Oct 31, 2009

As One

As One

© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

in Memory of Rabbi Chanan Feld z"l


Have you ever seen a "flash mob?"  (Youtube is full of them.)  It is a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform a coordinated action, and then disperse.   For a brief, fleeting moment, they are one body in motion.


I sat tonight in a packed room with others assembled to mourn the loss of Rabbi Chanan Feld, a dear teacher in our community in Berkeley.  The gathering was a manifestation of Chanan's spiritual impact on so many different kinds of people.  To my right was a fellow Conservative Rabbi, to my left was the chair of Judaic Studies at UCSF, to his left was a Renewal rabbi, to his left was a Chabad Rabbi.  That one row comforted me, and gave me hope that through a life-practice of simple kindness (like Chanan's) we can be reminded that we're truly connected with one another, that we're family.  Because there are legitimate things that divide us, that indicate a particular vision for the world.  But we all rose as one when Chanan's family entered the room.  We stood together to honor them, without considering the different rituals we might each have crafted for the moment.  We were standing as one body, with one heart.


I remember being at a U2 concert in NYC the month after 9/11, as shattered as the other 20,000 people in attendance.  The concert exquisitely wove music and images and dragged pierced our hearts over and over.  But one moment remains etched in my memory: During "In the Name of Love," I peeked out through my tears and noticed that everyone in Madison Square Garden was moving their arms and bodies in the same way.  I remember being overcome with the experience of witnessing God.


I believe God is more present when more of us feel each other's pain and act as one to heal, as is written in Ecclesiastes: "A multitude of people is God's Glory (Mishlei 14:28)"


Tonight was smaller, but only by visible measurement.


May we find less need for healing tomorrow and still stand as one.

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

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Oct 29, 2009

Fwd: thought this would be of interest

Temple Israel in Sharon: Remembering the Jewish Community of Crakow, Poland

Remembered by Susan Creditor

According to the Holocaust Encyclopedia, the first recorded presence of Jews residing in Cracow, Poland dates from the early 13th century. 55, 515 Cracow residents identified themselves as Jews in the Polish census of 1931; this was almost one quarter of the total population. In November, 1939, the Jewish population in Cracow had grown to about 70,000. The great increase was due to Jews who had fled from the countryside into the city and the arrival of Jews who were deported from the District Wartheland. (German-occupied Poland, which was directly annexed to the Greater German Reich).

Bronia Schonberg, Susan Creditor's mother, resided in Podgorze, which was a suburb just south of Cracow and which, in 1941, would become the Jewish Ghetto. Before the war, Podgorze was a lovely town, filled with Jewish families who lived a comfortable Jewish life, owned businesses, and engaged in the many cultural opportunities that Cracow had to offer. Bronia's father, Isaac, owned a roofing business with a partner. Bronia's uncle owned a chocolate factory and she was very popular in school as the girl who was willing to trade her chocolate during lunchtime. Bronia had music lessons, went to summer camp, and went skiing in Zakopane in the northern part of Poland. Many families, including Bronia's, had maids, despite not being overly wealthy.

Despite this apparently idyllic life, there was an undercurrent of Anti-Semitism in Poland. For example, according to Bronia, Jewish students attending the university were often the targets of beatings and bullying by non-Jews.

The German army occupied Cracow during the first week of September, 1939. Hans Frank, the legal counsel to the Nazi Party, set up headquarters in the Wawel Castle and the German Security Police established their headquarters near the Montelupich Prison. Jews were commanded to perform forced labor and to establish a Jewish Council; they had to identify themselves by wearing a white armband with a blue Star of David, and ultimately, by Sept., 1940-March, 1941, they had to be concentrated in Ghettos. By March, 1941, the SS and police had expelled more than 55,000 Jews from the aforementioned District Wartheland and about 15,000 Jews remained in Cracow. The ghetto in Podgorze held between 15,000-20,000 Jews. Although streetcars traveled through the ghetto, no stops were made within its boundary. The Germans opened several factories inside the ghetto and Jews were deployed at forced labor. The Nazis turned Bronia's uncle's chocolate factory into a uniform factory for the SS and many Jews in the ghetto were forced to work there. Another firm that was opened was German Enamel Products, which was owned by none other than Oskar Schindler. He later moved the factory to Plaszow.

In June, 1941, Cracow SS and Police Leader Scherner authorized the establishment of 2 forced labor camps for Jews, one for men and one for women, on Jerozolimska Street in Plaszow. By Feb. 1943 there were 7 more forced labor camps there. In the Spring of 1942, Operation Reinhard began, where Germans, claiming to be deporting some 1,500 Cracow Jews to Plaszow, in reality sent them to the Belzec killing center. By October, 1942, Germans deported approximately 6,000 of the remaining Jews in the ghetto to Belzec. During the operation, about 600 Jews, half of them children, were shot by police in the ghetto. By mid-March, 1943, Himmler ordered the liquidation of the Cracow Ghetto. Some Jews were shot and killed in the ghetto, while others, like Bronia and her mother, were deported to Auschwitz. Her father and sister were among those killed in the ghetto. Bronia, through a close friend who was selected for Schindler's List, had been offered a place on the list as well, but she would not go unless her mother was included. As a result, Bronia and her mother, and a few other family members and friends were imprisoned at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, losing track of each other at times, only to be reunited at others. Bronia's mother, unfortunately ,could not survive the starvation and suffering that the imprisonment imposed, and she died approximately 3 weeks before liberation in April, 1945. When Bronia was liberated, she returned to Cracow to seek out family members, and she learned that she had lost all 46 members of her family. She went to Sweden with several friends, sponsored by the Swedish King who took 1800 survivors in, and resided there for 4 ½ years. Ironically, Bronia worked in a chocolate factory in Malmo. Bronia was sponsored to emigrate to the United States and arrived in New York in 1950.

As for Cracow, by 1946, there were approximately 10,000 Jews in the city, including those who returned from the Soviet Union. However, Pogroms and the murders of individual Jews led to the emigration of many of the surviving Cracow Jews. Today, only a few hundred Jews remain.

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

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Fwd: Arrested: Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann, in Jerusalem

Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann of RHR arrested in Jerusalem

From Rabbi Nava Hefetz, writing from Jerusalem -- 28.10.09

[This letter from Jerusalem has been posted on our Website. To comment, click to http://www.theshalomcenter.org/node/1619 go to the end of the article and enter a comment there. --  AW]

He that walk uprightly, and work righteousnessÖ shall never be moved. Psalms, 15

Salah A-Din Street in East Jerusalem, 9 PM, the streets are deserted, here and there a few men gather. In the middle of the street two men are trying to extinguish burning boxes. The darkness that overshadows the Old City's walls contains the tension that will only break at dawn.

I enter the police station located at the corner of Suleiman the Magnificent and Salah A Din streets (din in Hebrew means justice). There, one will not encounter magnificence, and even justice did not manage to enter. The police building can glory in its neglect and the trash that surrounds it.

At the entrance, a young and bored policeman is sitting chain smoking, while in the background classical music plays soothingly. What a dissonance between the Beethoven's romantic "For Elise" and the miserable surrounding scene…

So what brings two Israeli women at night to the street junction of Suleiman the Magnificent and Salah A-Din, and in particular to a police station?

A few hours earlier, Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann, the territories coordination of Rabbis for Human Rights,  was arrested. Rabbi Yehiel came to Sheikh Jarrah, and when he saw a gathering, he approached a policeman and asked him what was going on.

Yehiel was not aware that before his arrival the police had asked the crowed to leave the place. Yehiel was not part of the crowd, (had he been, he would not have questioned the policemen).

Those who know Rabbi Yehiel Greniman, know that "He that have clean hands, and a pure heart" (Psalms 24:4). He is not a trouble maker and does not instigate riots; he never provokes the security forces or other authorities. Yehiel is a gentle man "that walk uprightly, and work righteousness, and speak truth in his heart"; (Psalms 15:2). He never raises his voice or shames any human being, regardless of who he is, his background, what ideas he holds, or his position. 

Yehiel "hath no slander upon his tongue, nor does evil to his fellow, nor take up a reproach against his neighbor" (Psalms 15:3). Yehiel is not a harsh fighter; he fights for justice quietly and respectfully.

Yehiel's arrest yesterday is despicable. No policeman bothered to check the facts. They assumed that if a RHR rabbi is present, it is "logical" that he came to instigate and that he is one of the protesters. The arrest of Yehiel shows how easily the police arrest people. Yesterday it was "illegal" immigrants in Moshav Hatzeva, today it is human rights activists and people who live under occupation, and tomorrow?

Who will be arrested tomorrow? Maybe, those of us who do not agree with government policy? Perhaps they will arrest people with different sexual tendencies? Perhaps they will arrest non-Jews? Or Jews who are not accepted by the Interior Ministry or by the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, and Employment or the Defense Ministry?  The arrest of Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann shows the gradual erosion in human rights and in the rights of the citizens in the State of Israel.

Yehiel, "Happy is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of the scornful" (Psalms 1:1), Keep on with your important and blessed work "Justice, justice shall you pursue…", because it is the essence of humanistic Judaism.

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

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Oct 28, 2009

Lech Lecha 5770/2009: “Ready”

Lech Lecha 5770/2009: "Ready" 
Rabbi Menachem Creditor  
Abraham's journey begins with separation.  The travels begin accompanying his father, and then continue alone.  God's command is deeply persona: Go. Go to yourself.  Leave whom you were behind, everything and everyone you've known.  We know this story, and yet return to it with wonder every year.  It opens us to a rebirth of identity, a celebration of self, a readiness to plunge into the unknown future with faith and with trust. 
But there is a somewhat hidden aspect of Abraham's (then 'Abram' ) journey.  He is never truly alone.  God's command to Abram as an individual is fulfilled in the company of his life-partner Sarah (then 'Sarai').  When the time comes for Abraham's name change (upon his circumcision) their names change together. 
My mother once described one life path joined with another.  That even when two people choose to join their paths, the paths never truly become one.  The adventure continues in unexpected ways, and the deepest joy comes from learning about each other, exploring new twists over and over.  May we all be blessed in this deep way by our teachers and friends, the ones who help us soar by keeping us rooted. 
Abraham wasn't alone.  He saw things others missed.  But the laughter in his life was a direct consequence of Sarah's soul. 
Parashat Lech Lecha is a call to each of us:  Begin the journey.  Encounter loss, encounter birth.  Be the individual you are and that you are meant to be.  Unfold.  And share that intense self, that holy spark, with another, until the light emanating from every soul illuminates the world.
Who can know what is waiting to emerge from this sacred journey?  Where will we end up?   God tells Abram to trust, and to set out.  Abram is described by the Midrash as "an uncorked bottle of perfume" whose glorious scent infuses the earth only when he is in motion.  When we choose to not become frozen, when we allow time to flow through us, when we endure loss and still affirm life... then are we not alone.
This week we are called.  We are ready.
May we bring ourselves and each other to good, deep, alive places.

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

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from the Alban Institute: "Planning and the Budget"

Planning and the Budget

by Dan Hotchkiss


Congregations often plan and budget as though planning were one thing and budgeting another. Bringing the two together calls for a comprehensive calendar for goal-setting and evaluation.

A key event in the sequence is the annual planning retreat. Typically, this event includes the board and senior members of the staff, including lay staff as appropriate. Ideally, the group spends at least a day and a half off-site with a strict no-cell-phone rule. The agenda varies from year to year; the focus is always on discernment and strategy, the two zones of responsibility shared by board and staff. Some special attention to the mission is appropriate every year—but it is rarely a good use of time to tweak the wording of the mission statement that often; once every five years is more than enough, unless something is terribly wrong with the existing statement.

A more necessary work product from the retreat and related activities is the annual vision of ministry, an answer to the question, "In what new and different ways will we transform lives in the next one to three years?" To put it differently, the vision of ministry is the board's short list of priorities. Why a short list? Because when a list of priorities is long, they're not priorities! The vision of ministry is a short list of things the board means to accomplish, no matter what. The fact that something does not make the list does not mean that it won't happen. While creating the vision, the board will bank a number of ideas for the future: pieces of a long-term vision to which the board is not prepared to make an ironclad commitment now. There is no way to do this without sometimes saying no.

The exact process for creating the vision of ministry will change from year to year. In some years, the ministry priorities may be so obvious that the board creates the vision quickly and uses the planning retreat for other purposes. Most of the time the vision of ministry emerges from a yearlong conversation, followed by deeper reflection and exchange during the retreat.

In addition to a vision of ministry, the planning retreat produces "open questions." In discussing the congregation's work and drawing out the hopes and worries of its leaders, retreat participants may find technical challenges surfacing that all but suggest their own solutions. If the boiler is broken, you fix it. Other challenges do not lend themselves to quick or even slow decision making. Perhaps your congregation needs to decide whether to abandon, renovate, or replace a building that has been the main symbol of its identity for 150 years. Or you may wonder how to serve a neighborhood whose residents are different from the people of your congregation. You may have a nagging sense, as Jonah did, that God is calling you to make radical changes, but the subject is too hot to push it to decision making. The board could make up its mind and announce a solution prematurely, but that seems likely to increase division rather than encourage movement toward a decision. With such challenges, the board can make a major contribution simply by stating the issue clearly as an open question—one it expects the congregation to address sometime in the future, but not now. For now, the next step is sustained, reflective, and inclusive conversation.

After the retreat, everyone has work to do. The staff needs to translate the board's vision of ministry into goals and objectives. In larger churches, the senior staff has goals of its own. Even a simple common slogan, like "We will integrate social outreach into everything we do," can be a good counter to the tendency of busy staff members to draw back into their departments. The staff's goals take the board's vision of ministry and move it to a more practical level. If the vision of ministry says, "We will make room to welcome more people," the staff might say, "After the first of the year, we will add a second session to our children's Sunday school. By then we will be ready to double the number of parking-lot greeters skilled at hospitality to families with children."

Individual staff members set goals next. Beginning each staff member's goal-setting conversation with the board's vision of ministry and goals set by senior staff helps put parochial concerns into the context of the wider mission. It is the job of every ministry team leader to set the stage for goal setting in this way. Then the team proceeds to set goals for itself, and the staff member (in consultation with his or her team, supervisor, and colleagues) sets goals for himself or herself. A practice that promotes a sense of permission and autonomy among teams and their leaders is to presume that their goals will be consistent with the board and senior staff goals, and to deal only with exceptions, instead of sending all goals up the line to be approved.

The budget itself may be assembled by a finance committee and presented to the board for approval. A better process, though, is to put responsibility for creating the budget in the same place as responsibility for achieving the vision of ministry: the staff. At the very least, the head of staff should be required to sign off on the budget, saying to the board, "I believe this budget is a reasonable plan to achieve our vision." Or not. In many congregations the budget process sails right from the committees to the board without the clergy leader (or other head of staff) even having to express an opinion. Under that procedure, it is a stretch to hold the head of staff accountable for much of anything.

With a budget created in this way, the annual fund drive can be based on the vision of ministry as well. Contributors are asked for amounts that, if most of them say "yes," will make the vision possible. The board, clergy, and staff make it clear that the vision is not just something they hope to shoot for; it's a goal they mean to reach. Year after year, people learn that when the congregation asks for gifts, it means what it says. If the members give what is asked, the results promised—the vision of lives changed through ministry—will happen.

Rabbi Gil Steinlauf: "Evolutionary Judaism"

Evolutionary Judaism
Rabbi Gil Steinlauf, Rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, DC

I love Conservative Judaism. It is a great blessing to the Jewish world. I believe in its message and its wisdom. I know it has real limitations, yet it is poised to address the needs of the Jewish people in the 21stcentury. For decades, our movement has wisely embraced tradition while acknowledging the importance of change as generations go by. Most significantly, I appreciate Conservative Judaism's embrace of honesty, truth, and intellectual integrity. When we study texts of Torah, we don't suspend disbelief. We don't ask our adherents to check their critical thinking at the door. We invite our communities to apply their intellectual vigor and the breadth of their learning from many disciplines—Jewish and non-Jewish-- to discern the meaning and the context of our teachings. We are Halakhic: we uphold the binding quality of a Jewish law that has brilliantly grown up over our 3,000 year heritage. We respect that tradition, and seek to change those laws and practices judiciously, only when careful investigation of modern circumstances clearly warrants a response in our practices. The clearest example of this process of tradition and change is the advancing role of women in Conservative Judaism over the past 30 years. Our tradition, of course, had been non-egalitarian. With the progress of our modern society, our movement endeavored not to dismiss the ancient laws and traditions outright, but to look carefully into the underlying principles, values, and teachings of mitzvot and obligation. With love and respect for the traditions themselves, we found new ways to uphold established notions of obligation and yet find new places for women alongside men in congregational life. This is a brilliant and precious approach to Judaism! Our values aren't just about intellectual integrity, but also about pluralism, a spirit of welcoming, open-mindedness, and most importantly, of wisdom. We seek the wise middle ground between progressive values and conservative respect for the traditions of our ancestors. Our modern-day society is so often overwhelmed by messages that promote self-absorption, of "pick and choose" religious practices and spirituality. This makes our approach to Judaism all the more important.

And yet, with all of this praise, and all of its importance, Conservative Judaism itself faces many challenges. Our society is advancing at a blinding pace—new technologies, new ideas, new ways of thinking about connection and the world arise every day. A new generation of Jews is coming into the mainstream, and those Jews speak a completely different religious and spiritual language than their parents and grandparents. By and large, today's younger Jews are not engaged by an exploration of Jewish history and through critical scholarly readings of biblical texts. The Jews of the 21st century are not interested in conceptually-based "movements" in Judaism at all! They are looking for something more immediate and compelling from Judaism.

I believe that if any expression of modern Judaism can respond wisely to this new generation of Jews, it's the Conservative approach. Our thoughtful, historical, contextual view of Judaism is the perfect foundation for evolving with the new generation of Jews in our society. Our unofficial motto is "Tradition and Change," and this essential approach is what we're hungering for today—it's just that we have to embrace tradition and change in new ways.

For most Jews today, Judaism is a collection of religious "folkways." At key life-cycle moments and on major Jewish holidays like the New Year and Passover, we come to synagogue to find connection with family traditions. The Judaism that Jews today encounter in synagogue cannot just be an intellectualized endeavor. It's not enough for me, as your rabbi, to explain the rational underpinnings of Kashrut. Most Jews today feel perfectly Jewish without keeping kosher at all, so a rational justification for it is interesting at best, but not personally compelling.

Conservative Judaism today is poised to heed its own message: "tradition and change" really means "Evolution." When anything evolves—animals or ideas—it both transcends and includes what has come before it. Conservative Judaism is "Evolutionary" Judaism! The beauty of the Conservative Movement in the 20th century was that it was a great academic journey into the meaning of Judaism as an evolving civilization over thousands of years. It's time to take it to the next level. We're ready to teach that Judaism is vastly more than "folkways" or even just a type of "identity." What Jewish people need these days is not just Jewish distinctiveness, but a Jewish experience that can help us engage more with life, with society, with our families. Jewish people today are not anxious so much about Jewish survival in America; they're seeking a traditional wisdom that can teach them how to be a better spouse, a better parent, a better friend, a better boss. We're looking for a spiritual tradition that shows us how to take better care of ourselves and each other in a very complex and confusing world.

Conservative Judaism now must show our people how traditional mitzvot and rituals and observances can deepen our character, enrich our spirit, provide meaning, and relieve stress in a world of such uncertainty. We want to know how Judaism's wisdom can give us insight into our human nature, to guide us in our difficult life decisions, and to provide relief from some of our deepest sufferings. Our people today are genuinely open to the possibility of keeping Kosher, but not because it was once a healthy diet choice in ancient times. We want to know how Kashrut can deepen our character as human beings. How can it relieve stress? How can keeping kosher make us a better citizen of the world? How can Kashrut make us engage better with life, with society, with our family, our non-Jewish business associates? How can it make us live with deeper wisdom in all aspects of our life?

The role of a Conservative congregation today is to promote the idea that our traditions and rituals are NOT just folkways, they're meaningful and transformational! Our job as a Conservative synagogue is not to force observance on our members, but to create the conditions where our members can discover the power of observance to touch their lives, their souls—not just their intellects. We need to get the message out there that we don't want our members just to come and pay homage to an ancient ritual, but rather to find deep personal significance in the words, the melodies, the rhythms of these rituals and practices.

The measure of our success is not how many bodies we can get in the doors on any given Shabbat or holiday or religious school program. Rather, success must be determined by how our members are when theyleave the building! Are we more ALIVE than when we came in? Are we more engaged with life, with our souls, are we kinder and more compassionate? Are we inspired to act for justice? Are we wiser and more sensitive as a human being, and not just as a Jew? The great challenge, the wonderful journey ahead of us is: can we create a synagogue community where we transform people's lives THROUGH tradition, and not in spite of tradition? Can we provide access to meaning without watering Judaism down, or simplifying it? Can we trust our members enough to know that they are more than willing to rise to the ways that our tradition challenges us to grow morally, personally, and spiritually? These are the great questions that we have yet to address fully in this new century, and in our amazing congregation. I am more than eager to join with you all and to begin to address these questions. And may these questions lead to more questions. In seeking the answers, may we grow and evolve joyfully for generations to come.

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

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this sunday: a Healing Service at CNS

A Healing Service
Congregation Netivot Shalom
with Rabbi Menachem Creditor and Gerri Levitas
Sunday, November 1, 2009 from 11:30am - 12:00 noon

Are you, or someone you love fighting an illness?  Are you caring for someone who is ill?  Have you lost a loved one?  Are you going through emotional difficulties?  Consider coming to the Netivot Shalom Healing Service where you will be surrounded by warm and caring people who will understand what you are experiencing.  Healing Services are our effort to assist the needs of all people who are ill, dealing with grief or loss, or caring for an ill person. The function of a healing service is to allow individuals to connect through prayer, song, poetry and communal sharing. While each person comes to the healing service as an individual, there is a collective synergy that takes place; an ensuing collective healing occurs that is extraordinarily moving.  This provides a deep sense of support, solace and hope for all in attendance.  

Our healing service will take place monthly in the CNS Sanctuary. 
The first service will be on Sunday, November 1, 2009 from 11:30am - 12:00 noon.

All are welcome. The healing service will be facilitated by Rabbi Menachem Creditor and Gerri Levitas. Even if you are not in direct need at this moment, come and experience the power of sharing your support with others - you will feel better than you did before you arrived - uplifted and renewed.

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

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Oct 27, 2009

JTA Op-Ed: Support for Israel comes in a multitude of voices

JTA Op-Ed: Support for Israel comes in a multitude of voices

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) -- The upcoming J Street conference will bring a thousand American and Israeli progressive thinkers and activists to Washington. Titled "Driving Change, Securing Peace," the conference comes at a critical moment because dramatic as it may sound, we are in a battle for the future and soul of Israel. And despite the concerns of some in our community, Israel is strong enough to withstand free and fair debate about its most significant issues. Indeed, it is only through such debate that these issues will be resolved.

The J Street conference offers an opportunity to discuss the serious issues affecting Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship, to air out the controversies and to have the conversations that are avoided too frequently by mainstream Jewish organizations. It also will facilitate the building of connections and synergies among the disparate pro-Israel, pro-peace and pro-democracy groups in Israel and the American Jewish community.

The timing is critical. President Obama's commitment to restarting the peace process, and his understanding that Israel must change its de facto support for the settlement enterprise, has changed the political dynamic between Washington and Jerusalem.

Despite the overwhelming support of the majority of the American Jewish community for this approach and for President Obama in general, most Israelis do not trust this administration to advance Israel's interests. The growing rift between the two communities does not bode well for Israel and its relationships here.

The pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy camp can serve as a bridge between the American Jewish and Israeli communities at a time when such a bridge is sorely needed.

As incoming CEO of the New Israel Fund, the leading organization committed to equality and democracy for all Israelis, I am alarmed not only by this rift but also by leaders in Israel and the American Jewish community who seem determined to repel all criticism or even thoughtful debate about the deepening tension between security and human rights imperatives in Israel.

Initiatives launched by the current Israeli government -- including legislation that would require a McCarthyesque loyalty oath of all Israelis, and attempts to discredit and delegitimize the country's human rights groups (of which we are a leading funder) -- seem designed to erode civil society and further marginalize Israel's Arab citizens.

Add to this the continuing Orthodox monopoly on religious practice and personal status issues, and the growing economic and educational gap between the haves and have-nots in Israeli society, and you have a recipe for potential disaster that should be of great concern to all of us who love and treasure Israel.

J Street, which has added an important new voice to the  Washington policy equation on peace issues, understands that the "internal" Israeli issues that NIF works on are anything but.  Israel's record on social justice has a profound impact on its international standing. Countries that deny equality to their indigenous minorities sacrifice their moral standing in the eyes of the world and their own citizens.

A foreign minister who heads a party that consistently narrows the definition of citizenship and equal rights is properly regarded with suspicion by the leaders of other democracies, American and European. And a quasi-theocracy that uses one fervently Orthodox standard to define Jewishness – when Jewish identity is the raison d'etre for the state – raises hackles among the overwhelming majority of Americans and others who believe in the separation of religion and state.

Social justice and human rights issues in Israel also are crucially relevant here at home. The growing indifference of many American Jews, particularly young Jews, to Israel is directly related to their concerns over the occupation and the seeming indifference of some Israeli governments to basic democratic values.A Jewish community that voted overwhelmingly for President Obama; a community that proudly takes leadership positions in American progressive institutions and causes; a community whose record of concern for social justice and civil rights in the United States is second to none – this is not a community that will turn a blind eye to ultranationalism, extremism and intolerance in Israel.

Simply put, if American Jews cannot find a way to love Israel and help fix its flaws, if there is no role for the millions of Jews who want Israel to live up to the dreams of its founders, the American Jewish support that Israel depends upon economically and politically will continue to wane.

The New Israel Fund and the other progressive groups that will meet at the J Street conference are unabashedly pro-Israel, and we provide the means for American Jews to support Israel in ways consistent with their progressive values. We know there are too many voices on the left, both in the United States and worldwide, that are unquestionably hostile to Israel no matter what it does. We are the most obvious rebuke to the notion that support for Israel is a right-wing phenomenon, exemplified in the U.S. by evangelicals and neo-cons.

We are the bridge between a largely progressive American Jewish community and millions of Israelis seeking a way out of political stalemate and moral quandary. The quest for a humane, just and equitable Israel is the most pro-Israel act imaginable, and as we partner with J Street and other progressive organizations to amplify our voices, we expect that more and more, our voices will be heard.

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

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from GTU.edu: "The Moan and the Shout: James Noel on African American Religious Experience"

from GTU.edu: "The Moan and the Shout: James Noel on African American Religious Experience"


James Noel

"Continuity," painted by James Noel

Listen to James Noel describe the African American Religious Experience

Listen to James Noel sing and recite poetry

Take a black sermon, print it in a book, then read it, and you have no idea what it means because it has been abstracted from the living worship of the black church, says the Rev. Dr. James Noel, (Ph.D. '99), Farlough Professor of African American Christianity at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The sermon's meaning, he says, is determined by the hymns sung, the testimonials, the prayers said before and after the sermon's delivery, as well as what went on that week for parishioners.

"My fascination is with religious experience and its various modes of expression," he says, "especially African American religious experience, which is different than that of Europeans or white Americans. The disciplines generated by both the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment aren't adequate for elucidating black religion, and this has implications for theological education."

Noel's holistic view of African American religious experience and expression is reflected in his own life. This GTU graduate studies and teaches the history of African American Christianity, black religion in Africa and the Americas, and African American social, cultural, and intellectual history. He's also a painter; a seventh degree black belt in Moo Duk Kwan, a traditional form of Tae Kwon Do; a playwright; and an author who recently published Black Religion and the Imagination of Matter in the Atlantic World (Palgrave/Macmillan: June 2009), which takes an interdisciplinary approach to the study of black religious experience.

Ritual by James Noel

from "Ritual," painted by James Noel

All African American expression, Noel says, from singer Michael Jackson's funeral program to John Coltrane's jazz saxophone works, includes "the moan and the shout." At one end is the moan — a collective sorrow invoking the cultural memory of suffering, from the Middle Passage of slaves across the Atlantic, onward into slavery and oppression. Then comes the catharsis, the shout that releases the pressure of this personal and collective memory of oppression.

"Coltrane and the church —
it's the same thing."

Ascension by James Noel

Noel's "Ascension" hangs in the office of
GTU President James A. Donahue

"The shout comes from the glimpse of the possibility of a final release," he says, "similar to what theologians call 'realized eschatology,' or the ultimate destiny of humanity. The way to give utterance to what's glimpsed is a deep, visceral shout, a 'Hallelujah' or 'Thank you, Jesus.' I painted a portrait of Coltrane called, 'Ascension.' That's the shout. I've also painted people in churches with arms stretched high, and that's the shout, too. Coltrane and the church — it's the same thing."

In his new book, Noel asks whether the way we think roots us in the reality of life. He uses a type of phenomenology that views how human beings are constituted in modernity by the activity of imagination and the myths that arise from it.

"Art, the sciences, and literature are forms for expressing mythology," Noel says. "The big myth is the world view that undergirds value judgments we make as a culture or civilization. Post-modernity, we believe there is no coherent reality. Before that we had the myth of Enlightenment, which stressed human reasoning over blind faith. Our reality — and, therefore, religious experience — is always one imagined within contexts that are historically and culturally conditioned. And the conditions under which black people experienced Divinity in modernity were different from those of whites.

"White Americans narrate their history in terms of agency — the ability to control one's destiny, sailing for the Americas for religious freedom, or to spread democracy — not in terms of debasement, subjugation, and dehumanization," says Noel. He references the forced "dark night of the soul" and "state of nothingness" resulting from the abominations on slave ships crossing the Atlantic.

"The horror of that experience was un-name-able and ineffable," he says. "The collective spirituality of people who experienced the Middle Passage or the Holocaust includes a sense of the Divine that arises from it. This is the a priori of African American religious consciousness."

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

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Keeping the Faith at the Anniversary of Prop 8

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On the week of November 4th, the anniversary of the passage of Proposition 8, Californians are standing together, not looking back, but moving forward. People of faith and secular activists are coming together to Keep the Faith for Equality, highlighting the strength of the relationship between communities of faith and our Equality Movement.
Together, will celebrate the progress that has been made in the past year, both in the secular and religious communities. We will renew our support for our friends in Maine and Washington State as they face ballot measures which would strip same-sex couples of relationship protections. Through interfaith prayer, song, and reflection, we are Keeping the Faith for Equality for all people.

To find a Keeping the Faith event in your area, visit www.keepingthefaithforequality.org.

Regions organizing events on November 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th include:  

  • Belmont
  • Claremont
  • Los Angeles
  • Modesto
  • Oakland
  • Orange County
  • Riverside (Inland Empire)
  • Sacramento
  • San Diego (North County)
  • San Diego (South County)
  • San Francisco
  • San Jose
  • San Luis Obispo
  • Thousand Oaks
  • Vallejo (North Bay)

Organizational cosponsors include (but are not limited to!) CA Faith for Equality, API Equality, the Bay Area Coalition for Welcoming Congregations, Courage Campaign, Equal Roots, Equality California, the Inland Empire Equality Council, the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation at HUC-JIR, Marriage Equality USA, More Light Presbyterians, National Black Justice Coalition, National Council of Jewish Women - Los Angeles, PFLAG, Progressive Jewish Alliance, and the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry.

For more information about the events, please contact Kerry at kerry@cafaithforequality.org or 310.598.5866.

For media inquiries, please contact Louise at louise@cafaithforequality.org or 626.993.4605.

Coming soon!

Monthly faith leader calls are moving to the FIRST Wednesday of the month! Our first FIRST Wednesday call is November 4th at 10am. RSVP here.

California Faith for Equality is soon launching two trainings to strengthen our Equality Movement: one offering faith leaders the tools necessary to engage our faith communities as vibrant voices in the Movement, and the other equipping secular and faith-grounded activists with the skills to make the case for marriage equality from using a language of faith. Look for more information next week about how you can support these critical trainings.

California Faith for Equality educates, supports and mobilizes California's communities of faith to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality in California and to safeguard religious freedom.

For more information visit www.cafaithforequality.org or call (310) 598-5866.

Oct 26, 2009

A UN Watch Statement on the Goldstone Report

UN Watch Oral Statement
Delivered by Colonel Richard Kemp

UN Human Rights Council
12th Special Session, 16 October 2009
Debate on Goldstone Report

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NX6vyT8RzMo&feature=player_embedded
Text: http://www.unwatch.org/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=bdKKISNqEmG&b=1313923&ct=7536409

Thank you, Mr. President.

I am the former commander of the British forces in Afghanistan. I served with NATO and the United Nations; commanded troops in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Macedonia; and participated in the Gulf War. I spent considerable time in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, and worked on international terrorism for the UK Government's Joint Intelligence Committee.

Mr. President, based on my knowledge and experience, I can say this: During Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defence Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.

Israel did so while facing an enemy that deliberately positioned its military capability behind the human shield of the civilian population.

Hamas, like Hizballah, are expert at driving the media agenda. Both will always have people ready to give interviews condemning Israeli forces for war crimes. They are adept at staging and distorting incidents.

The IDF faces a challenge that we British do not have to face to the same extent. It is the automatic, Pavlovian presumption by many in the international media, and international human rights groups, that the IDF are in the wrong, that they are abusing human rights.

The truth is that the IDF took extraordinary measures to give Gaza civilians notice of targeted areas, dropping over 2 million leaflets, and making over 100,000 phone calls. Many missions that could have taken out Hamas military capability were aborted to prevent civilian casualties. During the conflict, the IDF allowed huge amounts of humanitarian aid into Gaza. To deliver aid virtually into your enemy's hands is, to the military tactician, normally quite unthinkable. But the IDF took on those risks.

Despite all of this, of course innocent civilians were killed. War is chaos and full of mistakes. There have been mistakes by the British, American and other forces in Afghanistan and in Iraq, many of which can be put down to human error. But mistakes are not war crimes.

More than anything, the civilian casualties were a consequence of Hamas' way of fighting. Hamas deliberately tried to sacrifice their own civilians.

Mr. President, Israel had no choice apart from defending its people, to stop Hamas from attacking them with rockets.

And I say this again: the IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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.

Oct 23, 2009

United Synagogue revised bylaws

From USCJ: United Synagogue revised bylaws

Dear Chevre:

This December at the United Synagogue convention, delegates will have an historic opportunity to bring about change. If you are a convention delegate, your vote to approve United Synagogue's
revised bylaws will enable our organization to be governed more efficiently and better translate the needs of our constituent members into decisive leadership and better service.

At its September meeting, United Synagogue's board of directors overwhelmingly approved a revision of its 2005 bylaws and recommended that the revised 2009 bylaws be approved by the convention. By that vote, the board demonstrated that it was in favor of creating a new governance model that would insure more responsive decision making

The 17 members of the bylaws revision committee are a diverse group, drawn from all over the continent and representing a broad range of interests. The committee devoted significant time and energy to making United Synagogue better. Please review the new bylaws it created with diligence and care. Your vote to approve the 2009 bylaws will help provide the opportunity for greater lay participation in United Synagogue and insure our long-term viability.

The revised bylaws, on our website here:
http://uscj.org/images/convention_2009_proposed_bylaws.pdf, might seem exceedingly long. That is because we have included both the proposed changes and the current provisions.

Key to the proposed bylaws revision:
  1. All black text remains unchanged.
  2. All blue text is new
  3. All red text is to be deleted
We would like to highlight some of the significant changes for your review:


1. 2.1 Reviews the definition of affiliates

2. 2.2 Reviews the list of associates

Article III – Membership and Qualifications

1. 3.1 Designation of delegates

2. 3.2 Qualification for good standing and participation in United Synagogue governance

Article IV- International Governance

1. The article says that the board of directors shall consist of not less than 40 or more than 75 voting members. The board's makeup is described in sections 4.2.1 through 4.2.9.

2. 4.2.5 describes the standing and special committees whose chairs sit on the board of directors.

3. 4.3 describes the board's function.

4. 4.4 describes a new body, the General Assembly, consisting of approximately 200 voting members. Sections 4.4.1 to 4.4.7 detail the makeup of the General Assembly.

Article V-Describes

The standing committees and commissions are described in article 5.1.

The Council of District Leadership is described in 5.2.

Article VI-Powers and Duties

1. 6.1 details the powers of the convention and the General Assembly.

2. 6.2 describes the board of directors' powers and duties.

3. 6.3 describes officers' duties.

4. 6.4 describes the duties of the General Assembly

Article VII-Meetings

1 7.1 to 7.3 details how often the convention, board of directors, and General Assembly must meet.

2 7.4 describes the notice that must be given for each meeting.

Article VIII-Elections

1. 8.1 describes duties and powers of the nominating committee for the board of directors and the General Assembly.

2. 8.1.2. defines the petition process for the elections

3. 8.1.3 provides direction to the nominating committee on the petition process.

4. 8.2 describes the election process.

Article IX- Quorum

1. 9.1 establishes the necessary quorums for the convention, the board of directors, and the General Assembly.

2. 9.2 describes the adjournment procedure.

Article X-Voting

10.1 through 10.4 deal with the voting regulations of the various governance bodies within the organization.

Article XIV-New Article on Interim Provisions Applicable During the Transformation Process

1. 14.1 describes the establishment of 6 districts in place of the 15 North American regions

2. 14.2 describes the bylaws to be in effect until the transformation process is completed in 2010.

3. 14.3 marks the changes in the various articles that will be in effect during the interim period.

All the members of the bylaws committee believe that the new bylaws are in United Synagogue's best interests and are essential to making United Synagogue responsive to the needs of its members. We believe that after you review them, you will agree. We urge you to join us in becoming invested in the future of United Synagogue by voting yes. Please vote to approve the 2009 revision to United Synagogue's bylaws.

We look forward to seeing you at our convention this December in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

Alan Weissman
Chair, Bylaws Committee
Vice President, Planning and Priorities
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

Dr. Raymond B. Goldstein
International President
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

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