Sep 29, 2010

Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah @ CNS

Share Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah @ CNS!

Jerry blowing shofar at a Rockin' Hoshannah Rabbah this morning!
Thursday, September 30
9:30 am: Shemini Atzeret Services with Yizkor
7:15 pm:Erev Simchat Torah Services and Celebration, beginning with opening the entire Torah in the Social Hall!

Friday, October 1st
9:30 am: Simchat Torah Services & Celebration!  BYOR (Bring your own Ruach!)

Congregation Netivot Shalom
1316 University Avenue
Berkeley, California 94702

Sep 28, 2010

Very powerful article from Alban: "Bursting Forth without Burning Out"


Bursting Forth without Burning Out

by Bruce G. Epperly , Katherine Gould Epperly

Fall is a time of bright red, yellow, and orange, shorter days, transformation, and letting go. Winter is on the horizon and the changing colors forecast cold days and bare trees. Although both of us have experienced the cycle from summer to fall and the yearly ritual of bright colors and falling leaves for more than fifty years, we seek to approach the season with an open spirit and a beginner's mind because each fall brings something new to the environment and our lives. As the two of us move toward our own personal autumns in ministry and academic life, the spirit of autumn calls us to rejoice in the harvest of a good life, the fruitfulness of faithful ministry, the impact we have made on others, and the need to embrace creativity and change as the prelude to the next adventure.

Bidden or unbidden, fall bursts forth, whether in the cornfields or the life of a committed pastor, reaching the prime of her or his professional life. This bursting forth reflects not only the natural flow of life but also the willingness of pastors to embrace the wisdom of aging and the realities of change and novelty. Ministry, like the seasons, is a cyclical profession. Pastors live their professional lives from Sunday to Sunday, from stewardship campaign to stewardship campaign, from rally day to rally day, from board meeting to board meeting, and from Advent to Advent. The repetitive acts of ministry can be a source of creativity or boredom. Like thorns that infest a garden, they can, year after year, choke the spiritual life that bursts forth with our initial call to ministry and first congregation, or they can be like the fertile soil from which new and colorful ministerial practices emerge.

With each new Sunday's passing, most pastors catch their breath and begin to turn their attention toward next Sunday's sermon. In the course of a thirty-year ministry, a pastor cycles through the three-year lectionary ten times, not to mention thirty Advents, Lents, Holy Weeks, and Easters.

A pastor, now midway into her second decade of ministry, confessed, "Each year I struggle to say something new at Christmas and Easter. I no longer understand these stories literally as I once did. But, still I want to enter Christmas with the eyes of a child and Easter as if I'd just lived through Good Friday and Holy Saturday. I want to be surprised again. But I realize that I need to be transformed if the stories are to take on new life for myself and the congregation."

Ministry and liturgy are grounded in repetitive ritual. While ritual can lead to lifeless routine, life-supporting rituals such as meditation and communion deepen our faith and integrate conscious and unconscious experience. Our bodies as well as our spirits are transformed by the practices and rituals of our lives, and it is our job to renew our practices, especially in midcareer in ministry.

In the repetition of ministerial acts year after year, many pastors begin to experience "brown out," but they can avoid burnout if they seek renewal through a lively balance of order and novelty, stability and change, and endurance and transformation, which are necessary to healthy and effective ministry in midcareer. This is a matter of grace and gift, but it is also a commitment to transformational practices amid the routine events of ministry.

But pastors need to confront creatively the challenges of midlife in ministry in order to turn the dying fires into beautiful autumn landscapes. While the list is not exhaustive, we believe that experiencing transformation and developing staying power in the autumn of ministry involve the following:

  • Confronting grief and loss in ministry: The cost of not facing professional grief can be disastrous, leading to substance abuse, compassion fatigue, and burnout. When grief is not addressed, it saps our vitality and robs us of zest for life. It also may surface in unexpected anger and alienation or withdrawal from persons who love us.
  • Cultivating novelty in responding to the everyday tasks of ministry: Creative and novel ministerial responses to regular as well as unexpected aspects of ministry are not accidental but arise from an ongoing commitment to grow in one's pastoral imagination as well as one's theological and spiritual stature.
  • Letting go of perfectionism and indispensability: Although they preach the grace of God to their congregations, many pastors are anything but graceful when it comes to their own personal lives. The wisdom of graceful imperfection is grounded in the pastor's humble recognition that grace abounds for her- or himself as well as for the congregation.
  • Taking responsibility for your own health and well-being: Mindful healthy living enables us not only to prevent serious illness but also to experience greater energy and effectiveness in our own lives. Intentionality and regularity complement a commitment to transformation and novelty in ministry.
  • Finding harvest in midlife: For most of us, our spiritual lives, like the seasons of the year, involve seedtime and harvest, but they also include monsoons and droughts, gentle breezes and hurricane winds. Doubt, uncertainty, and spiritual depletion are important seasons in the life of ministry. Accepting one's current spiritual experience as a window into the fullness of God's nature can be an opportunity to experience God in new and adventurous ways.
  • Rediscovering your first love in ministry: When pastors rediscover their spiritual passions and are able to integrate them into their day-to-day ministries, miracles happen for pastors and congregations. New energies are released and new possibilities emerge.

Our word of grace to you is that you can be transformed. You don't have to leave congregational ministry to experience wholeness of mind, body, and spirit. You can experience vital and transforming ministry in every season of life. The good news of the gospel is that grace abounds and that pastors can change their habits, lifestyle, and approach to ministry! Pastors can become healed healers, rather than burnt-out functionaries.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom  ||  Bay Area Masorti  ||  ShefaNetwork.org  ||  menachemcreditor.org 
To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.


SPEND A HIGH SCHOOL SEMESTER IN ISRAEL - Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim (TRY) , the spring semester program and USY High the 2 month, partial semester program  sponsored by Ramah Programs in Israel is open to students in 10th, 11th and 12th grades.  Come to our information session on either Wednesday, October 20, 8:30 p.m. at The Seife Home, 1837 Bret Harte Street, Palo Alto  or Thursday, October 21, 8:30 p.m. at The Finkelstein Home, 5940 Wood Drive, Oakland, CA. Dr. Joe Freedman, Director of Ramah Programs in Israel, will be presenting an overview of the program and answering questions. High level academics/college prep program/full high school credit/AP courses and SAT available. 


Explore and learn about Israel in classes that include biking, hiking, kayaking.  For more information, please contact Judy Greene, ramahisrael@jtsa.edu or 212 678 8883.



Judy Greene

Coordinator, Ramah Programs in Israel

3080 Broadway

New York, NY 10027

212 678 8883

Fax: 212 504 0858


jpost.com: "The leader of the opposition, and head of Kadima, on the rift between young Diaspora Jews and Israel – and what we can do to bridge it."

September 28, 110 Tuesday 28 Tishri 3871 10:09 IST print
Print Edition
Photo by: AP
Time for a new Jewish conversation
The leader of the opposition, and head of Kadima, on the rift between young Diaspora Jews and Israel – and what we can do to bridge it.
Like any good family, the Jewish people have shown time and again how we can unite in times of crisis. When Israel faced its enemies on the battlefield or when Jewish communities abroad have been threatened, we have come together and recognized our collective responsibility for one another.

But if this alone is the nature of the ties that bind us, it constitutes a failure of vision and of leadership. To define ourselves only by the threats we face is to allow our adversaries to define us. It is a definition founded in fear. This may be a mechanism for Jewish survival but it is not a prescription for vibrant and meaningful Jewish living.

Israel – as the homeland of the Jewish people – has a central role to play in developing a positive and unifying vision for the Jewish world. And yet, in my meetings with Jewish leaders and citizens from around the world I have been struck by the growing sense that Israel's place in Jewish life is eroding.

For too many young Diaspora Jews that I meet, Israel is not the source of pride or inspiration that it was for their parents' generation. Living in vibrant Jewish communities abroad – within states that embrace multiculturalism and respect religious and minority rights – too many Jews no longer feel they need Israel as a safe haven or as an anchor for their identity. What's more, they feel they have been taken for granted – their loyalty to Israel is expected, but their voice and their concerns are not heard.

Within this country, identity is increasingly pulled between two poles: one, a secular Israeli identity centered around army service and the Hebrew language; the other a growing but narrowly defined Orthodox or haredi Jewish existence. In the process, a common commitment to the ideas and values that unite us as a people and that can resonate with Jews here and around the world seems increasingly tenuous These trends should alarm anyone who cares about the unity and future of the Jewish people. They not only threaten to fragment the Jewish people, but they place the Jewish communities here and in the Diaspora on radically different trajectories which undermine and weaken both.

THIS STATE of affairs requires a dramatic reframing of the role of Israel in Jewish life and the nature of the relationship between it and world Jewry that should be built around four key principles: First, if Israel is to realize its mission as the national home of the Jewish people, it must act like one. It must find ways to welcome rather than alienate Jews regardless of their opinions or the stream of Judaism with which they are affiliated. It must embrace an inclusive and pluralistic Jewish agenda that respects our traditions without denying the legitimacy of difference.

While Israel must retain its sovereign authority to determine its own future, decisions taken in Jerusalem that affect the Jewish people as a whole require that we listen to, consult with and take account of the concerns and interests of Jews beyond our borders.

Second, the relationship between Israel and world Jewry cannot be founded on shlilat hagola (negating the Diaspora), nor on the mistaken idea that Israel is no longer central to Jewish life. For the first time since the Babylonian age, the Jewish people live in vibrant communities both in their ancient homeland and abroad. The relationship between these communities should be seen as mutually reinforcing rather than hierarchical.

As Zionists, we must continue to encourage aliya, but we also have a vital interest in the vibrancy and welfare of Diaspora communities.

Similarly, Diaspora Jews have a critical stake in Israel's success and prosperity.

This is not only because Israel must always be a place of refuge in times of need. It is also because Israel – through its rebirth and its very existence – gives sovereign expression to our people's collective right to self-determination and creates unimagined opportunity for Jewish renewal, creativity and engagement with the world.

Third, if we are to encourage a common sense of purpose and belonging, there must be a place within Jewish discourse for responsible criticism of Israel's policies, even from overseas, without it being considered an act of betrayal. To equate supporting Israel with supporting the policies of any given government at any given time risks distancing Jews by forcing upon them a false choice between their commitment to Israel and their personal worldview. Israel is a confident and strong democracy and it is able to withstand and contain this kind of criticism.

AT THE same time, those who criticize from within the family – those who criticize out of love – have responsibilities as well. They must be conscious of the fact that their criticism may be exploited for more sinister ends by Israel's enemies and they should shape the context and form of their criticism accordingly. They must also show sensitivity to the excruciating dilemmas and constraints under which Israel operates and not fall victim to the double standards that so often characterize its critics.

Fourth, and most important, while in many ways Israel has realized the Zionist vision of establishing a Jewish state, we have yet to succeed in creating a Jewish society. By this, I do not mean a theocratic society founded on Torah. I mean a society that is inspired by Jewish values, tradition and experience – a society that is a source of meaning, identity, culture and spiritual growth for Jews around the world, and a source of leadership and moral example for the world as a whole.

It is a society that answers the questions of what we stand for and what we contribute not because we are threatened by enemies that seek to delegitimize us, but because we owe it to ourselves and our children. This is not just a project for Israelis, it is a project for Jews worldwide – it is a responsibility that both communities share and neither can abandon.

In 1897, at the First Zionist Congress in Basel, the overwhelming majority of the Jewish people were able to unite around a profound idea that transformed Jewish history – the miraculous rebirth of a state for the Jewish people in their ancient homeland.

It is time for us to embark upon a new Jewish conversation with that same revolutionary spirit – a conversation that recognizes that Israel and world Jewry are together writing the next chapter of Jewish history. 

It is within our power and our responsibility to generate that conversation and articulate a new Zionist vision that transcends political differences and gives expression to the unity and vitality of the Jewish people, its values and its potential.

The writer is leader of the opposition and head of the Kadima party.
All rights reserved © 1995 - 2009 The Jerusalem Post. כל הזכויות שמורות © -2009 נט אפיקי תקשורת אינטר מדיה בע"מ

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom  ||  Bay Area Masorti  ||  ShefaNetwork.org  ||  menachemcreditor.org 
To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Sep 27, 2010

This Sunday @ CNS! "Israel Through the Eyes of a Bedouin Muslim Israeli"

A Shepherd's Journey
Israel Through the Eyes of a Bedouin Muslim Israeli: A talk and book signing with Ishmael Khaldi
Introduced by Rabbi Avi Novis-Deutsch, Bay Area Masorti Visiting Scholar

1316 University Ave, Berkeley

Cosponsored by Congregation Beth Israel, Oakland Hebrew Day School, Hadassah, Tehiyah Day School, and Bay Area Masorti

Ishmael Khaldi, vice consul in San Francisco from 2006-2009, grew up one of eleven siblings in a tent in the Galilee. He went from tending goats to becoming Israel's first Bedouin diplomat and is presently Arab affairs advisor to the Foreign Minister. He has chronicled his unusual life in a highly-acclaimed memoir, "A Shepherd's Journey." A sought-after speaker both in Israel and the U.S., as a Bedouin, a Muslim and a proud Israeli, he brings a unique perspective to the discussion of Israel. See www.IshmaelKhaldi.com for more info.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom  ||  Bay Area Masorti  ||  ShefaNetwork.org  ||  menachemcreditor.org 
To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Sep 26, 2010

3 upcoming Adult Learning Opportunities at CNS!

Discover Judaism! Jewish Theologies 
with Rabbi Menachem Creditor 

What does Judaism think about "God?" How do the visions of God in the Torah, Prophets, Writings, and Rabbinic periods compare? Is it the same God? How do modern Israeli poets and post-Holocaust theologians grapple with the eternal questions of meaning and purpose in the world? Text-study and discussion will be the basis for these conversations with no expectation of solutions in the end. No Hebrew is required for this class.

Dates: Tuesdays, Oct. 12, 19, 26; Nov. 2 Time: 7:30 to 9pm 
Place: Netivot Shalom, 1316 University Ave., Berkeley Class fee: $40-$60 — (sliding scale, no one turned away for lack of funds)
Please email Rachel at office@netivotshalom.org to register.


Equal and Pluralistic – challenges and difficulties in Israel society
with Rabbi Avi Novis-Deutsch, Bay Area Masorti Visiting Scholar
Co-sponsored by Bay Area Masorti and Congregation Netivot Shalom

This is a sensitive topic, one we are committed to discussing in our passion for the Israel we dream of. The course will touch on the status and difficulty in Israel of:
1) Charedim ("ultra-Orthodox")
2) Arab-Israelis
3) Mizrachi/Sephardi Jews
4) Russian and Ethiopian Olim
5) The GLBTQ community

We will study texts, share conversations, and explore the realities confronting Israeli society in its struggle to be both Equal and Pluralistic to all its inhabitants.

3 Sessions: Wed. nights: Oct. 6, 20, 27 at 7:30pm-9pm
Class fee: $36-$50 sliding scale, no one turned away for lack of funds.
Location: Congregation Netivot Shalom
Please email Rachel at office@netivotshalom.org to register.


A Taste of Judaism: Are you Curious?*
with Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Co-sponsored by Congregation Netivot Shalom and Building Jewish Bridges

Enjoy a free, three-session class on the modern Jewish perspective on spirituality, ethics and community. This class is designed to give you a foundational understanding of Judaism in a fun, friendly environment. Everyone is welcome. You don't have to be Jewish to be curious. But, you do have to register so we can save you a seat!
3 Sessions: Thursdays, October 7 – October 21, 7:30 - 9:30 pm
Tuition: Free
Location: Congregation Netivot Shalom (1316 University Avenue, Berkeley, 510-549-9447)

*Please register with Dawn Kepler at dawn@buildingjewishbridges.org or 510-845-6420 x11.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom  ||  Bay Area Masorti  ||  ShefaNetwork.org  ||  menachemcreditor.org 
To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Sep 21, 2010

Upstart Bay Area: Dust and Dreams

UpStart Header
filmstrip 7-2010

There is a strange elation that occurs at the end of Yom Kippur.  Once the afternoon headache has worn off, the sky begins to deepen, and the culmination of the day approaches, we, somehow, do not want the day to end. This period of heightened awareness and closeness to God, to that which is beyond us, and to the depths of our selves, can become our new norm, even, perhaps, comforting. Who wants to return to the "real world?" If all can be forgiven, if nirvana-like peace and joy, kindness and compassion, can be achieved within the meditative, prayer-like state of removal from worldly concerns and behaviors, why return to that difficult world? Yom Kippur is the Jewish people's "India" stop on the Elizabeth Gilbert  "Eat, Pray, Love" tour, and, when it concludes, we aren't quite sure where we should head next.

The Jewish response to this potential desire to linger in Yom-Kippur-mode is the holiday of Sukkot. We are literally commanded to get up, take a long drink of the hydrating beverages of this world, and head outside with our hammers. In the Jewish tradition, we are never encouraged to linger at the periphery of this-worldliness for very long. Sukkot reminds us that all of our praying, meditating, and achieving inner peace is merely the first step in a process. The next step, which must propel us forward into messy living, is to get out there, and, no matter how flimsy the materials and how unsteady our hands, start building.

Our community's social entrepreneurs embody this spirit all year long. They are our Sukkah-dwellers. Come rain or shine, they camp out in their tents, like the Israelites in the desert, amidst dust and dreams. Their Sukkot are vulnerable; they can be easily blown away, but, in their tender states, they remind us that our doors should never be so firm that they do not rustle in the wind, and that our roofs should not be so dense that we can no longer see sky. On Sukkot, we have the opportunity to experience the joys and challenges of building a new home, of embarking on a new project, of starting, again, from scratch. This opportunity is what keeps our lives, individually and communally, relevant, meaningful, and exciting.

This year, Upstart has welcomed four new organizations into the protective shade of its tent, where Jewish social entrepreneurs can dust themselves off as they head towards their dreams. These organizations raise interesting questions that we encourage you to consider during the holiday of Sukkot.  Discuss these questions with your friends and family, and bring these ideas with you as you embark this year with your building materials, ready to re-begin anew.

Who Lives in Your Home? Moishe House, which creates living opportunities for Jewish post-college graduates around the world, has created a revolution of Jewish life amongst the 20-30-something crowd. No matter religious affiliation, Jewish young adults now have a physical structure, a home, in which to congregate and design their own meaningful Jewish experiences. This year, think about who you invite into your home, and how you can create your own mini-Moishe house, developing and celebrating vibrant Jewish life in whatever way is meaningful to you and your community.

What Do You Talk About? Zeek magazine strives to complicate our conversations. This year, think about issues that are important to you, and make a concerted effort to talk about them, especially with people with whom you disagree. You never know what you might learn, and how that might inspire change.

And, finally: What Do You Eat? Bay Area Kosher Meats and In The Market are part of an emerging food movement challenging the Jewish community to be more mindful in their food choices. Where did your food grow? Who helped get it from the field to your table? Where did your hamburgers graze and how were your chickens treated?  This year, as you sit down to your meals, talk about your food's journey, and grapple with how that affects yours.

These UpStarters, in addition to our continuing groups - Kevah, G-dCast, Wilderness Torah, and Fair Trade Judaica , inspire us to dream, to ask difficult questions, and, no matter the risk, and the dust, dare to answer them, to re-begin our journeys. Who knows where we might end up?

Wishing you a shana tova, a year blessed with constructive creativity,
The UpStart Team


UpStart Bay Area is generously funded by:
Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, Walter and Elise Haas Fund, Jim Joseph Foundation, and Jewish Community Endowment Fund of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties.


UpStart Bay Area
332 Pine Street, Suite 600
San Francisco, CA 94104

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Sep 20, 2010

Rabbi Jill Jacobs in the Forward: "A Case For Shaping Civil Society With Jewish Law"

Rabbi Jill Jacobs in the Forward: "A Case For Shaping Civil Society With Jewish Law"

Public Judaism

By Jill Jacobs

Published September 15, 2010, issue of September 24, 2010.

The poster took my breath away: "The divine throne will not be complete until the idolatry of Zionism is uprooted. May it be Your will that we will soon be able to say, 'Blessed is the One who has uprooted idolatry.'"

I was not in Ramallah, but in Mea Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox enclave of West Jerusalem. Holding my bag of freshly purchased seforim, or holy books, I marveled at the irony: A member of the same community that routinely uses religious language to convey violent contempt for fellow citizens had just sold me the books that I would use to develop a Jewish call for a compassionate society.

My family's recent sabbatical in Israel yielded searing images of religious Jews behaving badly in the name of Judaism: Men in black hats setting fire to garbage cans to protest relocating ancient graves in order to build an emergency room to care for the living. Religious Jews evicting Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem. Male worshippers at the Kotel telling me and other women praying there with Women of the Wall that we are to blame for the Holocaust. A woman standing at a Beersheva bus stop attacked by a man who noticed tefillin marks on her arm. Haredi groups demanding more and more public support for their schools, which teach contempt for the society that subsidizes them.

It's no wonder that so many Israeli Jews want nothing to do with religion. Or that so many perceive Judaism to be a sexist, racist and oppressive force.

When I argue for bringing a Jewish voice into the public square, people sometimes respond by pointing angrily at the role of religion in Israeli politics. In Israel, it is religious texts and voices that are most often used to justify avoiding army service; to curtail the rights of women, gays and lesbians, and ethnic minorities; and to limit the ability of non-Orthodox Jews to marry or have their conversions recognized.

This situation results from a number of politically motivated compromises, notably the decision to give the religious establishment major control over matters regarding personal status, and the disproportionate power of small parties in a parliamentary system.

But — if Israelis were willing to open up space for a multi-vocal Jewish conversation about civil law, the result might be a state that cares more deeply for its citizens, and in which Jewish law is more alive, than at any other time in the past 2,000 years.When people ask me whether I think that Halacha, or Jewish law, should govern civil law in the State of Israel, my response is "No, but —." Given the current religious power structures in Israel, I shudder to think of the damage that might be done by Haredi authorities.

This spring, I received a phone call from a lawyer for Rabbis for Human Rights who was preparing arguments for the Israeli Supreme Court against Israel's "Wisconsin Plan," an ill-advised welfare-to-work program that resulted in thousands of people losing their benefits without being able to secure jobs.

The lawyer had been combing my book, "There Shall Be No Needy," for Jewish legal texts that would inform the case. Together, we decided that she should focus on a legal decision regarding national insurance by Hayim David Halevi, the chief Sephardic rabbi of Tel Aviv from 1973 until his death in 1998. In his decision, Halevi argued that the state holds ultimate responsibility for the wellbeing of its members.

The case against the Wisconsin Plan succeeded. The project was canceled (at least for the moment), and thousands had their benefits restored. I cannot say for sure that the citation of Halevi swung the case, but I certainly hope that it had some impact.

Again, the irony is rich: An American female Conservative rabbi introduces a text written by an Israeli Orthodox rabbi in order to stop an Israeli social program imported from the United States.

Halevi was not a liberal by any contemporary definition. Nor were other prominent rabbinic figures who tried to apply Jewish law to the economic and social concerns of the fledgling Israeli state. Eliezer Waldenberg, an influential religious judge whose opinions in support of labor unions I often quote, dedicated other legal opinions to railing against the Reform and Conservative movements. While neither of these men would have signed my ordination certificate, they and others like them were engaged in a sincere project of resuscitating Jewish civil law to create a state that would care for its citizens.

Today, this model seems like a distant memory. Rather than looking for ways that Judaism might be a positive force in the social and economic life of Israel, the religious powers engage in limiting the powers of non-Orthodox Jews, harassing would-be converts and even calling for the destruction of the state itself.

At best, the project of building a Jewish state involves creating a country that embodies the best of Jewish wisdom regarding the mutual responsibilities of individuals and communities. Achieving this dream requires all religious Jews — Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal or others — to devote ourselves to this challenge.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the author of "There Shall Be No Needy: Pursuing Social Justice Through Jewish Law and Tradition" (Jewish Lights, 2009).

Read more: http://www.forward.com/articles/131313/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=Emailmarketingsoftware&utm_content=70949282&utm_campaign=September242010&utm_term=ShapingCivilSocietyWithJewishLaw#ixzz105BSS2qv

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom  ||  Bay Area Masorti  ||  ShefaNetwork.org  ||  menachemcreditor.org 
To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Sep 19, 2010

Yom Kippur 5771: "Not Up in the Air"

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Yom Kippur 5771: "Not Up in the Air"
Rabbi Menachem Creditor  
dedicated in love to the Netivot Shalom Community

Olam Chesed Yibaneh / We will build this world from love. (Ps. 89:3)
Ten days ago we recited "HaYom Harat Olam - Today the World is Born,"  and now ten days have passed.  The world has been born again.  Is it better than it was before?  A  harder question:  What did you do during these past 10 days to make it better?  Our obligation might not be to complete the task, but we are certainly not free from it.    
It matters very little what you believe.  No one is a "bad Jew" or a "bad person" for believing one way or another.  But there remains such a thing as "sin."  Sin is when we fail to act when it is necessary.  And we have all sinned this year.  Me, you, civil and religious leaders - we have not done enough when oil pipes burst and floods raged and fires burned, when earthquakes and unemployment have struck, when hatred has been spoken against another group, be the target Muslim or Israeli.
On a day like today, an evening like this, surrounded by our community, new- old- and potential friends of every generation, in a world pervaded by so much uncertainty, choosing one topic to share is near impossible.  How can I only focus on one thing when so much calls from every direction?  While sharing with a friend my difficulty in choosing a theme for my remarks tonight, he reminded me that on Yom Kippur many of us are searching for how we fit into the whole, what it all means, why we are necessary as a community and as individuals.   That friend, Dan Schifrin, suggested, perhaps unknowingly, that I talk tonight about what I think about God.
Not a light topic, but it'll do. 
You and I likely agree about the needs of the world.  You and I agree that we are only equipped to respond to bits and pieces of the incompleteness of the universe.  We likely even agree that one of the primary purposes we serve as an organized Jewish community is to be more helpful than we can be as individuals.  But when I confess to you that everything I do in our community and beyond, I do because of God, I imagine some of you might pause for a moment.  Perhaps we'd then have a complicated conversation.  My goal is to begin my part of our conversation tonight.   
As has been shared a few times by my dear friend Josh Kornbluth, what I mean by God can be surprising for some.  Most of the time, when I speak with someone who says they don't believe in God, I have more in common with them than someone who unflinchingly declares their faith.   
And so I should say a bit, in the Maimonidean style of negative assertion, what my God isn't. 
My God is not a Being, is not a Thing, and is not discernable.  My God is not literally the Judge or Womblike King of the Machzor, is not vengeful or punishing.  My God doesn't send cancer or hurricanes.  My God does not send - and never has sent - people to kill or hurt others.  These are some of the things my God is not. 
Another important starting point:  "God" is just a word.  Elohim, Eternal One, Adonai, Source of Life, Oseh Shalom, Avinu Malkeinu, Dayan Ha'Emet, Blessed One, Shechina, these faces, these "Masks (Campbell)" are only pointers to the holy.  We do not believe that these Sacred Names are capable of containing the Infinite.   And this is the problem, as Arthur Green puts it so exquisitely in his new book Radical Judaism: " [Spiritual people describe all of Being using words like 'God'] because we see ourselves as living in relationship to the underlying One. (p.19)"  When overwhelmed by almost any association in almost any moment, a soulful person struggles for any word to express what is happening deep inside, to communicate what it is to be right now.  But no word works - it is like trying to translate crying or attempting to explain pain.  Or like trying to speak of God. 

If the choice is silence or the limits of language, we should remember that "Shtika keHoda'a Damei / Silence indicates acquiescence", and that Dr. King taught us all that silence can actually serve as betrayal when the need to speak is felt and ignored.  There are, however, also times that speaking means nothing, as John Cage famously said "I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry as I need it  (Lecture on Nothing, 1949)."

And so we have no choice but to plunge into words.  We must pledge to do our best to remember that they're only words.  We must also remember that we might not know for certain what they mean, but they should aim (Dewey) to mean something.
Solomon Schechter, the founder of American Conservative/Masorti Judaism, hinted at the importance of not confusing belief with surety: "[Judaism] refused a hearing to no theory for fear that it should contain some germ of truth, but on the same ground, it accepted none to the exclusion of the others. (Parzen, 41)"   When I can define God in clear terms, it is not God.  I worship an idol when I claim my sense of God is THE definition.  Worse than that, idolatry and terrorism are related fundamentalisms, where being sure I'm right is the surest indication that I'm wrong and the best way of predicting that someone is going to get hurt.  As Rabbi Irwin Kula has taught, "When I believe I have more God than you, I get a gun."   
One additional and crucial caveat before sharing, in humble yet assertive terms, what I believe God is.  My goal tonight is not to provide a systemic theology.  God is not an object of cognition (Heschel in Petuchowsky), not an idea to prove.  I offer only what I believe to be a healthy reframing of real experience, a way of "seeing" the world and every inhabitant as full of latent potential.  I'm not interested in intellectual gymnastics; I'm aching to share an experience of the Divine with my sacred community. 
A personal vignette: 
When I was applying to Rabbinical School at JTS, I remember a few things very vividly.  The table for the interview itself had a glass top, just to make my nervous fidgeting a bit more obvious.  The room was plush green velvet from floor to ceiling.  And the people at that table were the gatekeepers, guarding a doorway through which I really wanted to enter.  It began well.  But, about 20 minutes in, one rabbi on the committee looked at me and said:
"Mr. Creditor, I've been reading the statement of your theology.  You don't seem to have one.  Can I ask you to talk about that?" 
I responded by saying, "Actually, I'm currently taking a theology class with Rabbi Neil Gillman, and it's all a bit up in the air." 
It's not all up in the air for me anymore.  At least, not for now.  In fact, it's not up in the air at all.  My previous belief system in which my God in the Heavens watched me, commanded me, and intervened in the world has encountered a real world of universal vulnerability, where things are not black and white, where injustice happens, sometimes in the name of God.  My theology has been influenced by personal loss, by being with others as they die, with others as they lose a loved one.  My theology has been informed by the births of babies, three of whom have taught me more about God in a glance than every book I'll ever read.  My theology has been informed by painful headlines, some personally experienced.  My theology has been informed by communal work and activism.  For me, God is not "up there" more than God is "in here."  And I've learned over and over again that my approach to God is but one of many true paths to the Ultimate.
This is what I believe: God is the collective potential of the human imagination.  I believe that God is the collective potential of the human imagination. 
Here's some of what that means:
·         When the person davening Hineni concludes with "Baruch Atah Shomei'a Tefilah / Blessed Are You Who Hears Prayer" my soul stirs because it reminds me that something within me aches to be heard.
·         When a person dies, there is no defensible reason.  We all feel the pain of the loss, because a part of God has died.  A fragment of potential has been lost to us all.
·         When I ask God to accept my loved one into a sacred embrace, I am crying out to my community to remember and cherish that person, to demand eternally that every life matter.
·         When we encounter those willing to hurt others in pursuit of what they believe Justice to be, and we challenge their use of noble words like "justice" or "tradition" to describe their actions, that is God.
·         When I say I love you, I mean that I am not alone and that I am here so that you need not be either.  That, for me, is God. 
And if this is a possible definition of the Infinite One, who has just as infinite a number of names, and who is accessible through just as infinite a number of possible true paths, then God is in desperate need of you, of your unique contribution.  As Emmanuel Levinas taught, "the totality of the true is only possible through the contributions of many."  We cannot, as a world, achieve the Peace we seek if any gift is missing.  No one has no gift to give, and every person is precious. 
Sometimes life makes us forget how powerful we are, but we are powerful.  Some of us are suddenly thrust into the role of being the "rock" in our families, but we are that powerful.  Some of us become public leaders without intending, but we are that powerful.  We remember our power during the irrevocable moments in our lives.
What is it that happens when the words we hear tear us, break us open, and propel us deeper than we meant to go?  Why is it that a familiar scent can instantly send us back in time?  Why is it that, when we stand on a sunny, scary day with Muslims and Christians and believers and atheists, we sense urgency so much stronger?  To ignore our power, to allow ourselves to feel hopeless is a wrongness (Rav Nachman).  That is the sin of denying our capacity to act.
And the way back from sin is an open, willing heart, ready to do the necessary work to let the needs of the world mix with the particular ingredients of your soul.  The only failure is not naming this expectation, this sublime burden, and in communal leadership not challenging every person to see themselves as seekers of the sacred.  The Teshuva we are called to do includes the broken-ness we'd rather escape and avoid.  But the challenge, I believe, is clear.    
We seek the sacred, and that's why we have work to do.  God is not more, nor less, present in our shul than in a mosque, or a church, our homes or on the street.  But we are somehow different, somehow more intense here at shul.  We join here, as a Jewish community, to strengthen our resolve to stand in awe of all the world has to offer, to bow in awe of the Divine Potential we together are, to rise in purposeful response. We sing and cry from the blessed weight of it all.  And then we get back to work.  Six days a week won't do it - we need that Seventh Day to recharge, because the needs won't go anywhere without us.  
As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a modern prophet who marched with Dr. King, taught, we are called to take a "Leap of Action," which demands of us that we see past our own needs and do more than we understand in order to understand more than we currently do.  Heschel wrote: "Through the ecstasy of deeds [we learn] to be certain of the presence of God. (Petuchowski, 392)"  So powerful to read this religious leader remind the world, time after time, that the uncertainty of faith is no excuse for inaction.    
There is much missing our world.  And so much of what is missing is present right here, right now, in this room, in our shul.  While I might fumble while trying to articulate what it is that inspires my life and moves me so much about our precious community, I know that it is the experience of caring and being cared for unconditionally that makes us who we are.  It is not an event that triggers our Chesed, our Overflowing Love; it is the ongoing and evolving reality we are and commit to being and becoming, here and everywhere.  That is precisely why we ache when we read headlines - because the world does not need to suffer in the many ways it does.   It is as Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote:  
"Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean.  
Tears from the depth of some divine despair  
Rise in the heart and gather in the eyes." 
When during the Amidah we recite "Meimit uMechayeh / God who takes and gives life" I find myself both emotionally tense and strangely committed to the traditional formula.  Why?  Because the words make me feel.  They make me angry.  They make me cry.  They hint at hope.  They remind me to look at others and feel with them.  I need not be alone when tradition calls me to connect to community.  And community creates and practices together. And because of this I am and we each are less alone.

We are called to do something about the things that happen that make us cry.  It doesn't matter if you believe in a personal God who participates in the events of the world or an Unmoved Mover who doesn't get involved, or if you believe that the world birthed itself, or if you aren't sure - what matters is what you do.  For me, God is only real when we act to better the world. 
Other theologies believe God explicitly commanded us to better the world.  Atheists believe the world needs betterment.  We're all on the same page - and we are truly blessed to have a rich language, a holy community, a sacred tradition that guides our actions and does not mandate our thinking.   Our is a hopeful, non-fundamentalist, honest, engaged, traditional Jewish community, one which has so much to learn from and offer to our larger community and the world.
Hope is not impossible.  It is ever-present though sometimes hidden.  And Hope is urgently needed, which in my theology means that it is a Mitzvah, a command. 
So I ask you to decide tonight one thing you are going to do this year to build up hope in the world.  Support our community's commitment to our members in times of need, to the Jewish People, and to world.  Daven so that your soul can be nourished as you work in the world.  Celebrate Shabbat so that you can unplug, recharge, and reconnect one day a week.  Think deeply about the food you eat, the car you drive, the way you spend money, and the relationships you keep.  These are not isolated observances.  They are "the Jewish way of giving voice to our most treasured memories and our deepest aspirations (Held, Cosgrove, 20)," and through them we will be strong enough to change everything, piece by piece. 
I call this process God.
Roughly three hundred members of the Berkeley community sat together this past Shabbat, 9/11, and affirmed our entire community, the America we believe in - one that cherishes and protects every believer and non-believer.   During these past three weeks, thousands of Jewish women have embraced Torah and have had their photos taken to demonstrate solidarity with Women of the Wall and the Masorti Movement's efforts to achieve a more just and inclusive Judaism in Israel.  We serve monthly shifts at the shelters, we speak about Domestic Violence, we have generated shared conversations on human trafficking, hunger, education, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and interfaith dialogue, and more.  We are leaders in the Jewish campaign for full GLBT inclusion.  We are trying.  And it takes your gifts, financial and spiritual, to do what we do.  And we need to keep doing it.  The aches in the world are not going away on their own.  
Listen to these words from a gifted musical soul named Matthew Paul Miller, better known as Matisyahu.  It is an anthem worth singing, laced with words that hint at our deepest fears, prayers, and dreams. 
Sometimes I lay under the moon. I thank God I'm breathing.  
Then I pray don't take me soon 'cause I am here for a reason.  
Sometimes in my tears I drown, but I never let it get me down.  
So when negativity surrounds, I know someday it'll all turn around because...
All my life I been waiting for, I've been praying for, for the people to say  
that we don't want to fight no more, there'll be no more wars  
and our children will play... one day.
We are a shul that knows how to sing, sometimes silently, and we are here for a reason.  We will continue to speak, to act, to organize.  And as we do we'll remember what the modern prophetess Ruth Messinger has taught, that what makes activism and relief efforts truly heroic is that we know the whole time that we can never truly answer the need.  But we are not resigned.   We are not free from our obligation to get started.  Most importantly, we do not choose to be.
We have work to do, and that is all we need know. 
  • May we never hurt another in the name of the truths we cherish.
  • May we generate more hope than the world expects.
  • May we remember that every person around us carries a divine spark.
  • May our sacred community be a strong, legacy for later generations, thanks to the work we do today and tomorrow.
  • May this be a year of health, safety, and peace for us, and for the world around us.


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