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Pardes Levavot

Pardes Levavot, “Orchard of Hearts,” was formed in the spirit of creating conscious holy community. Our name expresses the spiritual blossoming of each individual heart within an inspiring and nurturing orchard.

For information on our congregation please call (303) 563-2110 and leave a message or send email to To join our congregation, please print a copy of our membership form, fill it out, and send it to our Synagogue.

Pardes Levavot gratefully acknowledges Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado for their support of our Circle of Family Education program. Thank you!

Reprinted with kind permission from the Boulder Weekly, May 20 - May 27, 2004

Paradigm shift

Jewish, Lutheran congregations join spiritual forces

by Pamela White

The relationship between Christians and Jews has historically been fraught with tension. In the United States, it most recently made headlines with the release of Mel Gibsons’ controversial film, The Passion of the Christ, which many Jews found to be anti-Semitic.

But in Boulder, two congregations are stepping beyond historical enmity in search not just of common ground, but of real community. The congregations of Pardes Levavot, a Jewish Renewal community in its first year, and Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church have joined together in what they call "deep ecumenism" to share sacred space and create what they refer to as a new paradigm in the relationship between Jews and Christians. The collective intention of the two congregations is to effect healing between individuals, within the greater community and throughout the world.

On Friday, May 21, at 6 p.m. members of both congregations will gather at Shepherd of the Hills to welcome in the Jewish Sabbath, share a meal and to dedicate what was once solely a Lutheran church as a synagogue. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, spiritual director of the Boulder-based Yesod Foundation and father of the Jewish Renewal movement, will participate in the dedication ceremony and affix a mezuzah, a traditional device that contains the central Jewish statement of universal unity, on the church’s door frame.

Spiritual leaders from both congregations say the event will mark a new period in members’ spiritual growth and believe that their joining together is the result of Divine guidance.

An act of faith

Rabbis Victor and Nadya Gross moved with their two school-aged children to Boulder from California in 2000 to serve the Jewish Renewal Community of Boulder (JRCB), now called Nevei Kodesh.

"We had been coming to Boulder for three previous years for the gathering of renewal rabbis to study and hang out with Reb Zalman [Schachter-Shalomi]. What little we saw of Boulder during that time was very, very impressive, but we were under contract with a community in Berkeley," Victor recalls.

When that community, Aquarian Minyan, was struck with financial difficulties, the Grosses were encouraged to explore the possibility of relocating to Boulder and working with JRCB.

"They did a wonderful job of convincing us that we should consider coming here, and we did," Victor says.

By the summer of 2000, Boulder had become their home, and their children were flourishing here. But JRCB was in the midst of a financial and identity crisis that threatened to leave the Grosses without an income in their adopted home state.

"Jewish Renewal is not a one-track movement," Nadya says. "People come into Jewish Renewal with all kinds of different needs, different issues, different experiences of Judaism and different needs of their congregation. And what emerged was a very clear sense that there was a need in this town for different expressions of Jewish Renewal, and so out of that one congregation there grew two. And we are very different."

Jewish Renewal is a global, transdenominational movement grounded in Judaism’s prophetic and mystical traditions. It focuses heavily on a concept known in Hebrew as tikkun olam, or healing the world, and welcomes all denominations of Jews, as well as interfaith couples, gays and lesbians.

The new congregation formed officially on July 1, 2003, and called itself Pardes Levavot, which means Orchard of Hearts. The congregation’s members knew what kind of spiritual community they wanted to build, and they had two rabbis. But they lacked funds with which to support the rabbis and a place in which to hold Shabbat services and other events.

It was a tense time for Victor and Nadya, who feared they might have to relocate again, and for congregation members, who were faced with a mountain of challenges in establishing their congregation.

"It was one of those acts of faith, because we had no idea what would happen," Victor says. "It was a small group that was determined to do it, and it wasn’t a universally popular decision. But we felt in weighing the possibilities that going and becoming rabbis in a community somewhere else just didn’t resonate with us, particularly for what our children had come to enjoy here, and our feeling that there was work that we could do here, and so we made the decision [to stay]."

Earl Bachman, a founding member of Pardes Levavot, recalls that the months that followed meant doing things he’d never done before.

"I’ve never been involved in creating a new community, and it’s been a learning process for me," he says. "Given that we’re small, it does mean everyone needs to step up and do their own piece, whatever that is."

Members met in private homes, churches and other facilities for services and celebrations. But this wasn’t always easy. It meant transporting items used in the services from one place to another and required members to keep updated week to week on where services were being held.

"What we’ve got is a core group of people who’ve been so committed to growing this and so excited about what we are that we pulled off an amazing High Holy Days just two months after forming the congregation that was extremely well-attended," Nadya says.

In the immediate aftermath of the High Holy Days members decided it might be time for Pardes Levavot to find its own facility.

"By late fall, early winter, we knew we needed to find a permanent home," Bachman says. "Little did we know it would be as ideal as this."

A prayer answered

"We have a beautiful building," says Pastor Linda Daniels-Block of Shepherd of the Hills. "We had always said that it would be really wonderful to share that space, to use it to its best possible capability and that that’s part of the gift that we could offer back to the community. And so we began years ago to have conversations about the possibility of sharing this space."

Located in Gunbarrel, the church had more space than the Lutheran congregation could use, including a gym. The congregation made its facility available to Boy Scout groups, Alcoholics Anonymous and other community organizations, but they still hoped to be able to welcome another spiritual group beneath its roof and had begun to pray that the right group would present itself.

"We thought about the Jewish community because coordinating things would be a lot easier than everybody on Sunday morning," says Pastor Larry Daniels-Block, also of Shepherd of the Hills and Linda’s husband. "And so we had thought about that and talked about that, and that’s when we got the phone call from them."

Members of Pardes Levavot had been calling churches in the area, hoping to find space to rent.

"When this member called Shepherd, the woman who spoke to on her on the telephone said, ‘You’re just the people we’ve been praying for,’" Nadya recalls.

Victor and Nadya decided to follow up their phone conversation with a visit to Shepherd of the Hills. But rather than meeting potential landlords, they met soul mates.

"We walked in to this place, and we were greeted by a couple who mirrored us in the most amazing ways, and we just felt like we had met our brother and sister in spirit," Nadya says. "They’ve been married a year longer than us. They’ve been doing their spiritual work together as long as we have. Their level of commitment to their congregation and the things they consider essential as spiritual leaders, where they guide their community is a mirror image of what Victor and I do, given the very strong differences in our theology. And on that level, we have the utmost respect for one another.

"When we walked out of there my comment to Victor was, ‘I don’t care if it works out or doesn’t work out for us to rent space here. I want to be their friends. Let’s have them over for dinner.’"

Larry and Linda felt the same way.

"We had the exact same feeling and felt like it was just a meeting of spirit to spirit, as well as the excitement about sharing the space," Linda says. "Very quickly we came to feel the sense of vision that this could become a permanent thing, that we could be doing together, something where both congregations would grow and benefit in our understanding of God’s magnitude and God’s love for the whole earth and for all peoples. It would be a very concrete way that the two congregations could come to grow."

The rabbis soon realized that the Lutherans were not interested in merely renting space to them.

"We thought we were just asking, ‘Are you willing to rent to us every Shabbat and give us a little closet to store our things in?’" Nadya says. "And what we received from them was, ‘No, we want you to come and share this home with us.’"

The two couples began to meet every Thursday to explore one another’s beliefs and to build their friendship. They also prayed together, exploring language that allowed all of them to remain comfortable and to pray from within their respective faiths.

"We’ve asked them very deep, pointed questions for clarification on what they believe in," Nadya says. "We’ve really explored with one another, and there’s much, much more to explore, of course. We’ve explored our faiths and where our boundaries are and what we can share together."

Linda continues: "And it was so quickly obvious that there were times the four of us just sat back and looked at one another kind of stunned. What we believe is that God is doing a new thing here, and we get to be these willing and grateful participants in this."

Deep ecumenism

The idea that people of different faiths can pray together and work side by side is not new in and of itself. In 1893 the Parliament of World Religions held the planet’s first-ever multinational interfaith conference. Perhaps too far ahead of its time, the event wasn’t repeated until 1993, when the second Parliament was held in Chicago. A third was held in 1999 in Capetown, South Africa, and the fourth is slated to take place this July in Barcelona, Spain.

But even these days, the notion of ecumenism, or unity, is often interpreted as different denominations of the same religion working toward deeper unity–for example, Baptists, Presbyterians and Evangelical Christians working together. And many orthodox groups feel that ecumenism is heresy. The idea that people of vastly different religions that are in many ways theologically opposed to one another could share services, worship space and prayers, while still remaining distinct in their beliefs, puts Pardes Levavot and Shepherd of the Hills on the cutting edge of interfaith relationships.

"One of the things that’s happening in a lot of ecumenical causes today or ecumenical movements today is a kind of moving away from depth into just finding sort of basic common denominators," says Larry. "And the only way the two groups seem to be able to get together is by having less and less distinctiveness. And the kind of vision we have [is that] the deeper you go into your own tradition, the more that you find you have in common with other traditions. That’s a little different approach to ecumenical groups."

Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi, who has served as teacher to the Grosses and their children, says he’s pleased to watch the two communities move closer together.

"In Judaism the movement of Jewish Renewal was interested in going deeper than the externals of religion," Schachter-Shalomi says. "The same thing has happened now in some congregations in Christianity. Instead of looking at doctrinal differences, they ask, ‘What is the real teaching that comes about how we are to be with one another?’… Shepherd of the Hills Lutherans have been moving in the direction of following the evangelical counsels that come from the Sermon on the Mount and all the other teachings that come from Jesus, the teacher.

"In Jewish Renewal, the same thing has happened, and Rabbis Victor and Nadya Gross have brought their congregation to a similar level of social consciousness. And the bridging that happens is the bridging of concerned people, so while they might not be sharing in the dogma and the doctrines, they do share in the attitude to tikkun olam in that they both wish to heal the ailing planet."

Whereas the most primitive part of the human mind–the reptilian brain, Schachter-Shalomi calls it–seeks to define and defend turf, Pardes Levavot and Shepherd of the Hills are seeking to share turf.

"More and more people are bound to see that we are part of one whole organic world," he says. "This image came to us from seeing the planet from outer space. There are no national boundaries, and there are no ethnic divisions from that position, and under those circumstances religions will begin to collaborate. There seems to be a groundswell… So much is happening."

Nayda refers to Schachter-Shalomi’s teachings about deep ecumenism in a "post-triumphalist" society to further explain.

"The post-triumphalist part is that piece that moves beyond where so many of the religions of the world have stood up until now, that says, ‘When the messiah comes,’ or ‘When Jesus comes back,’ or ‘In the end of days,’ or whatever the different traditions call it, ‘Everybody’s going to find out that we had it right all along and they were wrong,’" she says. "We move to a place where we acknowledge that we’re all sourced from the same impulse… and we’re ultimately seeking to find our way to that one Source, that one Creator, that one God, though we call it by different names."

Rather than sacrificing their beliefs in an effort to reconcile theological differences, the two couples have been looking more deeply into the roots of their own faiths.

"It’s each of us going deeper," Larry says. "The deeper they go into their spirituality and the deeper we go into our spirituality, we find that we’re closer and closer together. And I think that’s an important thing, certainly in today’s culture."

Nadya recalls attending an interfaith spiritual gathering on the West Coast in the 1960s.

"One of the spiritual leaders got up and said, ‘It’s so wonderful to have all of these people in one place together who are walking different paths to the One.’ And one of our spiritual leaders [spoke up] and his correction to that statement was, ‘We’re all on the same path; we’re just wearing different shoes.’"


Linda says that studying and praying together with the rabbis has already had an influence on her teaching and preaching. But that’s because it’s having a deep impact on her.

"To be in shared sacred space, shared service daily, it’s almost like my soul is smiling," she says. "I feel like it’s expanding. I can’t even describe it. It’s just the most powerful, energizing experience."

Linda and Larry say they’ve learned a lot from Victor and Nadya, and it’s the kind of learning that has deepened them spiritually.

"When we come together with Pardes Levavot once again we are focused on a vision of God that is so transcendent and so beautiful and so filled with mercy and love that undergirds and transcends all of life," Linda says. "We understand our distinctiveness as simply our distinctive traditions, and they’re beautiful and they’re important, but there is this underlying and transcending presence of God and desire to love God and to serve God and that takes us so far beyond."

Victor and Nadya say they have also gained new insight and wisdom.

"The spiritual seekers of Judaism had no problem with Buddhism and Hinduism and whatever else in the East that was out there, but when they say the ‘C’ word, there’s a kind of retraction. It’s a pulling in because of our historical experiences," Victor says. "So what I’ve really learned, is that, despite our historical experiences, there is a truth to phrases such as ‘Christian good will.’"

The learning has also been deeply personal, he says.

"It’s not so much learning about my Judaism, it’s more learning about me and my Judaism in relationship to others," he says. "That’s where it’s really deep. And it’s only in its embryonic stage for me personally. I have no idea where it’s going to open to, but it’s really profound and deep for me to experience that kind of exploration."

While the two face practical considerations now–like how to divide space and move belongings around the church–both the rabbis and the pastors say they believe this sort of truly transdenominational unity is the direction all faiths will eventually go as part of a global transcendence and healing.

"We are on the verge of a paradigm shift," Nadya says. "And all the religions of the world are being called to a new level of awareness and a new way of being in the world. And to think that in our little way in our little corner of northeast Boulder we are being the instruments of this shift, are being given the opportunity to bring a little bit of light, to shed a little bit of light on what might be one of the ways that the new paradigm might reveal itself [is exciting]."

For information on Pardes Levavot, go to For more information on Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church go to


Copyright 2003-2004 Boulder Weekly. All Rights Reserved.

Comments from around the world! Send your words of support to

Michele and I are wildly in support of your new work! We devoured the article! I hope that you can share your learning and journey with those of us who are not in Boulder. Wonderful!!!

Mark and Michele Strunin, Los Angeles, CA

Dear Victor and Nadya,

Incredibly awesome! So much of your mission here has been about partnership, and this expands your work to partnering on an interfaith level, and then exponentially so that interreligious communities can partner with each other. Thanks for setting such an inspiring example.

So many blessings,
Wendy Berk, Half Moon Bay, CA

Victor & Nadya,

Mazal tov, mazal tov, mazal tov! This is truly one of the most exciting stories of the evolution of our spiritual tradition that both Wendy and I have seen in a long time. What a wonderful shidduch HaSham has performed in bringing the two of you and Linda & Larry Daniels-Block together! I am also very impressed with the clarity, sensitivity and depth with which Pamela White has conveyed the story. We are so excited for you.

Aryae Coopersmith, Half Moon Bay, CA

Dear Rabbis Nadya and Victor,

I recently read the article that appeared in Boulder Weekly, and felt deeply moved and inspired, reading of your beautiful association with the Lutheran pastors. Thank you for the bringing forth such a powerful example of how peace and deepening of faith can be fostered through inquiring deeply within one's personal faith tradition. Your ministry (if that is an appropriate enough word) is a light that will shine beyond Boulder. I hope someday to be able to meet you and thank you in person.


Rhonda Akin, Boulder, CO