May 21, 2008

60Bloggers for Israel: “Choosing Hope”

Rabbi Menachem Creditor

We choose our destinies.  Exilic wandering, for the modern Jew, is a choice. 

As Reb Chaim of Volozhin teaches in his magisterial Nefesh HaChayiim (1824), "And this is the Torah of being a person…One should never say in their heart, God forbid, 'For what am I and what is my power to enact anything through my insignificant and and deeds?  Understand, know, and set in your heart that every detail of every deed, word, and thought is not lost.  Every one of them ascends to its own Source to cause an effect in the highest Heavens. (NH 1:4)"  No act is neutral, and we can have a cosmic impact by simply thinking differently.

This is a difficult concept.  So much happens in the world.  Cyclones and social injustice and all the other headlines combine to overwhelm even the prophets among us.  Can we reasonably believe in our power to heal the world?  Is 'Hope' an illusion?   Rabbi Israel Morgenstern of Pilov is quoted as having taught: "One who does not want to see the truth will not see it, even if it demonstrated to him with clarity.  Their eyes are sealed from ever seeing it."

It is time to open our eyes once more and let in the very light which will allow us to illuminate the world.  What does the modern State of Israel represent?  It is the home of the Jewish soul.  It is a place of wonder and encounter, of desert and mountain.  It is not a vacation spot – it is the setting for Jewish pilgrimage, where we set out for our own sakes.  Have you seen Israel?  Is the most you've seen news articles?  Then you haven't seen it yet.  Every one of us has the ability to choose our own destiny, to let the words of Jewish Tikvah, hope, permeate our every pore.  To choose a powerful and empowered Jewish fate.

The words of HaTikvah, with which I close, beg every Jew to choose to see, to yearn, to become – to actualize the deepest power of their soul.  May we all feel that blessed, soon and in our days.

As long as the Jewish spirit yearns deep in the heart,
With eyes turned toward the East, staring toward Zion,
Then our two-thousand-year-old hope will not be lost:
To be a free people in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

Am Yisrael Chai!  The People of Israel Lives!

The 60 Bloggers project is co-production of Jewlicious.com and the Let My People Sing Festival . 
It is published daily for 60 days to celebrate Israel's 60 birthday.

May 19, 2008

A Note from Rabbi Creditor: Celebrating Equal Marriage in California!

The first time I stood on the steps of the State House making good use of my right to free speech in support of Equal Marriage was in 2002 in Massachusetts. Though a rabbi I was there as a "civilian." As a fierce advocate for church-state separation I didn't feel it was appropriate to use my status as a religious leader to push a particular agenda in a civic debate. But as I encountered hateful ideas being shouted in God's name, the example of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching arm in arm with Martin Luther King Junior during the civil rights campaigns of the 1950s pushed me forward, title and all.

While I always knew that when civil rights were at stake I could not stand idly by, what I learned in Massachusetts is that the involvement of religious communities in civil debate is just as important. And here we are again with the decision of the California Supreme Court on May 15 affirming that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, a momentous step forward for civil rights in our state, and in our country. I am proud to have served as part of this moment, addressing the GLBT Community Center press conference on that historic day as a Californian, as a Rabbi, as a Jew, as a human being. I stood in front of the loving, committed couples who were plaintiffs in this case, who put their lives on trial and into the public eye, and wept. The joy and pride shared by the thousands who attended that press conference and the countless others who labored successfully for Equal Marriage in California was simply overwhelming.

But, as always, joy is fragile. The Court's ruling has spurred a campaign by opponents that will likely place this question of civil rights on the November ballot, a hateful reaction our Jewish community must denounce with passion and great volume. Named the "California Marriage Protection Act", it is nothing of the sort. It is an attempt to write discrimination into our state constitution. And without the involvement of the Jewish community, it stands a chance at passing.
It is important to hear the arguments of opponents of inclusion, to learn from them, to address them. But before illustrating some of the classic arguments and suggesting some responses I offer two important reminders:

It is important to see this issue for what it is: a question of civil rights. No matter how an individual Jew or a particular Jewish community interprets Jewish law with regard to homosexual behavior the Supreme Court did not rule on Jewish Law. It ruled on universal human dignity and equal rights among American citizens regardless of belief.

Individual Jews and Jewish leadership belongs in this debate - because it is the Jewish thing to do.
As Steve Krantz, founder of the California-based organization Jews for Marriage Equality with over 100 rabbinic sponsors, has written, "Remember that we were all once slaves in Egypt. And we were all commanded to treat both our neighbor, and the stranger among us, with fairness, understanding, and true justice." With these in mind, here are some of the classic arguments against Equal Marriage found on sites such as focusonthefamily.com and protectmarriage.com, each followed by a response, inevitably flavored by one rabbi's sensibilities.

1) Claim: The California Marriage Protection Act will protect the historic, natural definition of marriage.

Response: As Rabbi Steve Greenberg, Senior Teaching Fellow at the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, has written, "Marriage is not a natural institution. Marriage is an institution structured by societies. All marriages are according to the laws of some communal body that honors them. They are a feature of civilization, not nature. Marking homosexual marriage as contrary to some natural laws is reminiscent of the justifications put forward in the U.S. for laws prohibiting interracial marriage." The very concept of marriage has, in Jewish history alone, included multiple wives and concubines. Greenberg continues, "Families are always a subset of the society of which they are a part. Marriage, likewise, is conditioned by the values and sensibilities of the social context. As society has come to understand the essential unchosen nature of same-sex desire, the offering of new forms of matrimony that support such couples would seem consonant with a contemporary sense of justice and social responsibility." The commitments of many area rabbis and synagogues to Equal Marriage, along with the good work of Jewish Milestones in training ritual facilators and gathering resources for those looking to learn demonstrates our community's core values.

2) Claim: Same-sex family is a vast, untested social experiment with children.

: Marriage equality has given thousands of children of same-sex couples across Massachusetts the knowledge that their family is just as good as any other family in Massachusetts and that, in the eyes of the law and in this society, their parents are not "less than" any other parents simply because of their sexual orientation. According to COLAGE, a national movement of children, youth and adults with one or more lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer parent, "While research shows that there are no significant developmental differences or negative affects on children of LGBT parents, these youth do report facing significantly more prejudice and discrimination because societal homophobia and transphobia." Boston Archbishop O'Malley, seeking support from religious leaders in the Boston Area in opposing Marriage Equality in Frebruary 2004, wrote that "The citizens of the Commonwealth [of Massachusetts] know that such a law ...would inevitably lead to far-reaching changes in the institutions of our society, more importantly those which educate our children and grandchildren." I pray that he is right. The real social experiment taking place is how well we treat each other.

3) Claim: Equal Marriage is a step down a slippery slope of relativism and moral weakness.

: Equal Marriage is not capitulation - it is the embodiment of conviction and moral outrage. As the Progressive Jewish Alliance has written in their Marriage Equality Packet, "Jewish tradition is grounded in the principle that the law should be applied equally to all, citizen and stranger alike. We recognize and grieve the injustice perpetrated against gay men and lesbians - our members, family and friends among them - who are relegated to second-class citizenship when denied access to marriage, a fundamental institution of our society... We agree and we stand with the United States Supreme Court, which, while not yet having addressed 'same-sex' marriage, has determined that 'liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct' and that gay men and lesbians should have the liberty protected by the Constitution to make the choice to enter into personal relationships in furtherance of 'their dignity as free persons.'" Marriage is an assumption of mutual responsibilities. It is surely in the interest of society to support such unions that glue us all together by the force of loving and legal commitments.

4) Claim: Marriage is for the purpose of procreation.

: We would never claim that couples who face infertility are not "really" married. While it is true that procreation is one of the intents of marriage, same-sex marriages would not prevent such endeavors any more than heterosexual marriages require them. Most people involved in this debate will not have read the 172 pages of the Supreme Court decision, relying instead on the media. That is a true shame, for the words are thoughtful and instructive. With a quote from page 162 of the response, I conclude:

"The principle of judicial restraint is a covenant between judges and the people from whom their power derives. It protects the people against judicial overreaching. It is no answer to say that judges can break the covenant so long as they are enlightened or well-meaning. The process of reform and familiarization should go forward in the legislative sphere and in society at large. We are in the midst of a major social change. Societies seldom make such changes smoothly. For some the process is frustratingly slow. For others it is jarringly fast. In a democracy, the people should be given a fair chance to set the pace of change without judicial interference. That is the way democracies work. Ideas are proposed, debated, tested. Often new ideas are initially resisted, only to be ultimately embraced. But when ideas are imposed, opposition hardens and progress may be hampered. We should allow the significant achievements embodied in the domestic partnership statutes to continue to take root. If there is to be a new understanding of the meaning of marriage in California, it should develop among the people of our state and find its expression at the ballot box."

This is a call to action. May we find the strength to respond with a deep Jewish passion for justice.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

May 15, 2008

Spiritual Authority in a Participatory Congregation

Spiritual Authority in a Participatory Congregation
Rabbi Menachem Creditor

In a world of individual empowerment, what is the place for authority?  Is there one?  Should there be?

Inherited faith traditions locate the source of religious authority in text, the heavens, or a religious leader.  Something tangible and limited.  That is likely not the way our communities views themselves (though implicit explorations of our internal senses of 'authority' do take place when new rabbinic leadership is sought, or when controversial policy/halakhic shifts are raised).

My sense is that our shuls’ authentic practices emerge from within the dynamic relationship between our living community and the sense of purpose we share with previous generations, stretching as far back as the Torah's earliest visions.  In other words, we are in constant dialogue between the past and the present.  Even for those in our community who believe that the Torah is Divinely revealed, mindful and participatory interpretation is the hallmark of the healthy Jewish communal decision-making practiced in our shared spiritual home.  Authority, then, rests squarely in our hands.  The holiness of our communal use of authority lives in the authentic and shared dialogue we conduct with our own roots.  We do not forget who we are as we imagine who we might one day be.  It is ultimately growth and not rebirth that retains the authenticity of our choices and gives depth to our dreams.

Due to this communal and evolutionary model, there are moments when we make mistakes.  But would we have it any other way?  The era of infallible authority is long past, as demonstrated all too often in the socio-political sphere.  Mistakes are what make us human.  That, I believe, is what secures our bearers of the Divine Image.  Certainly God's creation, our world, is imperfect and calling out for fixing.  Embracing mistakes is a crucial part of holy community because it reinforces accountability, accepting and learning from the consequences of choices made.

And then there are times when we get it so right that we might even hear the angels singing right next to (and within) us.  When our voices join in harmony at shul, when our hands prepare food for  shelter and support those in need, when both our colorful and most spiritual energies emerge within our safe and sacred spaces, there is something right in the air.  When honest critiques are offered in love and with the hopes of building community together, it is simply very, very good.

Years ago, the Jewish Theological Seminary took out a full-page ad in the New York Times during the week before Rosh HaShannah, which read: "For every tough problem, there is usually a simple answer.  Which is usually wrong."  To the question of spiritual authority, be it a question of Jewish practice, volunteer or professional leadership, I believe we, as a Conservative Jewish movemental community have it so deeply right.  There are fewer and fewer raised bimahs in our sanctuaries.  No one voice matters than any other.  But the absence of any one voice matters quite a lot.  There are rarely simple answers to our deep questions.  Which is good. And holy.

If "authority" exists in a real way in our communities, I believe it rests squarely within the trusting relationships we create, maintain, and cherish. 

May we see the holiness in conversation, recognizing that what we comprise together are communities with souls.


Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

May 7, 2008

A Note and a Special Announcement from Rabbi Creditor on Israel’s 60th Birthday

A Note and a Special Announcement

from Rabbi Creditor

on Israel's 60th Birthday


Tomorrow night, the Berkeley Jewish community will celebrate the first annual "TOGETHER FOR ISRAEL" event at Congregation Beth El from 6-8pm, including delicious Israeli Food, Israeli Music and Dancing, Fun Giveaways, Kid's Arts & Crafts Activities, and (at 7pm) a guest speaker and screening by Elizabeth Rodgers, producer of the New Award-Winning documentary "Exodus 1947." The event is free of charge as a gift from our entire Jewish community.  Join me there!


I share with you these following thoughts in honor of Israel's 60th Birthday:


There are those who describe the State of Israel as the stirrings of redemption.  For 60 years our global Jewish family has been striving toward a beautiful dream amidst great challenge, both internal and external, to bring a safer, better, prouder day for the Jewish People and the world through the State of Israel. 


Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, a living master, has written:  "The creation of the State was an act of redemption of biblical stature. …[However] in this new era, God becomes even more hidden, the circumstances of redemption even more ambiguous. This ambiguity serves a two-fold function: It allows those who prefer to interpret the activity as purely secular to do so, and it permits the religious soul to recognize the divine role out of mature understanding and free will rather than out of a 'coerced' yielding to divine force majeure [greater force]. (The Jewish Way, p. 380-1)"


Read this how you choose.  Is God involved in the struggle to balance democracy and a Jewish homeland?  Is the political landscape in the Middle East a redemptive path?  Whether we see God as an intervening force in the world or as the potential for peace and health as actualized by human beings, there is a yearning in the heart of the Jewish People for our home.  Facing eastward as we pray isn't a metaphor.  In the aftermath of the Shoah, and in the face of ever-present anti-Semitism around the world, we face East.  A majority of the Jewish People either do currently (or will soon, depending on the study) live in the State of Israel.  We are members of that family.  When we face Jerusalem, we face home.


Jewish Pride and Passion are what I feel on this occasion of Israel's 60th Birthday.  Do I agree with everything the State of Israel has decided?  No.  Is it always easy to be a modern Zionist?  No.  Does my heart yearn for Jerusalem every day?  Yes.  Just as I long for for my parents' home, I long for Israel.  I yearn for the winding alleys of Tzfat, the whirling life of Tel Aviv, the mystic call of the Negev, the charged air of Jerusalem.  I miss home very much today.


And so, with great excitement, I invite you to join me in the Summer of 2009 on a spiritual journey to visit our family - a community trip to Israel August 2-16, 2009!  

This trip is not limited to Netivot Shalom members, but will be an experience attuned to our shul community's soul. We will explore sites, engage in social justice projects, and support each other as we learn, live, cry, dream, and breathe more deeply than we did before.  This will be a trip open to adults and children, and a family educator has already been hired to provide children's programming during adult-oriented portions of the trip.  More information will be available soon, but reading the news today, watching film clips of Israel's celebration, I couldn't hold back.  I'll be thrilled to talk to you about this trip, and even more honored to share it with you.


LeShannah HaBa'ah BiYerushalayim – Next year in Jerusalem!

Rabbi Creditor

May 1, 2008

Yom HaShoah VeHagevurah 5768: "Kisses and Memory"

Yom HaShoah VeHagevurah 5768: "Kisses and Memory"
Rabbi Menachem Creditor

There are days in which the simplest things carry incalculable meaning.  Today is one such day. 

Yom HaShoah VeHagevurah
, our Day of Holocaust and Heroism, amplifies every experience of life to a heightened place.  A smile, an embrace, a bright butterfly.  Each evokes, for those attuned to the holy moment, devastating heartbreak and deep hope.

Today, just this morning, I sang with a group of young Jewish children.  We kissed the Torah and wished it a Boker Tov, a Good Morning. And I was transported immediately back to Poland, back to the nightmares.  The camps.  A museum with Torah Scrolls made into musical instruments by the Nazis who forced Jews to play while their sisters, brothers, parents, and children were marching, working.  Dying.  Where kisses weren't.  Where Torah wasn't.  A world without song.

But today young Jewish children sang with delight and blew the Torah a kiss.

And we remember.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

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