Fifth day home:
I woke up this morning at the highly unusual time of 0700 am (but with jet lag, this is the new me—until I stop going to bed at 10 pm) and realized that I have to read three aliyot for minyan which includes a bar mitzvah. My first thought was, where is Jeremy Stein? (Jeremy did most of the Torah reading in UG) Then I started thinking about what I was going to say about the Torah portion. The bar mitzvah is a young man who is part of our special needs program (I prefer extraordinarily talented)—is not extremely vocal and I know will not stay in one place very long. I put together a program with his family for this wonderful day and it will be, as his parents say, “what it will be.” But he will know how special the day is simply by all of the fuss and love coming his way.
Then I thought about the Torah portion (Ki Tissa) and how the word tissa besides its meaning of “taking” also means to carry or to raise. So that in that context everyone of a certain age will “raise up their head” to be counted. Meaning of course that each one of us is important, counts and makes an impact on this world. And each one gives a half shekel—rich and poor alike so that no one is counted as something less than who they are. The bar mitzvah will do that today, and I am so proud of him and his family for stepping forward, raising their heads and saying that yes, he matters and can never be marginalized. Such love is inspiring.
I think that we felt that from the Abayudaya communities. In the face of poverty and conditions that make life more difficult than any of us can imagine, each one seems to stand up and say “count me amongst the Jews of the world.” I think that, (as Jack Chomsky pointed out in a recent article), is one of the things that make their story so inspiring.
Also in this parashah, when the Israelites give the half shekel for the census, the word used is ונתנו (to give) which is a palindrome. When we give, it goes both ways—both the giver and the receiver are benefactors. I am so inspired by how much each one of our participants gave to go on this trip to Uganda and Kenya. Besides the substantially more than half shekel that each one spent, there was the worry of traveling the roads, dealing with immunizations, and so much more—everyone traveled, as we often say about going to Israel when someone asks, as an act of faith--knowing the dangers involved but still doing it to support Am Yisrael, the people of Israel wherever they are.
Oh, and BTW, the bar mitzvah’s brother plays banjo—you guessed it, we are going to play music as people enter the sanctuary. He felt shy about doing it, but after we rehearsed yesterday he is psyched.
Later in the day:
— the bar mitzvah ceremony was among the most beautiful services that I have ever done. The young man was active, and at times his parents had to get on the floor to speak with him (their speech to him was done on the floor). He did say “amen” to several prayers, and most of all—he got it!! Tears and laughter characterized the morning, but most of all a deep sense of knowing that we all matter—we all can stand up and be counted and make a difference in the world. And in stead of a closing hymn, like adon olam, his brother played the banjo beautifully while I played guitar and sang “Lcha Dodi” to “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain When She Comes”
'She' being the Shabbat Queen. Okay so it isn’t Shabbat, but each day is meant to be in preparation for that special day—and today ranks as one of the most special that I have ever experienced.