Saturday, May 29, 2010

With Apologies to the Caterer

By Susan Esther Barnes

A few years ago Rabbi Lezak was trying to convince me to read “A Spiritual Life: A Jewish Feminist Journey” by Merle Feld, and I was trying to tell him I wasn’t interested in reading a feminist book and I certainly wasn’t interested in reading poetry. So he pulled his copy off the bookshelf and read me a no-nonsense poem from it called, “Mazel Tov!” I loved it; I bought the book.

The poem “Mazel Tov!” is the story of Feld at a wedding reception, telling the band leader to play traditional Jewish dance music when the bride and groom come in so the guests can lift the two of them on chairs and dance, a core tradition at Jewish weddings. But the caterer interrupts and says, for a variety of reasons, they can’t dance until after the soup. Feld says they’re going to dance anyway. The last line of the poem is, “And screw the caterer.”

I love the message this poem communicates about what is important. The meal is there to help the guests celebrate with the bride and groom. But nothing is more important than the main event, which is the wedding itself and the traditional dancing with the chairs, without which it just wouldn’t feel like a proper Jewish wedding. The food is secondary.

Still, I feel for the caterer. He or she is trying to make a living, and to some extent has a reputation riding on whether or not the soup is cold or the main course is overcooked. As anyone who has put together a Thanksgiving or Passover dinner can tell you, when serving an elaborate meal, timing is key and an unexpected glitch can throw everything off.

Of course, on this day, the happiness of the bride and groom is paramount. The rabbis even tell us that if a wedding party and a funeral procession arrive at the same intersection at the same time, the funeral procession should pause and allow the wedding party to pass first. I agree with all this, but I still wish the caterer didn’t have to feel screwed.

On Shabbat morning this week there were two girls having their bat mitzvah. Near the front door of the synagogue is a long table. The top of the table opens, and inside are hearing devices, nametags, kippot (or yarmulkes, the skullcap men, in particular, commonly wear in synagogue), and some other items. Before services this particular morning the tabletop was down, because the family of the bar mitzvah girls had provided their own baskets of kippot for the guests.

It was an overflow crowd, so the partition at the back of the sanctuary was open, allowing us to set up extra chairs, extending the congregation into the social hall. Generally when this happens I stand near the back of the extra chairs, handing out prayer books to late arrivals and answering their questions. This allows me to see pretty much everything going on, including the service itself, the congregants, and the activities of the caterer in the social hall, setting up for the lunch that follows the service.

Part way through the service, I saw the caterer and one of her helpers carrying trays with cups of wine for the kiddush toward the front door. I didn’t know why they would take the wine out there, instead of keeping it in the social hall, but I didn’t think much of it at the time.

Moments later, a man who had just arrived asked me if we had a yarmulke he could wear. I replied, “Of course,” and went to get one from the table by the front door. When I got there, I found that on top of the table were four trays, with a sign on one side saying, “wine,” and a sign on the other which read, “grape juice.”

“Oh,” I thought, "the caterer just put these here so guests who aren’t staying for lunch can still get kiddush wine (or juice) on the way out.” The problem was, the baskets of kippot from the bar mitzvah family were empty, and the synagogue’s kippot were all trapped inside the table under the trays of wine and juice. I couldn’t lift up the tabletop even a little bit to reach inside for one without risking everything sliding off the back and spilling all over the floor.

I looked around hopefully, but the other table near the front door was full of other items, including what looked like food covered in foil, so I couldn’t put the wine trays there. Years ago I worked for a restaurant company; I know one of the ten commandments of the food service industry is, “You shall never put food or drinks on the floor.” Just then, in my head I heard Rabbi Lezak’s voice saying, “Screw the caterer,” and I knew the importance of the man being able to wear a kippah outweighed the matter of a temporary displacement of the wine, so I began to move the trays onto the floor.

That’s when the caterer came around the corner. Imagine the look of horror on her face as she saw her carefully poured and artfully arranged trays of wine strewn about the floor where no consumable should ever be. I was so busted.

Immediately I apologized to her, and explained that I needed to get a kippah from inside the table. She said, “It’s a little late, isn’t it?” and I nodded, and mumbled, “Yes, well, he just got here, and he asked for one.” She lifted the last tray of wine from the table for me, and wisely suggested I grab several kippot instead of just one, and put the extras in the empty basket, in case anyone else needed one. I did as she recommended, and helped her return the trays to the table before apologizing again and bringing the kippah to the man who had so innocently asked for it.

This is a caterer who often serves at functions at the synagogue, and I was a little concerned she would be upset with me, but later on she asked me whether it was the first girl still reading from the torah or the second one, in order to help her with the timing of the last lunch items she was preparing. She didn’t seem angry, so I suppose she must have taken it all in stride.

And frankly, although I still love Merle Feld’s poem, this is as it should be. We must do our best to honor what is important about the day, and yet, whenever possible, it is still best to make an attempt not to screw the caterer.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Thinking About Caring for Dead People

By Susan Esther Barnes

This Fall our synagogue is planning to have a group of people learn how to do taharah, the ritual washing of people’s remains after they die. This mitzvah is considered to be one of the most holy, because the people who perform this task know the person on whom they perform it has no way to thank or reward them.

I looked it up online, and found the washing is done in a particular order, from the head, down the right side, and then the left. All sorts of details are spelled out, including what to do if there is any bleeding, the position of the person being washed, and the privacy of the room in which the washing is done.

Just reading about the procedure makes me nervous. It’s something I’d like to be able to do, but I’ve never been in a room with a dead person, and I don’t know how I’d react to it. I suspect that feinting at the feet of the person to be washed would be bad form. Especially since the instructions clearly state there should be no interruptions during the washing.

I’m not sure why I feel so anxious about it. I suppose being in the room with a dead person makes one think about one’s own mortality, but it’s not like I don’t do that on a regular basis. Since I’m severely allergic to fish, I tend to think about how quick and easy it would be to kill me every time someone mentions sushi or I see tuna salad at the deli counter.

There’s something more primal to it than the intellectual contemplation of death. The discomfort must be a deeply ingrained survival mechanism. In a world before disinfectants, refrigeration and antibiotics, I’m sure that being around a dead person was a pretty good way to catch your death of something. People who avoided dead people probably lived longer, and people who didn’t probably got weeded out of the gene pool over time.

I would like to think I could just go into a room with a dead person, take a deep breath, focus on the facts (this person is dead, I’m not, they’re not contagious, therefore there is no danger), and get on with the taharah. I have a terrible track record when trying to predict how I will react in a new situation, so it’s possible I’d be able to do this with no problem, but I doubt it.

Like any irrational fear (I was going to say phobia, but I think that’s a little strong in my case), I suspect these feelings can be overcome by a gradual introduction to the object of the fear. So it seems to me the safer path would be to act first as a shomeret (a guard) for the dead first. A dead person is not to be left alone between death and burial, so a shomeret (or shomer for a male) watches over the dead person, traditionally reading Psalms, but not touching the person. If I can do that without freaking out, then I’d be more confident about my ability to take it to the next level.

To a large extent I want to skip the shomeret part. I don’t like to give into irrational fear, and I don’t want to miss the first class just because I’m afraid of what might or might not happen. Frankly, I’m hoping there will turn out to be a requirement that everyone who doesn’t already have experience being around dead people has to be a shomer or shomeret before they learn taharah. That way I could ease into it without feeling like I’m wimping out.

At any rate, although I believe when someone’s dead they’re gone (I hope to whatever comes next), and I don’t think they hang around their dead body, I’m still enamored with the idea that we treat the dead with respect by guarding the remains and carefully preparing them for burial even though we don’t believe in open casket funerals. And I like the idea that it’s close family members, not a stranger, who throws the first handfuls of dirt on the coffin after it’s lowered into the grave. I don’t know why this is important to me, but it is, and I hope I’ll be able to keep myself together enough when the time comes to be able to participate in the tradition.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Not a Rabbi

By Susan Esther Barnes

On Friday before services a very nice man suggested I might want to consider becoming a rabbi. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but “I could see you as a rabbi” was in there somewhere.

I can’t say the thought has never crossed my mind. About 15 years ago I looked into it briefly, and even started to write an essay for my application to rabbinic school. When I told my rabbi at the time what I was thinking, he discouraged me, and, thinking back on it, he was probably right.

For one thing, at that time I was married to a man who was already concerned that I might become “too Jewish.” Also, there was a lot of personal growth I’ve gone through over the last ten years, without which I suspect I might have been a pretty bad rabbi.

So why not become a rabbi now? First, there are the logistical issues, such as the enormous cost of five years of school and the unacceptable strain on my marriage of a year studying in Israel, not to mention the remaining four in Los Angeles or New York or Ohio. All of which would be hard to justify considering I’m much more interested in learning all the stuff a person needs to learn in order to become a rabbi than I am in working as one. Most importantly, as I told the man who brought up the subject Friday night, right now I don’t feel I’m being called to the rabbinate.

Still, last night, lying in bed, I started to wonder what it would be like to go to rabbinic school, and what I might do if I were ordained. Then I fell asleep, and had the following dream:

I was standing at a ticket booth, trying to buy passage to my intended destination. The woman behind the counter said she couldn’t sell me the ticket right then, but I should give her my cell phone number and she would call me when it was time for me to get my ticket.

There was a bit of a language barrier, and the woman seemed unable to explain why I couldn’t buy the ticket right then. It seemed like she didn’t understand why I would want her to explain; I should just take her word for it and do as she requested. I tried to tell her I had everything I need to buy the ticket right then, but she insisted I needed to wait for the call.

During this conversation the man behind me in line grabbed my arm, and then spun me around, telling me to do what the woman said. When I told him, “Don’t touch me!” he became angry and threatening.

So there I was, standing between two aspects of God: the one who tries to direct us onto the right path even when it is contrary to our will and even if we don’t (or, perhaps, in that place and time are not meant to) understand why we ought to go that way; and the angry aspect who gets ticked off when we try to insist on doing what we want instead of having the faith to follow the good advice we’re being given.

Was the dream a message from God, telling me not to pursue the rabbinate unless and until God sends me a calling to do so, or was it just a subconscious rationalization to excuse myself from looking into it? Since I believe in following my instincts and doing what feels right, it doesn’t really matter what caused the dream. Right now, I’m content to wait for the call. And if it never comes, that’s fine with me. My life is pretty darn good just the way it is.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Studying Lashon Hara

By Susan Esther Barnes

Last night we observed Shavuot, the holiday during which the Jewish people celebrate the giving and receiving of the Torah. I have read a number of posts online lately about how this holiday is generally not observed by Jews in America, so I was pleased to see a good number of people at the synagogue last night. The tradition is to study all night, but I’m afraid I didn’t even come close to making it that far.

At any rate, there were several different study sessions throughout the evening (punctuated by breaks for ice cream and cheesecake since traditionally we eat dairy products on this holiday), and I was lucky enough to attend a conversation with Rabbi Chai Levy on lashon hara.

Literally, lashon hara means “evil tongue,” and is generally described as gossip, libel, slander, lying, etc. This sort of thing is a big deal for Jews. It is said that God created the world and the things in it by using speech, as in, “God said let there be light and there was light,” and that the world and the things in it can be destroyed using speech as well. So what we do or don’t say can have serious consequences.

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan wrote a book, published in 1873, on the subject, called “Chafetz Chayim,” or “Seeker/Desirer of Life,” which Rabbi Levy used as a reference for the discussion. The rules regarding lashon hara in this book are detailed, and cover many different situations.

The group last night was quite engaged in the discussion, which covered subjects such as how to respond if someone asks for a job reference about someone else but you don’t feel you can honestly give a positive recommendation, what action to take if you see someone doing something wrong (and how to go about doing it in a constructive way), and what to do if a friend is considering marrying a man and you have heard bad things about him (such as that he is violent) but you don’t know whether the things you heard are true.

Some of it may seem like common sense, but some of it involves trying to strike a delicate balance between protecting the interests and/or safety of an employer or a friend vs. not wanting to say unkind or possibly untrue things about someone else.

Part of what I enjoyed about the discussion was the desire of the people in the room to engage earnestly in the conversation. There is so much lashon hara in the public arena today, with political attack ads, celebrity gossip, and the like. Without discussions like this one, it might be easy to forget that the majority of people truly care about the feelings of the people around them, and want to do the right thing.

We are lucky to be the recipients of a book and a heritage we can refer to when questions about permissible speech arise.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Shabbat Angels

By Susan Esther Barnes

Rabbi Yosé bar-Yehudah says: on Erev Shabbat two angels accompany a person home from the synagogue: one is good and the other is bad. If he arrives home and finds candles burning, the table laid and the couch arranged [around the table] the good angel says "May it be this way next Shabbat too," and the bad angel has to respond "Amen." But if the opposite is the case it is the bad angel who says "May it be this way next Shabbat too," and the good angel has to respond "Amen."
-The Talmud

On Friday evening – Erev Shabbat – I drive straight from work to the synagogue, where I arrive about 45 minutes before services start. One of the first things I do is go into the kitchen to pick up my challah, which I put in my car.

I then turn my attention to greeting. On any evening I may help set out the food and wine, or help someone with a walker or wheelchair to find a seat, or introduce a visitor to some people so they don’t have to stand around by themselves.

Once services start, I’m usually either greeting people who are arriving late, or setting out more chairs if the sanctuary is full, or passing out bags of crayons and coloring books to the parents of small children. It’s hard to say what I’ll be doing, but I know what I won’t be doing is thinking about my work week, or the economy, or the latest celebrity gossip.

Usually by the time we get to the Amidah everyone is pretty much settled, and I have a chance to participate in the prayers. I try to keep an eye out, though, in case anyone comes in late and needs a prayer book, or in the event someone needs one of the boxes of tissues we try to keep handy.

By the time we’re ready for the Mourner’s Kaddish I’m up again, heading over to childcare to bring the kids back to the sanctuary for Kiddush. Then I head over to the doors so I can open them at the end of services and say goodbye and Shabbat shalom to people as they leave.

Every night is different. Some nights, I feel like all I’m doing before and after the praying is socializing. But sometimes I can see by the look in someone’s eye that I have helped them, and they appreciate it. More than that, I know what I’m doing makes a difference because at seemingly random moments someone I barely know will smile and rub my back or my arm, or, as on one occasion, will wordlessly lean over and kiss me on the cheek on the way out the door.

Once most of the people have left, I put my Shabbat Greeter badge back in its basket, and drive home, feeling relaxed and glowing. In the still of the Shabbat night, I kiss my mezuzah and I enter my home. As I look at my dark, empty table and put away my intact challah, an angel says, “May it be this way next Shabbat too.” And sometimes I smile and wonder: Which angel is speaking?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Reform Jew Discussed on an Orthodox Blog Reflects

By Susan Esther Barnes

On Thursday last week I was browsing a few blog posts I came across on JRants, and I chose to make a comment on a post on an Orthodox Jewish blog that said some things about Reform Judaism about which I disagreed. The author responded, I made a clarification and an additional comment, and suddenly things took a turn for the surreal when he declared me to be “an amazing human being” and stated his intention to write a post inspired by me.

True to his word, the next day he published a post titled, “Susan.” I have to say, I was a little apprehensive about reading the post. In our prejudice, we in the Reform community sometimes expect contempt from the Orthodox, but this was not the case. The post and the many comments after it were all gracious and respectful.

It starts, “From tragedy there is sometimes greatness. The tragedy is intermarriage. The greatness is that it produced a person like Susan.”

At first, I was flattered. After only a brief online exchange, he had concluded that I am amazing and great. Pretty cool. It wasn’t until that evening that I realized what a backhanded compliment it was. After all, in these same three sentences he did manage to say that the marriage of my father to my mother was a tragedy. It eventually occurred to me that one might take this as an insult.

I realized this potential insult had no emotional impact on me not only because the blog’s author clearly didn’t intend to insult me, but because his assertion that intermarriage is a tragedy is one I automatically dismiss as simply a difference of opinion. If I were to list the largest tragedies to befall the Jewish people over the last 100 years, intermarriage would not even be in the running.

I suspect part of this comes from our different experiences of intermarriage. If an Orthodox Jew marries a non-Jew, it is a tragedy. It becomes a tragedy because the Orthodox Jew is shunned by his or her community. If the Jew who intermarries is a man, his daughter is not considered to be Jewish, even if, as the author states in his blog, she goes to synagogue every week. Thus, the number of Jews is diminished and sincere people who want to be part of the Jewish community are rejected.

On the other hand, if a Reform Jew intermarries, he or she may remain part of the Jewish community, and his or her children, if raised as Jews, are also considered to be Jews. Thus, there is no tragedy.

The author assumes on his blog that the reason Reform Jews decided to welcome as Jewish children of patrilinial descent was “to stop the hemorrhaging.” It does not seem to occur to him that it was done out of compassion, out of righteousness, out of the recognition that it is wrong to cast someone out because they fell in love with the “wrong” person or through an accident of birth.

There is an assumption among the Orthodox that any Jew who marries outside the faith is lost to Judaism. In my experience, the opposite is true. We have many committed Jewish families in which one parent is Jewish and their children are Jewish. I even know several couples in which the non-Jewish spouse eventually converted to Judaism. It is a blessing, not a tragedy.

I then came to suspect that the author’s expression of admiration toward me, and his invitation to me to explore Orthodoxy, were not actually flattering at all. What he seems to appreciate about me is my sincerity about Judaism and my desire to follow mitzvot (commandments). I suspect he is inspired by me because he thinks that, surrounded by the secular and the uncommitted, I have somehow found a desire to be serious and to commit.

So here is the thing I suspect some Orthodox Jews may find hard to believe, but it is true. Reform Judaism is not “Judaism Lite.” Yes, there are many unaffiliated secular Jews. I would suggest they are unaffiliated, not Reform. There are also many affiliated Jews who would not call themselves religious, and who only go to synagogue on Yom Kippur. There are Jews who intermarry. Reform Judaism holds the door open to all of these people, and encourages them to find a deeper spiritual path.

But among the backbone of the Reform Jewish community, I am neither the most committed nor am I unique. Reform Judaism provides a deep, meaningful Jewish experience, including meaningful prayer, serious study, and the observance of mitzvot. Without this, there would not be enough money to support the many Reform congregations in this country. Without this, nobody in their right mind would want to become a member of the Reform clergy.

In his blog, the author suggests I convert to Orthodoxy so I can be acknowledged as Jewish by all Jews, rather than just a subset of Jews. He correctly surmises that I would like to be recognized as Jewish by everyone.

What he does not seem to realize is that recognition as a Jew is not what motivates me. What has motivated me, ever since I first heard the word “God” as a child, is the desire to have a close relationship with God. As a Reform Jew, I have exactly that. As an Orthodox Jew I would not, because the Orthodox hold several important beliefs with which I strongly disagree. As an Orthodox Jew I would need to do things I believe to be morally wrong, and as such I would be distancing myself from God.

So the Orthodox follow one set of rules, and the Reform Jews follow another. Who is right? It reminds me of a story about the House of Shammai and the House of Hillel, two Jewish houses of learning which often disagreed with each other on points of law. In this story, they appeal to Heaven to tell them which one is right. The answer is that the House of Shammai is right and the House of Hillel is also right.

How can this be? I suggest that the path is not the same for everyone. If Orthodoxy brings you closer to God, it is right for you. If Orthodoxy doesn’t work for you but Reform Judaism brings you closer to God, then that is where you should be. If you’re not religious or some other religion works for you, go for it. None of us holds ultimate truth in our pocket. The best we can do is to sincerely explore what we believe to be right, and to courageously follow our convictions.

As we sang on Shabbat evening after services at a gathering in a congregant’s home as I was pondering all this,

Kol ha-olam kulo gesher tzar m’od
V’ha-ikkar lo l’faheid k’lal

The whole world is a narrow bridge
And the essential thing is not to fear at all

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Choosing Something Holy

By Susan Esther Barnes

This summer I am planning to go on a trip to Israel with some families from my synagogue, lead by one of our rabbis. Last month those of us scheduled to go on the trip received a letter from the rabbi inviting us to a get-together in one participant family’s home later this month. The letter says, in part, “Please have each member of your family bring one item and/or story that they consider holy/treasure. We will think about all of the gifts that we have received and think about how Jerusalem will help us appreciate our blessings on a much deeper level.”

The most holy thing I have is probably my ketubah (Jewish wedding contract), but it was big to begin with, and then we put it into an even bigger frame so we could hang it over our fireplace. Taking that along just doesn’t seem practical.

The next thing I thought of that I treasure is a bust of a tiger my husband drew and gave to me back in the early 80’s. It is amazingly lifelike, and it’s fascinating because it is drawn entirely with tiny dots of ink and no lines. The skill and patience that went into making it are enormous. I can’t bring myself to take it along, though. I brought my ceramic mezuzah to a show-and-tell event like this once, and on my way home I dropped it and it shattered. If anything happened to my tiger because of my negligence I would be very upset with myself.

I then turned to the “story” suggestion in the letter, and printed out Portia Nelson’s poem, “Life in Five Short Chapters,” thinking I would read that to the group. I first saw this poem, about repeatedly falling into a hole and trying to get out, at a time when I was doing exactly that. It meant a lot to me then, and I still appreciate it, even though I am way past that particular hole in my life and I’m not going back. Still, it seems more indicative of my past than my present or my future.

Although I’m still not sure what I will bring with me to this event, if it were happening today, most likely I would use it as an opportunity to show the group my toes. Not that my toes are particularly holy, but they are something I treasure. The second and third toes on each of my feet are connected about half way up. They are not webbed; it just looks like one wide toe at the base that suddenly turns into two “normal” toes about half way toward the tip.

So why do I treasure them? I often say nobody really knows me until they have seen my toes. I attribute three things about my outlook in life to them. First, I have never seen anyone else with toes like mine. Even as a child, I knew my toes were different than everyone else’s. Thus, even my oldest memories contain the knowledge that I am different than everyone else.

Second, it was quite clear to me even as a child that my unique toes are not particularly ugly or particularly attractive. They do not hinder me in any way, nor do they help me in any unique way. They are just different. Thus, I discovered early in my life that differences between people do not necessarily carry any positive or negative value. People can be, and are, very different from each other in ways that do not make them better than, or worse than, anyone else. I have never been tolerant of the idea that physical differences are anything beyond simply physical differences.

Third, because my toes spend most of their time covered with socks and shoes, as I got older I came to realize that people can be different from each other in ways that are not readily apparent to others. We make assumptions that the people around us are like us, and in many ways that is true, but in other ways it is not. We all know things about ourselves that most of the people around us don’t know. We all carry secrets. Thus, I finally realized that not only am I different from anyone else, everyone is different from everyone else. My job is to be open to seeing and appreciating those differences.

Maybe I need to think of something else to bring, though. What if everyone else brings their toes too?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Binder

Enough time has passed since I wrote the following piece that I'm certain nobody can figure out who the boy in the story is. Extra credit question: To what, or whom, does the title refer?

By Susan Esther Barnes

There was a period of time last year when I repeatedly asked God, “What do you want me to do?” and the answer I kept getting was, “Pay attention.” I kept trying to pay attention, but it seemed God might never give me the answer to my question. It took a while, but eventually it dawned on me that God wasn’t saying, “If you pay attention, I will tell you what I want you to do.” Rather, God was saying, “What I want you to do is to pay attention.”

Yesterday morning I was greeting people at the synagogue entrance when Rabbi Lezak asked if I was planning to stay for services. I told him I was, and he said, “There are a lot of boys here today. They are very excited…” I responded, “Maybe I should sit behind them, and if they make trouble, I should smack them on the back of the head?” He just smiled and walked into the sanctuary.

Often, when a lot of kids come for a Bar Mitzvah, they sit toward the back of the sanctuary. For some reason, these kids chose to sit in the front, to one side. Consequently, I couldn’t sit behind them, but I was able to find a chair beside them, in a place where I wouldn’t normally sit.

When I looked for a prayer book, I noticed a thin binder sitting in the seat back in front of me. Sometimes classes or meetings are held in the sanctuary, so I assumed the binder contained notes someone had left there earlier in the week. But something about the binder was bugging me, so I picked it up and turned it over. On the front was a label with someone’s name, and some doodles. I thought, “Yes, I was right, it’s some kid’s class notes,” and I put the binder back.

Then, I suddenly thought, “That name sounds vaguely familiar…Is it the name of the kid having the Bar Mitzvah right now?” A part of my mind told me, “Stop with the binder already. You’re supposed to be praying,” but I just couldn’t let the thought go. I gave into my compulsion and picked up the binder again. This time I opened it. Inside I found some handwritten pages, and in the pocket on the left was a typewritten sheet headed by the word, “Drash.”

“Okay,” I thought, this is the Bar Mitzvah boy’s binder, but maybe this is just an extra copy of his Drash.” I thought about waiting to see whether he needed the binder, and running up with it if he did, but as I pictured him standing there and starting to panic if he thought it was lost, waiting didn’t seem like the best option. By this point, the Bar Mitzvah boy was starting to walk the Torah through the congregation, so I took the opportunity to take the binder up to the front of the sanctuary, where I handed it to Rabbi Lezak, saying, “In case he needs this.”

When the Bar Mitzvah boy returned to the bimah, he set down the Torah, looked around, and then turned to his parents, making a gesture that looked like he was holding up a binder. Just as he was starting to look concerned, Rabbi Lezak handed him the binder. He looked relieved, opened the binder, took out his Drash, and began to read.

Maybe the boy won’t remember this small event, since everything turned out fine. But maybe, somewhere in his subconscious, there is the thought, “On one of the most important days of my life, when for a moment it looked like everything was about to go horribly wrong, the rabbi stepped in and saved the day.” Down the road, where might a thought like that lead? God only knows.