Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sharing the stage with 'the Jewish Katie Couric'

After the beautiful Rosh Hashanah service at the 92nd Street Y on Thursday, I introduced myself to the rabbi and said how much it meant to me to continue coming to the place where I grew up, where I actually went to kindergarden and also to High Holy Day observances every year with my parents and sister.

I introduced Ben and Katie and said they had grown up going to services there too and that we had all come in from out of town because we wanted to continue the tradition.

The rabbi, Jennifer Krause, seemed touched.

Krause took over in 2004, having replaced the older male rabbi we grew up with. She is incredibly vibrant, and she is a real charmer person-to-person. I learned later, when reading about her, that WNET, New York's public television station, called her one of "New York's hippest rabbis" and nicknamed her the Jewish Katie Couric.

She definitely has a refreshing style.

"Hi, I'm Jen," she had said, extending her hand.

Jen asked whether we would like to have an aliyah the next day. This is when you are called up to read from the Torah, and it is a great honor.

Ben was planning to go back to Connecticut that day, but Katie and I were staying in New York and couldn't possibly say otherwise. Truth is, we never even went to the second day of Rosh Hashanah services, which always has a smaller audience, but I wasn't going to admit that.

And with Jen suggesting it, suddenly I wanted to return. The four-hour-plus service had never gone by so quickly. But that didn't mean I actually wanted to go on stage.

"Uh, I don't speak Hebrew," I said.
"I wasn't even bat mitzvah'd," Katie said.

She told Katie that at age 12 she was automatically a bat mitzvah. I didn't know this, but I couldn't argue with the rabbi. Not speaking Hebrew was a problem, though.

"No problem," Jen said. "We'll find you a non-speaking role."

"I have stage fright!" I said.

This is totally true. Last time I was up on that stage was during a grade school dance recital (we took dance classes there), and that might have been the last time I was ever on a stage.

Once, in high school at Friends Seminary, I had to speak in front of the whole Quaker meeting (the school was run by Quakers but had a mixed student body). At least I was on the same level instead of on a stage, but that didn't stop me from freezing. I only made it through because my friend Margie Kaplan was nearby and whispered the beginning of my speech to me so I could get started.

Jen brushed aside the stage fright issue and said it would be great and to wait there while she asked someone who would know if there was a role left, and in the blink of an eye she returned and said to go talk to Frank, a man standing nearby who would tell us what to do. Saying no thanks was not an option.

Frank said that after the fifth aliyah, we would come on stage and share the honor of dressing the Torah.

After the last reader lifts it over his head, he walks to a chair and holds it on his lap. You belt the two scrolls together, put the covering over them and then place on the beautiful silver decorations, a front plate and a top piece for each scroll.

Easy peasy.

During the service on Thursday, the rabbi had joked that she was glad nobody had dropped either of the two Torah scrolls, because then everyone would have had to fast for 40 days, which would be obviously worse than just fasting on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement that ends the 10-day observance).

My first year out of the hospital, I had my share of falls, and I'm sorry to say that a degree if klutziness has stayed with me. That night I had fears of bumping into Katie and causing her to bump into the Torah and knock it down. Which would be worse than any of the falls I have taken, including the one where I landed on my back, banged my head on the pavement and had to go straight to the hospital (Joe can tell you all about that one).

Thursday at dinner in Queens with relatives from my father's side of the family, I shared my concerns with a younger cousin who has dressed the Torah many times. He put it in a young person's vernacular, saying it was easy and adding, "Don't worry, you'll be spiritually pumped."

As the moment drew near on Friday, my heart beat quickly.

Then Frank made eye contact from the stage, our signal to start walking up to the front from our seats.

Katie had already told me she would walk behind me in case I fell backwards off the stairs.

Up the stairs we went. Whew. No problem.

Over to the Torah we walked as the last reader finished.

It really was quite incredible to be up there so close. Suddenly I felt very calm.

Someone was with us to whisper instructions, and, one piece at a time, we dressed the Torah for its return to the ark.

And then it was over.

On the way back down the stairs, I had no worries about falling.

We sat down smiling.

Afterwards, I shook Jen's hand and thanked her.

I hope I can do it again next year.


barry said...

Great and inspiring story, Ronni. And it was great that Katie could be there with you to share the experience.

Anonymous said...

see...told you this was your year.

Margie said...

thank you for sharing ronni. i love the high holidays and am glad to associate the service and being "spiritually pumped" with that intense feeling in quaker meeting. lots of love and joy in the new year.

PJ said...

Have a sweet year with only star performances!

Diane said...

Wonderful for you and Katie to have such an honor, especially in a place that has so much meaning for us and our family. I'm sure mom and dad were smiling down on you!

Anonymous said...

mozol'tov! happy new year!