By Jacques Steinberg
When shots rang out at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on that awful day in December 2012, Rabbi Menachem Creditor was 3,000 miles away in Berkeley, California, serving as the spiritual leader of Congregation Netivot Shalom.
Despite the vast distance, news of the massacre quickly lit an emotional, spiritual and intellectual fire within Rabbi Creditor.
Already a liturgist for the Rabbinical Assembly of America, he wrote a prayer in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting that was recited across the nation in countless synagogues, as well as churches and other houses of worship. He also led a delegation of Jewish leaders to the Obama White House, a journey that led him to found the organization Rabbis Against Gun Violence and to edit an anthology that grew out of that work. Its title: “None Shall Make Them Afraid,” which draws on the Prophet Micah’s hope for a world where “every person will sit under their own vine and fig tree, and none shall make them afraid.”
Now the Pearl and Ira Meyer Scholar in Residence at UJA-Federation New York—and a speaker and writer whose videos and essays have been viewed more than a million times—Rabbi Creditor will bring his teachings on healing, community, and spiritual resilience to Westchester Jewish Center, from February 5 to 7, 2021, as our next Scholar-in-Residence.
Those whose membership at WJC stretches back two decades may remember Menachem Creditor as a religious school teacher at our Center in the late 90s and early 00s, even before he had earned his degree from Columbia University and the Jewish Theology Seminary under the List College program.
Rabbi Jeffrey Arnowitz has an earlier memory: as teenagers in the early 1990s, he and Rabbi Creditor were bunkmates at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. Rabbi Creditor recalled a young Rabbi Arnowitz befriending him and introducing him to three albums: David Bowie’s “Changes,” Queen’s “Greatest Hits,” and the soundtrack to “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
Camp Ramah (of all places) would later put on its own production of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” with Rabbi Creditor in the role of Jesus (adapted as a false messiah with the name Shabtai Tzvi.)
Rabbi Creditor never lost his musical chops, and went on to create six albums of original music, including the global Jewish anthem, “Olam Chesed Yibaneh.” He and his wife, the singer and songwriter Neshama Carlebach, share five children.
Said Rabbi Arnowitz: “Rabbi Creditor’s unique balance of fealty to classical Jewish values and devotion to modern-day ethical causes makes him a valuable and unique voice in our community.”
Working with Karen Everett and Myra Glajchen, co-chairs of the Adult Education Committee, Rabbi Creditor has planned four talks for Scholar-in-Residence Weekend, which will be available via virtual platforms.
On Friday evening, he will speak about “Strengthening the Spirit in the Zoom World.” In a conversation from his home in White Plains, Rabbi Creditor said he would touch on themes of “expanding our circle of belonging and sharing responsibility” as well as “strengthening the self in this very ragged American moment.”
His Shabbat morning sermon is titled “Cultivating an Evolving Jewish Community,” in which he said he will explore “what does it mean to be a Jewish community in an ever-changing world,” including a community currently knitted together via technology.
Following Havdalah, he will talk about “Judaism as an Essential Ingredient for a Healing World.” He explained: “Judaism for its own sake is a strange concept in Jewish terms. We weren’t created simply to be. We were created to bring light into the world. During this time of global fragility what can we bring to the world that it doesn’t already have? What is our responsibility as Jews in the world?”
Finally, on Sunday morning, Rabbi Creditor and his camp friend Rabbi Arnowitz will reunite for an interactive discussion titled “Spiritual Resilience for Families.”
That conversation, Rabbi Creditor said, is intended to be especially helpful for parents and grandparents, as we acknowledge “the pain that our children have been in” and then seek to do the “inner work” as adults and caregivers that can increase our ability to instill flexibility and endurance in others. To learn more about Scholar-in-Residence Weekend, visit wjcenter.org/scholar.