Nov 27, 2013

Channukah & Thanksgiving: It's Complicated

Channukah & Thanksgiving: It's Complicated
(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Much has been made of the overlap of Channukah and Thanksgiving this year, a convergence that will not occur again for over 79,000 years. 
On the one hand, the meanings of the days are similar:
  • Channukah is a story of Jewish rededication, the Maccabees reclaiming contaminated sacred space, marking God's miraculous intervention in the military and ritual lives of our ancestors. 
  • Thanksgiving is an American story of bounty, gratitude expressed by formerly persecuted minorities, blessed to find home again through miraculous arrival.
But both these also narratives require of us, as American Jews, deeper and clearer thinking. Both holy days contain more within their stories than meets the eye, more than their ritualized re-tellings readily offer. The commonalities of these hidden, darker strata are also striking, perhaps even shocking:
  • Channukah is a serious challenge to the modern Jew, as comfortable (if not more) living as a global citizen than being seen as a Jew. Channukah's notion of the "contamination of Jewish sacred space" is a code-phrase for Jewish assimilation, the natural dynamic of a Jew engaged in society, where the politics of identity easily make particularism uncomfortable. Only through the fanatic zealotry of the Maccabees, including the murder of fellow Jews who identified strongly with Greek custom, did the Channukah story occur. 
  • Thanksgiving marks the Pilgrims taking of a land from its native inhabitants, one formerly marginalized group marginalizing another. Thanksgiving's celebration of "bounty and gratitude" forgets the Puritan's zealotry and their slaughter of those who already inhabited the "new" world. Only through the Pilgrim's fundamentalist world-view did the original Thanksgiving story take place.

The Maccabbees and the Puritans were zealots. Their violent thoughts and actions left a muddied legacy for Jews and for Americans. And, gevalt, my friends. We're both. How befuddling our sacred narratives can be!


What, then, are we to make of these days, these cold, dark days with contested, twisted narratives? How are we, as complicated modern Jews, to light our lights? What illumination pours through our windows into the world?


A popular Channukah song goes as follows:


"We have come to banish the darkness. / In our hands is light and fire. / Every one is a small light. / But together we are a mighty fire. / Out, darkness! / Run away before the power of light!"


Are we called, in the name of our cherished heritages, to shine brightly? Without a doubt. 

  • Being a Jew is a beautiful gift in the world. Being an American is a blessing. Both come with weighty obligations, which are their very best parts.
Must we learn from our troubled pasts to never again deny others the brightest light of all: their dignity?  Without a doubt. 
  • Being a modern Jew requires the ethical use of necessary and hard-earned power, constant vigilance to stand in solidarity with the world's most vulnerable, remembering the oppressed stranger we've frequently been in history. Being a modern American means bearing responsibility - doing Teshuvah - for enduring American social policies and processes that have much in common with Puritans. An American wields the most noble of our nation's sacred ideals at no one's expense.

Can we be Jews in the world, proud and particular, and at the same time Global Citizens, pluralist and present? Let's see if we can.


I think we've got that kind of Jewish power just waiting to be harnessed for the common good.


May this Channukah and Thanksgiving truly banish darkness, bring bounty, cultivate gratitude, and challenge us to see the light in others' eyes.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
menachemcreditor.org ▶netivotshalom.org

Nov 26, 2013

Towards a Jewish Mystical Theory of Activism

Towards a Jewish Mystical Theory of Activism

(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor

According to Rabbi Chayim of Volozhin, the "World to Come" is a person's deeds themselves. That is to say, we do not do what we do in this world, then have an accounting once we die, and then enter a different reality called "The World to Come." 

Rather we do good or bad in this world, and those deeds impact the world directly, making it into a world that's better or worse. That's "The World to Come" - the world we bring into being ourselves. This sacred and humanist theory of impact compels each of us to see every one of our thoughts, words, and deeds as consequential. Nothing is neutral. 

It can be both exhausting and exalting to live in this way. Mostly both.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
menachemcreditor.org ▶netivotshalom.org

Nov 23, 2013

A Short Thought on the Iran Deal

Short thought: I'm terrified and don't trust Iran to mean well, not to Israel, not to "the West", not to LGBT Iranians. The choice, I believe, is between continued diplomatic sanctions (which hurt many on the ground) and trying to wiggle into an international invasive supervision of the nuclear project. Military strikes only calcify enmity and wouldn't end this situation in a real way. So, I'm caught between  wishing things could be better than they are and recognizing they're not. So, in "conclusion", I'm terrified by any agreement, since it inherently involves compromise with a nation whose leaders I do not trust.

Nov 22, 2013

Fwd: Chancellor Arnold Eisen Says "L'Chaim!" to Conservative Judaism

Dear JTS Community,

Following the publication of this year's Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project report—and the uproar that has since followed—I would like to offer my personal perspective on the current conversation.

I am addressing the questions raised and the challenges facing our community in an article on the Jewish Week website today and in its print edition on Friday, November 29. "Let's Drink a L'Chaim to Conservative Judaism" is both a personal statement and a message from JTS: we're here, we're learning and growing, and there's still a lot of work to be done.

Your thoughts on this essay, the new Pew report, or the current climate in the Jewish world are most welcome.


arnold eisen signature 2
Arnold M. Eisen
The Jewish Theological Seminary

Forward to a friend.


Netivot Shalom's Adult Education Committee Presents: Torah signs (Chironomy) with Glenn Massarano!!

Netivot Shalom's Adult Education Committee Presents:
Torah signs (Chironomy) 
with Glenn Massarano
Dec 17th at 7:30-9pm, January 19th, 10:30am-12noon
Congregation Netivot Shalom || 1316 University Ave, Berkeley

Come and learn about the hand signs that are used by the gabbai to cue the torah reader!  We'll learn a little about the history, how the signs are made, and how to give the signs.  We'll also practice giving and using them. While not necessary, consider reviewing a section of Torah that has a good selection of trope before you come.  This class is open to everyone, and is primarily for Torah readers and Gabbai'im.  It expects that you have familiarity with the trope.  If you have any questions, contact glenn massarano at gmassarano@alumni.ucsd.edu

Co-sponsored by the CNS Ritual and Adult Education committees. No charge, but donations to the Adult Education Fund are appreciated to help support this and similar ritual- and adult-education opportunities. 

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
menachemcreditor.org ▶netivotshalom.org

Celebrate International Human Rights Day with AJWS and the SFJCC!!

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Nov 20, 2013

David Wolpe on Ha'aretz: "Conservative Judaism: Not dead yet"

Conservative Judaism: Not dead yet

We all have a stake in renewing an intellectually honest and Torah-rooted Judaism that does not turn its back on the world.

By  Nov. 20, 2013 | 2:45 PM
'We all have a great stake in keeping liberal Judaism alive.'
Conservative institutions are looking for ways to revitalize the movement and make it more appealing to young Jews. Photo by United Synagogue / JTA Photo Service

Deaths are more common than resurrections and therefore safer to predict. The demise of Conservative Judaism is widely and confidently pronounced. No one seems buoyant about its prospects, given the clear signs of seemingly terminal sclerosis. But before we pen another 'requiem,' as was done by my friend and colleague Daniel Gordis ['Requiem for a Movement' in the Jewish Review of Books], it is worth keeping several things in mind.

First, the rise of Orthodox Judaism is to be expected. As the old Yiddish phrase has it, Jews are like other people only more so. In an age when literalist faith is surging in Christianity and Islam, Jews too can be expected to turn religiously rightward. But sociological trends are not invariable laws. Fifty years ago, people were assuming the end of Orthodoxy. Now they are predicting the dissolution of liberal Judaism. For millennia Jews have been forecasting the end of Judaism – as Simon Rawidowicz reminds us in his classic essay, "Israel the Ever Dying People." There are many and serious reasons to be worried about Conservative Judaism, but the power of prophecy was long ago snatched from us. The future's greatest delight is confounding the present.

Jews are not walled off from others. Amidst all the discussion about internal dynamics, remember that what happens to us has as much to do with the future of the lands in which we live as it does with our own communal arrangements. If you had asked a Jew in Germany in the 1930's about the future of the community, the skill of its leaders and Rabbis would have meant far less than the political storms that were stirring. Larger patterns or sudden crises can redefine faith communities.

Moreover, when the Jewish community mobilizes its resources it can accomplish astonishing things. I remember Elie Wiesel saying that when he began his career he hoped to help accomplish four impossible things: Creating a State of Israel, keeping alive the memory of the Shoah, freeing Soviet Jewry and maintaining Jewish continuity. The first three, he said, have astonishingly been accomplished. It is a little early to assume we cannot do four impossible things because we have thus far only ensured three.

We all have a great stake in keeping liberal Judaism alive. Jews from the liberal movements run the vast majority of the organizations, tirelessly seek to push the political process, lobby, fundraise and teach among non-Jews as well as Jews. Everything from AIPAC to Federations is the creation primarily of non-Orthodox Jewry. There are many and notable merits to the Jewish religious right, but widespread communal involvement has not been among them. A turn to wider involvement would be laudable, (though singularly implausible in the Yeshiva world) but such an opening will bring with it many of the challenges that Conservative and Reform Jews know all too well.

Then there is the simple question of truth. The intellectual power of modern biblical scholarship, of historical study, of science, is undeniable. Accepting computers and vaccines while disdaining carbon dating is intellectually schizophrenic. Sooner or later the traditionalist world will have to grapple with the power and implications of modernity. When it does, Conservative Judaism will be there, resources in hand, to help people contend with the meeting point of ancient traditions and contemporary innovation. When today's yeshiva student happens upon an old copy of "Origin of the Species," or learns more about ancient semitic societies, he will fall into the sturdy netting of Schechter and Heschel.

Daniel Gordis speaks about the mistakes the Conservative movement made along the way. He believes, with a considerable degree of justice, that it was so enchanted with the modern world that it largely abandoned the quest to create meaning in the lives of its adherents. The quest for meaning has not ended and it is not a function of numbers alone. There is a systolic/ diastolic movement to life. That which wanes today can wax tomorrow. Even the thinning out of ritual observance, for example, perhaps the most pointed indicator of Jewish decline, is not unidirectional. Some traditions, such as mikveh and pre-burial tahara, or purification of the body, have seen an upswing in many non-Orthodox communities as their poignancy has touched Jews previously unacquainted with the practices. A renewed understanding of the rapidly changing world and our place in it, can help revitalize institutions, spark intellectual inquiry, and reinvigorate a Judaism that does not turn its back on the world.

I am a Conservative Rabbi and the child of a Conservative Rabbi. Our successes were legion and our failures great. Liberal Judaism built remarkable institutions, summer camps, school and others, produced fine leaders and scholars and still saw many of its most gifted products abandon us. This is partly in the very nature of a free and mobile society. Shlomo Carlebach used to say, if he meets a student who says he is a Protestant, he knows he is a Protestant; if he meets a student who says he is a Catholic, he knows he is a Catholic. If he meets a student who says he is a human being, he knows he is a Jew. Utopian universalism is an intoxicating drug and has pulled many from Jewish moorings. An intellectually honest and Torah-rooted Judaism can be a potent counterforce, however. I witness its life changing possibilities every single day.

Israel should care deeply about the survival of Reform and Conservative Jewish continuity. Orthodox Jews too, should care, if we want to avoid a Jewish world that is insulated and unable (or uninterested) in influencing the larger world. You cannot be an or lagoyim (light to the nations) if you insist on being an or haganuz (hidden light). It is time to rise above triumphalism, lament and resignation. The proper response to the declining numbers is not a dismissal or a burial but call to action - put aside the sneers and the shovel and pick up a shofar. We have people to wake and work to do.

David Wolpe is Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RabbiWolpe and Twitter: @RabbiWolpe

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
menachemcreditor.org ▶netivotshalom.org

Receive [a #poem]

© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

surrounding, holding,

be known, accept,

Easier to give than be given,
but also good,

Nov 19, 2013

FW: Housing appeal for Transgender Iraqi Refugee on TDOR (from JFCS/East Bay)

On this Transgender Day of Remembrance, as we mourn those who have lost their lives to transphobia, I hope you consider helping one transgender Iraqi refugee who has managed to escape with her life.  This is a wonderful opportunity to help directly -- and the help is needed right away!

The LGBT Refugee program of JFCS/East Bay serves refugees and asylees who have fled their country due to persecution based on sexual orientation or gender identity. We are eagerly seeking housing for a transgender MTF 38-year old Iraqi who is scheduled to arrive to the US for the first time mid-December.  

Do you have a room in your home in the East Bay or < st1:city w:st="on">San Francisco to offer?  Do you know a friend who does?  Could you offer a place for a few months?  Our program assisting these courageous people relies on help with housing from the community.  We are open to a range of price you might charge for rent, and the time you might offer. 

Refugees who come in to the US through this program are entirely documented and cleared by the government to be here.  JFCS/East Bay provides the many social services needed during the first months of their arrival, and clients do receive a small amount of government assistance for their first 8 months.  We also have a group of wonderful volunteers who help with appointments, learning English, and helping to acculturate.  Offering housing can be that one link provided that can make the difference!  If you have a busy schedule, you can offer the housing, and we take care of the rest! 


Please consider helping this transgender MTF. What a wonderful contribution you could make by assisting this person with a safe and accepting place to live.  If you could kindly pass on this message to anyone you know, it would be much appreciated.

For more info: http://jfcs-eastbay.org/sites/default/files/Shelter_LGBTI_Refugee_Flyer.pdf   or contact Carol Palecki by e-mail at cpalecki@jfcs-eastbay.org or by phone at 925-927-2000(x252). 

Carol Palecki
Outreach/Training Coordinator
LGBT Refugee Program

JFCS/East Bay

1855 Olympic Blvd #200
Walnut Creek, CA  94596

925- 927-2000 (x252)

Support @CNSBerkeley 's Sister Community in Cuba!

Support CNS' Sister Community in Cuba!
Dear Netivot Shalom Friends,
It has been many years since I wrote about Cuba  for CNS.  Since then, there have been a lot of new members so many people do not know of our connection, particularly to the Jews of Santiago de Cuba and the Community of Guantanamo.
Add a description
Services at Comunidad Hebrea Hatikva de Santiago de Cuba - our sister congregation

When I started in 1994, there was a small community that extended across the island but had little knowledge of Judaism and how to participate in community.  People were slowly returning to their religious practices after being deserted by the Russians in 1989.  By 1992, lack of food and medical care was so severe that very hungry people were returning to their religious practices for comfort in spite of the law that read anyone who was a Believer could not be a member of the Communist party.  The significance of this was that Believer's could not hold top jobs nor their children go to the best schools or to the university.  By 1993, the law was changed because no one was paying attention to it.  Also, by 1993, Dr. Jose Miller Fredman, head of the Jewish community of Cuba, had invited the JDC to come and help him restore the community.  The JDC began a program of Sunday morning food for those who would attend classes for both adults and children.  They started a small pharmacy  for Jews and non-Jews with the approval of the government.  After I arrived, I started a program of Friday night chicken programs which, thankfully, the JDC took over in a few months and continues to this day.

Torah study at Comunidad Hebrea Hatikva de Santiago de Cuba
Torah study at Comunidad Hebrea Hatikva de Santiago

Bob and I first arrived in 1994 to found a chapter of Hadassah.  Lois and Gary Marcus were on this trip.  It was not a happy time and some people talked about giving their breakfast to their children; others talked about having enough food for half the month and surviving on sugar water the other half.  A lot of long term health problems started at this time, like neuropathy.  


One year later, I went back with a group to visit the communities in the provinces.  When we came to Santiago de Cuba, we met  several eager people who were excited to be getting back their building after 30 years of it being used as a community center or dance studio.  They first came together because an older lady wanted to say kaddish for her husband.  Someone had a prayerbook with the kaddish in Spanish.  The group decided to get together some Friday nights for a potluck,  This encouraged Andres Novoa, who remembered sitting next to his grandfather in synagogue, to start reading in Spanish the parasha of the week.  Thus, he became the religious leader.  He was eager to learn Hebrew but he could not use the dictionary at all.  I showed him how and when I came back a year later with my first group. he was able to lead services and understand some of what he was doing.  The first experience with Santiago led me to ask Ljuba Davis of Congregation Beth Israel to go to Cuba and teach them how to do the high holiday liturgy.  They didn't have any machzorim.  She also taught them to make challah and dance.  Her sister organized the religious school and worked with the teachers.She said that they were like sponges, absorbing every thing they taught.


Ljuba's experience encouraged me to take Rabbi Stuart Kelman and some members of Netivot Shalom as well as to ask Congregation Netivot Shalom to become a sister congregation to Hatikvah in Santiago.  On that first trip together, we all taught in the synagogue under the direction of Rabbi Kelman.  At that time, we were invited to come back for the first b'nai mitzvah (two cousins) that was to happen seven months later.  Thus came about second trip with Rabbi Kelman and Netivot Shalom members and it was very exciting to watch the two boys whom Andres had trained in just 7 months.  Rabbi Kelman was so inspired that he began to plan to bring Andres, the religious leader, and Eitan Behar, the youth group leader to Berkeley to attend the CAJE conference at Stanford and to study at both Netivot Shalom and Beth Israel. We made it happen and it was a huge success for all concerned.

Jewish Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba


In 1996, I was encouraged to form a non-profit to help with the work. We did that in 1997 and Eitan, the youth leader in Santiago de Cuba designed our website even though he could only communicate by email from his workplace at the bank  but could not get to the web.  Since that time, Bob and I have been very active in supporting other communities across the island and establishing sister congregations to help individual communities.  We have helped found a senior center in Havana at the Sephardic synagogue building, we have funded a special program for new babies and toddlers called "Bottoms Up", furnished a classroom for pre school in Havana, brought thousands of pounds of medicines and humanitarian aid, taken many groups to interact with the communities, sent college students to teach in communities (which the Cuban government will no longer allow us to do), and helped Cubans making aliyah to Israel to adjust, find jobs, and give general emotional support.


Our sisters and brothers in Cuba are doing better than years before. The communities are receiving a lot of help from visitors and many have relatives out of the country who send help.  These families are doing well.  Others are struggling, like the average Cuban, to make ends meet.  Often the ends don't meet.  Religious life has progressed well over the past 20 years under the direction of the JDC.  We now focus our help on the provinces where the JDC has resources to be a minimal help.

June presents gifts to Guantanamo Community
June presents gifts from  
CNS to Guantanamo Community


Bob and I will be going to Cuba in December and can carry your unused portions of Rx meds as long as they are not outdated.  We can also take over the counter nonRx meds that are not outdated.  If you would like to purchase new items, we would be delighted to carry them.  We would also be super delighted to carry money for purchase of toiletries  and canned food when we are there.  Everything can be left at the synagogue office or better yet, brought to our home.  You can reach us at 510-526-7173 or email junesafran@aol.com.







Quick Links

The CNS Holday gift drive! Make a difference in the lives of E. Oakland families!

Bravo, Jane Eisner: "... being part of a movement that considers me an equal and that embraces the enormous contributions of women, is the central reason I’m a Conservative Jew."


Nov 18, 2013

Mazal Tov!! Today marks ten years since the historic ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health that same-sex couples in Massachusetts could no longer be denied access to civil marriage.

Mazal Tov!! Today marks ten years since the historic ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health that same-sex couples in Massachusetts could no longer be denied access to civil marriage.

Nov 16, 2013

Fwd: Weekly News from Congregation Netivot Shalom

Shabbat Vayishlach  
16 November 2013 / 13 Kislev 5774

Rabbi Menachem Creditor  
Rabbi of Congregation Netivot Shalom  
Psukei D'Zimra - Gerry Levitas
Shacharit - Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Torah Service -  Joel Gerwein  
Calling Gabbai - Glenn Massarano
Pointing Gabbai -  Jerry Derblich

Torah Reading (pg. 198) Bereishit 32:4-33:20
Rishon  32:4-6 - Maia Fleming-Singer
Sheini 32:7-9 - Elie Singer
Shelishi 32:10-13 - Jenni Mangel
Revi'i 32:14-22 - Jerry Derblich
Chamishi 32:23-30 - Jerry Derblich
Shishi 32:31-33:5 - Benjamin Epstein
Shevi'i 33:6-20 - Benjamin Epstein
Maftir 33:18-20 - Benjamin Epstein
Haftarah (p.222) Obadiah 1:1-21 - Brenda Goldstein 

Drash - Rabbi Dorothy Richman
Musaf - Rabbi Daniel Kohn
Board Rep - Mel Sibony
Birkat HaMazon - TBA
Greeters: Ken Schnur, Debby Graudenz
KIDDUSH is sponsored by all the CNS Past Presidents:
Celia Concus, Claudia Valas, Art Braufman, Ken Schnur, Pauline Moreno, Debby Graudenz, Mark Priven, Carol Cunradi, Joe Meresman,
Jeff Rosenbloom, Mel Sibony
Refuah Shleima and Yahrzeits

Refuah Shleima: A complete healing to Ellen Reier, Heike Rivka bat David v'Esther,Pat Goldman, Larry Amernick, Dina Beck, Dennis Blazewick, Caroline Chamberlain, Betty Finn, Helene Garber, Samuel Gold, Sheldon Koiles, Florence Leffler, Cristofer Lix, Estelle Macy,  Lorraine Rosenblatt, Helene Rosov, Matt Ruppel, Michael Steinbaugh, William Steinbaugh, Bernarda Strauss,  Karen Weiner,  Connie Weissman, Miriam bat Malka, Yehudah ben Rachel, Yehudah Tsvi ben Tsipora, Miriam Simcha bat Chaya, Sara Ita bat Raizel Bella, Aviya bat Sara v' Avraham, Shmuel ben Zipora, and Shmuel ben marsha v michael


HaMakom Yenacheim - HaMakom Yenacheim - it is with sadness that we shared the news of the passing in Canada of Aharon Baruch z"l ben Chayim Yaakov haCohen veChavah bat Cohen, Michael Cohen's brother.

Yahrzeits include:  Florence Belsky, Ruth Black, Pauline Braufman, Gwendolyn Fischer, Benjamin Frydman, Jack Gobler, Millie Gold, Hella Hochheimer, Hyman Landau, Sylvia Lorwit, Mary Ranta, Irene Gabrielle Reier, Chaim Scheinok, Marian Dale Scott, Ethelyn Simon, Gloria Joy Sklansky, Louis Stein, Gertrude Swidler, Eli Sztalwark, Charlotte Vogel, Sylvia Weiner 

Donors to Netivot

This section will be updated weekly in our revised e-news format. Stay tuned! The donors list will be included next week.
Thank you Netivot Volunteers

Thank you for setting up food and drinks for the Annual Meeting this Sunday:

Marcia Brooks! 


November 17, 2013
10-12 am
In This Issue
Other Links
Netivot Shalom Calendar
Coming Events at CNS
Netivot Film Series
Other News
Welcome New Members
Bruchim Ha'Baim

Joan Alexander
David & Ahvit Saltz
Angela Butts & Yotam Levine
Jake Birnberg
Julie Friend
June Weintraub
Merry Selk
Douglas Crane & Rebecca Golbert
Committee Spotlight 
Cooking and Serving  at the Berkeley Men's Shelter.
Organizers Ednah Beth Friedman and Suzie Lawrence would like you to bring some Chanukah light to the Shelter on Sunday, December 1. Perform a mitzvah by  clicking here to sign up.

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