Nov 30, 2015

VaYeshev 5776/2015: The Threat of Serenity


VaYeshev 5776/2015: "The Threat of Serenity"

The inspiration for this reflection came from a conversation many years ago with a friend about their love of skiing.
I've never skied, and I never intend to ski. In fact, I don't understand why anyone does. It seems to me that the things all skiers have in common are the bruises and broken bones inevitably acquired in the winter months.
Which is what I mentioned to my friend, who explained to me that, for him, skiing is a chance to relax and feel at peace. This was even more strange for me to hear, because when I relax, I like to do nothing. I spend most of my waking hours thinking and working and doing, and so when I can find a free moment I just love settling down into a comfortable chair with a cup of tea and either read a book or fall asleep.
The tension between these two ways of achieving peace are tied to the very first verse in this week's Torah Portion, VaYeshev. We read
Now Jacob was settled in the land where his father had sojourned, the land of Canaan. (Genesis 37:1)
Though the words, even in the Hebrew, don't particularly call attention to themselves, Jewish tradition has seen multiple layers within Jacob's desire to settle down. Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki ("Rashi"), adapting older midrashic sources, writes,
Jacob wished to live in serenity, when suddenly the drama of Joseph collided with him. When righteous people try to live lives of serenity, the Holy Blessed One says, "It's not enough for the righteous that which they have in store in the world to come, that they wish also to live serene lives in this world?!"
Rashi suggests that the struggle of a holy life does have a reward, but that a person worthy of reward doesn't slow down to collect. But, just for a moment, think of Jacob, a man who has already done a tremendous amount of living. He has emerged from a childhood trauma with his brother and parents, has worked 14 years to begin his family, has re-encountered his estranged brother, endured the pain of his own children's violence and suffering. He's weathered the journey of a lifetime, and simply wants to settle down. And if we didn't know what was coming next, we might expect his life's story to be near its end. But, thanks in part to Andrew Lloyd Webber, we know that this "inspiring tale" twists and turns quite a few more times before Jacob truly finds rest.
Our opening verse spoke of a land of "sojourning." Every patriarch and matriarch of Genesis had numerous stops during their wanderings. The notion of "home" was painfully elusive, we might imagine.
There is a famous parable that connects the concept of journeying with God's choice of Abraham as the first to carry the message. The Torah's text tells us virtually nothing about Abraham before his first call from God (Gen. 12:1), and so the midrash creates a back story:
This is like a man who was traveling from place to place, when he saw a castle on fire. He thought, "Can you say that this castle is without a master?' Then, the master of the castle looked out at him, and said, "I am the master of the castle!" In the same way, since Abraham our father was constantly wondering, "Can you say this world is without a Master?" God looked at him and said, "I am Master of the world!" (Midrash Genesis Rabbah 39:1)
This story has elicited years of thought, many essays and books, and so full understanding will remain impossible. But I do see one thing clearly illustrated in its words: Abraham would never have merited the call if he had stayed still. Traveling from place to place is the backdrop to Abraham's spiritual growth. Abraham's becoming settled, too comfortable, with his life's journey until that point would have robbed him, and us, of an exquisite relationship with God, of the possibilities he'd open with each next step he would take. So too, for his grandson Jacob. So too, for us.
While still a rabbinical student in New York City, I read a poem by Mark Strand, displayed on the NYC subway system as a part of an add campaign called "Poetry in Motion." I offer Strand's words here with both the wish that the world should truly come closer to peace, and with the knowledge that peace will only come if we continue journeying forward.
In a field
I am the absence of field.
This is always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.
When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body's been.
We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

Nov 25, 2015

A Prayer for the #BlackFriday14

A Prayer for the #BlackFriday14
Offered as part of the Interfaith Service and Rally, Wiley Manuel Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland, CA, Nov. 25, 2015
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

inspired by Pastor Michael McBride, Yehudah Amichai, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, Rabbi Michael Rothbaum, Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, and the #BlackLivesMatter Movement

Dearest God,

We stand before you because we must.

We stand before You because
truths that should be self-evident
are not so evident in our country.

Fourteen Black community activists participated in an act of civil disobedience one year ago at the West Oakland BART station, disrupting economic business as usual in the best tradition of our great society. They did this as part of nationwide protests to demand dignity and respect for all Black lives.

And, for this, the District Attorney's office filed criminal charges. For the crime of demanding dignity through non-violent protest they face more serious consequences than many police officers who have taken innocent Black lives.

Many now know the names Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray. Jewish tradition adds zochronam livracha, may their memories be for a blessing. But theirs are only four names of many, many needlessly lost, wrongfully taken, Black lives. Tanisha Anderson, Rekia Boyd, Miriam Carey, Michelle Cusseaux, Shelly Frey and Kayla Moore. We will say their names. We, God, will say all their names, marching and acting and crying and singing and demanding and protesting until every elected official, every Presidential candidate, every law enforcement officer, and yes – every District Attorney – knows we’re watching.

We’ll say their names until everyone remembers You’re watching.

Today, God, we call to mind our prophetic teachings, including that of the  Reverend Dr. King, who taught us in 1967:

…Power at its best is love
implementing the demands of justice,
and justice at its best is power
correcting everything
that stands against love.

Dr. King’s prayers are not to be appropriated as a tool for easy comfort and self-satisfaction by the established, by the well-off. By those who would reinforce instead of acknowledge their privilege.

His words were honed sharp by the depth of his righteous rage at society’s inequalities. And those dreams he dreamed are, and forever will be, dreams worth dreaming. We lost our teacher so many years ago. But we have not lost his challenge to not search for consensus but to mold consensus by the power of our convictions.

We gather today to remind each other how to dream and how to act in Dr. King's spirit. For as he taught, “We must learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or perish together as fools.” And we’d like to not be fools, Lord, alone in our suffering. We’ve got so much to do, and the good news is there is more than enough power in our unified community with which to see it done. If we can remain focused on our shared vision for Black Lives, we will be able to do all this and more.

And so we turn to you to breathe
ever more of Your Spirit into us
because we find we cannot breathe,
the arms of armed forces wrapped around our throats
when we call out for justice.

We call to you in defiance of
of a national system that betrays our noble ideals,
where tanks and blood fill our streets,
where every Black man, woman, and child is
twenty times likelier to be killed by police.
We shout to the Heavens with one, unified voice:
Black. Lives. Matter.

We are called by scripture to pray for the day when we will
beat swords into plowshares and study war no more,
when the surplus of war led by greed and deception
will not spill into our streets,
where swords and tanks and rubber bullets and tear gas
will be beaten thinner and thinner,
the iron of hatred vanishing forever.

We pray to You because,
as our prophets have taught us:
human suffering anywhere
concerns men and women everywhere.

We called to you, O God,
because Your Image
was abandoned on rainy concrete for
4 and a half hours.

We call to you, O God,
because Your Spirit
was choked out of a father who
called out 11 times’ “I can’t breathe.”

We call to you because all of America is Ferguson, all of America is McKinney Texas, all of America is Oakland, and all of us are the fourteen young people currently facing obscene charges for the bravery of civil disobedience.

We raise our hands to you,
knowing that the work is ours to do,
black, white, Jewish, Christian, Muslim,
Hindu, atheist, young, old, gay, straight –
These are your images, battered all too often
by those sworn to protect and serve
and a broken judicial system
in need of radical mending.

We are all responsible for what happens next.

And so we pray to You,
Source of Life,
raise up our eyes
to see You in each other’s eyes,
to take risks for justice,
to bring through our unified prayer today
more Love and Compassion into the world.

Ignite us to combat the hidden prejudice
which causes police to open fire in fear,
which transforms a child in a hoodie
into a hoodlum, a person into a threat.

We pray today not for calm but for righteousness
to flow like a mighty river, until
peace fills the earth as the waters fill the sea.

Comfort the families of all who grieve.
Strengthen us to work for a world redeemed.

And we say together:

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
menachemcreditor.org ▶netivotshalom.org
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Nov 24, 2015

Black Lives Matter and the Beauty of Israel: Working on Both with One Soul

Black Lives Matter and the Beauty of Israel: Working on Both with One Soul
(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor

I'm participating in the #BlackFriday14 action tomorrow, praying desperately that the focus remains true to the principles of #BlackLivesMatter. Conflation of American systemic racism with the plight of Palestinians:
  1. makes it impossible for Jewish BLM activists who love Israel to share in the work,
  2. ignores the wide historical differences between a) the UN Charter that established two states for two Peoples and b) African slavery,
  3. denies the foundational universalism and democracy of Zionism and the right of Israel to exist,
  4. confuses the difficulty of living under the daily threat of violent terrorism against Israelis with the intent to deny human rights to Palestinians,
  5. ignores the many Israeli/Palestinian peacemakers whose work could be the very model for American healing we need,
  6. makes it infinitely harder for liberal Zionists to do the internal work necessary to end the Occupation of the West Bank and work on Israeli Democracy, Israeli Arab rights, and peace.
The #BlackLivesMatter Principles (powerfully articulated at http://blacklivesmatter.com/) are:

"Black Lives Matter is a unique contribution that goes beyond extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes. It goes beyond the narrow nationalism that can be prevalent within some Black communities, which merely call on Black people to love Black, live Black and buy Black, keeping straight cis Black men in the front of the movement while our sisters, queer and trans and disabled folk take up roles in the background or not at all. Black Lives Matter affirms the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, Black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. It centers those that have been marginalized within Black liberation movements. It is a tactic to (re)build the Black liberation movement."

May the aspirations of all people, Black, Palestinian, and Israel be answered. We have more than enough land and love for that. 

The day we all pray for will come when we can listen well enough to distinguish, affirm, and support our truest selves. None need be at the expense of the other, and all could use their own dignity back.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
menachemcreditor.org ▶netivotshalom.org
To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com!

Nov 19, 2015

A Blessing for a Baby Born Prematurely

A Blessing for a Baby Born Prematurely
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

My God,
this little soul (the child's name)
is pure.

Your sacred Image is manifest
in (the child's name),
forming and developing
even as s/he is emerged and entered
into the world.

One day,
may it be far into the future,
this little soul will leave this world
and enter the next one.

May every moment
of this little one's life
be blessed
with love,
with health,
with life.

May s/he gain strength and resilience,
in and out,
body and soul.

I am grateful to you,
my God
God of every generation,
for this little one's life.

Blessed are You,
God who restores our souls
each day.


Nov 16, 2015

Congregation Netivot Shalom Kashrut Policy (Adopted: Kislev 5769 / December 2008 )

Congregation Netivot Shalom Kashrut Policy
Adopted: Kislev 5769 / December 2008 
For any question of Kashrut, please contact Rabbi Creditor.    

Kavanah / Our Approach: The term "kosher" is a statement of purposefulness. Torah Scrolls, food, and choices can be "kosher" (or not).  This document deals primarily with our food guidelines but reflects the larger approach of healthy & holy living we teach and live at Netivot Shalom.  In other words, our integrated commitments to ethical, environmental, and ritual elevation are Kashrut standards by which we abide as a community.  While individual members of the congregation have a wide variety of observances in their own homes, we have adopted the following rules as our kashrut policy for events, and expect everyone who purchases or prepares food for shul functions to follow this Kashrut policy.

Note: Netivot Shalom allows only dairy and pareve food at events held on our premises.    

ALL processed food products need to have a recognized hechsher* (Kashrut certification).  A hechsher is a symbol of approval stamped on the packaging of a product, which certifies that the facility manufacturing the product is under supervision of a rabbi who attests to the kashrut of the product. The only exception to this rule is hard cheese.  All wine, juices, and purchased baked goods must have a hechsher.  *Note: If a label has simply the letter "K", that alone does not signify that a product has a recognized hechsher. The hechsher with the symbol "Tablet K" http://docs.google.com/File?id=dcp43hhw_169gz8kb4c6_b is not acceptable.    

Kashrut Standards for the Synagogue Kitchen: Netivot Shalom members are welcome to cook pareve and dairy meals in the synagogue kitchen, provided all ingredients adhere to our kashrut standards. We encourage members to cook together and to use the synagogue kitchen to prepare food for Netivot Shalom functions. This is one way we build community and share fun experiences together!    

Kashrut Standards for Food Cooked in a Member's Home for a Synagogue Event in the Synagogue or Elsewhere:

If you keep a kosher kitchen: You can bring dairy or pareve food cooked in your home that adheres to our kashrut standards using hechshered ingredients where required. If your home is kosher and you keep "ingredient kosher", or if your home is vegan or vegetarian, use only hechshered ingredients when preparing food for community use and prepare and bring them in new recyclable/disposable containers. You are responsible for determining that your kitchen is kosher. Feel free to approach Rabbi Creditor with any questions.     

If you do not yet keep a kosher kitchen: You can still bring food cooked or baked in your kitchen by using hechshered ingredients and by following these guidelines, (which, in effect, describe how easy it truly is to have a kosher kitchen): 
§ Begin by creating a separate space in your kitchen by scrubbing and cleaning your work area.
§ Use only new utensils, pots, pans, and cutlery. 
§ Stovetop Cooking: You may cook on an electric or gas stove, using a new or kosher pot. 
§ Microwave Cooking: You may cook in a microwave after kashering it by cleaning the inside thoroughly and then bringing a glass of water in it to a boil.   
§ Baking: You may bake in the oven, after running the cleaning cycle. If the oven does not have a cleaning cycle, you can clean it thoroughly and run it at its highest temperature setting for 15 minutes prior to cooking. 
§ Cleaning: Use only new sponges when cleaning implements. 
§ Transporting: Foods should be brought to shul in new recyclable/disposable containers.  Food should not be transported on Shabbat or Holidays. 
§ For Kashering one’s home kitchen - MAZAL TOV!! - please contact Rabbi Creditor. 

Nov 15, 2015

What does it mean when we say 'terror won't win?'

What does it mean when we say 'terror won't win?'
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

What does it mean when we say 'terror won't win?'

It means that we are commanded to live every second to its fullest, to devour with delight the marrow of life, to allow the sun to reach us through closed, grateful eyes, to see the light in each other's Divine Image, to urge the world one millimeter closer to fairness and justice, and to banish despair from our souls.

Most of all, our response to something we experience as an attack on civilization must spur us to deepen our personal and communal commitments to build the world from Love faster than anyone can tear it down.

עולם חסד יבנה/ Olam Chesed Yibaneh /


Rabbi Menachem Creditor
▶menachemcreditor.org ▶netivotshalom.org

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Nov 13, 2015

What use is prayer, God? A Prayer During a Terror Attack in Paris

What use is prayer, God? A Prayer During a Terror Attack in Paris
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

What use is prayer, God,
while Your children are killing each other?
Your images are erasing each other,
right now, on the streets of Paris,
in markets and thaters and stadiums in Paris.

Dear God,
What can prayer accomplish
when hate and fear fill human hearts,
life interrupted by global concern,
all of us tweeting, reposting,
images of flags, incomplete reports,
sick to our hearts?

Dear God…
Dear God…

If only there were a way
to reach out beyond space,
to connect one heart to the next
until we remembered
that we belong to each other…

If only our hearts’ ache
for a world without hate
could reach Yours….

If only…

There is a way,
even during this moment of terror,
through a deeper prayer
than we’re used to making.

God, we need You
and we know
our fate isn’t up to You.

God, we pray,
but not for You to save us.
That won’t work.

God, we pray that You strengthen us.

Help us pray,
Help us rage,
Help us cry,
Help us rescue each other,
Help us change this broken world.

Help us transform our tears into resolve,
rage into constructive passion,
trauma into healing.

may we learn
not only to stop each other
from killing each other…

May we also learn
to stop killing
in the first place.


Nov 10, 2015

This Monday, November 16! "Religion and State in Israel: Why does it concern American Jewry?"

Religion and State in Israel: 
Why does it concern American Jewry? 
featuring Rabbi Uri Regev, 
President and CEO of Hiddush

Monday, November 16, 2015
7:00 pm reception and nosh
7:30 to 9:00 pm program

Rabbi Regev is founding President and CEO of Hiddush, founder and former head of the Israel Religious Action Center and former President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. He was lead counsel in cases decided by the Israeli Supreme Court on "Who is a Jew" and equitable funding for Reform and Conservative institutions, and he presently represents an Ultra-Orthodox family in a landmark case. He appears frequently on Israeli radio and television, and in Israeli and international publications. HIDDUSH - Freedom of Religion in Israel, Inc. is a non-denominational non-partisan Israel-Diaspora partnership rooted in the commitment to, and deep love for, the State of Israel and the realizing of religious freedom and equality in order to strengthen Israel as a democracy and a Jewish state, and to enhance the relationship between Israel, World Jewry and the next generation.

Nov 1, 2015

THIS FRIDAY! A special Ramah of Northern California Shabbat at Netivot Shalom!!!

Shabbat  at Netivot Shalom
This Friday, November 6th
Davening at 6:30pm
Dinner at 7:30pm

We will be welcoming the director of the new Northern California Camp Ramah,
Rabbi Sarah Shulman, who will spend for all of Shabbat at CNS! Friday night will give us the opportunity to spend one-on-one (or 100-on-one) time with her during Davning and dinner!

Cost is $18 per adult, $10 per pre-b'nai mitzvah child over 3, 
family maximum is $54. No one turned away for lack of funds.
Please RSVP by Wednesday to Daniel at office@netivotshalom.org!

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