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Charlottesville

The racism and the anti-Semitism of the white nationalists marchers in Charlottesville must be loudly condemned and marginalized.  The car ramming must be designated as a terrorist attack just like similar events perpetrated by ISIS terrorists.  The President has lost credibility with his silence. We must look to other leaders to speak with moral clarity.

Instead of repeating what so many have said over the past day, I am sharing the best piece I read about the terrible events in the Charlottesville.  It comes from a Slate writer who lives in the community. She speaks for me and I hope everyone who reads this.

Link 

 

Who will be Serene and Who Will be Troubled: A Rabbi and Family Member Speaks about Mental Illness

Who Will Be Serene and Who Will Be Troubled?

A Rabbi and a Family Member Speaks about Mental Illness

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Adapted for Congregation Beth Shalom, Shabbat August 5, 2017

 

I would like to dedicate this derasha to two family members. First I dedicate my words in honor of my son, Mori Gartenberg who turned 30 this week. His name means God is my teacher and he has taught me much about the meaning and purpose of life. Second, I share these words in memory of my brother, Philip who left this world thirty years ago this month. Zichrono Livracha.

At the height of the most dramatic and intense prayer of these Days of Awe, Unetaneh Tokef, we chant a litany of fateful dyads — “who shall live and who shall die.” This litany of existential disjunctions is a record of the anxieties of our ancestors. It provides us with a glimpse into their lives, their yearnings, and their fears. Three out of twelve of the dyads attract my attention today.

Who will be at peace and who will be troubled? מי ינוח ומי ינוע

Who will be serene and who will be disturbed? מי ישקיט ומי יטרף

Who will be tranquil and who will be tormented? ומי ישלו ומי יתיסר

These somberly contemplated fates all revolve around an ancient fear — the fear of what we today call mental illness.

There was no word for mental illness in antiquity. Like the fear of death, the fear of succumbing to mental anguish and suffering is part of our reality, just as it was for them. While we know much more about mental illness than our ancestors, we have, like them, found no lasting cure.

Mental illness is part of my reality. Five living members of my family cope with bipolar disorder. I lost my brother, Philip to suicide thirty years ago from undiagnosed bipolar disorder this month.

Caring for a loved one living with mental illness is very taxing. The illness is unpredictable and disrupting. Witnessing a family member experience a psychotic episode is so disorienting that you don’t even recognize the loved one you thought you knew so well. More chronic conditions include disabling depressions or dangerous manias that lead to grandiosity. Then there are the frequent hospitalizations and the struggle to get information from medical personnel about your loved one’s condition. You live with the fear of the telephone call which brings news of a new crisis.

Mental illness is a family condition. Anyone here who has cared for a loved one living with mental illness or who lives with a mental illness knows that. During an episode of serious mental illness, a person loses her capacity to engage in basic activities of daily living. A psychotic episode can force even an adult into a condition of unwanted dependency on family members.

Mental illnesses are chronic illnesses. Consider a few startling facts about mental illness in America gathered by the NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

  • One in five adults − approximately 43.8 million Americans − experiences mental illness in a given year. One in twenty-five − about 13.6 million − lives with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder.
  • Approximately twenty percent of youth ages thirteen to eighteen experience severe mental disorders in a given year.

 

  • One half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of fourteen; three quarters by age twenty-four.       Despite effective treatment, there are long delays − sometimes decades − between the first appearance of symptoms and when people get help.

 

  • Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. (more common than homicide) and the third leading cause of death for people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four. More than ninety percent of those who die by suicide had one or more mental disorders.

 

  • Although military members comprise less than one percent of the U.S. population, veterans represent twenty percent of suicides nationally. Each day, about twenty-two veterans die from suicide.[i]

 

  • Another huge problem in this country is addiction. Approximately 10.2 million people suffer from co-occuring mental illness and drug/alcohol addiction..

Five years ago, while living in Alaska, I became the director of the Juneau affiliate of NAMI. NAMI is the largest grassroots organization supporting, educating, and advocating on behalf of those living with mental illness and their families. Working for NAMI opened my eyes to the pervasiveness and devastating impacts of mental illness. It has also helped me become a better rabbi and human being.

Jewish religious tradition and culture have a complex relationship to mental health. We know about biblical figures who suffered from mental illness, such as King Saul or Samson.   In rabbinic Jewish culture, the word for someone with a mental disability is ‘Shoteh’. Words like Shoteh carry a cluster of meanings. Shoteh could describe someone suffering from profound mental illness or a person who is intellectually disabled. In rabbinic literature, it can also refer to a fool, an idolater, or a child savant with prophetic gifts.

The Shoteh in rabbinic law was legally stigmatized. In rabbinic literature, the Shoteh is often grouped together with deaf-mutes and minors. A Shoteh, like members of the latter two categories, was exempted from the observance of the commandments. The Shoteh was not permitted to represent the community in any form, including serving as a prayer leader.   According to the rabbis, these categories of persons lacked the capacity for Da’at, or discernment, a complex rabbinic term for the capacity for basic reasoning and decision making. [ii]

But a Shoteh, a mentally troubled person, could regain a normative legal status if he recovered his senses. It seems that the ancients also recognized, as we do today, that mental illness can be episodic.

Rabbinic tradition has also bequeathed to us blessings to recite when we encounter someone with a physical or mental disability.   If you encounter a person who was born with a disability such as Down Syndrome, the proper blessing would be, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe who creates such varied creatures.” However, when you encounter someone with a late-onset disability, such as an injury or an illness, you say the same blessing we say upon hearing of a death: “Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, the True judge.”

The late Judith Abrams, a scholar on the topic of disability in Judaism, commented that the choice of two blessings reflects the view that, on the one hand, a disability could be any of several common conditions that one could be born with. But, on the other hand, if the condition were to emerge later, it would be seen as a punishment by God. Since many serious mental illnesses appear in young adulthood, the blessing “baruch dayan emet” according to the sources is the proper blessing.   To me, the ancient practice of reciting this blessing is, morally and theologically, deeply troubling. [iii]

Older halachah also stigmatized suicide, which we know today is most often an outcome of serious mental illness. The suicide victim historically was to be buried outside the community cemetery.

While some of the ancient sources about mental illness and disability are distressing, there is another strain in our culture and tradition that has courageously faced this issue. It is interesting that many of the pioneers in the fields of mental health and brain science in the past couple of centuries have been Jews, such as the Nobel Prize-winning brain scientist, Eric Kandel. One of the key insights of these scientists and theorists of modernity is that mental illness is a brain disorder, that it is treatable, and that the terrible stigma found across cultures about mental conditions needs to be resisted and vanquished.

Reform, Conservative, and Modern Orthodox Judaism have made major halachic reforms in removing stigma about mental illness, including ending the practice of stigmatizing the victim of suicide, mandating the need for treatment, and portraying God as compassionate and as seeking the welfare of those who suffer from mental illness. After all, the Torah also commands that we are not to curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind (Leviticus 19). The Rabbis did not interpret this verse narrowly, but extended it beyond “blindness” and “deafness” to any limiting condition that humans suffer from. We are not to take advantage of the vulnerabilities of those living with mental illness. Rather, we are required by tradition and contemporary moral awareness to extend compassion, hope, and access to healing and recovery to those who suffer.

Because of the stigma of mental illness, there are many more individuals who suffer than we know about – many, indeed, within our congregations. A friend and religious colleague of mine, who suffers from bipolar disorder, aptly called mental illness the “no casserole illness.” When a person gets cancer or suffers a major injury, the Mitzvah Corps mobilizes to bring food to the sick person and his or her family. But, for several reasons, those who live with mental illness and their families tend to suffer in isolation, sometimes of their own choosing, sometimes due to the insensitivity of the community.

I speak about this openly with the hope of reducing stigma and increasing hope for those among us who live with mental illness, and for those family members and friends present who are helping them.

This week’s portion is also called Nahamu, based on the first verse of the Haftarah, “Be comforted, be comforted, my people.” My work with NAMI taught me that people living with mental illness and those courageous family members who care for them need hope and comfort.

Every one of us knows someone living with a mental illness. Tell your friend or your loved one about NAMI. NAMI offers incredible resources for a person struggling with mental illness that supplement therapy.   If you are a close friend or family member of a loved one living with mental illness, consider the resources that NAMI provides for family members. I am a trained volunteer peer teacher of NAMI’s award-winning Family-to-Family course. Over 300,000 family members have taken this free course offered by NAMI affiliates across the country.

Please let people know that JFS is offering a Family to Family course in the fall in concert with NAMI of Greater Seattle. I am one of the teachers of this free course. The course gives vital information about diagnosis, medication, current science, treatment options, and lots of time for family members to talk about their situations.   I will address specific issues that arise for Jewish families when a loved one suffers from disabling mental illness. I have taught this class now six times and have seen individuals and families transformed by the experience.   Please share this information with friends who you think would benefit.

There are other things each of us can do to be more knowledgeable about this pervasive condition. Consider taking mental health first-aid training to learn more about how to recognize mental illness and suicidal signs, and to help a person who is suffering a mental breakdown or is showing subtle signs of depression.

Make sure that Beth Shalom is not only responsive to those who suffer physical illness, but also responsive to those who are struggling with mental illness, and to the families who are trying to care for them. Fight stigma against mental illness in any way you can. Make sure your care and your casseroles are available for all.

I remember when, many years ago, a loved one in my family was hospitalized due to a severe depressive episode. He was so sick and in such pain that I hardly recognized him. At the most distressing moment, one of the aides saw the distress on my face and took me aside. He told me, “It will not always be like this. Your loved one will find a way out of this.” I will always remember those words of hope and encouragement.

That is what we should do: provide hope, support, and encouragement for those we know who face this enormous challenge.   As it says at the end of Unetaneh Tokef, “Teshuvah, tefilah, and tzedaka maavirin et roa hagezera.” I translate it here to mean, “By turning toward, by advocating, and by generous, righteous, and caring acts, we diminish the severity of the decree.”   We have the power to make a difference and bring hope to those who suffer. What we do makes a difference.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

 

[i] From the NAMI Fact Sheet, “About Mental Illness”

[ii] From Judith Abrams, Judaism and Disability: Portrayals in Ancient Texts from the Tanach through the Bavli, Chapter 6.

[iii] Abrams, p. 118-119

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 at a home for a Sabbath meal after the service.

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 observant or are regular synagogue attenders.   We see Shabbat home hospitality as a way to revitalize a sense of Shabbat in people’s lives. We do this by sharing with our hosts and their guests the best of Jewish music and teachings while opening up the joys of hospitality, relaxed conversation, and sharing a bountiful meal.     

Our hope is that our hosts will endeavor will also open their home to new faces, people outside their family and friendship circle. Welcoming the stranger is a very important feature of classical Jewish hospitality. When we practice hospitality we are able to share our Jewish values as an expression of living in a free, diverse society as well as to learn about the values of the those we host. 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.”

Nothing in the Jewish Songbook is Alien to Us

Franz Rosenzweig, the Jewish philosopher of the early 20th century, once adopted a famous line from the ancient Roman playwright Terence: “as I am human, nothing human is alien to me.” Rosenzweig gave the challenged his Jewish reader to assert that, as a Jew, “nothing Jewish is alien to me.”

“What Rosenzweig understood is that no one leads a life that is simply “human.” Just as we speak a particular language, not language as such, we live and flourish within particular communities, cultures, and traditions. Rosenzweig’s claim was not that everything Jewish was worthy of celebration, only that it was worthy of understanding, and he suggested that a “Jewish Renaissance” could begin with just these words.” Abraham Socher <https://jewishreviewofbooks.com/articles/102/editorial/>

Last Friday at our Shabbat at Carkeek Park, I was mindful of Rosenzweig’s saying as I introduced our wandering musical service through the woods of the park. I shared that, “Nothing in the Jewish songbook is alien to us.”

I was preparing the participants for different melodies that the Heart of Shabbat Ensemble planned to share during the Kabbalat Shabbat service. “We are not afraid to introduce new melodies or to tap the outer regions of the Jewish music.” We introduce melodies from different Jewish communities and from new composers as a way of letting the prayers speak in new ways. We seek to access different moods that new melodies open up and to provide new/old paths to communicate with or to reflect about God.

Having been a congregational rabbi for many years I learned how easily it is for groups of people to become accustomed and conditioned to hearing the same melodies over and over again. Songs also can anchor us to the regular to the expected. Songs can also help secure a sense of order in this chaotic world. I respect this. But at Panim Hadashot-New Faces, we also want to explore the “new faces” of Jewish music. Some of the songs we introduce will not catch on, but we believe that many will and that they will surprise us with a sense of the incredible richness and renewing character of our singing culture.

One of the issues around music in Judaism is the prohibition on the playing of musical instruments on the Sabbath and Festival. A good summary of the issues is found HERE.   I am a Conservative Rabbi which means that I come from a movement where there are differing opinions on the issue of playing music on Shabbat/Festival. The two Conservative congregations in Seattle have for years held to the prohibition, while experimenting with introducing music adjacent to the beginning and end of Shabbat. I decided many years ago after attending services at Bnei Jeshurun and Romemu in New York and Ikar in Los Angeles that instrumental music, if prepared skillfully and artfully can deepen the experience of Sabbath prayer. But I also felt more strongly that there was so much music at the table which was being lost by the decline in home hospitality. I wanted to introduce music to home Shabbat gatherings and to get us singing again.   I now follow the lenient position in the Conservative movement which permits instrumental music on the Sabbath.

But beyond the halachic ruling lies the issue of how music and song is presented on the Sabbath. This is something that Ari Joshua and I have thought about deeply. Some of these approaches below are drawn from our teacher, Joey Weisenberg. Others are ones we are developing.

  • Bring the Music Back Home: We believe there is too much emphasis on synagogue based music. By encouraging hosts to hold Shabbat gatherings where we can bring our music, we seek to foster intimate settings for community/group Jewish singing and musical creativity.
  • Shabbat Hospitality is Fulfilled by Music and Song:  Providing a place to sing together is one of the greatest acts of hospitality in Jewish tradition.  We seek to encourage this practice in everything we do.
  • It’s the Music, Stupid: What makes Shabbat special is the singing and music that encourages singing. This is one of the greatest Oneg Shabbats-Joys of Shabbat besides my other favorite, Torah Study.
  • Disappearing Musicians: Musicians make music to enable everyone to sing on Shabbat, but their goal is to seem like they are not there.
  • Tradition and Innovation:  We always absorb the sounds, styles, attitudes, and melodies of older generations while offering Jewish music for Shabbat in the created for the present moment.
  • Lingering on a Melody as Shabbat Rest:  On Shabbat we have no need to rush, so we apply the art of “Slow Singing”, learning one melody, really well. This works best at a meal or gathering when people are relaxed.
  • Shabbat and Rhythm:  Explore the possibility that we can unify in time especially on Shabbat.
  • Communal Intention:  Showing what can happen when we come together on purpose, on Shabbat, to create something bigger than the sum of its parts.
  • No Jewish Song is Alien to Us: We want to show to all who we share Shabbat with, that the treasure house of Jewish music is huge, with so much that is undiscovered.

Nothing from the Jewish Songbook is Alien To Us.

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.

*****

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  

Why This Rabbi Went to the March for Science on Shabbat

Bloggers note:  I wrote this prior to going to the March for Science on April 22, 2017.  While the march is over, I believe the teaching here remains relevant in helping  to understand the relationship of Judaism to science and its deeper implications for the era of fake facts and willful ignorance that we seem to be entering.

Why I am Going to the March for Science and You Should Too

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Convener and Director of Panim Hadashot-New Faces

Friday, April 21, 2017

I am joining the March for Science tomorrow on my Sabbath day. Why am I going to this march instead of attending Shabbat morning services?

I am going as a human being who feels strongly that this march is the best expression of the value of Earth Day and the call to arms for the looming long-term danger of climate change.

I am going as an American citizen deeply alarmed about the intentional undermining of the role of scientific research and evidence in so many fields by the new administration.

I am going as a Jew because of the repudiation and manipulation of reality by our president and many of his enablers is an affront to Jewish teachings on wisdom and honesty. See Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Sages, Chapter 5, Mishnah 7 “There are seven things that characterize a golem (I will leave this Hebrew word untranslated).  , and seven that characterize a Hacham  (a wise person).

I am going as a rabbi because I believe that the deep and critical study of nature is a precondition for the study of Torah.  In this view, I follow my teacher, Maimonides, the great Jewish philosopher and physician of the 12th century.  Maimonides  “allowed the authority of Jewish revelation (Torah)  to be severely constricted and even undermined in those areas where recent knowledge about the natural world appeared to challenge the wisdom of the rabbis (of the Talmud, 700-1200 years prior to Maimonides).”

Maimonides’ wrote in his classic work, The Guide for the Perplexed,

“Do not ask of me to show that everything they [the rabbis] have said concerning astronomical matters conforms to the way things really are. For at that time mathematics was imperfect. They did not speak about this as transmitters of dicta of the prophets, but rather because in those times they were sages of knowledge in these fields or because they had heard these dicta from the sages of knowledge who lived in those times.” LINK

A rabbi in our time also must also listen to the dicta from sages of knowledge who live in our time. Going beyond Maimonides we must admit that mathematics and other fields of science are never perfect and are evolving as our knowledge increases.  Maimonides lived before the development of modern scientific method, but I am certain his view would have embraced modern scientific method and would have sought its findings in all fields.

Sages of knowledge†in our day test their scientific theories among their peers and their findings are public and subject to experimental challenge  Denial of the efficacy of this method and of the findings it reveals, is one of the most invidious trends in our time now egged on by irresponsible government officials.

This denial and dismissal of the scientific knowledge must be opposed and challenged.

Why am I making an exception to my Shabbat practice of attending morning services and traveling to participate in the march?  I am following Heschel’s example of praying with my feet.  I also understand the Jewish Sabbath as a Zecher Lemaaseh Bereishit-a memorial to the act of creation.  By marching I am intentionally fulfilling one of the purposes of the Sabbath day.

When people with immense power endanger the natural world and undermine the habitability of the world we are dependent on, then it is a Kum V’aseh (Stand Up and Act) moment.  That is why I think that Jews who love the Sabbath should join me in attending the march.  500 marches are occurring not only in the US, but around the world. Let us Sing a Song of Shabbat and Sing a Song for the entire world.

 

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

A Description of an Emerging Community: Panim Hadashot-New Faces

Dear Readers,

I invite your comments about this synopsis, especially those who have experienced our gatherings over the past 6 months.  RDG

Panim Hadashot-New Faces

A Synopsis of Our Emerging Community

Version 1.7

New Faces-Panim Hadashot is a new community dedicated to revitalizing the practice of Jewish Hospitality.   The Hebrew term for hospitality is ‘Hachnasat Orchim-bringing in the guest.’  Our name Panim Hadashot-new faces goes back to the Talmud which describes a custom of inviting new faces beyond the family circle to share in the joy of a newly married couple. 

We understand Jewish Hospitality to mean.

1.       Following and conserving an important Jewish tradition going back to the Bible as demonstrated in chapter 18 of Genesis

2.       Sharing our Shabbat/Festival meals with guests and new faces in our homes and common rooms.

3.       Cultivating hospitality through group singing with inspiring music, engaging Torah study, thoughtful conversation, and table fellowship. 

4.       Experiencing the Sabbath and Festivals as “new faces”, as distinctive joyful experiences in which hospitality, is one of the most central elements.   

5.       Sharing our meals and gatherings with Jews who are different than ourselves in practice and orientation.

6.       Sharing our meals with non-Jews of different faiths and predicaments to share in our common humanity and discuss common concerns.

7.       Mastering Jewish Hospitality practices, attitudes, and behaviors that can be repeated on a regular basis throughout one’s lifetime. 

8.       Expressing a concrete commitment to pluralism, tolerance, diversity, and a generosity of spirt through the active practice of hospitality. 

 Our focus on Jewish Hospitality practices is expressed by our emphasis on community singing as a core feature of our Shabbat Hosting Partnerships and our community programs.  As we remind ourselves, “It’s the music, stupid”.   We approach Jewish music and singing as an authentic experience of prayer, gratitude, generosity, and solidarity.  We intentionally seek to revitalize Shabbat table singing which Jews have practiced for generations, but which has declined among many Jews in modern times.   We eschew performing in favor of soliciting soulful and enthusiastic participation.  We seek to revitalize this practice of table singing through the skillful use of live music and an approach to song leading that invites everyone to sing regardless of ability.    We have developed a very talented and skilled ensemble called the Heart of Shabbat for this purpose.   

Panim Hadashot is a pluralistic and purpose-driven Jewish community.   Through our Shabbat Hosting Partnership program, we recruit hosts throughout the Jewish community who host Shabbat gatherings in their homes and common rooms.  Our hosts invite their friendship circle and “new faces” while we bring our Heart of Shabbat Ensemble to their home for an evening of rich Jewish music, group singing, dynamic discussion and authentic Jewish hospitality.  

New Faces-Panim Hadashot is unusual in that it is purpose driven and does not see itself as a full-service synagogue.  Our model is meant to be an attractive and affordable compliment to synagogue membership as well as an alternative to the synagogue model.  Our community is composed of young and old, singles and families. 

We welcome newcomers to Seattle with Shabbat invitations to experience the Jewish Hospitality that is the central ideal of our community.  We offer many programs open to the community such as monthly Friday night services, Shabbat morning study and prayer programs, Tikun Olam activities, classes, special holiday programs, and in 2017 our first High Holiday services.  In all these we emphasize the importance of practicing Jewish hospitality and encourage all our participants to develop their own hospitality practice. 

We are led by Rabbi, Dov Gartenberg, who is a convener, master teacher, and a passionate pluralist.

 

 

 

Closing or Opening the Door on Passover

By Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Erev Pesah, 2017/5771

Several years ago, one of my students for conversion to Judaism was invited with her Jewish boyfriend to a Seder in the local Orthodox community. A few days prior to the festival a guest who was coming to that Seder, upon hearing that a non-Jew was attending, reminded the host that it was forbidden to have a non-Jew attend the Seder.  The hosts consulted their rabbi, who informed them that his understanding of the law indicated that a non-Jew could not attend the Seder.  The hosts apologetically and awkwardly told my student that she could not attend.  She was surprised and hurt by the disinvitation, and ultimately decided against converting several months later.

The source for the practice of excluding the non-Jew at Passover is in Exodus.

“The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, These are the regulations for the Passover: No foreigner is to eat of it. Any slave you have bought may eat of it after you have circumcised him, but a temporary resident and a hired worker may not eat of it. It must be eaten inside one house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones. The whole community of Israel must celebrate it. An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the LORD’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat of it. The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you”. Exodus 12, 43-49

Many modern authorities have ruled that this passage only applied when the Temple stood when we still performed the Paschal Sacrifice.  Some others have ruled that non-Jews are welcome to attend the Seder, but should not eat of the Afikomen, since it stands in for the Paschal Sacrifice in the post Temple era. Conservative, Reform, and other liberal authorities find the reasoning behind the rule of exclusion no longer applicable or relevant.  The welcoming of non-Jews to a Passover Seder in liberal Judaism is so widespread that many liberal Jews are surprised to hear that a rule excluding non-Jews from a Seder even exists.

Hospitality on Passover is something that liberal Jews and many modern Orthodox Jews have broadly accepted, not only because we have integrated into the American social landscape, but because we understand that the themes of liberation from slavery and freedom are themes that we share with other Americans regardless of faith. 

I teach that Passover should be a festival in which we embrace hospitality and invite our non-Jewish friends to partake with us.  In 2017 the practice of hospitality is even more important as the new president has dramatically increased deportations and attempts to slam to the door on refugees and potential immigrants. 

It is true that Passover historically can be called the Festival of Identity.  It is the festival that marks the birth of the Jewish people. Before Egypt, the Israelites were a small family grappling with the transmission of the covenant with God.  But the sojourn in Egypt is described in the Torah as the birth of a nation, even as it was forced into servitude.  In our liberation we were no longer were just a family, but the people of Israel.

The importance of identity in the festival is reflected in the our parental obligation to tell the story to our children.  Relying on our best pedagogy and storytelling we are supposed to convey to the next generation our people’s experience of slavery and liberation.

I have always embraced and celebrated Passover as a festival of Jewish identity, but I don’t see the need to exclude others as following from the retelling and reliving our story of origin.  I strongly object to that tradition of exclusion. 

But I also do not believe that watering down the Seder and removing the celebration of our identity out of concern for discomfort of our non-Jewish friends robs the festival of its great power and emotion.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks articulates how we can practice hospitality while celebrating our unique tradition in a pluralistic and diverse free society.  

“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.”  Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, To Heal a Fractured World p. 126  

This teaching on hospitality is critical during these times when pluralism, diversity, and freedom is threatened by hatred, narrow-mindedness, and demagoguery.

Following Rabbi Sacks, it is possible to understand the sharing our Seders with our non-Jewish friends, with those who fear deportation, with those who are fleeing persecution is essential this year.  Let us be generous in our practice of this hospitality not only on Pesah, but throughout the coming turbulent years.    

Hag Same’ah, Happy Passover

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

“Will you annihilate the virtuous with the wicked?” 

And Abraham came forward and said (to YHWH).  “Will you annihilate the virtuous with the wicked?  Maybe there are fifty virtuous who are in it (the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah)?  Far be it from you to do a thing like this, to kill the virtuous with wicked–and it will be the same for the virtuous and the wicked-far be it from you. Will the judge of all the earth not do justice?” Genesis 18:23-25

Here is an excerpt from a story today in The New York Times about a family impacted by Trump’s ban.

Had all gone according to plan, after an overnight flight from Doha, Qatar, Hamidyah Al Saeedi, 65, would have landed at Kennedy Airport in New York on Saturday and then boarded a connecting flight to Raleigh, N.C., to meet her son Ali Alsaeedy, whom she had not seen in five years.

It was not by chance that her new life as an American immigrant would begin in North Carolina. Her son is a sergeant in the 82nd Airborne Division, which is based at Fort Bragg.

When she did not show up at the airport, Sgt. Alsaeedy’s immediate fear was that his mother, who does not speak English, had somehow gotten lost.

He flew to New York, where another reality awaited him. His mother was not lost: She was being held somewhere in Terminal 4 by authorities who were threatening to deport her. “They wouldn’t even let me see her,” Sgt. Alsaeedy, a newly minted American citizen, said by phone on Sunday morning from the airport, where he was still waiting for his mother.

A native of Baghdad, Sgt. Alsaeedy has been working for the American government for much of his life. After the 2003 invasion, he was an interpreter for seven years, working for the American military and the United States Agency for International Development. For his service, he eventually received a special immigrant visa and emigrated to the United States.

He joined the Army and returned to Iraq in 2015, this time as a United States soldier with the 82nd Airborne Division. “I cannot tell you what I was doing,” he said when asked about his role. All he would say was this: “The mission we were doing there, I was a part of it.”

For years, he had been filling out endless forms so that his mother and his father could join him in America. “I started the process five years ago to bring both parents to this country,” Sgt. Alsaeedy said.

In December, his father died. A few weeks later, his mother’s visa was approved. He immediately booked a flight for her. At the moment that the president signed the immigration order, at 4:42 p.m. in Washington on Friday, she was probably waiting to board her flight in Doha.

The ban issued by the president is arbitrary, sudden, and cruel.  I also believe it is counter to American interests and will not keep us safe from terrorism. 

As a Jew I am outraged by the President’s action.  Abraham’s “hagasha” coming forward to God, sets a precedent for us to come forward and protest this cruel order.  As an American and a descendent of immigrants I find this action reprehensible and contrary to the powerful words expressed by another Jew that are engraved on the Statue of Liberty.  

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Yesterday, I spoke with my adult children who are fighting despair over the reckless acts of this new administration.  We had an extended discussion on what these times will demand of us and ultimately, what the God of Abraham demands of us.  It is time “l’hagish” to come forward to protest and to work together with others to reverse these evil decrees. 

I hope you will join with me. 

Please share my words with others who may take them to heart, and please share with me  your thoughts about what the present moment demands at dov@panimhadashot or in the comment section to the Panim Hadashot Blog at www.panimhadashot.org. 

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Panim Hadashot-New Faces

Monday, January 30, 2017