Aug 30, 2007

Fun and Trembling: Playing Rosh Hashanah Blog Tag

Rabbi Menachem Creditor

[note: This post is a conversation shared with and initiated by my friend and teacher Rabbi Hayim Herring, executive director of STAR: Synagogue Transformation and Renewal, who asked some friends to play a game of pre-Rosh HaShannah "virtual tag", and to invite every blogger we know to play, and to share our thoughts as we prepare personally and professionally for the Chagim. See the links that will be added to this blog entry as they are created! - rc]

1] Life is incredibly precious, and the craziness in any one part can take over the others. The Personal Priority Holiness Code, (in which self must continuously gain as it gives) should be: Family, Community, World.

2] Change for change's own sake is a mistake. Feel the need, allow it to express itself in the voices and faces of others before responding.

3] Birth is a process. It takes time, and rarely goes according to plan. Remembering the "why" of the dream for a "birth-story" helps every partner/labor coach respond with health and calm to the emerging "how's".

4] Newness is both an advantage and a challenge. Rosh HaShannah doesn't mean the old is out. I'd rather see institutional and personal growth within the metaphor of a healthy tree, with new layers healthily connected to the core as opposed to a snake shedding its skin.

5] Religious buildings without windows are dangerous. The world's faith communities need a message of inter-dependence. The central command for the faithful must be the punchline from Douglass Wood's "Old Turtle and the Broken Truth": You are loved, and so are they.

Shannah Tovah!

Aug 27, 2007

A Reflection on the Conservative Movement

© 2007 Rabbi Menachem Creditor

The deepest teacher to call the Conservative Movement home was Abraham Joshua Heschel, who prescribed the medicine required for rediscovering a dynamic Conservative Movement. He wrote: "To understand the meaning of the problem and to appreciate its urgency, we must keep alive in our reflection the situation of stress and strain in which it came to pass… and the necessity of confronting and being preoccupied with it." We, the inheritors of a Conservative Movement which has allowed itself to become more institutionally conservative than personally moving in recent decades, have spent enough time complaining about what is. It is time to confront where we are, armed with a surging hope for what can be.

We must see the birth of healthy movemental communication. The websites and publications of our core institutions represent fragmented visions of the whole at best. Where are the Conservative Jewish ArtScrolls and Aish.coms we so desperately need? Our institutions have begun the process of sharing the conversation, but that simply isn't enough. There needs to be a groundswell of organizing around the core ideas of Conservative Judaism, in a conversation of parity including clergy and lay leaders.

Our progressive/halachic blend can be both seductive and compelling, and our decisions should be celebrated as steps forward. Egalitarianism and Gay Inclusion must be markers for pride, fulfilling the traditional dream of traditional Judaism to stretch and include. If we believe in Conservative Judaism we must sing about it from rooftops, advertising our particular brand of faith as a powerful experience.

The “middle road” can also lead to God. We just need to decide it’s our destination.

Aug 12, 2007

The Shoah Scroll
(submitted to J.)

Irving Zale's letter " One Liturgy, Aug. 10" brought home for me both the power and the virtual impossibility of a unified prayer language. The liturgical practice for Tisha Be'av, as Zale points out, includes the Book of Lamentations, but the insertions into the prayers for the day vary widely. Yom HaShoah, whose very name changes according to venue (in Israel it is intentioned as a day of both victimhood and valiance as "Yom HaShoah vehaGevurah"), and whose date also varies (note the U.N.'s declaration that January 27 be marked as "Holocaust Remembrance Day"), has eluded so many attempts at ritualization.

I propose, however, that one recent attempt is worthy of communal reconsideration: The Shoah Scroll, written by Avigdor Shinan, a professor of Hebrew literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and commissioned by the Schechter Institute in Israel, is an evocative, authentic, and newly traditional text that could (unfortunately) parallel the heaviness of the Book of Lamentations. There are well-written articles discussing its usage on myjewishlearning.com , and I recommend it very highly for our community's consideration.
- Hide quoted text -

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom

Aug 9, 2007

Clouds Shifting, Blessings in the Silence
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

As I sat in my shul sanctuary with a person l barely knew,
someone who had come looking for a rabbi to pray with her,

I found myself strumming my guitar,
sharing melodies,
staring at the clouds forming and reforming
in a clear blue sky.

Infinity was just right there.

And in the pauses between words and music,
I looked over and saw this very sad person smile.
Her face was full of possibility.

And the clouds kept shifting.

Aug 7, 2007

Aspaklaria: The Looking Glass -- "Finding Our Voice"

Rabbi Menachem Creditor

In making The Prince of Egypt, a recent DreamWorks movie based on the biblical Exodus narrative, the filmmakers consulted with religious scholars for authentic guidance. They were particularly interested in God's voice – should it be male? Female? Digitized and therefore not-human? In the end, they decided that when God would speak to a character, God would speak in the voice of that very character. Val Kilmer's voice was used both for Moses and for God. Unfortunately, God only speaks to Moses in the movie, and so the theoretical female voice of God never actualizes.

Perhaps the moviemakers had learned the following Talmudic text:

    "Rabbi Shimon ben Pazzi said: ‘From where do we learn that one who translates the Torah is not permitted to raise his voice above that of the Torah reader? Because the Torah says, "Moses spoke and God answered him by a voice. (Ex. 19:19)" The words 'by a voice' need not have been inserted. What then does 'by a voice' mean? By the voice of Moses. (Berachot 45a)’”

I believe that there are deeply important lessons to be learned from this text, for our precious communities, and for each of us as individuals.

1) God speaks with a familiar Voice. This is the image of a God within, not a God living far above in the Heavens. The High Holidays are replete with theological images of ‘God Above’ and ‘God the Judge’. I often wonder how those images impact each of us – are we inspired to connect to such a God? Does that system ring true? Does it serve to alienate souls hoping for spiritual nourishment? If the High Holidays Machzor (prayerbook) is the only religious text many of us enter, are we left alone with those limited images throughout the year?

2) Speaking loudly doesn’t help others hear. The text begins with a situation of competing voices, and results in the ruling that “one who translates the Torah is not permitted to raise his voice above that of the Torah reader.” There is a strong trend within the synagogue world for people to feel that “everyone knows more than me.” I’ve wondered if perhaps this is because those who have learned some Torah talk loudly, with passion. Perhaps too loudly sometimes. Perhaps there are new Jewish learners waiting for their struggles with communal/spiritual entry to be heard.

There is, I believe, a search for spirituality that requires a bit more silence than the voluble level with which we Jews are particularly skilled. Chaim Potok’s “the Chosen” and “The Promise” deal extensively with the pain and healing silence can bring, and the distinctly Jewish difficulty with its practice.

I believe that together we can continue to build our Sacred Communities of non-competing souls who strive to hear the voice of God in their own voices – and the voices of those around them. Antoine de St. Exupery, in his famous The Little Prince, wrote, "What is essential is invisible to the eye; it is only with the heart that one sees truly." Perhaps Exupery had learned Talmud, where he would have felt quite at home with this quote: “…Blessing does not inhere in anything weighed or anything measured or anything counted, but only in that which is hidden from the eye. (Taanit 8b)” If you can quantify it, it isn’t the Source. The space between two others (perhaps one might be ‘The Other’?) is the starting place for the deepest of blessings.

I believe we can achieve this vision in our special community. The synagogue is a meeting place for so many different kinds of people. Precious preschools share a home with many empty-nesters. Religious School students are sisters and brothers with Day School students. Families and individuals of all kinds know they have a rightful place in our communities.

We can discover holy things together. But only if we look inward and outward, meeting each other with open ears, eyes, minds, and hearts. Only then is God is truly Present among us. May we bring ourselves and each other to that depth of blessing in the year to come.

Shannah Tovah! A sweet, healthy year to us all!

Aug 2, 2007

Parashat Eikev 5767/2007: “Where Truth Awaits
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

in loving memory of Israel “Swede” and Evelyn Goldstein z"l


It is precisely in the nexus between birth and death that Truth emerges. In what other possible way could the very Source of Life become apparent?

What defense can we manage when mortality fills our imaginations? How can dreams be limited when the first cries of a child fill the air?

We are commanded in this week’s Torah portion to ‘cast the images of their [idols] into the fire. (Deut. 7:25)’ Might we not read this instruction as a teaching that anything that seeks to encapsulate Infinity is a lie, and cannot remain as it is?

A baby is only newborn for a finite amount of time. Growth is the ongoing process. Nurturing and witnessing growth is an enduring and changing path.

Death is an event. The journey of the soul beyond this world continues. Surviving is an unending passage.

Infinity is palpable in the immediate experiences of birth and death. We cannot be both in the experience of God and alive. This is the same, I believe, as saying that no Thing can be Infinite.

But while we cannot truly swim within Infinity, these intense, exquisite, painful, ephemeral moments do allow us to touch God.

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