If you were cast away on an island with just one Jewish text for company, which would you choose?
This week, Rabbi Lisa Barrett of Hendon Reform Synagogue selects the Torah
The air hummed with anticipation and excitement. The two barmitzvah boys muttered under their breath, pacing in the corners of the room, going over their parts a last, nervous time. When the moment arrived, there was more than a tear or two from the congregation: both Mark and Ilya did themselves, their families and their community proud.
All the preparation had been worthwhile, and this would indeed prove a day to remember for the rest of their lives. But this was no ordinary barmitzvah ceremony.
Mark and Ilya are members of Hatikvah, the Progressive community in Bobruisk, Belarus. Their cheder has no Hebrew books, and so they had learned the Torah blessings and their verses from the Sedra by heart. They had learned their verses so well that, as I followed in the Sefer Torah, it was almost as if they were reading from the scroll themselves.
As Mark and Ilya recited from Parashat Vayeshev, delivered in a heavy Russian accent, the power of these words reverberated in the heart and soul of every individual present.
What a miracle. Surviving 3,000 years of transmission, through exile and through Golden Ages of flourishing and development; more recently in Belarus, through the devastation of the Shoah followed by Soviet oppression, the words of Torah continue to connect us to our Jewish heritage and to the Jewish people through time and space. So, when I am stranded on my desert island, I would like a copy of the Torah, please.Not just to study, but to connect me to Mark and Ilya, to all Jews returning to Jewish life, and to the power of words at the beating heart of Jewish peoplehood.