Today, at our congregational "service in the round" I had an Aliyah, i.e, I read from the Torah before the congregation. I'ne spent about the past three weeks rehearsing for this, learning how to read trope markings, using a .wav file I ripped from a tape our cantor made for me. After I learned the first couple of verses from the tape the trope marks began to make sense to me and I could read them on the fly. Trope, in this case, means the little snippet of melody with which one chants a given word. By the time I got to the synagogue this morning, I knew my verses cold, and felt confident and eager. I made this aliyah in honor of what I guess must be the 15th anniversary of my father's death (yahrzeit, in yiddish).
It went well. It was not a big deal, and that was something that I appreciated. When I was done most of the people present took the time to comment on how well I had done. I was pleased by this because I spent some time working on delivery and performance. I wanted to be able to deliver my chant from my diaphragm, to fill the room with a confident voice, rather than the stage fright-induced waver that so often attends these things. I delivered, my voice only mildly restrained by having to bend over a slightly too-low table while I read. Most gratifying were the words of praise from Rabbi Glaser, the member of the clergy I hold in the highest regard, during kiddush.
This is one of the great joys of being an adult - the ability to have an Aliyah and not have it be a big, anxiety loded deal, like my bar-mitzvah was.
"Getting Bar Mitzvahed" is a bit of a strange thing. Or at least it was for me. I barely remember the event itself, but I understand it went well. But the runup itself was a trauma. No discussion of how the trope system worked (I learned more about the trope system from about 20 minutes of an overheard hebrew school class at the beginning of this year that rabbi Wildstein was teaching than I ever learned in my own Jewish training). Instead I was sent to our synagogue's Bar-Mitzvah trainer who handed me a tape, a few pages of tikkun , and had me back every week to drill me, harangue me, and give me the general impression that if I screwed the smallest vowel point up, God himself would appear before the congregation to call me a fool while the Angels wept for me. All this from a man with a perennial booger hanging half out of his left nostril - a source of disturbing distraction for a 12 year old.
In many ways, over the past four years or so, I have been reclaiming my Judaism, rehabilitating it from the small, weird traumas of growing up Jewish in a decidedly neurotic family (My mother treated the Dars of Awe almost like lent, giving up Bacon, which if she were making more than a pretense of observation, she should not have even been eating in the first place). I have been doing this within the reformed movement, whose values better reflect my own than do the conservative or orthodox. And today, I feel particularly triumphant, because I have performed that most quintessentially Jewish act, reading the Torah, because I chose to and having studied for it in a way that involved no duress, harangues, or boogers, but was rather intellectually rewarding in its own right.
So today, I feel quite happy, and very much like I have taken ownership of a faith that I, at first, and thrust upon me, and then avoided. Living that faith is going to be a worthy challenge, but one I must undertake, as the life I have right now is not filling anything I would describe as a compelling need in the world, and I need to consider how to go about answering a call that came to me 2 1/2 years ago in a northwoods lake. Things seem to be clicking in the right direction though. In a couple of weeks there is a seminar being offered by some of our local clergy on life in the rabbinate, I will go, filled with questions.