From The Heart
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor
In these days of transition, I reflect on my nearly forty years as a pulpit Rabbi, the avocation I chose in my youth, and think of the many aspects of my life and labors. I sincerely say that I am glad and proud that I became a Rabbi, though when I first told my parents of my desire I really had no idea of the journey that lay ahead. I have learned along the way what it means to me to be a Rabbi. I give thanks for the privilege of having served the families of my congregations, the Jewish people, and most of all, to serve God.
It is impossible to rank the importance of one section of my ministry over another. It is also impossible to separate my service to one congregation apart from the others. The years and experiences all combine into one extended mission. Yet I can delineate some of them and indicate how precious they have been to me.
Perhaps the most important part of being a pulpit Rabbi is that I have had the honor of serving the families of my congregations. There is much that is seen by others, officiating at the simchas of brit milah, simchat bat, bar/bat mitzvah, weddings and anniversaries. In honoring the dead I have served them and the living. Yet for each and every moment there have been many private hours where hearts have been opened and shared, hands held, hearts uplifted, tears dried and steps forward have been assisted. Many have sought my counsel for individual needs; all that has remained private. I learned to make place in my heart for each and every one of them. I tried my best to find the pieces of our Judaism to help guide our people through joys and sorrows, crises and celebrations. I have been their Rabbi and their friend. God has been our eternal companion.
When I thought of being a Rabbi, I always saw it inside the context of the synagogue. Yet I have had the golden opportunity to represent us and our faith to the greater community through interfaith work like our Thanksgiving service and the 9/11 observances. I have guest lectured for private Christian religious schools, hosting them in our sanctuary, served on the board of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, and taught guest classes at the local universities. Invocations in the legislature, for country boards, societies and organizations, baccalaureates for high schools, have allowed me to present the messages of Judaism to wide constituencies. I have always held my head up high.
In my student pulpit I first experienced the joy of welcoming seekers into Judaism and into the Jewish people. It has continued throughout the years. I had to learn how to reveal our faith, our practices, our history, in an honest, open and endearing manner. They gave me their trust, which was most sacred, as they charted a new spiritual path. For six years I knew every pothole on 64 between Richmond and Norfolk as we travelled there to use the Mikveh. In 2001 we opened our Mikveh Mai Chayyim, The Waters of Life. I never dreamt of building a Mikveh. It necessitated much study and expanded my horizons. Ultimately our Mikveh serves the entire central Virginia area for every Rabbi and community. My heart is filled with great joy to see the Mikveh used for more than just conversion, by brides and grooms, after traumatic times, for holiness. I am most blessed for the opportunity of this mitzvah.
I have learned tenfold in preparation for teaching, more than I ever learned before. Beginning the with Lehrhaus program, the never-ending Talmud class that never misses a digression and tangent to follow, the Torah class that never omits a question that can be asked, the three Adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah Programs here and the two that I did before, the Confirmation Classes where I tried to teach Judaism at a higher level, the creation of the Ba'alay Keriyah Society to bring adult and youth to read Torah, this has been the joy of joys, the high point of every week.
I only looked forward one year at a time. Looking backward forty years is overwhelming. I wouldn't have given this up for anything else in the world. I thank God for the woman who has stood behind me and more so beside me. Without Ruby I could never have followed this dream. I thank God for our children and the joy and nachas they give us daily, and the grandchildren who fill my heart. I thank God for the privilege of being a Rabbi. On the pulpit or off, it is what I shall ever be. I thank Temple Beth-El and the congregations of forty years for the privilege of serving them and their Rabbi.