Last night at our synagogue we celebrated the holiday of Simchat Torah. This holiday marks the end of the annual cycle of reading the Torah (Old Testament) and begins a new one. It is a happy holiday marked with joy and celebration, unlike the solemn Yom Kippur, which is a day of prayer, fasting and reflection. Trained scribes using special ink and quills carefully handwrite the Torahs, which are scrolls made of parchment. They are checked and double-checked for their accuracy. Finally, the panels are sewn together with sinew and rolled onto staves called etz hayyim, or tree of life. The Torah is covered with elaborate dressings, crowns and breastplates. It is the foundation of Jewish life and law.
We paraded the Torahs around the synagogue and sang songs. The culmination of this celebration was to completely unroll the Torah and display it in the sanctuary. That job fell to yours truly. I had to hold the Torah and carefully unfurl it while people stationed strategically around the schul (Yiddish for synagogue) held it. The Torah weighed about thirty pounds. It took about ten minutes to completely unfurl. I estimate that is was well over one hundred feet long. Then, we had to carefully roll it back up, again conducted by yours truly, with the congregation shouting encouragements such as, tighter, looser, this way, more slack, less slack, left, up! I’ve always said that if you have two Jews in a room, you get three opinions. The Torah is not something that you want to mess around with. Even though my shoulder was screaming in pain, I had to make sure that it never touched the ground. The penalty for dropping a Torah is fasting for forty days. Yeah. That’s right, forty. I call it the Disgraced Jew Diet. In some synagogues the entire congregation has to fast because of your clumsiness. Not an effective way of keeping friends.
How did this honor happen to be bestowed upon yours truly? You probably know that I have a lot of hobbies and interests. Drumming, photography, cooking, attempting to write and blog, pretending to garden, mountain biking, and target shooting are among my many interests. My latest undertaking is, along with my wife, president of a synagogue. What? Slow down there sport. Did you just say president of a synagogue? Yes I did. Here is the story.
A few years ago, my former synagogue refused to renew the Rabbi’s contract. This was nothing new because this schul (Yiddish for synagogue in case you didn’t get it he first time) went through Rabbis constantly. In the twenty years that I attended the old synagogue, we had four. Some years we had substitute rabbis. Just when you started getting comfortable with the Rabbi, BAM, Gone. Rabbi Seth is very different. He is very smart, insightful, articulate, friendly and makes going to services actually tolerable. I don’t know how it is going to church, but I’m sure that some of you wish you were doing something, anything, other than spending a perfectly good morning being one with the Supreme Being.
So we said, Gai tren zich (Yiddish for well, a certain word in the English language that can be a noun, verb, adjective, and adverb, sometimes simultaneously) left the schul, and followed him to a new one. This was particularly painful because we had great seats. It was like giving up season tickets on the fifty-yard line to the Giants.
Anyway, this little schul is located in the heart of downtown Old Wethersfield. The building is a charming, well over a hundred-year-old converted church. But, here is the kicker; filled with some of the most wonderful people I have ever met. Friendly, warm, tolerant, literate, accepting, I mean, what else can you ask of people?
Here is an example; In the twenty years that I had gone to my other schul, I was never once asked to come up on the bima (stage) to open or close the ark where the Torahs are kept. In the Jewish religion, this is considered a big honor. The first day I was there, I was asked if I would be willing to carry the Torah around the schul during the Rosh Hashanah (New Year) services. I’m not sure what a Christian equivalent is but, in my neck of the woods, it’s like carrying around the Stanley Cup.
One Saturday as we were leaving the Bat Mitzvah reception of the Rabbi’s daughter, just as we were about to leave, a member of the Executive Committee approached us. She has the unusual ability; some call it a Jedi mind trick, to make your mouth say yes to something when your brain says no. She asked if my wife and I would like to join the Membership Committee. As my wife was vigorously shaking her head no, I heard myself say, “Of course, we would be honored.” With a broad smile, and twinkle in her eye she said, “I knew you would!” Jedi mind trick!
After spending some time on the Executive Board, we heard rumors that, the current co-presidents, were about to give up the position. They had done a wonderful job of keeping our little congregation thriving. Money is always scarce; the building always needs work, bills need to be paid. They managed to keep it all together with wisdom, grace, and aplomb. Tough shoes to fill, but that was someone else’s problem. Until, I heard rumors about my wife and I being considered for the role of Co-Vice Presidents. Then it turned to us being the Presidents. Talk about a fast career track. One day I’m a simple congregant, next thing I’m running the joint. Oi Vai iz mir! (Yiddish for Woe is me!)
As I nurse this sore shoulder with an ice bag, I think about my life’s journey. A rabbi moves to a new synagogue and my wife and I become responsible for a small family of remarkable people. I can’t wait to see what happens next!
L’shana Tovah Tikatevu – May all your names be inscribed and sealed for a joyous new year.
Yehi hako'ah imahem —May the Force Be With You!