Monday, August 14, 2006

Prayer and the High Holidays

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

Go to 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:

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

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 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 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