My Journey: Our Journey
From the Heart
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor
I did not begin my life "religious." My parents were representative of their time and place from Brooklyn, New York. We were very "Jewish." All four of my grandparents were European. Our cuisine was typical. I grew up hearing Yiddish. We were unaffiliated.
Where did you begin?
The town we moved to N.J. only had a Conservative synagogue. I attended its Religious School three days a week. It was typical. But it caught my soul. I can't explain it. I began a personal, religious journey, self-orchestrated and infused with learning, passion, and Yiddishkeit from teachers from every direction. From little or no observance I personally moved across a continuum, adding pieces as a result of my experiences. When I graduated high school I made a quantum leap – I would now observe Shabbat, Yom Tov and Kashrut completely. I grew and gave direction to my life.
What was your Jewish influence?
All this time I remained firmly entrenched and engrained in the Conservative Movement. I prayed with our siddur. I worked in our camping movement, Ramah. I was a participant in USY and the little known LTF. I studied at our center of our learning, the Jewish Theological Seminary and its center in Jerusalem. My life has been entirely intertwined with Judaism, as proposed, taught, perpetuated through the prism of Conservative Judaism. My sermons, classes, teachings, presentations of Judaism are exclusively through that lens. My (and my family's) observance of Judaism reflects the core and foundational teaching of the Conservative Judaism. Make no mistake.
Is some part of Judaism uniquely yours?
I have grown up watching the synagogue change. I was an active participant in its becoming egalitarian. My rabbinic career mirrored its struggle. I have been confronted with intermarriage and have responded to hundreds of pleas, questions, requests – some that I could not say 'yes' which pained me– as American Jewry has had its journey. I had to form policies and procedures to respect all sides of equations that are more complex than any mathematical formula. My answers affected the lives of my congregants, to whom I felt responsible, and my synagogues.
Have you been responsible for others' welfare?
It has been a fascinating journey, at times a difficult journey, and always a challenging one. I grew into a set of principles. I see them as the inheritance and the distillation of thousands of years of our people's faith while being immersed in an intense vortex of changes. Sometimes I think that a roller-coaster ride would have been easier.
How would you describe your journey through life?
I share this preface with you, so that it is understood by all, that my journey has led me to much soul–searching, listening, consultation, reading, meetings of colleagues, and studying of our extended scene. It was not easy or comfortable. Yet it resulted in my writing a proposal for the Ritual Committee to create an Alternative Erev Shabbat Tefilah venue. We analyzed it deeply and honestly. I revised and rewrote it in light of that conversation. This proposal was accepted from the committee by the Board. I came to believe there is too large a stretch in our community so that one venue can be the right one for all members. Whether I personally subscribe to one or the other is not relevant. It is more important to create other/new doorways into our synagogue center under our umbrella while being a Conservative synagogue. I hope that the lay leadership will now actively bring this forward. It should be very exciting. It creates many opportunities. Time and experience will show which resonate with our current members and attractive new ones. Perhaps the imagination of the prophets of many people streaming to the Temple in Jerusalem can come alive in our synagogue. We have many locations to become sacred spaces. There is no limitation.
I ask you: What has been your journey? Where did you begin? Where are you now? Have you drawn from the well of Judaism? What does it mean to be "religious?" Who sees themselves in the context of the Jewish people, and not just on an individual journey? Maybe we can join journeys together.
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor
3330 Grove Avenue
Richmond, VA 23221