Remarks Upon the Retirement of my Father

Remarks Upon the Retirement of my Father
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

In honor of my precious father, my deepest teacher, Rabbi Gary S. Creditor

Avi Mori, Dearest Abbah,

I am honored to share these words tonight alongside my sisters and our beautiful, growing family.

Abbah, you are our hero. Yonina and Tzeira and I cannot express our gratitude for your love. You are our rock and our heart. We have never - not once - felt your absence despite how much of yourself you've given to our community, to our People, and to the world.

Thanks to your indefatigable love for the three of us as we were growing up, we have learned well the biblical dictum:

וְאִם־יִתְקְפוֹ הָאֶחָד הַשְּׁנַיִם יַעַמְדוּ נֶגְדּוֹ וְהַחוּט הַמְשֻׁלָּשׁ לֹא בִמְהֵרָה יִנָּתֵק 

One person alone can be vulnerable, two can stand back-to-back and prevail, but three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

The bond of our mishpacha is strong, thanks to your unwavering model. You have taught us well the centrality of family, and I know to my soul how much you cherish your three "first" children - now five  with the blessings of Liz and Arsen - and the priceless gifts of your grandchildren Ariel Shlomit, Moshe Tzvi, and Raya Meital. We are an interwoven, unbreakable cord. Four generations of our family are present tonight, blessed by Savta Kuneh who is here with us, Dodah Helen, who is here in our hearts. They, and Dod Baruch and Dodah Sarah, Yael and Steven, and Avi all journeyed to celebrate you tonight. And all of us are joined by the souls of our family, especially your Abbah, my Sabbah, and our Dod Ralph, zichronam livracha, are all here, loving you.  You have taught us well, my father, and our family's heart is so incredibly full.

But I do believe our collective pride in you is, by far, surpassed by Emah's. Our magnificent Emah (now Savta as well!), our fierce protector, wise teacher, and warm comforter, has held your hand in hers for over 40 years. To you both we all offer immense love and profound thanks. Yonina, Tzeira, Liz, Arsen and I are blessed beyond words to have the loving, affirming parents we have I nthe two of you. Todah, Thank you, our Emah and Abbah, for continuing to guide us and for being each other's best friend. We are humbled to be "a living legacy to the leaders of the band."

I invite you all to please join me in acknowledging my parents, Rabbi Gary Creditor and Ruby Eisenberg-Creditor.

****

Of the many cherished memories of my childhood, driving with my father and listening to the radio stands out. It was inevitably tuned to 101 CBS FM with Cousin Brucie playing the oldies (which somehow, mysteriously, recently started including the music of my youth). I remember hearing the click of my father's wedding ring on the steering wheel as  he drove his long-departed beloved blue Ford Maverick. He would always sing along to words admonishing me never to tug on Superman's cape, reminding me that there's nothing in the world like a big-eyed girl, teaching me that every hand's a winner and every hand's a loser, and that heaven is when you look into your loved one's eyes.

Amidst all the magic was one voice that stood out, one deep soul whose music, it now occurs to me, closely resembles my father's vision of the world. This musician, in his very short life, produced some very deep music that once played in the background as a dying man shared his pain and passion before the U.S. Congress. This very vignette was conveyed by my father in his Yom Kippur sermon, entitled "The Last Lecture," just a year and a half ago, when he invoked Jim Croce's magnificent "Time in a Bottle." And, whereas 'words can't make wishes come true,' sometimes our deepest dreams are brought to life when a teacher, a precious friend like my father, shows up.

And so, in homage to my father's penchant for finding the deepest Torah in lyrics from every genre of music and beyond, I share with you now one Rabbi's blessing to his beautiful father, through the words of Jim Croce's mystical, powerful "I Got a Name":

Like the pine trees lining the winding road
I got a name, I got a name
Like the singing bird and the croaking toad
I got a name, I got a name
And I carry it with me like my daddy did
I'm living the dream [he sometimes] hid

Moving me down the highway
Rolling me down the highway
Moving ahead so life won't pass me by

Like the north wind whistling down the sky
I've got a song, I've got a song
Like the whip-poor-will and the baby's cry
I've got a song, I've got a song
And I carry it with me and I sing it loud
If it gets me nowhere, I'll go there proud

Moving me down the highway
Rolling me down the highway
Moving ahead so life won't pass me by

Like the fool I am and I'll always be
I've got a dream, I've got a dream
They can change their minds but they can't change me
I've got a dream, I've got a dream
I know I can share it if you want me to
If you're going my way, I'll go with you

Moving me down the highway
Rolling me down the highway
Moving ahead so life won't pass me by

This song always has reminded me of the immortal words of the Israeli poet Zelda, Lechol Ish Yesh Sheim – Unto every person there is a name.

Unto every person there is a name
Bestowed upon him by God
And given him by his father and mother

Unto every person there is a name
Accorded him by his stature
And the manner of his smile
And given him by his style of dress

Unto every person there is a name
Conferred on him by the mountains
And given him by his neighbors

Unto every person there is a name
Assigned him by his sins
And given him by his yearnings

Unto every person there is a name
Given him by his enemies
And given him by his love

Unto every person there is a name
Derived from his festivals
And given him by his labor

Unto every person there is a name
Presented him by the seasons
And given him by his blindness

Unto every person there is a name
Bestowed on him by the sea
And given him by his death.

We learn in Mishlei/Proverbs that

רָב מֵעֹשֶׁר םשֵׁ נִבְחָר וּטוֹב חֵן מִזָּהָב מִכֶּסֶף
"A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be graced is better than silver or gold." 

Every person has a name - a name given them by their parents, by God, by friends, by the angels, by the way they will, one day far, far from now, be remembered.

Abbah, you have built through a rabbinate marked by integrity and passion a Shem Tov, a good name. A beautiful name. A remarkable name. Every soul you've ever touched is so blessed just to speak your name. You, my father, have always "walked humbly with your God," but you also know your place in this world as a teacher of deep wisdom, as a fierce champion of justice in this rocky world, as the standard bearer of a People with a sacred, urgent mission. You, my Abbah, have a name. You've got a name. A very, very good name.

"Rabbi Creditor the senior," you've taught us to share all the love in our heart during the living years, to spend each day with those we love as if tomorrow would never come. Most of all, my Abbah, you've taught us that our lives are better left to chance, that the only way to miss the pain is to miss the dance. We dance because of you, my father.

You've got a name. You've got a song. And you have a dream. And nothing ever will - nor will you ever let it - change you. The choices you and Emah have made, the winding path of our family's life and your rabbinic career – they are all what was meant to be. Look at this overflowing room, at the overflowing gratitude in people's eyes, at the overflowing love in Emah's eyes for you, at the overflowing pride your children and your children's children have in you. Know that the pantheon of our family's lost loved ones shines down from Heaven, proud of their son's many accomplishments. We are all here, speaking your Shem Tov, your very good name, with reverence and love. This, my dear, precious Abbah, is your glory.

At my bar mitzvah, you blessed me with the words of a song by Rod Stewart, "Forever Young." Through it, you prayed that God be with me, and by extension, us all, down "every road we roam," that we should "grow to be proud, dignified and true, and do unto others as you'd have done to you." I remember crying, with my heart bursting in that moment of blessing that day, which, for me, stands outside of time, as you prayed that, "...when you finally fly away, I'll be hoping that I served you well, for all the wisdom of a lifetime, no one can ever tell."

Abbah, your children have each learned how to fly, have launched into their lives, but we crave every opportunity to fly back home to you and Emah, in part because your life's wisdom is so very precious to us. From the moments when we placed our feet on top of yours as you "rum-chum-chum'ed" with us down the hall, to singing zmirot at the Shabbes table, from learning from you as life's challenges and losses have confronted our family, to crying with joy in your embrace during every family celebration we've shared, you are always and will forever be our teacher. 

Here are a few of the many teachings you've shared through your sermons, chosen for what I believe is their urgency in the world today:

1) Wholeness is measured by comparing one's achievement and one's potential, not in defeating someone else or obtaining that which belongs to someone else. Wholeness is not found in isolation or self-absorption, but rather in sharing.

2) In the face of crisis, even the greatest crisis, our faith teaches us: Go forward, even with the pain, even with the doubt. Go forward.

3) You and I, in the quiet and the commonplace, to friend and stranger, Jew and Gentile, young and old, we are God's hands. In that way, we will welcome the presence of God each day of our lives in this broken world.

4) It is how we handle the low points which is illustrative and instructional to us in our daily lives.  God urges us to know that in life, true winning –"is to rise each time we fall." God loves us, regardless. God embraces us, regardless. God supports us, regardless.

5) Faith in a loving God, faith in the constancy of existence, faith in the unending saga of humanity, faith that we do makes a difference, enables us to rise and surmount, ascend and transcend, be good and act kindly, despite and to spite the world we live in. We look that world in the eye, we read the newspaper and watch the TV and declare: we, our children and our children's children will prevail. We will make the world better, more glorious, more beautiful, more just.

Abbah, I did choose these quotes from your sermons because I think they are beautiful and important. But I also chose them because they inspired a special gift that Tzeira, Yonina, and I present to you tonight. We each have so much to say to you in this moment, and though I know I've spoken from all three of our hearts, there is another way we've chosen share our love and respect for you tonight, a surprise we've been holding for quite some time from you, no easy feat.

I am thrilled to share that my sisters and I have published a book of our father's sermons, now available on Amazon.com. (available here: amazon.com/Threefold-Cord-Selected-Sermons-Creditor/dp/1481080032/

What makes this first volume of a planned series so special is not only that it contains 11 invitations from my father to welcome the presence of God into our lives, not only that it calls each of us to look the world in the eye and make it better. What makes this volume truly special is embodied in its title, "A Threefold Cord." Each sermon features comments by Yonina, Tzeira, and me. We collaborated over the last few months to create yet one more way for our father's Torah to spread further in the world, a world in desperate need of precisely the fire that animates our father's soul.

Abbah, we love you more than we'll ever be able to say. But that won't stop us from trying. Thank you for your guidance, for modeling for us a life of incomparable dignity, for being the humble, magical teacher you are. 

We will always be proud to share your name. That is our glory.

Mazal Tov. We love so very much.

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Rabbi Menachem Creditor
menachemcreditor.org ▶netivotshalom.org

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