What is wonderful about Judaism is its passion for Kedusha. The meaning of Life is not that complicated from the Jewish perspective: create precious and wonderful memories as often as you can. Timmy Noonan’s Bar Mitzvah infused us all with Kedusha, turning a four hour marathon into a fleeting experience and a lasting complex of memories. Whoever was in B’nai Israel for Shabbat Shekalim, February 17, knows something, if not many things, extraordinary transpired.
It begins with a family with five children that drives from Sonoma to attend The B’nai Israel Shabbat Seder. They, as are so many of us, were attached to Fahni and her gentle way of teaching with love. They had also gotten to know me a bit before I left Napa and had bestowed upon me as a parting gift from there: challah, wine, candles, and taste treats and other wonderful gifts. It took me two years to figure out who had left such a lovely and sweet gift of farewell from the Beth Sholom Tot Shabbat crowd of the Lisa Iskin era.
So much to learn of Judaism from the way that Shabbat flowed and ebbed! We had Klal Yisrael, Israel together as one, with the delight for B’nai Israel in hosting a goodly number of members of Beth Sholom. This family is at home in both synagogues and benefits from sharing Jewish life with both communities. Both were there in force and as one, and it felt wonderful.
Timmy donned his talit and we were off and davening. Next blessing bestowed by the Noonans: Max Schleicher, of Beth Sholom renown, both of them, seasoned Torah lainer (reader) at Beth Sholom, San Francisco, and inspirational conservative minyan leader on the first Shabbat of the month at Beth Sholom, Napa. When you are davening with Max, the Presence of the Shechinah (gentle, Godly,) is palpable. The Noonans built a team of mentors around them and then included them all in the many facets of the service and celebration.
It was a morning of Dayenu. The Passover song emphasizes a whole litany of amazing details of our survival in the wilderness, each in itself a blessing. So it was that Shabbat:
Timmy’s grandfather, Stanley, attending at age 92 could no longer sing as he did, an eloquent cantorial soloist for years at Temple Emanu-El. In the last week and a half of a two-year search, the family by now miraculously chanced upon a recording of his voice; he was chanting the entirety of Psalm 92, the Sabbath Psalm, in Hebrew. It seemed God’s will (given its discovery a week before the Bar Mitzvah, and not a week after) that we use technology to restore for a moment Stanley Noonan’s voice, as he brought us back to when I was a six year old walking to Madison school from my home, seven blocks away, in 1954.
What a paradox and Godly gift that of all the prayers he sang over those years, Psalm 92 was the one discovered. Sounding it loud and clear, as we did at the end of the morning visit with God, the Amidah, added meaning to the Sabbath. Other than that Psalm, there is little in the entirety of the Shabbat service that focuses on anything other than thank you, thank you and thank you again. Psalm 92 reminds of why the Shabbat is important, not as escape, but as reinvigoration for the work that awaits us to transform this world to good, when and where once more we revere our elders and they don’t disappoint with the wisdom they share.
So much dayenu! Timmy’s grandfather the cantorial soloist was not Jewish; he had great affinity for Judaism. His son, Tim, caught that spirit and kept with it in his teaming with Cindy to envision and co-create a Jewish family. With his son’s bar mitzvah on the horizon, Tim decided to officially join the Jewish people. Yet, he wanted it to be connected to his son’s coming into his maturity as a Jew. While revealing to his son his Jewishness at a special dinner they had for him a few days before the big day, it was only revealed to the rest of the family and the community as Tim joined Cindy in coming up to the Torah. In a special moment of Shehechianu, Tim donned his talit, one that included the threads of blue, as expressed in the words we recite when we kiss the Tzitzit. In recent years they rediscovered the rare snail that was the source of the ink that they used for those threads in those days many years ago, until the snail disappeared and accordingly the thread of blue. Then Tim pulled out a new talit to give his son to replace the one he had borrowed from the community rack.
So much dayenu: did I mention that Timmy lained the entire Torah reading, one of the longest of the year? That is a first in my career, a bar mitzvah of one of my students (this one guided by Max) who did the entire reading, something we and most non-orthodox synagogues do not attempt to do. And he was flawless, totally at ease, and in his element. He was also the first to respond in the affirmative to a question I have only asked maybe twice before: what do you think of becoming a rabbi?
So much Dayenu! Lottie of Napa who grew up at B’nai Israel and became a pillar at Beth Sholom, coming up to the Torah for the first time ever for an aliyah… She did it for Cindy.
On this celebration of Shabbat Shekalim, commitment to creating healthy community, the Noonans brought together two communities, and we were one, and it was sweet, as sweet as the chocolate shekels they had us throw, showering love and mazal tov on Timmy in his moments bathed in so much Kedusha.
When I think of those who were not there, who could have been there, I am reminded that in Judaism the business of reward and punishment is not a factor in this world, more likely in the next. What we do have is a commitment to elevate time. The closest thing we have to “punishment” in this system is in acknowledgment that the unfortunate thing is when we miss something we could have chosen to do. Can a person who did not have a bar mitzvah still come up for an aliyah? Yes, of course! But, they will have always missed the experience of being a bar mitzvah and energy of all the guests wishing you well and rejoicing in your accomplishment. They will never have that memory on those occasions that they do come up to the Torah as adults.
Whoever was present on that Shabbat knows that I haven’t even covered all the blessings of that day, a spiritual and cosmically Jewish grand slam, hole-in-one, buzzer beater, last second touchdown, gold medal sweep. It was a feast of shalom, and it was very sweet.
The beauty beyond all of this is the Jewish commitment to honor each and every experience as unique. The take-away from this Shabbat is not to try to emulate or compete with this experience. Quite the contrary, the message is to be yourself and enjoy every minute as you uniquely experience it.