Passing the Torah

Rabbi Steve Chester passes the Torah to me (again) at ordination (5/18/08)

Rabbi Steve Chester passes the Torah to me (again) at ordination (5/18/08)

When I watch the passing of the Torah at a bar or bat mitzvah,

I wonder: Who passes the Torah to me?

My father was Irish Catholic,
and my mother a Catholic who was once a Presbyterian.
My name is Ruth bat Avraham v’Sarah
But Abraham and Sarah died a long time ago.
I have no family stories about Passover.
Like Ruth, I’m here only because I wanted to be.
Who passes the Torah to me?

When I approached a rabbi about conversion
He gently suggested we study together
And passed the Torah to me.

When my first Hebrew teacher patiently
guided me right to left through the aleph-bet
She passed the Torah to me.

When I shivered in the water of the mikveh
and the cantor led me through the blessings
She passed the Torah to me.

When I talked for an hour with the Beit Din
When the Torah study class showed me how Jews study Bible
When the Talmud group welcomed me for discussions and stories
When an Israeli acquaintance corrected my Hebrew
When my study partner clapped a kippah on my head
They passed the Torah to me.

When a little girl showed me how to tear the challah
When a woman offered me my first taste of a Hillel sandwich
When the guy at the bakery said, “Shabbat Shalom!”
When a committee chair said to me, “Here, you can do this.”
When friends shared recipes and stories and customs
They passed the Torah to me.

If it takes a village to raise a child
It takes a congregation to raise a convert:

We pass the Torah from hand to hand
and make sure all the Jews who want can hold it:
can write it on their hearts,
speak of it in their homes,
teach it to their children,
bind it on their hands,
hold it before their eyes,
and write it – in golden letters! –
on the doorposts of their gates.

– Rabbi Ruth Adar

6 Responses to Passing the Torah

  1. Skylar Cohen says:

    Beautiful… you just touched my heart and made me cry.

    I was sitting here, writing my story of my Jewish journey to share at Shavuot services. I was reflecting on two things and your poem expressed them so well. One is how I never, ever, ever pass up an opportunity to engage with Torah — to kiss it, bless it, hold it, pass it and dance with it! The other is that while I can say it’s “my” journey, it’s so much more than that — it’s the journey of my family, my community, my congregation, my people.

    Thank you!

    • rabbiadar says:

      Your community is fortunate to have you, Skylar! I wish you a happy continuation of the journey, and a Shavuot Sameach!

      Rabbi Ruth Adar

  2. Thank you. You give wings to me on my own conversion journey… and your words are truth.

  3. Jason says:

    Love your blog, but especially loved this post. I also converted under Rabbi Chester’s guidance. Looking forward to the Tikkun Leil Shavuot program here in SF. Thank you and chag shavuot sameach!

    • rabbiadar says:

      At R. Chester’s retirement, we had a special aliyah for all those wished who had converted with him. The whole bimah at Temple Sinai was filled and still we could not get everyone on it. I think of us as “siblings in Torah.”
      Chag sameach!

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