A Minor Miracle

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At Bet Torah in Mt. Kisco, NY. Circa 1989.

Miracles don’t happen anymore, they say. Perhaps the splitting of seas has passed, but minor miracles do happen…

At the risk of being too personal, I’d like to share with you a striking and special moment, which occurred at the end of January… a minor miracle indeed.

It was a snowy Shabbat, and the service had just begun when Rachel and I had arrived, even though it was already 10 o’clock. Rachel was happily swallowed by the Daled Havura, leaving me alone amidst a small group of mostly familiar faces. I followed the prayers, here—in Hebrew, and there—in English. Dutifully, I turned the pages progressing at the pace of the group. Mostly, it was too fast for me for comprehension of any kind in Hebrew. In English, I found myself reading too fast and losing the place. This happens often, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

On this day, everything irritated me. My slow Hebrew, my disbelief – or discomfort – with much of the material, and my aloneness. I was immersed in overwhelming sadness. There were events and situations in my life that I was finding unbearable. Stress was making “coping” a gargantuan task, and I was full of despair.

Without discussing in-depth the uselessness of despair, the self-perpetuating nature of such an emotion… let me simply say that there was an ugly aura weighing in on me. Anger and sorrowful tears were threatened. I was getting ready to leave the sanctuary, regretting the negative vibes I was surely projecting, when a man I don’t ever recollect having seen before, suddenly stood before me and handed me a metal card “Revi’i”.

The fourth aliyah was being presented to me. I hesitated (one doesn’t refuse an aliyah—it isn’t done). The man assured me I could do it. As I mechanically, but swiftly, flipped the pages to find the blessings for the aliyot, my thoughts whirled about. What message did this aliyah (my personal Jewish fortune cookie) hold for me? How did the Gabbai know there was a troubled soul nearby? What do calls of help sound like, when they are soundless? And who decided that on this Shabbat, that I should be awarded my very first aliyah?

Despair and gloom turned to celebration and solidarity. The tears kept threatening, but the rallying of friends was heartening. On this inauspicious day, I had become a Bat Mitzvah.

The fourth aliyah held no special message for me, but the Sephardic Haftarah, which was substituted by Rabbi Fine on this particular Shabbat, was the Prophet Jeremiah’s message of faith in God.

The screenplay needs no improvement.