These and Those

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

Raising the Issue – My Torah

Posted on May 14, 2014 by Meira Cohen

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The place: a little shtieble near my house in New York.

The time: the holiday of Simchat Torah.

meicohI am accompanying my brother and his two children to hakafot, the joyous circle dancing celebrating our people’s connection to the Torah. As I walk into the women’s section past the sign delineating proper and modest dress for attendees, I notice the stark contrast between the men’s section and the women’s. On one side of the room, payot swing to and fro as their owners dance joyously with abandon. The excitement is evident on the faces of the lucky few who hold and dance with the Torah scrolls.

The other side of the room: women sit, quietly observing, peering through the slats in the wooden mechitza. I watch as my five year old niece happily climbs onto the shoulders of her father and wistfully remember the days when I had done the same. At one point she comes to join me in the women’s section and asks with a bewildered expression on her face: “Aunt Meira, why aren’t the women dancing?!” ‘Good question’, I think. One that only a child, who hasn’t yet become resigned to the status quo, could ask. I can’t help but be saddened to think that all too soon, she too, will be expected to join my side of the room.

Now fast forward a few months:

The place: the Pardes Beit Midrash in Jerusalem.

The time: Rosh Chodesh Iyar.

I find myself approaching the bimah and taking hold of the Torah scroll. I carefully lift it over the edge and raise into the air, while my friends surrounding me loudly declare “vezot hatorah…” I carry the Torah through the women’s section and sense the palpable excitement of those who reverently approach the scroll.

In that moment I am struck by the transformation of a few months: from spectator to active participant.

In the past few months, I have grappled with the world of Judaism, feeling ambivalent about my connection to my heritage. Yet, in the moment that I hold the Torah before a congregation, I suddenly have a powerful realization. I am holding the physical manifestation of everything that our people hold dear. A scroll that my ancestors have lived for and died for and laughed over and cried over. I may never find the answers to all of my questions, but this I know: this is my book and I will continue to carry it.