I had never been to this synagogue. My friend was the new rabbi and I wanted to attend. It was supposed to be over 95 degrees and I didn’t know if they had AC. I hadn’t slept much the night before due to my mind which wouldn’t turn off. What if I fell asleep during the lengthy Torah service? Surely, I didn’t have the right clothes for shul (synagogue), and I wasn’t sure I could sit for 2.5 hours. Who knew if anyone would be masked or if I would be the only one sticking out like a sore thumb, telegraphing “don’t get too close to me.”
I decided not to go. But there I was, pressing the doorbell of the synagogue, my rabbi bones craving some good old-time religion. I was met by a very friendly woman who gave me a quick tour of the small historic building. I soon discovered she was one of the very competent lay leaders who lead davvenen (prayer) beautifully and chanted lots of Torah as if she were born to fulfill this sacred task. You knew she understood every word and possibly many of the interpretations.
I chose a seat and greeted those around me with a customary “Shabbat Shalom”. A few minutes later someone kindly said, “Please take your books off the chair next to you. That’s where Jules sits.” “Of course,” I replied, wondering who Jules was. I imagined he must be a longtime member. After services began, Jules arrived with his light large print siddur (prayerbook) and his many years of life. I soon learned I was privileged to be sitting with the Jewish history of this synagogue, ever so wise and gentle.
I’m not sure he even needed the siddur. It seemed like he had every word and melody memorized, with his Ashkenazi pronunciation. I’m not sure if he heard me singing under my mask, but slowly we were davvenen together, almost as if the services were just for us. Praying with him felt like medicine.
During the Torah service, I took out my chumash (Torah) and followed each word with my finger, sometimes chanting along quietly. Jules seemed to be following my fingers. After he returned from his aliyah (honor at the Torah), I shook his hand and gave him the appropriate greeting, “Yashar koach”. He smiled. My heart melted and we exchanged names.
During those 2.25 hours of Hebrew prayers given to us from the rabbis, dramatic choreography during the Torah service, familiar and new melodies, and Torah, I entered the world of our People, experiencing our tradition as fully whole. And the fact that it took about five people to help me dress the Torah felt unnecessary, but so familiar! (How many Jews does it take to dress a Torah?)
I forgot about the mask, the sitting, the clothes, the sleeplessness, and left with a smile in the 95 degree heat. I took with me a renewed love of our People, our resilience and our history. Today was the true Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat of Vision. I can’t wait to return to see my new friend, Jules, and maybe even dress that Torah again!