Panim Hadashot, the Jewish outreach organization that first entered the Shabbat homes of Seattle-area residents a little over two years ago, has decided to conclude its programming at the end of the summer in 2007.
Rabbi Dov Gartenberg, Panim Hadashot’s founder and prime mover, cited growing difficulties in funding the organization as the primary reason behind the decision.
“To make this viable requires a lot of fundraising,” said Gartenberg. “It’s not like a synagogue, which is member-based.”
When Panim Hadashot was founded in the summer of 2004, the goal of the organization was to connect to secular or unaffiliated Jews using programming that reached outside of the institutions commonly associate with Judaism, such as the synagogue.
Hospitality was key. Gartenberg created programs such as Shabbat Around Seattle, in which he would lead Shabbat meals in the private homes of Seattle-area Jews. The organization was also known for holding seders, or festival meals, that explored the various culinary traditions associated with different Jewish holidays.
Gartenberg could also be spotted behind a booth at the Whole Foods supermarket in North Seattle, talking to anyone who was curious about Judaism.
Panim Hadashot was about “validating different ways of expressing Jewishness. We were trying to engage people where they were,” Gartenberg told JTNews.
Fundraising has proven increasingly difficult over the years, according to Gartenberg, despite what he believed was a record of successful programming. Panim Hadashot ideally needed between $180,000 and $200,000 to operate each year. Though in its first two years the organization met its fundraising goals, to date they have only received $80,000 worth of pledges for 2007. Most of that money, according to Gartenberg, was scheduled to enter the organization coffers at the end of the year, leaving it short on operating funds in the short term.
“Rabbi Gartenberg was having to do it all,” said Janet Levy-Pauli, a founding board member of Panim Hadashot. “I’m involved with a lot of different organizations and everybody needs money…but outreach does not seem to be foremost in the mindset of the Jewish community in Seattle, which I think is unfortunate.”
Panim Hadashot raised its funding through a combination of consultation fees, solicitations from private donors, grants, and tuition from its educational programs. However, it heavily depended upon sizable donations from individuals and organizations.
Despite a few noteworthy and generous exceptions, said Gartenberg, money wasn’t forthcoming.
“One of the attributes of outreach is that you don’t hit them with money….You try to bring the experience first,” he said. “People weren’t as charitable as I thought they would be.”
Since Panim Hadashot’s founding, Gartenberg has visited over 60 homes in the Seattle area, such as the home of Orna Edgar, a 42-year-old single mother and attorney at Microsoft.
“When people go to a mainstream synagogue, they come as a unit. It’s always as a family,” she said. “When I went to a function with Rabbi Dov, everyone was seated at the table and everyone was an equal participant. You didn’t feel as much that people were there as family unit. It was more that people were there as a community.”
Dina Lewallen became an active volunteer in Panim Hadashot shortly after she and her husband moved to Seattle. She met Gartenberg at an adult education class.
“I know that people who are involved with Panim are sad programming will not continue,” said Lewallen, who became chairperson of Panim Hadashot’s Program Steering Group. “I think a seed was planted with new and innovative ways of doing things. I think its legacy will be long lasting with people who have participated.”
Suzi LeVine, partner and cofounder of Kavana, a pluralistic spiritual community that is also outside the mold of a traditional synagogue, said that Panim Hadashot would be missed and that its end should serve as a “wake-up call.”
“There are so many people who are Jewish business people in his community, where from a business standpoint they understand innovation,” said LeVine. “The question I have for this community is, how to translate that knowledge and experience into funding innovations in this Jewish community and excitement in this Jewish community?”
LeVine points to an existing infrastructure in cities, such as New York and Los Angeles, that support innovative organizations such as Panim Hadashot or Kavana. LeVine said that with the exception of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle’s Levitan Innovation Award, which annually awards $10,000 to a deserving organization, Seattle doesn’t have anything comparable. Panim Hadashot and Kavana are the two one-time winners of the award thus far.
Although circumstances have forced Panim Hadashot to shut down, Gartenberg believes the role it played is still vital to strengthening Seattle’s Jewish community.
“The value is enormous for a community that is seen to be very closed and cliquish,” he said. The Orthodox community, according to Gartenberg, has more than 20 rabbis in the Seattle area doing outreach, following the international success of Chabad. Although his model wasn’t sustainable, Gartenberg said Seattle still needs an outreach rabbi that approaches secular and cultural Jews from a pluralistic perspective.
The announcement that Panim Hadashot would be ending its programming came in an e-mail to community members last week, though Gartenberg and the organization’s board had made the decision in January. The timing will allow Gartenberg to participate in a job search for a new rabbinic position, held annually between January and May.
He said that he hoped to stay in Seattle, where after 19 years he has many community connections and his family. Due to a limited number of positions, however, he is preparing for the possibility of having to leave the region.