Rabbi Dov’s Blog

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

 

 

Hospitality and this Week’s Executive Orders on Immigration

Panim Hadashot-New Faces is a unique organization in the Jewish community that is focused on revitalizing Jewish hospitality traditions.  We believe that hospitality is not only a critical spiritual practice.  It also has important ethical implications on how we treat the stranger.   As leader of Panim Hadashot, I feel moved to react with alarm and concern to this week’s Executive Orders on Immigration.

I have signed onto to a statement which I have appended below which clearly states my objection to these orders and deep concern for the impact these orders will have on millions of people and the reputation of the United States around the world.  Please join me in objecting to the emerging policy on immigration by the new administration.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

The Faith Action Network of Washington State

Statement on President’s New Executive Orders on Immigration

 

The Faith Action Network of Washington State strongly opposes the Trump Administration’s executive orders to drastically restrict refugee admissions to the United States, especially from war-torn nations like Syria; build a barrier wall at the southern border of the United States; and aggressively pursue and deport unauthorized immigrants. We join with millions of Americans of all faiths, leaders of local and state government, and other community leaders to say we will step up our own efforts to provide direct support to immigrants and refugees who are threatened by these new policies, and organize our faith communities to challenge these policies through nonviolent means.

We believe these new executive orders violate our cherished religious values and what it means to be an American. ­­­­­­­­­­As people of faith, we are called to love and serve our neighbors from near and far, particularly those most vulnerable to violence and persecution. We honor the God who commands that “the alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens…” As Americans we know the great contributions that immigrants and refugees make to our nation’s culture, history and economy, enriching our life together. Welcoming the stranger is at the heart of the American story.

Therefore, we call upon President Trump to uphold our shared American values and rescind his new executive orders. We call upon the members of our own faith communities to speak out and act in support of refugees and the neighbors among us who may face deportation. We offer our support to elected leaders and local law enforcement agencies that refuse to be part of implementing aggressive deportation policies on behalf of the federal government.

As leaders of diverse faith traditions, we have come to know that our differences are a blessing and that love can cast out fear. We must act boldly for the vision of an America, where the most vulnerable are protected and welcomed.

The Origins of Jewish Hospitality

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The word hospitality in modern parlance is commonly understood as an industry. To study hospitality at a school today is to learn about hotel management and business practices to follow to be successful in this industry. The term has been “capitalized”, referring to a way of making money by providing travelers and tourists shelter, meal service, and the amenities.

Yet hospitality is a practice and concept that has an older, deeper meaning.   The ancient Jewish practices of hospitality certainly revolved around welcoming strangers into the home and offering them food, shelter, and protection. But Jewish hospitality practices have different dimensions. My reflection about Jewish hospitality traditions center on two Hebrew terms associated with this ancient practice.

The first term is the classic rabbinic term for hospitality: הכנסת אורחים hachnasat orchim, literally “bringing in guests”. Joseph Telushkin in A Code of Jewish Ethics, volume 2 correctly notes that the Hebrew term implies that we should actively recruit (bring in) guests and seek opportunities to invite people to our home. (p.44).   The origins of the rabbinic term flow from the story of Abraham when he sees three men passing near his tent on a scorching day not long after he had circumcised himself. (Genesis 18). The Torah tells us that Abraham ran from the entrance of his tent to greet them. He proceeds to invite them in, shelter them from the heat, bathe their feet, feed them, and even walks alongside as when they leave. The Jewish hospitality traditions arise from these core texts. (I’ll explore these texts in a future blog entry.)

A second term for hospitality arises from rabbinic literature is פנים חדשות panim hadashot-new faces. The origin of the term derives from an ancient Jewish wedding practice not mentioned in the Jewish Bible. New faces-first time guests-were to be invited to the seven days of smaller wedding parties following the wedding at which the seven wedding blessings were chanted in honor of a new bride and groom.

This practice continues to this day in very traditional Jewish communities. I witnessed the practice when I attended a party for my nephew in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem during the week following his wedding. I accompanied his friend down the elevator to the street where he called out “panim hadashot”.   A few minutes later we brought back three men, perfect strangers to the folks gathered around in my nephew’s apartment (They were also needed to make the minyan of ten men required to chant the seven blessings.). These folks knew the script and immediately joined the party (separated between men and women) to sing the seven blessings in honor of the bride and groom.

The search for panim hadashot taught me about another element about Jewish hospitality practice. Jewish hospitality is about sharing joy and abundance with others beyond our immediate circle. The deeper insight of the tradition is that our joyful life experiences are uncommon and the awareness of the earth’s abundance is rare. In those uncommon moments, we practice hospitality with strangers to share our joy and abundance.

My experience of the practice of panim hadashot led me to wonder if it was possible to broaden its application and make it egalitarian.   Could it be possible to apply this practice of seeking new faces to apply to when we gather at our Sabbath tables. Years later when I founded Panim Hadashot in Seattle I followed through on this original insight.

Jewish hospitality as I understand it then combines both hachnasat orchim-the active bringing in of guests and panim hadashot-the act sharing of our joy and abundance with strangers, new faces.

Practicing hospitality is a profound commitment. It involves openness, generosity, readiness for encounter. It involves a willingness to leave our comfort zones in encountering new, unfamiliar persons in our intimate, private space.

 

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.

 

 

 

Sukkot, Hospitality, and the Strangeness of the End of the Holidays

 

A Blog Post Rabbi Dov Gartenberg for the New Faces Blog

Completed on Friday, October 28, 2016/26 Tishrei, 5777

I love the festival for Sukkot for many reasons. I love the strangeness of building a temporary structure. I love the often-amusing annual effort to procure the Sechach-the cutoff branches needed to cover the Sukkah. I love sitting in a sukkah (on a dry day) with a coat on while enjoying the fall colors enveloping me. I love the special rain roof-(called a schlock) that I have to rig up for the Sukkot I have built in Alaska and Washington. I love the antiquity of the four species and the rain inducing shaking and circling we do with them. I love the reading of Kohelet-Ecclesiastes that we read in the synagogue.

The sense of roots that permeates this festival moves me deeply. This festival is so detached from the regular pace and homogenizing context of our lives. As I get older I love Sukkot more and more. While Sukkot is a wonderful holiday for children and for families, I find it is very much compelling festival as I move through my 60s and beyond.

But what I love more than anything on Sukkot is the ritual of Ushpizim, the invitation to ancient guests to sit in the Sukkah with us. Not only is Sukkot about physical hospitality, it is also about spiritual hospitality. The ritual of Ushpizin has us invite our ancestors into the Sukkah. What the ritual signifies is that hospitality helps us to transcend our limited lifespan. On Sukkot we are invited to imagine knowing and relating to our long dead ancestors. We express our desire to share a meal with them, talk to them about their lives, their worries, their satisfactions, and their aspirations. We may even crack a joke with them or tell a story.

This is the power of hospitality. It takes something that is remote, and brings it close. The strange act of inviting the forefathers and the foremothers into the Sukkah is making the distant, the ancient, the arcane past close and imaginable. So too with those strangers who live in the same arena of our lives. Their distance is not over generations, but rather of physical proximity, cultural difference, class status, or other outcomes of human complexity. The act of hospitality is the attempt to reduce alienation from others.

A number of social scientists have argued that human beings can only make as much as 154 friends or significant relationships.   The idea is that human groups have an upper limit of intimacy. If this is true, then hospitality is not so much about making friends, but also connecting to others outside our 154-person network. While we cannot befriend the whole world, we need to be connected to others who are different than us. This is the secret of the practice of hospitality.

******

I found this striking poem in the new siddur about this period immediately after the end of the fall Festivals. Lev Shalem on page 368

The Journey On by Tamara Cohen

The s’khakh on my sukkah

is browning,

the gourds are growing

soft from the rain

 

Soon it will be time to take

down the sukkah:

unscrew the screws,

unhinge the walls.

 

Soon these days of celebra-

tion will end

and i will drag the poles

back to the garage.

 

I want a prayer for this:

the courage to take down

what we erect,

the willingness to let the

temporary be temporary.

 

Because it is,

because the fullness of the

moon is no longer

but will be again.

 

We have been schooled

once more in the fragility

of shelter,

in the wisdom of walls and

the welcoming of guests,

in the joy of song and soup

shared outdoors.

 

Let us turn to Heshvan:

 

See how the etrog can

become a spicebox,

each clove piercing the

yellow skin,

a teacher for the year

ahead.

 

What was holy can be holy

again.

In Silence on Yom Kippur

silence-tag

The tag I will be wearing during Yom Kippur prayers

 

Silence on Yom Kippur

This Yom Kippur I will have the rare opportunity to be a regular worshipper for the entire holy day from Kol Nidre to Ne’ilah.  Since 1978 I have been a  regular worshipper on Yom Kippur only a handful of times . As a rabbinic student and a rabbi, my place during the High Holidays was always on the Bimah.

In 1977 I moved to Boston to study in a graduate program.    A friend who had grown up in a rabbinic home told me that he was going to be in silence for all of Yom Kippur.  I was intrigued by his example.  Since I was new to Boston and did not really know anybody yet in the community, I thought I would try remaining silent for that Yom Kippur.

It was the most powerful Yom Kippur of my life.

The experience of prayer was heightened.  I was attuned to the flow of the service and experienced the repetition of the prayers as waves washing over me.  I remember reflecting about how easy it is to fill space with words and niceties.  I became more aware of the everyday mindlessness of much of my speech.  I remember feeling clarity and renewal on that day that lasted for weeks after the holy days had ended.

Thirty nine years later I am going to go into silence for Yom Kippur again.

It is a bit scary to decide to remain in silence again.   My wife is very supportive and is joining me in silence.  We have sat silent retreats together and found them to be very intimate and powerful experiences.  There are several reasons I am seeking silence on Yom Kippur and I will share a few of them with you.

First, I would like to meditate on how the years of adulthood have changed me.  I want to reflect on the ebb and flow of my life.  I lost my beloved father this year, and as I enter the latter stages of my life I seek insight about the challenges before me.

Second, I have found these times we are living in to be very confusing. The technology I use fills so much space and sucks my attention.  I am normally somewhat distractible, but the devices I use have made me more distractible.  To be silent is to put down my devices, to be immersed in the prayers, and to be unworried about interactions for 25 hours.

Third, my silence this year is in part a protest.  This presidential election has exposed the cancer of celebrity culture, the collapse of civility, the screaming rage flowing from social media, and the scary vulnerability of our democracy.  I need time to retreat from all this cacophony and to focus on the words of the prayers and the prophets that remind me to turn toward good.

Lastly I am seeking silence to reach out toward God.  I began serving as a rabbi in Seattle nearly three decades ago. I have had the fortune of meeting many wonderful people but pressure I feel to be politely social on Yom Kippur can be distracting.   To be silent for all of Yom Kippur lets me set aside my sense of social obligation to focus on my relationship with God.  After all, our tradition urges us to repair our relations with our fellows during these nine days with the tenth day, Yom Kippur, focused on our relationship with the Holy One.

Psalm 65:2 proclaims, “Silence is praise to You.” לְךָ דֻמִיָּה תְהִלָּה   As Maimonides writes in The Guide to the Perplexed, “…..(this) signifies: silence with regard to You is praise.”

I share these reflections with you as encouragement to consider this practice for yourself. You might try it for a portion of the day.   If you are inspired to try this, let your loved ones know beforehand.  Spend a few minutes after the Break the Fast to jot down any insights you want to record.  Most of all, experience the beauty and the power of Yom Kippur in stillness-with the still small voice of the Divine.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

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.”