Wednesday, August 29, 2018
Wednesday, April 4, 2018
Tuesday, January 23, 2018
So That None Will Make Them Afraid:
A Prayer for Independence from Gun Violence
26th Annual Vigil and Advocacy Day
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor
Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Beth-El, Richmond, Virginia
Adonay Elohim – Lord Almighty
I invite the members of the General Assembly to stand where I have stood, next to the weeping, sobbing parents, siblings, grandparents, spouses and children before the open grave.
I invite them to answer the questions I have been asked: Why? Why did they die? Why were there guns? Why all this pain? Why all this violence?
I invite the members of the General Assembly to look into the cold, unforgiving ground and imagine that it is not some unknown stranger, but their parent, their spouse, their sibling – their child!
And then tell me why they are silent!
Tell me why they can’t pass laws!
Tell me why their hearts are colder than today’s air and the ground we stand on!
Adonay Elohim – Lord Almighty
Just as you made Pharaoh to release the Israelites, so too, make these legislators to release the bills from committee and enact the laws to restrict the sale of weapons of violence,
So that each man, woman and child can
Sit on their porch
Ride the bus
Go to school
Go to work
Go to the movies
Go to the dancehalls
Walk down the street
and none will make them afraid.
Sunday, May 11, 2014
It’s Not Mine!
A Sermon After the Supreme Court Ruling on Prayer
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor
May 9, 2014
The American Jewish community is caught squarely in the middle by the Supreme Court decision this week concerning prayer in public places. Being a Rabbi and often invited give deliver invocations and benedictions at public functions such as baccalaureates, created because they could not deliver sectarian prayers at high school graduations, in the legislatures of Maryland and Virginia, and other locations in New Jersey and New York, I have lived in the eye of the storm. On one hand it was a personal honor to be invited to speak in the governing bodies of two states, to stand before graduating seniors and their families of greater Richmond, and before the luncheon of the Virginia (Richmond) Bar Association. Since God gave me two, I can say, and on the other hand I wish I hadn’t been asked. If I speak in the name of YHVH, replaced by the word Adonay meaning master, then someone else can invoke, bless and benedict me – I made that word up - “In the name of Jesus.” I don’t want them blessing me that way, so why should I do it to others? What is good for one particular religion is good for the other. And further, since there are more of them than there are of us, it is clear how prayers will be recited most of the time. And moreover, what the male, Protestant, white, Anglo-Saxon founding fathers could never have contemplated is that there is a significant and growing Muslim population besides representative Hindu, Buddhist and others who are equally franchised American citizens and must be respected. And, lastly, there is a growing segment of America who doesn’t believe in any deity at all and don’t want any deity invoked.
I first became of aware of this entire dilemma when I was in third grade in the 1950’s. We had just moved from Brooklyn, New York to Belleville, New Jersey. To give you an idea of population, there were four hundred and forty classmates in my high school graduating class. We were but four Jews among them. In third grade a classmate started mussing my hair. I asked him: “What are you doing?” However he knew that I was a Jew I don’t know, but he said: “Where are your horns?” I was more than mystified. I was horrified! Remember, I was eight years old. For most of my public school education before the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem we opened first period with the reading from Psalms. Up and down the rows we went as every student had to read a Psalm. All were permissible but two, one exceedingly long and one exceedingly short. Then they, not me, recited the Lord’s Prayer. My third grade teacher, whose name I still remember, took me outside and asked me: “Is there something in that prayer that you can’t recite, which is against your religion?” I was in third grade! I wasn’t even in Religious school yet and I certainly was not versed in holy texts. Somehow I came up with my answer: “It’s not mine.” That, in a nutshell is my answer to the Supreme Court. “It’s not mine.” And in a democracy, I don’t have to walk out the door from MY public institution and you shouldn’t force it down my throat or in my ears.
The divide of the Supreme Court on this issue is also notable, five Catholics in the majority, one Catholic and three Jews in the minority. Protestants need not register. I have a very strong memory about the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy in 1960. He being a Catholic, the more than rumors went, he would take orders from the Pope in Rome. Perhaps just tongue in cheek, I would like to ask the NSA to check all the communications, which they most certainly must have, between the Vatican and these five justices. It was a very long snail mail. It is less than poetic that the majority opinion was written by a man called Kennedy. The irony is not lost upon me.
While people are scurrying to find silver linings in this ruling, I don’t see them. What do they mean by saying that non-Christians cannot be “denigrated?” What happens when there are non-Christians in the town or hamlet but no clergy of their faiths? How is there inclusion? What happened to the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious fabric of America that everyone has recognized? This flies in the face of everyone of every community. All across America there is a deeper understanding, appreciation and respect of being equal with each other with our differences, especially viewed in the reversal of attitudes towards the LBGTQ population through the subject of marriage equality. How dare he say that if I don’t like it, I should leave the room! That room is equally ours for everyone and no one has to leave it.
We have had a vested interest in this fight. As I have preached before, there is a Jewish woman in Danville, facing the identical situation, who consulted with me before proceeding with a law suit. She lost her anonymity but won the law suit which was held in abeyance because of this case before the Supreme Court. That victory is now pyrrhic, surely overturned by this ruling.
There is a true theological question to which the Court could not address, which doesn’t have an easy or simple answer.
Is God ever absent? Is God ever absent in any place or any time?
Here in the synagogue we have the Ner Tamid hanging centrally in the Sanctuary to indicate by its light that never goes out, that God is eternally present. In the book Night by Elie Wiesel, he wrote that in Auschwitz one asked, “Where is God?” and Wiesel answered, “Here beside us.” Even, especially there, too.
Do you leave your faith in here when you leave and not take it with you, to home, to school, to work? Is religion a behaviorism relegated to a slice of a particular time of our daily pie? Do we check our faith at the door? No! A thousand times no! I don’t do that. A truly religious person can never do that.
Perhaps a better comparison is that my being a person of faith in God is more like my Bios computer program, always running, even when the computer is turned off. For a religious person, how can God not be present? For a religious person, the value system, the foundation for determining right and wrong in an ever changing world is always based on Holy Scripture, God’s word and the teachings of the tradition. It shapes my vision of existence. I wear my kipah at all times to remind me that I am always in God’s presence. In my synagogue the cloth that covered the lecturn extended over the edge and was inscribed in the Hebrew with the words from the Rabbis: “Know before whom you stand.” The artist of this synagogue placed at the epitomy of the room a line from Psalm 16: “I place the Lord before me always.” Is God ever not beside me? There can be no other way. Can I say: “Are we supposed to be Americans without faith?” Impossible.
Now what do we do? So I will tell you:
Every time I spoke in a public venue, I first reminded myself that I wasn’t speaking in here. Here, in shul, I use our particular and unique language, but not out there. I would sit for quite some time to frame my remarks for all to share, respecting all and every person present. I even think of those who don’t believe at all and how to respect them, too. It is very difficult. I didn’t say “Baruch Atah…” and I didn’t use Adonay. When I invoked, every listener could think of God in their own terms of reference. It wasn’t easy composing those benedictions and invocations, but it was necessary.
I could cite our faith tradition for a teaching, a value, a mitzvah, whose message was applicable and suitable to the time and place that I was speaking. I love to hear teachings from Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism to learn how other faiths speak, how other faiths value. Written with sensitive language, infused with respect for others, I could never be offended but rather educated, motivated and elevated in listening to other faiths speak. And much we have in common! How holy we all are because of our different beliefs!
The Supreme Court missed a golden opportunity to teach America about tolerance, respect, and the holiness of each individual citizen. They could have united us in a spectacular way and not divided nor denigrated any of us. They could have enunciated the way to say “In God we trust” and honored everybody.
Now, as people of faith, we have to start all over again.
Friday, May 9, 2014
My Final Bulletin Article: Shalom Ul’hitraot
From The Heart
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor
Somewhere filed away is my first bulletin message. I remember that it was accompanied by a picture of a very young Ruby and me. It seems like only yesterday. Yet the miles and the years have been filled with the relationships and love of many people. Especially before the computer age and the inundation of a new congregation, usually larger, it was hard to stay in touch. As we are staying here in Richmond, this moment is different from all the others.
We have never lived in any other place as long as we have lived here with you. In these twenty-one years I have been so deeply involved with multiple generations of families that I can sometimes do the family tree as well as others. I look at a bar/bat mitzvah having officiated for their parent’s wedding and know their grandparents as well. This has been a unique journey for me as well as for families whom I have known and loved.
With the end of this month I will transition from Rabbi to Rabbi Emeritus and during July Rabbi Knopf will become the Rabbi of Temple Beth-El. We have already spent wonderful hours in conversation together and I look forward to his arrival.
Long ago a colleague wrote in his bulletin at the same juncture in time something to the effect that for all the years he was their Rabbi and friend, now he is just their friend. I quote those words and adopt them as my own as I share them with you. For all these years I have felt that I was more than just your Rabbi. I have felt true friendships, camaraderie and love. Standing on the bemah before you created a distance, but when I descended and we shook hands, hugged and kissed we bridged that space. It has been the content and context of my life.
For these years I have been your Rabbi and friend. From here forward I am just your friend. Rabbi Knopf will be our Rabbi. As the Rabbis teach us to learn from everyone, I am looking forward to learning from him as he will preach and teach us. My beloved pulpit will be his.
As you did towards me, for sorrow and joys, you will now turn toward Rabbi Knopf as your Rabbi for all officiations. May God bless him with Divine wisdom, strength and love. Should you wish my involvement, it is necessary to discuss that with Rabbi Knopf and he will be the one to be in communication with me. This transition must be done with respect and with love for both of us. This is what is right and proper. It will bring us joy.
I hope to see you in shul and sit among you as I sit next my beloved wife. Ruby and I have seldom had the pleasure of sitting together. We look forward to that blessing.
From our hearts and home to you and yours, Ruby and I send you our love.
Friday, April 25, 2014
Personal Remarks by Rabbi Gary Creditor at his Retirement Gala - March 1st, 2014
My dear family, congregation, colleagues in ministry, and friends:
I stand here most humbled and over-awed by this entire Shabbat. When I close my eyes I view every pulpit on which I have stood and the people from my congregations whom I have served since, as a very young, very eager and somewhat scared student in the Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, I assumed the most honorable title of “Rabbi.” I did not dream about this moment in my life and that of my family. With fullness of heart I say that I rejoice in having chosen this path. At a very young age I decided to be a Rabbi. From this vantage point I can see that I had no idea what this really meant. It has taken me a lifetime to learn. I thank the Ribono Shel Olam, the Master of the World, for the strength to serve Him and through you, to serve the Jewish people. As I learned in Pirkei Avot, I did it without expectation of such a reward as this Shabbat. Serving God and serving you was reward unto itself. I am as captivated tonight as I was on the day I was ordained by the honor and privilege to be a Rabbi. As this is the Jewish month of Adar, the Rabbis say “Me-she-nichnas Adar marbim b’simcha” – “When Adar enters, we increase our joys,” certainly this Shabbat is a most joyous celebration of my, Ruby’s and my children’s journey through life and the Rabbinate and our two decades here with you. More than I have blessed others, I know that I am, among others, most richly blessed.
Because I composed these remarks before I could see the journal, I will refer to it in thanking the people responsible for this entire Shabbat. To Bonnie, Judy and Benita and all the committees I extend my deepest appreciation for all of the efforts, time and energies invested in making this celebration. You have kept me in total darkness so that I can only imagine the enormity of this undertaking. We thank you for giving us the memory of a lifetime. My heart is brimming with gratitude. I personally thank everyone who has been here Erev Shabbat, Yom Shabbat, as well as this evening. All of you have made this a most special moment.
Surrounding and supporting me through my career have been the staffs of my synagogues. Here at Temple Beth-El I have enjoyed a most wonderful camaraderie with Executive Directors Carl Hayslett who is really such a great friend and assisted in our transition here and the early years of our activities, Sheldon Herold with whom I shared a wonderful friendship and now Jayne Sklon, with whom we have already shared much. Need I say more about Josephine but to note her joyousness, her love and devotion, and greatest hugs. My family and I love you dearly. There have been a number of people upon whom I have totally relied for their expertise, confidence and friendship. Joni Irvine, Lena Shapiro, Jane Gillian and for years Norma Fiedler have been my right hand, taken initiatives, protected me from you, and enabled me to fulfill my work. No one can really know the inside of the daily pulpit Rabbinate. They do. I am in their debt. Edith Levin and Debbie Lacks-Hanner and I shared much in these years and I have worked closely with Carrie and Krista Fidlow. I have shared our synagogue leadership with educators David Goldsmith, Judy Rubin, Rabbi Tirza Covel, Aviva Gershman, Nathaniel Fink, Bari Cohen, and Hazzanim, Edward Cohen and Marian Turk, she serving in the dual capacity. I thank them all. Besides the officers and other committee chairs, I have been privileged to work with a most devoted number of Ritual Committee Chairs: Mac Kalman, alav hashalom, David Ruby, Jim Plotkin and Ed Mollen, my dear Shabbat and Yom Tov walking companion. Norman Sporn headed the committee for the assistant Rabbi that we had for two years with Eric Rosin. In these years, in addition to the regular life-cycle events of the congregational life, we have had Shabbatonim, three Adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah Shabbatot, restored our seventeen Torah scrolls, created an Adult Learning Center with a vast library, adopted Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat & Festivals and Siddur Sim Shalom for weekdays and most recently Mahzor Lev Shalem for Yamim Noraim, and built a mikvah used by all of Central Virginia. I am indebted to this entire group for their support, encouragement, boundless efforts and energies, confidence and love. I could hardly imagine the hours that I would spend on our cemeteries showing honor to our dead and love to the living. Even after everyone else had gone, I had the devoted companionship of Helen Dranoff, aleha l’shalom and Bette Rose Webne. In the most painful of moments you gave me strength and courage. Most of those times were spent in the company of family and members of Bliley’s who have been like family to me. Even with Ruby’s infinite love, I needed your inestimable talents and support. Nick is always besides me. My life has been deeply enriched by colleagues from our neighboring churches with whom we celebrate Thanksgiving, and those with whom I volunteer to help better our world, such as the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy who honored me this year. In this moment of recognition I take this opportunity to publicly recognize, honor and thank all you. You have been my truest companions in this journey. The Rabbis teach us: “Mikol m’lamday hiskalty” – “From all my teachers I have learned.” The highlights of each week have been the most devoted fellow learners in the Talmud and Torah classes. You have been my inspiration. We have learned that “Talmud Torah k’neged kulam” – “the study of Torah surmounts everything else.” I am grateful for the opportunity to learn with you. May we continue on into the future.
In composing these remarks, I really wrote this section last. I am thankful that my parents, my mother Clara, Savta Kuneh here with us tonight and my father, Henry, Sabbah Tzvi, zichrono l’vrahcha, may his memory be for a blessing, discovered the little town of Belleville, New Jersey, with its Rabbi, Victor Cohen, where I discovered God and Torah. My parents discovered opportunities for me to pursue my dreams and drove the miles to different destinations that were the dots that connected to this moment. I believe that my father sheps nachas in heaven. My mother is his witness. As she will be blessed to turn 90 this month I take this moment to wish her a happy birthday. Quite a party! My European born grandparents gave me a treasure in their presence that connected me through time and place. My maternal grandmother must be chuckling at what became of her ainickle. Forty-four years ago this summer Ruby and I met at USY Encampment held in the Berkshire Camp Ramah. We thank our friend Suri for that! As much as this Shabbat honors me, it honors her. Once I was asked: “After all of us have come to see you, who do you see?” And I answered: “Ruby.” In my student pulpit, a young child expecting to hear the Rabbi’s wife introduced as Rebbetzin, heard us introduced as “Rabbi and Ruby” the child asked: “What’s a ‘Ruby’?” I should have answered “the perfect jewel.” You have been my strength, my proof-reader and confidant, my love. I have saved every card in which you have poured out your love for me. While yours vastly outnumber mine, I can take this public place to thank you for every moment of our lives together and all that you have done for me, for our family and for the communities that we have together served. To quote: “I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears of all my life.” I ask everyone to please rise to honor my wife.
Our blessings have multiplied greater than the midrash in the Passover Haggadah about God’s miracles at the sea. In my senior sermon, without the gift of prophecy, I speculated on what would become of our children? I had chosen an observant Jewish life. I had chosen the Rabbinate. What would they do? Each of you here and Yonina in Okinawa has given us a glorious life. We celebrate Tzeira and Arsen’s forthcoming marriage in Yafo - Jaffa, Medinat Yisrael this coming December, bringing full circle through your lives the history of our people that I have felt so acutely. How proud we are of you both. Tzeira, you have had courage that far surpasses mine. Arsen, you are an inspiration in the work you are doing. When, in other locales, someone says “Rabbi Creditor” I learned to sit still and not turn around for they are usually not calling me, especially when it is preceded by the words “Chaplain” and “Lieutenant.” Every time I speak to her, Yonina relates new initiatives, classes and programs that she is instituting for the Marines and Jewish community of Okinawa. I am awed by the training that she endured, her utmost level of commitment to the United States military, and her great courage, ometz lev, far from home. The Navy flag flies from our home and the challenge coin that says “Proud Navy Dad” is always in my pocket. As distant as are the miles is as great as my love and esteem. When Menachem said at a Seder table that he was considering going to Rabbinical School, it took some time for it to hit me that there could be two Rabbis Creditor, never mind three in the Rabbinical Assembly directory. Emah and I are supremely proud of all your accomplishments in your communities and around the world, for leadership in causes near and dear, for your writings that are an inspiration to many, for the courage you have had in difficult moments. We brim with pride when we visit Berkeley and people at Netivot Shalom begin sentences with “Your son…You must be so proud.” You know how much we are. You have given us the gifts of the next generation through Ariel Shlomit, Moshe Tzvi, and Raya Meital. In their names they perpetuate the family. Their voices, hugs, kisses and words are pure delight. We gaze at their pictures every day. We look forward to Ariel’s Bat Mitzvah a year from now. You have bestowed upon us the sweetness of the world-to-come here in this one. Emah and I thank each and every one of you children for making our lives so richly blessed beyond the poor power of my words to express. I recognize my late in-laws, Ruby’s parents Adele and Walter Eisenberg, who saw much of my Rabbinate. My mother’s sister, our Aunt Helen will be turning 100 this month, poo, poo poo, and thus this trip was too much, but her presence and influence is felt with us. Her husband, my uncle Ralph Dubin, alav hashalom, was such a deep influence and presence in our family. He and my father must be having some conversation in heaven about all these goings on. I have been blessed with the deep love of my brother Bruce and sister-in-law Susan and their children Avi and Yael and her husband Stephen. We have shared so much of life together, despite the distances. We add this Shabbat to our precious memories. These are blessings beyond description.
I never included in any sermon reference to the following two pieces that have inspired me throughout my Rabbinate. I could not have articulated this when I began forty years ago which I remember like yesterday. Somewhere, sometime, both of the following became my essence and explain why I have done everything I have done with my life.
The Hebrew author Sholom Asch wrote a novel entitled “Kiddush HaShem,” “The Sanctification of God’s Name.” It takes place in 17th century Poland, my maternal grandmother’s birthplace, and describes an event at the famous fair held in Lublin that occurred after frightful pogroms. The protagonist Shlomo – meaning ‘peace,’ – roams the fair looking for survivors. He comes to a narrow street with merchants’ stalls. There is one that with an old man at its entrance, that is empty. “What do you sell here? Your booth is void and empty, and there is no merchandise in it.” And the old man answered: “I sell faith.”
That was and is the essence of my soul. In every setting, I have presented and affirmed our faith, even in a world that seemed to deny it, even in times of doubt. I came of age as Holocaust literature and movies were first appearing. It all clashed within me. When I said to my parents that I wanted to be a Rabbi, perhaps, without knowing then, but in my subconscious, this was stirring within my neshama. Then I found this piece from Sholom Asch and I said, “This is me.” I sell our faith. Forever.
There is another piece that has motivated me, that encouraged me to listen to the voices of children and never consider them as noise. I have shared this only once before. In the years before the Holocaust a photographer named Roman Vishniac traveled through Eastern Europe capturing the world from which my grandparents had come thirty or forty years earlier. On the cover of his book is a picture of a young boy in cheder. His face is infused with holiness, radiant with purity and lustrous with devekut, devotion. Such a love of Yiddishkeit, such a love of God glowed in his face. The picture captured this child with a simple yet pure faith. I wanted to capture and perpetuate that look forever. I have wanted to implant that feeling and faith, that aura in every child I taught, every bar and bat mitzvah with whom I spoke, with every bride and groom with whom I stood under chuppah. I wanted to give everlasting life to that destroyed world through the lives of our own children from the moment of their births, in their faces, hearts, minds and voices, and now in our grandchildren. I don’t just see us. I see the millennia of the Jewish people. I see eternity.
This is why I became a Rabbi and dedicated my life to God and our people. I have been blessed by God, my family and by you to have fulfilled my dreams. To all I give thanks. To quote the Hasidic Reb Simcha Bunim: “I can’t imagine this world without you.”
There are many things that will be left unsaid and names of people unmentioned. Let everyone know that they are most inscribed and cherished in my mind and my heart forever. I close these remarks with the following:
In Keriyat HaTorah, the cycle of Torah reading, this Shabbat was one of transference. We concluded the Book of Exodus in Shacharit and began the Book of Leviticus at Mincha. It is the perfect paradigm as the Shabbat recognizes the conclusion of my pulpit Rabbinical career and transference to new endeavors and the transference of Rabbinical leadership of Temple Beth-El from me to Rabbi Knopf. It was a wonderful article and picture in the Reflector. I welcome him with open arms, have expressed to him my support and assistance, and bequeath to him the congregation and people whom I have loved. He has sent me a very beautiful letter this erev Shabbat. At the end of reading each Book of Torah we proclaim: “Chazak, Chazak, v’nit-chazayk” – “Be strong! Be strong! And we will be strengthened.” The first I recite for my distinguished predecessors. The second I humbly recite for myself. And the third I recite for Rabbi Knopf. “Chazak, Chazak, v’nit-chazayk.”
The editor of Moment magazine, Nadine Epstein, tells a story about a man who served as a groundskeeper and when he retired he wrote a few lines to the people whose yards he tended. While not exactly identical, its parallel is striking and it expresses my sentiments. “I have seen my time is at a close, and I have tried to find a replacement. I have failed. I am very sorry. If you see me anytime around, I’ll be looking for my footsteps in the sand. Just say my footsteps are still there and I’ll thank you.”
Baruch Atah Adonay Elohaynu Melech HaOlam Shehecheyanu v’kiymany v’hegeyanu lazman hazeh. Amen.