"Did you hear what happened?" said my teacher to the rabbi, as we were all trying to figure out where to hang our wet coats. And then she turned to me. "Are you going to be gabbai sheni?"
Apparently the cantor and I were not the only ones in less than optimum health. One of the two Torah readers, a man who had been doing it every year on Yom Kippur for the past dozen, wrenched his back the night before and was unable to stand, let along hunch over a scroll. My teacher, who had learned High Holy Day trop when she was about twelve, was called into emergency service. So of course she could no longer fulfill her other role as second gabbai, following along with the reader to catch mistakes, since she now was the reader.
The rabbi hadn't planned to ask me, and was going to draft one of the student rabbis into service instead. "Do you want to do it?" she asked.
"Well, sure," I said. "I did it last year." True, last year I had more than a few minutes of warning, and was able to prepare for the occasion. But since then I had been gabbai sheni at the sunrise service of Shavuot, after staying up all night long in study. I was, in some strange, tentative way, starting to feel like an old hand at it.
"Terrific," said the rabbi. "So today we're all women here," she added. My synagogue is so egalitarian that no one ever seems to think about being egalitarian. This took some getting used to on my part, but once I did I couldn't imagine participating in any other way. (Most of the Torah readers are women, in fact, reflecting the many younger members motivated to learn what their grandmothers were not allowed to.) If the rabbi hadn't pointed out that everyone involved in the service was female, I might not have consciously registered it. But once she did, I began to kvell for my entire gender. I wondered what my father would have thought. I knew he would have been very proud.