My father was one of the founding fathers of Beth Sholom. As a young girl, year after year on the High Holy Days, I sat in my seat in our row with my parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins, embraced in the bond of family and cemented in tradition. On Kol Nidre, immersed in the magic atmosphere of the night and the communal bond, I would watch with pride as my father climbed the steps to the bimah with his head held high to hold the Torah. Staring at him swathed in his tallit, I revered the beauty of the Torah, and admired the shining breastplate and crown.
As I matured into young adulthood and then middle age, the essence of Kol Nidre continued to stir my soul; however, feelings of frustration grew as I longed for women to share in these special moments as full participants, not merely as spectators. No doubt I was not the only one. Today I am very grateful to Beth Sholom for becoming more progressive, enabling women to more fully engage with our meaningful and ancient rituals. On this Kol Nidre, almost exactly one year since my father’s passing and weeks after concluding Kaddish, I was given the opportunity to have an active part in the service. I excitedly ascended the bimah and had the powerful experience of holding the Torah during the holiest of days.
Steady and balanced with equal weight on both feet, I wrapped my arms lovingly around the Torah and felt the immeasurable, powerful and spiritual weight of it against my chest. My heart was full as it opened to the beauty of tradition and the potency of change. I felt both humbled and empowered. Memories of my father ran deep and I felt very connected to him, to the past and to the circle of Jewish time and tradition. Touching the Torah also triggered another meaningful connection as I thought about its beautiful script. When I was twenty years old, I learned how to write the Torah Script in calligraphy and this been a significant part of the many Ketubbot and Jewish art pieces I have created over the years.
Standing on the bimah, I breathed deeply and stayed mindful of the sanctity of the service. The overwhelming emotion that comes from the soul-penetrating renditions of Kol Nidre were made even more poignant by my recent loss. As Cantor Moses passionately shared with us the mysterious and magnificent chants and daunting melodies from a very inward place, I was profoundly moved. I humbly stood before the judgment of God. I naturally looked down, gently closing my eyes as I moved inward in stillness. Occasionally, I looked up at the lights wondering if my father was a star in the sky or if his spirit was present with us in the sanctuary.
As I held the Torah, I felt truly honoured with the privilege to be the first woman to break the gender barrier in our synagogue. Standing in my fathers’ place on the bimah, I felt the meaning of l’dor v’dorand was touched deeply by it. I saw myself on a bridge connecting the past with the future. Gratitude flowed through me. Looking outward to the congregation, my eye caught the beautiful faces of my mother and daughter. I gazed lovingly at them and shared warm smiles with each.