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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

And it Was Very Good

Two days ago was Simchat Torah, the day that the torah scrolls are completed and begun anew. Each year on this day, Moshe Rabeinu dies on the top of the mountain, but then the story begins again and we have yet to even meet him. Year after year the story begins again and each year there are new ideas to explore. We meet the same characters, good and bad.

Last year I wrote a lot about these people, this holy book. It was a gift to me; truly a gift.

On Wednesday, during the Simchat Torah service, I was honored to receive the first Aliyah of the year which is called Kallat Breisheet, or the bride of the torah. It was an event that I will always remember so I want to share the experience here.

For years I have been part of orthodox synagogues, wonderful communities with abundant spirit and a love of Judaism. With all of the beauty that comes with these communities, being able to participate actively in the service was something that I longed for. Somehow during the pandemic I was led (was it meant to be?)/ended up attending a conservative minyan at KI in Brookline and at that minyan through kismet or because I was given a chance, I developed a voice. Perhaps that voice was always there and for sure it has been used in a number of different ways, but at this new minyan, being able to lead services is always an option which is open to me, a woman. It was something that I had hesitated to do for years. Maybe I was lazy, maybe I did not have the confidence, but no matter; not having that opportunity for so long makes the experience much sweeter. It is certainly not something that I take for granted.

A week ago Rabbi Hamilton of Kehillath Israel called me and asked if I would accept the honor of the first Aliyah to the Torah for the first Parsha of the year, Parshat Breisheet. Over the years this is a part of the service that I have loved. I have watched men receiving the honor of Chatan Torah and Chatan Breisheet, but never....never, never, never would I have expected it to go to me. I accepted this kind and unexpected honor and actually went in person with my husband to the synagogue that I have attended online for the past year and a half. I walked into a sanctuary that I only see on a screen and when the time came I was escorted with song under the protection of a chuppah to have an Aliyah to the torah.

I have rarely, if ever accepted Aliyot over the years that I have been married. This was not due to the fact that I went to an orthodox synagogue. It was not due to someone telling me that I could not have an aliyah. It was me telling myself that I could not. It was me who didn't think out of the box of how to take the steps up to the Amud to have an aliyah. It was not Judaism that did this to me. It was me who did this to me. I am blessed to live in a place where there are multiple opportunities to lead services, to have an aliyah to the torah, but I never availed myself to these possibilities. I was stuck in a place and didn't have the drive to unstick myself. It was that phone call that was a wake-up call to me. I can do this. I will do this.

During those few moments I felt proud of my names and maybe I even my voice. I stood a little taller, enough to break a ceiling that I had created long ago. Lots of people had built that ceiling, but it had to be me who broke it. I stood and was humbled at this honor. I stood and thought of how my father would have been proud. When I was called to the torah and I announced myself as Leah Channah bat Betzalel and Hadara, a name that I don't use much, I felt myself knit into my father's fringes that I had held in my fingers during Yom Kippurs of the past. I felt proud of my Hebrew names, which I carry proudly as they are the names of my grandmother and aunt, who were killed during the Shoah. For those few moments, standing by the beginning verses of Genesis, I stood a little taller, enough to break a ceiling that I had created long ago. And it was very good.

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