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About Dov Gartenberg

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg is the Convener and Director of Panim Hadashot-New Faces.

It’s not a good idea to call people "Nazis" or, in general, to drag any other Third Reich terminology into contemporary political debates. Putting aside for one moment just how offensive it is, it smacks of bad faith and shows sloppy analysis. If you’re trying to make a solid point, and the best you can do is use the ultimate manifestation of evil in modern history as a base for comparison, you’re probably not on very stable ground.

From Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer writes a very good essay on the distorting polemics which around the Holocaust and the Nazi era. I found this article very helpful in identifying this problem in the media and in debates about extremism in our times. Click on the link to read the article. I hope this illuminates as we observe Yom HaShoah this week. RDG.

They're Israel's Far Right, Pro-ethnic Cleansing Nationalists. But Don't Call Them 'Nazis'

By holding a Shiva, the family also benefits the community. The family is inviting the community in to their home. One of the roles of the community is to console the individual within the community, to be present during a time of grief. By holding a Shiva, a family is giving an opportunity to the community to fulfill its purpose for existence.

Some Random Thoughts While Leading a Shiva Minyan

Often when I lead a communal service sudden and unexpected insights come to me. This is especially so when I lead a Shiva minyan. As I lead, I try to focus on the family I am in the midst of. I also try to keep my thoughts focused on the deceased who is at the center of their gathering. Sometimes, when I do this internal “kavanah” (intention) the prayers yield new insights.

Yesterday, I led a Shiva minyan for the family of Marilyn Reinman, a beloved and lifelong member of the congregation I serve here in Albuquerque.  Among the many roles she filled at the synagogue, the most impactful was her role as religious schoolteacher for decades. She was a beloved teacher who touched the children she taught. To her family she was a beloved mother and grandmother. 

As I focused on the family grief and on Marilyn’s life, a new insight about the V’ahavta passage came to me. The v’ahavta passage is part of the Shema which is a quotation from Deuteronomy 6:4-9. In verse 7, we read “Teach them diligently to your children….”.  It came to me that the Shema is a what we call in our times, a parenting handbook.

Marilyn was a gifted teacher. But she also was a devoted parent.  It seemed appropriate to give intention to this most famous passage from that perspective. As I thought about it during the prayers, I realized that one way to look at these most familiar prayers is as a resource for a parent seeking guidance on how to instruct children about what God asks of us. This first paragraph of the Shema (the v’ahavta) offers a path for  a parent to teach the next generation about loving God.   

I also noticed that the language about teaching children occurs also in the second paragraph of the Shema (V’hayah im shamo’a):  “Teach them to your children….”  What is the subject of the teaching in the second paragraph of the Shema? When reading the paragraph, you will notice that the theme is about the collective responsibility and consequences of observing or not observing the commandments. The consequences are apparent in nature and the land we inhabit.  This paragraph is in the plural, not in the singular as in the previous paragraph.

This paragraph is also about parenting, about teaching children using very similar language toward the end of the paragraph as in the first paragraph. I was left wondering as I led the prayer about the task of parenting the teachings of the second paragraph. Is the second paragraph about teaching the child collective responsibility?  Something to ponder. 

The value of the Shiva for the community.

Much has been written by rabbis and educators about the beauty, comfort, and value of Jewish mourning rituals. For me, the fundamental value of the Shiva is that the community comes to the home of the mourners. Even in a virtual minyan on Zoom  that we held last night, it was very impressive to see all the faces of members of the congregation and family friends from all over the country and beyond.  The Shiva galvanizes the community to reverse the normal pattern of community gathering. The community comes to the mourner. 

I am always grateful to families who hold a Shiva. It is not always the case. In these days, many families consider a death in the family to be a purely private matter. But when a family holds a Shiva,  not only do family members benefit from the comforts of mourning. The family also benefits deeply from  the presence of community and the consolations of a wider circle of people. 

By holding a Shiva, the family also benefits the community.  The family is inviting the community in to their home.  One of the roles of the community is to console the individual within the community, to be present during a time of grief.  By holding a Shiva, a family is giving an opportunity to the community to fulfill its purpose for existence.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

25 Nisan 5781, 10th Day of the Omer. 

My approach to studying halachah with you is to explore the realm of real people living in the real world. I am not presenting Judaism as only a way of inventing space for God in the world, but also to present our way of life as a way of finding God in the nooks and crannies of our actual lives as we are already liv­ing them. This is Torah study that deals with the real world and provides insight into the way we might respond to all sorts of distressing, unexpected-and usually complicated aspects of living in that world. This is a deep exploration of Jewish practice that presumes that the most pious, ethical human being cannot avoid encountering vulgarity, obscenity, impropriety, and boorish behavior. Our central question throughout will be: How can Jewish practice help us to live morally, spiritually, in a compromised and complicated world?

Thursday eve, April 1, 2021, 4th Day Hol Hamoed Pesah, 20 Nisan 5781, 5th Day of the Omer.

Dear Friends,

In the days before Pesah I often get dozens of questions about Passover Kashrut from people trying extra hard to observe the strictures around food for the holiday with extra care. I am happy to answer the questions and respect the meticulousness of my questioners about keeping kosher for Passover.  But I wonder whether my questioners have given the same attention that they give to proper foods to questions about interpersonal relations, to issues in their work lives, or in matters of local, statewide, and national debate that also might be answered by teachings on Jewish practice. 

That is why I am teaching a new class: The Way of Mitzvot, Exploring Jewish Practice.

What is unique about the approach of this class?

This class is about halakhah, Jewish observance and practice, but not in the narrow and limited way many Jews think about it as “the rules that govern the ritual lives of observant Jews”.  I will present halakhah quite differently, in a way that I hope you will find illuminating, inspiring, and engaging. I quote from the editor’s introduction to centerpiece of our weekly study, The Observant Life: The Wisdom of Conservative Judasim for Contemporary Jews.  

“The halakhah lives in two different realms.

One is the idealized realm of ritual behavior in which people construct their own invisible temples and then serve God (or attempt to serve God) in those places with all the fervor and attention to detail they can muster. This is the realm of kashrut and Shabbat observance, the realm of marriage and di­vorce law, the realm of family purity and formal mourning practices—in short, the collective realm of the slightly artificial institutions designed to help us feel the presence of God profoundly and palpably by imposing highly effective con­texts in which to do so upon the hours of their days and the years of their lives.”

“The other realm is the arena of human society, where the halakhah flour­ishes as people devoted to serving God wholly attempt to find holiness in even the most banal aspects of daily life as it is actually lived. This is the realm of how we dress and how we speak, how we relate to our employers and to our employees, how we conduct our social lives and our sexual lives. It is the realm of thoughtful advertising executives wondering what kind of impact the laws that forbid lying should have on their craft, of spiritually sensitive journalists speculating about the degree to which they can report the news without contravening the scriptural prohibition of talebearing, and of ethical, humane physicians attempting to practice a kind of medicine infused with the values of faith. It is the realm of lawyers wondering how exactly the halakhah crosses paths with the techniques of modern jurisprudence, and whether Judaism formally discourages—or perhaps even actually forbids—them to engage in any of those practices.” The Observant Life. Editors, Martin S. Cohen and Michael Katz. Published 2012. Rabbinical Assembly.  p. xxvi. 

My approach to studying halachah with you is to explore the realm of real people living in the real world. I am not presenting Judaism as only a way of inventing space for God in the world, but also to  present our way of life as a way of finding God in the nooks and crannies of our actual lives as we are already liv­ing them. This is Torah study that deals with the real world and provides insight into the way we might respond to all sorts of distressing, unexpected-and usually complicated aspects of living in that world.  This is a deep exploration of Jewish practice that presumes that the most pious, ethical human being cannot avoid encountering vulgarity, obscenity, impropriety, and boorish behavior. Our central question throughout will be: How can Jewish practice help us to live morally, spiritually, in a compromised and complicated world? 

This is a class for Jews and interested non-Jews at any level who are ready to be explore Judaism in new and challenging ways. I expect there to be disagreement and debate but always accompanied by illumination and insight. 

See the details and signup below. 

The Way of Mitzvot, Jewish Practice: A Virtual Shabbat Afternoon Rabbi’s Shiur (Torah Study Session) Weekly Saturday Afternoons, 4-5pm on Zoom* Starting Shabbat, April 10, 2021 through May 29, 2021. This shi’ur will be extended with sufficient participant interest.

Required Text: The Observant Life: The Wisdom of Conservative Judaism for Contemporary Jews. Editors Martin S. Cohen and Michael Katz. Available on Kindle or hard cover.  

This class is free and open to the community. It is also open to remote participants in other communities.  All sessions will be recorded. A donation is welcome to support adult Jewish learning at CBI.   Secure Online Electronic Signup. Registrants will receive the zoom link on Friday, April 9th.   https://www.signupgenius.com/go/8050545AAAC2DA4F85-cbiadult

Phone Signup: Call the CBI office at 505 266-0155. For questions write to Rabbi Gartenberg at dovgartenberg@hotmail.com

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Thursday, March 18, 2021/ 5 Nisan, 5781

Our Year with Covid 19

Last year we gathered for the reading of Megilat Esther with the storm clouds of the Corona Virus pandemic approaching.  We had a nice crowd for the reading, many in costume, with an outwardly festive mood.  I could see the worry on people’s faces, but we did not talk about it.  As the service concluded I wondered to myself when I would next gather in-person with folks for a synagogue event.

As the year progressed, I was in touch with a dozen or so households in which family members contracted Covid-19.  Some of them got extremely sick. For others, the symptoms were mild. As far as I know, no one in our congregation died from the virus. The secondary impacts of the virus were more evident. I spoke to many more congregants who spoke of depression or loneliness. I spoke to parents exhausted and severely beleaguered by the impact of the pandemic on their families.

As we moved to online services, classes, and programs I saw an uptick in participation. I realized that for some people the online programs offered real and meaningful community while we remained confined to our homes. This community creating purpose inspire me as I conducted services and offered classes throughout the year. 

On the other hand, I also noticed that other members, who had been frequent in-person attendees at shul, dropped out of sight for a variety of reasons. For some it was the difficulty of adapting to the new technology. For others it was Zoom fatigue from the new virtual reality that governed work or school. For still others, the loss of in-person gathering led to an intentional privatizing of religious life in which Shabbatot and Yom Tovim became times for personal mediation and study.

The religious school was profoundly impacted by the pandemic with all in-person activities grinding to a halt. While the school was quick to adapt to online services, it has had to reduce class hours substantially. Teachers, unaccustomed to using online platforms, had to rush to learn the skills of teaching online. Only recently have we been able to offer the option of in-person gathering for informal family programs outside. 

This past year has been an unprecedented existential detour which reorganized the reality of congregational life for every one. It forced every one of us to adapt and to change our routines. Yesterday, I was interviewed for a study by two sociologists about how rabbis of congregations across the country adapted to the pandemic. As the interview progressed, I realized how much I had to adapt to help the congregation through this extraordinarily disruptive period. But many of the adaptations have led to surprising discoveries that I believe have benefitted the congregation.  I’ll summarize some of the things I learned that I shared with the researchers.  

The value of live interpersonal interaction at virtual religious services and classes gatherings. 

I realized a month or two into the pandemic that we had to find a way to make our online gatherings more interactive. I quickly moved away from focusing on livestreaming our events where people watched a service or a presentation passively.  I shifted the focus to more interactive formats where congregants could engage with each other instead of being passive listeners. We focused on Zoom as a platform that offered more interactivity. We introduced breakout rooms, not letting any service go longer than an hour without at least 5 minutes of being together in smaller breakout rooms. In this way people got to know each other and were able to check in with each other. 

Welcoming participation of people out of the area.

When we moved to online services and programs, we discovered that new people began to participate who did not live in the ABQ area. People from all over the state and beyond the state started participating in services or signing up for classes. We even discovered people from other communities who were eager to lead us in prayer. For example, Yehudah and Nurit Patt from Santa Fe started participating online several months before the High Holidays and have contributed substantially to our online services during this year.

Another key adaptation from this year is the realization that we needed to think of our programs as regional opportunities, not just local ABQ offerings. The Miller Introduction to Judaism Program has several participants who join this online class who could not otherwise participate if it was only an in-person class. We have participants attending from Rio Rancho, Placitas, Belen, and even Philadelphia,

Experiencing Jewish life and Jewish talent beyond Albuquerque.

The implementation of online programming at CBI had another consequence. People discovered that they could explore Jewish life outside of ABQ. Members are attending services at other congregations, taking classes online at other Jewish institutions. People discovered that Zoom led to a reality of expanded choices that allowed attending services with relatives elsewhere or reconnecting with former communities whose services were now accessible online. At CBI we were able to bring remote talent to continue musical services and to hold classes. 

Collaborations with other Jewish communities

More recently, we have discovered that online programming enables us to collaborate with other communities. I am discussing with a Conservative congregation in Colorado about holding joint online Yom Tov services for Passover. By combining forces, we can ensure a minyan, connect Conservative Jews from different communities, and enable rabbis to collaborate and enrich our communities together. Another idea circulating is for Conservative congregations in New Mexico, and Colorado to collaborate by offering an online daily minyan that increases the pool of participation and the frequency of meetings. 

The End of the Pandemic

We are now beginning to contemplate the end of the pandemic and the return to in-person activities. This transition will be gradual and will also bring unexpected challenges. How will the changes I mentioned above figure in our congregation’s future?  How will our congregational life change?  The next 6 months will be fascinating and revelatory.  Send me your thoughts and ideas on how we should transition back to in-person gatherings. What will be the role of online programming in the future? What is our responsibility to our many participants who live far outside Albuquerque?   

Shalom, Rabbi Dov Gartenberg