Apr 30, 2012

On the 10th Anniversary of my Rabbinic Ordination

On the 10th Anniversary of my Rabbinic Ordination
7 Iyyar, 5772 -- April 29, 2012
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor
grateful for my holy shul, Congregation Netivot Shalom

Judaism contains the phrase "acharon, acharon, chaviv / we save the dearest for last." But here at Netivot Shalom we are a community that believes fervently in both tradition and change. And so, in the best embodiment of our community, I challenge inherited tradition and begin by thanking the dearest person in my life.

I remember under the chupah being described as a kite who aches to touch the heavens. The stunning person next to me was described as an anchor. That was deeply true. It was also completely inadequate. I am blessed, more than by anything else, to share life with the strongest, most trustworthy, person I know. That's Liz, my anchor. That's what I knew I needed when we got married, almost 13 years ago. But I could never have known that i was also in need of a kite myself, as even the highest-flying of kites can become stuck in the ground now and then. It can take irrepressible humor and an incalculable amount of power to lift my kind of kite when I'm grounded. My life partner is everything I'll ever need and infinitely more than even she knows herself to be. My heart has been overflowing through the gifts she has brought into our life, not the least of which is our precious children who are blessed themselves to have a warrior of a mother to admire and emulate. I ask you to help me in acknowledging my "Ir Miklat / my safe place", my kite and anchor, my precious Liz. 

To those who made tonight the incredibly overwhelming experience it's been, I am simply humbled by the honor you've paid me by supporting our community in with such grace and skill.

To Michael Tarle and April Oldenburg: I don't know what I did right to merit becoming family with you both. We've shared learning, an Israel trip, a mission to Washington, DC on behalf of our homeland, and in less than a month, I get to stand under your chupah as you marry. The countless hours you have poured into this event are only matched by the immeasurable love i have for each of you, and for you both. Thank you for tonight.

To Dan Schifrin, Josh Kornbluth, Charlene Stern, Hannah Dresner, and Lisa Zeiler: imagination pulses through your hearts and pervades our friendships.  You make my creative juices flow and I am in the Presence of God when I am in yours. My heart sings (and so does my mouth!) even more because of what you are to me. Thank you for your gifts tonight, and for your priceless friendships.

In my work on behalf of our community, I have been blessed to serve with a cadre of volunteer leaders who passionately give of their skills, their time, their money, and their spirits to help sustain and further the mission of Netivot Shalom. The board this past year has acted heroically to bring us from fearing for our future to enthusiastically and successfully ensuring it. Our current president, Mel Sibony, is the face of the dedicated members who are leading our shul into the future. Thank you for this year, and for every year.

Though they likely would ask me not to mention them, I cannot but express my gratitude to Al and Connie Weissman, and Julie and Michael Weissman/Steinbaugh. Al and Connie flew in from New York to share this event with all of us. Their family's multigeneration commitment to Netivot Shalom since its birth, and especially this past year, has challenged and inspired us to emerge stronger than ever before, and their dreams for the shul we must continue to become are a goal I commit to helping us fulfill. Thank you for your love and friendship, and for traveling so far to share this moment.

And to my colleagues: Every day we give everything we have, and then some, to actualize a sacred dream entrusted to us. I thank Lisa, Lauren, Rabbi Shalom and Rachel for being here tonight to support our community, and for sharing the incredible work we do day in and day out. All of us and the staff we oversee, are entrusted with coordinating a staggering amount of detail and programming. And it works. It soars. And that is true because each of you embodies a work-ethic no one could afford to pay for. Trust me! And it is my privilege to work with you. Any honor afforded me is a reflection of the team we are. Thank You for every day.

If I could offer the briefest of reflections on what it feels like to have been a rabbi for ten years, it is this: I am so in love with being Jewish, I am so in love with the Jewish People, I am in so in love with People, I am so in love with the world, and I am so in love with God. I am intoxicated by life. I am fueled by my awareness of the fragile nature of every one of those things. I am fueled by the worthy urgency of everything that matters. All of that has only increased every year I've been a rabbi. All of it.

I am an amalgam of every thing and every person I've ever encountered, beginning with the wisdom of my precious parents sheyibadlu lechayim / may they be blessed by many years of health and life. Without the model of their lives, I would never be where I am today.

These ten years have been intense blend of people, moments, and experiences. I have buried many people. I have succeeded and failed many times. I have married people, blessed people, mourned with people, celebrated with people. I get to live what Rabbi Yitz Greenberg calls an intense life and what Lisa Gershony calls, as she watches my comings and my goings, a "24/7 purposeful life." And I love it.

Yes, being a rabbi can make a person tired every once in a while. But I've found that as soon as I retreat a bit to recharge, all the possibilities in the next moment draw me right back with enthusiasm and renewed energy. I remember my pre-rabbinical school interview with my teacher Rabbi Bill Lebeau at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He asked me why I wanted to be a rabbi, and all I could say in that moment was "I can't not be a rabbi." He smiled. And now, sixteen years later, I'm smiling too. I'm smiling because, despite a perhaps unconventional theology, I know to my core that I'm called to do this holy work.

Ten years of rabbifying. I can't believe it's been ten years. But I've been a rabbi 7 weeks less than I've been a father, and both journeys just fly by. Five years, so far, sharing the most special synagogue in the world. I can't believe it's been five years. But I became rabbi of Netivot Shalom eleven days after my youngest child was born, and both journeys have expanded my heart beyond any capacity I could have imagined.

I recently reread the remarks I shared upon being installed as rabbi of Netivot Shalom. What I said then has become even truer over time. This is what I said on that ecstatic day:

What makes me happiest is that, despite my public role, here at shul my family is a family just like any other, joyful to be with our community, a community that spans every generation and starting point. We are a holy community that celebrates each other unconditionally. Jews and non-Jews call this holy place home. We celebrate our diversity of race, the spectrum of sexuality, the incredible blend of spirituality and personality each of us brings. There is no prerequisite to being part of our community here at Netivot Shalom. I was, for my whole life, a rabbi's child always looking for a sacred home to call my own. Today I am rabbi of that very sacred home. I am your rabbi. And I am home. I will work with all my heart, all my soul, and all my might to live up to the intimate and lofty dreams we share. We can make it happen. And we must. I stand before you humbled, my precious community. I am proud to be your rabbi. I am humbled be your rabbi.

When I considered what to say tonight, I remembered the words spoken by the actor Geoffrey Rush in "The King's Speech." He said: "My job was to give them faith in their own voice, and let them know that a friend was listening."

That's my job too. An often-quoted teaching from Pirkei Avot is: "Aseh lecha Rav ukneh lecha chaver / find a teacher for yourself and gain a friend." But I'm here to tell you that ten years as a rabbi has taught me that you can read that teaching either way and end up blessed. I've gained friends, and only through those friendships have I become a rabbi. I am here to give you faith in your own voices, voices I crave to hear and sing with. I am here because I love to listen as much as I love to be heard. I am here because, when it comes down to it, I love all of you. I can't not. I don't know how not to. I am called to love you, and my heart knows it has found its home in our community.

May we only grow in health and peace together, proud to together be a holy community known to the world as Congregation Netivot Shalom.

May the things we do as a shul add holiness and peace to the world.

May we never stop dreaming and doing everything necessary to propel that dream with passion and strength.

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Ha'Olam, Shehechiyanu veKiyemanu veHigiyanu laZman haZeh.

My friends, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.