Aug 21, 2016

Amazing things are happening at Congregation Netivot Shalom!


Amazing things are happening at Congregation Netivot Shalom, as we prepare for an electric year. Beyond regular classes like Wed Torah study and Thursday Talmud class, the programming for Adults, Youth, and Families is simply off the charts! For instance:
Not to mention the launch of two new Shabbat Morning Youth ProgramsChaverim(k-2) and Chug Shabbat (grades 3-6), the start of Ketzev: Netivot Shalom's Youth Learning ClubAmitim (6th grade Bnei Mitzvah class), Madrichim (7th grade), and so much more! Stay tuned for more information!

Come join the fun! Learn more at netivotshalom.org!

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Aug 17, 2016

Gold Gestapo Gun is Headed to Auction

Gold Gestapo Gun is Headed to Auction

in the Daily Jewish Forward


Screenshot from Rockislandauction.com
Rock Island Auction Company is putting the gold-plated semiautomatic pistol of a notorious Nazi war criminal up for bid in September. A golden Nazi gun. It is estimated that Hermann Goering’s Walther PPK will sell for $250,000 to $400,000.
But wait; there’s more: The Rock Island Auction is also sponsoring and a “Freedom Challenge” to raise $1M for the NRA.
Rock Island’s own description of the Freedom Challenge reads: “The Supreme Court’s greatest Second Amendment advocate — Justice Antonin Scalia — has passed away, leaving a vacancy on the Court that the next president will fill. Simply put, our firearm and other freedoms hang in the balance and it will take an army of us to take a stand.”
Let me state this even clearer: a gold-plated gun that once belonged to the founder of the Gestapo is being sold in America, demand is high, and the same auction site selling this gun is raising money for the National Rifle Association (NRA). The NRA, in turn, will use the money for legislative action - opposing every national and state effort for gun safety, including expanded background checks which evidence shows are the single most effective way to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and save lives and which are supported by the vast majority of Americans, including gun owners (polling shows between 85%-92% support). And the sponsor of this weaponized debacle believes that it will “take an army of us” to make America right.
As Reverend James Atwood, author of “America and Its Guns” correctly points out, absolute trust in guns and violence morphs easily into idolatry. Idols are objects, often fetishized, that inspire devotion, that seek the divine by capturing it in a thing. And the worship of any “thing” is a violation of biblical proportion.
Simply stated: America has a problem. We violate the Second Commandment as we worship one reading of the Second Amendment.
Rabbis Against Gun Violence is appalled by the manner in which this auction is being held - the description of the gun and its former owner demonstrates the idolization of firearms in our country and the added allure for some of the Nazi connection. Included are cufflinks and a ring from Hermann Goering, the man whom Adolf Hitler appointed as his successor.
We also object to having the NRA profit from “murderobilia” – even indirectly – and believe that any profits should be donated – perhaps to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as suggested by One Pulse for America.
In Jewish terminology, even if the money raised by this auction were going to a righteous cause, it would be ‘treif,’ invalid, because it would be a “mitzvah derived from a sin.” The classic case in the Talmud involves a stolen ritual item, invalidated by its theft from ever being used again for the fulfillment of a religious obligation. So, even if the auction site or the NRA designated to Gun Violence Prevention the monetary proceeds of a Nazi gun, Jewish law would call their act sacrilege. As should every person of faith.
The blood of our ancestors was shed by this hateful thing. It is not a thing of beauty, not something to be cherished. Americans of every political persuasion should see the wrongness in fetishizing a murderous tool of hate and demand of the NRA that it publicly disavow any connection with this sale.
In the Book of Exodus, God sees the Israelites worshipping a Golden Calf and despairs that they will ever learn. Moses stands in the breach, believing that even a stiff-necked nation can repent from the sin of idolatry. May we continue to believe in America no less. Our children’s lives depend on it.
Rabbi Menachem Creditor is the spiritual leader of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, CA and founder of Rabbis Against Gun Violence. Learn more about Rabbis Against Gun Violence on their website.
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Rabbi, Congregation Netivot Shalom
Chair, Rabbis Against Gun VIolence (#RAGV)

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

Aug 15, 2016

Four Years After Ghana

Four Years After Ghana
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

with immeasurable gratitude to AJWS for opening my eyes

Four years ago my soul was torn apart and I was redefined by my exposure to the world as it is. I stood among redeemed slaves in Ghana, and saw how little I knew, confronted with my own limits and with the sudden, blinding knowledge of my own power and responsibility. I pledged, right then and there, to hear and see and feel with my one raw heart as much as I possibly could, so that I might act rightly in the world and have no reason for shame nor reproach at the end of my days.

Today I affirm that commitment and cry freely with the recognition that, despite my best efforts, it will never be enough.

Our task is to serve and to lift this broken world of ours one inch closer to heaven, for our children's sakes, and for theirs as well. May we do good during our numbered days.

Aug 12, 2016

Jerusalem Sits Alone: Tisha Be'Av at the Olympics

Jerusalem Sits Alone: Tisha Be'Av at the Olympics
(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor

I truly wish not to write this piece. But I know some will read a status update and dismiss it as exaggeration.
At the Rio Olympics this week, Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby refused to shake his Israeli opponent's hand. The video is painful to watch, not only because it is mean and unworthy, public and shameful. It is painful to watch, because the mission of the Olympics is are supposed to demonstrate sportsmanship and recognition:
The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play. - Olympic Charter
This is all too-often, in my experience, the way Israel is despised in the world. And before someone writes "but Israel's actions prompt this treatement," please consider how a Syrian athlete would be treated, how a Russian athelete would be treated. Explicit massacring of Syrians by Syria's leader(s) and the complete eradication of free speech in Russia by Russia's leader(s) don't rise to the level of Israel's wrongnesses. Because, and again - I wish I didn't believe this - Israel is different. As the Book of Lamentations we'll read tomorrow night puts it: "Jerusalem sits alone (Lam. 1:1)."
This, unfortunately, deserves the attention. Anti-normalization is a campaign that manifestly sees Israel, Israelis, and Jews, as less-than. This is unacceptable.
A glimmer of hope: the crowd booed the Egyptian athlete. As Lamentations aches, "perhaps there is hope (Lam. 3:29)."
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Rabbi, Congregation Netivot Shalom
Chair, Rabbis Against Gun VIolence (#RAGV)

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

Aug 10, 2016

From Mechon Hadar: Tisha B'Av 5776: Essay and Resources

Tisha B'Av: Essay and Resources

Breaking Through The Facade of Normalcy: Shabbat Tisha B'Av

Rabbi Aviva Richman

Shabbat Tisha B'Av grants us the opportunity to ask ourselves whether our facade of normalcy might be too impervious to events that should shock us, and how to express our shock and dismay without giving up on living our lives.
I wrote my first letter to the editor as a fifteen-year-old in response to a humanist rabbi's call to eradicate Tisha B'Av. In her opinion we should be celebrating, not mourning, the end of the sacrificial rite and Temple politics.  To my mind, she missed the point.  Tisha B'Av is a day for mourning how a society can fall apart.

This year, when Tisha B'Av falls on Shabbat and its observance is pushed off to Sunday, there is a confluence of mixed and even contradictory practices.  The contradictions of Shabbat Tisha B'Av serve as a poignant model of how this day is meant to penetrate our routine and shock us into remembering those realities in life we would rather forget.

The Talmud teaches that none of the prohibitions of Tisha B'Av apply on Shabbat:

דתניא: תשעה באב שחל להיות בשבת, וכן ערב תשעה באב שחל להיות בשבת - אוכל ושותה כל צרכו, ומעלה על שולחנו אפילו כסעודת שלמה בשעתו... (תלמוד בבלי תענית כט:)

"Tisha B'Av that occurs on Shabbat... one eats and drinks all that one needs, and sets a table even the likes of the meal of Shlomo in his time..." (Talmud Bavli Ta'anit 29b)

At its surface, this teaching mandates that the joy of Shabbat overwhelms Tisha B'Av; there is no room for any level of mourning and even the greatest opulence is allowed.  However, the reference to King Shlomo's meal "in his time" is a bit cryptic.  The medieval commentator Rashi points out that the word "in his time" had to be specified because of a different time in Shlomo's life when his meals were not so luxurious.  The Talmud tells a tale of King Shlomo being deposed by Ashmedai , king of the demons, and in that time he was a beggar in the streets.  It is a matter of debate whether he ever fully recovered from this downfall.

On the one hand, this allusion to Shlomo's stint as a beggar shouldn't change our experience of Shabbat Tisha B'Av at all, for the Talmud teaches that we are meant to conjure Shlomo's state of greatness - "the meal of Shlomo in his time."  Yet, this subtle reference does invade the confidence of Shabbat.  When we eat our festive meal on Shabbat Tisha B'Av it is with the knowledge of this "other time."  We become acutely aware of the fragility of our joy, the fact that we can - and did - lose everything.  Shabbat Tisha B'Av has a subtle undertone of loss and even doom.

Indeed, despite the assertion of the Talmud that Shabbat Tisha B'Av is like any other Shabbat, in later traditions some mourning practices do penetrate Shabbat.  For example, Rav Moshe Isserless (the Rema) cites that a couple should refrain from intercourse on Shabbat Tisha B'Av because this is a private mourning practice, and the same rule of private mourning that applies to a mourner during shiva applies on Tisha B'Av.  There is also a tradition to refrain from usual Shabbat study of Pirkei Avot.  These traditions point to an experience of Shabbat Tisha B'Av where, on the outside, everything seems normal, but on the inside it is impossible to actually feel joy.  

There is also a public expression of mourning that emerges on Shabbat Tisha B'Av particularly in relation to adornments, in our own clothing and in the synagogue.  There is an Ashkenazic tradition to change one thing in an individual's Shabbat clothing - such as not wearing a tie.  In a similar vein, the Shabbat parokhet in the synagogue is not used.  The message here is the opposite of the public, normal, private mourning approach.  Here, the idea is specifically to have some kind of outward sign that this is not a Shabbat just like any other.  That private inner mourning finds its way to the surface.

The contradictions of Shabbat Tisha B'Av carry a particular resonance  in our present moment.  In the wake of the recent wave of violence across the country and the globe, do we just continue our daily routine as usual?  How many of us find ourselves outwardly pretending, and desperately wanting to pretend, that everything is normal, but inwardly knowing that we are in fact mourning?   Can we go out on a warm summer evening without thinking of Orlando, Nice, Kabul?  Can we enjoy freedom of movement without being stopped in our tracks thinking of recent events in Minnesota, Istanbul, and Munich?

Shabbat Tisha B'Av grants us the opportunity to ask ourselves whether our facade of normalcy might be too impervious to events that should shock us, and how to express our shock and dismay without giving up on living our lives.  Tisha B'Av is a day when our deepest fears and even a sense of nihilism surface.  God doesn't answer, maybe doesn't even hear our prayers.  In the book of Lamentations the narrator rhetorically asks mah ashveh lach va-anahamekh - how can I comfort you?  There is no comfort for the pain of the world on Tisha B'Av.  Hearing even a faint echo of this terrible voice in the midst of Shabbat urges us to find ways to express these deep fears in public while not disrupting our lives to the point of paralysis.   

Shabbat Tisha B'Av asks us to do two things even while living our lives as normal: to listen to that terrible inner voice of mourning, and to give some kind of public expression to it, no matter how small.  Through this Shabbat Tisha B'Av, may we as a community ensure that we are constantly aware of the fragility of life, the reality of violence, and the importance of doing the work to protect and sustain what matters most.
Additional Readings and Resources

2. The Night Draws Lamentation: Dvar Torah by Dena Weiss 

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Aug 4, 2016

A Wounded Friend: A Rabbinic Response to the New Black Lives Matter Platform

A Wounded Friend: A Rabbinic Response to the New Black Lives Matter Platform
(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor

I had a beautiful day today. I stood with  my sister, a passionate rabbi serving the U.S. Navy as a chaplain, at the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. We remembered our grandfather of blessed memory, who fought for America and shared hard-earned wisdom with his children and grandchildren.

I looked to my right and saw the Washington Monument. Looked to my left at the Lincoln Memorial. I read quotes engraved on massive stones. And I felt, to my core, one sad feeling: too much war.

Too. Much. War.

The quotes and certain retellings of history would have me believe that we fought for pure purposes: we fought for religious freedom, we fought to end slavery, we fought for freedom for all humanity, we fought to end tyranny. But it's also true that we fought (and fight) for economic interests. It's also true that America has only fought for SOME peoples' freedoms. And it's also true that while slavery formally ended with Lincoln's 1862 Emancipation Proclamation, Black and Brown Americans suffer daily in America under systemic racism that takes the form of implicit bias, legislative inequity, racially disparate sentencing and arrest rates, police brutality, and more.

I stood in awe of our mythic history and also in shock at how hard patriotism is when grappling with the hidden, darker truths of our still-imperfect union.

I had a terrible day today. I stood as a Jewish American pursuer of justice in disbelief, reading the word "genocide" used in the new Black Lives Matter platform to attack Israel. The platform reads, in part:
“The US justifies and advances the global war on terror via its alliance with Israel and is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people... Israel is an apartheid state with over 50 laws on the books that sanction discrimination against the Palestinian people.”
The claim is wrong, it is offensive, it is a betrayal, it is an antisemetic appropriation of a term coined to describe the Holocaust, it is a dagger in the side of the Jewish People, and it demands a response. And so I, painfully, ask these questions.

How can I respond authentically, as an engaged rabbinic partner with African American leaders who believes in and works fervently for racial justice? How can I respond as a public leader who has participated in numerous Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations? How can I respond as a father of children who are learning to take seriously the equality of all people and the shortcomings of things-as-they-are? How can I respond as a faith leader who has stood in the White House with my African American colleagues to demand an end to the American Gun Violence epidemic, which disproportionately affects urban communities of color? How can I respond as a good friend?

Just two weeks ago, I met in Israel and in Palestine with thought leaders of every stripe: the chief Palestinian peace negotiator and the mayor of an Israeli settlement, an Arab Israeli civil rights giant and Jewish Israeli LGBTQ leaders, former Israeli soldiers who actively protest against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Palestinian visionaries building the first urban-planned Palestinian city. Israel is far from perfect, further than it should be. The occupation is real. The occupation is wrong. And it is many galaxies different than genocide, defined

Here is what I wish to say for now, what I would say to my children, what I say to my Jewish community, what I say to my African American colleagues, neighbors and friends, what I commit to saying to American elected officials, what I say to myself, in response to a terrible thing encoded in the Black Lives Matters platform:

  • I will not remain silent when Jews are attacked.
  • I will continue protesting American racism.
  • I will continue being a proud Jew who pursues justice.
  • I will continue to defend Israel's right to exist and its obligation to do right.
  • I will engage with my African American friends and partners, so that they can see that what the Black Lives Matter Movement included in their new platform is worse than a mistake: it is the demonization of my home and my People, an attack that has happened too many times to recount.

Here is what I will not do:

  • I will not despair.
  • I will not ignore my Black neighbors' experiences nor pretend to truly understand them. I, as a white man, have no idea how I would educate my children were I a black man, how I would experience the world around me at all as a Black or Brown American. 

Today was beautiful and today was terrible. There has been too much war. Too many lives lost. This world already has enough hate. We need each other, and we need to love each other.

I pray with every part of me for an acknowledgement of this wrong and for the healing that will follow.

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

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