Sep 29, 2009

Register for "Discover Judaism!" Semester One- Torah Discovery!

This Fall: "Discover Judaism!"
An intro to Judaism cosponsored by Congregation Netivot Shalom and Lehrhaus Judaica;
please call Rachel at Netivot Shalom at 510-549-9447 x101  to enroll.

Discover Judaism: Join this series of classes, designed to help you access the deep meanings of Judaism through a friendly, beginner-level journey.  Participants can join one series at a time, and are welcome to begin at any point.  Jews and non-Jews are welcome!

Series 1: Torah Discovery
With Rabbi Menachem Creditor

The Torah demonstrates the earliest dynamic conversations that became Modern Judaism.  One book of the Torah, each with its unique style and content, will be discussed each session.  We will also engage questions of Biblical authorship, interpretation, and theology. No Hebrew is required for this class.

Dates:   Tuesdays, Oct. 13, 20, 27; Nov. 3, 10
Time:    7:30 to 9pm
Place:   Netivot Shalom, 1316 University Ave., Berkeley
Class fee: $50-$75 — (sliding scale, no one turned away for lack of funds)
For more information or to enroll call Netivot Shalom at 510-549-9447

Series 2: Jewish Holidays
With Rabbi Shalom Bochner

The rhythm of a Jewish year is based on the cycle of Holidays.  And while Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur are the days where more people might attend a synagogue, there are many calendar-based moments for Jewish connection that evoke joy, memory, celebration, sadness, commemoration, and pride.  Each session in this series will focus on a different "type" of Jewish Holiday, including those based in the Torah, and those that have emerged since. No Hebrew is required for this class.

Dates:   Tuesdays, Nov. 17, 24; Dec. 1, 8, 15
Time:    7:30 to 9pm
Place:   Netivot Shalom, 1316 University Ave., Berkeley
Class fee: $50-$75 — (sliding scale, no one turned away for lack of funds)
For more information or to enroll call Netivot Shalom at 510-549-9447

Series 3: Spiritual Practice and Jewish Law
With Rabbi Menachem Creditor

What is the system of Jewish Law, and is it the same as spirituality?  Over the course of Jewish history, communities and individuals have developed many forms of Jewish spiritual practice.  Is there a sense of "command" in Judaism today?  Can a search for spirituality influence the way Jewish law functions?  We will explore these questions, and also engage questions of Denominations and modern community. No Hebrew is required for this class.

Dates:   Tuesdays, Jan. 19, 26; Feb. 2, 9, 16
Time:    7:30 to 9pm
Place:   Netivot Shalom, 1316 University Ave., Berkeley,
Class fee: $50-$75 — (sliding scale, no one turned away for lack of funds)
For more information or to enroll call Netivot Shalom at 510-549-9447

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

To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Kol Nidrei 5770/2009: "Hidden Treasures"

Kol Nidrei 5770/2009: "Hidden Treasures"
Rabbi Menachem Creditor

dedicated in love to the Netivot Shalom Community

Olam Chesed Yibaneh / We will build this world from love.(Ps. 99:3)

Some time ago, my father shared with me a powerful story, a story of a grandfather and a grandson. The grandfather, a traditional Jew, lays on his deathbed and makes a final request of his grandson. The grandson is prepared to create a religious school, give tzedakah - anything his beloved grandfather asks. So when the grandfather asks him to become a scuba diver, the grandson is shocked. He stammers his confusion to his grandfather, who explains:

"When I was on the boat coming over from the Old Country, I remember one picture very clearly: When we all saw the Statue of Liberty come into view, many of those on the decks of the boat threw their tefillin overboard. I want you to become a scuba diver so that you can rescue those pairs of tefillin."

As it turns out, this legend has made the rounds of oral traditions from early Jewish American immigrants to Shoah survivors. It was immortalized within the poetry of early 20th century American Yiddish poet Jacob Glattstein, and later appeared in the novel "In the Image," by Dara Horn. What were those who threw their tefillin overboard thinking?  They had suffered and survived the constriction of their religious freedom, only to abandon the artifacts of their tradition into the American abyss.

My own family's history includes a similar vignette. My father recalls that his grandma Nechama, for whom I was named, gave her Shabbat candlesticks to the American scrap-metal drives of World War I. Years later, when a celebration in my family brought Nechama to shul with my father, he heard her sing along with the Lecha Dodi. And he couldn't understand how someone familiar with tradition could have abandoned those cherished Jewish heirlooms.

And so here we are tonight, our stories right here, in this room, right now, waiting to have their next chapters written.  And we aren't exactly sure what comes next.  But before we focus on what comes next, how about what's next to us - who's next to us?  Do we know each other's dreams?  What are they?  What do we wish for most deeply?  And upon whom should we focus?  Ourselves? Those around us?  Our shul?  Our community?  Our city, our state, our country, our world?  For all of us, the whole world, are in serious need.  Where do we begin?

These questions might be driven by our own deep-sea expeditions, sorting through discarded objects and forgotten pasts, in search of possibilities for faith and purpose and health.   And it is much more complicated for us than a "recovery effort."  We are putting things together in ways our ancestors - perhaps even our parents - might never have imagined in an attempt to make sense of the world. 

Moments like those, of rupture and despair, even when survived, leave an indelible mark on our souls, an imprint on our memories so harsh that it can threaten to darken the future before us.  I had a moment like during our shul's trip to Israel this past summer. 

At Yad Vashem, Israel's living memorial to the Holocaust, my heart was devastated and hasn't really recovered since.  I had been to the rebuilt museum quite a few times, but hadn't worked with the famous names database.  I typed in my own last name, expecting to see a few still unidentified names from the Creditor family who had perished.  I was unprepared for what I found.  There was a page of testimony, submitted in May of 2001 by Ruth Brenner of Tel Aviv, describing the murder of a young man in Turczin Poland with the same name as my son.  I remember the shock, the tightening of my heart, the fear that there was no future.... I remember pouring out my emotions to the group in front of the memorial to Dr. Janusz Korczak, the famous educator who chose to accompany the children from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka instead of abandoning them. 

And as I spoke my own child's name and held the printed page of horrific testimony, I heard my very alive son laugh as he played with other Jewish children nearby.  And I collapsed, unable to bear both the broken-ness and the laughter in the same moment.  My eldest daughter and my son just held me, and gave me back my heart.  While I ask you not to talk to them about this - they'll read about it eventually - I share it with you because I think it represents something bigger, something important for our community.

I wonder how terribly the tefillin-throwers who abandoned the ritual-containers of their past must have suffered to be unable to explore the potential of the future.  I pray our moment cannot be compared with theirs. 

I believe, I hope that we are truly, deeply, prepared to explore our undiscovered futures.

As spiritual communities, we have a wonderful and complex identity, an honest reflection of the many reasons we call our shuls home.  We are visionary and pluralistic shuls, determined to imagine what might come next.  But again, where do we begin?

We are scuba divers, searching the depths, and we are moon-jumpers searching the heights for connection, the very thing that binds us.  The impulse in the midst of an increasingly-isolating world to not be alone.  And that's what it means to be created in the Image of God.  We show up as a community because we know, we pray, that our individual searches don't have to be lonely.   We join as community to together explore for hidden treasures.  That is what comes next - we must write together the next chapters of our dreams.

And we need to ask ourselves the following questions:

-Why are we here?
-Why does our community exist?
-What is the essence of what brings people to our shul?
-What is the fabric that holds us together?

These are big questions.  Ultimate questions for our community.  And, given the amazing opportunity before us with all the newness in the air, what better time is there?  And if we don't dream now, when will we?  When could it be more important?

I seem to remember that I spoke last year of a deep hopelessness, of feeling the burdens of the world weigh down on our shoulders.  Not much has changed.  Just a few days ago, the President of Iran called for Israel's destruction in front of the United Nations General Assembly amidst a growing likelihood that the world will be forced to respond to Iran's nuclear program.  Our burdens have not gotten lighter, not here in Berkeley, not in California, not in our Country, not in Israel, and not in our world. 

But there is something different in the air this year.  I believe, I pray, there is something waiting.  Something good.  Something important.

A legend, told about the remnants of dreams:

"When God decided to create the first Adam, God gathered dust from the four corners of the Earth, rolled it together, mixed it with water, and made red clay. Then God shaped the clay into a lifeless body, the first golem, stretching from one end of the world to the other, and brought it to life. So large was it that God's hand rested upon it. So large was it that the angles mistook it for God, and they wanted to say, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Hosts." So God caused sleep to fall upon him, so that all would know he was but a mortal man.
"While the golem of Adam lay sleeping, God whispered in his ear the secrets of Creation, and showed Adam the righteous of every generation, and the wicked as well, until the time when the dead would be raised. And, as God spoke, Adam witnessed everything as if he were there.
"And later, when Adam did come to life, he dimly remembered all that God had revealed when he was only a golem. And, at night, in his dreams, he still heard God's voice recounting mysteries, and telling of all that would take place in the days to come. In those dreams Adam would travel to those places and see the events firsthand, as a witness.
"And since there is a spark of Adam's soul in every one of his descendants, there are a few in every generation who still hear the voice of God in their dreams. (retold by Howard Schwartz in "Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism," p. 127)"

The definition of a mystic, according to Gershom Scholem, is a person who is "deeply dissatisfied by this world and longs for its peace, yearning for a world that will never be, and who struggles nonetheless for its birth. (adapted)"  Scholem's unsettled mystic is, for me, exactly the reason we are here.  We are, in a certain sense, communities of mystics.  We could just as easily not show up, and yet here we are, looking for something.  Nothing forced us to come, and yet we wouldn't be anywhere else.  We sense, I believe, that by participating in the life of our shul family, we are doing something important.  And we are.

Here are the dreams I believe we affirm by our existence and our commitments as a community:

·         It is possible to be a global citizen and a traditional Jew.
·         It is possible to be a part of an ancient people and also to affirm the place of Krovei Yisrael, non-Jewish members of Jewish families, as full and cherished parts of our Jewish communities.
·         It is possible to be fully anchored in Torah and also to believe and work towards secular and Jewish equal marriage.
·         It is possible to be proud of our many accomplishments and also acknowledge and respond to Jewish Alcoholism and Jewish Domestic Violence.
·         It is possible to have a vibrant Davening life, a strong particularly Jewish identity, and also to pray, eat, and learn with our Muslim and Christian cousins.
·         It is possible to have an unconditional relationship with the State of Israel which includes engaging with opposite viewpoints, listening well and not shouting over.
·         It is possible to start a Jewish journey without fear of being judged for starting the journey later in life.

These are sacred redemptive aspects of our identities as shuls.  There is so much left to do, so much work waiting for us, but as we enter Yom Kippur, the humbling majestic moment of acknowledging our inevitable mortality - let us not miss the opportunity to rededicate ourselves to these much-needed gifts, ones we've labored over and ones which will inspire others as well.

These are far more than the recovery of tefillin - they are acts of spiritual yearning, of authentic Jewish dreaming that is the very heart of sacred community.  Certainly, effort goes hand in hand with every dream, but I believe we build a legacy with every step, every conversation. 

In my family, this happened by reclaiming the legacy of the melted candlesticks and pursuing a Jewish journey.  It happened when my children's laughter pierced my pain.

In our community, this happens when, while we ARE putting on our tefillin and we remember to look around to see who could use some help with theirs.  It happens when we wear badges with smiley-faces because that simple act makes the very difficult decision for some of us to enter a synagogue just a little easier.  It happens when we lower our Shulchanot, our Torah reading tables, so that someone in a wheelchair can see the Torah during their aliyah.  It happens when we don't overlook the founders of our shuls in our excitement to greet someone new.

I believe that our incredible hybrids of Jewish traditionalism and unconditional inclusion are the best Judaism has to offer, that we are committed to pursuing meaning and integrity and that those demand consistent encounter.  We aren't just scuba divers - we are artists, adding our personal and shared vision to a legacy stretching back thousands of years.  Just reflect for a moment about what we're doing right now: fasting, praying, just waiting for that shofar tomorrow night - these are all embodiments of mindful yearning for a better world.

I believe ours are rare and crucial Jewish homes, where Jews, non-Jews, Gay, Straight, Multi-racial, Jews-by-choice - all of us are explicitly recognized and cherished, not just tolerated.  We learn together, support one another, celebrate moments together. We cook for each other.  We bury each other.  We comfort each other.  We are more than communities - we are constantly expanding families. 

I believe we must constantly look not just at but through the windows which make up the boundaries of our sacred homes.  I believe we have an obligation to share our model with others, to continue inviting our Christian and Muslim cousins into our sacred home, so that we can learn together and build a better world.  We've begun that process and musn't stop, for self-isolation leads to the wrong kind of religious passion. 

I believe our dream is basically to live up to this teaching by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, that "a religious person is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair."

I ask each of us to dream big this year.  But begin small.  Choose a mitzvah and try it on this year.

Here are three Mitzvah suggestions for body, heart, and spirit:

1)      Body: If Kashrut has been a foreign concept this year, connect with Magen Tzedek, the new initiative of the Conservative Movement, a newly released kashrut certification built upon the commitment to protect workers, animals and the Earth in the production of food.  This ethical-ritual hybrid can inform and inspire your life on a daily basis.  (see magentzedek.org.)

2)      Heart: Be a Malach/Angel of Welcome.  Make an effort to learn someone else's name.  Decide to invite them over for Shabbat dinner.  (Or invite yourself over!)  Don't let Kashrut be an obstacle - there is always a way to work it out.

3)      Spirit: If shul matters in your life but you've been more of an observer recently, find your voice and be a builder of this magnificent dream.  Tap into a Dreaming Process.  Sign up for an Adult Learning opportunities, participate in Social Justice activities.  Let the warmth of a vibrant Davening life touch your soul.  Play Pinochle, Join the band, do something!  Bring something new - be an active part of your sacred home.

This might sound like a message that isn't global enough, or grand and sweeping enough for Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgment.

But I believe that our shuls, in all their authentic, intense, egalitarian, participatory, diversity, are purposeful conduits to God.  

I believe that God is more complicated than any object of prayer, more than any one faith, more than any image, and that our community represents an approach to Infinity.  Our way into God, the discrete path known as Conservative Judaism, is a way of connecting to all of humanity.  For if belief in God can be understood as the two affirmations - a) that there is more than me in the world and b) that every individual is infused by a divine spark - then it falls upon each of us to nurture our particular souls to hear the call and act on behalf of every other in the world. Our deepest religious sensibilities as a shul are aligned with our deepest human sensibilities.  And we strengthen those aspirations through everything we do, everything we are.

Yes, that's heavy.  Because I just suggested that every human act can heal, and that therefore each of us carries the burden of the universe on our shoulders in every small action we take.  Here's a story to help us laugh while bearing the burden.

A poor man, gathering sticks of wood in the forest, packs them in a torn sack, throws the sack over his frail shoulders, then stumbles, the sticks scattering to the earth.  Frustrated, the man cries out to God, "This is the last straw! I am poor, my wife is sick, my children are neglected. Send the Angel of Death and let him take me from this earth!" His prayer is promptly answered, and the Angel of Death suddenly appears, asking, "Did you call for me?" Startled, the poor man stammers, "Yes, yes, could you help me gather up these sticks?" (many thanks to Rabbi Yoel Kahn for this story!)

Let's resolve to share the load.  Remember how deeply we dream for the world, and that that's what brings us together in community.  And our purpose is far beyond just showing up - we are here because we are together building a paradigm of spiritual community that needs to be here, that needs to be everywhere.  A non-fundamentalist sacred home.  Just imagine what will happen when word gets out about how good it can be, how the experience of a dreaming community can heal even the paralysis of past nightmares.

So I bless us all, and myself, to nurture our souls!  To Dream!  Because if you are strengthened, your connection with our shuls are strengthened.  And if our shuls are strengthened, then we are positioned much better, as Heschel put it, to suffer together when harm is done to others, and to band together to defy despair.

·         Yes, we are scuba divers.  We recover and restore the glory of our ancient faith.
·         Yes, we are artists.  We invent combinations that didn't exist before we brought them into being.
·         But we are so much more than that.  We are old, young, black, white, straight, gay, single, married, tall and short.
·         We are real communities, with all the human drama and emotionality - and hope - anyone could dream for.

May we remember that everyone around us carry a divine spark.
May you remember that you do too. 
May our sacred communities be strong, legacies for later generations we are blessed to create every day.
May this be a year of connections, of discovery, and of dreaming - for us, and for the world around us.


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

To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Sep 27, 2009

jpost: "Policemen wounded in Temple Mt. riots"

Click to Print
The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition

Policemen wounded in Temple Mt. riots

Sep. 27, 2009

Twelve policemen and 15 rioters were wounded Sunday in riots on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and later in the Old City.

Approximately 150 Muslim worshipers participated in the disturbance on the Temple Mount, which began when a group of Jewish visitors was admitted into the compound.

Rioters hurled rocks at the group and at policemen who were escorting them, lightly wounding two policemen. Police responded with stun grenades and the visitors were escorted away.

The riots died down, but the Temple Mount was subsequently closed off to visitors.

Later some rioting developed on the streets of the Old City, and additional policemen and rioters were wounded in those scuffles. Several rioters were arrested by police.

Rabah Bkirat, an official with the Muslim religious body in charge of managing the site, said some of the protesters had come because of rumors of an "invasion" by Jewish settlers. When a group of some 15 Jews entered the grounds accompanied by police, the protesters began chanting slogans and only threw stones after police used force, he said.

Following the riots, Police raised their alert status across the country for fear of further violence.

Meanwhile, Hamas called on Palestinians and all Arabs to take to the streets in protest of the events.

AP contributed to this report.

Copyright 1995- 2009 The Jerusalem Post - http://www.jpost.com/

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

To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Sep 24, 2009

The text of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to the UN General Assembly

The text of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to the UN General Assembly
Sept. 24, 2009

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Nearly 62 years ago, the United Nations recognized the right of the Jews, an ancient people 3,500 years-old, to a state of their own in their ancestral homeland.

I stand here today as the Prime Minister of Israel, the Jewish state, and I speak to you on behalf of my country and my people.
The United Nations was founded after the carnage of World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust. It was charged with preventing the recurrence of such horrendous events.

Nothing has undermined that central mission more than the systematic assault on the truth. Yesterday the President of Iran stood at this very podium, spewing his latest anti-Semitic rants. Just a few days earlier, he again claimed that the Holocaust is a lie.

Last month, I went to a villa in a suburb of Berlin called Wannsee. There, on January 20, 1942, after a hearty meal, senior Nazi officials met and decided how to exterminate the Jewish people. The detailed minutes of that meeting have been preserved by successive German governments. Here is a copy of those minutes, in which the Nazis issued precise instructions on how to carry out the extermination of the Jews.

Is this a lie?

A day before I was in Wannsee, I was given in Berlin the original construction plans for the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Those plans are signed by Hitler?s deputy, Heinrich Himmler himself. Here is a copy of the plans for Auschwitz-Birkenau, where one million Jews were murdered. Is this too a lie?

This June, President Obama visited the Buchenwald concentration camp. Did President Obama pay tribute to a lie?

And what of the Auschwitz survivors whose arms still bear the tattooed numbers branded on them by the Nazis? Are those tattoos a lie? One-third of all Jews perished in the conflagration. Nearly every Jewish family was affected, including my own. My wife's grandparents, her father?s two sisters and three brothers, and all the aunts, uncles and cousins were all murdered by the Nazis. Is that also a lie?

Yesterday, the man who calls the Holocaust a lie spoke from this podium. To those who refused to come here and to those who left this room in protest, I commend you. You stood up for moral clarity and you brought honor to your countries.

But to those who gave this Holocaust-denier a hearing, I say on behalf of my people, the Jewish people, and decent people everywhere: Have you no shame? Have you no decency?

A mere six decades after the Holocaust, you give legitimacy to a man who denies that the murder of six million Jews took place and pledges to wipe out the Jewish state.

What a disgrace! What a mockery of the charter of the United Nations!

Perhaps some of you think that this man and his odious regime threaten only the Jews. You're wrong.

History has shown us time and again that what starts with attacks on the Jews eventually ends up engulfing many others.

This Iranian regime is fueled by an extreme fundamentalism that burst onto the world scene three decades ago after lying dormant for centuries.

In the past thirty years, this fanaticism has swept the globe with a murderous violence and cold-blooded impartiality in its choice of victims. It has callously slaughtered Moslems and Christians, Jews and Hindus, and many others. Though it is comprised of different offshoots, the adherents of this unforgiving creed seek to return humanity to medieval times.

Wherever they can, they impose a backward regimented society where women, minorities, gays or anyone not deemed to be a true believer is brutally subjugated. The struggle against this fanaticism does not pit faith against faith nor civilization against civilization.

It pits civilization against barbarism, the 21st century against the 9th century, those who sanctify life against those who glorify death.

The primitivism of the 9th century ought to be no match for the progress of the 21st century. The allure of freedom, the power of technology, the reach of communications should surely win the day. Ultimately, the past cannot triumph over the future. And the future offers all nations magnificent bounties of hope. The pace of progress is growing exponentially.

It took us centuries to get from the printing press to the telephone, decades to get from the telephone to the personal computer, and only a few years to get from the personal computer to the internet.

What seemed impossible a few years ago is already outdated, and we can scarcely fathom the changes that are yet to come. We will crack the genetic code. We will cure the incurable. We will lengthen our lives. We will find a cheap alternative to fossil fuels and clean up the planet.

I am proud that my country Israel is at the forefront of these advances ? by leading innovations in science and technology, medicine and biology, agriculture and water, energy and the environment. These innovations the world over offer humanity a sunlit future of unimagined promise.

But if the most primitive fanaticism can acquire the most deadly weapons, the march of history could be reversed for a time. And like the belated victory over the Nazis, the forces of progress and freedom will prevail only after an horrific toll of blood and fortune has been exacted from mankind. That is why the greatest threat facing the world today is the marriage between religious fanaticism and the weapons of mass destruction.

The most urgent challenge facing this body is to prevent the tyrants of Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Are the member states of the United Nations up to that challenge? Will the international community confront a despotism that terrorizes its own people as they bravely stand up for freedom?

Will it take action against the dictators who stole an election in broad daylight and gunned down Iranian protesters who died in the streets choking in their own blood? Will the international community thwart the world's most pernicious sponsors and practitioners of terrorism?

Above all, will the international community stop the terrorist regime of Iran from developing atomic weapons, thereby endangering the peace of the entire world?

The people of Iran are courageously standing up to this regime. People of goodwill around the world stand with them, as do the thousands who have been protesting outside this hall. Will the United Nations stand by their side?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The jury is still out on the United Nations, and recent signs are not encouraging. Rather than condemning the terrorists and their Iranian patrons, some here have condemned their victims. That is exactly what a recent UN report on Gaza did, falsely equating the terrorists with those they targeted.

For eight long years, Hamas fired from Gaza thousands of missiles, mortars and rockets on nearby Israeli cities. Year after year, as these missiles were deliberately hurled at our civilians, not a single UN resolution was passed condemning those criminal attacks. We heard nothing ? absolutely nothing ? from the UN Human Rights Council, a misnamed institution if there ever was one.

In 2005, hoping to advance peace, Israel unilaterally withdrew from every inch of Gaza. It dismantled 21 settlements and uprooted over 8,000 Israelis. We didn't get peace. Instead we got an Iranian backed terror base fifty miles from Tel Aviv. Life in Israeli towns and cities next to Gaza became a nightmare. You see, the Hamas rocket attacks not only continued, they increased tenfold. Again, the UN was silent.

Finally, after eight years of this unremitting assault, Israel was finally forced to respond. But how should we have responded? Well, there is only one example in history of thousands of rockets being fired on a country's civilian population. It happened when the Nazis rocketed British cities during World War II. During that war, the allies leveled German cities, causing hundreds of thousands of casualties. Israel chose to respond differently. Faced with an enemy committing a double war crime of firing on civilians while hiding behind civilians ? Israel sought to conduct surgical strikes against the rocket launchers.

That was no easy task because the terrorists were firing missiles from homes and schools, using mosques as weapons depots and ferreting explosives in ambulances. Israel, by contrast, tried to minimize casualties by urging Palestinian civilians to vacate the targeted areas.

We dropped countless flyers over their homes, sent thousands of text messages and called thousands of cell phones asking people to leave. Never has a country gone to such extraordinary lengths to remove the enemy's civilian population from harm's way.

Yet faced with such a clear case of aggressor and victim, who did the UN Human Rights Council decide to condemn? Israel. A democracy legitimately defending itself against terror is morally hanged, drawn and quartered, and given an unfair trial to boot.

By these twisted standards, the UN Human Rights Council would have dragged Roosevelt and Churchill to the dock as war criminals. What a perversion of truth. What a perversion of justice.

Delegates of the United Nations,

Will you accept this farce?

Because if you do, the United Nations would revert to its darkest days, when the worst violators of human rights sat in judgment against the law-abiding democracies, when Zionism was equated with racism and when an automatic majority could declare that the earth is flat.

If this body does not reject this report, it would send a message to terrorists everywhere: Terror pays; if you launch your attacks from densely populated areas, you will win immunity. And in condemning Israel, this body would also deal a mortal blow to peace. Here's why.

When Israel left Gaza, many hoped that the missile attacks would stop. Others believed that at the very least, Israel would have international legitimacy to exercise its right of self-defense. What legitimacy? What self-defense?

The same UN that cheered Israel as it left Gaza and promised to back our right of self-defense now accuses us ?my people, my country - of war crimes? And for what? For acting responsibly in self-defense. What a travesty!

Israel justly defended itself against terror. This biased and unjust report is a clear-cut test for all governments. Will you stand with Israel or will you stand with the terrorists?

We must know the answer to that question now. Now and not later. Because if Israel is again asked to take more risks for peace, we must know today that you will stand with us tomorrow. Only if we have the confidence that we can defend ourselves can we take further risks for peace.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

All of Israel wants peace.

Any time an Arab leader genuinely wanted peace with us, we made peace. We made peace with Egypt led by Anwar Sadat. We made peace with Jordan led by King Hussein. And if the Palestinians truly want peace, I and my government, and the people of Israel, will make peace. But we want a genuine peace, a defensible peace, a permanent peace. In 1947, this body voted to establish two states for two peoples ? a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Jews accepted that resolution. The Arabs rejected it.
We ask the Palestinians to finally do what they have refused to do for 62 years: Say yes to a Jewish state. Just as we are asked to recognize a nation-state for the Palestinian people, the Palestinians must be asked to recognize the nation state of the Jewish people. The Jewish people are not foreign conquerors in the Land of Israel. This is the land of our forefathers.

Inscribed on the walls outside this building is the great Biblical vision of peace: "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. They shall learn war no more." These words were spoken by the Jewish prophet Isaiah 2,800 years ago as he walked in my country, in my city, in the hills of Judea and in the streets of Jerusalem.

We are not strangers to this land. It is our homeland. As deeply connected as we are to this land, we recognize that the Palestinians also live there and want a home of their own. We want to live side by side with them, two free peoples living in peace, prosperity and dignity.
But we must have security. The Palestinians should have all the powers to govern themselves except those handful of powers that could endanger Israel.

That is why a Palestinian state must be effectively demilitarized. We don't want another Gaza, another Iranian backed terror base abutting Jerusalem and perched on the hills a few kilometers from Tel Aviv.

We want peace.

I believe such a peace can be achieved. But only if we roll back the forces of terror, led by Iran, that seek to destroy peace, eliminate Israel and overthrow the world order. The question facing the international community is whether it is prepared to confront those forces or accommodate them.

Over seventy years ago, Winston Churchill lamented what he called the "confirmed unteachability of mankind," the unfortunate habit of civilized societies to sleep until danger nearly overtakes them.

Churchill bemoaned what he called the "want of foresight, the unwillingness to act when action will be simple and effective, the lack of clear thinking, the confusion of counsel until emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong."

I speak here today in the hope that Churchill's assessment of the "unteachibility of mankind" is for once proven wrong.

I speak here today in the hope that we can learn from history -- that we can prevent danger in time.

In the spirit of the timeless words spoken to Joshua over 3,000 years ago, let us be strong and of good courage. Let us confront this peril, secure our future and, God willing, forge an enduring peace for generations to come.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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from PJA: On Health Care, Our Fundamental Principles this Yom Kippur

Turn on images if logo is not visible

 Yom Kippur and Healthcare:
What's the Connection?

Out of CA's Quagmire 3On Health Care, Our Fundamental Principles

by Elissa Barrett
The Jewish Daily Forward

"We know that we bear collective
responsibility for building a just and holy community
(kehilla kedosha)...collectively we bear responsibility for our neighbors vices and well-being."

As the nation fights over the details, the need for comprehensive medical care for all remains a fundamental tenet of Jewish tradition, as PJA Executive Director Elissa Barrett explains in her Yom Kippur themed Op Ed.

Click here to read the article.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Sep 23, 2009

Standards for Magen Tzedek Released


Standards For The Magen Tzedek

Released by the Hekhsher Tzedek Commission


The revised Standards for the Magen Tzedek Service Mark have been released.  Click here for the press release and here for the standards. There is a period for public comment on the standards and we would appreciate your feedback.  Email comments to certification@hekhshertzedek.org prior to December 9.  For more information about Magen Tzedek click here


In this week's Forward, Nathaniel Popper's article entitled, "New Kosher Food Certification May Be Most Detailed In the Industry" about Magen Tzedek describes most favorably the work of the Hekhsher Tzedek Commission.  The article quotes Scott Exo, director of the Food Alliance, discussing the impressive breadth of the Heksher Tzedek Certification which bills itself as the "most comprehensive third-party certification for the production, processing, and distribution of sustainable food." The article notes that the Magen Tzedek targets products with hashgahah "is in addition to, not instead of, the kosher hekhsher mark.  You may remember that Propper first wrote about Postville in the Forward several years ago.


As you know, there have been several postings on RA-News updating you on the Magen Tzedek project and the work of the Hekhsher Tzedek Commission.  Two weeks ago, we sent out a letter asking for funds so that we may bring the Magen Tzedek seal to market. As an Assembly we are thrilled that this initiative of such importance has made such progress. Our colleagues continue to respond enthusiastically and we are receiving pledges and contributions from dozens of colleagues and we hope to add you to the list.  If you have not made a pledge, please contact either Jeff Wohlberg (202-362-4433) Julie Schonfeld, or Jan Kaufman and make your pledge today.  You can also reach Julie or Jan at the phone number below.   If you have made a pledge, we thank you very much and ask you to send your contribution to the RA office. 

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Sep 22, 2009

JTA Blogroll: "Conservative movement and AJWS play on Yom Kippur practices in charity initiatives"

Conservative movement and AJWS play on Yom Kippur practices in charity initiatives

I've received a couple of emails regarding interesting Yom Kippur charity initiatives that play on the various prohibitions of the holiday.

The American Jewish World Service is asking that its supporters take the money that they would have spent on food, were they not fasting on Yom Kippur, and donate it to the AJWS to help fund its projects that build farming capacity in the developing world.

The organization is asking its supports to give $36 to its "Fighting Hunger From the Ground Up" initiative.

On the other foot, the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly is using the prohibition of wearing leather shoes on Yom Kippur to try to help buy shoes for children in the developing world.

The RA is suggesting that its members but non-leather shoes from TOMS Shoes,  an eco-friendly shoe company that gives one pair of shoes to a child in the developing world for every pair of shoes that it sells.

More information about the "Heart and Sole" initiative is available here.

Here are the press releases for both projects

AJWS Asks Supporters to Fight Global Hunger With Money Saved from Yom Kippur Fast

Donations will be Awarded by AJWS as Grants to Grassroots NGOs

New York, NY; September 21, 2009— As part of its recently launched campaign, Fighting Hunger from the Ground Up, American Jewish World Service (AJWS) has issued an appeal asking supporters to donate the money they would have spent on food, were they not fasting on Yom Kippur, to AJWS-supported communities building local farming capacity in the developing world.

Invoking the prophet Isaiah, the appeal reads: "'This is the fast I desire…To let the oppressed go free; to share your bread with the hungry.'

"These are the 2,000-year-old words that we hear chanted in synagogue every Yom Kippur," AJWS's Yom Kippur appeal continues. "But what can we do to put them into practice? This year, bring the Yom Kippur liturgy to life by donating the 'cost' - we suggest $36 - of your fast for people in the developing world for whom hunger is an ongoing reality."

Everyday, more than 1 billion people worldwide go hungry and one child dies every six seconds from hunger-related causes. AJWS has launched Fighting Hunger from the Ground Up in order to build awareness in the American Jewish community regarding the political roots of hunger, to emphasize that Jews have an obligation to participate in the struggle against hunger, and to provide channels for Jews to get involved through grassroots advocacy and financial support for sustainable food production in the developing world.

"Hunger is not a result of depleted food supply," said AJWS president Ruth W. Messinger in a statement. "Ample food is produced each year to feed the world twice over."
Messinger added: "Inequities in control over the means of food production and distribution— byproducts of public policies, such as free trade and subsidies— encourage the co-opting and degradation of indigenous farmland by large agribusinesses. These policies also enable farming conglomerates to overproduce food and dump their surpluses onto markets in the developing world at cheap prices.

"As a consequence, local farmers trying to compete alongside subsidized conglomerates are squeezed and local agriculture is choked. We're talking about a deeply flawed global food system rooted in politics and thus eminently fixable.

"In Pirkei Avot, we are taught that without sustenance there is no Torah. Without food, it is impossible for communities to thrive, and as Jews in the 21st century, where proximity alone does not define community, we must be concerned with the well-being of all who share our very small planet. We can help end hunger by advocating for policies that protect local farmers in the developing world and by providing impoverished communities with the resources they need to grow their own food."


The Rabbinical Assembly and TOMS Shoes Create "Heart and Sole" - A Yom Kippur Tzedakah Project
Prohibition Against Wearing Leather Shoes Provides Shoes to Children in Need
September 21, 2009 (New York, NY) -- For the 2009 High Holy Day Season, the Rabbinical Assembly in partnership with other Conservative Movement organizations* is pleased to announce a new Yom Kippur initiative that will allow people to fulfill the mitzvah of tzedakah while honoring the prohibition against wearing leather shoes.
Due to the rabbinic injunction against wearing leather, it is customary to see Jews wearing sneakers, sandals and other non-leather footgear on the Jewish Day of Awe. This year, we became aware of the work of a company called TOMS Shoes (http://www.tomsshoes.com) that gives away a free pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair sold.  Our project, "Heart and Sole," is a Conservative movement-wide project that encourages Jews to wear non-leather shoes this Yom Kippur and will double their mitzvah by enabling children in need to receive a free pair of shoes for each pair of TOMS shoes purchased.
Though many of the shoes manufactured by TOMS Shoes do contain leather, the company has a vegan line of shoes that are entirely leather-free and therefore ideal for Yom Kippur.
"Heart and Sole" is entirely voluntary and will be publicized throughout the schools, synagogues and organizations of the Conservative movement. The company has created a special webpage dedicated to the initiative with comic book-style artwork by Jordan Gorfinkel of Avalanche Comics. The artwork is available on PDF on the webpage (http://www.heartandsole.net) to enable synagogues, schools and organizations to spread the word.
In a letter to the Rabbinical Assembly membership, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Assembly commented, "The power of Conservative Judaism is our passion to link our ancient cultural traditions to current issues that give additional meaning and purpose to the practice of ritual. Not wearing leather on Yom Kippur reminds us that the purpose of the day is reflection and not personal comfort. Furthermore, by wearing non-leather shoes that also allow a child elsewhere in the world to walk to school with shoes on and to live free of the diseases caused by going barefoot, a ritual mitzvah becomes an ethical one as the goal of tzedekah is also being fulfilled."

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Sep 21, 2009

Hayim Herring in the Jewish Week: "Challenges Of An Open-Source Age"

Hayim Herring in the Jewish Week: "Challenges Of An Open-Source Age"
by Rabbi Hayim Herring
Special To The Jewish Week

About three years ago I received a call from a stranger who had a heartfelt dilemma. He wanted my opinion about whether digital davening with a minyan would fulfill his obligation to say Kaddish for a parent who had just died. He was concerned that saying Kaddish at his synagogue every day was not feasible and wanted to dedicate some days to gather a minyan via the Web. If so, should he ask his synagogue for help to sponsor a digital minyan? I vaguely recall making a comment about the idea being worth exploring and referred him to his congregational rabbi.

So much has changed since that telephone call, and today's open-source environment, where information is increasingly open, available and less controlled, has
led to a big leadership dilemma.

Let's imagine how this digital davening dilemma might play out today. The rabbi who gets the call may be empathetic but may discourage the idea, explaining the high value of being together in a community.

A week later, the ritual director, quite concerned, asks the rabbi if he has heard about "the rogue media minyan." The rabbi is surprised to learn that after the congregant called him, he contacted 50 friends (Facebook, Twitter, texting — pick your social media method), inviting them to be a part of digital davening group, so that he can say kaddish a few days a we
ek. Some of the congregant's friends are members of the same congregation;  others are from across the country. He is quickly able to form a minyan. He and his friends use an electronic platform which enables them to webcast the service so that everyone can see and hear one another.

The rabbi meets with the congregant, perplexed by his behavior. Didn't the congregant believe in the value of community? Now the congregant is confused. He explains that it was precisely the rabbi's comments about community that prompted him to contact some of his father's friends from out of town to participate in a Web-based minyan in his father's memory. He says it was particularly meaningful to him to also have fellow congregants volunteer, especially those who would otherwise never participate in the synagogue's daily minyan. It was this expanded notion of what community meant to the congregant that motivated him to act.

Now let's fast forward to a year later. Within the year, two other members of the bricks-and-mortar congregation, who are also members of the digital davening group, lose a loved one. They don't remember to inform the rabbi because they are already a part of the digital minyan, a satisfying experience for them. In fact, other people from across the country who have no original connection to the group are participating in it because the digital davening story went viral, and digital davening groups sprang up across the country and also spread to other countries.

The synagogue community is divided over their value, but these media minyanim continue to grow.

This illustration is about rabbis and synagogues, but you can imagine how it can be rewritten for any Jewish setting. The issues this scenario suggests are complex. If you're the rabbi in this situation (or executive director or CEO in some other organization), you probably feel loss and displacement. If you're the congregant who wanted to honor a parent and say Kaddish, you're likely to feel good about what has transpired.

But this scenario is not so black and white. The rabbi could be asking, "How can I help to facilitate and empower synagogue groups, so that I have more time for studying, teaching and outreach?" If you're the congregant, you could be asking, "How can I help the 'bytes and click' minyan and the 'bricks and mortar' minyan be mutually enriching?"

As heavy re-thinking is required for these conversations, we need every person who cares about the immediate and long-term Jewish future to ask the question, "What does volunteer and professional leadership look like in an open-source age?

The search for an answer to this question can be like an action research project, with multiple sites for experimentation. For example, we can:

• Partner with leadership institutes and universities to develop programs that certify open source leaders;

• Network with business leaders who work in open source companies to gain real-world insights;
• Apply open source principles on a small pilot basis to Jewish organizations and evaluate how they work;

• Create a Jewish values framework for these principles so that they fit more organically into Jewish settings.

Today, we're fortunate to have many Jewish startups that are energizing the Jewish community. Some mainstream organizations are also serious about remaking themselves for this century. But as all organizations are going to incorporate, at least minimally, some open- source principles and compete with those that are more fully open-source, we must consider how the Jewish community can foster a new kind of leadership.

Open-source leadership is much larger than knowing how to be entrepreneurial. Rather, it involves a radical revision of the rules of leadership, awareness of the centrality of this task and a commitment to invest the resources that it will take to change existing leadership patterns.

Hayim Herring is executive director of STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal) and is writing a book tentatively called, "Tools for Shuls: A Guide to Makeover Your Synagogue" (www.toolsforshuls.com).

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Sep 17, 2009

Kol HaKavod to Rabbi Steven Wernick & Forward: "United Synagogue Chief Apologizes for Perceived Slight"

Dear Chevreh,

I share this Forward article not for the sake of attacking Rabbi Wernick, but to admire him publicly for apologizing - that is a model of professional and personal accountability which would make a big difference if practiced on the local and national levels in our movement as well.  It feels completely appropriate in this moment of the Jewish calendar to acknowledge mistakes and then restate the committed relationship we celebrate together.

Shannah Tovah,

Forward: "United Synagogue Chief Apologizes for Perceived Slight"

By Gal Beckerman

Published September 17, 2009

The new head of Conservative Judaism's congregational arm has asked his fellow rabbis to forgive him in a Sept. 17 letter apologizing for a recent interview with The Forward in which he said Conservative rabbis lack "missionary zeal," and work instead "to get paid."

"I talked before I thought," wrote Rabbi Steven Wernick, the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism's new CEO and executive vice president, in the letter, sent to Conservative rabbis across the country. "What I said came out as flippant and hurtful to our many colleagues and partners who strive each day to create the dynamic communities to which we all aspire. I am sorry. They were my words, and I own them, and I apologize for them."

Wernick addressed his letter to the Rabbinical Assembly, the Conservative rabbinic association, which distributed it to its national membership.

In his Sept. 10 interview with The Forward, Wernick, discussed relative success Orthodox Judaism has had with outreach to unaffiliated Jews compared to the Conservative movement and said, "We don't have that missionary zeal. They're missionaries! We want to get paid. We don't believe. What do we believe in? That is the problem of progressive Judaism."

He now writes," What I was trying to say is that we are not missionaries. We are not enflamed with missionary zeal, and we do not have a network of people ready to swoop in for no money to win souls. Instead, we try to give our congregants meaningful, moving, engaging programming, free of hidden agendas and our congregants look for a high level of intellectual sophistication, expertise, and professionalism in the speakers and scholars we choose. All that costs money."

In his regretful letter to Rabbinical Assembly, written just before the High Holiday Days of Awe, when Jews traditionally review their conduct and seek forgiveness, Wernick criticized himself for being "too loose lipped," explaining, "In reading these comments, I understand that I was not clear enough."

Wernick, who assumed the helm of USCJ on July 1, recently pushed through a sweeping reorganization plan for the congregational umbrella group to deal with a $1.3 million deficit and a percolating dissatisfaction among constituent congregations with the organization's performance. Affiliation with USCJ dropped to 676 constituent synagogues from 710 just two years ago. The reorganization, approved by the USCJ board Sept. 13, involves staff cuts of 10% and a $1 million budget cut that will bring next year's budget down to $13 million. At the same time, Wernick plans to increase funding for the organization's youth programs.

Referring to his ambitious reform plans, Wernick wrote, "My unfortunate choice of words seems to have obscured the real accomplishments of the last few days. On Sunday, I stood before United Synagogue's board of directors and I said that if we do not take care of congregations, if we do not help our communities achieve the excellence they desire and deserve, then what are we? We'll continue to be irrelevant. And the board agreed with me overwhelmingly. That is a decision that we should celebrate as we move forward together."

One prominent Conservative spiritual leader said that Wernick could have expressed himself more delicately in discussing the outreach intensity gap with the Orthodox.

"What upset the rabbinate was the statement about wanting to get paid, which suggests that Conservative rabbis are fat cats and Chabad shlichim [outreach representatives] are the real deal," said Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky, the Congregation Anshei Chesed in New York. "It's a foolish thing to say, even if it is partly true."

Contact Gal Beckerman at beckerman@forward.com.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Sep 16, 2009

a Yearlong Sunday Morning Series at CNS with Rabbi Menachem Creditor and Rabbi Shalom Bochner!

Announcing a Yearlong Sunday Morning Series at CNS

with Rabbi Menachem Creditor and Rabbi Shalom Bochner!


During the coming year Rabbi Menachem Creditor and Rabbi Shalom Bochner will explore six subjects on six Sunday mornings during the coming year, part of the larger celebrated CNS Sunday Morning Minyan and Speaker series!  The themes of these six presentations will connect to exploring the concept of a Jewish Community.  Shacharit begins at 9:30 AM, followed by breakfast and a talk/discussion from 10:30 AM – 11:30 AM.  Everyone is welcome!


·         Oct 25: Rabbi Menachem Creditor: "The Necessity of Windows"

·         Nov. 8: Rabbi Shalom Bochner: "Jewish Obligation/Relationships Beyond the Self" 

·         Dec. 6: Rabbi Menachem Creditor: "Jewish Leadership" 

·         Jan. 10: Rabbi Shalom Bochner: "Jewish Communal Education"

·         Feb. 7: Rabbi Menachem Creditor: "Jewish Norms/Values" 

·         Mar. 21: Rabbi Shalom Bochner: "The Place of Generations" 


October 25: Rabbi Creditor: "The Necessity of Windows", celebrating Rabbi Creditor's chapter in the newly published book: Torah Queeries  (NYU Press) The portrayal of Jewish tradition as a self-contained system freezes a naturally evolving civilization into a limited legal tradition based on one moment in its history.  This reduction of tradition not only translates inherited tradition into the realm of "untouchability", it also rejects the validity and holiness of the outside world.  Join this conversation discussing a Judaism most authentically practiced when its religious leadership, in a process of healthy assimilation, combines the best of the inside with the best of the outside.  


November 8: Rabbi Bochner:  "Jewish Obligation/Relationships Beyond the Self"
As we continue our series on what Jewish Community means, we'll examine the question of defining our obligations to our fellow and examining our relationships with people beyond our immediate family. Through exploring traditional texts that inform our approach to these concepts we'll also examine how we live these values at Netivot Shalom and how we can define and refine what it means to be part of a healthy, engaged community.


December 6: Rabbi Menachem Creditor: "Jewish Leadership" Jewish leaders, professional and volunteer, care very deeply about their communities.  But how many of us have experienced a Jewish Leadership training program?  Based on one such program he created and led in Boston ("J-Lead"), Rabbi Creditor will present a basic overview of Jewish Leadership Core Competencies, as well as suggest reading material for further developing leadership skills.  

January 10: Rabbi Bochner: "Jewish Communal Education"
Generational continuity and teaching our children are core Jewish values.  As part of our continuing series on exploring Jewish community we'll examine the role of education in Judaism and how we approach LifeLong Learning here at Netivot Shalom.  What are the central values we are to teach?  What should be the curriculum in our diverse community?  Where are we meeting the challenges and where do we need to put more emphasis as a congregation of teachers and learners?

February 7: Rabbi Creditor: "Jewish Norms/Values"
What are our norms?  What does that mean anyway?!  In a world where rules are more likely to be questioned than followed, how do we decide if choices we make are right?  What determines the authenticity of communal policy?  During this conversation, Rabbi Creditor will touch on Kashrut, Interfaith Relationships, Jewish Burial and Birth Practices, and more.


March 21: Rabbi Bochner: "The place of the generations"   "We tell of God's greatness from generation to generation."  What are the duties of one generation to another?  How do we best listen to and learn from each other?  As we conclude our series on Jewish community, we'll examine the role of generations and how we best provide for an organic community where the generations mix freely and also have their own specific needs attended to.  We'll look at texts that speak to these questions and see how these lessons can be applied to our Netivot Shalom community.


Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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3 amazing articles from the Jewish Week/NextBook Issue on Prayer

Standing Before God, Standing Before Community

by Sandee Brawarsky


On the shelves of Rabbi J. Rolando Matalon's office are many editions of the siddur, prayer book, including a Farsi version with Hebrew and Perso-Arabic side by side. "I don't like to speak in denominational terms," he says, "I think we all have to learn from each other—the tradition is the same, the challenge is the same."

In a recent interview in his office, he spoke about the function of the shaliach tzibur, literally messenger of the community, referring to the prayer leader. Known widely as Roly, he is a rabbi of Congregation B'nai Jeshurun (BJ) in Manhattan, a congregation with a reputation for spiritual depth and vitality. The tradition there is that the rabbis and cantor jointly lead services.

Rabbi Matalon speaks with the accent of his native Argentina. After receiving his ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1986, he joined his mentor, the late Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer, at BJ, and together they revitalized the congregation.

How would you describe the role of the shaliach tzibur?

The role is to guide people in prayer—when you go on a journey, the guide is familiar with the road and the terrain, has studied the maps and guides people through the valleys and towards the peaks, warns them in subtle ways, motivates them and keeps the group together. If it's done properly, tefillah [prayer] is not always the same. It's always a different journey—depending on one's internal landscape, on the world's landscape, and where we are on the Jewish calendar.

Tefillah by itself is an adventure. One has to expect unexpected emotion, insights. We need to keep a balance between fixed prayer and the more spontaneous, allowing the spontaneous to happen.

In a technical sense, the shaliach tzibur should be knowledgeable about tefillot, about the order and laws; he or she should be competent, comfortable with the words, sensitive to the inner dynamic of the service. The shaliach tzibur keeps the community as one, not as disparate people.

The shaliach tzibur should also inspire people, draw them out, excite them. At the same time, he or she should not be so dominating as to suppress individual expression. It's a delicate balance.  One has to approach this role with humility—it could make you feel like you're in control, that it's all about you.

What's the responsibility of the sha-liach tzibur toward the community?

To help connect each individual into a community, to help fashion a praying community and to help to connect their hearts and their voices to God.

The shaliach tzibur is nurtured by the voice of the community, and vice versa, and together, they become something greater. Very often, what happens to me when I'm standing in front of the kahal [congregation] and—I've been here long enough that I have a significant trajectory with people—I know people in personal ways, I know about their struggles, the spiritual issues they are wrestling with, their anxieties and fears, loved ones who are sick. I know people who are sick, or who have difficulty making a living, caring for elderly parents; and also know their smachot [joys and celebrations]. That's all incredibly powerful for the shaliach tzibur, a precious gift, and very humbling.

How do you keep so many people in mind as you are davening?

Susannah Heschel once told a story at BJ about her father's great-great- grandfather, the Ohev Israel, Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apt. He was a tzadik [righteous person] and many people would come to him on a daily basis, telling him about their issues and requesting that he pray for them. He was asked how, when so many people came to see him, he remembered all these things. He responded: "Every time a person tells me of his or her pain it makes a mark in my heart. When I stand before God in prayer I ask God to look at my heart, to see all those marks and to help people."

This is such a sensitive and powerful way to express this. Although I'm not a tzadik, in many ways I convey this prayer to God, "Look what You have here! Look into the hearts of this amazing group of people and help us."

If you were visiting another community where you didn't know the people well, how would you feel about leading the service?

Perhaps I could do it, but I usually decline. I don't know the kahal well; I may not know some of the customs and minhagim [customs] of this particular group. It's important for a shaliach tzibur to be part of the kahal, not to be an outsider. I go to other places to learn. I often go for Shabbat Mincha to the Sephardic minyan in our neighborhood. There I connect to my own roots, the ways that were part of my family as I was growing up. When I sit there, I'm not their rabbi; I'm one of the congregation. I really like that and have learned so much from their shaliach tzibur.

Are you able to have a personal tefillah experience when you are serving as shaliach tzibur?

I am able to do my own tefillah while being aware of what's going on in the room, I think that through experience one develops a sense—it's like a musician playing in an orchestra. The musician is involved in playing his or her music at the same time he or she has to have a sense of what's going with the rest of the musicians, to create music together. I also play in an orchestra and am learning that art.

I have a problem facing the kahal. Heschel, in "Quest for God," talks about the fact that the cantor or shaliach tzibur should be facing the ark, not the congregation. It's a personal moment. For me, it's embarrassing to be seen in such a moment of intimacy with God. I don't like to look at other people when they are praying, I don't want to intrude on that intimacy. I recognize the problem in liberal congregations where facing the kahal is the expectation. So I keep my eyes in the siddur, or I close them.

 At the beginning of the service I see who is there, and get a sense of what each will bring to the tefillah.

Then, from time to time, like after Shema when I'm waiting for people to complete it, I may look up and see where people are at. In those moments I get a visual sense of who is where, and then I go back.

Do the words in the siddur ever get in the way, or hold you back, from expressing what's in your heart? Are there times when you would prefer to be in silence or using your own words?

I love the words of the siddur; they hardly get in the way for me. On the contrary, they help me open my heart, my soul and my mind, and at the same time they invite me to infuse them with what is in my heart, soul and mind. I do appreciate the moments of silence in the tefillah, but I love language and in particular the language of the siddur, even those parts that require that we wrestle with them.

What do you do when your mind wanders?

When I catch my mind wandering—you don't always catch it—I try to bring myself in, to focus on the words. There's a focusing technique described by the chasidic masters, to close your eyes and see the written words, envisioning the letters.

What if you have feelings of doubt?

Doubt is part of tefillah; it's a place to bring questions. Sometimes we say to God, "Ayekah? Where are you? Let me feel Your presence, just let me know You are here. We are here, now. You must be somewhere. Would You make Yourself visible to us as we make ourselves visible to You?" Heschel said that tefillah is making ourselves visible to God.

Are there certain places in the service that are guideposts, places that always take you to higher places?

Yes, but you don't always want to go to the same place. There are higher places, deeper places. When I reach a wonderful place and feel such a high, I want to think that I can stretch to go higher. I take inspiration from athletes, who are always trying to surpass their own achievements and their own records. We need to stretch and exercise every spiritual and mental muscle, as athletes do, to be able to get to a higher place, to get more insight, to be more open, to get even closer to God.

When you experience those wonderful, glorious moments, you feel like something transformative has happened. But tefillah is about not staying with the emotion. It's about what you do with the emotions and the insight when you leave. It has to be translated into action—otherwise it's just a high. How is life to be lived outside of shul? How has the tefillah transformed you so that you're a different person? How has it moved you to do mitzvot and to meet the challenges of the world? How will it be reflected in the way we treat others? How will we make our community stronger?

What do you say to those who complain about the length of services?

I recognize that sometimes services are long and drag on, but I don't believe in quick services. You cannot do your spiritual work unless you go through a number of steps to remove the layers around your heart until it is open and exposed to God. The hard work then begins.

You have to respect the inner form of the service: it has a beginning, a middle and an end. Its inner dynamic has been developed, tried and tested over centuries and has a wisdom we have to respect.

Is the role of the shaliach tzibur different on the Days of Awe?

We put in a lot of preparation. In some congregations, the sermon is at the center but for us, the tefillah is at the center so we can do our work of heshbon nefesh [spiritual accounting] and teshuvah [repentance].

The very feeling of standing before God is different. It's Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgment. There's a great sense of awe, reverence, of the holiness of day; also a great sense of gratitude that we are here, we are alive, and also mindful of what happened to people who are part of our community and our family who are not here; the sense of who will live and who will die, a great sense of responsibility for our own teshuvah.

A rabbi candidly commented that if he gets in five minutes of real davening during a morning service, he's happy. Would you agree?

I would bring it from five minutes down to a moment. If there is one moment of real tefillah and real connection, that is the miracle of tefillah. That, in this huge universe, we are able to open up and feel God's presence is a great miracle.

Prayer As Poetry

by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer


How can I pray what I don't believe? So much of Jewish prayer seems wrapped up in a religious worldview that takes God's active role in this world for granted: "God, heal the sick"; "God, grant us a year of plenty." What if I am not sure if God has a role in my life? Or worse—what if I actively disagree with assertions in the prayer ("God, bring the Messiah")? What if my very faith in God is uncertain? How can I possibly utter the words of the traditional siddur?

These objections have animated most of the alterations to the prayer book in many Jewish communities during the past two centuries. In 1945, Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan called on prayer book editors to "eliminate from the traditional text statements of beliefs that are untenable." But this strategy fundamentally misses the point.

Let me state my approach up front: Prayer is not meant to be seen as a flat statement of belief. It is a literary creation with all the power, nuance and complexity of literary creations. It is perhaps most useful to think of prayer as poetry.

One of the ways in which poetry is different from prose is the multiple allusions within the poetic text. A poem is not meant to be considered only on its own plane, but on the plane of the allusion as well. Reuven Kimelman writes about prayer: "[T]he meaning of the liturgy exists not so much in the liturgical text per se as in the interaction between the liturgical text and the biblical intertext." (Kenishta Vol. 1)
Kimelman argues here that every prayer is in dialogue with a biblical text. By unlocking the biblical allusions in the liturgical text, meaning emerges. While this method can be employed for almost any line of prayer, as an example I will focus on the final line of the first blessing of the Amidah.

The fundamental theme of any blessing is often found in its final words, following the formula "Blessed are You, God." Here, those words are simply: "Shield of Abraham." Common objections to this line focus on the exclusive mention of Abraham—where is Sarah? Where are the other biblical characters? Of less concern is the word "shield," but a fundamental question is: in what way is God a shield for Abraham? God is a shield for Abraham in only one story: that of Genesis 15. It reads:

After those things, the word of YHVH came to Avram in a vision, saying: "Don't fear, Avram, I am a shield for you. Your reward will be very great. But Avram said: "Lord, YHVH, what can you give me, seeing that I shall die childless and the one in charge of my household is Damesek Eliezer!" Avram said: "Since You have granted me no off-spring, my steward will be my heir."

The word of YHVH came to him saying: "That one shall not be your heir; none but your very own issue shall be your heir . . . Then [YHVH] said to [Avram]: "I am YHVH who brought you out from Ur Casdim to assign this land to you as a possession." And he said: "Lord YHVH, how shall I know that I am to possess it?" (Genesis 15:1–8, based on NJPS translation).

The foundation of the relationship between God and Abraham is based on two promises: Abraham will have many offspring, and he will inherit the Land of Canaan. When God encountered Abraham for the first time in Genesis 12, these promises were made outright. But here in Genesis 15, Abraham is afraid that God will not make good on these promises. Abraham questions God: where is my child? God does not become angry, but simply reiterates the promise that children are on the way. But when God renews the promise of the land, Abraham does not fundamentally believe. He asks: Lord, God, how will I know? This verse is viewed in early Jewish tradition as the classic expression of doubt in the mouth of Abraham (see further, Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 32a).

We often think of Abraham as the "Knight of Faith," the one who was willing to sacrifice his beloved son on the altar to fulfill God's word. However the conclusion of the Amidah reflects a very different Abraham—the one who is plagued with doubts. In many ways this is the crux of the blessing that is the foundation of the Amidah. Read with the biblical intertext, the prayer can be saying: don't worry about your doubts. Even Abraham was filled with doubt, and he had a direct relationship with God. The project of prayer, this blessing could say, is that of holding your doubt and grappling with it, but not letting that be a reason to drop out of relationship with God.

Whether or not this particular interpretation speaks to you, the larger point is that an interpretive approach to prayer yields a tremendous amount of nuance to an enterprise that, on the surface, may feel like a piling-on of praise after praise for God. The experience of prayer is greatly enhanced if the siddur is treated like so many other texts in Jewish heritage, as a starting point for interpretation rather than a surface statement of dogma. We have the tendency to run down the words of the siddur and make a mental list of the phrases that do and—more significantly—don't speak to us.

But just as we engage in interpretation for Torah, we can hold the siddur in the same light. Seen as a book of poetry, with myriad allusions waiting to be unlocked, the question of "How can I pray what I don't believe?" becomes somewhat misplaced. We have not even begun to unlock the words of the siddur, so perhaps the real question is: "How can I interpret what I am praying?"

Rabbi Elie Kaunfer is the executive director of Mechon Hadar (www.mechonhadar.org). A longer version of this article will appear in his forthcoming book, "Empowered Judaism: Independent Minyanim and the Future of Jewish Life" (Jewish Lights).

Long Distance Calls

by Shelly R. Fredman


My mother is one of those twice-a-year Jews, but for some strange reason during a brief segment of my childhood, my sister and I went to bed each night with a prayer. A lavender elephant and a yellow giraffe that my mom and her best friend had painted on our bedroom walls floated above our heads as my sister and I chanted, "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take."

The singsong rhythm of it, my sister's voice riding mine, the fact that it came every single night no matter what happened that day, were a balm to me, until the day we lost it—through apathy, or the hectic first weeks of my brother's life—a token of childhood, gone.

Although it is not a Jewish prayer, it is a classic children's prayer of the 18th century, and I still carry the phrase, unuttered, some 50 years later. I keep it, I think, as a vestige of a time when I dared to speak, one-on-one, with God. This was, once, how it may have been for all of us. Laden with the thousands-year-old heft and weight of the rabbinic take on prayer, the siddur, we tend to forget that prayer, originally, biblically, was about an impromptu moment of encounter with God.

Think of Jacob fleeing Esau in the dark desert night and pausing to build an altar of stone. Think of Sarah, when God's messenger told her, after some 90 years, that she was to give birth to a child. Her laughter. Not a simple yelp of glee, Sarah's was a sound rich with emotion.

Between Sarah and ourselves lies the liturgical history of the Jewish people, a legacy that attempts to put us in touch with our highest selves and is potentially redemptive, and yet for many of us the liturgy often feels to be a burden.

Enter the 18th-century chasidic master Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav. Partaking as it does of both faith and doubt, an almost constant awareness of the absence of God from the ordinary universe of human experience and an equally intense yearning for intimacy with that Source of our being, Nahman's quest is one that mirrors my own. Born on the Sabbath into the family of the Ba'al Shem Tov, the young Nahman was dissatisfied with the prescribed prayers of the liturgy and so, alone in the attic of his parents' house, he composed his own prayers, in the Yiddish that he spoke, pleading with God to draw him closer.

This lone outpouring of the soul before God, a surging emotionalism that Nahman experienced in his prayer life is one I've touched upon only rarely, and not unsurprisingly, in my darkest hours. Falling airplanes and hospital rooms tend to bring out our most prayerful moments. Yet most of us show up in that room at a disadvantage—we arrive at the place where reason fails us as novices. Nahman's brand of engagement with God is one he suggests we attempt, at least, regularly. At the heart of it lies discipline—a willingness to enter into Divine relationship.

In the early days of my own spiritual quest, I lived for a time within the Orthodox community of St. Louis. Yom Kippur at the Young Israel synagogue on Groby was a place Nahman might have felt at home in. At the Ne'ilah service, as the last ribbons of light streaked the sky outside, over on the men's side—and yes—this only happened on the men's side, as the chazzan called out, "Adonai Hu Ha Elohim," one man at a time gave a g'shrai, a cry, a shriek, "Adonai Hu Ha Elohim," (God is God).

I, too, had been fasting for an impossible 26 hours, and in that vacuous, drifting emptiness that was my body and mind at the tail end of this prayer marathon—a sea of black-and-white prayer shawls swaying, rocking, stamping their feet before me—all the voices now, rising, it seemed the shul itself hovered just a few inches above the earth.

I could hear in these prayers the broken hearts we all carry, piercing the surface, finally, of our intensely secular lives. What the Orthodox Jews taught me, and any musician or ballet dancer worth her toe shoes knows, is that prayer, no matter how expansively I want to define it, that is, some act of relinquishing yourself to a higher Source of Mystery, whether that's Heschel praying with his feet in Selma or a poet with her pen in Cape Cod, has to occur every single day.

For Nahman, the most essential religious practice was that of hitbodedut, lone daily conversation with God. Akin to meditation, with one striking difference, Nahman said we should set aside a certain period of time each day, preferably out of doors, and always alone, amidst sky, pine, ocean, to "pour out before God," our most sequestered longings, desires, needs and frustrations. Nahman parts ways with the Buddhists, but asserts himself as a precursor to Freud when he says that we need to do this out loud, to verbalize our unspoken inner swirlings.

The Bratslaver seems to be speaking to our contemporary selves when he tells us that there will be times, perhaps many, when we set out to converse with God and will be able to do no more than call out. Other days, just repeating a single word over and over may be the most we can manage. And he told his chasids to do so not in Hebrew, but in their native language of Yiddish. He said, "In the Yiddish we use for ordinary conversation, it is easier to break one's heart."

Nahman seemed to know there is a purer distillation of who we are waiting at the still, broken center of each of us. The trappings and masks that adorn our everyday selves fall away when we dare to meet the Divine. This is a God I have known only in my most radiant, faith-driven moments, and I've only had glimpses. I came to know Her in my body—lying in savasana, or corpse pose—at the end of a yoga class. That sense of peace and wholeness and pure exhaustion the best of yoga teachers can give you. What's left when you let go completely of everything you don't need.

Or in the hospital room of a dying friend—her husband's book of Psalms, only half read—open on the hospital cart before me. Or in the marshes of Wellfleet in Massachusetts, with the poet and priestess Mary Oliver as my guide, feeling in the slow, patient filling-in of silver-green grasses and dark, muddy earth, the returning tide waters, a hint of Godness, a realm beyond reason, a place where faith is not so foreign. At moments like these, if we've been paying attention, the prayer will come.

And I think, perhaps, there is something transformational in these moments—a tie back to Sarah, Nahman, a childhood self in a room with lavender elephants—hoping for a connection, long-distance, even, a glimpse, at least, of Home.


Shelly R. Fredman teaches writing at Barnard and at the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning.  Her work has appeared in "Best Jewish Writing 2002," the Chicago Tribune Magazine and a number of anthologies and literary journals.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Shavuot: The Torah of Tenacious Love