Our Very Best Friends the Torahs
It was my first Shabbat at a new camp – Camp Interlaken JCC – and I was still feeling out how this camp was going to be different from all other camps (a little Passover humor). Future (now current) Rabbi Benjy Bar-Lev started the cheering and chanting. Kids jumped out of their seats. They were bursting with excitement, as Benjy put it, for their VERY BEST FRIEND THE TORAH!
I sat grinning and wide-eyed, thinking to myself that this man is a genius!
Fast forward to a handful of years later. I’m standing in front of an outdoor amphitheater filled with hundreds of campers and staff, or wrangling a “gymagogue” filled with middle schoolers. I announce that it’s time for OUR VERY BEST FRIEND THE TORAH! I get some giggles, and most participants smile at my nickname of the holy scrolls.
I love the Torah. I love the stories, the scrolls, the craftsmanship, the history, and the magic! In my job, many Torah-related opportunities have presented themselves. I wanted to share a few vignettes about how OUR VERY BEST FRIEND THE TORAH has found its way into my #nadiviated life.
- Working to document, catalogue, update, and maintain the sacred scrolls that are in the care of URJ Camp Coleman.
- Embarking on a comprehensive cataloguing and updating of records with the Memorial Scrolls Trust Torahs that are in the care of NFTY-STR and URJ Camp Coleman, including an in-depth foray into the history of how the scrolls came to be in our care, spanning decades of Coleman & Southeastern liberal Jewish history.
- Helping to unroll the scrolls with the Davis Academy community on Simchat Torah, every year (always making sure to wear my Bible Belt & surgical gloves, as in the photo above).
- Checking every b’nai mitzvah student’s Torah reading in preparation for their school reading and ceremony, and preparing the scroll for their milestone ceremonies.
- Teaching Torah regularly, sometimes with the help of a simple prop:
- Student: Morah Sara Beth, is that your kefiyyah?
- Morah SB: Nope, it’s in the wash again. It’s a regular scarf, but I’m using it as a costume. Can you tell who I am today?
- Students: Pharoah! Miriam! Abraham!
- Being called on by students, staff, and campers to immediately identify where in the Torah a museum scroll is opened to. Here are two museum stories from the last 2 weeks:
At the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, PA, they had a scroll rolled open, and the 2nd-year Coleman counselors challenged me, asking where we were in the scroll. I did a little scan and saw that it was open to Exodus 25, Parshat Terumah. This is an excellent parsha to ask for donations, as it discusses each person’s contributions to build the original Tabernacle. I chanted a few lines and explained for a minute about everybody offering what they can to a few staff members.
For the second year in a row, the Davis 6th Graders and I traveled to Whitwell, TN to the Paperclips Museum exhibit at Whitwell Middle School. Linda Hooper, the museum’s founding prinicpal, allowed me to take out their donated scroll, originally from Lithuania, and read to my students. It happened to be open to Leviticus, so I rolled a few columns to Leviticus 16, the traditional Yom Kippur Torah reading. In full practiced trope, I chanted it for our students. I then re-dressed the Torah and put it back to its place in the museum’s ark.
It’s always an adventure with Our Very Best Friends the Torahs.
(Thank you again to Rabbi Bar-Lev for giving me one of my most favorite professional catchphrases!)