There I am 8 years old staring at the scuffs on my Mary Janes and my Trimfit tight-clad legs while I sit in the plush velvet seat at shul. I really want to sit criss-cross applesauce but my dad would forbid it. I should be paying attention to the service but instead I’m staring at the colorful stained-glass windows with images of Bereshit and wondering if I will have a rainbow cookie or black and white at kiddush. Then comes the moment where I wonder will my dad get hagbah or another type of aliyah? I really hope so.
Every Saturday growing up I’d go to shul with my dad. We’d walk the four blocks to our temple no matter what the weather. I loved how he’d don a three-piece suit adorned with a snazzy handkerchief in his suit jacket and a felt fedora with a feather in the brim. ‘Look British, think Yiddish,” he said with a wink as he made sure his tie was straight. I loved sitting next to him, the faint smell of Aramis permeating the air.
This was a special time of the week for both of us. My dad felt at home in our shul. I could see a certain peace fell over him while he was there. An escape from the world where the aftermath of the Vietnam War often haunted him or the daily horrors he saw working at Child Protective Services in NYC with abused kids.
Whenever he got hagbah, I felt so proud. There was my dad, a stocky figure holding up the Torah but to me it seemed a feat that only Superman could do. How much did it weigh I wondered?
Fast forward to my Bat Mitzvah at our Conservative shul and I’m wondering why I am relegated to a Friday night service and no Torah reading. I am one of the best students in my Hebrew class, blessed with a musical voice. Where’s my chance to shine like the boys in Hebrew school?
We celebrate Simchat Torah at our shul and the joyous dancing starts on the expertly lacquered ballroom floor. We eventually move outside to a main throughfare that the police have barricaded off for us. My dad gets to dance with the Torah. I get a mini one and a flag of Israel to wave as the sweat forms slowly on his upper brow.
I loved my childhood moments at shul but as I got older, I yearned for a place where I could be physically and spiritually closer to the Torah. Much to my parent’s initial dismay, I found it when I started a family of my own and moved to the suburbs joining a Reform temple. Here I saw women reading from the Torah, getting aliyah and female CrossFitters honoured with holding the Torah up high on the bimah for all to see on Rosh Hashanah.
So when the rabbi asked if I would be willing to read from the Torah during the High Holiday service this year I jumped at the chance. They sent me an MP3 file that I studied over the dog days of August. I asked for a translation of my section because it wasn’t enough to chant the words. I had to know their meaning. When the moment came for me to sing from Genesis, I went to the bimah, holding the yad unsteadily, noticing the soft leather of the Torah. This was my chance and my son and two daughters would see it and even my parents attended the services via Zoom thanks to COVID and were proud.
This past spring my rabbi asked if I’d be willing to hold a rescued Torah from the Holocaust housed at our temple at an upcoming Yom Hashoah procession in our county’s official observance of this solemn day. Both my maternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors and I once again said yes despite my diminutive stature. I’m not even 5 feet and was worried about carrying its hefty weight since I don’t CrossFit but I figured I’d muster up the strength somehow.
I wish that my dad still had the SuperMan strength to hold the Torah or watch me in this special procession. I wish my grandparents could see this moment too – to witness the true meaning of L’Dor V’Dor and to know that I finally found my home spiritually and physically with the Torah. They would have felt truly blessed.