Thursday, March 24, 2011

Jerusalem, O Jerusalem

March 24, 2011

18 Adar II 5771

Dear Friends,


Yesterday morning Ruby and I were called by our nephew Avi who was on the phone with Tzeira in a beautifully usual phone call between cousins when the terrorist bombing occurred in a place where Ruby, Tzeira and I have often stood. Our nephew told us that Tzeira was fine, working in her office far from the place. It didn't matter that she was well, because my heart rose in my throat, a reaction I have had in the past. It took a little while for my heartbeat to return to normal. It has been a long time since the last terrorist act in Jerusalem. I remember when our children did not want Ruby and me to ride the buses when we lived in Jerusalem on Sabbatical in 2004 because they were prone to attack. Today's Times-Dispatch put this on the last page of section A. The missile and rocket attacks on the major cities of Beersheba and Ashkelon and the mortar attacks on the towns near the Gaza Strip never even made the paper at all. Today's letters-to-the-editor includes one that makes the Fogel family, adult and infant, brutally murdered in their beds, into the perpetrators instead of the victims. Allow me to share several brief reactions and include a moving piece by the head of the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, the place where Ruby and I studied and which I most highly encourage collegiates, post-collegiates and others to study there either in person or on line.


The world does not have the highest regard for Jewish blood. It takes it as a matter of course that it will be shed, and no one will shed a tear. There is no denying the enormousness of the tragedy in Japan that calls for world support. But that does not give the world a pass and allow Jewish blood to be splattered with impunity nor deny Jews the right of self defense.


I use the word "Jew" instead of Israeli because the world does not distinguish between them. Those who hate us do so because we are Jews no matter our political stance towards Israel. Those who hate Israel hate us because they no do not separate between faith and nationality. Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism and vice versa. Israel and Judaism/Jews is indivisible to them. It should be to us, too.


Nothing that happens could ever deter me from visiting or living in Israel. It is not that one is oblivious to the events. Every security check, every extra security tax, every days' newspapers make sure that no one ever lives in oblivion. Yet it would never interfere, come between my love of the State of Israel and of the people of Israel. They are my family. It is the homeland of the Jewish people. My roots of three thousand, five hundred years is in that soil. I am proud of Tzeira in her choice of aliyah to Israel.


I had prayed, like many, that terrorism was truly thwarted and ended. I fear, like many, that the upheavals in the Arab world would spill over. I hope that the condemnation by the Palestinian Authority will be helpful in avoiding others. I pray that Muslims and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis can show the world a different paradigm, not of killing but of harmony. I would rather be an idealist with my feet on the ground than a cynic with my head in the sand. Times like this just leave me in pain and tears.


Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, author of the piece below, is the head of the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, a most warm, welcoming educational leader, who made our stay in Jerusalem such a rewarding experience. I feel the need to share it with you.




Rabbi Creditor




It is 6.5 hours since the bomb went off near busses across from Binyanei Ha'ouma, leaving 1 woman dead and 45 wounded, 2 in critical condition.  My wife Ada has not come home yet from Hadassah.  Her "emergency" role is as physician in the chadar mishpachot, where families of wounded or of those in search of their loved ones are cared for.  When she called an hour ago they were awaiting the arrival of the parents of a 14 year old girl, one of the critically wounded, still in the operating room.  Keep Odelia in your prayers.


If I remember correctly, this is the first bus pigua in Jerusalem since 2004 and the first "major" pigua here since the bombing at the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in 2008.  The period of relative quiet we've had in Jerusalem has ended, no one knows for how long.  The tough times in the world (Japan) and the Middle East have not passed Israel by.  The terrible murder of the Fogel family at Ithamar, the worrisome heating up of the border with Gaza, and now the bombing today.  The world today is not the same as it was three months ago, and the instability of the terrestrial plates, in the sea off Japan and in the Arab shuks, has not come to rest.  How things will look in weeks, months, years is anyone's guess; R' Yochanan warns us in BB 12b not to presume that we are prophets.


Today at the Conservative Yeshiva, even though we could hear the police cars and ambulances rushing to the scene, we continued classes.  Our general policy is to continue Torah study unless there is an immediate reason not to. 


That's consistent with the basic Israeli response to such events, to get back to "normal" as quickly as possible.  That is a term I've never understood; after 35 years in Jerusalem I don't know what "normal" life here is.  But that's one of the things that makes it so special – the simchas of Jerusalem are like none anywhere else.  And, on days like today, neither is the pain.


With prayers for quieter days and better news for all, best, Daniel



Rabbi Gary S. Creditor

Temple Beth-El

3330 Grove Avenue

Richmond, VA 23221

Phone 804-355-3564

Fax 804-257-7152


Friday, March 18, 2011

Shabbat Sermon: Who, What, Why is Amalek?

Who, What, Why is Amalek?

Rabbi Gary S. Creditor

March 19th, 2011


Through the Rabbinic prism, the Megillah of Esther is the continuation of the initial attempt by Amalek to annihilate the Jewish people. In reading Haman's pedigree, he is called an "Agagite." This name leads us back to the story of King Saul and the Prophet Samuel's command to him to exterminate the people of Amalek for their continuing threat to Israelite existence. The Amalek king is Agag. When Saul does not kill Agag, Samuel does. Though its description is minimal, we clearly understand the bloodiness of it. Mordechai is called the "son of Kish, eish yemini." This pedigree makes Mordechai a descendant of Saul, for Saul's father was Kish and yemini is short for Benjamin, the name of the tribe. Yet the struggle-to-the-death has a previous episode, namely in the days following the Exodus from Egypt, when Amalek, unprovoked, with out cause, rhyme or reason, attacked the recently freed Israelite slaves at the very end of the column, with the most vulnerable of the weak, young and elderly exposed to the onslaught. There is no explanation for the attack, for the hatred, for the mercilessness. The Rabbis specifically chose today's maftir Aliyah and the Haftarah for Shabbat Zachor because they wanted to connect the dots in the episodes of our history. Amalek after the Exodus, Amalek during Saul's kingship, Amalek in the Megillah are all one and the same. The hatred is one and the same. The design against us is one and the same. I always wondered why Hitler's name had to begin with an "h" to follow after Haman. For the Holocaust, another "h" word, follows precisely in the footsteps of Amalek. It is all so inexplicable.


This understanding leads into the custom of why we make noise whenever Haman's name is mentioned during the reading of the Megillah. The Torah says that we are to "blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heaven." Since Haman is an Amalekite, we fulfill the Torah mitzvah by using the grogger, stamping our feet or shouting out 'boo.' Yet at the same time the Torah commands us "Do not forget." The implication of this verse in Torah is that we must not forget the Amalekite aggression for, by any other name, it is unending, and we will always have to "stamp it out," "drown it out," fight back. Always. Forever.


I have been asked many questions. I have many more of my own.

            Will there ever stop being an Amalek?

            Why did Amalek do it? Why during Moses? Why during Saul? Why in Shushan?

                        Why by Germany? Why by the Arabs?

            Why do people hate us?

            What does it mean to be hated in history?

            What does it do to us?

            Can we ever become Amalek back at them, whomever 'them' may be?

            Do we have enough tears to cry over our dead?

            Are we still obligated to fulfill the mitzvah to exterminate Amalek? And,

            Who is Amalek today?

This is a seminar and not a sermon. But I will respond to a few of them.


Perhaps I will first answer who I think 'Amalek" is, or who could be an 'Amalek.' In the source in Deuteronomy it says that Amalek was "undeterred by fear of God," – they were not God-fearing. What does this mean? That answer is connected to the understanding of what is the essence that God wants from us, namely, through the institution of law, God wants us to codify and enact the protection and elevation of the holiness and the equality of each individual. That is the essence of Judaism. That is how we are "God-fearing." Beginning at least from the Exodus, the experience of slavery, in which one people subjugated another, wherein each person's humanity was destroyed, wherein the image of God was destroyed, where holiness was destroyed, Judaism has enunciated a universal vision of all humanity's equality, each person's holiness and the need of law to protect each of us from each other, to protect the weak, the young, the old, the defenseless, the sick, the disabled. When a Jew identifies with their Judaism, and for others, even if you don't,

            we represent this message to the world.

            We are the light.

            We are the beacon.

            We are the messenger.

That message is contrary to human history which is the domination, subjugation and even the extermination of one people by another. It is still going on! No one wants to hear this message. So they kill the messenger hoping to kill the message. God won't let them. That is the other reason for our existence. Each prophet has enunciated why God wants us, why God needs us on earth.


Whenever I look at the world, in the macrocosm and the microcosm, when I see unbridled, pointless, senseless hatred of others I see Amalek. Amalek's attack is against God's creatures, whether the young woman murdered last week on Broad Street, or the woman in the science lab in Maryland whose murderer just confessed.   It is an Amalek that brutally murdered the members of the Fogel family. For them there will never be enough tears. Upon hearing of the horror, I immediately remembered other such moments in Israel's history. I remembered Ma'alot. I remember when Ruby and I were driving in the Galilee and I saw the signpost to the community. My heart went up to my throat. When will it end? I feel the pain of the Rabbinic debate whether or not mankind should have ever been created. They correctly saw our brutality, our viciousness, our destructiveness, our blood thirstiness. If God had asked the Rabbis prior to Creation whether or not He should have created us, there would have been a resounding "No!"

            How much blood would not have been shed!

            How many millions and billions of people would not have been murdered!

            How many tears would not have been shed!


When will the Messiah come?

            Maybe it will not happen until we stop being Amalek.

            Maybe Amalek will only be destroyed when the Messiah comes.

If it is the first answer, then we have exceedingly urgent work, for there is an awfully steep mountain before us to change humanity.

And if it is the second, then I hope and pray the Messiah comes this afternoon so I don't need to make such noise tonight blotting out Haman's name.


There is one further piece I wish to address:

Despite the heavy questions that Purim provokes, we really need its frivolity. We need that levity to help us keep our balance, our equilibrium and not fall off the very narrow path that we follow. And we need to see that it takes courage and commitment to be a dedicated Jew, for that means to accept and embody our mission and purpose in the world. I look to the Megillah to teach me, to teach us. Esther, a Persian name, was prepared to remove the mask and be Hadassah, to assert her Jewishness, to accept the responsibility for her people, to step up and step forward. It took courage to say "I am a Jew and I will either rise or go down with my people." It took courage to keep a moral sanity in the insane world portrayed by the Megillah and the numerous and unending drinking that corrupted physical and moral existence. The Megillah is about an upside down world, inverted in every important sense. It took courage to keep an ethical compass. Mordechai stepped forward and refused to bow down to that world. He refused to abdicate his being, his essence to a Haman. We know the end of the story but Mordechai did not. He put his life on the line. He put his people on the line. He was prepared to live and die as a Jew, faithfully, publicly, proudly, courageously! As Helen Zimm says, "forever and ever!"


It can be tough to be a Jew. It can be risky and dangerous. It is elevating. It is illuminating. It is uplifting.  It is inspiring. That pride and self-worth is the counter-balance to the hatred. I know why I am here, we are here. I know my purpose, our purpose in the world. I am proud to be a Jew. I read the Megillah and understand the cast of characters, and pray that someday there will be no more Amalek in the world.


Shabbat Shalom




Rabbi Gary S. Creditor

Temple Beth-El

3330 Grove Avenue

Richmond, VA 23221

Phone 804-355-3564

Fax 804-257-7152


Friday, March 11, 2011

Rabbi Gary Creditor: "Muslim Americans::Jewish Americans" or “O Lord, Guard my tongue from evil”

"Muslim Americans::Jewish Americans"

"O Lord, Guard my tongue from evil"

Rabbi Gary S. Creditor

March 12th, 2011


One of if not my favorite tefilah is the one that concludes each and every Amidah. It is a private meditation and not part of the statutory tefilot. While the other tefilot are written in the first person plural, this is written in the singular. It is just me and God. One to one. Face to face. I find its text to be appropriate in these delicate times, even as the tefilah is timeless.


"O Lord, Guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking guile,

and to those who slander me, let me give no heed.

May my soul be humble and forgiving unto all.

Open Thou my heart, O Lord, unto Thy sacred Law,

That thy statues I may know and all Thy truths pursue.

Bring to naught designs of those who seek to do me ill;

Speedily defeat their aims and thwart their purposes

For Thine own sake, for Thine own power,

For Thy holiness and Law.

That Thy loved ones be delivered.

Answer us, O Lord, and save with Thy redeeming power."


Appended to that is the familiar "Oseh Shalom."


I have watched and read the arguments and responses flying back and forth concerning the hearings held by Representative Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. It is called to investigate the radicalization of the Muslim community in the United States. Perhaps a better tone for the hearings would have been set if they had read this prayer first, before uttering a single word.  They were talking about an entire swatch of American citizens, peaceful, productive, invested, equal. While we all share real concerns about safety and security, anything said needed to be done so with sensitivity, humility and respect. Words can impugn with impunity. The voracious 24/7 media repetitively disseminates half-truths and less, with vindictive passion. How many endless loops have you watched on twenty-four hour cable news shows? If it is said often enough and loud enough, even the sane can begin to doubt their sanity.


And we, the Jewish community, understand this phenomenon exceedingly well. If one time would have been enough to dispel a rumor, to right a wrong, why did Pope Benedict XVI have to devote a significant amount of his new book disproving, disclaiming and denying our collective responsibility for the death of Jesus (the Jew)? How much scurrilous venom has been spewed forth at us over the airwaves over the last hundred years, accusing us in this country of every evil under the sun, never mind elsewhere? We know the lash of malicious talk. We have been often accused of doubtful loyalty when we show love for the State of Israel. We have had to come to grips with the likes of Jonathan Pollard, whose name surfaces again and again. What does the shifting Middle America think of us? We of all groups in America must be particularly sensitive, outspoken for the extension of respect to all, vigilant against the vigilantes of right or left, and protective of the civil rights of all citizens. Even if we have nothing new to add to the details of the conversation we wave the bright flag of red, white and blue of caution.

There are things to be said.


In the aftermath of the September 11th, I participated in numerous prayer services in concert with leaders of other faith communities, including our Muslim brethren. We hosted a major service here in this Sanctuary. On the fifth anniversary, we did so again. We will do it on the 10th this fall. We did so to bring this country together, to disparage hate. I have sat shoulder to shoulder with Muslims at civic events when neither of us could eat and just sipped our juice and coffee. In their conflict to erect a mosque on North side, I met with Imad D'maj to see what support I could offer them in what seemed like a clear case of bigotry. He came here several years ago to participate in my edition of a "fireside chat." And Imam Amar Amonette and I study together in an interfaith clergy group convened by the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities. We both wear head coverings. We both read our holy texts in languages other than English. We both have family living in the Middle East. Am I supposed to look at him with suspicion of what he might be contemplating doing to me, to us? Is he supposed to think of us, what we want to do to him and his community? What either of us what to do to "them"? Not here. Not in America. We both pledge allegiance to the same flag and sing the same anthem.


It is a truth that our communities are not monolithic. I can't speak for all Jews. He can't speak for all Muslims. I can speak about what Judaism teaches. I see the full panorama of Jewish history. I know that Joshua was commanded to take Canaan by force and even exterminate certain groups. By modern standards, that book is not our shining hour. There is a big question of its historicity all together. I know that King Alexander Yannai forcibly converted the Idumeans. We don't do that and haven't for two thousand years. Not every Jew will "Love his neighbor as himself." Not every Jew will follow the ethical commandments. But I can preach and teach of what is wrong and what is right. Imam Amar Amonette doesn't speak for all Muslims at the Islamic Center. He has a very diverse community that comes from communities around the world that have nothing in common and even their Islam is differentiated. Clearly there are episodes in Moslem history that need to be kept in their time and place. There are pieces of Islam, like there are of Judaism, that need to be cordoned off and read out to the margins, to allow the best of our teachings to occupy the center of the faith. The Imam can do in the Mosque what I can do in the synagogue. We can stress the right, the good, the respectful, the complimentary, the honorable, the just.


I don't know what these hearings were supposed to do. I hope that they did not create harm and suspicion where it is not warranted. There is no denying terrorist acts that have occurred in this country and by whom they were done. Leaders of every community, religious, ethnic and political must condemn the sin, not the sinner's community. Particularly because of the global issues of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestinians, and the countries currently in pandemonium, because of 9/11, the Islamic community has a lot of internal educational work, community building work to do, while it shows with a public face that we are all Americans. Everyone – without exception - must loudly condemn acts of violence, or murder, of hate. We all want that our beloved country must be safe and sound, secure and sheltered. For all of us. We all must uphold the core values of truth and justice, honesty and respect, patriotism and loyalty. Every citizen and every elected official is bound to protect our country from the outside, from the inside, from destructive forces and corruptive corrosion of bigotry. What we don't need is a witch hunt. We have had them before. We know their evil.


Congressional hearings can focus a powerful laser beam on what is right in America. They can reveal true patriotism by all the disparate groups that weave the texture of the American broadcloth. They can indicate areas of mutual concern and areas that need mutual work.  They can dispel rumor and innuendo. They can unite and not divide. They can bring into harmony peoples of all faith communities and people without a particular faith. I hope that Congressman King and his committee get the message. May they be agents for good even as they seek to protect us from the evil. And when we feel in doubt, we stand up and raise our voices. This is mine.


Oseh shalom…ya'aseh shalom alaynu

May there peace for our community, our people, for all communities, for all peoples;

May all live in peace, under their vine and fig tree, so none shall make us afraid.




Rabbi Gary S. Creditor

Temple Beth-El

3330 Grove Avenue

Richmond, VA 23221

Phone 804-355-3564

Fax 804-257-7152