Kavannah of Transformation

When going to shul and seeing fellow congregants participate, some roles appear more daunting than others. Is my Hebrew good enough to accept an aliyah? Would I accept a hagba (as I am fearful of dropping the Torah)? Am I going to open or close the ark at the right moment? Why is dressing the Torah sometimes so confounding?

Whatever I might have seen myself doing, chanting Torah seemed not even remotely possible. We are blessed, week in and week out, with extraordinarily beautiful leyning. I hadn’t dared open my mouth to sing since the age of six.

Yet, in my 50s, the call came, and it wasn’t one I could refuse. So I began to learn a new language: the trope. Each of those marks in the text actually signifies a melodic sound. As the text and the sounds come together, each phrase and verse take on new layers of meaning.

As I began a new section, it seemed impossible that I would ever be able to confront the unpunctuated Torah. At some point, the words and sounds more or less cohere, and then you know that it is time to take on the tikkun (the copy of the Torah that has no vowels), a reminder of how much work is still left to be done.

I have attended Shabbat services for decades, and thought I had a reasonable lay person’s understanding of Torah. Yet learning different aliyot over these past few years has added new  perspectives that have immeasurably enriched my Torah. My appreciation of what our regular Torah readers offer is heightened.

In early August, Diana Senechal chanted a complex trope that appears just once in the Torah, at the end of Bamidbar. I was grateful that I now have the ability to notice.

Wrestling, both with the trope and with my own demons, taught me that the unthinkable can indeed be accomplished. Along the way, loving guidance, patience, and encouragement from Harriet and Arielle fueled my commitment. I was liberated from a ‘murmur,’ developed over five decades, and found my voice.

Written By Sharon Anstey

Sharon Anstey hails from South Africa. She made her way to BJ in the late 1980s after reading about Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer in the New York Times. She never left. She serves on the BJ Hevra Kaddish...