Danville Express

Living - August 17, 2007

The universal rabbi

Jewish spiritual leader works toward understanding among all faiths and cultures

by Jordan M. Doronila

Danville Rabbi Dan Goldblatt recalled being told he was damned to eternal hell for not recognizing Jesus Christ as his lord and savior. His voice jittered as he talked about people imposing their views on him.

"I respect your right to believe what you want to believe but I also demand my right," Goldblatt said. "I believe we all have the ability to practice freedom of religion. I don't get to impose my faith on you or my beliefs on you, and I think that's very important."

"It's something that some of us struggle with. I think people have done this throughout human history," he added. "I believe we have so much to learn from one another."

As the spiritual leader of Beth Chaim Congregation, which recently opened a new synagogue on Holbrook and Camino Tassajara, Goldblatt, 52, has been sharing his poignant perspectives in Danville for eight years. And he has much to say about fundamentalism and its destructive effects on people.

Fundamentalism posits that there is one truth, one true set of ideas, beliefs or principles that must be strictly followed, he said; it is deeply rooted in the idea that the truth has been set down ages ago and it is immutable, infallible, and literally correct in all of its aspects. Goldblatt noted that fundamentalists have a propensity to impose their beliefs on others.

"It leads to extremism and radicalization and conflict," he said. "It's a certainly a struggle. It's one of the essential struggles that we have."

"It's disrespectful," he added. "It's very problematic. It makes things very challenging."

Fundamentalism has been the cause of religious strife and hatred throughout history, including the attacks on Sept. 11, he said. It invokes a feeling in people that their beliefs are wrong and they are in danger, he said.

"I think people have done this throughout human history," he said.

Goldblatt believes people adopting a pluralistic view and treating each other with respect will help stop conflict. Pluralism, he said, is a philosophy that there is more than one basic substance or principle. It describes a world in which minority groups participate fully in the dominant society, yet maintain their cultural differences.

"We are all needed," he said. "We need to appreciate each other. We work as part of a whole and make space for each other and honor each other."

"That's where hope is, amidst a world where there are many that are willing to impose (their beliefs)," he added. "Once you can dialogue, then there's a possibility."

One of the great qualities of being in the United States is that the nation was formed to resist religious oppression and to embrace diversity, he reflected.

"We are all vital organs in our ability in terms of what we have to bring into this world," Goldblatt said.

His home upbringing in Cleveland, Ohio, shaped his views. When his parents celebrated Passover, they invited guests from different cultures to their home. The non-Jewish guests would also share their culture and insights.

"It was a very common experience in my home," Goldblatt said. "There were going to be some fascinating guests who weren't familiar with the holiday. It was a very conscious part of my parents to expose us."

He recollected how his parents took his family to third world countries.

"It's both great to appreciate the blessing as Americans and to see what the world is like out there. Danville is an anomaly. It's not what the world is like. The Bay Area is not what the world is like."

He lived in Israel for five years, where he did graduate work in Jewish Studies and worked as a journalist and in the theater and film. He studied to be a rabbi upon his return to the States, and was ordained in 1995.

Another major factor that influenced Goldblatt's perspectives is his Jewish ancestral experience of what it felt like being marginalized. In addition to the Holocaust, he recalled Jews being expelled from Europe during the Spanish Inquisition and Europeans blaming the Jews for the black plague.

When his grandfather lived in what was then the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, Christians used to beat up Jews during Easter, he said.

"It was horror," he said. "You hide. That's the reality of these stories. They were the reality of my grandparents and my immediate ancestors. It's not ancient history."

His appreciation for differences is second nature to him.

"It has a lot do with growing up as a Jew in this time," Goldblatt said. "There is a profound sense of identifying with the other. It's one of the reasons why so many Jews are involved in social justice because it's such a vital part of our spiritual heritage. We know what it means to be different."

"We are challenged to think about what and how to care and consider the other, whoever that may be," he added.

When his wife Yael and his two sons moved to Danville from Berkeley several years ago, Goldblatt continued showing his compassion toward marginalized groups. He remembered when he and his sons attending the San Ramon Valley Unified School District Board meeting a couple of years ago where gay and lesbian students were voicing how they were being harassed in school. He said one gay youth told the board he suffered so much bullying that he contemplated committing suicide but chose not to due to a counselor's support.

After hearing the youth's testimony, Goldblatt heard one elderly woman say to another, "Too bad he wasn't successful."

"They (my sons) couldn't imagine how anyone could think like that," he said. "They were just shaken."

Goldblatt said he cares deeply about the Danville community and has found profound satisfaction being the spiritual leader of Beth Chaim. He is also co-chairman of the San Ramon Valley Religious Leaders Association, an interfaith clergy group, and is a founding member of the Bay Area chapter of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life. He has lectured and taught at synagogues, churches and seminaries around the Bay Area.

He noted the numerous interfaith activities.

"It's an extraordinary celebration of interfaith of a different vision of the world," he said. "I'm proud that we are part of doing this work."

Contact Jordan M. Doronila at jdoronila@DanvilleWeekly.com


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