Saturday, December 17, 2011

Called to the Torah

We were all very Jewish last weekend.

Invited to attend the bar mitzvah of one of our son’s best friends, we got to witness this boy become a “son of the commandments” and take his place in the Jewish community as a man, we experienced the beauty and majesty of ancient traditions.

Not that this was my first time in a synagogue. I’ve been to Shabbat services and bar and bat mitzvahs. But each time I enter a sanctuary, it’s like I’m there for the first time again – speechless, enthralled, absorbed in the pathos of Jewish history. And the music, the chants, the reverence for the Torah scrolls, and the God who holds a special place in His heart for His people. I (who almost never cry) am reduced to tears nearly every time.

We entered the service with quiet timidity, the boys in their yarmulkes, and found our seats in the pew with about 20 other students and parents from our son’s school. Most all of us from the school community are not Jewish and this was an education for many. Despite the very long service, many of the students followed along in the worship manual and the Bibles as the scriptures were read, in both Hebrew and English.

As his friend read and chanted his Torah and Haftarah portions surrounded by supportive clergy and family and enshrouded in his tallit prayer shawl, we marveled at his proficiency in Hebrew and the inflection of the chant melodies.

I’m always amazed at the multigenerational the family involvement; everyone plays a part. Lifting out the Torah scrolls from the ark, carrying the scrolls, holding them open for reading, leading a hymn singing praises, or offering prayers.

The Cantor’s rich baritone carried out into the space guiding our voices in worship. The beautiful melodies and liturgy illustrates the drama through time and how God has done mighty things.

Sometimes it’s hard to get my mind around the history with all its suffering, persevering, and flourishing, and then suffering, persevering and flourishing again. From subtle discriminatory comments to global massacres, our Jewish brothers and sisters have put one foot in front of the other through the Diaspora, the Middle Ages, pogroms in Russia, the Holocaust, even the Protestant South (oops, did I write that or did I just think it?) To know they have practiced many of these faith traditions, whether freely or in secret under cover, for over 4,000 years, boggles my mind.

Exploring the Jewish roots of my faith always expands my worldview. It reminds me that God is moving through time and space, and in this Advent season we are all awaiting a universal Shalom from One who can heal this broken world.


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