Dear TEE community,
I have a special affection for this week’s Torah portion because it was the first I ever read publicly. I didn’t have a bat mitzvah ceremony as such. I was fifteen years old and at summer camp. There were no relatives or presents. But there was sunshine and bird song and a beautiful summer morning as I stood in front of our small congregation gathered under the trees.
Like many b’nai mitzvah, I had practiced my portion so often that I had it memorized but of course I was nervous when I walked over to the table holding the Torah scroll. I had been taught to open the scroll, find the word at the beginning of my portion, and then close the scroll to say the blessing. As I grasped the handles of the Torah, I had a powerful sense of joining generations of Jews before me. Somehow, I felt the presence of those ancestors among the friends and teachers around me. I felt grounded and connected to something larger than that moment, blessed to be a part of this heritage.
Traditionally, having an aliyah, “going up” to bless and read the Torah is the greatest honor a Jew can have. This is the basis of the the b’nai mitzvah ceremony. When young people take on the responsibilities of adult Jewish life, we celebrate by according them this central privilege.
Having this personal connection to Torah is the birthright of every Jew yet, for a variety of reasons, many Jews have never had this experience. It is only within my lifetime that girls were routinely prepared for bat mitzvah. I know that some families could not afford synagogue membership or had other priorities for their children. Whatever the reason, if you have never stood in front of a congregation to bless or read the Torah, I would like to encourage you to do so–it’s never too late! Several TEE members are beginning to study with me in preparation for their first Torah reading experience and we would love to have you join us.
The experience of how I felt the first time I stood in front of my community to read the Torah has never left me. Holding the Torah scroll continues to give me an extraordinary sense of the connection between past and present. It is not only an honor but a joy we should all be able to share.
Be well / Zei gesunt / Sano,
Rabbi Drorah Setel