Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
So you could imagine my thoughts when a rabbi recently asked me to chant the first aliyah at a Shabbat Torah service.
As an ISJL Education Fellow, I’m often asked to participate in all aspects of Jewish communal life; because of the nature of our job—serving as traveling Jewish educators throughout the South—my coworkers and I are constantly being asked to do various things, including help lead worship services. In fact, my fellow Fellows often help with Torah services.
But for some reason, even though I’m well into my second year on the job… I had never been asked to do so. That is, until Rabbi Bloom from Fort Worth, Texas, called me to talk about my upcoming visit there.
He asked if I was comfortable reading Torah for the first aliyah, and I immediately said yes. Maybe that’s surprising or impulsive, but really, I was excited for the challenge. (He didn’t know that it was the first time since my Bat Mitzvah!) Being given the honor of reading Torah was important to me, so I decided to give it a go.
As the visit approached, I was practicing my Torah portion all the time. Literally—constant repetition, over and over. It felt like practicing for my Bat Mitzvah again! I was nervous, and I wanted to make sure I did a good job. I learned the Hebrew, learned the trope, and eventually was able to chant it almost perfectly.
I traveled to Fort Worth that Friday. I was so excited because not only was I chanting Torah, but also because this was also a brand-new community joining the ISJL’s education partner communities across the region. I was their first Fellow, this was their first full ISJL visit, and I was going to get up on the bima and chant Torah.
Saturday morning came, and I was called up to read.
And I did it!
It was an amazing feeling to successfully do what I had been practicing, and to read from the scroll for the first time in a decade. People came up to me afterwards and said mazel tov, and I felt great. I finally told others it had been the first time since my Bat Mitzvah, and it was a big deal for me to get up there and do that.
The amount of support I received from not only Rabbi Bloom, but also the entire community in Fort Worth, made me realize how amazing the support of the Jewish community is – and what an impact this fellowship has had on me. I feel such a connection to the southern Jewish community, and the Jewish community as a whole. I felt as if everyone in the room was silently rooting for me, and because of that, I wasn’t nervous. I was prepared and I was excited to get up there and represent myself.
Ten years ago, as a Bat Mitzvah, I wouldn’t have guessed that my next time chanting Torah would be in Fort Worth, Texas… but I’m so glad that’s what wound up happening. In Judaism, we talk a lot about the importance of community. How it’s important to create a kehillah kedohsa, a holy community. Traveling throughout the South, joining different communities every weekend, it can sometimes be hard to completely put yourself into a community. But this weekend in Fort Worth changed that for me. The amount of support I received from this community made me realize that you can truly create a kehillah kedosha anywhere you go.