by Carol Blatter (Tucson, AZ)
Until I take my last breath, I will always remember seeing for the first time the Hebrew words calligraphed with such care on the parchment of the Torah scroll. The Torah is said to be a tree of life, Etz Chayim, for all who uphold it. That morning, standing in front of the Torah scroll, I found myself clinging to each letter, each word, and feeling lifted up with joy in a way I had never experienced before.
I had an epiphany that these were the same words my ancestors had chanted for thousands of years and which had guided our people through years of prosperity as well as years of persecution and threats to our survival. As I touched these letters and words with the yad, the silver pointer that I held in my hand, I committed myself to serving God with all my heart and with all my soul —forever.
My love of Judaism started a long time ago.
Mom, Dad, I want to fast for Yom Kippur.
They looked startled and worried.
Sweetie, you’re only ten and you are not required to fast, only adults have to.
But I want to.
Mom and Dad hesitated. They really didn’t know what to say.
A few moments of silence.
Ok, Mom said after she got a yes head shake from my dad. You can fast until three P.M. but no later.
Growing up in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn NY, I always knew I was Jewish. But knowing I was Jewish wasn’t the same as observing Jewishly.
I started Hebrew school. I can still see the small blue book with double lines. I can remember making a gimel. I remember dropping out of Hebrew school because of artistic pursuits including acting and dancing lessons several times a week. I couldn’t fit in one more lesson.
Wanting to be more Jewish but dropping out of Hebrew school? How did that make sense? Looking back, it was a mistake. But this mistake was rectified years later.
I began to learn Hebrew at the age of thirty-seven at the same time our daughter was a student at the Hebrew Academy. I thought I would help her with her homework but she didn’t need my help.
Over the years of study, my original motivation changed. I became immersed in the joy of learning Hebrew. I could translate most of the prayers and songs at the Shabbat service. I was no longer a transliterator. I was no longer a spectator. I became a seriously engaged Jew. I am a seriously engaged Jew.
At the age of forty-four, I was called to the Torah for the first time to chant the words written with such care on its parchment.
My rabbi unrolled the Torah scroll to the portion, Re’eh, which means see.
See, be attentive. See, keep learning. See, be a responsible Jew. See, be a viable link to the future of the Jewish people. See, never forget your Jewish roots. See, make the world better.
And after all this time I now see why being Jewish is such a blessing.
Carol Blatter, a recently retired private practice psychotherapist, has contributed writings to Chaleur Press, Story Circle Network Journal, Writing it Real anthologies, 101words.org, Real Women Write, Growing/ Older, and Covenant of the Generations from the Women of Reform Judaism. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother, and her greatest pleasure is listening to her precious, clever granddaughter read and create amazing stories.