First Draft: April 23, 2023/2 Iyar 5783
Please share your public comments on this short essay at the SWF Blog, or share your thoughts directly with Rabbi Dov Gartenberg at email@example.com. An expanded draft including many of your suggestions will be shared with the SWF Board of Directors on May 2nd. You are welcome to come to scheduled coffee klatches in Albuquerque and Santa Fe to learn more about Shabbat with Friends in the month of May
Shabbat with Friends is an independent Jewish community centered in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico. SWF was founded by Rabbi Dov Gartenberg and began holding Shabbat gatherings in January 2022.
Together we are building an innovative, relational, and intergenerational community that empowers each of us to create a meaningful Jewish life and a positive Jewish identity.
What makes our focus unique is that our activities center around the Jewish Sabbath. Unlike synagogues, we do not offer High Holiday and Festival services. We don’t have a religious school, or offer B’nai Mitzvah training (We strongly believe that the community should have a unified Talmud Torah.) We don’t have auxiliaries like sisterhood or men’s club or other social features of synagogue life.
Instead, we simplify modern Jewish life by cultivating together the spiritual, ethical, and social dimensions of the Sabbath day. Sabbath after Sabbath our community plumbs the potential of Shabbat as an alternative to our fast-paced lives, revealing its deep wisdom to better our lives, better the Jewish people, and better our human and natural world. We bring secular and religious Jews together to experience our vision of Shabbat as a special time to build friendship and fellowship through common festive meals, group singing, interactive study, and cooperative hospitality. Perhaps the best way to describe Shabbat with Friends is to call it a Jewish Shabbat Cooperative.
Our focus on the Sabbath centers on hospitality, home, and the cultivation of the joy of Shabbat as the foundation and core of Jewish life. Today’s synagogue attempts to be all things to all people. Our model makes the 52 Sabbaths of the year the sacred center for building a purposeful community, for practicing Jewish notions of hospitality, and for creating a culture of giving, gratitude, and generosity. We believe that authentic Judaism flows from the love of the Sabbath, the values and practices it offers us, and the way it can serve as a context for fashioning the most important relationships in our lives.
From the outset, SWF made the decision to prioritize people over prizing real estate. There is no singular building or meeting space we use for our SWF gatherings. Rather, we intentionally have most of our gatherings hosted by our partners in their homes. We also use a variety of spaces, such as the Jewish Community Center, coffee shops, art galleries, even restaurants for our programs both in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
Our flexible approach enables us to expand the boundaries of our community. By holding our Shabbat gatherings in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe, we often bring folks from both communities together, enhancing Jewish life in both places. It’s only an hour’s drive between us, so why not enhance contact between these two Jewish communities.
This decentralized approach affords us the opportunity to be where our people are, to find the right-sized venue for each event, and to support the businesses, charitable organizations, and museums around us. Most of all, this approach supports SWF’s vision by spreading ownership and stake in the community to all of our partners (and non-partners, too!). The spirit of SWF thrives in the relationships we create with one another and the intimacy we foster wherever we may gather.
Because of this focus on the mitzvah of Shabbat, we organize ourselves differently than synagogues and other Jewish organizations. At Shabbat with Friends, we use the terms "partner" and “partnership” (as opposed to "member" and "membership") to underscore that we aspire to build our community together. We try to steer clear of transactional or hierarchical language, in favor of a collaborative way to describe our approach to building community.
In committing to partnership with Shabbat with Friends, we invite you to make an intentional decision to partner with others in the ongoing creation and nurturing of our community. This is not a top-down community; our partners have a strong say in what our Shabbat gatherings and our other programs look and feel like. A Shabbat with Friends partnership can take many forms and looks different for every individual.
What is a SWF partner?
While we have no aspiration to be a full-service synagogue, we recognize the importance of the synagogue in Jewish life. We do not position ourselves to be a replacement for the synagogue. We do believe that synagogue members will find unique experiences at Shabbat with Friends not offered by the synagogue.
On the other hand, given that most Jews in New Mexico are unaffiliated, we have already proven to be an accessible alternative for many folks who are not ready to make the commitment to formally join a synagogue. Anyone can participate in the programs and gatherings of Shabbat with Friends, but partnership provides direct opportunities to become an engaged stakeholder in our vision.
The privileges that come with being a partner also come with responsibilities. Being a partner in SWF involves commitment in two general ways: engagement and finances. Engagement involves a commitment to participating in and/or serving as a host to a SWF gathering. We ask that partners participate in some way with the Shabbat with Friends community at least once a quarter. This commitment represents an average level of engagement; every individual’s contributions will wax and wane with other life commitments - we know that, and that’s okay!
As another dimension of engagement with SWF, we encourage each partner to set aside time for personal Jewish growth. This can be a focus on Jewish learning, involvement in a concrete form of tikkun olam, embracing Jewish culture such as learning Hebrew, or connecting to the revival of the Jewish people in Israel.
Partner financial contributions are the way we sustain our programs, organize our gatherings, and enable us to support visionary and capable leadership.
We are very aware of the high cost of synagogue affiliation, so we strive to define a reasonable and flexible partner’s annual financial contribution. We ask partners to contribute 30xChai-$540. We will make adjustments for students, folks on fixed incomes, and families with high Jewish affiliation expenses. No person will be turned away from SWF based on the amount of their financial contribution. Of course, we hope those who can contribute a greater amount do so in order to help us maintain the necessary revenue for ongoing operations, continued growth, and the innovative programming we all value.
What are the privileges and benefits to being a Shabbat with Friends Partner?
First and foremost, you'll be an active builder of this innovative community with the ability to have a say in what we do and how we do it. You'll have an opportunity to meet and befriend amazing people across New Mexico who make up our multi-generational partner community. Partners have priority access to Rabbi Dov for counseling, mentoring, life coaching, and rabbinic support during life cycle milestones. Most of all partners will be at the very core of our project to renew Shabbat that is inclusive, multi-generational, engaging, joyful, and transforming.
This draft is the beginning of a conversation on next steps for Shabbat with Friends. Share it with people in the community to foster discussion about the expectations we have for Jewish life. Best of all, join us for a Shabbat with Friends gathering to experience our vision and to rediscover what the tradition saw as a precious gift-matanah.
Draft by Rabbi Dov Gartenberg. Some of the language of this draft was taken from the Kavanah Cooperative community in Seattle, Washington. It was first presented at the SWF Forum on Next Steps at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Albuquerque, Sunday, April 23, 2023/ 2 Iyar 5783. The forum inspired many excellent comments which will be incorporated in the next draft.
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Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
Rabbi Dov is the founder of Shabbat with Friends NM. He became a rabbi at 29 after schooling at UC Berkely, Harvard, and the Jewish Theological Seminary. He has maintained a blog for over twenty years, giving commentary on a wide range of themes, concerns, and passions.