It was the seventh day of Pesah and we were all standing for the Musaf Amidah, the long prayer at the end of a long morning. We had just finished Yizkor, the memorial service. Yizkor on Yom Kippur makes sense; you're already contrite and somber, so a few more tears are bearable. But I dread it on happy holidays, when I'd rather not dwell upon who's missing. I guess those are the best times to remember, though, when you can mix past love with present.
Anyway, I had finished the Amidah but was still standing, deep in reverie about my parents, and also about lunch to come. All of a sudden I felt a tap on the shoulder. How odd, I thought. This is not a customary thing to do to someone while they're in the middle of praying. I felt it again, and turned around to see one of the rabbis, who had been at the bima just a minute earlier.
"Can you come talk to me after services?" he whispered. "Oh, and Hag Sameah!"
"Uh, sure," I said. And then he was gone.
I spent the next ten minutes in silent turmoil, wondering what in the world I could have done, because surely something must be very wrong to merit such an unusual summons. And this was clearly not a case of needing me for emergency service-leading, since the service was over.
I ran up front as the last notes of Kiddush reverberated, and there was the rabbi. And two other rabbis. They steered me to a spot right in front of the Ark and kind of encircled me, standing very close. Their combined rabbi wattage was practically blinding. It was very strange.
"We'd like to ask you a question," said one. My mind raced; in fact, I had a clear image of my brain on a bicycle flying through the sky past the moon just like in "E.T.," fleeing towards some unknown place of freedom. I was already leading High Holy Day services; what more could they want? No answer popped into my mind, not even a senseless one.
"We'd like you to be Kallat Bereshit at Simhat Torah," said the other rabbi. "Because you do so much! Will you accept the honor?" My synagogue isn't the kind of place where the president of the congregation sits up front at services in a fancy chair, or big donors get their names on faux gold leaves stuck to the lobby wall. Acknowledgments are plentiful, but also meaningful and in a spiritual context. Once a year two people who volunteered a great deal of their time are thanked with an aliyah (an honor) at Simhat Torah, my absolute favorite time of year, the holiday when we complete and then immediately begin the yearly cycle of Torah readings. The rabbis were letting me know that I would be one of these people, come October. Each gets to say a blessing, listens to (or chants) their respective verses for the last and first Torah portions of the year, and then dances and gets danced around for many minutes. (This after a few hours of morning dancing with the Torah scrolls, which follow three hours of dancing the night before). It's indescribably joyful, and an enormous honor. It's overwhelming.
My jaw dropped. (Literally; I stood there like a fool with my mouth open.) "OK?" said the third rabbi, smiling. I nodded. "I think I'm going to pass out," I said. No other brilliant statement of gratitude came to mind. "Please don't faint!" said the rabbi, laughing. And then they all gave me hugs and I somehow made my way, knees shaking, out the Sanctuary and over to a friend's house for lunch.
So this is one of the reasons I was speechless this past month. I had to get used to the idea that I actually deserved this honor (I do!). I had to mull over what it meant (nothing too deep or earth-shattering: that life is good and will remain so, no matter how much I might angst over the details). And I had to spend all my free time learning to chant the first chapter of Genesis, half a year in advance (because I just couldn't wait a second longer). And now I get to go to Israel in two days knowing that when I return, I can anticipate an equally spiritually rich and wonderful event just a few months later, hard to imagine.