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Not just another 'bear'

Sukkat Shalom welcomes first rabbi

Posted: September 3, 2011 - 11:01pm
Rabbi Dov Gartenberg is the first full-time Rabbi to serve the members of the Temple Sukkat Shalom in Juneau.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Rabbi Dov Gartenberg is the first full-time Rabbi to serve the members of the Temple Sukkat Shalom in Juneau.

Sukkat Shalom in Juneau gets first resident rabbi

Southeast Alaska’s only Jewish synagogue has just reached another milestone. Rabbi Dov Gartenberg has come on board as the new resident rabbi for the congregation of Sukkat Shalom.

The congregation has traditionally brought in rabbis to preside during the high holidays or other important events. Services have typically been community-led. Now that Gartenberg has made Juneau his home, he will be in a unique position. Neither he nor congregation president Mike Goldstein know of any previous rabbi living in Juneau.

Southeast could be a fitting location for the rabbi, as the name “Dov” is Hebrew for bear. Gartenberg said he sees a lot of opportunity with Sukkat Shalom. He said this is a very worldly community that’s concerned with doing good. He looks forward to becoming engaged within it.

“My role here is to engage people and give them opportunities to express their Judaism so I will help people become more conversant in their Judaism,” Gartenberg said. This includes teaching ethics, leadership, studying, community and life. An example is he intends to teach chanting the Torah, which involves a connection to the sacred text and is not restricted to clergy, so any Jew may do it.

“My role is to really strengthen that knowledge and provide learning opportunities for all ages,” he said. “The other thing I will be able to bring is Jewish sensibilities to any number of questions.” He gave Judaism within the environment as an example.

With Gartenberg, the congregation will be hosting two services a month rather than one. He will lead one each month while the other will keep the tradition of various community leaders.

Gartenberg likes this idea, saying it preserves the active participatory characteristic of the congregation.

Gartenberg expects to be busy in his role, as there are a lot of events within the Jewish community throughout the year. These can range from weddings and funerals to special lifecycle events like bar and bat mitzvahs.

He will have ongoing classes on comprehensive overviews of Judaism and will be advising the religious school. He will also hold monthly seminars on different aspects of Judaism that will be open to the public.

His first classes will be on the spirituality of Jewish fall festivals and exploring their themes and traditions. They will be at the synagogue on Sept. 14 and 24.

He also brings his outreach program, Panim Hadashot, or new faces of Judaism. This program fosters the joys of Judaism through hospitality practices. He said a problem with American Judaism today is that the temples have usurped the home in terms of hospitality.

Goldstein said the congregation is very glad to have him and his family. He said this makes them very fortunate.

“Any new person that comes to town has something wonderful to offer,” said Goldstein. “In this case, it’s someone to lead us in prayer and services and community gatherings, and someone with a lot of experience.”

“We are most fortunate for the relationship we have with new rabbi and want him to feel as much a part of the community as anyone,” he said.

Gartenberg actually got his first exposure to the congregation last October, although it was an unexpected one.

“We weren’t originally considering Juneau but thought: hey, why not,” he said. He thought if they did move, they would be active members of the Jewish community but not necessarily in a leadership role.

He and his wife Joanne visited while she interviewed for a physician’s position with Bartlett Regional Hospital.

“In this case, we are a very, very fortunate congregation because Rabbi Gartenberg came to Juneau not seeking a pulpit to worship on necessarily,” Goldstein said.

The congregation was happy to embrace him during this visit, but his first exposure here turned into one of grief. He was originally going to teach during the trip. However, this lesson changed into a memorial service for Juneau resident John Caouette, who died while in Minnesota.

“It was a very sad day, but rabbis have to be comforters too,” he said.

The congregation then approached him after his wife accepted the job at the hospital and the move became imminent. He decided to take on the role after his trip here.

“We were very impressed with the community with that experience and the dignity of the community,” he said.

Gartenberg brings a wealth of rabbinical experience to Juneau’s congregation. He majored in religious and Jewish studies at the University of California before studying comparative religions at Harvard University. He became a Conservative Rabbi after training at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City.

He led Congregation Beth Shalom in Seattle, growing it from 175 to 450 households. He later led at Temple Beth Shalom in Long Beach, Calif. Gartenberg jokes that this will be his first congregation not named “Beth Shalom.”

Sukkat Shalom is certainly a smaller congregation than these. Gartenberg feels this is an advantage and says it helps the people here not take Judaism for granted.

“I’m hoping it will be a nice flowering of Jewish life here,” he said.

Gartenberg is a rabbinic fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and has been part of the Fifth Rabbinic Cohort of the Institute of Jewish Spirituality. His weblog, Rabbiblog, was recently included in the Guide to Online Schools’ list of top 50 Jewish blogs.

Gartenberg has four adult children: Zachary, Moriel, Fay and Hannah.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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