Jan 31, 2016

Historic Agreement on the Kotel is Reached!

Historic Agreement at the Kotel 
(Western Wall)
By Yizhar Hess, CEO Masorti Israel

A historic compromise that redefines the relationship between religion and state in Israel has been reached! After 25 years of fraught negotiations, for the first time in the history of the State of Israel, non-orthodox Judaism has achieved formal status in our holiest of places - the Kotel.

Finally, there will be one Kotel: Walking through one common entrance, visitors will be able to choose which part of the Kotel they would like to pray or visit - the Northern Plaza of the Western Wall which respects Orthodox custom, or the Southern Plaza that respects the egalitarian traditions of both Conservative and Reform Judaism. The two plazas, north and south, will provide Torah scrolls, siddurim, tables for Torah reading and everything necessary for every man and woman to pray as they see fit.   Every month, Women of the Wall will be able to pray, undisturbed in the Southern Plaza. 

Equality and pluralism: This agreement updates the protocols safeguarding the holy site, and for the first time in history, the following explicit words will appear in the law books of the State of Israel:

"The customs of this site will be based on principles of pluralism
 and gender equality, and prayer at this site will be egalitarian
 and un-segregated, women and men together, without a partition."

From today, every solution to every dispute must give expression to the simple, basic and natural fact that there is more than one way to be Jewish. While we did not achieve everything that we wanted, this day is a day of celebration for Jewish pluralism in Israel - for Conversion, Marriage and Kashrut.

This historic compromise represents so many achievements.  The egalitarian plaza will have several large and extensive levels.  Spreading out over an expanse that will include a raised prayer plaza (constructed) and all of the Herodian Street area, the entire prayer plaza will stand at almost 900 square meters (for means of comparison, the area is about 70% as large as the present men's section at the Western Wall and 130% larger than the present women's section).

A Public Council, to be appointed by the Prime Minister, will be headed by the Chairperson of the Jewish Agency and six representatives (two from each) from the Conservative Movement, the Reform Movement and Women of the Wall, alongside six professional representatives from the Prime Minister's office and various Ministries, as well as the Israel Antiquities Authority. This is the first Statutory Council in which representatives of the Conservative and Reform Movements in Israel, by definition, will have been officially appointed to participate.

The Conservative Movement in Israel is filled with pride because it was back in the year 2000, that we were the first to adopt the compromise resolution of Robinson's Arch. Since then, hundreds of thousands of Israelis, Conservative Jews and others from around the world were weclomed to the site to pray and to celebrate bnei mitzvah, and other special occasions.  

Throughout that time, the Masorti Movement maintained regular prayer at the site, and absorbed all of the expenses, including the provision of Torah scrolls. We are proud that we were able to provide this service throughout this long transition period, and are very pleased to pass this heavy financial burden onto the shoulders of the Israeli government, as should have occurred long ago.  

Thanks to this agreement, the Prime Minister's office will assign a permanent annual budget for the site's management, maintenance, marketing and religious services that will be provided to the public at-large.

Our thank you list is long and it demonstrates the complexity of this accomplishment and so we wish to publicly acknowledge herewith, The Prime Minister of the State of Israel, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu who promised "One Wall for One People" and stood behind his promise; to Yitzhak ("Bougie") Herzog who during the time that he served as Cabinet Secretary, designed and implemented the compromise of Robinson's Arch for the first time; to Zvi Hauser, the previous Cabinet Secretary, that prepared the foundation of the Resolution on which it stands today; to Naftali Bennet, who during the time that he served as Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs, established "Ezrat Yisrael" - the temporary prayer plaza at Robinson's Arch; to Natan Sharansky, Chairperson of the Jewish Agency, who accompanied these negotiations with determination and deep wisdom; to Jerry Silverman and Becky Caspi, from the Jewish Federations of North America; to Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Assembly; to Rabbi Steve Wernick, Executive Director of the North American Conservative Movement; to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, Head of the Reform Movement; to Rabbi Sandra Kochmann, Masorti Kotel Coordinator, and to my close friends over the long years of negotiation - Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Executive Director of the Reform Movement in Israel, Anat Hoffman, Batya Kalish and Lesley Sachs from Women of the Wall, Rabbi Andy Sacks, Director of Masorti's Rabbinical Assembly in Israel; to the senior assistants of the Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Gil Limon and Ronen Peretz, Adv.;, and of course to the Cabinet Secretary himself, Dr. Avichai Mandelblit, who in the perseverance of a  lawmaker,  חרדת קודש של תלמיד חכם ואורך רוח של איש מידות, accompanied the formation of this resolution up until his last day in office, bringing an end to this dispute, in conjunction with widespread agreement and mutual respect.

And an extra thank you that is not to be taken for granted, to the Rabbi of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch. We never actually met face to face. We never shook hands. Negotiations took place through a messenger. Who but us knows that, just like us, you attained quite a few achievements in the finalization of this resolution? And yet, despite this, you were forced, just as we were, to concede many important issues as well. We wish us all good relations as neighbors, peace, and even, maybe friendship. 

Lastly, we wish to thank our supporters in North America, who encouraged us, donated sifrei Torah and with their financial help facilitated the provision of these important services for the past 16 years. Todah Rabah!
If you would like to mark this special moment in history as well as support our work throughout Israel which continues on, please give to Masorti.  
Your donations achieve results!
The Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel | (212) 870-2216 
| 475 Riverside Drive, Suite 832, New York, NY 10115 |
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Jan 28, 2016

Rabbis Against Gun Violence (#RAGV) Press Release: National Coordinator Announcement

RabbisAgainstGunViolence (#RAGV)


Rabbis Against Gun Violence (#RAGV) Names Eileen Soffer as National Coordinator

Press release

January 27, 2016 — Rabbis Against Gun Violence (#RAGV) announced that its Executive Leadership Team has appointed Eileen Soffer as its inaugural National Coordinator.

“Eileen’s experience and longstanding commitments, including previous work as Deputy National Field Director for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and community programming for Jewish organizations including Jewish LearningWorks in the SF Bay Area, make her the ideal National Coordinator for Rabbis Against Gun Violence #RAGV,” said Rabbis Against Gun Violence chair, Rabbi Menachem Creditor.

“#RAGV is galvanizing its 840+ members to reach out through Jewish communities to the tens of thousands of our constituents, both Jews and people of other faiths, to say ‘enough!’” said #RAGV Executive Leadership Team member Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin  “We believe in the value of every human being on this planet. There have been too many lives tragically lost because of the misuse of guns.”

Since Rabbis Against Gun Violence #RAGV’s launch last week, the International Rabbinical Assembly, the Reform Movement's Religious Action Center, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Gabby Giffords’ Americans for Responsible Solutions, and other organizations have all reached out to partner with and leverage #RAGV's commitment to save lives in the midst of an ongoing American Gun Violence Epidemic.

With the commitments of over 800 American Jewish faith leaders, and the ongoing support of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice and Truah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, Rabbis Against Gun Violence #RAGV stands ready to lead the Jewish community to do its part to reduce Gun Violence in America.


Jan 21, 2016

#RabbisAgainstGunViolence (#RAGV) Update

The inaugural #RabbisAgainstGunViolence (#RAGV) call just ended. 801 rabbis, spanning the American Jewish spectrum,...
Posted by Menachem Creditor on Thursday, January 21, 2016

Jan 20, 2016

CNS Social Action: Men's Shelter Dinner Report

The Men's Shelter Dinner Report 
chesed gif               
Men's Shelter Dinner, January 3, 2016
Sometimes the cup runneth over, that is, the volunteer cup.  Nearly as distressing as not enough volunteers is too many volunteers.  Too many volunteers mean folks go away from the experience feeling they weren't needed and don't return for another day.  That is one reason we maintain a handy sign-up sheet, on-line (http://tinyurl.com/cnsshelterdinnersignup).  The various tasks and shift times are listed for several months in advance so that potential volunteers can sign up early (and often!).  In January, several new, potential volunteers contacted me to see if they could volunteer even if the slots were all filled.  I had to say a reluctant "no" but with encouragement to sign up for the next dinner.  

In January, Vivian C. signed up for shopping.  She had not previously shopped for the Shelter dinner and had lots of questions.  Our e-mails back and forth burned up the atmosphere for awhile.  In the end, all the necessary ingredients were purchased and delivered right on time and with a grin.

In the kitchen were Billi, Doug, Eve, CJ, and Yonit.  Dani orchestrated the quinoa vegetarian stew, the green salad, and tea. Vicky came and read to us a wise men of Chelm story that provoked some interesting discussion.  R. Stuart "supervised".  He and I discussed the possibility of the CNS Jazz Combo providing dinner entertainment at a future Shelter Meal.  Sari, Jerry G., and Barbara W. helped pull the dinner together, served, and cleaned up,   Shifra, Stephen, and Ruth baked delicious cookies and mini-cheesecakes.  

We had a lot of food left over, even though several of the guys came back for seconds and thirds.  When this happens, we pack up the leftovers into take away boxes and hand them out to the men and women who are sleeping in the park across the street or on the front steps of the Veterans Memorial Building.  The night air was very cold and they were very grateful for the unexpected hot meal.

Jan 18, 2016

Until that Day: Remarks at the Berkeley City Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast 2016

Until that Day: Remarks at the Berkeley City
Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast 2016
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Dearest God,

We are here as a city united for a moment. This beautiful morning is a brief episode of togetherness inspired by your servant, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We thank you for the food before us and the fellowship surrounding us.

But we know You know, God, that the Beloved Community Dr. King called us to build is hardly here. Those who labored to bring us together deserve our praise, and we offer them at least that. But we know, we know, God… We are barely at the foot of that mountain.

We know this because the clinking silverware bringing abundant food to our mouths is only for those who can pay to come. We know this because this lovely room we share for this sacred occasion has locks on the door.

More than that, God, more than that.

We know this morning isn’t enough because citizens of Flint, Michigan have poison water in their very homes and Americans have the poison of hatred in our ears. We know this because we still haven’t learned how to love each other, black and white, gay and straight, rightly and well. Our silence in the face of these things, as Dr. King taught us, is nothing less than betrayal.

The world You’ve call us to build leaves no one hungry. The Beloved Community needs no locks. The America our teacher, Dr. King, died loving is supposed to be a safe home for those seeking safety and refuge. This Nation is not yet what it is supposed to be, and so we turn to You.

Your servant Dr. Martin King might not have been happy to see us sitting here this morning having this very nice breakfast. He might have led us outside this fine establishment, back into Your fragile world, O God, marching our feet to the rhythmic beat of the deep rumblings of discontent (“Loving Your Enemies”, 1957), back into our streets. And so we pray this very morning to not enjoy so much of the wonderful bounty before us that we forsake the hungry, that we forget our own calamity, just yards away, and miles away, and counties and states away. But really, we know they’re right here in this room. We haven’t set them down, not even for a moment, Lord. We know, as Dr. King taught us, that “our lives begin to end when we become silent about things that matter.”

Dr. King would have called us to know the number of children going hungry in Alameda County this very minute. To know their names and seek their welfare. He would have called us to know the number of dead, thanks to guided missiles and misguided people, willfully-ignored gun violence, and woefully-unequal systems of legislation and enforcement and incarceration in our country. He would have pointed to the immorality of unequal sentencing and the widespread use of solitary confinement. He would have had a thing or two to say about that.

Dr. King, your servant, would speak truth about the astounding costs of financial corruption, of ongoing institutionalized inequality; he would have forced us to see the costs of "free trade": 27 million people today still cursed to live in slavery.

He would have seen beyond the numbers, to the faces of people.

He would be preaching with the “urgency of now” a determined, measured, poetic, prophetic outrage. He would be teaching by example our civic duty of compassion, the obligations of citizenship, the nobility of non-violent protest, the grave danger of cynicism.

When he gave his life for peoplesʼ rights of speech, and assembly, and the vote, it was for people who had no money to pay for speech. They knew speech as an unalienable right, and their wealth of spirit sufficed.

Dr. King had faith in a few great things: one was our essential American dream.
Not middle-class or upper-class working-poor, or impoverished-class, but the defining American dream which lifts up those who are bowed down: the abiding American dream of liberty and justice - for all.

There is a love deep within us, Dear God, a deep, flowing love, a love Martin Luther King Jr described as an “overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless, and creative… a love in which the individual seeks not his own good, but the good of his neighbor. [it does] not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people, or any qualities people possess. It begins by loving others for their sakes.”

And so we stand before You, Dear God, because we must learn that Love. It is well within our reach, tucked into our very souls. We know it is. We place our hands on our own hearts and feel an overwhelming Love, God. We know that’s You, the gentle presence of our own beating, aching hearts.

But it can be hard to feel so fiercely so often. We can become pressed down by a world too much with us, a world where the racism, poverty and militarism Dr. King railed against are so very present.

We have some glimmers of hope, here and there, for which we offer tears of gratitude, but we stand before You today because there are also crucial truths that should be self-evident and are not so evident in our country.

We turn to you to breathe ever more of Your Spirit into us because some of us find we cannot breathe, the arms of power constricting our ability to call out for justice, and we know well that human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere.

We turn to you, Dear God, in the hopes that our elected officials, public servants, and engaged citizens can together rebuild a trust eroded by  a surplus of the weaponry of war on our city streets and a prison system and a drug war and sentencing laws that casually - and we pray, thoughtlessly - perpetuate a racism that systematically ignores your Divine Image in black and brown Americans. We turn to you because Dr. King’s dream has yet to be fulfilled.

Dr. King's story is not to be appropriated as a tool for easy comfort and self-satisfaction by the established, by the well-off, by those who worry life will be inconvenienced by pointing out that Black lives seem to still matter less in our unfinished society. His words were honed sharp by the depth of 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, at the tender age of 39. But we have not lost his challenge to not search for consensus but to mold consensus by the power of our convictions.

Dear God, we know we have to do much better than we’re doing, that we have to be so much better to each other, better to our world if we are to share our prophet’s vision of a beloved community. We've got so much to do, and the good news is that we’ve got Your love waiting to pour out of us and into the world. We promise, Dear Lord – that, in memory of your prophet Dr. King, we’re going to rediscover Love, this greatest of all powers. Armed with this Divine Love, we know we are stronger than the accursed weapons on our streets. We know that the beauty we channel as Your children can defeat the rampant cynicism in our country. We know that within this sacred gathering there is more than enough power with which to see this great task done.

And so we pray:

- May we learn, Dear God, to reach again for that which is high.
- May we be blessed to pursue justice for all, to see when pieties and niceties fall short and protest is truly called for.
- May we remember, as Dr. King taught us, that “life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘what are you doing for others?’”
- May we remember the power of our convictions to change the world.
- May we pause to recognize the divine image in every human being, deeper than our uniforms, deeper than our skins, as deep as deep gets.
- May we be blessed to stand together - now and for eternity - with overflowing, unconditional light and love, for as Dr. King taught us: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." (“I’ve been to the mountaintop, 1968)
- May we be worthy of the work ahead, and dare to see ourselves as carriers of this sacred prophetic work.

We have miles and miles to go before a celebratory breakfast is truly deserved.

Until the day when our love overflows in the streets instead of our blood;

Until the day our bruised hands are raised up in gratitude for the work we’ve done together and not in fear of each other;

Until the day every one of Your Images, God, can lay down and not be afraid,

Until the day, Dear God, we see You in each other’s eyes and take risks to to create an ascending spiral Love and Compassion in our Beloved Community,

Until that day, God, we will pray and we will march and we will see You in other’s eyes, expanding our circles of belonging until we remember we all belong to You.

And so, friends, let us pray that we do something worthy tomorrow, not just say amen to lovely words today.


Jan 10, 2016

Rabbi Gary S. Creditor: "Then Tell Me You Don’t Want to Check Who is Buying the Gun"

"Then Tell Me You Don’t Want to Check 
Who is Buying the Gun"
Reflections Upon Attending 
the CNN #GunViolence Town Hall Meeting 
with President Obama
January 7th, 2016
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor
Richmond, Virginia

December 22, 2011 was a day that changed my life forever. That day I buried a woman who was shot to death by a handgun while on her way to work as a nurse at a hospital after she had visited the grave of her son who had also been shot to death by a handgun. Neither murder has ever been solved. I had always paid at least “lip-service” to the issue of handgun violence. I signed the petitions. I made sermons reflecting on my experience of the deaths of JFK, RFK and MLK. I remember growing up with cap pistols and an air rifle. We would play and say “bang, bank your dead” and have absolutely no idea of what we had just said. We didn’t know the reality of death.  That day changed everything.

I can honestly say that I am scared of guns. I never served in the military, due to the lottery system, and so have neither exposure nor experience. I have touched rifles twice and was trembling both times.

But I tremble even more so every time I open up the newspaper or hear on the television or radio of another death due to handgun violence. Perhaps I am somewhat inured to the pain of mass killings because I can’t even recount them one by one anymore since there are so many and they don’t seem to ever stop. My mind can’t take the pain of visualizing a gun going off, a bullet flying through the air, the rearing of flesh and bone and spraying of blood and the absent look upon the victim as he or she dies. Especially of young people, especially of children.  As a Rabbi I have buried children who died from disease. That was hard enough, so sooth bereft parents, staunch grandparents’ tears, hold a community shaken by the loss of child. I have done it more than once. But what do you say when a young teenager sitting in a car is murdered? And I don’t mince words. I don’t use euphamisms. I say it straight. He was shot to death by a handgun. He was murdered. He died. I had to answer the unanswerable questions from girlfriends of the daughter whose mother was shot to death as she drove in a car: Why? How does this happen? They had been sheltered. Maybe they didn’t read newspapers. Maybe they didn’t pay attention because it was happening in some other segment of society than their own. Now their innocence was stripped away and in their pain they came to me and asked: “How I can I believe in God when this happens to such a good person, an esteemed and beloved nurse, an adored wife and mother, and kind and gentle soul?” I trembled in trying to articulate a suitable answer while literally on one foot. I then had to write a sermon in the quietude of my office to search inside my heart to find what to say to them. To my community. To myself.

If this death could have been prevented, wouldn’t it have been worth it, to just check on who was buying this gun? Wasn’t the pain and agony of her husband, her daughter, her parents, her–in-laws, and her communities’ deepest grief worth making sure that this gun wasn’t getting into wrong hands? Who can be so cruel, who can be so hard hearted, who can be so callous to deny this claim? To oppose back-ground checks that could possible prevent such tragedies, such catastrophes, such calamities, such pain and agony?

  • I want those who oppose President Obama’s initiatives to come stand with me in the morgue and look at a bullet-riddled body.
  • I want them to walk with me as I hold weeping men, women and children with a pain that has no remedy.
  • I want them to stand with me as I lower the casket into the grave from which it will not return.
  • Stand with me as teenagers search my eyes for some wisdom to help with their disillusionment with society, with rules, with leadership.
  • Stand with me in the breach at each of these moments and then look these people in the face and say that you are against back ground checks.

Get out of Washington!
Get out of your offices!
Come with me into the trenches of humanity.
Come and feel the pain that courses through your body so you feel hollow even as your eyes erupt in the tears that drains your body of its moisture.
I dare you to stand where I have stood!

I want leadership that reflects President Kennedy’s book “Profiles I Courage,” men and women who know right from wrong and are willing to sacrifice prestige and privilege, position and power to do what is right. What is more important in the world? Be worthy of title Senator, of Representative. Know that you are standing before something more important than getting reelected. You are standing before something more powerful than the NRA.

You are standing before God, who, in sacred scripture said to Cain: "The bloods of your brother cry out to Me from the earth!" In the original Hebrew text the word for ‘blood’ is in the plural. Perhaps it indicates that not just the murdered person is dead. The future of this person is dead too. There is a dead spot in each family member’s heart.  Something dies inside each and every one of us. And society has died a little too. I talk about only one family. Multiply this by the count of each day, each month, each year, each decade.

Before you go to sleep, look at your children, look at your spouse, if you are older, look at a picture of your grandchildren or of nieces and nephews. Think of them shot and bleeding, dead in the morgue, lying in an empty coffin. Interred in the cold earth.

Then tell me you don’t want to check on who is buying the gun.

Jan 5, 2016

Shabbat Dinner at CNS THIS FRIDAY NIGHT with Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block!

Quick Links
RSVP for an amazing Shabbat Dinner at CNS 
with Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block!
Join Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block as a Scholar-in-Residence for a unique Netivot Shalom Shabbat focused on domestic social justice. (for more information, click here.)
Jason is the Rabbi-in-Residence for Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, and Deputy Director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action in Washington, D.C. Over the course of Shabbat, he will give a number of teachings.
Theodore Parker famously wrote, "We cannot understand the moral Universe. The arc is a long one, and our eyes reach but a little way; we cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; but we can divine it by conscience, and we surely know that it bends toward justice.
While Parker's description is abstract, Jews have long understood the building of just societies to be a core part of what we are called to do as Jews. Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice engages the diverse American Jewish community as part of larger multifaith movements for justice to build a more just, fair, and compassionate society. Bend the Arc works on domestic policy and politics, on such issues as criminal justice reform, immigration, LGBT equality, minimum wage, and voting rights.
Friday night - Service starts at 6pm, followed by 7pm Dinner*
Dinner requires RSVP and payment
$54/family maximum 
*RSVP to Daniel at office@netivotshalom.org

Friday Night's Teachings 

During Davening: For the past three decades, some have painted the American Jewish Community as one that is becoming increasingly insular and conservative as it grows more prosperous and integral to American Society. Is that really the case?
During Dinner:

Thoughts on Mass Incarceration by a Warden's Son - Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block grew up in staff housing of New York State Prisons; now he lobbies in the U.S. Congress on behalf of criminal justice reform. Hear some of his reflections on mass incarceration, the prospects for reform, and the role of the Jewish community in this movement.
Shabbat Morning Drasha

"In a Place Where There Is No One..." -- Models of Leadership In Exodus
Shifra, Puah, Pharaoh, Moses, Aaron, Miriam -- the Exodus contains a variety of models of leadership. What can we learn from them in confronting contemporary challenges on our society?
Saturday - after Kiddush talk starts at 1pm
After Kiddush

When Jews Speak of Social Justice: Ancient and Modern Articulations
How have ancient and contemporary Jews framed Jewish understandings of social justice? From Isaiah to Nachmanides to Emma Goldman...to you.
Bio: Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block is Rabbi-in-Residence at Bend the Arc and Deputy Director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, where he works to bring the voices of progressive American Jews into the halls of power in Washington DC. He has marched against police brutality with national leaders in Ferguson and in Baltimore and helped lead a high-profile interfaith die-in protest at the U.S. Capitol to highlight the policy demands of the#BlackLivesMatter movement. In October 2013, Rabbi Kimelman-Block was arrested at a national demonstration for immigration reform alongside members of Congress during an act of civil disobedience on the National Mall. He also directs the Selah Leadership Program, which trains a cross-section of executive-level social justice leaders to be effective, sustainable and collaborative agents for change. He is the co-editor and co-author of Just: Judaism. Action. Social Change and served as the Director of the PANIM Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values. He received his rabbinic ordination from The Jewish Theological Seminary of America and his B.A. in Political Science from Grinnell College. Jason is also a founding member of Eastern Village Cohousing, where he lives with his wife, sustainable food activist and KOL Foods founder Devora Kimelman-Block, and their four children.

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