Image: Rabbis Jacqueline Mates-Muchin and Ruth Adar carry Torahs for Hakafah. Photo by Linda Burnett. All rights reserved. A “Refuah” is a healing.
This past Friday night I had the pleasure of co-leading the Shabbat service at Temple Sinai in Oakland, CA. The occasion was our Access Shabbat celebrating Jewish Disability and Inclusion Month. The Access Committee encouraged me to lead the service from my mobility scooter, feeling that it would be a powerful statement for inclusion.
It was, indeed, and a powerful personal experience for me. I am primarily a teaching rabbi; I haven’t regularly led services since 2013. A big part of the reason for that is that standing has caused me excruciating pain for years. As a rabbinical student and then as a “baby” rabbi in my first pulpit, I chose to hide the pain and simply endure it during services which sometimes lasted hours. I’d finish a service drenched in sweat, trembling and barely able to think. As a result, I dreaded leading services and stopped doing it when my body could no longer pretend.
I did not know that Rabbi Mates-Muchin had planned a Hakafah (procession with the Torah) in celebration of a year with our new Torah scroll. I could hardly believe it when she handed me the sefer Torah; I wept as I carried it around the congregation. I had not held a Torah scroll in years, since I couldn’t climb the stairs to the aron [cabinet] where it is kept and could not lift it down, much less walk with it.
So in addition to a public statement, leading this service was a private healing for me. I hugged the Torah and shared it with the congregation – a physical metaphor for my life’s work. The scooter did not detract from it in any way; instead, it made the moment possible.
There is no rule against leading a service on wheels. In a Reform congregation, the electricity for the scooter is not an issue. I had been my own oppressor, trying to hide my disability because I feared discrimination.
That night, with the Torah in my arms, singing with the congregation, I felt healed and whole.