Rabbi Menachem Creditor of Netivot Shalom readily agreed to participate in this short series of interviews. Thank you Rabbi for your availibility and your time.
Can you introduce yourself in a few words?
My name is Menachem Creditor, and I’ve been a rabbi for almost 10 years. I currently serve as the Rabbi at Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, California, and also lead an effort called Bay Area Masorti. I blog at menachemcreditor.org, and write music and poetry.
Can you tell us about your congregation and/or job?
My congregation is an amazing place, full of ritual participation and creative energy. Netivot Shalom was founded 22 years ago by a group of Jews interested in serious adult learning and davening, and has grown into a community of 415 households, including many intermarried families, multi-generation families, single people, and many of the founders. My job is to be the public face of our community, as well as nurture the caring (chesed) committees, so that we can be there for each other in happy and sad times.
What is your religious background (if any)? Is there a rabbinical tradition in your family?
I grew up in a religious home, with Shabbat and singing, learning and teaching. My mother is a powerful Jewish educator and my father is a rabbi.
When and why did you decide to become a rabbi?
I knew for 20 years that I did NOT want to be a rabbi. This was, I believe, mostly my way of differentiating myself from my father. When the Jewish a cappella group Pizmon, from List College, visited my shul for a Shabbat during my high school years, something woke up inside of me, allowing me to dream of being the kind of rabbi I was inside, which resembles but is not the same as the (wonderful) rabbi my father is. I sang my heart out that Shabbat, and haven’t stopped since. Once that was unleashed, many moments conspired to bring me to this moment. I’ve never looked back once.
Where did you study? Any particular reason you chose this rabbinical school?
I attended the Rabbinical School at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. I chose this school because it was (and remains) the heart of a Jewish vision that combines incredible intellectual rigor and a long, rich history of Jewish yearning. There are many other places to grow Jewishly, to learn to be a religious leader, but JTS brought me to a place of clarity and historical appreciation, to a level of textual fluency and spiritual awareness I don’t believe I’d have discovered anywhere else.
Is being a rabbi very different from what you expected?
Being a rabbi is different, on a daily basis, from anything I could even expect today. Yes, I had an inkling of the world of a rabbi. But every day is something brand new, and unpredictable. Perhaps the one thing I simply could not have understood before being a rabbi is the grandeur of being trusted with people’s life-stories, being an emulsifier of the Divine in the world. I could have used those words, but the experience defies communicating.
What do you like best about your job?
I am humbled to be trusted. The ways in which relationships unfold within community are all based on being worthy of trust. When I remember that all people expect me to be is myself, then the relationships can be maintained and deepened.
What do you like least about it?
I like least that there is only one of me. I wouldn’t change a thing about my job, but will never place it above my family. More of me would, I hope, accomplish more sacred work.
What sort of misconceptions do people have about your job?
People think that I am sad when they share their hard moments with me, that I feel put upon to visit them in the hospital or conduct a loved one’s funeral. I am largely inspired by these experiences and the gift of simply being present.
Do you have some sort of contact with rabbis from other Jewish denominations or other religious leaders? Why or why not?
Yes! My Reform, Orthodox, Renewal, and Reconstructionist colleagues and I meet all the time. Sometimes at communal events, sometimes at shul, sometimes socially. So too do I meet with other religious leaders. Why do I? Because I love them. Because we need each other. Because I believe that the only way to experience God is by encountering another of God’s “masks”, human beings who shine with the Divine Image.
What are your plans for the future concerning your job and/or congregation?
My congregation is growing faster than anyone could have predicted, from 280 households four years ago, to 415 (and counting) today. My job will need to shift, and the staff will need to grow. But this is the “simpler” part of future-planning. The hardest part of my “job” and the congregation’s future is the work of evolving culture and sacred memory. Those founders of the shul who remain active have devoted their souls to the birth of a community that is reaching adolescence. That’s never easy. My role is to allow the adolescent to continue self-differentiating, to make manifest the love this precious evolving community contains as it continues to become itself, and to help the founders of the community feel their hearts connected to a naturally shifting organism. All of this is purposeful. All of this is worthy. And it is a sacred task that will require more skills tomorrow than I possess today. I will do my best to grow with the holy burden, and will look to my community to learn with me how to guide our shul well.
Do you use the Internet in your job? How?
All the time. I blog, tweet, FB, and email incessantly. The world we live in calls anyone who thinks their message is worthwhile, or important, to engage in viral communication.