Aug 8, 2018

NY Jewish Week: New Scholar At UJA-Fed.: ‘Reunifying Our People’

NY Jewish Week

New Scholar At UJA-Fed.: ‘Reunifying Our People’

Rabbi Menachem Creditor: “Hot-button issues are typically too big for only one right answer.”
Rabbi Menachem Creditor: “Hot-button issues are typically too big for only one right answer.”
Rabbi Menachem Creditor was recently appointed the Pearl and Ira Meyer Scholar-in-Residence at UJA-Federation of New York, where his role is amplifying Jewish learning, leadership and values within the charity’s community of supporters, staff and partners. In 2013, he was named by Newsweek as one of the 50 most influential rabbis in America. Before moving to Westchester County, he served as spiritual leader of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, Calif. Rabbi Creditor has been involved in the leadership of Rabbis Against Gun Violence, American Jewish World Service, AIPAC and the One American Movement, an organization dedicated to bringing together Americans of different faiths and opinions. Among his 16 books and six albums of original Jewish music are “And Yet We Love: Poems,” “Primal Prayers, and “Olam Chesed Yibaneh/A World of Love.” Later this month, he will celebrate his marriage to the noted singer Neshama Carlebach with their five children.
Q: What are the areas/themes about which you most look forward to teaching?
A:  I’ve always been moved by Jewish tradition’s ability to alternate between internal concerns and global commitments, an intersection that leads to applied curiosity. The Torah is invested in creating a just society for all, in using power ethically, in caring for each other. We must be too. A good way to determine just how we go about doing that is studying Torah together.
What are the major issues the community faces, where you might have some impact?
Jews, like every human sub-group, live in the real world, a world currently experiencing great upheaval. It is only logical to anticipate heightened levels of anxiety, as widespread instability rarely leaves the Jewish community unscathed. So, on one hand, I hope to support the community in deepening our Jewish resilience and confidence. But, with the other hand, we have the capacity to do something for others as well. We can be part of stabilizing the world around us by adding our voice to the mix. Judaism is a multi-vocal tradition, where disagreement is not the same as enmity. I hope to be part of the reunification of our people by teaching Torah that is both driven and inclusive. The world needs that dynamic more than ever.
The New York Jewish community is large, noisy, opinionated, diverse and often divisive. How do you see bringing about changes and healing divisiveness?
A dear friend, a black pastor from the Pentecostal tradition once challenged me not to be color-blind, but rather “color-bold.” This is the kind of thinking the world needs. It is disingenuous to pretend that unity in our community means uniformity. Political commitments — on Israel, American social welfare, even Jewish tradition itself — need not align in order for us to build a cohesive community. We will — and should — share when we disagree. In that spirit, I hope we can be mindfully brave and not blindly defensive. Hot-button issues are typically too big for only one right answer, and so Jewish leaders have the opportunity (and obligation, I believe) to publicly affirm the dignity and worth of those with whom they disagree.
What is your vision of the connection between diaspora Jews and Israeli Jews?
The American Jewish diaspora is a complicated and beautiful thing, firmly rooted within the dynamics of the American experiment while also facing east to pray. That implies that we feel invested in (at least) two national homes. My experience as a Zionist in Berkeley for more than a decade opened my eyes countless times to the dangers of distancing oneself from Israel, the pitfall of only relating to Israel with rebuke. It is also true that Israel has succeeded in becoming what David Ben-Gurion called a “normal state,” in need of constant perfecting. Just these past weeks horrific kite-bombs sent by Hamas terrorized communities in southern Israel. Just these past weeks a non-Orthodox Israeli rabbi was arrested for performing a Jewish marriage. We must refuse to hold our tongues when the welfare of our sisters and brothers are under attack, from without and from within. The Jewish people stands with Israel, always and unconditionally. The Jewish people stands for each other, always and unconditionally. The two things Israeli and diaspora Jews must do together is defend each other from outside harm while never permitting Jewish power to assault the place of fellow Jews.
In your early impressions, how do the Jewish communities of New York and northern California compare?
It’s been a powerful transition. Until 11 years ago, I spent my entire life on the East Coast, mostly in New York. While generalizations rarely help, I found in my experiences that tradition plays a larger role in Jewish decision-making in New York, and it therefore falls upon leadership to make the case for change. In the Bay Area, where many Jews have chosen to move (and therefore don’t have parents/grandparents in the immediate vicinity), change is the basic premise, and tradition itself can be seen as a radical decision. But, most importantly: I believe we have more in common than that which divides us, and a blend of Bay Area creativity and New York grounded-ness will be only for a blessing to the Jewish people.

Jul 16, 2018

For Tisha Be'av: Our Cherished Litany of Loss

For Tisha Be'av: Our Cherished Litany of Loss
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

You, Jerusalem,
(God, Your name burns my mouth.)
golden watch-towers,
heart-pulsing sacred stones,
center of the universe,
lion’s share of all the beauty that could be…

millions clamor for Your love…
…You, O Jerusalem

Eternal City, why do You sit alone?

I miss You so very much.
I miss You in Your absence,
long for You because You are not here,
because I am not there, with You.
That is about me,
not about you.
I mourn for myself when I mourn for You.

Just now,
I walked Your streets,
wept at your renewed splendor and excessive spenders,
cried over the ruins and the ruined people who adorn You.

Stones without end absorb us all,
joyful shouts and fallen souls,
estranged brothers and sisters,
inches away from each other’s hearts.

Hidden are the Divine ledgers of sin,
but lists upon lists of right and wrong are still kept
(those ancient stones have witnessed it all):

smothered sigh and fierce anger,
ignited faith and craven hunger,
brokenness artistry ecstasy and light

build burn burned dance
eat eaten …eaten

Jerusalem Jerusalem
You poor, aching city,
You spread Your worn hands for help,
but there are no comforters
who truly listen.

You sitting alone under all of us
is all of us sitting alone
under and on-top of each other.

Two Temples,
Nine days,
three weeks,
sixty-seven
two-thousand,
six million,
all numbers,
our cherished litany of loss.

You call to all Your lovers,
but we, one of your beloved lovers,
hear only our own name.

But today’s strange gift
longing for what is already restored…

Might we finally remember
to cease pretending we own
Your Infinite beauty,
that Your ruin is our own making?
Haven’t we mourned enough to learn
that we belong to You,
not the other way ‘round?

Turn us that we might return,
for we have forgotten
Jerusalem
(You burn me)

Jul 4, 2018

On Independence: Freedom For

On Independence: Freedom For
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

"We men and women are all in the same boat, upon a stormy sea. We owe to each other a terrible and tragic loyalty." - G.K Chesterton

If I am to emancipate myself, we must emancipate each other. But, if I am to emancipate anyone, I must see each and every other anew, be(come) open to the possibility that someone besides me is in pain. And, if I am to be(come) open to the possibility of the pain of another, I must acknowledge my own.

Today, what is independence? We should desire no rockets' red glare, no gleaming empire. We should desire no borders that keep out (and cage) asylum seekers, nor leaders who despise the free press. Are the rights to threaten and discriminate worthy of the sacrifice of the men and women who defend us?

And what of the flag, colors of America's freedom. For whom does that banner yet wave? For three fifths of some of us? Not for those who kneel in challenge to enduring American inequality? The answer is far from clear, two hundred and forty-two years into this grand, imperfect human experiment.

Is this about money? The founders framed freedom in lofty terms of rights and privileges, of life and liberty, but activists threw tea into harbors over taxes. Perhaps, in today's America, finances still define freedom, as our highest court in the land recently declared that corporations are people, as our our elected president values wealth over kindness.

But. The revolution has not ended. The freedom we cherish must not remain freedom from, but must evolve into an ever-deepening freedom for. That evolution feels dreadfully far these days, when measured in tweets. So we dare not measure our independence that way.

To be the land of the free is to find common cause with those in need. We truly are all in the same boat upon a stormy sea. Only the resultant blessing of brave and tragic loyalty to each other will be what makes us worthy of our nation's power.

#4thofjuly #freedom #revolution

Jun 26, 2018

For America, on an Awful Day for Democracy

For America, on an Awful Day for Democracy
©Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Yes, power can be exercised legally, and still be dead wrong, immoral even. We've always known that. Hence: checks, balances, separation of powers. The Framers knew the excesses of overly centralized power. Their judicial descendants just upheld the letter of the law while damaging its spirit.

Remember: Slavery was legal. Protecting runaway slaves was illegal. (Hitler was elected. Protecting Jews was illegal.) Laws answer to more than one historical moment, and we dare not descend placidly into the chaos of broken glass and human degradation. That's how the world ends.

Civility? When the Supreme Court's nomination process is (was) successful held political hostage, the lines separating powers are crossed, threatened, perhaps erased. How to remain civil when fundamental shifts in democracy are taking root and violations of human rights (reproductive justice, immigrant detentions, to name two) are encoded in law, what place does civility claim?

We do not resign ourselves, nor will we be polite. Dissent is something we demonstrate with our bodies. Our democracy is at stake. Nothing less. What can you do? You tell me. Show us your bravery. Get louder. Give. Love. Act. Vote. Do more.

Friends, this moment is not our last, not our last. But, Oh, the healing ahead... Please, let us commit to health and hope beyond this very bad day for America. Onward. The work begins again, for tomorrow's sake.

Jun 21, 2018

Newly Huddled Tender Masses: A Prayer for Children

Newly Huddled Tender Masses: A Prayer for Children
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Dear God, Protector of Children,
Guardian of All:

We haven't the words.
We are worse than witnesses.
We are complicit in the abuse of children.
We sin this very moment.

The horror of children torn from parents sends shockwaves through our very souls, so we turn away, remembering when children were taken to "baths," never to see their parents again. Never. Again.

So, Holy One, what could we possibly show You to be worthy of the comfort we seek? Nothing. There is little we can show You today. We show up with tears and signs, protest songs and prayers. While our children sleep in cages. Our children. Our cages.

God, the pain and sadness You must be feeling, as Your image is locked up and abused, as Your children are torn from their children, as cruelty inhabits the seat of American power. What rage You must feel at our wanton sinning. Our country is actively sinning, quickly distracted by callous clothing and damned by a short attention span.

It would be easy, God, to blame one person in one office for this evil. But we know better. We've witnessed entire societies stand idly by the misuse of legal systems to oppress others. We've seen refugees damned to death by quotas and rules.

It would be easy, God, to give up. Scattershot hatred is in the air. Where to turn. How to help. And, O God, we know there is little chance these poor children, newly huddled tender masses, will be reunited with their parents, little chance these terrorized parents will hold their children again.

God, what would You have us do now?

Perhaps there is hope. Perhaps. If we would but cry Your Tears, burn with Your Rage, act with Your Tender Mercy, and vote with an eye toward Eternity.

Please God, protect us from numbness.
Keep our children's pain present in our hearts.
Encode our next deeds with Your Love.

There will come a better day. If.

Amen.

Jun 8, 2018

The Doctor's Torah: A Poem


The Doctor's Torah: A Poem
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor
thank you, Steven Moffat. thank you, Peter Capaldi.

Without hope.
Without witness.
Without reward.

I'm not trying to win.
I'm not doing this because I want to beat someone,
or because I hate someone,
or because I want to blame someone,
not because it's fun.
God knows it's not because it's easy.
It's not even because it works because it hardly ever does.
I do what I do because it's right.
It's decent.
And above all, it's kind.

Just that.
Just.
Kind.

Everything ends.
And it's always sad.
But everything begins again, too.
And that's always happy.

Every story ever told really happened.

Amen.

#drwho #justkind #thankyoudoctor

Jun 2, 2018

Something Must Be Done

Something Must Be Done
(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor

As she stands before me, speechless, I realize why it's all in place, this tradition. 

You see, in moments of no need (if there truly are such things), the intricate system of rule and custom Judaism calls halacha and minhag can feel like just that: a system. But, in moments of need (if only they were that seldom) these very same rules and customs seem hardly systemic - they serve as personally stabilizing anchors in a wildly careening world. 

In short, rituals are there to hold us safe when we feel wobbly and unsure (and provide language when ecstasy renders us at a loss for words). Sure, we have a hand in our living tradition's adaptive design. But the greatest gift of spiritual tradition - ours, theirs, and ones yet to be - is that it is always larger than the self. It isn't about me, so when something must be done, it doesn't depend on my creative capacity during my time of incapacity. When something must be done, tradition provides a real and grounded way to do it.

Oh, yes. One other thing: This isn't really about a "she." It's actually about me. I know what it is to stand before a Beit Din with shaking hands, uncertain and dependent. I know what it is to dissolve and feel the stirring of new life in the tear-touched waters of the mikvah. I know what it is to be skillfully led in prayer. I've been graced by both halacha and minhag throughout my life. I'm still learning their depths and richness. Thank God.

Tradition can be so very beautiful, and I'm so very grateful. 

"Ashreinu: Mah tov Chelkeinu, Umah ma'im goraleinu, uMah yafah Yerishateinu."
"Our joy: How good is our portion, how pleasant our fate, how beautiful our inheritance."
(morning liturgy)

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Rabbi Menachem Creditor

NY Jewish Week: New Scholar At UJA-Fed.: ‘Reunifying Our People’

NY Jewish Week :  New Scholar At UJA-Fed.: ‘Reunifying Our People’ By  SANDEE BRAWARSKY August 7, 2018, 3:56 pm     0 0 shares...