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Cantor Jeff Warschauer
TJC Newsletter Article for April 2021

 

Some years ago, I travelled to Boston to celebrate my mother’s 75th birthday. As was part of her normal Shabbat practice at the time, we attended services at Congregation Beth El of the Sudbury Valley, a renowned Reform synagogue. We were all sitting together when suddenly I heard my mom being called for an aliyah – this in itself was a thrilling surprise. But when she picked up the yad and started to read from the Torah, I nearly fell off my seat. She had managed to keep her entire adult Bat Mitzvah a secret. At 75 years old, my mom was called to the Torah, and read from the Torah, for the very first time. I can barely explain how this affected me – tears filled my eyes and joy, astonishment and pride filled my heart. My mother, a refugee from Germany, elementary school teacher and poet, was now also a Bat Mitzvah. Years later, my elder sister also decided to become an adult Bat Mitzvah. For both my mother and my sister, the process of learning Hebrew and trope connected them to Jewish tradition as nothing had before.

One of the most satisfying aspects of my work as a cantor is helping to prepare a Bar or Bat mitzvah. Watching a student go from the first, tentative steps to confident and poised reading and leadership is always a joy. I really love working with, and getting to know, the kids!

But when the Bar or Bat mitzvah is an adult, particularly a woman who is reading from the Torah for the first time, the sense of joy is particularly striking. Although women were and are teachers and leaders at many congregations, for some, being called to the Torah is an important marker of inclusion and honor. As one woman said to me, “Although I appreciate that there are many ways to feel included in Klal Yisrael, for me, learning to read Torah and being called to the Torah on Shabbat has been particularly important, something I’ve been waiting to do my whole life.”

As we end the week of Passover, Shavuot approaches. Shavuot is a holiday that celebrates Torah and the covenant between God and the Children of Israel. According to our tradition, all Jews were present at the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. When I reflect on this, I feel so proud of these inspiring teenage and adult B’nei Mitzvah who can experience such a direct connection to Sinai by being called to, and reading, Torah. In a time when congregation size is shrinking and there is a real concern about the future of synagogue life, these are some of the people who will secure our Jewish future.

Happy April to the entire TJC family! 

Please contact me at cantorjeff@thejewishcenter.org, or (347) 623-4228.

 
Cantor Jeff Warschauer