Shavuot 2020: A time for revelation like no other. Revelations about ourselves as we shelter at home; revelations about the bravery and compassion of ordinary people-turned heroes, revelations about what and whom we miss.
One of the things I miss is sitting next to my friends in my makom kavua, my regular seat, at synagogue services. My small group of friends is a tiny community within a larger community. Our synagogue is a microcosm of synagogues across the world, physically closed but spiritually open.
As much as I am at home in my synagogue in New York, when I step into any of India's Jewish sacred spaces I am overcome with a feeling of rootedness and sanctity, a blend of holiness and home. I am transported across generations.
When I look up at the soaring architecture of Mumbai's Knesset Eliyahoo my prayers reach up and up and up. The gentle yet elegant sanctuary, painted a lovely Victorian green-and-gold, welcomes and absorbs our voices.
At the simpler sanctuary of Magen Avot in Alibag, I sit on the wooden benches and wonder about the Bene Israel settlers who rediscovered their Jewish roots after centuries of being isolated from other Jewish communities. Proud of their heritage, unafraid of what the neighbors would think, they built synagogues near Hindu temples and mosques, planted etrog trees in the courtyard for Sukkot and decorated their homes with Magen David symbols.
In Cochin, the synagogues are both intimate and splendid. The silver Torah crown by the open Torah in the ark of the Paradesi Synagogue transports me to a majestic, mystical place. I wonder who wrote that Torah and under what conditions. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall (well, not literally) when the maharajah of Cochin gifted the crown to the Jewish community.
The synagogue in the village of Chendamangalam, about 20 miles north of Cochin, is now a historic site. I look up into the balcony where the Torah was read from a second bimah in the women's gallery and salute the women who were privileged to sit right behind the Torah when it was read.
At Maghen David in Calcutta, the vast quiet reverberates with an ancestral heartbeat. Whispers of prayer wind around the grand columns. What I would give to be able to sit in the balcony next to the grandmother I never met--and simply hold her hand! How did my father sound when he chanted Torah for the first time here as a ten-year-old, or when he returned home as a young man to be rabbi of the community? My thoughts accompany me to the hechal, once a true palace of silver gleaming with 75 sifrei Torah. I kiss the two that remain.
All this is my personal Torah.
I hope this Shavuot you find a little of yours.
Chag Sameach and Tizkoo l'Shanim rabot. May you merit many years.