In 2004 I established a new Jewish non-profit in Seattle called Panim Hadashot. In Hebrew, Panim Hadashot, means either 'new face' or 'new faces'. The expression is associated with an ancient Jewish wedding practice that is still preserved to this day in some communities. The Jewish wedding ceremony culminates in the Seven Blessings (Sheva Berachot) a medley of blessings rich with past and future meaning. It is sung to the couple under the wedding canopy (Huppah) by the officiant or family members. In ancient times, it was an ideal to repeat the Sheva Berachot during the week following the wedding at a daily festive meal in honor newly married couple (honeymoons didn't come until later). The name for these celebrations became "Sheva Berachot".
However, a Sheva Berachot celebration could only take place if there was at least one new face present who was not a guest at the original ceremony. These new guests are called Panim Hadashot. The intention of this practice seems to be the intentional spreading of joyfulness and celebration beyond the original circle of family and friends to others in the community.
The idea behind the creation of Panim Hadashot was to apply the spirit of hospitality and inclusiveness embedded in this beautiful practice to the new realities modern Jewish life. Panim Hadashot was established as a Jewish outreach and educational organization which focused on sharing the Jewish Sabbath and Festival home hospitality traditions. Panim Hadashot also offered Torah study that was inclusive, rich in content, and spiritually relevant to people's lives. I was in a sense a Sabbath coach, helping people to develop an enriching and inclusive Sabbath home hospitality practice.
Since leaving Seattle in 2007, Panim Hadashot continued to function in different formats. In Southern California I applied the approach of Panim Hadashot to develop a program promoting the development of a Shabbat table culture in a congregation that had little Shabbat celebration or hospitality beyond the synagogue walls. We trained leading synagogue householders to build up their Shabbat home practices and to share their tables regularly with other congregants and guests. In 2011, Joanne and I brought Panim Hadashot to Juneau, Alaska where our home became a center for Shabbat celebration and Torah study. In this small, assimilated Jewish community we sought to keep the spirit of Shabbat alive and to reconnect Jews to its beauty.
When we decided to return to Seattle we worked on a new vision of Panim Hadashot built on the lessons learned from the ten years of experience teaching and modeling our Sabbath hospitality practice. Our vision was inspired by a variation of the ancient practice of Panim Hadashot, inviting new faces to celebrate with the newly married. The Talmud makes an exception to the requirement of a bringing a "new face" to a
Sheva Berachot celebration that takes place on Shabbat. Shabbat herself is considered by the tradition to be the New Face. This variant of the ancient Jewish wedding practice inspired a metaphor for the Sabbath that is captured in a poem by the great Spanish poet, Yehuda Halevy (1075 – 1141).
מה נעמה לי עת בין השמשות לראות פני שבת פנים חדשות ר יהודה הלוי
How lovely is the twilight to be able to gaze on the Sabbath, a New Face.
R. Yehudah Halevy, b 1075
Inspired by this poem and the many references in later Jewish literature to the Sabbath as Panim Hadashot, we found expression for a basic insight about the role of the Shabbat in our lives. Each Shabbat for us is a New Face, a new opportunity for connection between ourselves and other, between ourselves and God. The onset of every Sabbath is the opportunity for the renewal of love, the renewal of awareness, the renewal of purpose.
It is the embrace of this metaphor of Sabbath as a New Face that lead us to bring Panim Hadashot back to Seattle with an expanded vision and program. In the next blog entry, I will share this expanded vision and the approach to Jewish community that emerges from it.
Rabbi Dov Gartenberg