American Guild of Judaic Art The American Guild of Judaic Art is a not-for-profit membership organization for those with interests in the Judaic arts. Guild Members include artists, galleries, collectors & retailers of Judaica, writers, educators, appraisers, museum curators, conservators, lecturers, and others personally or professionally involved...

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Neshama Interfaith Center The Neshama Interfaith Center is committed to fostering and creating opportunities for interfaith conversation and inter-religious learning as a fundamental way to build bridges of peace between people of diverse cultures and across religious traditions. The good souls I have met through Neshama are truly peacemakers and...

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Tiferet: Literature, Art & the Creative Spirit Thanks to the encouragement of Tiferet's editors and community of writers, I've taken risks with my writing—submitting poetry to their site and entering their annual writing contest. Tiferet Talk, featuring interviews with authors, has also been a wellspring of inspiration. Here are links to my most recent posts at Tiferet: Gratitude...

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Encountering Angels: Reading Genesis with my Children In this book, my children and I blend traditional Jewish learning and personal experience in our commentary on Genesis, making it unlike any other book written about the biblical text and rabbinic literature related to Genesis.  Like most books of biblical commentary written by rabbis, it examines the text through the...

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Pamela Jay Gottfried is an ordained rabbi, teacher, mother, and self-described wordie. An inveterate Scrabble player and New York Times Crossword Puzzle fanatic, she credits her love of words to her third grade teacher and her parents, who encouraged her to develop her vocabulary through reading and using the dictionary...

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The Truth Hurts


When our children were young, we had an agreement with their teachers: “We promise not to believe half of what they tell us about you, if you promise not to believe half of what they say about us.” This went a long way toward preventing hasty judgments and angry accusations.  In fifteen years, no teacher we encountered was the worst, meanest or most incompetent; nor were we the parents whose phone calls they dreaded returning. Sometimes half of our kids’ complaints about a teacher were true, but our commitment to arrive at an understanding of the truth together with the teacher saved us a lot of unnecessary embarrassment.

I was reminded of this yesterday, while reading a deluge of Facebook status updates about the rise of anti-Semitism in the world, most of which began with the phrase “Can you believe THIS?” and included a link to an article with the headline, “Jews Ordered to Register in East Ukraine.” Honestly, I couldn’t believe it. Moreover, I couldn’t believe how many of my FB friends believed and shared it. When rumors that fit with our perception of truth are reported as facts, we are easily persuaded to believe them wholeheartedly.

More disturbing to me was the post on a colleague’s wall of an article with the headline, “Mayor ‘Kind Of Agreed’ with White Supremacist Accused of Killing 3 at Jewish Centers,” which was followed by numerous comments invoking the f-bomb alongside characterizations of this mayor as ignorant and evil. I don’t disagree with these assessments of the man; I am merely concerned that in venting our outrage we fail to deal with a deeper issue—the fear and pain his remarks stir within us.

Am I troubled by these recent developments? You bet I am. I was incredulous, and felt utterly betrayed, as I read Frank Bruni’s op-ed. The realization that I’d believed the wrong half of the truth and argued that anti-Muslim attacks outpaced anti-Jewish attacks here at home was difficult to absorb. When I read the piece a second time, however, I felt validated by Bruni’s confession about his own miscalculations: “While most were motivated by race, about 20 percent were motivated by the victims’ perceived religion — roughly the same percentage as those motivated by the victims’ presumed sexual orientation. I didn’t expect a number that high.” How much do our assumptions and expectations lead us to confirm our beliefs—partial truths—as the TRUTH?

the truth

Clearly, humans have a complicated relationship with truth. While we possess a desire to know the whole truth, we mistrust others that claim their beliefs to be true. These competing needs—to maintain our grasp on the truth and to dispel the untruths of others—can cause an unbearable anxiety that impels us to react with urgency rather than thoughtful reflection.

When we are anxious, it is natural to construct a personal narrative to make sense of the events outside our control. It’s easier to blame others for our pain—wrought up with anger we enjoy an adrenaline rush that masks our true terrors—than to confront the fear that resides within us.



American Guild of Judaic Art

AGJA member signage webThe American Guild of Judaic Art is a not-for-profit membership organization for those with interests in the Judaic arts.

Guild Members include artists, galleries, collectors & retailers of Judaica, writers, educators, appraisers, museum curators, conservators, lecturers, and others personally or professionally involved in the field.

Being a Member: I joined the American Guild of Judaic Art (AGJA) in January 2014 at the recommendation of my friend and local artist Flora Rosefsky, who first recognized the workshops that I teach as a unique contribution to Jewish Arts & Education. Flora, currently serving on the AGJA Board of Directors, insisted that it’s important both for AGJA to have rabbi-artists as members and for me as a rabbi-artist to be connected to other Jewish artists.  My association with AGJA has not only helped me increase my confidence and expand my circle of artist-colleagues, but also gave me opportunities to help AGJA grow as an organization. I am currently serving as an administrator of the guild’s Facebook page and tweeting for the guild as @AGJArt. Wouldn’t it be great to see us trending on Twitter?!

Essay cbronfman haggadahontest: In celebration of Jewish Art Month, the AGJA invited Jewish artists to submit essays about what inspires them to create Judaic art. I was honored to share first prize with fellow AGJA member Karla Gudeon and delighted to receive a copy of The Bronfman Haggadah as a prize. AGJA also shared our essays on their website; please take a moment to read them:

Karla’s essay: “As a child my parents asked me not to draw or color on the High Holidays. I was told that holding a writing instrument was considered work and work was not allowed. These holidays were days for rest & reflection. This rule confused me, for as long as I could remember….” Read more →

My essay: “You have to feel it in your kishkes!” This was a kind of mantra from my childhood, a parental encouragement to try something new, to be deeply committed to goals and to work hard to accomplish them. If you want to succeed at something, you must be passionate about it and about your success. Read more →




Forever Mom

foreverToday I’m kicking off the guest-post series “A Book That Helped Me Grow” at Ginny Kubitz Moyer’s popular blog, Random Acts of Momness. My reflection about Forever by Judy Blume is as much about my relationship with my mother when I was in middle school as it is about the book itself.

“It seems like forever ago.  I am in seventh grade, and everyone is reading Judy Blume’s new book, Forever. We are reading in class—hiding the paperback edition inside our textbooks and pretending to pay attention to our teacher at the front of the room.”  Read more →