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About Dov Gartenberg

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

As many of are getting vaccinated and we are starting to slowly emerge from confinement, accompanying our physical encounters with a ‘shehechiyanu’ is a way of greeting people with spiritual intention. It is a way of saying to a friend or family member that their presence is deeply felt by us. It is also a way of bringing God into our encounter and sanctifying the moment of physical encounter.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

A Blessing After Absence

The Talmud has a fascinating passage about blessings on occasions when  you encounter a friend after a period of time. I had a chance this week to study this passage and the commentaries on it. 

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: One who sees his friend after thirty days have passed since last seeing him recites: “Blessed…Who has given us life, sustained us and brought us to this time” (the ‘shehechiyanu’ blessing).  One who sees his friend after twelve months recites: “Blessed… Who revives the dead” (the ‘mechayeh hametim’ blessing which is also recited as the second blessing of the Amidah).  [Talmud Babli, Berachot 58b]. 

The tradition of reciting these blessings in this way has largely disappeared in the modern age as technology has made it possible to remain connected with others without being in their physical presence. I have taught this text in the past and many are sort of spooked by the practice of saying the “reviving the dead blessing”. I personally find that tradition of reciting the blessing quite moving and a way to acknowledge reconnecting to someone after a prolonged absence. Rashi comments about the practice, “And a vessel that has been lost for more than twelve months is forgotten by its owners, because they despair of finding it after twelve months….” When we encounter a friend or even an acquaintance after a year it is like finding a lost object.

Several Torah scholars have suggested that the reality of the pandemic and our long confinement should be reason enough to revive the recitation of the ‘shehechiyanu’ blessing when we encounter a close friend or a family member. The commentators emphasize that this is so if we encounter someone who gives us joy when we are in his or her presence. A Rabbi in Israel recently argued that even with the reality of Zoom and telephones in our lives, we should say the ‘shehechiyanu’ blessing when we are in the physical presence of family and friends physically after our long period of confinement. In essence this is the hugging blessing.

The saying of a blessing upon seeing a friend after prolonged period seeks to sensitize us to absence. When we see someone we care about after a period of absence, we should make a blessing. We are thanking God for the restoration of presence. The Torah teacher Erica Brown writes, “The Talmud defines newness as a fresh pleasurable occurrence experienced after thirty days. The reunion blessing shares the same language as the blessing recited upon eating a piece of new fruit or reaching a significant milestone event. All of these experiences, from the prosaic to the significant, demand spiritual pause; they ask to be acknowledged and celebrated [From First Things Journal, May 1, 2021].

As many of are getting vaccinated and we are starting to slowly emerge from confinement, accompanying our physical encounters with a ‘shehechiyanu’ is a way of greeting people with spiritual intention. It is a way of saying to a friend or family member that their presence is deeply felt by us. It is also a way of bringing God into our encounter and sanctifying the moment of physical encounter.

I hope that you will have many opportunities to chant the ‘shehechiyanu’ blessing in the upcoming days and months. May you experience many hugs and embraces that will fill you with joy.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Anguish of This Moment

Dear Friends,

I have been following the events in Israel and Gaza closely. Everything has unfolded so quickly and so alarmingly. I am extremely concerned as events appear to be spiraling out of control. I searched for language to articulate my concerns about what is unfolding there. I have called my friends and family in Israel to check on their safety and reactions. After reading many essays, statements, and reactions I found an essay that I think comes closest to my convictions on what is unfolding.  

The link below is to an essay by Rabbi Donniel Hartman, the Director of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Rabbi Hartman is a veteran IDF tank commander, a brilliant Jewish scholar, and a respected commentator on the Israeli scene. Most important, Rabbi Hartman is an Israeli who is experiencing the crisis firsthand, as opposed to an American commentator who writes at a great distance.  I am attaching a link to his essay which appeared Wednesday, May 12th.

I am aware that this is an extremely emotional issue and there are differing points of view. However, I believe Rabbi Hartman articulates a defense of Israel along with an important critique which cannot be ignored. I have posted this message in my blog as well and will moderate comments.

We hope for de-escalation. We pray for peace.

Rabbi Dov

LINK:  I cannot just put my anger aside until things are quiet | Donniel Hartman | The Blogs (timesofisrael.com)

I have also copied the article into my essay in case you have trouble with the link. 

I cannot just put my anger aside until things are quiet

No question Hamas is a repulsive, immoral enemy. And yet, Israel, enamored by its own power, has failed its duty to strive to be smarter, more just, more visionary

MAY 12, 2021, 8:06 PM

I am angry.

I am angry that Hamas, which wants me dead and my country dismantled, is able to attack again and again with impunity, at the time of their choosing, to inflict pain and suffering, and to shape the discourse between Israelis and the Palestinians, and now between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs.

When our cities are being attacked, Israelis killed, and our life upended, protocol requires that we concentrate on condemning the actions of our enemy and unite around our right to live and to be a free people in our home. I have accepted this protocol for most of my life. I remember as a tank commander, fighting in the 1982 Lebanon War, my anger at the protesters back home who were condemning the war. “Not now,” I shouted, as if I felt their delegitimization undermining my resolve – a resolve I needed to hold onto in order stay alive and get through the day.

Part of me still accepts this protocol. It is important for me to reaffirm that I know that this latest attack has nothing to do with the Damascus Gate, Sheikh Jarrah, or the police entering the Dome of the Rock mosque. Hamas brilliantly manipulated these events to grab hold of the mantle of Palestinian leadership from the PA, at the time when their ability to do so through the ballot had been denied them, due to the yet again postponed Palestinian election.

It is important to reaffirm the validity of the Israeli narrative that Hamas, like Hezbollah and Iran, will only be satisfied when the last Jew is either in the Mediterranean Sea or back in Europe “from where you came.” We are at war with an enemy devoid of basic moral standards, a terrorist organization for whom any suffering of their citizens is legitimate so long as some Jewish blood is spilled. For Hamas, victory is measured by the extent of pain they can extract, and not by any strategic advancement they achieve for their people.

The Israeli protocol demands that any criticism of Israel be postponed to tomorrow. I reject criticism that flattens the debate, and that blames Israel for Hamas’ actions. That said, we cannot allow protocol to stifle serious reflection and even self-criticism about the policies we enacted which, though they were not the cause of the missile attacks, nevertheless did contribute significantly to the effectiveness of Hamas’ move and to the violence between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. History has shown us that when criticism is delayed until “tomorrow,” one often forgets, and one finds oneself aligned with the comforts of the status quo instead of one’s aspirations.

I am angry because we can do better.

We have accepted as a given that there is no peace partner, and consequently, Hamas is no worse than the Palestinian Authority. This has allowed us to prop up Hamas with funds, solidifying their hold on Gaza, while constantly delegitimizing the PA, and denying them any successes. The PA are kosher as our “collaborators” working behind the scenes to prevent attacks against Israel, but they are not our partners in advancing the cause and rights of Palestinians. The partnership between the one-statists who believe that Israel must hold onto all of Judaea and Samaria because it’s ours, regardless of the circumstances, and those who in principle favor compromise but believe that peace is unachievable, has effectively handed the mantle of Palestinian leadership over to Hamas. We have created a self-fulfilling prophecy in which any progress is impossible, for now, we truly do not have a peace partner.

We have become so enamored with our power, that we have forgotten the rabbinic teaching that the truly powerful is the one who knows to control its use. We can stop Palestinians from sitting on the steps near Damascus Gate. We can enter the Dome of the Rock at will. We have an abundance of stun grenades at our disposal. We can even hide behind legal arguments that allow us to expel dozens of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem and settle Jews in their stead. We are, after all, the sovereign. We won the war and to the victor go the spoils. But what about the rabbinic teaching: who is wise – he or she who is able to see what is to come?

The holy month of Ramadan is not the time to prove the extent of our control over Muslims, but to show our ability for self-control. It is certainly not the time to intervene with the worship and celebration unless under the most extreme conditions, conditions that were far from being met.

Since most Israelis believe that there is no peace partner, we have removed the peace process from our public and policy agendas. But why have we removed all discourse about our moral responsibilities towards the Palestinians from these agendas? “We offered and they said no,” is the accepted narrative, and consequently all suffering they may experience is their own responsibility. Released from any responsibility, we are exempt from blame. Criticism of Israel is either antisemitic (when done by others) or betrayal (when voiced by fellow Jews).

We stand dismayed at Israeli Arab protests, bemoaning the loss of a decade of coexistence work. We feel betrayed by them for siding with Hamas, our arch enemy. And yet we have done almost no real scalable and sustainable work of coexistence. Job creation that will help the Israeli economy – yes. Coexistence, genuine respect, understanding where they are coming from and how they experience reality – no. We are after all the victors, and as such we control the narrative. We have allowed Israeli Arabs to live in a lawless autonomous zone founded on neglect. So long as they do not pose a security risk to “us,” they can kill each other at will.

There are parts of the narrative we cannot control. The reality is that with enemies like Hamas and Hezbollah, peace is impossible.

But I am angry that we are not striving to be better: smarter, more just, more hopeful, more visionary. I am angry because over and over again we choose narratives that contribute to our moral mediocrity and elevate a bad and unsustainable status quo. I cannot put this anger aside until tomorrow. Our destiny is to always have to pay a price for our existence. Our responsibility is to strive for greatness within this destiny.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman is the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute and the author of 'Putting God Second: How to Save Religion' from Itself. Together with Yossi Klein Halevi and Elana Stein Hain, he co-hosts the 'For Heaven’s Sake' podcast. Donniel is the founder of some of the most extensive education, training and enrichment programs for scholars, educators, rabbis, and religious and lay leaders in Israel and North America. He is a prominent essayist, blogger and lecturer on issues of Israeli politics, policy, Judaism, and the Jewish community. He has a PhD in Jewish philosophy from Hebrew University, an MA in political philosophy from New York University, an MA in religion from Temple University, and rabbinic ordination from the Shalom Hartman Institute.

This is my weekly message to Congregation B'nai Israel of Albuquerque on Thursday, 4/29/21

What does it mean to end our confinement? The Talmud tells a story of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son who spent 12 years in a cave hiding from the Roman authorities who sought to execute them.   At the end of that time Elijah tells them that the emperor has died and the decree against them has expired. Rabbi Shimon and his son emerge from the cave.  Talmud relates that every place that they placed their eyes was immediately burned. A voice from heaven comes to them. “Did you emerge in order to destroy my world? Go back to your cave.”

As we emerge from our “caves”, how will we greet the post pandemic world? How will we respond to it? How will it be different? How will we be different?  I think all of us have some anxiety about the return to normalcy. We are not sure what normalcy will look like. 

We are entering a transitional period. The congregation is slowly returning to in-person events. We started outdoor Friday evening services in April. My Wednesday evening class decided to meet in person this week. The board decided on Sunday (4/25) to officially reopen congregational Shabbat services on the weekend of June 18-19th. While our religious school continues to meet online, discussions are already underway on how the school can reopen for the 2021-2022 school year.

A picture is beginning to emerge about congregational life in the post pandemic period. It is not crystal clear. I am sure there will be surprises as we strive to resume our pre pandemic lives. In my message today, I want to share two observations on how in-person experiences at the synagogue will be different from the pre pandemic world.

The Hybrid Experience.

I think one of the changes that we will experience at the congregation is the role that technology will continue to play even when we gather in-person. Our services and adult education offerings will come in hybrid form: a mix of in person and online. Certainly, over the last year, many of us have gotten used to online services and classes. While I know that many people will be relieved about being able to attend physical services, the new challenge will be getting used to having a certain percentage of participants attending online for our regular in person gatherings. What will it mean to have a screen in the sanctuary with the Zoom tiles of remote attendees?  Rabbis are already struggling to adjust to this new reality. (see this article: As U.S. synagogues start to reopen, Zoom becomes the elephant in the room - U.S. News - Haaretz.com). Some have already expressed concern about this shift to the hybrid experience for a host of reasons, the most common being the impact on the in-person experience of Jewish life. On the other hand, the hybrid approach brings greater inclusivity, making it easier for remote congregants and shut-ins to attend. 

The Altered Torah Reading

One post pandemic reality that is in store for us will be an altered Torah reading at Shabbat morning services. Due to a shortage of skilled Torah readers at CBI, we will need to conduct the Torah reading in a different way. When we reconvene in June, our Torah reading will be shorter, reduced to @21 verses (7 aliyot) instead of reading from the triennial reading (which often has as many as 50 verses in the reading).

During the pandemic when we could not gather in a physical minyan, the national Conservative Committee on Jewish Law and Standards suggested that synagogues could hold virtual zoom services on Shabbat but should not read directly from the Torah scroll. Instead, we could read from a Humash, which made reading from the Torah easier than reading directly from the scroll which requires more preparation. In addition, during the pandemic we did not call people up to the Torah for Torah blessings since we were not reading from a Torah scroll.   

Now that we are returning to services with a physical minyan, we would like to return to the in-person reading from the from the Torah Scroll and move away from reading from a “Humash” (or “Tikkun”, an aid for preparing a Torah reading) either online or in person.  But it is clear that we no longer have enough skilled readers to be able to read from the scroll the full triennial reading week after week (at least for the time being). I am recommending that at in-person services starting on June 19th we read from the scroll for the first “aliyah”. All subsequent aliyot can be read by readers from the Humash either online or in-person. On June 19th we will resume calling people up to the Torah for the Torah blessings even when we read from the “Humash”. 

These changes in the Torah reading will be in place for the transition and perhaps longer until we can recruit and train more Torah readers. I realize that these changes may be jarring for some. The truth is that maintaining a traditional Torah reading at CBI has been a challenge for a long time, even prior to my arrival as interim. The pandemic exacerbated this challenge. It is now time to make the adjustment, so we do not strain our current volunteers who devote time to preparing the readings week after week. I am working on a longer-term solution which I will share at a future date. Meanwhile, I encourage members to consider learning the basic skills of reading Torah to help share the responsibility to sustaining our collective Torah reading. 

Emerging from our pandemic caves will be both an exciting and an anxious time. I hope that our reemergence will lead to the joy of community and the happiness of reconnecting with others. I hope to see you as we reconvene and rediscover the joys of physical connectedness and of communal Jewish life.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

PS. I wish everyone of you Lag Ba’omer Same’ah which starts tonight. It is a minor Jewish holiday. To learn more about it click on the link. HERE

A Message from Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

As the verdict in the Chauvin trial came down yesterday, I thought of this passage which we discussed last week in our Shabbat afternoon study group. “The famous biblical command at Deuteronomy 16:20, ‘Justice, justice you shall pursue,’ implies categorically that a Jew must engage in the continuous pursuit of a just society-a pursuit that will inevitably be connected not only with interpersonal behavior among individuals, but also with the ethical construction of larger society in which those individuals live.”  (P. 427. The Observant Life: The Wisdom of Conservative Judaism for Contemporary Jews.)  I believe that justice has been served by Tuesday’s verdict. I agree with the Floyd family attorney, Ben Crump, who stated “Justice for Black America is justice for all of America.”

If we take seriously the biblical command of Tzedek, tzedek tirdof, we should be encouraged by the jury decision in the Chauvin case. It demonstrated that our system of justice can work and that police officers, who are so important and vital to our society, must also be held accountable when they become the source of an egregious injustice. This is a deep-seated problem that requires concrete reforms in policing. (Although, I do not support defunding the police.)

Yesterday’s ADL statement summarizes my views on this issue.

“The jury’s decision to hold Derek Chauvin accountable for the murder of George Floyd is ​​​​a critically necessary first step in securing ​a modicum of justice for Floyd's family and community. And yet, no guilty verdict can change the fact that George Floyd – and Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo and too many others – should be alive today. It is long past time for our country to tackle systemic racism, reimagine what public safety looks like, and create transformational change to ensure justice and fair treatment for all people. Black Lives Matter, and our society's laws, practices, and institutions must reflect that.”

We cannot remain indifferent to the pain of the black community. I recently started reading Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. Wilkerson makes a strong argument for framing American slavery as a manifestation of a caste system. She argues that blacks occupy a similar position in America as the Untouchables in India and Jews in Nazi Germany. While the origins of each of these caste systems are unique, the position and standing of Jews in Nazi Germany was very much informed by the history of blacks in America as well as American race theory and eugenics that developed in this country early in the 20th century. 

I think this book is very important. I recommend that CBI members read the book. I am planning to discuss the book at my weekly Tuesday lunch and learn on June 22nd from 12-1 which should give folks plenty of time to read and digest this important work. I will also discuss my impressions of the book at Shabbat services on June 25-26. Save these dates and look for more information in the eblasts.

I would like to share a small section of the book which serves as an inspiration to me about how we as Jews should connect and respond to the Black experience in America. 

“In December 1932, one of the smartest men who ever lived landed in America on a steamship with his wife and their thirty pieces of luggage as the Nazis bore down on their homeland of Germany. Albert Einstein, the physicist and Nobel laureate had managed to escape the Nazis just in time. The month after Einstein left, Hitler was appointed chancellor.

In America, Einstein was astonished to discover that he had landed in yet another caste system, one with a different scapegoat caste and different methods, but with embedded hatreds that were not so unlike the one he had just fled. “The worst disease is the treatment of the Negro,” he wrote in 1946. “Everyone who freshly learns of this state of affairs at a maturer age feels not only the injustice, but the scorn of the principle of the Fathers who founded the United States that ‘all men are created equal.’ ”…

A few years into his tenure (at Princeton), the opera singer Marian Anderson, a renowned contralto born to the subordinated caste, performed to an overflow crowd at McCarter Theatre in Princeton and to rapturous praise in the press of her “complete mastery of a magnificent voice.” But the Nassau Inn in Princeton refused to rent a room to her for the night. Einstein, learning of this, invited her to stay in his home. From then on, she would stay at the Einstein residence whenever she was in town, even after Princeton hotels began accepting African-American guests. They would remain friends until his death. “Being a Jew myself, perhaps I can understand and empathize with how black people feel as victims of discrimination,” he told a family friend.

He grew uncomfortable with the American way of pressuring newcomers to look down on the lowest caste in order to gain acceptance. Here was one of the most brilliant men who ever lived refusing to see himself as superior to people he was being told were beneath him. “The more I feel an American, the more this situation pains me,” Einstein wrote. “I can escape the feelings of complicity in it only by speaking out.” (Caste. P. 378ff)

Let Einstein be an inspiration to all of us. Like him, we need to speak out and support efforts to promote justice and fairness for our fellow Black citizens and for all.