Thursday, April 25, 2013

Rabbi Gary Creditor: "I Have Several Questions" - Sermon for April 24, 2013

I Have Several Questions

Rabbi Gary S. Creditor

Richmond, Virginia

April 26th, 2013


[This sermon is written in response to the actions or lack thereof in the United States Senate. It is delayed a week because of the tragic events in Boston and the priority of responding to those moments.]


I Have Several Questions:


I would like to ask the NRA just one question: "What is your proposal to reduce gun violence in America?" I could ask them many questions, but this one is the most important. I don't need to search for statistics. I don't need to study the Second Amendment. I don't care who is a liberal and who is a strict constructionist.


But this I do know: that every day I open the Richmond Times-Dispatch, every single day, there is another report of violence with a gun.

It doesn't matter if some one is killed (oh yes it does!).

It doesn't matter if they are wounded (oh yes it does!).

It doesn't matter if children and elders are frightened out of their whits (oh yes it does!).

It doesn't matter if its part of a robbery, a spurned lover, or a broken marriage.

It doesn't matter in what part of the city its takes place (no it does not!).

It seems to me that every single day of every single month throughout the whole year, that some place in the tri-cities area of Richmond, Virginia there is violence perpetrated with a gun.


My personal reading of the newspaper every single day tells me not to believe anyone who says that the rate of gun violence has diminished. No it has not! Cumulatively, either in robberies, woundings, murders, terrorizing, or other acts of criminality, guns are increasingly wreaking havoc in our society, endlessly, ceaselessly and with impunity.


The NRA does not want to infringe on anyone's right to have guns.

The NRA does not want to infringe on anyone's rights to have guns that fire many rounds in very quick succession.

The NRA does not want to infringe on anyone's rights to have magazines for guns that will enable them to fire many rounds in the minimum of time.

So I have only one question for the NRA:

"What is your proposal to reduce gun violence in America?"

                                                                        "Do you really care?" Or maybe not?

"Don't tell me what you won't do! Tell me what you will do!"

                                                Is all we get is silence? All we get are more guns?



I have a question for the Senators in the Congress of the United States:

"Do you read the daily paper?

Do you pay attention to the articles on gun violence on the streets of every single city, town, hamlet and village in this country?

Have you ever buried a person killed by a gun?" I have!

"Did you ever stare into their grave?" I have!

"If you were there, what were you thinking?

            Where you standing there calculating how many votes you would gain or lose?

            Where you considering your personal score with the NRA?

            Or did you just stop and think what this dead person could have done

                         with their life instead of being in their grave?"

I ask every single Senator, man or woman: "Are you a 'man' or a mouse?"

                         "What is more important to you – being re-elected or saving a life?" And not just one life, many, many lives! "Do you care?"



I have another question for everyone who hears this sermon in our Sanctuary tonight or who reads it on the listserv or in any other electronic media:

"What have you done to help reduce gun violence in America?"

            Have you signed petitions to the President, Senators and Representatives?

                        If so, how many? How often? And if you have, don't stop now!

            Have you marched in the streets?

            Have you lain down on the ground as I did in Capitol Square as if I was dead?

                        Imagine lying down, in silence on the cold ground looking at the sky

                        through leafless branches, not moving and thinking that you are dead?

            Have you talked to your children about guns?

            Have you talked to your neighbor about guns?

Or have you pulled on blinders and said: "Hear no evil; see no evil; know no evil"?


But it is right outside our door! Gun violence is not a City of Richmond "problem." It is not an Henrico County "problem." It is not a Chesterfield, Hanover or Goochland Country "problem." It is everybody's problem. Every preacher from every pulpit can echo these words about their own locations.

            It knows no borders.

            It knows no age.

            It knows no gender.

            It knows no race, no ethnicity, no color.

Gun violence is an equal geographic, demographic monster.

            It kills Presidents, Senators, leaders, and the unknown.

            It destroys the rich and the poor.

It is, in truth, the Malach HaMavet, the Angel of Death. As different from the Pesach ditty of Chad Gadya, it is we, not God, who must conquer the Angel of Death.


In the Book of Leviticus, 19:16 we read in the Hebrew: "Lo ta'a'mod al dam ray-eh-cha, Ani Adonay." The last two words simply mean "I, YHVH – translated as 'Lord/God.' In the verse its purpose is to given the ultimate imprimatur of our God upon the first half of the sentence. There are many attempts to translate it:

            "Do not profit by the blood of your fellow."

            "Do not stand aside the blood of your fellow."

            "Do not stand by the blood of your fellow.

            "Do not rise up against the life of your fellow."


I prefer the simple literal translation: "Do not stand ON your neighbor's blood."

Whether we walk here or there, in public or in our backyard, in one part of the city or another, the very earth is stained, sullied, desecrated, violated by the blood shed anywhere.


Are we capable of literally – not figuratively - standing on, walking on the blood of others?


Who will answer my questions?


Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Saturday Sermon - Tragedy April 2013

April 20th, 2013
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor


I have resisted the need to write since the great tragedy at the Boston Marathon. In the nearly forty years of my ministry as a Rabbi I have had to respond either in writing or orally, in person or from my desk, to horrible tragedies that have killed and maimed innocent, beautiful people, young and old, children and elders. They have fallen from the sky from the space shuttles and were murdered on the streets of Jerusalem, on buses and in schools in the Galilee. Ruby and I have been under fire in Safed and I recited Kaddish in Monroe Park for the slain of Virginia Tech. I have led our community in mourning following 9/11 and on its fifth and tenth commemorations. I have lost count of the tragedies and my mind cannot even recall all the names. When my mind says that I should cry, sometimes my eyes are dry and tears cannot fall. And sometimes, just looking at a blue sky, my tears water the grass at my feet for no good reason. So it is today, contemplating Boston, a city whose streets I have walked as my brother went to school there and I visited numerous times, even attending Red Sox games at Fenway Park. Now the additional tragedy in Texas adds to the innumerable dead for whom we mourn and wounded for whom we pray.


Judaism and all religions seek to explain life, to make an equation that includes humans and includes God. What should we say? Should I place the onus on God and say that when I die and go to heaven, positing that is what happens when we die and also positing that I go to heaven and not to hell (whatever that might be), then and only then will it all "make sense?" Should I defend my sanity by saying that this all fits into some divine plan for humanity and that plan is beyond our understanding as humans? I listen to others who preach from Jewish pulpits and those who preach from others because my mind is always open, because I am always learning, even if it is just to reaffirm what I believe as opposed to other ideas. I can't fathom a representative of religion when they declare that somehow the death of an eight year old child fits into some divine scheme, how heaven needs the soul of a university graduate student preparing to improve the world, more than we needed her down here. I want to scream, yell and shout that all that is insane. God can't want the death of the young, the innocent, the beautiful, and the dedicated. He can't "need" them in heaven. What do they think goes on "up" there? In all the hundreds upon hundreds of eulogies that I have written, I have never written such a sentence. I want God to love the dead, just as I believe that He loves the living. I want God to embrace the souls of the dead, even as I want to feel His love during my lifetime. I even believe that instead of our suffering unbelievable pain and agony, in a mystical way, God releases our souls from our bodies. The pain of today, heaped upon the pain of all these episodes that I remember in my lifetime and those I have learned about, like the Holocaust, like the inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the only people who have endured the atomic bomb, wants me to have my soul flit between olam hazeh, this world and olam habah, the next world so I can understand. I want to understand all this. And I can't.


Should I ignore God completely and say that all this is just the evil in mankind, that the beautiful blue sky is just a mask upon the hatred in the human heart, that instead of a peaceful day on Boylston Street, that the normal condition is that we will live terrorized lives? Perhaps it was the naïveté of my youth, but somehow the end of the 1950's until the assassination of President Kennedy seemed like a different world, even with the Cuban missile crisis, that pales by comparison to the turbulent, violent, malevolent world that I have lived in ever since. It all seemed so peaceful, so untroubled, so unthreatened. I long for that world and I mourn for the generations that only know strife, who emerge from childhood too soon, with violent video games, violent movies, violent television shows, gun violence – don't get me started yet, that strip away quietude, tranquility and serenity, which maybe returns only in my senility when I know from nothing. Who is responsible for all this? Who declares war? Who builds bombs, big and small? Who preaches hatred about others? Not God. Humans do.


I want God to change the world. I want God to wreck punishment upon the guilty. I want the 'hand of God' from the Sea of the Exodus from Egypt to intercede and protect us from destructive elements in the IEDs. As I have grown older, time after time I am buffeted by the awareness and wracked by the pain in knowing that the world doesn't work that way, that God doesn't work that way. We do.


The onus on this world is on us. Maybe not each one of us, because most of us only do "little bad things." We don't make war or bombs. We just want peace and quiet; we love our spouses, our partners, our children, parents, siblings and friends. But human beings bear the responsibility of what happens to human beings. Whether it how we treat the stranger, give charity to organizations that help the needy, teach our children and grandchildren to show respect to others, refrain from patronizing purveyors of violence, we can make things better. We can accept into our hearts the belief that as we mirror God, human beings are equal, that being in God's image means that human beings are holy [in my mind until they destroy their holiness by the evilest of deeds], that we have the power to be reflections of the image of Perfection. We can embrace the Jewish belief that the highest level of human existence is peace, that the narrative of the Garden of Eden in the Torah, before Adam and Eve disobeyed God, is the idyllic condition for humanity for which we should strive. We can dedicate ourselves that even from a distance we can contribute money to pay for the medical needs to sustain the wounded because we are obligated by God to love our neighbor, love the stranger, as much as we love ourselves. And we can demand that justice be executed swiftly upon the perpetrators of such evil, justice executed mercilessly, just as the bombs' projectiles reaped havoc upon human bodies.


My heart cries out for just revenge upon those responsible for such killing, for such destruction of innocence, for robbing the young and the old of a beautiful world, of sullying the purity of a gorgeous April day.


My heart cries our for healing of the wounded, even as I know that some healing will never be complete, that some scars will last a lifetime, that the spiritual and psychological healing can be more difficult that that of the physical. I pray for healing – that closing of wounds that we enable the wounded to continue to live. I don't pray for cure. No one is ever cured of this day; this event; this terror; this memory. It is part of our history forever.


My heart prays for all of us, the old, the older and especially the young. We have to protect them as best we can. Our children are all adults and they find their ways to cope with such a day. Each does it differently. But I want to protect my grandchildren, not only from physical threat, but from spiritual chaos and destruction. I want them to laugh uninhibitedly. I want them to play unrestrictedly. I want them to have every moment of innocent childhood and youth possible. Once they grow up, they are grownups forever. There is no going back.


May we cry.

May we pray.

May God give us strength, even as He allows us to do good, even as He allows us to do bad.

May justice be swiftly done.

May we discover a moment of peace.

Friday, April 12, 2013

I Am Proud to Be Born in Brookly, New York

I Am Proud to Be Born in Brooklyn, New York
April 12, 2013
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor
I was born in Brooklyn, New York in the last years of a waning era that I didn't realize at the time. We moved from Brooklyn to New Jersey just before I turned eight years old. While we returned often to visit my grandmother, my mother's mother and my aunt and uncle who were living in Brooklyn, it would be decades before I returned to visit Nostrand Avenue and Park Place. I have vivid memories of the streets and the stores and two good friends. I only remember their first names. Paula was white. Bobby was African American. He lived in a brownstone and I played with his electric trains. I remember passing Ebbetts Field, standing lonely and unused as the Dodgers had moved to Los Angeles. As my father was not a sports buff, despite living the sports mecca of the world, I never saw a game played at Ebbetts Field.  But I always proudly salute the place of my birth and I have returned to visit places special to me. Our children were brought to see them while we still lived in New York. I didn't realize how deeply founded was my allegiance to the Brooklyn Dodgers only years afterwards.
My father's employment brought us to move to a small town north of Newark, New Jersey, and from third grade until ninth grade I lived in a world that was lily white. In those days you attended the school in your area. As no African Americans lived in my neighborhood, all the students in my elementary school, from kindergarten through eighth grade were white. As there were no African Americans in our area I did not see them in the stores where we shopped. As there were no African American Jews, I did not see them in synagogue, nor in any synagogue I attended neither for USY programs nor in the summer programs of Ramah or USY. The African American community lived in one specific area of our town, I don't know how that came to be but I can imagine, for it was near the train tracks and industrial area. But we had only one high school. For the first time I had classmates who were black. Nothing special happened in school. We were all worried about doing our homework, passing our tests and getting good grades. We wanted our football team to defeat the neighboring towns, something they rarely did. I was focused on studying Judaism. There seemed to be so much to learn and I loved it. While I read the paper every day I did not pay that close attention to everything else going on in the world.
Even though I was an avid baseball card collector and lament the disappearance of a collection that could have funded my retirement several times over, I had complete sets for at least five years beginning in 1958, I was totally unaware of the cataclysmic event that took place the year before I was born in Brooklyn, New York.
By the time I was aware of baseball, there was a Willie Mays, Don Newcombe, soon a Roberto Clement and so many others that were African American and Latino. While teams were still predominantly white, there were stars and average players from other races. My baseball attachment was through cards, newspaper and television. It required the documentaries from much more recent years to expose and make an indelible impression upon me how difficult it was to be Jackie Robinson and what he had to endure, physically, verbally, spiritually, and psychologically. I never had a clue what it meant for a black student to sit next to me in school. I was worried about being a Jew sitting next to a Christian.
I have only followed the reviews of the movie "42," Jackie Robinson's number, whose historic entrance into baseball happened sixty-three years ago. I have watched repeatedly the documentaries on PBS about Jackie Robinson and about the Brooklyn, Dodgers. I have seen most if not all the PBS documentaries about baseball. Baseball, at least back then, was more than a sport. It was also a mirror of America. It really doesn't matter how good this movie is or who are the actors. Like we recite in the Haggadah, that each generation has to feel as if it had been enslaved and redeemed from Egypt, it is necessary that each generation of Americans remember the journey of America to fulfill its stated ideal, its founding principle, the one core faith that differentiates this country from all others in the world: "that all men – and women – are created equal." It has been a long, hard road, whose journey is not complete. The horrendous abuse that Jackie Robinson had to endure is incomprehensible to me, and certainly to our children. Our children and my grandchildren live in the land of plenty, in a time when barriers are falling for homosexuals, and where people from other ethnic and national origins will cumulatively be the majority of Americans. I remember how a third grade classmate checked my head for my horns, but no one ever spit on me. I never had to sit in the back of the bus against my wishes, nor enter the school through a different door, nor use a different bathroom. We needed to be reminded what America was like, not so long ago, so that we and the next generation can make it become better than what it is. There are challenges ahead for our country, without easy solutions, but which must be faced honestly and solved: the growing aging sector of our society, myself included, and the need to properly sustain Social Security, and Medicare. Despite the rising Stock Market there is a growing sector of poverty, especially as unskilled jobs which are both dignified employment and sustainable income are disappearing, along with disastrous cuts to Medicaid and the programs of the safety net. And there is the staccato drum beat of the guns and violence that are intertwined with poor education, drugs, poverty and unemployment. And the leadership on every level from the top to the bottom is incapable and unable to "punch its way out of a plain paper bag."
Yet just maybe it is vital, it is critical to look back at a turning point in our personal history when we made a leap greater than the step on the moon, when our humanity, our love for our neighbor, our respect for other of God's creatures, shone forth and changed destiny. April 15th, 1947 was such a day. The team was the Brooklyn Dodgers, the team of my birth. The place was Ebbetts Field, now just an apartment complex. And the man was Jackie Robinson.  In all of the emotions that I feel whenever I reflect on specific times, places, people and events, there is one special piece of this story that always stands out. Jackie's courage was matched by another player of the Brooklyn Dodgers, a white man, dyed-in-the-wool white man from middle America, who played short stop. His name was Pee Wee Reese. In our lore, we speak of the  first person to enter the Red Sea as the Israelites were paralyzed by the water in front of them and the Egyptians behind them, a name nearly forgotten, Nachshon ben Aminadav. He had the courage to jump in, and then the waters parted so the Israelites could enter. It was Pee Wee Reese who publicly and proudly put his arm around Jackie Robinson's shoulder. Perhaps that gesture is not understood in its greatest implication. But we baseball buffs know that the two players who make the most intricate plays together are the second baseman and the shortstop, in this case, Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese. Sometimes a picture is worth a million words. The picture of them is just that. Sometimes a gesture can create a new dynamic. This one did. It changed baseball. It changed all sports. It contributed mightily to the change of America. This movie reminds of what they did and what we have left to do.
So I am proud to have been born in Brooklyn, New York. When we unwittingly moved to the Yankee territory of Belleville, New Jersey, when asked about the team that I rooted for, I am proud that I answered:  "The Brooklyn Dodgers." I took a few knocks for that. May the memory of Jackie Robinson, his team and teammates be an everlasting blessing and inspiration to us all.
Shabbat Shalom.