Jun 30, 2015

This Bench [a #poem]

This Bench [a #poem]
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

A soldier who looked like me
walks by the bench
where I sit drinking my morning coffee.

The bench is surrounded
by Jewish dumpsters
and Jewish buses,
Jewish flowers.

The bench has a small sign
affixed to it. The sign reads:

'In memory of our dear mother
Hannah Hutrer, 1909 - 2004
Survivor of the Shoah.'

I sit on a survivor's bench
surrounded by Jewish flowers.


-------
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
▶menachemcreditor.org ▶netivotshalom.org

To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com!
#poetry #poetcommunity #textgram #sacredjourney #faithinthefuture #poems

Learning About Justice [a #poem]

Learning About Justice
(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Learning about justice 
takes time away 
from doing justice. 

But. 

If it strengthens
one enough to see it, 
to ache for it, 
to do it, 
then it only gives. 

The agitation of sitting
when a fire needs 
to be put out (or lit)
in the world
is God stirring.

'One Year Later' (or 'Looking Forward to Having Less to Write') #poem

One Year Later
(or 'Looking Forward to Having Less to Write')
(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor

I sit in Jerusalem,
One Year Later.
One year after
bombs, sirens, shelters
the sky feels free of weaponry
faces seem clear of stress.

Yes, sky and faces know better,
but, in this moment,
even the sun feels happier.

Jun 17, 2015

Rebuilding Your Home: A Prayer for Charleston

Rebuilding Your Home: A Prayer for Charleston
(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Dear God,

A church was built 
by former slaves
who would have revolted
hundreds of years ago today,[1]
their liberation thwarted
by those with power.

Today bullets tore through
Your House, Your Images,
ravaging the nobility 
of lives reclaimed.

Violence is not Your Way, Dear God.
And one of Your Servants,
nine of Your Images
are needlessly gone.

In anguish,
we protest in Your Holy Name,
remembering the command to choose life
is not a given in Your broken world
but rather a demand
upon us all.

Today we cry again
for "Mother Emanuel," [2]
(Mother-God-is-with-Us),
one of Your many homes
in Charleston.

Tonight we sing louder than weapons:
Those who sow in tears,
will reap, will reap in joy.[3]

God, give us the endurance
to end the insanity
ripping through thousands of bodies
and millions of souls.

May we merit to see You 
in each other's eyes
and sanctify Your Name
by standing together
by rising up again,
this time rebuilding Your Home
by saving each other's.

Amen.

_______
[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denmark_Vesey#Failed_Uprising
[2] http://www.emanuelamechurch.org/
[3] Psalm 126:5

............................
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
menachemcreditor.org ▶netivotshalom.org
To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com!

Jun 10, 2015

A Rabbi on a Jury

A Rabbi on a Jury

(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor

I was part of a jury that today convicted a man of attempted murder and three other related offenses. We found him guilty on all four counts and took away his liberty. The sentence will be be determined at a later date.

This man did terrible things. I believe the guilty verdict is the right one. I believe that the attorneys and police involved in this case did the right things and did them appropriately. I believe evidence was the basis for this difficult decision. I believe the judge was a responsible and sensitive steward of the justice system, educating us, instructing us, guiding us. This was a very serious criminal trial, and it was conducted with respect for the defendant and for all the involved parties. No person was detained in secret, and our trial system worked well.

What follows will not be an analysis of the criminal justice system, nor a set of recommendations. This short piece of writing will serve as a record of one rabbi's immediate experience after having sat on a criminal jury. I write these words only an hour after the verdict was read in court, and, presumably, there will be further need and reflection which might find its way into writing at some point. But for now:

How devastating this experience has been. How soul-searing to hear a child cry at his father's conviction, knowing that his father is likely now going to be in jail for decades. How intense the contrast between the shocking violence of the acts committed and their tedious, painstaking processing in court? 

Without delving too much into the details of the case for now, one boy was beaten by another boy on a basketball court, and then the father of the beating victim plotted and attempted to kill the boy who had beaten his son. A few weeks later, the father waited in his parked car, and then used a baseball bat and a gun to try to kill the young man who beat his son. The boy he shot barely survived. 

All involved people appeared in court. All of them are real people. All of them have voices and eyes. I sat, aching to see the glimmer of God in their eyes as we proceeded through court procedures. But, with the exception of lawyers speaking to witnesses, lawyers speaking to the jury, and the judge speaking to different people for specific reasons, no one met each other's eyes. The inter-human connectivity and meaning-making that pervades my everyday life as a rabbi was painfully absent in court.

And there we were, 12 American citizens of varying ages and backgrounds, ethnicities and political perspectives, sitting through 2 days of selections and 9 days of trial. For the most part, we knew nothing of the involved laws, and were forbidden from talking to each other about the case until deliberations would begin. I myself served as an "alternate," which means that I was not part of the deliberation process itself. Only once the 12 main jurors had reached a decision was I called back to resume our positions in court, as the verdicts were read. I didn't know what the decision was going to be.

And so I held my breath, watching the defendant hold his breath, as the judge reviewed the verdict papers, handed them to the clerk, who read them aloud. I saw the defendant finally scan the eyes of the jurors, rest on mine for a moment, as I was (it seemed) the only juror looking up. As soon as I saw him see me, as soon as I felt myself see him, I broke. 

Yes, I believe guilt was determined. Yes, my assessment of the evidence lined up with the finding of the main jurors. Yes, I cherish our imperfectly implemented and nobly intended American system of justice that presumes the innocence of the accused, places the burden of proof on the prosecution, and entrusts determination of a verdict on a jury of the defendant's peers. Yes, yes, yes.

But.

This is so very sad. Beyond sad. My heart hurts so much. Once we were done, the jury stood in pain together. It is, as the prosecutor shared once trial was over, not a moment of popping a champagne bottle open. No one is happy. Justice has been served. But our broken society has also been revealed in terrible ways, yet again, ways to which I am rarely, if ever, exposed. 

Sounds: That poor boy's loud crying in court just minutes ago, his open sobbing at his father's conviction. The tears of the defendant's family members. The sobbing of the victim's family, who were also present in the room. My own ragged breathing and heart's breaking and the tears of the juror to my right as we shuffled out of our seats upon being dismissed as jurors. The silence as we sat together in the windowless jury room, trying to face what we had just undertaken, to know that there would be no clean ending to this feeling, that the obligations of citizenship are hardly a light burden. The very grayness of the court building has its own sound, perhaps scarred by countless experiences like the one I've now shared.

There is one moment that will forever remain in me, part of a cacophony of painful raw memories chaotically screaming within my heart. I can barely even type it out. At one point during trial, a recording was played of the defendant's voice, taken after the shooting had occurred and the defendant had been arrested. On it, he expressed his hope that his son would now be safe from others, because now they'd know "that he had folks around him who love him." I heard in his voice a trembling conviction that his son needed him, that his crime was motivated by a sense of responsibility to protect his son. I offer no defense of the horrific things he did. I am profoundly reeling at the tribal warfare, the broken society, the common-ness of this occurrence. 

(The DA is a member of my community, with whom I shared an eye-opening conversation immediately after verdict. We had been diligently avoiding each other throughout the duration of trial to not suggest inappropriateness. Once we could speak to each other, he shared how often the pattern involved in this case, of "violence in the name of love" crosses his desk. I have never appreciated the work of law enforcement so much. The imperfect system they implement, if my singular experience is any indication, can easily be described as potentially eroding of one's soul.)

So, sitting here in this empty, gray, space in the raw aftermath of this experience, hearing a child's inconsolable sobbing ring in my soul, remembering a father's professing of fierce love, seeing flash before me violent evidentiary images over and and over again, enduring the tedium of the justice process, witnessing the inability/unwillingness of young men to give honest testimony even when they themselves were the victims of the attack, feeling the broken-ness of society such that this violence is part of a larger observable pattern, trying to check my own implicit bias at the door, being both part of the jury and then not, seeing on my way out the door of the courthouse a "now serving" screen with entries that included family violence and many people involved, wondering where we are as a county, as a state, as a country.... 

...I write a first draft of my own inner process. Upheaval, hurt, awareness. I wonder what the way forward for us might be. Justice is not a delightful experience. It will always be some kind of slog to achieve. But the underlying issues are calling. 

A child's vulnerability and a father's love, in another circumstance, would be part of a radically different story-line... 

But I'm not in my bubbled life today, nor have I lived there for the last few weeks. I return tomorrow. How will my eyes have been changed by this? Will I remember what I've seen? What have I learned? What can I do?

Jun 7, 2015

The System is Broken and is Breaking People: A Rabbinic Response to #McKinney

The System is Broken and is Breaking People: A Rabbinic Response to #McKinney 
(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Horrifying. If you see no problem with Police conduct at the #McKinney pool party, you've chosen to ignore a real and urgent problem.

There is a systemic disregard for the human dignity of black people, this being only one of many cases. I do not lack respect for the police, nor the law, but the system is broken and is breaking people as a result.It's time for more compassion, less judgment, and an awareness that the system is pushing us all to play roles we don't wish upon each other or for ourselves.

We do not disagree that Police deserve respect, that laws should be obeyed, and that the public peace matters. But: to ignore the Police's response that led to intense escalation and personal violations is to choose to ignore those things.

If all lives truly matter, then the ones who are most vulnerable deserve at least as much sympathy.

#BlackLivesMatter

"Becoming Neighbors" - A Dvar Tzedek for the June 2015 AJWS Board Meeting

"Becoming Neighbors" - A Dvar Tzedek for the June 2015 AJWS Board Meeting
(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Dearest Friends,

[I share these words with you from a distance, as the Jewish obligation to seek the welfare of one’s fellow citizens, coupled with the American civic duty to serve on a jury of one’s peers (as I am called to do this week), compel my absence from our meeting. I am grateful to AJWS Board Chair Kathleen Levin for sharing my words with her voice.]

As we continue our journey as a Jewish organization fighting to end poverty and promote human dignity around the world, every moment is urgent. As the great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously taught, there is simply “no time for neutrality.” Every act is needed. Every gift, every word, every choice has the potential to save a life.

AJWS models this lesson well as a participant on the ground in many vulnerable parts of the world, where disasters and injustice collaborate to threaten not only the dignity but also the very lives of so many. 

The thoughtful methods we employ to guide our work to end poverty and to promote human rights are only matched in their intensity by the relationships we create on the ground with our partners, channeling the biblical mandate to love our neighbors as ourselves (Lev. 19) by ourselves becoming neighbors with our global partners. We are not sending advice from far away. We are there, listening, collaborating, and marshaling our resources in service of our neighbors.

Most recently, thanks to the work and reporting from AJWS’s Director of Disaster Response & International Operations, Samantha Wolthuis, and Associate Director of Risk Management and Administrative Services, Aaron Acharya, who were on the ground in Nepal in the aftermath of the earthquakes just last month, we have been reminded well that the relational commitments we make - and the additional ones we ache for the capacity to make - save lives, each of which, Jewish tradition reminds us, is an entire universe (MIshnah Sanhedrin 4:5).


In Sam and Aaron’s second report, they shared the story of Saili Tamang, who lives in a village just west of Kathmandu. Her house was flattened by the quakes. She was denied assistance by the Nepalese government and army, whose use of “village development committees (VDCs)” meant that family and friends of the government officials are typically prioritized over Dalit and indigenous communities. We believe, as AJWS, that community members are best placed to serve their own communities in times of need. This past week’s Torah portion from the Book of BeMidbar, Numbers, gives biblical language for the basis of that approach:  There shall be one law for you, whether stranger or citizen of the country. (Num. 9:14)”

Whether it is disaster relief, grassroots work to further the dignity and rights of LGBT people around the world, 84 visits with lawmakers and officials on Capitol Hill, demanding an end to child marriage and violence against women and girls - in each of these urgent efforts we channel righteous indignation and commit to act, to seek one law for all people, every one of whom is created BeTzelem Elohim, in the Divine Image. 

Just a few verses earlier than the one I just shared, we read that one who has the ability to fulfill their sacred obligation - and does not - cuts themselves off from their people (Num. 9:13). This means one very clear and profound thing: We are called by Jewish tradition to do everything we possibly can to recognize the dignity in all people, to listen well to the wisdom of others, for the Image of God is not only what we see when we look in the mirror. As we learn:


“[When a person] stamps out many coins with one mold, they are all alike. [But when God impresses the Divine Image into a human being,] not one of them is like his or her fellow.  (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5)”


We know that precisely by noticing the difference between a mirror and a window we can be better Jewish activists. Staring at a mirror is a poor way to be in the world. We do not wish to be cut off from our people, from our neighbors, and so we choose to see the world through the clear lens (an ‘aspaklaria,’ in Talmudic aramaic), which both demands and brings in so much more light. That is the work of AJWS: we illuminate our fragile world by helping others to reveal their own brilliant and unique lights.


******

I recently came across a delightfully radical text from the Talmud. In it, the rabbis envision God praying. Leave behind the question of whether or not there is a God, and if there is, what that God might be like. That’s much less important than what we might discern from the WAY God is imagined by the ancient rabbis. If we truly listen to what they hoped God would pray for, I believe we might also hear echoes of what our own aching hearts - in this moment - wish for our world today, what we carry with us in our work with AJWS:


[The rabbis ask:] What does God pray for? Rabbi Zutra ben Tobi said in the name of Rab: “God prays: 'May it be My will that My mercy conquer My anger, that My mercy wash over My stricter qualities, so that I might behave with My children mercifully and see beyond the letter of the law.’” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berachot, 7a, adapted)


Try to leave behind any skepticism you might have. Be in the story for just this moment. Rabbi Zutra is suggesting that, just like a person, God has conflicting impulses, anger and mercy, and that there are rules even God feels compelled to follow, rules God would choose to violate out of kindness and concern for humanity. That’s radical enough, but immediately following Rabbi Zutra’s concept of God’s own prayer, we read the following:


It was taught: Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha said: “I once entered into the Holy of Holies and saw God, seated upon a high and exalted throne. God said to me: ‘Ishmael, My child, bless Me!’ I replied: 'May it be Your will that Your mercy conquer Your anger, that Your mercy wash over Your stricter qualities, so that You might behave with Your children mercifully and see beyond the letter of the law.’ And God nodded to me. Here we learn that the blessing of an ordinary person must not be considered lightly in your eyes. (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berachot, 7a, adapted)


The difference between the first telling and second is not the prayer itself, as they are identitcal in both versions of the story. Rather, the difference is in who is the one offering the prayer. Notice that, in this second telling, God asks for a blessing and Rabbi Ishmael offers the prayer. This is a God who needs human partners, a God of deep caring, a God whose concern for mercy extends beyond what laws can describe. 

Perhaps the deepest teaching in this text is this: It matters not if you believe in God; in the eyes of a person of faith, you are inescapably holy and worthy of concern.

For some in the world, help feels far away, something someone else does, perhaps even something God does. But AJWS’s approach is closer to the Talmud’s second telling, where even God’s holy concerns require human enactment. We are, as Heschel taught us, “images of God, a fraction of God’s power at our disposal.” 

Friends, the ‘Divine nod’ at the very end of the text means that when we work well and apply our best wisdom to addressing the needs of others, when we push our country’s laws to extend mercy and justice around the globe, when we push ourselves to succeed at these immense and urgent tasks, we are ourselves the very fulfillment of God’s own prayer.

May this world and all its inhabitants be blessed because we, as the leaders of American Jewish World Service, continue to be students of the tradition which both inspired our organization’s birth and illuminates its trajectory into the future.


Amen.

Jun 4, 2015

Be Someone's Hero! Join us in the important mitzvah of donating blood, July 16, 12-6pm


Be Someone's Hero! Join us in the important mitzvah of donating blood on Thursday, July 16, from 12-6pm, in the Netivot Shalom social hall.

We are happy to co-sponsor this blood drive with our neighbors at The Way Christian Center, as part of Red Cross Interfaith Month.

There are 2 ways to help:

1. Donate blood: Sign up to donate blood at   redcrossblood.org (use code CNS) or call 1-800-RED-CROSS. Walk-ins are welcome, but appointments will be honored first, so we encourage you to sign up ahead of time. For anonymous eligibility questions, please call 1-866-236-3276.

2. Volunteer: We would also very much appreciate volunteers to help us set up, greet, and manage the canteen - sign up at http://tinyurl.com/CNSWAYblooddrive.

We recognize that the Red Cross currently has a discriminatory policy that categorically bans gay men from donating blood, and we disagree with this policy. We participate in this blood drive because the current need is great, but we do so with the hope that one day no one will face discriminatory exclusion from participating in this important mitzvah.


Congregation Netivot Shalom -- netivotshalom.org
1316 University Ave., Berkeley, CA   510.549.9447

Jun 2, 2015

I Believe [a #WearingOrange #poem]

I Believe [a #WearingOrange #poem]
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor
in honor of the first annual Gun Violence Awareness Day #wearingorange

I believe in
a world without
bulletproof backpacks.

I believe in
a world where
children can sleep unafraid.

I believe in
responsible citizens
and responsible government.

I believe
we can and must call out
fear-mongers and weapon-profiteers
who pervert the noble spirit of our country.

I believe
God calls us to the holy work
of raising up every Divine Image,
every human life.

I believe
these overflowing tears
won't be our last.
... but I also believe
they should be.