To be honest, my work as "Convener and Director" of Panim Hadashot-New Faces reflects two things in my life, a personality trait and a passionate love about a dimension of Jewish tradition.
I am a very gregarious and curious person. I love to be with people. I get excited meeting new people. I am happy asking people about their lives, their interests, their convictions. I thrill at making connections between people I meet. I would probably be happy if I chose to be a matchmaker.
I am like my mother, who when I was young would befriend gas station attendants or waitresses or people she would encounter along the way of life. My brothers and I would sit in a restaurant while she shmoozed with our waiter, learning all about his life. We would say, "Come on Mom, can we order our food!? She ignored us, taking down the address of the waiter and inviting him to the next family simchah. I probably inherited this quality from her, although I am a tiny bit shyer.
Tova Hartman, the daughter of my teacher, Rabbi David Hartman, once called me a social animator. By animator she meant a person who would animate (bring to life) gatherings of people and make connections between them. I love to bring people together especially in smaller settings and the best way, the most fulfilling way I found to bring people together was by inviting them to sit at our Shabbat table. If I was born into a different culture or religion, I would be doing something similar. So it is not surprising that I founded Panim Hadashot. It's just who I am.
I once had a couple of Christian ministers to my Shabbat table. I explained to them my vision of Panim Hadashot. They were excited about what I was doing and complemented me on my "ministry". I was fascinated by the term, because I could think of no parallel term in Jewish tradition. Christians understand ministry as
lovingly serving the needs of your neighbor with humility and devotion to God (It does not refer exclusively to a "minister" since any Christian can take up a ministry.) 'Ministry' comes from the Greek 'diakoneo', meaning 'to serve'.
My "ministry" is hospitality. In Jewish terms, my beloved "gomel hesed"-act of kindness is the act of hospitality. As a Rabbi I serve God and the Jewish people by practicing and expanding the practice of hospitality (hachnasat orchim) and enabling people to do the mitzvah (commandment) of Shabbat. It is expressed in sharing my Shabbat, my food, my home, my life with strangers, new faces, family, and friends. In creating Panim Hadashot-New Faces I fused something characteristic of my personality with something I loved about my tradition.
I am certainly aware that there are many paths in living a Jewish life. Hospitality is only one of many ways to live with intention and to make our troubled world kinder and more humane. But this path of hospitality not only brings me personal joy, it gives my life great meaning and purpose. I live to help others find meaning and purpose in their lives.
Thanks for reading this message and learning about Panim Hadashot-New Faces.
Rabbi Dov Gartenberg