The 20th October 2011 is a special day in my life. It is the day I was Chatan Tora. The last day of the Jewish festival of Succot or the Feast of Tabernacles is Simchat Tora. This is when Jews conclude the Torah (the 5 books of Mosses ) as part of the yearly cycle of its reading and start again from Bereishit (Genesis). The person who is called up to the Torah for its conclusion is referred as the Chatan Torah, and the person who is called up for the reading of the beginning is dubbed Chatan Bereishit.
It’s a great honour given by the community to be the Chatan Tora and it was even more special as my wife was asked to be Chatan Bereshet. This honour is a way that congregations recognises the work that lay leaders carry out in the community. Something we have been proud to do for our Reform Jewish community in South Manchester.
Like all honours it is a nerve racking affair. You not only have to learn the portion which is complicated by the fact that it is in Hebrew and you have to read from the scroll which has no vowels. You also have to stand in front of the congregation of over 130 people. People you see every week, I have not read from the scroll since my Barmitsva almost 40 years ago and was wondering if I could do this.
The day came and I stood up and went to the Bimah or platform in the synagogue from which the Torah is read. I had practised the 12 verses many times before but this was the moment when it mattered. My heart was pounding and the palms of my hands were sweaty. I read the introduction blessings and then went straight into the portion. Had the practise been good enough? I looked straight at the scroll and tried to ignore the congregation. I started and decided I would just go for it. My loud booming voice shouting out the words across the congregation. There was one small falter but I am fairly certain no one noticed. Then all of a sudden it was over. I had done it. I had done something I had not done for almost 40 years. It seemed to go well and no one had corrected me. I did the end prayers and then went back to the chair to wait for my wife to do her bit. I gave a quick look to my son in the congregation and he gave me a thumbs up sign. Phew it looks like it went ok. My wife was called up next. She not only had a longer portion than me she is also much better at reading from the Sefer Torah than me. I was pleased to have gone first. She read it beautifully and without fault. I was so proud of her.
The service ended then there was a special celebratory meal with lots of food. I had done it. There was not only a great sense of relief but a real sense of achievement. I had a conquered a fear and done something I thought I could not do. You never know maybe I’ll see if I can do the weekly reading now.