Twenty Five Years of Torah Reading

Today marked the 25th consecutive year that I have read the same Torah portion on Yom Kippur.

Twenty-five years. A quarter of a century. It is the same section at the same time. Year after year, like clockwork I know that in August I'll get a call asking that I confirm that I'll be available to read and every year I provide an affirmative answer.

And year after year I walk up to the bimah and realize that I have suddenly forgotten it all. Year after year I walk up with a terrible thirst and a parched throat. In a somewhat raspy voice I begin to chant and for a couple of minutes I am lost in the moment. As my grandfather of blessed memory would say, "I don't sing well, but I sing loud."

Over the years I have had the occasional mishap. Every once in a while I find that the scroll is not rolled to the proper section. About nine years ago I decided to ignore it and chant from memory and managed to screw up. So I had to stop reading and start over.

A short time afterwards I was in the bathroom when I heard two men talking. "Could you believe the nerve of that guy. Who does he think he is stopping in the middle like that." I just smiled and walked out.

On this particular day I had a new experience. I was late to shul. I don't know how I did it, but I lost track of time. I woke up, blinked and realized that there was no way that I was going to get to shul at the specified time.

Furthermore, the man who used to handle all of the arrangements died this year and I just knew that his replacement wouldn't know me. Sure enough I got to shul and found people in a semi-panic. To give you a sense of how late I managed to come, I basically walked in threw on my tallis and was called up to read.

It wasn't how I wanted to do it. It is a spiritual experience for me and I can't just jump in.
I like to ease in. If you forgive the reference, I want a little foreplay. I want a few minutes to wipe out my thoughts of the outside world so that I can really put my heart into it.

But sometimes you have to roll with the punches. So up I went and I did my thing. It went fine, no problem and I forgot about it, for a little while.

My little dreamworld was interrupted by the entrance of my bar mitzvah tutor, Mr. D. He asked me if I had missed reading and I said no that I had not.

And then he said that he didn't think so because I have been doing this for 25 years so of course I know what time I am supposed to be there. Oy, who would have thought that 25 years later he could give me the old teacher stare and make me feel like the silly student, but he did.

BTW, outside of my family I am not sure that anyone knows how long that I have been reading. Part of me was a little surprised that he still remembered, but then again he always seemed to remember everything.

Twenty-five years ago I hated that. Twenty-five years ago it was immensely uncomfortable and irritating. Twenty five years ago I wanted him to just back off and let me be. But now I thank him for it. Truth is, even though I felt foolish I didn't get upset as I know where he is coming from. I suppose that you could say that I have a soft spot in my heart for him.

And that is my post YK Torah reading story, rough on the edges and in need of a good polish.


marallyn ben moshe said...

i loved this post..25 years tfu tfu tfu...maybe you should throw a party?...i mean 25 is not just any number...i love your teacher remembering...i loved your reaction...nice to still be a kid in someone's eyes...stay safe

Anonymous said...

ps i ahem borrowed your 'song' post...hope you don't mind :)))

lxr23g56 said...

Really nice post Jack so thanks for sharing. Would you mind sharing with me (us) what kind of shul you attended? I am just curious!


cruisin-mom said...

It's always shocking when you realize you've been doing anything for 25 years! Nice post Jack

Elie said...

I assume from the details of the story, that this was the mincha reading. I read that one yesterday too, and I've been reading it for the past three or four years. So I have quite a ways to go to achieve your 25!! Yasher Koach and many more.

Was this reading from your bar mitzvah portion, or did you just get picked to help the congregation on Yom Kippur by laining?

FYI, next time you are "at bat" and the scroll is at the wrong place, you should make the gabbai roll it. No baal koreh should have to lain by heart. (In fact in Orthodox tradition, this would invalidate the laining.) Geez, it's hard enough as is having to memorize the nekudos and trup, without having to memorize the words too!

Jack Steiner said...

Hi Marallyn,

It is nice to still be a kid in someone's eyes. P.S. No worries about the song post.


I attended a Conservative shul, but just to confuse the issue I should add that I occasionally daven at one of the Orthodox shuls near my home. And it is not completely out of the question for me to hit one of the minyanim around here either.


That is a good way of putting it. AT my young age I can still say that 25 years is most of my life, but I am steadily reaching towards the point where it is just a small bit.


Thank you.


I learned the hard way several years ago and ever since have made sure that the Gabbai rolls the Torah to the proper place.

My bar mitzvah was Rosh Chodesh Sivan, so the parshah was different. It just works out that one of the ways the shul tries to keep the bar mitzvah kids involved is to try and recruit them to do something around the chagim.

Batya said...

a truly wonderful post

Never belittle the nachas teachers feel.

Recently I joined a women's basketball group here, and when I gave a bit of advice on how to throw, one of the young women said: "I know; you're the one who taught me." I was the girls gym teacher for 13 years.

PsychoToddler said...

Good for you, Jack. I hadn't layned in many years, and recently I decided I should try to get back into it, so I layned my bar mitzvah parsha during the week. People were very impressed and got the wrong idea, and started asking me to layn all the time.

My problem is I have a hard time learning new stuff, but the old stuff I did perfectly.

I've also been doing the haftorahs on RH and YC these past few years at the Shteeble.

Jack Steiner said...

Hi Batya,

There is nothing like a good teacher. They are so very important.


The old stuff sticks with you. Hmm, maybe it is because you are so old. ;)

It is great that you are doing it, a lot of people just give up.

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