breadth of non literal readings and to see within them the profound debates that define their world and our own religious divides.

The question today was how the rabbinic texts shape and define the religious personality of Avraham? The Midrashic sources today reveal conflicting views of the core religious experience that is the foundation of Judaism. But one line of Midrashim depicts the religiosity of Avraham as a person of tremendous moral hutzpah, who takes initiative to challenge God and people in the world. This line of interpretation even suggests that Avraham resists God in the binding of Isaac through petitionary prayer. This vision of a fully responsible, non-submissive Avraham is not the simple reading of the Bible, but one religious perspective which emerges from a rabbinic reading of the Bible which is not chained to a rigid view of the text.

One of the reasons I chose of life of study (this is not only for rabbis but any Jew) is the distinct joy of seeing a profound insight emerge from conversations so long ago. I gain pleasure from learning that previous generations had much to teach us. When Jewish texts are taught with inspiration and insight we are able to see the profound humane and spiritual possibities that can make us better human beings. There is the joy of recognition that we are not the first to see the world in a keener way. There is also the joy of learning the understanding about human limits and foibles, a timeless sense of humor and a shocking honesty about human faillings and potential. There is always surprise, subtilty, and humor when encountering these texts and a sense of gratitude to be part of a culture that has so preserved and kept alive its past.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

July 5, 2006 from Jerusalem

Introduction to the Enewsletter, July 5, 2006

(If you wish to receive the Panim Hadashot, weekly enewsletter, please go to http://www.panimhadashot.com/ and sign up on the email)

I will be spending 3 weeks in July at the Shalom Hartman Institute where I am a fellow in the Rabbinic Leadership Program (formerly known as the Center for Rabbinic Enrichment). I am entering the third year of this three year fellowship of advanced Jewish studies at the Institute which is a renowned center for Jewish learning and thought. This summer I will study with my cohort of thirty rabbis the theme of "Standing before God". We explore the teachings of tradition on how we relate to and communicate with God. We study the classic texts of Jewish tradition on prayer, faith, and commandment and relate them to Judaism in our times. What are the features of a Jewish spiritual life? How do we know when we stand before God, or when we stand at a distance? What are the compromises and limits of a spiritual life?

A day at Hartman consists of 6 to 8 hours of learning together and with outstanding teachers and colleagues. I draw from this remarkable learning to teach in Seattle and to expose my students to the great sacred and literary texts of Judaism. Please check out my blog for snippets of this this learning and insight from Jerusalem.

I am also thrilled that several people who participated in the Hartman long distance seminar in Seattle have come to Jerusalem to study in the lay leadership program. I have been joining them for their sessions and am thrilled that they have discovered the remarkable learning experience that the institute offers.

Panim Hadashot continues to gain attention in the Jewish world outside Seattle. I recommend that you read the most current issue of Sh'ma. This is a journal which is read by Jewish leaders and educators as well as many serious Jews about issues facing the Jewish people. The current issue is devoted to innovation in Jewish life. Follow this link. I have an article in the issue. I recommend that you read Shawn Landres' piece which looks at the landscape of Jewish innovation. Panim Hadashot is one of the leaders nationally.

Meanwhile, Panim Hadashot is busy planning for the upcoming 2006-7 year. Please continue to follow our newsletters as we announce the details of the High Holidays. I am pleased to announce that our unique High Holiday program has been underwritten in memory of Edwin L. Bierman. Marilyn Bierman continues to support Jewish learning and innovation in his memory. Her gift enables Panim Hadashot to offer an innovative approach to the High Holidays that provides a unique opportunity for people to seriously explore the meaning of Judaism and to experience it deeply in all its beauty, joy, and wisdom.

I hope to be writing daily in the rabbiblog at http://www.panimhadashot.com/ about my experiences here. Please visit there and I welcome your comments.

Shalom, Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
July 5, 2006; 9 Tammuz 5756

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Report from Israel

Dear Friends,

I arrived at Tel Aviv on Monday afternoon and took a shuttle to Jerusalem. I love the new airport, especially the crisscrossing ramp which divides the those arriving and departing. Who will arrive and who will depart? Is this a traveler's unetaneh tokef-that prayer of contrasting fates we chant during the Day of Awe.

Israel is always stories, encounters with people coming and going. I am on a shuttle going to Jerusalem reading a book called the End of Faith by Sam Harris. I have been slowly absorbing this devastating critique of religion and faith for a couple of months and I happened to be finishing it on my way to Jerusalem. The young woman sitting next to me in the shuttle asked me a question about Jerusalem which began a conversation about religion. She told me that she was coming for two months to study with Aish Hatorah, an orthodox Jewish outreach group which is based in Jerusalem. I asked her what brought her to Aish. She said she attended a seminar in her city about the nature of the soul which touched her deeply. She grew up a secular Jew and had never heard God or the soul mentioned growing up. Now she was on her way to discover Judaism, God, and faith, in Jerusalem. She did not ask me about the book I was reading. I did not have the inclination to discuss my book with her. She was reading the 'beginning of faith' and did not want to hear the end of it.

People are arrivng and departing in Israel. Going up to God, going away from God. Going up to Jerusalem, going down from Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem gay pride parade is coming on August 10th. The orthodox rabbinate, the Greek orthodox, and the Muslim sheiks are banding together to block the parade and the rhetoric in the media is too odious to repeat. In this climate my brother and his life partner came to visit Israel for the first time in 18 years. My ultra orthodox sister originally arranged to see them both, but then disinvited my brother's partner. She agreed to see my brother, but refused to acknowledge or socialize with them as a couple. The liberal side of my family was in shock over the rejection. The orthodox of my family hastily set up fences, fearing the exposure to the alien and the forbidden.

People are arriving and departing. This is a place of opposite directions, splitting roads, crisscrossing ramps. Families careening into different orbits. Last night I heard Ami Ayalon at the Hartman Institute giving a vision of hope and peace even amidst a sober assessment. Israel's security is tied to Palestinian hope. As he was speaking a Qassam hit an empty school in Ashkelon. In the morning papers the commentators predicted war. Hope and Despair.

Crisscrossing ramps of people going different ways. The topic of my studies at the Hartman Institute is "Standing before God". In Israel people think they are running toward God or away from Him. I see few standing before Him. People are either angry at Him or are falling in love with Him. And everyone is trying to sort out what He/She demands of us or if we have to figure this out on our own. At the very least it leads to great conversations in the taxis, in the synagogues, and in the cafes. July 5, 2006. As for God, more about that later.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg