This past weekend we had two celebrations of bat mitzvah at my small shul: one at Shabbat morning services, and one at a mincha/maariv/havdalah service. At both services, many of those in the kahal were not Jewish and had never been to a synagogue before. It was a long day for me, and a tiring one both physically and spiritually, but it was also a wonderful day.
I love inviting up anyone who has never seen the inside of a Torah scroll, and asking them how this differs from the books they usually read (it's in Hebrew; it's a scroll; it's handwritten; it's on parchment; oh, and by the way, there are no vowels in this text) before the b'nei mitzvah kid reads from the Torah. I love seeing the parents and grandparents of our b'nei mitzvah kids beaming. Most of all, I love seeing our young people shine.
As it happened, this particular weekend I received some very gratifying feedback. People came up to me after services and told me that the service felt welcoming, that they understood what was going on, that they felt included, that they felt at home. It made me really happy. The desire to help people gain access to some of the beauty of Judaism is one of the reasons I became a rabbi.
Maybe the most powerful response came from a relative of one of the b'nei mitzvah, an older woman who lives in Israel. I could see during the service that she was following me into the prayers -- I saw her nodding, smiling, looking surprised. She came up to me afterwards and said: I have never seen anything like this before. The energy, the warmth, the joy, the understanding of what the prayers really mean. This is extraordinary.
I told her that her words meant the world to me, and that I would pass them up the chain to my teachers, because it is thanks to my teachers that I am able to do what I am able to do. I am able to open the doors of Jewish tradition and share its sweetness because of those who trained me.
Thank you to everyone with whom I studied during my years as an ALEPH student. Thank you to the teachers at DLTI; thank you to the ALEPH va'ad; thank you to my mentors, both long-distance and (formerly) local. When I am able to lead services in a way that connects people with Jewish tradition, with Torah, with community, and with God, it is because of you.
There is a prayer traditionally recited after the completion of learning. It's called the kaddish d'rabanan: the "kaddish of the rabbis" or "kaddish of the teachers." In the contemporary vernacular version written by Debbie Friedman (may her memory be a blessing), the prayer says:
For my teachers
and my students
and for the students of my students
I ask for peace and lovingkindness
And let us say, amen.
And for those who study Torah
here and everywhere:
May they be blessed with all they need
and let us say, amen.
May there be peace and lovingkindness
and let us say, amen!
I offer this prayer now, in honor of my teachers, with all the gratitude of my heart.