Tag Archive | Chanukah

The Torah Scrolls on the Floor

Looking for drama on Saturday mornings?

Each Saturday morning during Shabbat services, no matter what city you live in or what flavor of observance a synagogue or temple may ascribe to, there is that moment of truth. The moment when the person given the honor of lifting the Torah, or hagbah,  lifts the open Torah scroll above their heads, turns around for the congregation to see the letters, and then sits down in a chair where he is assisted by the galilah, the Torah dresser, who wraps the Torah, fastens it with a silken belt, places the cover back over the Eytz Chayim, or wooden posts, and adorns it with a silver breastplate depicting the twelve tribes of Israel. The galilah then replaces the silver pointer hand, or yad, and then finally the beautiful Keter, or crown, is placed atop the wooden posts.

Sometimes while lifting, the Hagbah shows three columns, sometimes, if they are really strong, four or five columns.

At this crucial moment in the Torah service, there is a certain element of danger in the air. We all rise as the Torah is lifted. Out of respect, yes, but also knowing that we are all in this together if the Torah lifter does not get it just right.

The suspense is especially stronger if we are at the beginning or end of the Torah cycle; when the Torah is scrolled way to the left or the right. For if the hagbah loses their grip or if their strength gives out, to drop a Torah scroll is a grievous mistake. To see the hagbah struggle or even tip slightly under the weight of the Torah elicit responses of gasps and “oh no’s” from the congregants and quick assists from the others on the bimah to steady the scroll from falling. And a feeling of relief and handshakes of “Kol Hakavod” after the Hagbah steps down from the bimah and returns to their seat in the congregation.

So serious of an offense, that on the rare occasion when a Torah scroll does fall to the ground, the offender must fast for 40 days. To reduce the severity of this consequence, oftentimes, a congregation will divide the 40 days to 40 congregants.

This is why so many are hesitant to perform the mitzvah of Hagbah for fear they might drop Judaism’s holiest possession.

Jews take the physical aspects of our holy books very seriously.

If you had an observant Jewish education, you were taught that our prayer books: our Siddurim, our Chumashim, were NEVER to be on the ground.  If you do drop one, as kids often do, it is customary to give the book a kiss, because these books have Gd’s name in it. The same goes for our talit, or prayer shawls with the fringes that represent the Torah’s 613 commandments. None of these things should ever touch the ground out of pure respect.

When Torah scrolls and prayer books are so old and worn they can no longer be used, they, with prayer shawls, are buried in a Jewish cemetery.

In many synagogues, you may see a battered Torah scroll, or a fragment of it. Water stained. Singed. Enclosed in its own glass case or hanging in a frame.

These are known as the Holocaust Torahs, which the Nazis confiscated and kept in barns or stables, to one day be placed in a museum to show off how the Third Reich had thoroughly extermined the Jews from the face of the Earth.

So, when I woke Saturday morning to learn that some ….. thing, some thug, some subhuman walked into the Nessa Synagogue in Beverly Hills and trashed its insides.

And tore our prayer books. And threw our talit on the ground.

prayershawls

And threw and unraveled our precious Torah scrolls to the ground.

trashedtorahscroll

My heart and soul went into a state of mourning.

What the shock must have felt like to those early risers who were first to arrive for Shacharit services that morning.

Did they think they were in Beverly Hills?

Or 1930’s Berlin?

The image of a naked Torah scroll lying on the ground to a Jew is visceral.

Jarring.

What animal would do such a thing? What rhetoric or “free speech” did they hear to spurn on this act of hate?

And now…

So Jews.. what are we going to do about it?

Luckily, Chanukkah is coming.

Chanukkah. No, No, it is not the Jewish Christmas. So for Gd’s sake, stop competing with it like it is.

Just, on your debates on whether we should have a stupid Chanukkah bush or oh how cute Chanukkah Harry is and oh my kids feel so left out during Christmas…. so we make a big deal out of Chanukkah with presents and we get a bush….

For fuck’s sake. Just stop.

Chanukah means: Rededication.

rededication

It marks a time in OUR SHARED Jewish history when, in 164 BCE the greatly outnumbered Maccabees in three years defeated the Assyrian Greeks and liberated Jerusalem and when they got to the Temple on the Temple mount they found it to be completely trashed.

Pig’s blood  and idols everywhere.

The altar smashed.

And they adjusted their energies from defeating their enemy to then rededicate the Temple and thus rededicate the Hellenised Jews in ancient Judea back to a Jewish way of living.

So.

In the aftermath of the Nessah Synagogue desecration, which, even in this year where haters have defaced synagogues, beat up on Jews and most recently, even killed Jews in Jersey City, what Jews need to do now is find some strength. And Light.

Nessah, if I’m reading that correctly, in Hebrew means miracle.

During Chanukkah, we celebrate the miracle. Not about the oil lasting, but that the Jews had the strength to battle on.

We must battle on. Now is not the time to hide or shrink into the darkness.

Take action.

That can mean speaking out against Jewish or anti-Zionist hatred from wherever or whoever is spewing it.

That can mean attending services or make a minyan for someone on mourning.

Or, it can mean celebrate Chanukkah for what it is.

Not a Jewish Christmas.

But a time to rededicate ourselves as Jews to our strong, proud, Jewish path.

Oh There’s No Place Like Homes for Thanksgivingkah

Yes. I know I really botched up the words of that song. But with the odd concurrence of Thanksgiving and the first light of Chanukah falling on the same night, and our first trip back to Rochester since departing for Detroit, my family feels like they are going through some surreal times.

Rochesterians, very well-meaning and sincere, actually said it to me:

“Welcome home!”

“Are you glad to be home?”

The word “home” was not something I expected to hear out of the mouths of my many Rochesterian friends and acquaintances I saw in the weekend leading up to Thanksgiving.

This is a homecoming of a sort. For my kids. Because after I checked off every last detail of what to pack, what to turn off and turn down in our new house. After the kids packed whatever they needed to eat and entertain themselves in the car. After the last seat belt had been clicked and the six-hour trek from Detroit to Rochester lay before us, my children said it:

“We are going home.”

Yes. Rochester is their home. Where they spent the better part of their formative years. It’s where two of three of them took their first steps and all of them lost their first teeth. It’s where their friends live who know them best. Who share some weird private jokes, shared histories,  and their own strange way of talking in a fake accent.

For me, Rochester is not home. New York City is home. Or is it? I haven’t lived in the area for almost 20 years.

I am trying to make Detroit home. But it’s tough to make it home when we leave it for holidays. It’s not a home if  there are no aromas of turkey and stuffing , and this year, the smell of potato latkes frying in a pan, and the sounds of grandparents, siblings and cousins hanging out in the family room. It’s just a house we live in.

Because home is where you go for the holidays. And if the majority of family do not live in your current city of residence, like the way smaller celestial bodies are drawn to larger ones in the universe, the pull is greater the other way. So home we must go.

Still, Rochester feels a lot like home now that we no longer live here. Yesterday, we spent the day in some old familiar places trying to catch up with as many people as possible. We got hugs everywhere. We are missed. And thought of.  I lost track of how many hugs I gave and received. It truly was a homecoming.

But there are places you really cannot return. My youngest wanted to go into his old house. That, we told him, was off limits. He was able to peek into the downstairs family room and said he didn’t like how the new owners painted it blue.

The big kids tried to loiter in  visit their old high school. To them, that was home too. They had it all planned out. They would enter the building in the morning, loaded backpacks slung on backs and blend into the stream of hundreds of other teens before the morning homeroom bell. Either in the library or cafeteria they would study and receive friends, and hugs, during their free periods.

But their old principal, who had known them since their elementary school days, apparently never forgets a face. And, knowing that these two faces had moved to Detroit, he kindly but firmly told them that new high school policy forbids non students to visit during school hours. But he gave them a valiant A for effort.

Sometimes, you really can’t go home.

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