Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What Even an Am Haaretz in Israel Knows

To celebrate the dedication of a new sefer torah yesterday, we marched through the streets of Jerusalem from the house of the donating couple to the synagogue.

We were a wild group of people of different sexes, ideologies, religiosity - haredi, mesorati, dati, ashkenaz, sepharad - politics, and so on, playing music and thronging and dancing around four people holding a homemade colorful canopy over one person carrying the torah.

As we walked, people stuck their heads out of windows, cars slowed or stopped to watch, and people on the street clapped their hands.

One guy driving a sports car pulled over to the curb with screeching tires. He jumped out of the car and ran over to the torah, trying without success to pull the back of his shirt up over his bald, kippah-less head. He leaned over and kissed the torah, shouting a blessing to all of us over the noise of the guitars, flutes, singing, and dancing. Then he got back into his car and drove away.

A secular taxi driver had to wait as we crossed the road. When I passed him, he stuck out his hand and I shook it, and he gave a small blessing to our shul. He, and all the other cars waited patiently, with smiles on their faces as we gamboled past.

At shul, everyone had the opportunity to "help write" the torah, by giving a donation, picking an honor or memory to which to dedicate, and sitting next to the scribe as he filled in the last letters.

The ink of a torah doesn't soak into the parchment but rests on it. It is erasable; only the torah in our hearts is inscribed with permanent ink.

Don't believe me? Ask the guy in the sports car.

In Hungary, the great Dohany synagogue has 24 torah scrolls in its behemoth of an ark. The service is carried out like a church. Most of the congregation can't read the Hebrew siddurim they're not holding. The organ plays over a taped choir while the hazan recites L'cha Dodi to a tune from three centuries ago.

Here in Israel, our little Carlebach shul now has its first permanent torah.




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