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New rabbi hopes to ‘build and dream’ in Berkeley

by dan pine, staff writer

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If Menachem Creditor looks a bit bleary-eyed these days, he has a good reason: Her name is Raya Meital Creditor, born July 20 and weighing in at 9 pounds, 6 ounces.

Raya is the newest member of the Creditor family. Her father is the newest rabbi at Congregation Netivot Shalom, a Conservative shul in Berkeley. Having arrived in California in June, and with his wife, Liz, giving birth to their third child last month, the rabbi has his hands full.

But, he says, he and his family could not have felt more welcomed.

"Netivot Shalom really extended itself," he reports. "The [congregation's] understanding for what I needed put much less pressure on me. Congregants have brought us more food than we can handle, but all of it with love."

Coming to California after five years at a synagogue in Sharon, Mass., Creditor has a tough act to follow. Netivot Shalom's Rabbi Stuart Kelman retired earlier this year after 15 years as spiritual leader. Creditor is a big Kelman fan.

Kelman, like Creditor, has been a strong advocate for greater inclusion of gay and lesbian Jews in Conservative Judaism, including the rabbinate. "The process [Kelman] led at Netivot Shalom was a real model for study," he says.

In 2003, Creditor co-founded Keshet Rabbis, a campaign to push Conservative Judaism to change policies regarding gay and lesbian Jews. This was long before the movement opened its seminary last year to gays and lesbians.

"I hadn't labeled myself an activist before that," says Creditor, "but something triggered inside of me. We decided to go public [with Keshet Rabbis] when we had 50 signatures of Conservative rabbis. Within a week we had 115 names. We helped cultivate the conversation."

When Creditor first enrolled at the Jewish Theological Seminary, being an activist was not foremost on his mind. Neither was being a pulpit rabbi. Rather, he had music on his mind.

Growing up the son of a Conservative rabbi father and an opera-singer mother, Creditor (his unusual surname is derived from the Russian) says Shabbat dinner was always a very musical affair. Though he attended Jewish day schools and valued Judaism, he adds, "Part of the journey [of being the son of a rabbi] is you don't want to be a rabbi, no matter what."

What turned the tide? Catching Jewish vocal ensemble Pizmon, which is connected to the Jewish Theological Seminary, in performance when he was 15. The group's mix of doo-wop, folk, liturgical and pop music hit him right between the aesthetic eyes.

"The transformational harmony pouring out of these people brought me to tears," he remembers. "I decided I had to go to JTS to be part of this group."

Creditor auditioned and was accepted in, which led to international concert tours. "The exposure to different parts of the Jewish community awakened something inside of me," he adds. "I knew I needed to be doing this Jewish thing."

After four years, Creditor returned to JTS to become a rabbi. But even then, he says, "The last thing I wanted was a conventional path that led me to a factory-sized synagogue. The measure of success I held on to is one of depth and familiarity with people, as opposed to size."

Now ensconced in the East Bay, Creditor is eager to start building on Kelman's legacy. The synagogue opens a preschool this fall, and the rabbi hopes to form alliances with his colleagues throughout the Bay Area. He says he already feels at home at Netivot Shalom.

"As a rabbi who has always called the Conservative movement home, I see incredible hope on the horizon," he says. "It's easy to kvetch. It's more worthy to build and dream."


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