Thursday, January 26, 2012

What Do We Owe (Parents) Our Children?

What Do We Owe (Parents) Our Children?
January 27th, 2012
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor
Perhaps it is my heightened sensitivity in these recent weeks, but I found myself intently following the details of the tragic death of sixteen year old Brett Wells, shot in his home in Mechanicsville. As events would unfold, I was invited to join other clergy in a meeting at his high school yesterday (Thursday), even though there are but a few Jewish students. As this subject transcends all boundaries, and because it again was a death caused by a gun, I felt compelled to attend, despite only receiving the invitation on Wednesday afternoon. I had no idea how or if I could personally contribute to the conversation.
Indeed I had little to say other than introducing myself and our synagogue and thus bringing our faith community to the meeting. The students are predominantly Christian and Hanover Country does not have a pronounced Jewish population or any synagogue. Yet it is vital that we participate.
There was much said at the meeting. The faith communities want to somehow assist the students, parents and faculty to come to grips with this tragic death, the issues that it raises, for their community, their school, and to console each other in their grief. The school needs the faith community's help. It is a formidable task for the local churches. I pray that God will give them the strength and the insight to raise up the broken hearted, soothe their spirits and point to a better way.
Particularly because the electronic world allows me to send these words far beyond those in this sanctuary who can hear me deliver them, I want to focus on two thoughts that came to me as I listened to the conversation Thursday afternoon. As I sat to compose this, I chose the title: "What do we – the parents – owe our children?"
My first thought is that even if parents do everything right, and I mean everything and I mean absolutely correctly in raising their children, there remains an element of luck, mazal that plays an undetermined role. I don't envy our son raising our grandchildren. How can you possibly protect and insulate them from all the elements of the world, good and especially the bad, that incessantly bombard them? From a commercial from long ago: there is no Gardol shield. No one lives in a vacuum. We need God's invisible help. We need good fortune. We need luck.
My second thought, with all the need of luck, we as parents, even as grandparents owe many things to our children. None of my list is creature comforts. None of this is monetary. The list begins the moment are children are born. It continues with decreasing ability to enforce it as they grow older. Our obligation lasts for as long as we live. We teach to our dying breath.
We owe our children a value system. The world mitzvah is not translated as "good deed." It is "commandment." There are things that are right and there are things that are wrong. It is not negotiable. It is absolute. We cannot be wishy-washy. We must enunciate that value system clearly, concisely, and consistently.
We owe our children to speak with integrity. It cannot be "do as I say and not as I do." Our word and our action must be synonymous, harmonious, unanimous. We cannot talk about honesty if we are not honest. We cannot demand respect if we don't give respect. We cannot make demands on our children if we don't make demands upon ourselves.
We owe our children to be exemplars. There is a song by Rodney Atkins entitled "Watching You." How perfectly does it speak to us today.

"Watching You"
Driving through town just my boy and me
With a happy meal in his booster seat
Knowing that he couldn't have the toy
Till his nuggets were gone
A green traffic light turned straight to red
I hit my brakes and mumbled under my breath
His fries went a flying and his orange drink covered his lap
Well then my four year old said a four letter word
That started with "s" and I was concerned
So I said son now now where did you learn to talk like that

[Chorus one]

He said I've been watching you dad, ain't that cool
I'm your buckaroo, I wanna be like you
And eat all my food and grow as tall as you are
We got cowboy boots and camo pants
Yeah we're just alike, hey ain't we dad
I wanna do everything you do
So I've been watching you

We got back home and I went to the barn
I bowed my head and I prayed real hard
Said Lord please help me help my stupid self
Then this side of bedtime later that night
Turning on my son's Scooby Doo nightlight
He crawled out of bed and he got down on his knees
He closed his little eyes, folded his little hands
And spoke to God like he was talking to a friend
And I said son now where'd you learn to pray like that

[Chorus two]

He said I've been watching you dad, ain't that cool
I'm your buckaroo, I wanna be like you
And eat all my food and grow as tall as you are
We like fixing things and holding mama's hand
Yeah we're just alike, hey ain't we dad
I wanna do everything you do
So I've been watching you


With tears in my eyes I wrapped him in a hug
Said my little bear is growing up
He said but when I'm big I'll still know what to do

[Chorus three]

Cause I've been watching you dad, ain't that cool
I'm your buckaroo, I wanna be like you
And eat all my food and grow as tall as you are
By then I'll be as strong as superman
We'll be just alike, hey won't we dad
When I can do everything you do
Cause I've been watching you
We owe our children to give them a strong, enduring, edifying, comforting and demanding faith. Faith gives us a vision of the world, of others, of ourselves. Faith gives us a perspective in order to comprehend a crazy, complicated and incomprehensible world. Faith gives us a community which helps us maintain our balance along the journey, to share our joys and our sorrows, temper the highs and elevate the lows. Faith gives expectations for us to fulfill. We owe something to others. We owe something to our families, our communities and ourselves. Faith sets the bar. Faith gives us a voice outside of ourselves, the voice of the universe, the voice of eternity, the voice of God. It gives us His teachings and His love. How dearly we need them both.
Being a parent never was and never will be easy. It isn't easy being a grandparent, watching from a distance and having to trust your son and daughter to raise your destiny, and be just a presence for them as they face the challenges, different and same that we did. Maybe someday I will write a sermon what grandparents owe.
I pray to God for strength to all those facing adversity, sadness and grief.  

I pray that those who bring lives into this world and those who shepherd them along the way will realize how much we owe them so that they will have long, happy, productive and blessed lives. This is priceless.
Shabbat Shalom

Friday, January 20, 2012

Who are We? What are We?

Who are We? What are We?

January 20th, 2012

Rabbi Gary S. Creditor


In response to my sermon last Friday, Erev Shabbat, entitled "Bonnie's Law," I received an email from one of our congregants informing me of a rally held last Monday at the Capitol, sponsored by the Virginia Council for Public Safety. It is a small, long standing, dedicated voice for gun control in our Commonwealth. After articulating my feelings last Shabbat, Ruby and I felt the necessity to attend and be counted. It was regretful that this was not known sooner and wider so that more people could have attended, something that I will work to emend. The man who leads the organization took this on because his son was shot at Virginia Tech, and while surviving, thank God, the event changed both their lives.


He said publicly and to Ruby and me privately afterwards: "You think that if you lead a clean life, no guns, no alcohol, no drugs, live in a good neighborhood and go to a good school, nothing like this will happen to you. And then one day…" He is a very good, dedicated man, who is knocking his head against the wall. We joined him.


At the ceremony, people were invited to write the names of those killed by guns on hearts and put them in baskets. Ruby and I each wrote Robby and Bonnie's names on hearts and put them, heartbrokenly, into the basket. It is still surrealistic that all this has and continues to happen.


Then we went to visit our representatives in the General Assembly. It was disheartening. I met another wall. I indicated the litany of numbers needed to observe a myriad of laws in the Commonwealth of Virginia required to own and operate a car – the paste on tag on the license plate, the license plate, registration, inspection sticker, property tax, insurance policy – and we are breaking the law if we violate any one of these requirements, and they can arrest, fine and/or revoke our license, suspend registration. And a car, while it can kill, is not intended for that purpose and usually not used that way. And yet it is so easy, because of the lack of laws or because of the loopholes in the laws to illegally obtain and own a gun; and despite having a number on its barrel, so many of these guns of so many calibers are illegally in the hands of individuals and criminals resulting in so many deaths that nary a day goes by without the reporting of such tragedies. When I recited this litany the response was: "A car is not protected by the second amendment." While not allowing this to go unchallenged, it basically ended the conversation. Did he not see my point? Why didn't he get it?  Do they think that the writers of the Constitution specifically put in a self-destruct clause that protected/enabled people to take up guns to overthrow the very government that they were just establishing? How many dead does it take? Someone special? Someone personal? Someone rich? We will need to keep knocking our heads against the wall; even for a long time.


A second congregant wrote me in response to the sermon and reflected on my remarks about when we used to "put up our dukes" and now that we just shoot them dead, and about my list of heroes and how they were portrayed as not killing the opponents and the righteous use of guns. He globalized my thoughts about society and I would like to share a few feelings developed from much reading and personal observations.


We live in a world that is violent, that espouses violence, that glorifies violence and rewards violence. It is on the television, the computer games, the movies, the magazines, and the sports field. It is aided and abetted by the enhanced electronic techniques that enable the presentation of explosions and destructions of every nature, from buildings to objects, to people. I cringe when the movie theatre runs the promotions of other movies because I am trapped and can't get out and have to witness the most vicious, violent and malevolent acts, accompanied by the staccato drumbeat of ear-shattering music. And while my Atari computer had programs for science, math, it also had programs for basketball and football, but without the senseless violence. Where is "Pong" when I need it? What sells at the football game? The brutal collisions of beast-like men, the violent sacking of the quarterback, the ripping of the ball from the carrier, and then the manic dancing over the fallen opponent! Is there anything human about locking two men in a cage until one beats the other one to near death? I am almost ready to thank God that FIOS will fill the empty time with golf and tennis! Is there anything left to blow up? Is there anyone left to shoot? Is there anyone that hasn't been hated, hunted, and hounded left on the face of the earth? Any arm not shot with drugs, any liver not saturated with alcohol, that the media has not yet glorified, and the actors and players not walk away with titanic sums of money? Fire them all!!


            Is this the society we want?

            Is this the world we want to live in?

            Is this why God put us on this earth?


I want to elect an official, local in Richmond, state in the Legislature, regional to the Senate and House of Representatives and to the Presidency who will enunciate a vision of society that will be just and honest, that will struggle with all presentations so to reduce the vision and thus the reality of violence in this country. All the candidates parading before us are parodies of leadership. We need real, brave and courageous leadership at every level. It is more than "jobs." It is more than "the economy." It is about us! Our nature! Our essence! Violence occurs everywhere, and our society propagates it.


We need to reshape the nature of society itself, to recreate the vision of what we are supposed to be, how we are supposed to live, how we are supposed to talk to each other, at work, in school, in our homes.  Our faith provides many answers; provides much guidance and direction. From just one source: Micah the prophet (6:8):


"He has told you, O man, what is good,

And what the Lord requires of you:

Only to do justice

And to love goodness,

And to walk modestly with your God."


And (4:3-4)

"However distant:

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares

And their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation shall not take up

Sword against nation;

They shall never again know war.

But every man shall sit

Under his grapevine or fig tree

With no one to disturb him.

For it was the Lord of Hosts who spoke."


Borrowed from the man murdered by the gun, "I have a dream."


Shabbat Shalom.


Rabbi Gary S. Creditor

Temple Beth-El

3330 Grove Avenue

Richmond, VA 23221

Phone 804-355-3564

Fax 804-257-7152


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bonnie’s Law

Bonnie's Law
January 13th, 2012
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor
Within two weeks, national data, not local, of severely contradictory nature has been published that has painfully intersected with our personal and congregational experience. At the end of December the Times-Dispatch published an article that indicated the immense number of inquiries concerning the number of people buying guns at Christmas time. It is equally clear without publication that the number of guns purchased illegally severely compounds the number of guns sold legally.  Yesterday's paper published an article that homicides – by any manner - are no longer among the top fifteen causes of death in the United States. And yet, virtually every day that I open our newspaper there is another death, or at least severe injury, that is caused by handguns. I must imagine, I cannot consider otherwise, that our experience is not duplicated over and over again throughout this country. It does not matter in what segment of our population this is occurring. It does not matter in what part of town it is happening. Each and every one is a tragedy that compounds grief with grief, misery with misery, loneliness, pain and anguish to their family and friends. Society as a whole is mutually wounded by each death. We in our congregation know firsthand of what I speak, in the murder a year and a half ago of Bonnie Marrow's son Robby, and on December 20th the past, her murder. I confess that when I have seen the title of an article of such a crime, not knowing the participants, I am quick to avert my glance to something else. No more. The particulars do not matter. We are members of one human family. The death of any, diminishes us all.
In the brevity of this d'var Torah, it my intention to just establish the basis of my appeal to our civil authorities to enact a law, I call it "Bonnie's Law," to address this plague, this disease, that of illegal hand guns in our population and to end the scourge of death that they inflict. How many deaths of sweet, good, honest, loving people will it take? How much pain must we collectively suffer? When will segments of our populace stop saying, "It doesn't occur in my backyard?"
Our Judaism is certainly not pacifistic. The Torah and the rest of the Tanakh is filled with military exploits. Their weapons were no less lethal. Abraham will save Lot with an armed militia that will overthrow numerous kings. In tomorrow's Torah portion Moses will kill the Egyptian beating a Hebrew. Joshua conquers the land of Israel by force. David and Solomon will also use deadly force in uniting and maintaining the kingdom. Israel fights the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans, long before the twentieth century, those who fought to build the State of Israel and those who fought in the sewers and bunkers of the Warsaw Ghetto and other such places during the Holocaust. We are not a bunch of patsies. Judaism is not a pacifistic religion. I don't propose that society should roll over and play dead.
Our Judaism does not make anyone's blood redder than another's. As there is One God, One Creator of the Universe, then all men and women are brothers and sisters, all children are cousins, all are grandparents, and all are children. Judaism does not draw lines and say, "over there, for them, we don't care." God asks Cain: "Where is your Abel your brother?" Cain denies, refuses to accept any connection to Abel with the spiteful, pitiful words that echo through the centuries: "Am I my brother's keeper/guardian/protector?" In its literary structure God in the Torah thunders: "Of course you are!" That is the essence of our human condition! Judaism demands that we care whether the murdered is a member of our congregation or not, whether they are Jewish or not, of any color, of any faith, of any race.
Most of us in this room are old enough to recall instantaneously our emotions when, in an era before the speed of our current electronic gadgetry, we heard that JFK was murdered. First shot, then dead, and then the funeral. Of all the pictures that I carry in my mind and heart it is that of his son standing and saluting his father's casket. It is the child in all of us who did not yet realize what he had lost. We are all that child. And not so many years later was the murder of MLK, commemorated this weekend. Is it not possible to dream that we can all die in our beds of the natural causes of old age and even disease? But not from guns? Is it not possible to dream that we can go to work, go to school, go to the mall, and not be afraid? Are we so forgetful that shortly after MLK was murdered RFK was murdered too? Has that shock to our moral compass passed out of our consciousness and out of our conscience? Not mine. While all those initials might just seem like an alphabet soup to others, I carry them right next to my heart. How dare we do otherwise? In the course of human events, the next generation will only learn it from the media, Kindles and Nooks if not from books. I have the drying pages of the newspapers. But my memory doesn't fade.
Through the precepts of Kashrut, our Judaism rejects hunting animals of any sort because it brings them pain and rejects killing animals except for food. But lest supporters of the NRA surmise that I have gone over to the Dark Side, let me say, that I don't care about game hunters, duck shooters and the sort. When I was a child I had my cap guns and air rifle. In the changing of the times, our children did not. I am unsettled by the presence of guns of any sort. They are not a sport. They are lethal and instruments of lethal force. But I am not appealing to restrict legitimate citizens who follow the laws from owning guns. My personal view is that they don't make us safer. When I was a kid if you wanted to fight you said: "Put up your dukes" or something of the sort. Today they pull out a gun and shoot you dead. Which would you prefer? My heroes are the Lone Ranger, Roy Rodgers, Gene Autry and Hopalong Cassidy. While they all carried guns, they never shot them dead. It was only in defense, self defense and in the cause of justice. Today the images are gruesome, ghastly and horrific. Which society should we be?
In "Bonnie's Law" I call upon all our authorities, local, state and federal to close all the loopholes that allow for illegitimate and illegal obtaining of guns of any sort. I call upon the manufacturers of guns in cooperation with civil authorities to create a comprehensive system of documenting and registering every single gun and rifle they make. You mean to tell me that I have to go through so many rules and regulations to register, inspect, insure, tag, decal and pay tax on my car with a myriad of different numbers – Go forbid you mess up, and I can buy a gun with impunity at a gun show? That all the pieces of my car have VIN numbers hiding someplace and when I sell it I have to go through more hoops to make sure that the authorities know who owns it or what has happened to it, but not for a gun? Are we so insane?

In"Bonnie's Law" I want stiff penalties, not a slap on the wrist, for those who violate these laws, who smuggle in guns, who sell them under the counter, who remove numbers, and those who use them to murder and maim. Enough is enough.
I will circulate these remarks and my eulogy for Bonnie to our authorities at every level.
I want "Bonnie's Law" as a measure of justice not only for Bonnie Marrow but for all the Bonnie's of the world and for all the children of the world, and for the child that must reside inside the human heart, the pure, innocent, the just, the righteous child who does not know right or wrong; who only knows love.
Only then will we all rest in peace. In life and in death.
Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

“Yes, Sarah, There is A God”

"Yes, Sarah, There is A God"
From The Heart
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor
At the second night of shiva for our dear Bonnie Marrow, several of her daughter Angel's classmates from Confirmation class came to be with Angel and the family. Others came the next night. It was most meritorious of them to be present in such a heart-rending circumstance. They each fulfilled a great mitzvah.

After tefilot was over, one of them said to me: "I am having a problem with God." I was caught in that moment, in that place, after what had occurred to talk about God. What could I say to this young woman who grew up in our shul, was Bat Mitzvah and Confirmed on our bemah, and now in college was absorbing sophisticated learning? And to do it on one foot!

I cannot recall all that I said in that precious moment, but to whatever I did say, I want to add the following. Borrowing a literary phrase from a totally different origin:

"Yes, Sarah, there is a God" who is responsible for all existence and that it contains, good and bad. I marvel daily, never taking for granted, this planet, the life of every plant, animal and human. In our totality, we are too magnificent to be the result of chance. While I would like to "see" God, to prove God, to have Him/Her pop out and say "Here I am" [that would be neat], our very existence proves God.

"Yes, Sarah, there is a God" because there is an 'unseeable' force that is greater than the entire cosmos. I am intrigued by science, but science can only answer the question "how" and I ask "why?" Science says "Because…" but I seek that which lies behind the 'how.' The answer is God. Why does my heart beat with pain in the face of tragedy and why does heart throb when I see my grandchildren, when I see toddlers running around in shul? Because God made me that way. God is responsible that there is life itself. All the discoveries of science, attest to God.

"Yes, Sarah, there is a God" who presence is attested to by every sunrise, sunset and constellation of stars in the sky. The beauty isn't God. God lies behind; God is responsible for the beauty. The radiance of the universe attests to God.

"Yes, Sarah, there is a God" because in the moment of pain, we all stepped into the breach, because we felt someone else's pain. I said to you: we proved God. For our faith posits critical values/characteristics/traits of our God that we are supposed to emulate: love, mercy, compassion, honesty, integrity. When you and your classmates came to the Marrow home, a place of tears and grief, motivated by the core values that we posit as divine, you proved God existed.

"Yes, Sarah, there is a God" who allows us to do wrong, sin the most grievous of sins, murdering another human being. There are times when I wish that God was like the Superman show I watched when I was very young. I had to come to grips with the truth that Superman was fiction. That was very difficult. On this planet human beings are able to do good, to do the best, and to do bad, do the worst. In the opening chapters of Genesis, in the Garden story, God endows us with autonomy and responsibility. That is how and why we are human.

"And, Yes, Sarah, there is a God" to whom I cling to, to whom I turn to with copious tears, when life is unfair, unjust, and tragic. I turn to God for strength, for courage, for a power more than I think that I can have on my own. I turn to God who I believe is eternal, with the faith, the hope, the belief, that life doesn't end with death. That He/She gathers up the incorporeal soul, the life-animating force, and brings it close to the source of all existence, to a glow that radiates in a way that will never be detected by any antenna, any radar, any telescope, yet is as real as the ache in my heart. I can't prove it, but I believe it. There is a God, who enables us to triumph over despair and raise our heads up again.

"Yes, Sarah, there is a God." Your question is veritably the proof.