Credentialing


During World War II, the New York Times reported on the surrender of German paratroopers to the assistant division commander of the US 8th Infantry Division.

Their general was the equivalent of our lieutenant general. Incredulous that he should be surrendering to someone of lesser rank, he demanded Brigadier General Canham’s credentials.

Canham gestured to the fatigued, dirty soldiers who were accompanying him and replied, “these are my credentials.”

That famous reply went on to become the 8th Infantry Division’s motto, but it fully captures my sentiments of being both a Jew and a soldier.

In recent months, in the various capacities I serve my community, I’ve noticed there’s a direct correlation between how often someone attends the most meaningful component of Judaism—davening in a minyan—and how many names they drop on you combined with their entire Jewish CV.

Sorry, folks, my minyan is my credentials.

I’ve had a pretty storied Jewish life. I’ve been a designated religious group leader in the military since 2007. I was a director for Jewish outreach for a third party presidential campaign. I’ve been vice president of one synagogue and president of Maine’s oldest for five terms. I’ve written articles, books, apps, served on committees both regional and national. The yahrzeit list used by Jewish groups for the Global War on Terror was something a friend and I compiled over the course of years. I ran a seminal blog for Jewish American service members.

And I’m in the process of applying to a rabbinical seminary.

To me, none of that should be what I lead with when I meet people. It’s off-putting. It smells like inadequacy. It lacks a humility worthy of our people.

In recent years, I joined a board for a storied Jewish community resource. The gentleman that invited me is probably one of the most accomplished Jews in this part of Maine. His name is on a lot of buildings. And he never leads with that. The other fellow from our end of the community similarly doesn’t lead with his background.

The two across the table often do, and I think it’s because they don’t participate in daily Jewish life. I don’t judge them for it, either. We do what we do.

It’s something that I see occurring as we organize against a matter in local government. The folks who are self-assured assume they bring the ethos to the argument, but it’s easy to see it get crowded with name-dropping and credential waving. Especially in the circumstances now (this relates to October 7th and everything after), what the person doing it is really saying is “my opinion is more informed than yours,” or worse, “my opinion matters more than yours.”

Especially in a place like Maine, where we punch above our weight class, it’s less impressive when you come from a larger Jewish community as many of us do.

Most importantly, it’s a lot easier to build consensus without. I can read a CV on my own time, and unless someone belong to a name that has been dropped is going to walk through the door, who we know is largely irrelevant. What is important to me is that every voice counts.

Brian

Writer, President of Bangor's Congregation Beth Israel, soldier, programmer, father, musician, Heeb, living in the woods of Maine with three ladies and a dog.

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About Brian

Brian Kresge

Brian Kresge

Writer, President of Bangor's Congregation Beth Israel, soldier, programmer, father, musician, Heeb, living in the woods of Maine with three ladies and a dog.

About Leah

Leah Kresge

Leah Kresge

Director of Education for Congregation Beth Israel in Bangor, Maine, special educator and former school board member, mother to Amelia and Nezzie.

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