Personal Remarks by Rabbi Gary Creditor at his Retirement Gala - March 1st, 2014
My dear family, congregation, colleagues in ministry, and friends:
I stand here most humbled and over-awed by this entire Shabbat. When I close my eyes I view every pulpit on which I have stood and the people from my congregations whom I have served since, as a very young, very eager and somewhat scared student in the Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, I assumed the most honorable title of “Rabbi.” I did not dream about this moment in my life and that of my family. With fullness of heart I say that I rejoice in having chosen this path. At a very young age I decided to be a Rabbi. From this vantage point I can see that I had no idea what this really meant. It has taken me a lifetime to learn. I thank the Ribono Shel Olam, the Master of the World, for the strength to serve Him and through you, to serve the Jewish people. As I learned in Pirkei Avot, I did it without expectation of such a reward as this Shabbat. Serving God and serving you was reward unto itself. I am as captivated tonight as I was on the day I was ordained by the honor and privilege to be a Rabbi. As this is the Jewish month of Adar, the Rabbis say “Me-she-nichnas Adar marbim b’simcha” – “When Adar enters, we increase our joys,” certainly this Shabbat is a most joyous celebration of my, Ruby’s and my children’s journey through life and the Rabbinate and our two decades here with you. More than I have blessed others, I know that I am, among others, most richly blessed.
Because I composed these remarks before I could see the journal, I will refer to it in thanking the people responsible for this entire Shabbat. To Bonnie, Judy and Benita and all the committees I extend my deepest appreciation for all of the efforts, time and energies invested in making this celebration. You have kept me in total darkness so that I can only imagine the enormity of this undertaking. We thank you for giving us the memory of a lifetime. My heart is brimming with gratitude. I personally thank everyone who has been here Erev Shabbat, Yom Shabbat, as well as this evening. All of you have made this a most special moment.
Surrounding and supporting me through my career have been the staffs of my synagogues. Here at Temple Beth-El I have enjoyed a most wonderful camaraderie with Executive Directors Carl Hayslett who is really such a great friend and assisted in our transition here and the early years of our activities, Sheldon Herold with whom I shared a wonderful friendship and now Jayne Sklon, with whom we have already shared much. Need I say more about Josephine but to note her joyousness, her love and devotion, and greatest hugs. My family and I love you dearly. There have been a number of people upon whom I have totally relied for their expertise, confidence and friendship. Joni Irvine, Lena Shapiro, Jane Gillian and for years Norma Fiedler have been my right hand, taken initiatives, protected me from you, and enabled me to fulfill my work. No one can really know the inside of the daily pulpit Rabbinate. They do. I am in their debt. Edith Levin and Debbie Lacks-Hanner and I shared much in these years and I have worked closely with Carrie and Krista Fidlow. I have shared our synagogue leadership with educators David Goldsmith, Judy Rubin, Rabbi Tirza Covel, Aviva Gershman, Nathaniel Fink, Bari Cohen, and Hazzanim, Edward Cohen and Marian Turk, she serving in the dual capacity. I thank them all. Besides the officers and other committee chairs, I have been privileged to work with a most devoted number of Ritual Committee Chairs: Mac Kalman, alav hashalom, David Ruby, Jim Plotkin and Ed Mollen, my dear Shabbat and Yom Tov walking companion. Norman Sporn headed the committee for the assistant Rabbi that we had for two years with Eric Rosin. In these years, in addition to the regular life-cycle events of the congregational life, we have had Shabbatonim, three Adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah Shabbatot, restored our seventeen Torah scrolls, created an Adult Learning Center with a vast library, adopted Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat & Festivals and Siddur Sim Shalom for weekdays and most recently Mahzor Lev Shalem for Yamim Noraim, and built a mikvah used by all of Central Virginia. I am indebted to this entire group for their support, encouragement, boundless efforts and energies, confidence and love. I could hardly imagine the hours that I would spend on our cemeteries showing honor to our dead and love to the living. Even after everyone else had gone, I had the devoted companionship of Helen Dranoff, aleha l’shalom and Bette Rose Webne. In the most painful of moments you gave me strength and courage. Most of those times were spent in the company of family and members of Bliley’s who have been like family to me. Even with Ruby’s infinite love, I needed your inestimable talents and support. Nick is always besides me. My life has been deeply enriched by colleagues from our neighboring churches with whom we celebrate Thanksgiving, and those with whom I volunteer to help better our world, such as the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy who honored me this year. In this moment of recognition I take this opportunity to publicly recognize, honor and thank all you. You have been my truest companions in this journey. The Rabbis teach us: “Mikol m’lamday hiskalty” – “From all my teachers I have learned.” The highlights of each week have been the most devoted fellow learners in the Talmud and Torah classes. You have been my inspiration. We have learned that “Talmud Torah k’neged kulam” – “the study of Torah surmounts everything else.” I am grateful for the opportunity to learn with you. May we continue on into the future.
In composing these remarks, I really wrote this section last. I am thankful that my parents, my mother Clara, Savta Kuneh here with us tonight and my father, Henry, Sabbah Tzvi, zichrono l’vrahcha, may his memory be for a blessing, discovered the little town of Belleville, New Jersey, with its Rabbi, Victor Cohen, where I discovered God and Torah. My parents discovered opportunities for me to pursue my dreams and drove the miles to different destinations that were the dots that connected to this moment. I believe that my father sheps nachas in heaven. My mother is his witness. As she will be blessed to turn 90 this month I take this moment to wish her a happy birthday. Quite a party! My European born grandparents gave me a treasure in their presence that connected me through time and place. My maternal grandmother must be chuckling at what became of her ainickle. Forty-four years ago this summer Ruby and I met at USY Encampment held in the Berkshire Camp Ramah. We thank our friend Suri for that! As much as this Shabbat honors me, it honors her. Once I was asked: “After all of us have come to see you, who do you see?” And I answered: “Ruby.” In my student pulpit, a young child expecting to hear the Rabbi’s wife introduced as Rebbetzin, heard us introduced as “Rabbi and Ruby” the child asked: “What’s a ‘Ruby’?” I should have answered “the perfect jewel.” You have been my strength, my proof-reader and confidant, my love. I have saved every card in which you have poured out your love for me. While yours vastly outnumber mine, I can take this public place to thank you for every moment of our lives together and all that you have done for me, for our family and for the communities that we have together served. To quote: “I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears of all my life.” I ask everyone to please rise to honor my wife.
Our blessings have multiplied greater than the midrash in the Passover Haggadah about God’s miracles at the sea. In my senior sermon, without the gift of prophecy, I speculated on what would become of our children? I had chosen an observant Jewish life. I had chosen the Rabbinate. What would they do? Each of you here and Yonina in Okinawa has given us a glorious life. We celebrate Tzeira and Arsen’s forthcoming marriage in Yafo - Jaffa, Medinat Yisrael this coming December, bringing full circle through your lives the history of our people that I have felt so acutely. How proud we are of you both. Tzeira, you have had courage that far surpasses mine. Arsen, you are an inspiration in the work you are doing. When, in other locales, someone says “Rabbi Creditor” I learned to sit still and not turn around for they are usually not calling me, especially when it is preceded by the words “Chaplain” and “Lieutenant.” Every time I speak to her, Yonina relates new initiatives, classes and programs that she is instituting for the Marines and Jewish community of Okinawa. I am awed by the training that she endured, her utmost level of commitment to the United States military, and her great courage, ometz lev, far from home. The Navy flag flies from our home and the challenge coin that says “Proud Navy Dad” is always in my pocket. As distant as are the miles is as great as my love and esteem. When Menachem said at a Seder table that he was considering going to Rabbinical School, it took some time for it to hit me that there could be two Rabbis Creditor, never mind three in the Rabbinical Assembly directory. Emah and I are supremely proud of all your accomplishments in your communities and around the world, for leadership in causes near and dear, for your writings that are an inspiration to many, for the courage you have had in difficult moments. We brim with pride when we visit Berkeley and people at Netivot Shalom begin sentences with “Your son…You must be so proud.” You know how much we are. You have given us the gifts of the next generation through Ariel Shlomit, Moshe Tzvi, and Raya Meital. In their names they perpetuate the family. Their voices, hugs, kisses and words are pure delight. We gaze at their pictures every day. We look forward to Ariel’s Bat Mitzvah a year from now. You have bestowed upon us the sweetness of the world-to-come here in this one. Emah and I thank each and every one of you children for making our lives so richly blessed beyond the poor power of my words to express. I recognize my late in-laws, Ruby’s parents Adele and Walter Eisenberg, who saw much of my Rabbinate. My mother’s sister, our Aunt Helen will be turning 100 this month, poo, poo poo, and thus this trip was too much, but her presence and influence is felt with us. Her husband, my uncle Ralph Dubin, alav hashalom, was such a deep influence and presence in our family. He and my father must be having some conversation in heaven about all these goings on. I have been blessed with the deep love of my brother Bruce and sister-in-law Susan and their children Avi and Yael and her husband Stephen. We have shared so much of life together, despite the distances. We add this Shabbat to our precious memories. These are blessings beyond description.
I never included in any sermon reference to the following two pieces that have inspired me throughout my Rabbinate. I could not have articulated this when I began forty years ago which I remember like yesterday. Somewhere, sometime, both of the following became my essence and explain why I have done everything I have done with my life.
The Hebrew author Sholom Asch wrote a novel entitled “Kiddush HaShem,” “The Sanctification of God’s Name.” It takes place in 17th century Poland, my maternal grandmother’s birthplace, and describes an event at the famous fair held in Lublin that occurred after frightful pogroms. The protagonist Shlomo – meaning ‘peace,’ – roams the fair looking for survivors. He comes to a narrow street with merchants’ stalls. There is one that with an old man at its entrance, that is empty. “What do you sell here? Your booth is void and empty, and there is no merchandise in it.” And the old man answered: “I sell faith.”
That was and is the essence of my soul. In every setting, I have presented and affirmed our faith, even in a world that seemed to deny it, even in times of doubt. I came of age as Holocaust literature and movies were first appearing. It all clashed within me. When I said to my parents that I wanted to be a Rabbi, perhaps, without knowing then, but in my subconscious, this was stirring within my neshama. Then I found this piece from Sholom Asch and I said, “This is me.” I sell our faith. Forever.
There is another piece that has motivated me, that encouraged me to listen to the voices of children and never consider them as noise. I have shared this only once before. In the years before the Holocaust a photographer named Roman Vishniac traveled through Eastern Europe capturing the world from which my grandparents had come thirty or forty years earlier. On the cover of his book is a picture of a young boy in cheder. His face is infused with holiness, radiant with purity and lustrous with devekut, devotion. Such a love of Yiddishkeit, such a love of God glowed in his face. The picture captured this child with a simple yet pure faith. I wanted to capture and perpetuate that look forever. I have wanted to implant that feeling and faith, that aura in every child I taught, every bar and bat mitzvah with whom I spoke, with every bride and groom with whom I stood under chuppah. I wanted to give everlasting life to that destroyed world through the lives of our own children from the moment of their births, in their faces, hearts, minds and voices, and now in our grandchildren. I don’t just see us. I see the millennia of the Jewish people. I see eternity.
This is why I became a Rabbi and dedicated my life to God and our people. I have been blessed by God, my family and by you to have fulfilled my dreams. To all I give thanks. To quote the Hasidic Reb Simcha Bunim: “I can’t imagine this world without you.”
There are many things that will be left unsaid and names of people unmentioned. Let everyone know that they are most inscribed and cherished in my mind and my heart forever. I close these remarks with the following:
In Keriyat HaTorah, the cycle of Torah reading, this Shabbat was one of transference. We concluded the Book of Exodus in Shacharit and began the Book of Leviticus at Mincha. It is the perfect paradigm as the Shabbat recognizes the conclusion of my pulpit Rabbinical career and transference to new endeavors and the transference of Rabbinical leadership of Temple Beth-El from me to Rabbi Knopf. It was a wonderful article and picture in the Reflector. I welcome him with open arms, have expressed to him my support and assistance, and bequeath to him the congregation and people whom I have loved. He has sent me a very beautiful letter this erev Shabbat. At the end of reading each Book of Torah we proclaim: “Chazak, Chazak, v’nit-chazayk” – “Be strong! Be strong! And we will be strengthened.” The first I recite for my distinguished predecessors. The second I humbly recite for myself. And the third I recite for Rabbi Knopf. “Chazak, Chazak, v’nit-chazayk.”
The editor of Moment magazine, Nadine Epstein, tells a story about a man who served as a groundskeeper and when he retired he wrote a few lines to the people whose yards he tended. While not exactly identical, its parallel is striking and it expresses my sentiments. “I have seen my time is at a close, and I have tried to find a replacement. I have failed. I am very sorry. If you see me anytime around, I’ll be looking for my footsteps in the sand. Just say my footsteps are still there and I’ll thank you.”
Baruch Atah Adonay Elohaynu Melech HaOlam Shehecheyanu v’kiymany v’hegeyanu lazman hazeh. Amen.