Wednesday, October 09, 2002

Chatan Torah

Simchat Torah is now almost two weeks away, but I’m still kvelling. One of the unique aspects of our Southern Jerusalem congregation, Kehillat Yedidya, is the participation of all members of the community. Yedidya has rightly been known as a pioneer in the modern Orthodox world for enabling women to participate more fully in prayer and in reading from the Torah. Now Yedidya is leading the way in offering that same opportunity to another, too often neglected group:

Our kids.

For the past two years, Yitzhak Avigad and Rafi Rottman have been teaching the congregation’s youngest members to read Torah. Three times a year, these little pitzkulahs, some barely six or seven, are called up – boys and girls together – in front of their peers and parents, with a real Torah, to read a parsha or two. They learn together for a couple of months beforehand and, let me tell you, they are really motivated to come to shul.

Now sure, they would be doing this anyway come bar and bat mitzvah time. But there is something intensely gratifying about bringing this honor to those so young.

Maybe it’s the fact that some of these kids are barely tall enough to reach the mini-bima (the table where the Torah rests). Or perhaps it’s the supremely unselfconscious pride beaming from faces that have yet to be affected by the jaded cynicism of early teens. Or maybe it’s this: for those of us who didn’t grow up in an observant community and who still struggle with Hebrew, they are fulfilling our own dreams of integration and citizenship…at a very early age.

This year, Merav and Amir both read not one, but two lengthy parshiot, and Amir was chosen to be the Chatan Torah – the one who finishes up the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) and then leads the kids’ congregation in kiddush. Standing there, draped in my tallit, looking so big and tall, but still the innocent 11-year old boy I know and love, I knew we were in the right place at the right time.

Yes, even today, with everything going on around us, Jerusalem is the right place and this is still the right time. Indeed, it seems like another lifetime (all the way back in March) when, spooked by the constant bombs and the sound of nightly shooting from nearby Gilo, that we seriously considered leaving, at least for a temporary sojourn in pastures less eventful.

But how could we leave Jerusalem and this amazing community that teaches our young kids Torah, that has welcomed us and supported us so well throughout our eight years of absorption in Israel.

And anyway, think of all the money we’ll save on Bar and Bat Mitzvah lessons!

Special thanks again to Yitzhak and Rafi for all that they’ve done over these last years. May their hard work continue to strengthen our children…and their parents.

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