Sunday, January 28, 2007

1-29-07 Good News from Israel

One of the great things about being a rabbinic fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute is being exposed to the best and the brightest in Israel. Yesterday, we had the pleasure of hearing Gidi Grinstein, the founder and director of the Reut Institute, a new and unusual think tank in Israel. In a spellbounding hour of analysis, Grinstein, presented original and fresh thinking about an array of major issues that have bedeviled Israel and the Jewish world.

The most striking insight for me was his repudiation of the common Israeli condescension and negation of the significance of the Jewish diaspora. Unlike the storm over A. B. Yehoshua's comments last year to an American Jewish audience, Grinstein argued that Jewish genius was to be found in the capacity for network and community building wherever Jews found themselves. This capacity would enable Judaism to persist long into the future. But he also argued that the opportunity for the Jews to build a nation, and to make it endure and thrive is a critical dimension of the Jewish project. The health of the Jewish communities of the Diaspora and the vigor of Israel is our common project.

Behind this argument is his understanding that Judaism and the Jewish people represent a matrix of values which must all be embraced and allowed to coexist together. The problem he says with much of Israeli and Zionist thought is to focus on one value over all the other (even contradictory values). This was the error of the settler movement which became obsessed with settlement over other Zionist values such as democracy and human rights. A true Zionist must live in conflict with contradictory values, allowing all of them to be in play and attempting to balance them in living out one's Zionist commitments.

Most interesting was his analysis of the current political-military crisis in Israel. Read the articles on Reut's outstanding website that have just come out about the need for some new thinking. The new ideas Grinstein presented were completely refreshing and the most thought provoking insights I have heard in years. His presentation and comments impressed all of the 25 colleagues in the room and gave us hope and excitement about the future. Anyone who cares about Israel should pay attention to Reut and Grinstein and share with others the new ideas he is bringing to light during these eventful times.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Reflections on the Idea of Panim Hadashot


Panim Hadshot-New Faces of Judaism has been active now for 2 1/2 years. Panim Hadashot is frankly an experiment, an attempt to establish a vibrant and pluralistic form of Jewish outreach in the liberal community. But why do so? Why would the liberal community need an effort to bring Jews closer to Judaism, especially if American Jews prize choice and integration in the world and eschew a serious regard of their Jewish identity.

I can only speak for myself and share with you my motivation for engaging in 'Jewish outreach.' I am attempting to engage secular, independent, unaffiliated Jews in the question of 'why be Jewish?' Or more precisely, I am advocating for Judaism's relevance and meaning in a world that allows for many ways to express identity and to find community.

I do believe deeply in Judaism's wisdom and enduring relevance. I am even more inspired by Judaism's unique spirituality and way of life.

I advocate that Jewish learning and Jewish spiritual celebration is unique, compelling, and spiritually meaningful.

I want to share this wisdom with others in an engaging, non-judmental, and joyful way. I have tried to create vehicles to convey authentic and rich Jewish experience where the teaching and wisdom is transparent and easily accessible.

I have tried these new venues realizing that many Jews no longer feel drawn to the synagogue or other Jewish institutions or do not feel that they will experience Judaism profoundly in these settings.

I have focused on intimate setting for learning and celebration, settings that maximize fostering relationships and shared experience. Most of all I have focused on the Sabbath sacred meal as a uniquely Jewish way of teaching Judaism's insight, joy, and love for community.

I will expand on these reflections during the next few days and weeks. I welcome your comments and thoughts.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg