Rabbi Elliot Ginsburg has been the prime mover, rebbe and spiritual explorer, behind the growth and flowering of Pardes Hannah, the Jewish Renewal community in Ann Arbor. Twenty years ago this year, Reb Elliot and a few pioneering souls created an intimate setting where people could enter deeply into prayer with chanting, kabbalistic meditation, and openhearted wrestling with Torah. This community has attracted members committed to drinking deeply from the wellsprings of tradition while exploring new avenues of spiritual expression and experience.
Pardes Hannah members, students, rabbis, and friends from across the country are gathering together the second weekend of May, 9-11, to celebrate the 20 year Anniversary of Pardes Hannah and acknowledge Reb Elliot’s inspiring role as rabbi and teacher. As a professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan, a scholar in residence in numerous academic and community settings, and a teacher and mentor of rabbinical students, Reb Elliot has touched hundreds of young and older people yearning to find the balance between the forms of tradition and the spontaneous ebb and flow of lived life.
It is fitting that the focus of this special weekend is on the teachings of Reb Elliot’s most beloved Hassidic masters, the ones who have most influenced him on his spiritual path. Former students, now rabbis and teachers themselves, will be preparing offerings during the weekend from the writings of such learned teachers as Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, the Sefat Emet, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Reb Zalman is considered the “grandfather” of the Renewal movement and has been called, “one of the most important and creative spiritual teachers of the second half of the 20th century.” Coming from a pre-war Hasidic home in Vienna, Reb Zalman is a powerful blend of qualities reflects Reb Elliot. “He is someone who is wide open to experimentation, to dialogue across the traditions, to trying out things although they may not always work. In Zalman I see someone who is fearless and with a great big heart. This ability to stretch wide moves me and touches me deeply.”
Jewish Renewal reflects this breadth of vision grounded in tradition and is what attracts Reb Elliot to this community. He comments, “ One of the things I find so powerful in my experiences with Renewal is the open hearts that people bring to their path, their search. It’s a combination of intellectual and emotional honesty—the unwillingness to shut down the heart, on one hand, and the willingness to grapple with issues of ultimate meaning, on the other. How can I live in a way that is honest, that is open to the critical issues of the world, to the agonies and suffering of the world? How can I be open to new models of understanding of how the world works, what it means to be a planetary citizen? And at the same time to allow these questions to be permeated by the wisdom and creativity of the tradition that I am heir to. For me, that’s at the core of this.”
When Pardes Hannah began as a small minyan 20 years ago, it was an intimate gathering, based on a havurah model of prayer. Rabbi Dobrusin was always very supportive, and Beth Israel invited the community to use a room in their 2010 Washtenaw Avenue building for services, the location the group still meets on the first Shabbat morning each month as well as at other times for Reb Elliot’s teachings.
This is the location of Shabbat services, lunch, and teachings on May 10, led by a variety of rabbis and teachers from across the country. There will also be a Kabbalat Shabbat pot-luck dinner and service on Friday evening to welcome Shabbat and guests.
A highlight of the weekend will be a Saturday evening Chanting Ritual led by Rabbi Shefa Gold, one of the most well-known and respected chant leaders in the American Jewish community who lives and teaches in New Mexico. Rabbi Gold is founder of C-DEEP, and leads the Kol Zimra Chant Leaders Training Program – the only one of it’s kind in the nation. All these events are open to interested participants. More information will be available about the Shefa Gold Chanting Ritual, which will be an opportunity for Pardes Hannah to fundraise to support its growing community.