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.”