Friday, December 16, 2011

“Like baseball or chess, Judaism is…”

"Like baseball or chess, Judaism is…"

From The Heart

Rabbi Gary S. Creditor


Jonathan Mark is a much respected Jewish columnist whose articles are printed in The Jewish Week of New York. I stay informed of the events and dynamics  of the wide Jewish world through many sources such as this newspaper. Several years ago it created a "Jewish magazine" called "Text/Context: Fresh Encounters With Jewish Tradition." Available in quantities to congregational Rabbis,  I distribute copies to my classes, in the Okun Chapel, at the school and at the Mikveh.


In the December 2nd edition, Jonathan Marks wrote an article entitled "Rav Kingfish: The Problem with 'dynamic' Rabbis." It is a fascinating article, well-written, deeply researched and insightful about the existence of the synagogue and of the Rabbinate. I truly appreciate his focus. Aside from his main thesis, he wrote a sentence that was high-lighted in the hard-copy edition. It literally 'jumped off the page.'


"Like baseball or chess, Judaism is slow and boring – until it isn't, or until the observer learns to see the beauty and understand the mysteries inherent in the cerebral stillness and anticipation."


I read that sentence over and over. Jonathan "nailed it."


We live in a world that forces our decreased attention, diminishes quality because we are inundated with quantity. There is no time to dwell on anything. We deal with sound-bites. The TV raises the volume on commercials to get our attention (that should be changing, thank God!), and all I hear advertised are cell phones that can do everything and each one can go faster than the next. What a life!


Judaism says: slow down, ponder, contemplate, imagine. Judaism is a religion of words that you need to savor, roll around on tongue and in head so it can touch the heart. When we go to a museum and stand before the works of the masters, do we just rush by? Or do we stand back, come close, look from one angle and then another, and then stand back looking at it as a whole or focusing on one part? If we do it right, we stand there for some time and allow us to be impacted. Then we can walk on to the next experience.


Judaism is the art of looking at life through a divine prism. It takes time to peer into eternity, to gaze into existence, to examine the ebb and flow of life, with Torah and tefilah as the fulcrum upon which we lift each piece. You can't do it at 4G speed. Even my old Atari is much too fast.


I can fall asleep watching a baseball game. It seems like each pitcher is determined to through as many pitches as he can and the batter will foul off many of those. It is very slow going, especially when I watch baseball on TV. The media selects what I will see and how long I can see it. But at the game! Ah, then I can watch intently, deeply, to each orchestrated move, each glance, the arc of each pitch and the return path of hit. There is beauty in the intricacy, of the head and the heart at work governing the body.


Judaism is filled with joy and celebration, happiness and festivity. But to be my faith,  Judaism takes time, investment, attention, my heart and head going slowly, thinking, feeling, slowly, meaningfully, deeply.


"Like baseball or chess, Judaism is…"




Rabbi Gary S. Creditor

Temple Beth-El

3330 Grove Avenue

Richmond, VA 23221

Phone 804-355-3564

Fax 804-257-7152


Monday, November 28, 2011

“What Is Your Glory?” – “Have A Little Faith”

"What Is Your Glory?" – "Have A Little Faith"
From The Heart
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor

Last night Hallmark produced the movie edition of Mitch Albom's latest book, "Have A Little Faith." I sincerely recommend that every one of all ages, children with their parents and grandparents, watch this movie. Its message resounds with a clarion call across every divide. The plot involves a reformed drug addict and a Rabbi, Rabbi Albert Lewis, a colleague whom I knew, visited his synagogue, and whose son is also a colleague. There were many themes that riveted me to my seat.

Religion was treated seriously. Judaism was treated seriously. Too often the media make a mockery of religion. Too often media hold up a caricature of Judaism. Here a Conservative Rabbi was revealed in a most positive light, Conservative Judaism was depicted as the mainstream presentation of Judaism, modern, vibrant and meaningful. Martin Landau gave an exquisite portrayal of the intimate work that Rabbis do with people, as they bring their existential questions to us, out of the fanfare of the public light. Through this script the wisdom of non-fundamentalist Judaism was held up for all the world to see, through the transmission of Rabbi Lewis. This script showed the inherent humility that both age and the pulpit bestow upon those who represent religion, faith, to people of all faiths. I was very much taken by the depiction of the minister, in his ministry to his woe-begotten flock. For whatever reason, synagogues are usually not populated with the same demographics. I learn by watching others. We all need to see the faces of "the others."

This movie bored in on the most important religious question: With all the bad, evil, inequity that surrounds us, can we still believe in God? This movie says: Yes! Even though it might be difficult. It reveals the quest by Mitch Albom as he struggles to see God's hand in the world. He learns how he needs to be God's instrument.

There is so much more in this movie than this column can contain. I will return to it as the sermon for next Rosh HaShanah. By then I hope that all of you will have viewed the movie. For me the core piece connected to the book that Rabbi Lewis gave me long ago, which I quickly read cover-to-cover: "What is Your Glory?" By the title he means to ask us: Wherein do find the most important piece of ourselves? What precisely defines us? What exemplifies us best? To what should we aspire? It is a slim book that you probably never noticed sitting on the shelf directly behind me among thicker volumes. It wasn't as much a book about answers as it is about the questions that we need to ask ourselves and find within ourselves.

As the age old juxtaposition of Hanukkah and Christmas is soon upon us, let me phrase the question for the season: "What is our Glory?" Is it in the menorah in ultra modern presentation, or the simple metal unadorned ones whose light was undiminished? Is it in the imitation of gifts (we have done that too) or the replication of Macaabean spirit for the sake of the faith of Judaism? Is it in the quest to imitate others, or the life-long, year-long living of a vital, informed, uplifting life of Judaism? "Have a Little Faith" is an exquisite answer. I urge you to watch it. I pray that its message will resound and rebound in our lives.

From our far-flung family to yours, wherever they may be, Ruby and the children and grandchildren wish you a very happy and light-filled Hanukkah. Chag Sameach.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sermon, Friday November 18th, 2011 Teachers of Children Are Always Warned

Teachers of Children Are Always Warned

Rabbi Gary S. Creditor

Richmond, Virginia

November 18th, 2011


When I was in Rabbinical School at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, Dr. Gershon Cohen, zichrono l'vracha, was our Chancellor. Every fall we had a breakfast with him. On one of those occasions he told us that he wanted to know what we were doing. At that time I was creating a booklet for the instruction of Hebrew language in Religious School. I submitted a copy to him. He notated in red my mistakes. On one hand, I was totally embarrassed. And on the other hand, I was deeply impressed, that the Chancellor of the Seminary had taken the time to read through the entire twenty, thirty page booklet and read every page, because he marked them all, including the last.


For a long time I wondered why Dr. Cohen did that. I don't think he ever put my face, name and that document together. He never mentioned it to me. He clearly had invested enough time from his very busy life and schedule. I wonder what I did with it? Though he didn't write me a note, there was clearly a message embedded in this. What was it?


Only later did I learn a piece of Talmud, that I need to do a global word search to find the exact citation, which said that "makrei dardekei" – "teachers of children" stand perpetually warned about making mistakes in their instruction and do not need any warning before being fired! The Gemara, in my recollection, does not comment on this statement, but a commentator, maybe Rashi (from France) did. He used language that refers to twigs making lines in the earth that can never be made clear again. So, too, when teachers teach errors, the students' minds assimilate the error. Like erasing a blackboard, the mind remains clouded by the first, incorrect information, which it needs to remove in order to learn the new, correct information. But it is learned on a clouded background and is never as good when done on a fresh, clean surface. According to the Talmud, teachers must know the tremendous impression they make through their teaching. They can really "mess up." While I cannot say that I have never made a mistake since Dr. Gershon Cohen corrected my booklet, when I learned that Gemara, I immediately remembered him and that episode. I have never forgotten it. It speaks to me always.


In my lifetime, before I was a Rabbi I taught sixth and seventh grades in Religious School, worked as a youth advisor and youth director, and taught in several Ramah Camps. From then and through my Rabbinate, I have stood in juxtaposition to hundred and maybe thousands of students, youth and adults. It is an awesome responsibility. What I say, how I say it, what I impart can make a tremendous difference in people's lives, attitudes and understanding. I remember once getting a message from members of this congregation who attended a Bar/Bat Mitzvah at a Reform congregation elsewhere. When mentioning my name as their Rabbi, he responded that I was the reason he had become a Rabbi. I never knew. It had been decades and many miles since I taught him in 6th grade. I was flabbergasted. One just doesn't ever know the effect of being a teacher.


I learned the power of the position of teacher, a hidden, unarticulated power. The student posits a certain faith, a certain trust in a figure of authority, of knowledge, that can influence the future. The Rabbis understood this dynamic when they elevated the position of teacher to be on par with that of parent. It was more than stressing the importance of learning. It clearly inferred the inherent control and influence of the position. Along with that came utmost and ultimate responsibility and accountability.


I felt that many years ago, in a community far away. I wore many kippot: Rabbi, religious school principle, Bar/Bat Mitzvah teacher, and high school teacher. We rented two public school buildings, one for tefilot and one for school. It was confidentially shared with me that two children in our Religious School were being physically, not sexually, abused. I was a very young and newly minted Rabbi. I was very scared of this information. No one had ever discussed this situation with me. I was unprepared. The children were students in the public school we rented for our Religious School. I made an appointment with the Principal. I told this person what was told to me. The public school had as much a vested interest as the Religious School, but they were more trained and more protected from false accusation, if it was such, that I was. I had no training and no protection.  I did my duty. I handed it off. I had fulfilled my obligation as a teacher and supervisor of teachers. And every day that I came to that public school I went in to that principal to ask what was being done. I never let it rest until the process was completed. My conscience would not rest. How could it?


I cannot, for the life of me, fathom how any teacher of any subject and of sports, for that is what a coach is, can sleep at night while knowing that alleged behavior has occurred without staying with it, following it up, and protecting the students that are in his charge. This is exactly what the Gemara was saying about the position, the authority and the responsibility of the teacher. How could Joe Paterno assuage himself by just "passing it up the line?" How could the President of the University, ultimately responsible for the welfare of all the students, not demand immediate investigation and a thorough examination of the matter? Is this subject new? Have we not had enough cases and exposés? Are lives so cheap? Are they not fathers of their own sons? I cannot understand. I will not understand.


The accused are deemed innocent until proven guilty. Their day in court will come. But for those who remained silent, for those who just "sent it up the line" without further ado, for the lack of culpability, the lack of conscience, they have sinned and should be rightly punished. The lives of the students who were abused cannot be rewritten. The perpetrators, when proven guilty have grievously sinned. All the students currently at the universities have had their lives significantly impacted: all of this continued because no one blew the whistle loudly, shrilly and ceaselessly.  Their silence is a sin. How can they atone? Who can forgive them? I don't know.


Judaism teaches us that teachers are perpetually warned for the power of their position. It is more than Joe Paterno and all the others need to learn a little Gemara. Every person in every teaching position needs to feel in the marrow of their bones the responsibility, the duty, the moral obligation for the welfare of their students that they carry on their shoulders, that is embedded in their title: teacher, coach, instructor. It is more than just the material. It is life itself.


May God heal the broken hearted and bind up their wounds.


Shabbat Shalom.



Rabbi Gary S. Creditor

Temple Beth-El

3330 Grove Avenue

Richmond, VA 23221

Phone 804-355-3564

Fax 804-257-7152


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Five People I Want to Meet in Heaven

The Five People I Want to Meet in Heaven
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor
Yizkor – Yom Kippur
October 8th, 2011
Perhaps the one question that I have been most asked during my career is:
"Rabbi, do Jews believe in Heaven and Hell?"
 I answer them with the gamut of Jewish responses from the classical, Maimonidean and rationalist perspectives. The concepts of heaven and hell connect to larger theological questions about good and bad, reward and punishment, and the afterlife. We want to, need to believe that there is an eternal, everlasting reward for our struggles in our lifetime, that the injustices in this world are somehow addressed, even if in another reality, that life makes sense.
The description of heaven that I like the most is the imagery of metaphorically sitting around the table studying Torah with God for all eternity. It is something like my Talmud class, except that it never ends and we never grow old. And God has all the answers. It is a warm, comforting, secure dream. The true Jewish answer is: we won't know about heaven until we get there, wherever "there" might be. In this existence we can only speculate, fueled by vague notions in the Prophetic writings and the conjectures of the Rabbis contained in the Talmud, Midrash and mystical literature. Here, we just don't know.
Given that introduction, I call to your attention a wonderful book that was written some years ago by Mitch Albom entitled: "The Five People You Meet in Heaven." It is a wonderful story about lives that are intertwined without realizing it until afterwards, in heaven.  Only there will the protagonist, Eddie, have his life explained to him. Only there will he find out whether his last act on earth, indeed whether his whole life, was a heroic success or a devastating failure. It is a fascinating book, 196 small pages, a quick read.
In the untitled page before the story begins, Albom writes the following:
"This book is dedicated to Edward Beitchman, my beloved uncle, who gave me my first concept of heaven. Every year, around the Thanksgiving table, he spoke of a night in the hospital when he awoke to see the souls of his departed loved ones sitting on the edge of the bed, waiting for him. I never forgot that story. And I never forgot him.
"Everyone has an idea of heaven, as do most religions, and they should all be respected. The version represented here is only a guess, a wish, in some ways, that my uncle, and others like him – people who felt unimportant here on earth – realize, finally, how much they mattered and how they were loved."
The book's title provoked me to thinking and I have adapted it slightly. The title of this sermon is: The Five people I want to meet in heaven. If we have the choice, if we can somehow arrange in advance who we will meet in heaven, of all the possibilities spanning the history of humanity, Jewish or not, current or ancient,
Who would you choose?
Why would you select those particular people?
What would you ask them?
What do you want to learn from them?
How will these people explain our lives to us?
                        While we live, can we, do we expect, that we will have mattered in this world?
I hope to provoke your thinking. I hope to provoke your conversation at the table after Yom Tov. You can share with me your choices via email. Here are mine, with the whys and the wherefores. They are all Jewish. When I thought about this sermon, I immediately knew the five. These are: The Five People I Want to Meet in Heaven.
1. I would like to meet our Patriarch Abraham, Avraham Avinu. Why did I choose him? If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here today. We wouldn't be here today. There would be no Jewish people, no Judaism. No chosen people. I see myself, my life, as a Jew, not the Rabbi part, as a link on a chain that stretches back to him. No Abraham, no me.  I have so many questions for him.
                        How did you discover God, or, how did God discover you?
                        What was the "Aha" moment like?
                        Where you numbed, stunned, dazed?
                        What did God's voice sound like?
                        How did you know it was God speaking?
                        Was it actual words or something like ESP?
The Torah doesn't answer these questions, it just presents us with Abraham hearing what God was speaking, and asks us to make the same leap of faith. I want to know: what made Abraham leap? It will help mine. I have the Torah's text. I want to know about Abraham's experience. More questions:
How did you turn your back on the world you knew?
How did you leave home?
Weren't you concerned about sticking out like a 'sore thumb'?
It must have been strange being the only Jew in the world. Sometimes when I go places I feel like that too. Again, the Torah doesn't describe the feeling in his kishkes. That's what I want to know. What was churning on the inside? Did Avraham's heart go 'thump, thump, like mine? It will help my kishkes.
                        What did you think when you were walking up Mount Moriah to sacrifice Isaac?
                        Why didn't you say something to him?
                        How could you even imagine that God really wanted you to do this?
I have no idea how Avraham took even one step with his son. I have walked with our children and grandchildren, felt little hands in mine, and larger and larger as they have grown. I cannot fathom Avraham's trial, and yet, his image inspired millennium of Jews to sacrifice their lives, otherwise, our journey would have ended.  I want to know of his faith that gave him the power to do this. I want to meet Avraham Avinu in heaven. I want to feel his faith.
2,3,4. I want to meet my maternal grandfather, Abraham Liebhoff maternal grandmother, Anna Liebhoff and paternal great-grandfather Harry Creditor. They all left Europe: Smilovitch, Russia, Bielsk, Poland, and Soroka, Moldova, respectively around 1900. It wasn't in vogue to ask these questions in their lifetimes. But I would like to know:
What it was like to live in the village of Smilovitch, the town of Soroka, and the shtetl of Bielsk? [I don't want the 'Fiddler-on-the-Roof' edition, but the daily lives that they led.]
Did you go to cheder?
What did you do in the 'pre-electronic' world?
How hard was it to be a Jew?
Were you persecuted?
How did you make the decision to leave your hometowns with such little knowledge of the outside world?
[My maternal grandparents were young and travelled by themselves.]
[My great-grandfather Harry came with several children and my great grandmother Bertha.]  How did you have the guts to do that?
 What did you expect about America?
 What did you encounter?
 [Grandma Anna rolled cigars and made umbrellas on the Lower East Side.] How did you face the crisis of having to work on Shabbat?
 How did you remember to sing Lecha Dodi when you visited us in Belleville and came to Friday night services fifty years after leaving Europe?
 I want to know all the details. Because of them, the seed of my family was planted in this country. Because they were contemporary "Abrahams and Sarahs" my family was in America and not Europe for the Shoah and survived. We got our names from them and we gave them to our children.
5. I want to meet my father. Maybe as much as I have questions for him, I wish to tell him about my life since he died in 1991. Then again, if heaven is heaven, maybe he has known all along. Even so, I want to tell him that especially at key junctures, I have acutely missed his presence. There has been an empty space next to me at the b'not mitzvah of Yonina and Tzeira, at all their graduations, Menachem's marriage and the birth of the three grandchildren, particularly Moshe who carries his name, Tzvi. I have looked at the raspberry plants which came from his garden and wondered what he might be thinking about them transplanted to Virginia. In heaven, I get to know. Does not everyone have empty spaces?
But I have questions for my father.
What was it like growing up in Brooklyn, having to defend yourself against the anti-Semitic gangs? [He told me that they existed, and I saw from his pictures that he was quite a strong, tough guy, but I don't know his story. I never asked. He never told.]
[He was a volunteer in the Orphan Home of Brooklyn, where he met my mother who was also a volunteer there.] What were you doing there?
What did you think when you saw your wife-to-be for the first time?
Was it an "aha' moment?  [I think of the video with Andy Griffith for the song "Waiting on a Woman" that he and I can sit on a bench in heaven and he will tell me about those years, and courting my mother. Just that my father wouldn't be caught dead in a white suit. Not here. Not there. Neither would I.]
But most of all, I want to know:
How did you have the courage and dignity to live when you knew that you were dying?
[My father was a well read man. He understood his fight with cancer and yet never complained, never kvetched, never railed against the injustice in his life, that he had been just briefly retired before it struck and lived but one more year. He did not speak of it to me or anyone else, and we respected his privacy not to pry, fearing that we might somehow disturb the equilibrium that he maintained. But I want to know:
How did you take each step? [I learned the lessons by watching him that enabled me to be a Rabbi, to stand with others as they fought and crossed over to the other side. Yet he was silent. All his thoughts he kept to himself and I loved him too much to ask. Perhaps I was afraid of the answer. Perhaps I was afraid to make him cry. It wasn't my right. But in heaven, I would like to ask him, I would like to know:
How did you do it?
I need to know before it is too late.
These are my five.
I don't have the foggiest notion if I will meet these five people in heaven, or if I will meet anyone at all. It could just be "lights out." I hope not. I wish to believe, I believe, that I will meet these people. I accept the faith that there is a metaphysical place that is not discernable by test tube and telescope where neshamas exist forever. And I hope that in the right time, may it be far, far away, I will merit to be there too and meet these people and ask them these questions. There is an infinite list that I could have proposed, but I selected these five because they have always captivated me. Just this very speculation on whom to ask and what to ask has been instructive and enlightening. It touches the innermost hidden recesses of my heart, my very being. These are my core questions. They speak to my essence. Though I really want the answers, the questions themselves help me organize my life. At this juncture writing this sermon has help me reflect on the meaning and purpose of the life that I have lived, the family I have created, the service I have done as a Rabbi. Does all this have eternal meaning or is it over when I die?
            What is your essence, hiddenmost, innermost self?
            When you get to heaven, who do you want to meet?
            What key questions do you want to ask them?
            Will the answers make a difference in you?
            Heaven may come,
Will contemplating these questions now make you a better person in this life?
                        I hope so. Composing this sermon made a difference for me.
                        It gave me clarity. It gave me focus. It gave me hope.
In traditional texts of the Yizkor prayer it said that we recited Yizkor for the "Illuyi haNeshama" – for the "illumination of the soul" of the deceased, that it may be ever closer to God, and His radiance. Today I say Yizkor for my father and family members, for members of our congregation who have died. I recite it not only for "illuyi nishmotam," "their illumination," but for mine, for ours. Perhaps in contemplating special people in our lives and their core teachings that are eternal, we will live more wisely, more richly. In reflecting upon theirs, we will be illuminated.
Yizkor Elohim. May God remember. And here, may we. And in heaven, may they. Amen.


Kol Nidrei
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor
October 7th, 2011
Some time ago I had decided to write this sermon about God. For many years I have "explored" God with my Confirmation and "Discovering Judaism" classes. In any expression, it is probably the first or second most frequently used word in our liturgy. And in our liturgy, God stands at the centerContrary to our current environment that puts you and me, our wants, desires and creature comforts at the center of concern, Judaism teaches that we are not the centerGod is. Perhaps this night focuses our attention to God as does no other moment. We realize our finiteness, our limitations, our errors. We stand before "something" greater than ourselves. The echoes of the Kol Nidrei chant summon up eternity. They invoke us to stand in God's presence.
In thinking about topics for my sermons, especially with the introduction of Machzor Lev Shalem next year, with these few opportunities remaining to me, I need to speak about God. In every language and in every name, God is most dear to me.
Let me begin with a story that Rabbi Harold Kushner records in the end of his book "Who Needs God."
"In his classic novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, Columbian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells of a village where people were afflicted with a strange plague of forgetfulness, a kind ofcontagious amnesia. Starting with the oldest inhabitants and working its way through the population, the plague causes people to forget the names of even the most common everyday objects. One young man, still unaffected, tries to limit the damage by putting labels on everything. "This is a table," "This is a window," "This is a cow; it has to be milked every morning." And at the entrance to the town, on the main road, he puts up two large signs. One reads "The name of our village is Macondo," and the larger one reads "God exists"."
From the first time in my youth that I ever heard the word "God" I always accepted believing in "Him." I don't know why. I couldn't define God. I probably couldn't have explained 'why.' I didn't ask for proof. Nevertheless I believed, I accepted God as "real," that God exists. He wasn't real like the 'things' in my life, the things that I could see and touch, 'show and tell.' There was a different sense of real                          How can I explain this?
God was real to me because he was real to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Isaiah from where my Bar Mitzvah haftorah came from. I received this as the belief of my people andaccepted it into my heart. I took my Hebrew School classes seriously. As I increased my reading of the Tanakh, God became more real. If Jewish history was the stage and the Hebrews, Israelites and Jews were the seen actors, then God was a participant too, just unseen. As a young person I didn't ask how did God speak and how did our ancestors hear Him. I acceptedthat there was some form of communication, in both directions, and that God was real. Otherwise, to me, the Jewish journey made no sense.  Abraham and Sarah could have stayed in
Ur. There would be no Judaism, no Christianity and no Islam. Yet the history of being a Jew, the defining characteristic, the journey of the Jewish people, has been predicated on exactly and precisely one fundamentally accepted truth: God exists. God is real.
One of the most frequent questions I am asked is: Who wrote the Bible? There are many approaches to explain the Tanakh. The traditional classical Jewish answer, for the Torah section is: God. And even if modern scholarship can show me how the complicated text came to be, I still need to hear God's voice in, through, above and around its words.
What am I to do with the phrases: "And the Lord said"?  And: "The Lord commanded"? Is it only some inner conscience talking to myself? Is it only an imagination, even if vivid, of my own creation? Is it a crutch for human weakness? Is it all only a metaphor? Or are these words from the highest, invisible realm of reality? Are they eternal? In my teaching I use the metaphor of a seven-layer-cake to illustrate that truths can be co-existent and not necessarily contradictory. No matter what is said about the text of the Torah and Bible, at some level, at some layer of meaning, for me, there must be The external reality that stretches from the furthest beyond and reaches to the reality of the human here and now. There must be God.                                                                                                                                         
There are many sources that influence and exemplify my thinking. In the past year there was a particular presentation of the comic strip "The Family Circus" written by Bil Keane. In it, as one girl is holding a cell phone to her ear and obviously not getting an answer, the other is saying to the other: "I can talk to God wherever I am without a cell phone….and I never get a busy signal." [We could add: "And never have a 'dropped call'!] I saved it for this sermon. That is how I feel when I daven, when I take the siddur or the Machzor in hand. Instead of email and Gmail and tweets, I have an unlimited conversation and I predicate my entire experience on the faith that God hears me, that I have a companion, who doesn't have to say a thing. Praying, tefilah, is not a matter of my head as much as it is a matter of my heart. The girl in the comic intuitively understood the belief in the openness of God, the availability of God, and the nearness of God. Without needing a long excurses, in simplicity, the comic strip articulates the faith that all of us can call upon God simultaneously and He will be there for all of us at the same time. In this sublime innocence, is the faith of God's presence. I need that faith when I pray. I need it when I live. Don't we all? Rabbi Kushner pointed out in his book, with faith in God's existence, we are never alone in the unending universe.
In our Machzor, based on our extensive, classical literature, God is called by many names. The common convention is to use the pronoun "He" and masculine grammar, even as our faith declares that God is incorporeal, has no body, and thus defies the logic of language. Each term has connotations that weave a complex relationship. A selection includes:  Creator - Boray; Guardian – Shomer; King - Melech; Healer – HaRofeh; our Father - Avinu; Master – Adon; Savior – Moshiah; Judge – Shofet; Comforter – Menachem; the First – Rishon; and, the Holy One, Blessed be He – HaKadosh Baruch Hu. We invoke God to be present in our lives. We summon national memory and personal consciousness. Language presents a  true, not virtual, reality.
Here is another way. The last segment of Art Linkletter's TV show "House Party" was called "Kids Say the Darndest Things." In that vein, fifth graders of a Religious School were asked by their teacher to look at TV commercials and see if they could use them in twenty ways to communicate ideas about God. The following selection was shared on the network of the Conservative Rabbinate by my colleague Rabbi Matthew Futterman.
God is like.      Bayer Aspirin.                         He works miracles.
God is like.      A Ford.                                     He's got a better idea.
God is like.      A Coke.                                    He's the real thing.
God is like.      Hallmark Cards.                      He cares enough to send His very best.
God is like.      Tide.                                        He gets the stains out others leave behind.
God is like.      General Electric.                     He brings good things to life.
God is like.      Wal-Mart.                               He has everything.
God is like.      Alka-Seltzer.                            Try Him, you'll like Him.
God is like.      Scotch Tape.                            You can't see Him, but you know He's there.
God is like.      Delta.                                      He's ready when you are.
God is like.      Allstate.                                   You're in good hands with Him.
God is like.      VO-5 Hairspray.                      He holds through all kinds of weather.
God is like.      Dial Soap.                                Aren't you glad you have Him? Don't you wish
                                                                        everybody did?
God is like.      The U.S. Post Office.               Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet nor ice will keep
                                                                        Him  from His appointed destination.
God is like.      Chevrolet.                               The heart beat of America.
God is like.      Maxwell House.                      Good to the very last drop.
God is like.      Bounty.                                    He is the quicker picker upper..Can handle the
                                                                        tough jobs..And He won't fall apart on you.
All these cute quips make manifest a faith in the transcendent yet immanent God. They don't deny the great theological questions of good and evil. They do affirm wonderful answers. They all reflect the faith that God exists; that He loves us; that we matter to Him; that He is responsible for human existence; that we are not alone. In a charming way, they reflect the Psalmist's eloquence "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." We can ask for nothing more.
When I was a child I tried to imagine God. I wanted to understand Him concretely. Once I was lying on the lawn and looked up to the clouds. Captivatingly they looked like human ribs and I imagined that I was inside God's chest cavity. That was cool! Since the clouds stretched to the horizon and I must have been a little speck, I was utterly impressed with God's grandeur, and yet completely overwhelmed with the thought that I could be near God. Later I was to learn that that experience reflected a Talmudic discussion about God:  "Rabbi Halafta wrote: We call God 'Makom,' – Place – but we do not know if God is the place of the world, or the world is the place of God." There is no final answer. Maybe we are just near to each other. Today I get the                                                                              
same feeling from pictures from the Hubble telescope and space probes. The vastness of existence is linked to the God of the Tanakh, to the God to whom I speak with Machzor in hand,
whose words I read when I open the Torah. This is the Psalmists faith, and mine, as he writes: "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me."
I did not intend for this to be a theological treatise but rather to share with you my personal posture with God for your consideration. It is a simple faith. I know that there are questions for which in this life I will never have answers. I am okay with that. Not everything needs to be answered. Eternity can wait. These beliefs comfort me and sustain me. They echo through the millennium from prophets and sages. They enable me to accept the sorrows in life along with the joys, for as I turn to God, here in the Sanctuary, in my home or backyard, I feel God is near, my friend and comforter, encourager and supporter, and teacher. He does not stop bad things from happening, but gives me the strength and sustenance to face them. He reveals the magnificence of all creation and humbles me to be alive. I cannot "prove" God. I cannot go "puff" and make Him appear as a slight of hand or magic trick.  Sometimes I wish that I could.
And yet I am unshakably certain of Him and His love.  I could not live life without God. That faith informs my life, as an answer to Him for its gift. Believing in God evokes my response, through mitzvot, through tefilah - prayer, through righteous living. It guides me to seek the synagogue as a community of faith, who act in faith, who join souls together in faith to God.
In the naivety and innocence of the child-within-us-all, I hear the still small voice that Elijah heard in the pages of Talmud and Tanakh, siddur and Machzor, and in our voices raised in prayer.
So like in the story with which I opened this sermon, let me label things before I forget:
            This is a talit.
            This is a kippah.
            This is a Machzor.
            This is Temple Beth-El.
                                                            God exists.
G'mar Chatimah Tovah.
Shanah Tovah Tikatayvu V'Taychataymu.
The following was not included in the sermon delivered in synagogue on Kol Nidrei but attached to the electronic edition as a postscript.
There is a great website that I encourage you visit:
The Interview With God Poem
I dreamed I had an interview with God. 

"So you would like to interview me?" God asked.

"If you have the time" I said. 

God smiled. "My time is eternity."
"What questions do you have in mind for me?"

"What surprises you most about humankind?"

God answered...
"That they get bored with childhood,
they rush to grow up, and then 
long to be children again."

"That they lose their health to make money...
and then lose their money to restore their health."

"That by thinking anxiously about the future, 
they forget the present, 
such that they live in neither 
the present nor the future."

"That they live as if they will never die, 
and die as though they had never lived."

God's hand took mine
and we were silent for a while.

And then I asked...
"As a parent, what are some of life's lessons 
you want your children to learn?"

"To learn they cannot make anyone 
love them. All they can do 
is let themselves be loved."

"To learn that it is not good 
to compare themselves to others."

"To learn to forgive
by practicing forgiveness."

"To learn that it only takes a few seconds 
to open profound wounds in those they love, 
and it can take many years to heal them." 

"To learn that a rich person 
is not one who has the most,
but is one who needs the least."

"To learn that there are people 
who love them dearly, 
but simply have not yet learned 
how to express or show their feelings."

"To learn that two people can 
look at the same thing 
and see it differently."

"To learn that it is not enough that they 
forgive one another, but they must also forgive themselves."

"Thank you for your time," I said humbly. 

"Is there anything else 
you would like your children to know?"

God smiled and said, 
"Just know that I am here... always." 

-author unknown