Mar 27, 2015

SAVE THE DATE! Netivot Shalom and the Center for Jewish Studies at UC Berkeley celebrate Robert Alter!

Save the Date!
celebrate Robert Alter!
Tuesday, May 5  -- 6pm
at Congregation Netivot Shalom
Robert Alter, Emeritus Professor of Hebrew and ComparativeLiterature, and founding Director of the Center for Jewish Studies at UC Berkeley, has been awarded two degrees of Doctor Philsophiae Honoris Causa; one from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and one from the University of Haifa, for his work as "a leading scholar in the field of comparative literature, who combines in his work a passion for language with tireless intellectual curiosity." The Honorary Degree Ceremonies will take place in Spring 2015 in Jerusalem and Haifa. In celebration of our friend and teacher's many accomplishments, the Center for Jewish Studies and Congregation Netivot Shalom will cosponsor a public lecture by Professor Alter on May 5th at Netivot Shalom, celebrating the newest parts of his translation of the Hebrew Bible, followed by conversation with colleagues and light refreshments. All are welcome!
Sponsorship opportunities are available. Please contact info@netivotshalom.org for more information.

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Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Mar 26, 2015


The sixth grade means business at Wendy’s

Let us tell you about what we are dealing with here. There is an order of business called the Fair Food Program. This program is sponsored by the Coalitin of Immokalee Workers in Florida, and helps poor laborers in that state who pick tomatoes to get a little bit of extra money for their work, and more humane working conditions. All the pickers are asking for is that buyers of their tomatoes pay just one more measly penny for each pound of tomatoes they pick. Just $0.01 more for a whole pound.

Keep in mind that the wages of these workers haven’t changed very much in 30 years! Walmart and every single fast food chain, except for Wendy’s, has agreed to join the program and pay a little more for the tomatoes. Our mission — which was inspired by T’ruah, the Jewish voice for justice — was to visit the Walnut Creek Wendy’s and convince the Wendy’s manager to send a letter (signed by all the students in our class) to the HQ of Wendy’s to convince Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program.

There was a lot of preparation beforehand. We had practiced for all of the situations we thought were possible: a mean manager who wanted nothing to do with us, a nice manager that listened and took the letter, and we even practiced a scenario if the manager wasn’t there! Ahead of time, we made many signs not to protest the manager if she said no, but to make a visual appearance.

When we got inside, we asked to see the manager. When she came out, we explained what the Fair Food Program was. She liked the idea and took the letter. Afterwards, we took a picture with her.

When we got back to our classroom, Moreh Eli told us that all of the managers at all of the Wendy’s were instructed not to accept letters from anyone regarding the Fair Food Program. We felt really accomplished. We are hoping that Wendy’s will accept the letter and join the program without further hassle or resistance.

Mar 25, 2015

The Internal Sin of Jewish Demonization

The Internal Sin of Jewish Demonization
(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Friends, I feel the need to share what I've felt is a demonizing of AIPAC and those of us (including me) who are active leaders with AIPAC, people who resonate with (and are active activists for) deep progressive values and human rights. It is as if some believe there can't be a world where those who lobby for US funding of Iron Dome (AIPAC did/does, J-Street didn't/doesn't) can't be on the same team as those who challenge the occupation (J-Street did/does, AIPAC didn't/doesn't). 

Also, no one in the demonize-AIPAC camp ever mentions that AIPAC LOST ALL OF SHELDON ADELSON'S FUNDING because AIPAC WOULDN'T make a statement IN SUPPORT OF THE SETTLEMENTS IN THE WEST BANK. There is a disease in the Jewish world, where each side accuses the other of not listening, and thereby of being devoid of the values that - at their core - unite us all as lovers of Israelis and of Palestinians,of Jews and Muslims. 

We are strong and deep enough to envision and build a world where Zionism's nobility is rediscovered and cherished by those discontent with its very human failings, where Palestine is led by statesmen who raise up all people, Palestinians and Israelis. 

The ongoing mutual distrust within the Jewish People is a sin no one should continue committing.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
menachemcreditor.org ▶netivotshalom.org

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Mar 24, 2015

12 Years a Slave at 10,000 Feet [a #poem]

12 Years a Slave at 10,000 Feet [a #poem]
(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor

can't live with my eyes
forced them open
blinked back blinding tears
witnessed degradation reenacted
on a screen at 10,000 feet.

a black man
stolen, beaten,


suddenly a hand on my shoulder.
"would you like something to drink, sir?"
i look up into her smiling, friendly face.
her black face.

pressed pause.

though the distance
between real and act was clear
they also suddenly merged,
and i felt ashamed to ask
for anything.

forced myself to breathe and act normal,
to ask, to request
- not ordered, not that word - 
a drink.

stared at that ginger ale in shock,
couldn't drink it
just watched it sit there.

hot, horrified tears on my cheeks.
forced myself to look up
pressed pause again.

Mar 20, 2015

Is Israel Losing Its Soul? By ARI SHAVIT | 03/20/2015 2:33 PM EDT Via @POLITICO

Is Israel Losing Its Soul?
By ARI SHAVIT | 03/20/2015 2:33 PM EDT

When the astounding results of Israel's general elections began trickling in on Tuesday night, I was seated in Israel Public Television's new white-and-blue studio. The sense of shock that pervaded the freshly decorated stage was palpable. Suddenly my iPhone lit up with a new WhatsApp text. It was from the daughter of a dear friend, a university student, informing me that she intended to renew her European passport. This country has no future, she wrote. If I want to lead a normal life, I have to leave.

When I returned home from the studio after a long and exhausting night, I saw that many of the texts I had received while on- air--from close friends, colleagues and family members--shared a common, morose theme: Rather than ushering in the dawn of a new era, the faint grey light of morning felt like darkness-at-noon. Many of Tel Aviv's neighborhoods and its prosperous suburbs seemed to be in mourning. In cafes, in hi-tech offices and in various newsrooms people spoke of a "disastrous outcome". The liberal third of Israel's population seemed to be exhibiting signs of depression. At times, it sounded as if they were speaking of heavy losses suffered in a devastating war. Something precious had been lost. Wherever I turned, I was met with the sense that Israel had not only lost its way, but had disfigured its future. As if there was another country out there: brazenly nationalist, stridently religious, barely democratic. Is this really the case? Did Israel lose its soul?

The elections held on March 17, 2015 were first and foremost a referendum on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The results are unambiguous: Netanyahu is seen as the only presidential leader in the country, and therefore many Israelis are willing to look past his shortcomings and forgive his mistakes, and prefer that he occupy the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, from which to defend their nation.

The elections held on March 17, 2015 were also a referendum about hope and fear. Again, the results are unambiguous: Although, in their everyday lives Israelis are dynamic, creative, vibrant and optimistic, people who crave social justice and affordable housing and cheaper consumer goods --the good life --once in the voting booth they act from a deep sense of fear, of existential angst.

The elections held on March 17, 2015 were also a referendum on Zionism: Is it still a democratic, liberal and enlightened movement as it was in its first hundred years, or has it turned into an extreme, nationalist and religious movement? The answer to this question is not unambiguous. On the one hand, Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party is no longer the Likud of Ze'ev Jabotinsky, Menachem Begin and Dan Meridor--its liberal foundation has eroded almost completely; on the other hand, the democratic Zionist Union party that rose up against this more extremist Likud managed to almost double its power in parliament.

On the one hand, Prime Minister Netanyahu crossed a glaring red line with the insidious attitude he expressed towards Israel's Arabs, but on the other hand, this Arab minority garnered an unprecedented number of seats in the next Knesset. Israel is not Alabama of the 1950s, as some American media outlets have described it. Yet it does face a clear and present danger: a democratic downfall can occur at any moment. Though Netanyahu is the clear victor of the 2015 elections, and though the fear factor is the defining factor of these elections, the question of who is Israel, what are its values and what is its true face is very much an open question.

It is impossible to answer this crucial question without examining and understanding the shared traumas that Israelis experienced over the last two decades: In 1993 they opened their ears to peace with PLO leader Yasser Arafat (the Oslo Accords); in 2000 they tried to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (the Camp David peace summit); and in 2005 they withdrew unilaterally from the Gaza Strip (the Disengagement). These efforts did not lead to quiet, calm and security, but to violence, terror and instability.

It is impossible to answer "who is Israel" without examining and understanding the shared traumas that Israelis experienced in the last four years: all around them the Arab world crumbled into chaos (the slaughter in Syria, Islamic State in Iraq, al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, violence in Libya, Yemen and Lebanon). And the Gaza Strip, from which they had withdrawn, became the heavily armed and hostile base of Hamas, raining down a barrage of missiles on Tel Aviv for 50 days in the summer of 2014. The aggregate result of these traumas is an understandable but dangerous shift to the right. Because the old peace-idea was not replaced by a new peace-idea, many Israelis fear for their future and are no longer willing to embrace American and European peace initiatives, which seem to them completely divorced from reality. At the same time, some Israelis have developed xenophobic tendencies that do not stem from inherent racism, but from a deep fear that the center-left in Israel and the international community cannot assuage.

But the failure of the old-peace idea is not the only phenomenon that led to the election's surprising outcome. The other important phenomenon is the inter-tribal discord within Israeli society. As he did when he was first elected prime minister in 1996 (against all odds), Netanyahu has again assembled a coalition of dejected minorities, one that has much in common with the coalition of minorities assembled by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932. Though Netanyahu himself is part of the old guard, an MIT graduate who smokes expensive cigars in the company of billionaires, his supporters see him as the quintessential enemy of the liberal elite: the Israeli WASPS (white Ashkenazi supporters of peace).

The surprisingly successful embrace of this subversive-anti-establishment stance led Netanyahu to trounce Shimon Peres in the 1996 elections, uniting a varied group of minorities who flocked to his tent of discontent: Russian immigrants, the Ultra-Orthodox, Oriental Jews and ultra-nationalists among them. In the 2015 elections, Netanyahu succeeded in performing the same trick during the last week of the campaign, just as the media was predicting his demise. He won what many here term an Israeli landslide victory due to his ability to lead a last-minute grass-roots rebellion of the periphery (both geographically and socio-economically) against the center. It was not his fiery speech to Congress that won Netanyahu the election, but rather a series of populist public-square rallies alongside a series of inflammatory media interviews that evoked the lingering identity crisis experienced by many Israelis, who still feel belittled and alienated, far removed from the real centres of power of the Democratic-Jewish state.

The consequences are plain to see: In order to win the battle for the soul of Israel, the Israeli center-left must redefine itself much in the way that the American Democratic Party redefined itself under the leadership of Bill Clinton and the British Labor Party did under the leadership of Tony Blair. What is also needed is a new--and pragmatic--peace-idea that addresses the legitimate and justified fears of most Israelis.

There must be, above all, a new social contract that will address the inter-tribal chasm paralyzing Israeli society. It is neither wise nor fair to continue to promise a utopian peace that is clearly out of reach. It is neither wise nor fair to continue to ignore past traumas or present threats. And it is neither wise nor fair to condescend to new Israelis and scoff at their traditional religious and ethnic identities. Only an inclusive liberal-democratic attitude, tolerant and realistic, can liberate Israel from the iron grip of ultra-nationalism and ultra-religiousness that makes use of the continuing political failure of the progressive Israeli public to darken the face of the nation. After the shock of these elections, Israel finds itself at a momentous crossroads. The danger of a deep moral deterioration is more real and more acute than ever. But the smart way to deal with this danger is not to heap more hate on Netanyahu, but to embrace and empathize with the people whose fears and difficulties he exploits so skillfully.

Forty-eight hours after the voting booths had closed, I found myself at a wedding in the northern town of Tiberias. The guests were very different than my neighbors, my colleagues and my friends in north Tel Aviv. They were mostly Oriental, traditional and downtrodden, hard-working men and women who strive to give their children a better future. And because they recognized me from news programs on television, many approached me, eager to engage in conversation. More than 80 percent had voted for Netanyahu. Why? Because of their fear of the cauldron that is the Middle East, because of their contempt for the liberal media, because the Tel Aviv elite does not respect their traditions, their beliefs, or their way of life.

I did not argue. I listened. All around me were people who were neither extremist nor racist, and yet the Israeli peace movement and the international community are unable (and often unwilling) to reach them. All around me were warm, charming and dynamic people who are pushed into the arms of hard-liners by the arrogance and ineptitude of the left. When the older skullcap-wearing men mixed with the younger mini-skirted women on the dance floor to the sounds of Israeli, American and Arabic music, I suddenly felt that not all was lost. Despite everything that had happened this week, change is still possible. If we do what we must and can do, we can resurrect the benevolent Israel that now seems lost. It is not too late to save the heart and soul of my beloved country.

Mar 17, 2015

For Zion's Sake I Will Not Keep Silent (cross-post with the Huffington Post)

For Zion's Sake I Will Not Keep Silent
 © Rabbi Menachem Creditor

It's true. I chafed at Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's claim that he represents all Jews. I wasn't alone. Netanyahu's Jewish critics included comedian Jon StewartSenator Dianne FeinsteinDanish Chief Rabbi Jair MelchiorFrench Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia, and others. (The rejections of Rabbi Melchior and Rabbi Korsia occurred in the immediate aftermaths of deadly Anti-Semitic attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, where Netanyahu asserted that all Jews should abandon Europe and move to Israel.)

So here I sit, a progressive American rabbi opining on Israel's election day. And, despite what I believe will be the likely results of the election (Netanyanu's Likud will lose the vote, Isaac Herzog's Zionist Camp will win the vote but be unable to form a governing coalition, and Netanyahu will, as happened in 2008/9, be tapped by Israel's President to form a coalition, making him Prime Minister again if he succeeds.) If I chafe at an Israeli Prime Minister claiming to speak for me, a diaspora Jew, what gives me the right to comment on Israeli politics? I'm not an Israeli citizen, I and my children haven't served in the Israeli Defense Forces, and the Anti-Semitism (usually masked as Anti-Zionism) I face as a Bay Area Jew, while very real, are emotional attacks but neither physical nor existential threats.
Here is the hard truth: the Prime Minister of Israel is, as Chancellor Arnold Eisen of my alma mater the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, has cogently argued, the most visible global face of the Jewish People. Though different, my discomfort with many Netanyahu's policies reminds me of my distaste for some of the decisions American Presidents have made. To me, Netanyahu's international stance evokes a global world view of "us or them" and, according to many, his domestic economic policies have harmed employee productivity and increased the income gap. (I could point to problematic aspects of American domestic and foreign policies that mirror these, but suffice it to say: they exist.)

The reason for my engagement in Israeli politics is the very reason the Israeli Prime Minister does, de facto, represent me and every other Jew. While I disagree with many of Netanyahu's policies, I also know that he has been for 9 years the elected head of the only Jewish State in the world, a state that today demonstrates a vibrant democracy where every citizen - Jew and Arab - has a voice and a vote in determining these very policies and offices. To those who point to the many problems besetting Israel, geopolitical and hyper-local, I also say 'amen.' Israel is a work-in-progress, as is every nation. Zionism is a national identity called to tend to its citizens' vulnerabilities and its international relationships with renewed human compassion and particular Jewish commitments. Which is precisely the motivation for the high percentage of voter turnout at the polls today.

I am engaged in the destiny of Israel because it is a profound expression of Jewish self-determination, democracy, and human rights. Is it perfect? Of course not: it's a state. Does my aching Zionist heart hope for a change in Israel's leadership? From its core. Does my Zionism waver when Israel's leadership makes decisions with which I disagree? No. Should my pride in being an American citizen be lessened by a broken tax code that affords corporations unfair advantages and our justice system which perpetuates the racism of the Jim Crow eraNo. I am passionate about correcting both national systems, reclaiming the nobility of these different core facets of my identity. Citizenship, as President Obama eloquently stated in his first inaugural address, comes with obligations. Sometimes these obligations are supported by a nation's leaders, sometimes new leaders are required to achieve them. But, as the great biographer of Voltaire, Evelyn Beatrice Hall, once wrote: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." In these ways and many more. my Zionism is a source of Jewish pride, human humility, and deep personal passion.

One more point: As a diaspora rabbi, I also feel called to point out that it would a mistake to say that the Anti-Semitism rearing its head around today's world is due to Israel's occupation of the West Bank, a policy I oppose. Anti-Semitism has raged in the past, reaching far longer than Israel's almost 67 years of existence. There is no need to recount the many nations that have denied the civil and human rights of Jews. But there is a need, however unfortunate that need may be, to point out that Israel's imperfections are judged more harshly than any other nation's on earth, demonstrable in the media, on campus, and in the public sphere. If only those horrified by Israel's complicated use of West Bank checkpoints would rally support for Palestinian leaders (like Salam Fayyad, whose championing economic stability in the West Bank - a stark contrast to Hamas' ongoing fomenting of anti-Israel hatred in Gaza - has changed the life of its Palestinian residents in ways no anti-Israel activist would acknowledge). If only human rights activists would focus on the 5-year Syrian civil war which has killed more than 200,000 Syrians and dislocated more than 20% of Syria's population. Is Israel always in the right? Of course not. Is it unfairly targeted? Absolutely. Is this Anti-Israel bias tolerable? No. Not only because it carries an echo of millennia of Anti-Semitism, but because it ignores the great successes of the Zionist enterprise on behalf of the Jewish People and the larger world.

In short: I don't get a vote in today's Israeli elections. But our destinies are one, interwoven by a world that sees us as the same, and by my own faith which does as well. I say as a Jew, as long ago said the prophet Isaiah: "For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem's sake I will not remain quiet, till she emerges like the dawn, her light like a blazing torch."

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Mar 3, 2015

Some have asked me what I believe a solution looks like in the current Iran/US moment. Here goes:

Some have asked me what I believe a solution looks like in the current Iran/US moment. Here goes: An end to Iran-sponsored international terrorism and a team of trusted nuclear inspectors with full access to every Iranian site (known and currently unknown) with a trustworthy Iranian government and real military/diplomatic accountability with a trusted international coalition, all leading to much-needed economic relief and support of Iranian citizens (currently held hostage by their own fundamentalist leadership) and security of body and mind for the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the region and world. You know, Mashiach.

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Ben Stern, Baruch Bendit ben Shimon Nussen veYentl, z"l

A Great One has left the earth, and we are poorer for our enormous loss. I am reeling, as are the countless people who loved and learned fro...