A Time to Act: In Support of Women of the Wall

I am dismayed by the polarizing decisions made recently by the Israeli government concerning Nashot Hakotel (Women of the Wall) and on conversion.   Please read this editorial piece by Lesley Sachs of Nashot Hakotel.

NYTimes: Jewish Women vs. The Jewish State

I had the opportunity to hear Lesley Sachs in Seattle a couple of months ago. It did not appear that she or anyone else saw this decision coming. So much progress had been made. But a short term political decision has evaporated any goodwill that had been built up by years of negotiation and activism.

Unfortunately, these two decisions have driven a wedge between the Israeli government and the much of the American Jewish Diaspora. I am a longtime supporter of Women of the Wall. I have prayed with them in the past.   I raise my voice alongside their voices in support of overturning the shortsighted and hypocritical decisions by the Netanyahu government to cave into the demands of the ultra Orthodox parties in the Knesset.

I am sharing the mission of Women of the Wall, so you can understand the importance of their work. I urge you to support them at this difficult time. A link to their sight is below the mission statement.

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As Women of the Wall, our central mission is to attain social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear wow083prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah, collectively and aloud, at the Western Wall.

We work to further our mission through social advocacy, education and empowerment.

In our social advocacy work, we aim to change the status-quo that is currently preventing women from being able to pray freely at the Western Wall. This goal has tremendous ramifications for women’s rights in Judaism and in Israel, and must be achieved through social advocacy in order to raise awareness and change social perception of these issues.

We take it upon ourselves to educate Jewish women and the public about the social, political and personal ramifications of limiting or eliminating women’s right to pray as a group at a holy site. When the law and society silence women in prayer – literally, publicly and deliberately – it is a violation of civil rights, human rights and religious freedom. Education is the key to changing perspectives, laws and lives.

Every time we meet to pray, we empower and encourage Jewish women to embrace religion freely, in their own way. We stand proudly and strongly in the forefront of the movement for religious pluralism in Israel, with the hope to inspire and empower women from all over the world and across the spectrum of Jewish movements to find their spiritual voices and create meaningful Jewish identities.

With this powerful mission before us, our vision is to strengthen and expand our organization, to reach out and influence policy makers and leaders and to demand full access for women to prayer at the Western Wall. In addition, Women of the Wall works to expand our network of supporters and partners around the world who will advocate and take action with us.

Introducing the New Mission Statement for Panim Hadashot-New Faces

Over the past few weeks I have been meeting with friends and with our newly formed Panim Hadashot-New Faces Advisory Board to review our mission statement. I am happy to unveil Panim Hadashot-New Faces revised mission statement.

New Tagline:  Revitalizing Shabbat Hospitality

Meaning

Panim Hadashot-פנים חדשות  (Pah-neem Chah-dah-shote) means “new faces” in Hebrew.  It is an ancient Jewish term associated with hospitality and the Sabbath.  

Mission

Panim Hadashot-New Faces fosters Sabbath joy (Oneg Shabbat) by encouraging home hospitality, reviving the tradition of table singing through our music, exploring timely Jewish teachings, and bringing ‘new faces’, people from diverse backgrounds, together in celebration.    

What We Do

Panim Hadashot-New Faces is a unique Jewish organization that teams up with hosts all around Seattle and surrounding communities through our Shabbat Hosting Partnerships to bring Sabbath joy to home gatherings with our Heart of Shabbat Ensemble. We also provide opportunities for all those we touch to enjoy the song, music, learning and prayer offered by our Heart of Shabbat Ensemble at Shabbat, Festival, and High Holiday gatherings open to the entire community.

Commentary on the mission statement by Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

“Panim Hadashot”; One of the early debates within Panim Hadashot concerned whether we should use an English or a Hebrew name.   Panim Hadashot was conceived in 2004 as a Jewish outreach organization. The general assumption of those doing Jewish outreach at the time, was that an English name was essential to connect to unaffiliated Jews. We chose not to go in this direction and keep the name Panim Hadashot. Our English tagline in the early days was different and was changed to “New Faces” in 2015 to reflect our more recent focus on Jewish hospitality practice. We serve the entire Jewish community both affiliated and unaffiliated.

“hospitality and the Sabbath”; The term Panim Hadashot appears in the Talmud and refers specifically to the practice in antiquity of inviting new faces to wedding parties for a bride and groom in the week following the ceremony. It was customary to fete the couple, but new faces had to be invited to recite the celebratory seven blessings. I saw this practice in Jerusalem after my nephew’s wedding. The couple was sitting in their apartment with family and a couple of us were sent downstairs to the street and instructed to yell, “panim hadashot”. Sure enough several folks volunteered to join us and we brought the new faces upstairs to the party and the singing began. I was quite taken with this ancient practice which combined hospitality and the spreading of joy in both directions, to the bride and the groom and to the new guests.

This memory inspired me to adopt the name ‘Panim Hadashot’ when we founded the organization.   I envision Panim Hadashot as a Jewish organization that would revitalize Jewish hospitality practice and the cultivate home spirituality of associated with Shabbat.

In Kabbalistic literature the Sabbath is also referred to as “panim hadashot” to suggest that every Sabbath is in a sense a new face to be welcomed.

Our view of Shabbat is that it is a time of hospitality, rest, renewal, singing, and feasting. It is a time of transcendence that is shared with others. These insights animate our approach.

“Sabbath joy (Oneg Shabbat)”; Thanks to the insight of Anna Boiko-Weyrauch we altered our mission statement to reflect our ultimate purpose of our home centered programs. We hope to bring people to experience the joy of Shabbat. ‘Oneg Shabbat’ is a much more far reaching concept than most realize. Most American Jews think that ‘Oneg Shabbat’ as the cookies and cake served at the synagogue after Friday night services.

Eating comfort food on the Sabbath is an ‘Oneg Shabbat’, but so is physical intimacy of a married couple. Oneg Shabbat conveys the unique joy of Sabbath that differentiates it from the weekday. The joy is both physical and spiritual and is essentially relational-shared together with others. This is the joy we seek to evince in our home visits, our music, and our teaching. Our hope is that an authentic experience of ‘Oneg Shabbat’ binds people together and creates community and fellowship.

“home hospitality”; Our previous tagline was “revitalizing Jewish hospitality”. The Jewish hospitality traditions are rich and varied and are not confined to the Sabbath. But Shabbat home hospitality is the core focus of a hospitality practice and all else flows from it. Prior to modern times, the huge majority of Jews lived within walking distance to their synagogue and were thus living close to each other. Shabbat hospitality was a direct outgrowth of a local Sabbath observant community. This is still true of traditional communities to this day and is one of the appeals of living in such a community.

But most Jews in the US no longer live in proximity to a synagogue or are strict in their Sabbath observance. For lot’s of different reasons home hospitality has declined among liberal American Jews along with setting apart the Sabbath day.

One of our main aims is to help restore the home as a central arena for Jewish life and spirituality and to reimagine hospitality and Shabbat celebration in the new reality we live in.

“reviving the tradition of table singing through our music”; I have always loved to sing and as a young adult I discovered the Jewish traditions of Sabbath table songs when I served as a counselor at Camp Ramah in 1976. One of the big drivers of Panim Hadashot is to revitalize the practice of singing at home. It’s actually not so unusual. We do our Passover Seders at home and I can’t think of many homes that don’t do Mah Nishtanah or Dayeinu and many more melodies.

The innovation of collaborating with hosts to come to their homes is central to our approach. From the beginning of Panim Hadashot in 2004, I would team up with hosts to do a Shabbat meal together at their homes. I would lead the rituals, give interpretation, and lead a few songs. The novelty of these home gatherings was having a rabbi come to the host’s home to share in your Shabbat celebration.

There was something flawed about this early approach since it put the focus on me, the visiting rabbi. When I returned to Seattle in 2015 and revived Panim Hadashot I wanted to try enhancing the home Shabbat in a different way.   Why not center the experience around music and singing.   We gathered together an ensemble of musicians and singers (including me) and began bringing the group to home Shabbat gatherings in the fall of 2016. The ensemble took on the name, The Heart of Shabbat Ensemble, to emphasize that our music was Shabbat centered and was designed to cultivate participation, group singing, and joy.

“new faces, people from diverse backgrounds”; In this polarized time, we aspire to encourage pluralism by encouraging our hosts to invite people who are different from them in background and point of view. One of the problems I found as a congregational rabbi was the cliquishness that overtakes communal Jewish life and makes integration into congregations very difficult.   I saw that people were often closed off from meeting others outside of their close knit circles. Even people who practiced home hospitality carefully filtered who they would invite to their tables or became accustomed to spending time with a handful of friends over and over.

One of the key elements of a hospitality practice is curiosity, of wanting to hear the stories and experiences of people who come from different backgrounds. This is what we mean by new faces. This approach is embodied in the Hebrew saying, Mikol Mlamdai Hiskalti-I have learned from my teachers, which is interpreted to mean I have learned from every human being.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Please feel free to send comments, observations, and reflections to me at dov At panimhadahot.org.  Please also share any great home Shabbat stories.  I will post some of them in the blog.  DG  

A Message to Friends of Panim Hadashot-New Faces Concerning the Election

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Written 16-11-10

 

For me the results of the presidential election were devastating. I was so concerned about the racist and Anti-Semitic undertones of the Trump campaign that I volunteered to canvas for HRC in a battleground state for a week before the election. I spent a week canvassing neighborhoods in SW Las Vegas and meeting wonderful, committed and idealistic persons of all ages as canvassing partners. It was a great experience, but a crushing result.

 

I did not want to write in the first twenty four hours after the election since I was overcome by the demons of astonishment. I needed some time to start getting perspective. Because I am a student of history, I feel the echoes of past historic elections and transitions. But I also know that facile comparisons can mislead and confuse. But of this I am sure. We have just experienced a political earthquake of huge proportions. We are entering a time of uncertainty and possibly a period of great chaos.

 

Given Mr. Trump’s dangerous and hateful rhetoric throughout the year and one half of his campaign, I am deeply alarmed at the prospect of his presidency. But I do heed President Obama’s wise words, that we must have a “presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens.” In rabbinic parlance we say concerning Trump, “Kab’dehu v’Chash’dehu”, Honor him (or the office he is about to occupy, but suspect (scrupulize) him. Let us be vigilant. Let us be alert, Let us watch carefully for statements and actions that endanger our liberal democracy.

 

The next few days and weeks is a time like the month of Ellul before the High Holidays when we are supposed to do a Heshbon Hanefesh-an accounting of our souls. I believe a special Heshbon Hanefesh is called for, a collective one and a personal one. How did we get here? Why are we so polarized? Why are people so angry? What did we contribute to digging the silos that litter our political landscape.

 

In a week I will be ending my year of chanting the mourner’s kaddish for my beloved father, Allan Gartenberg. My father was a man of strong beliefs and moderate in temperament. He was extraordinarily humble and always made room for others. Most of all he was the greatest listener and empath that I have ever known. In essence he was a hospitable man, aware of others and always ready to hear their stories. I have been asking myself how he would have responded to the outcome of this election?

 

I believe that my father would listen and seek to understand others. He would reach out to those in pain and fear. He would act hospitably.

 

I see a deep connection between the way I was raised by my father and the organization I founded, Panim Hadashot. Panim Hadashot-New Faces is an emergent Jewish community committed to the Jewish teachings of hospitality. While we reflect on this moment, I believe a renewed commitment to hospitality is a very powerful way to act in these times when the fear of the other has come to dominate our political discourse. To practice Jewish hospitality is to share our Shabbat tables with “new faces”. I believe we should seek out new faces, Jews of different backgrounds, non-Jews of different communities, persons with differing views on the issues of the day. Hospitality is the Jewish way of affirming pluralism and inclusion. It is a way of conducting conversation, of listening, and learning from one another.

 

In this fascinating story that appeared in the Washington Post on October 15th LINK, we learn about a prodigy of the White Supremacist Movement who is exposed to a wider world by a Jewish peer who intentionally invites him to his Shabbat table so he can meet real people from other backgrounds. Shabbat after Shabbat he is exposed to new views and real people. His prejudices melt as he comes to see the humanity of people he had once denied.

 

Practicing hospitality is both a moral and spiritual act in these scary times. I hope you will join us by becoming a hosting partner in Panim Hadashot and building your hospitality practice. Let us welcome the other and share our humanity and our hope.

 

 

 

Jewish Hospitality in the 21st Century

What is Jewish Hospitality?

Panim Hadashot-New Faces is a community focused on the practice of Jewish hospitality. The Jewish hospitality traditions go back to Abraham and Sarah in chapter 18 of the Book of Genesis. Abraham greets and feeds guests soon after he had circumcised himself. The Rabbis saw his readiness to welcome guests even when he was physically uncomfortable as an indication of his extraordinary kindness. In rabbinic literature, the act of hospitality (hachnasat orchim) is greatly cherished and is regarded as a sign of good character and generosity.

The term “panim hadashot”-new faces is found in the Talmud to refer to the practice of inviting people in the community to share in the joy of bride and groom by inviting them to the ancient tradition of seven days of feasting and singing for the bride and groom following a wedding. The guests at these parties had to be new faces who had not attended the wedding celebration. The purpose of inviting new faces was to share joy and abundance with others beyond the bride and groom’s family and friends.  We draw inspiration from this old hospitality tradition.  We reintroduce this practice to modern Jews by helping households to practice home hospitality and the making our Sabbath and Festival tables a welcoming space for new faces-“panim hadashot.”

Jewish hospitality is associated with the observance of the Sabbath. It is traditional to invite guests to the home Sabbath table either on Friday evening or during the Sabbath day.  One sign of a strong synagogue community is an invitation to a newcomer to a Sabbath meal after the service in a home.

Panim Hadashot-New Faces is committed to reviving and adapting the Jewish hospitality traditions in our modern context in which Jewish households are spread out over a wide geographical area and many Jews are not regular synagogue attenders.   We see home hospitality as a way to revitalize Jewish connection and to inspire engagement with Jewish teachings, with the rich Jewish musical legacy, with the varieties of Jewish cuisine, and most of all to the Jewish practice of kindness to strangers.  Panim Hadashot does this by  fostering hosting partnerships all around Seattle.   

On a deeper level by practicing hospitality we are able to share our Jewish values as an expression of living in a free, diverse society.  We are also able to share with others who are different than ourselves.   In a troubled world where people talk of building walls, we wish to do the opposite.  The words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks express the vision guiding our understanding of Jewish hospitality in a world of diversity.

“There is all the difference in the world between the attempt to impose your faith on others and the willingness to share it with others. Our faiths are different. Judaism is not Christianity; Christianity is not Islam; the Abrahamic monotheisms are different from Eastern mysticisms on the one hand, scientific humanism on the other. Yet when we bring our respective heritages of wisdom to the public domain, we have no need to wish to convert others. Instead, we are tacitly saying, ‘if this speaks to you, then please take it as our gift.’ Indeed, it is yours already, for wisdom (unlike revelation) belongs to us all. The willingness non-coercively to share our several traditions of moral insight is, in a religiously plural culture, an essential part of the democratic conversation, indeed of societal beatitude.”