These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem


Posted on February 16, 2012 by Aliza B.

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Today I had the most wonderful pleasure–I got to read from the Torah in the Egalitarian Minyan at Pardes.  It happened almost by accident.  As the gabbait for the minyan, I neglected to ask people to read earlier in the week.  Last night, when I realized my mistake, I decided to just learn it myself.  The time felt right.

When I got to services this morning, I was nervous with anticipation.  It felt a bit like I had just learned to ride a bike with training wheels, and was now preparing to ride a race on a brand new bicycle in front of all my peers with just two wheels.  (The Torah scroll that we read from does not have any punctuation or musical indications (trope).  Not only that, but the letters in the scroll look very different from what you might find in a Hebrew book.)  As I stepped outside the room to practice, I mentioned to my friend that this would be the first time I have read from the Torah since my bat mitzvah.  Immediately I corrected myself: this would be the first time I have ever read from a Torah scroll in a community.

I feel as if I am back in my 12 year old self, surveying the community assembled in the Unitarian Church, futilely attempting to calm my nerves as we stand for the opening of the ark.  The memory is so fresh today, it’s as if I can see through my own eyes the empty womb of the ark which has given birth to something so vast it does not even fit in the room.  My ears are brushed with the anxious murmur of voices, and I feel the change in my physical being.  It’s as if the electric nervous signals have stopped and reversed course; I am laughing and the Torah is gone, and all that remains is bliss.

After practicing, I come back into the room.  I davenn quickly, spurred on by my speeding heart.  The Torah service arrives.  I smile at my friends as the ark is opened, trying to review in my mind the parsha and the tune and worrying and suddenly I realize that we’ve paused and everyone is confused.  I look up.  The empty wooden ark smiles back at me.

I am laughing and running, remembering my trickster Grandpa and lovingly chiding myself for having forgotten the Sefer Torah.  Luckily, this time it is only a room away.

The Torah is recovered from the safe, and we race back into the davenning space.  It’s as if the Torah rides in on the wings of the niggun that the community is now singing to hold the space.  Before we start, I share with everyone briefly about my bat mitzvah.  The irony is there, but I am not sure the word fits.

I read my two aliyahs haltingly, but without major catastrophe.  And when I finish, my community erupts spontaneously into Siman Tov u Mazal Tov and I am sure that my blush has reached the tips of my toes and the joy that is blossoming in my heart can’t be contained within my body.

And how fitting this is.  When I wrote my essays about coming to Pardes, I wrote about the missing Torah at my bat mitzvah.  I wrote about leading services at Hillel and about feeling the absence of traditional learning.  I wrote that I wanted to come to Pardes to find that missing Torah, and to be able to bring it to my friends and family and community.

Here I am.  I have begun the journey.  Next year I will be in Boston at Hebrew College, starting rabbinical school.  And yet, it was this year that I set out on my spiritual quest.  It was this year that I left the warm embrace of my community back home to come to Israel, and to find the Torah treasure locked away in the recesses of the beit midrash.  It was this year that I left and this year that I arrived.

And that’s exactly it.  I have arrived.  I have arrived in the loving embrace of a community that is wonderful beyond my most hopeful imaginations.  I have arrived to the bliss of Jewish learning, and the supportive challenge of living in Israel.  I have arrived to the moment of filling my smiling Torah arc.