11 Years Later…

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Bar and Bat Mitzvah. The time when Judaism decided that children, in their most awkward stage of life, become adults. Girls have their bat mitzvah at twelve, when they have not yet figured out how to tame their hair, and boys at thirteen, when their vocal chords have not yet figured out in which pitch their voice should be. We practice relentlessly to get up in front of our loved ones and classmates to lead and leyn as much as we can, from being called up to the Torah for an aliyah to leading some of the service. And the only way of getting through it is to accept it will be awkward and to have Ben Stiller’s voice in the back of your head telling you to repeat, “I love that I suck!”

Most of my own Bat Mitzvah is a pretty big blur to me. I do very distinctly remember the fire alarm going off in the middle of the a cappella concert we had after Kiddush, and 300 people having to stand in the synagogue’s parking lot in -3 degree weather (fahrenheit). I remember Michael Jay and Howie Feiwus performing the “Flumda Sara Eisen” song that haunted me well into my high school years. I also remember much of the build up to my Bat Mitvah, practicing every day (or so I told my parents) for about six months to finally read Parashat Vayechi on January 10, 2004.

My first time reading Torah was on Simchat Torah when I was 6-years-old. It was five words out of the third aliyah of V’zot HaBracha. My first “real” Torah reading during a Shabbat service was when I read the maftir aliyah at my sister Hindas Bat Mitzvah. I pride myself on the fact that regardless of the countless numbers of Torah reading teachers I have had throughout the past seventeen years, I still stay true to the Steve Eisen (my father and first Torah reading teacher) trope.

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May 1999 – Reading maftir at Hinda’s Bat Mitzvah*

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January 2004 – Reading at my own Bat Mitzvah, in all my awkward glory*

The past three months, I have had the pleasure of passing that same trope on to the Lemba community in Harare. Every Tuesday, we have Torah trope class at HLS. We have reviewed almost every single trope combination now, along with different methods of learning to apply the trope to readings. These readings include all three paragraphs of Shema and three of the Rosh Chodesh readings. Many of the students had been exposed to Torah reading before, but they can now independently identify trope notes, chant them, and apply them to Torah readings.

This Shabbat was a big one at HLS. It was the 11th anniversary of my Bat Mitzvah and the very first full Torah reading here. The students who participated absolutely blew me away. In a month and a half the students learned anywhere between three to seven p’sukim, which is no easy task, especially since they started learning Torah trope this year.

I am so honored to share the anniversary of my Bat Mitzvah with what will now be the anniversary of this momentous Shabbat at HLS. Reading Torah takes many years of learning and practice. I am so proud of all of the work the students have put in so far. Until now, HLS has been using a learner’s Torah. There is a Torah waiting for them that they have decided only to accept when they feel they are ready to read from it. I cannot wait to come back someday to see them reading from that Torah and hear these Torah readers who have already come so far. 

Students practicing earlier in the week reading out of our learner’s Torah and gabai-ing for one another:

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Again, a big kol hakavod to the students at HLS!

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*Note: All photos were taken before Shabbat.

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