After the spiritual helicopter, I got myself back together just in time to notice that the Torah reading was going to be split up among several people – people chanting the Hebrew, and then people reading the English translation. I also noticed that there were different siddurim in the sanctuary than our usual weekly siddurim – older, and not nearly as much transliteration available. I stumbled through the Hebrew after the second person started chanting – much faster than I was ready for.
But the interesting thing is that the rabbi called for aliyah in a way that I don’t know if anyone expected. He said “if you have helped the hungry this past year, in any way at all – from working in a food bank or at a food kitchen to helping someone hungry eat in some other way, please rise.”
So I did, because I have. When I see a homeless person asking for money, I try to help them get at least enough food for a meal. It’s a thing I’ve always done. Then he had everyone standing – including me – chant the blessing on the Torah. In response to the rabbi’s call: Barchu et Adonai ham’vorach, we then all sang:
Baruch atah Adonai hamvorach le’olam va’ed. Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melech ha-olam, asher bachar banu mikol ha-amim, v’natan lanu et Torato. Baruch atah Adonai, notein ha-Torah.
Then the chanter read the first part of the parshah – the story of Abraham and Isaac and the burnt offering that wasn’t – and then an English translator read it in English. And then those of us who had been called to aliyah were asked to stand again and chant the closing blessing on the Torah:
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melech ha-olam, asher natan lanu Torat emet, v’chayei olam nata b’tocheinu. Baruch atah Adonai, notein ha-Torah.
Then we sat down.
The rabbi called four more groups to aliyah: those who had sat with the dying in the past year, those who were military or law enforcement, those who were doctors and healthcare workers, and those who were therapists and counselors. All of the groups got to say both the opening and closing blessings on the Torah.
The rabbinical student gave the sermon. It was a profound sermon, about how we are reminded that death is something we may have to deal with any moment, and how Jewish tradition makes us face death and the reality of our mortality on a regular basis. Then she followed up with how tzedakah, teshuvah and tefillah are what we should practice to make that knowledge less frightening. I complimented her afterwards – she’s going to make a great rabbi.
Then there were more prayers and songs, the Torah scrolls were carried around so we could all kiss our siddur or our tzitzit and then touch them to the Torah – that was profound – and then more prayers, the redressing of the Torah, the opening of the Ark (that part happened several times during the service, but this one was to put the scrolls away) and a closing song. I had been there for about an hour and twenty minutes because of misreading the time on my ticket, but I was glad to be there. I had several chats with people after, including the young choir member I’d met the night before.
On the whole, it was a good Rosh Hashanah at temple. I made a great dinner when I got home, too.
But the rough part of the High Holy Days is still to come. Yom Kippur is going to be a marathon; today was more like a gentle jog. I hope I am able to see it through the way I want to.