Author, national thought leader and activist Rabbi Menachem Creditor will visit Temple Emanuel of South Hills Feb. 28 and 29. Creditor, the Pearl and Ira Meyer Scholar in Residence at UJA-Federation New York, will serve as scholar-in-residence and address topics ranging from uses and abuses of power in the Jewish community, to gun violence and LGBTQ concerns.
Prior to his arrival in the Steel City, Creditor shared thoughts on his work and expressed an eagerness to enjoy “a textured experience of the community.”
“The goal of my visit is to provoke thinking that isn’t reactive,” he said. “The Jewish community in Pittsburgh resembles the Jewish community around the world, which is to say, we are bigger than any one moment of our history. That being said, there are sometimes things that occur in a local community that begin to redefine it.”
Creditor developed such ideas in his recently published book “Loud, Proud, and Jewish.”
There is a value in “seeing ourselves as rooted in a long beautiful history, and with a sense of purpose in the world that guides us when we have hard moments,” he said.
Being able to come to Pittsburgh, which has been at the center of recent Jewish thought and conversation, and share ideas on sensitive matters is humbling, continued Creditor: Apart from appreciating the “strength and resilience of the community,” there is much to say regarding the events of October 2018, and how it redefined the American Jewish experience of the gun violence epidemic. “But that doesn’t make it an only Jewish experience. My work with Rabbis Against Gun Violence has really exposed me to bigger picture thinking that I can help move forward as a Jew.”
After years of writing about the nation’s gun violence epidemic, Creditor formed Rabbis Against Gun Violence in January 2016. With its reliance on social media and public events, the organization seeks to save lives “without infringing on Second Amendment rights.”
One mechanism for doing so is calling regular attention to the subject through Facebook posts.
On Feb. 6, Rabbis Against Gun Violence highlighted Parkland parent Fred Guttenberg’s presence at the State of the Union: “Here’s what happened: Guttenberg was in attendance as a guest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. When Trump said he will ‘always’ protect the Second Amendment — which he described as being ‘under siege’ — the grieving Jewish dad yelled out, ‘What about my daughter?’ Fred Guttenberg, thank you for sharing your grief out loud. May your precious daughter’s memory, and your sacred activism in her name, move more leaders’ hearts to finally act to save lives.”
A Feb. 11 post from the organization read, “A 16-year-old in Texas was gunned down by a 15-year-old last week after stepping in to defend a classmate from bullying.”
Similar to his active online presence, Creditor has published more than 20 books, including “None Shall Make Them Afraid: A Rabbis Against Gun Violence Anthology” and “Holding Fast: Jews Respond to American Gun Violence.”
Creditor’s interest in gun violence grew after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
During that period, Creditor was a pulpit rabbi in Berkley, California. To mark the one-year anniversary of the murders, he wrote a prayer titled, “A Newtown El Malei: For 26 Souls and 30,000 More.”
“The prayer ended up being used in Congress and in different houses of worship around America, and a friend of mine, a pastor, invited me to join a delegation to the White House to present a path for healing the soul of our nation,” he said. “During that visit it became clear to me that my understanding of gun violence had been very shallow, and it had been flavored with a very specific Jewish experience.”
Creditor said he “immersed” himself in the realities and varieties of gun violence, and Rabbis Against Gun Violence eventually emerged.
Creditor no longer serves as a pulpit rabbi, but remains cognizant of the challenges rabbis face when addressing topics such as gun violence.
“Judaism is a non-dogmatic religion and what that means is we have to think carefully and communally as we navigate a political world,” he said. “Truth is always bigger than one opinion. So we have to do our best, while fighting for justice, to just think together about what that means.”
Isolating oneself in echo chambers and ideological silos is contrary to “what it is to be a person,” continued Creditor. “To stand alone and to fight for a notion of truth that tolerates no dissent is not Jewish and isn’t democratic, and I would say represents a fundamentalism that would destroy society.
“A truth that tolerates no dissent is very destructive and that isn’t the message for rabbis nor is it just a message for Jews. I think we as people are witnessing a world that is challenging the idea of what to think when we disagree.”
Throughout the scholar-in-residence weekend, there will be ample opportunities for discussion, disagreement and accord, noted Temple Emanuel Senior Rabbi Aaron Meyer: “Rabbi Creditor is a national thought leader on both the Jewish uses and abuses of power, as well as the rabbinic voice on gun violence prevention. As our synagogue and Jewish community at large are looking at our responses to the greater world in which we live in, I’m excited to take advantage of his wisdom and experience.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.