The first morning of Rosh Hashanah, was the first service I have attended with Or Shalom at the JCC. As I walk into the room, I notice immediately that we are using the old ark, the portable ark we used when Or Shalom didn’t yet have a permanent home, and we travelled around meeting in basements and common rooms. The ark lives in a corner of the shul at Or Shalom, but seldom have I seen it open since I returned last year. I had forgotten about the curtain that hangs in front of the scrolls. It is a tapestry with a blue and purple scene of a Jerusalem hillside. How often did I, as a bored child listening to services in a language I did not then understand nor connect with, imagine to myself that the scene was alive? Imagine myself wandering the streets of Jerusalem on that blue and purple hillside.
Once Or Shalom purchased its current location at 10th and Fraser, a solid, permanent ark was built and installed, and it is the main one we use. I realized that now, as an adult, I am finally solidly and permanently built as well. Or Shalom, as a community, is no longer wandering with a portable ark, they have found their place. I, as a Jew, am no longer wandering through blue and purple dream landscapes; I have found my home.
The next day I am standing in a great ring of Jews, linked by the fully unrolled Torah we are holding. I am using the corners of the tallit of the woman next to me to hold the scroll, so I don’t touch it with my bare hands. I am as close to the Torah physically as I can be, or am ever likely to get.
In the shuffle while the Torah was unrolled, I wound up in front of the ark, up on the little platform it was raised on so that I can hold the Torah level with everyone else. As Reb. Laura begins to read the words of Torah, the pick-up from the mic of her throaty voice, reverberates through the ark’s platform. I am literally feeling the words of Torah through the soles of my feet.
After a while my arms start to tire from holding position, and my lower arm starts to ache. I think about Yom Kippur, and what I have read about the fasting on that day. That the body has to be made uncomfortable for the soul to be uncomfortable, and that only once the soul is uncomfortable can we experience insight and learn. It occurs to me that it is not always a comfortable thing to come closer to Torah, to look into the ancient scroll – we might be scared of what we’ll find reflected back at ourselves – but that, as with my current predicament, all that is required to alleviate that discomfort, is a shift in position or perspective.