Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Chatan Torah - Ateret Kehillah

Lincoln Square Synagogue started a "new tradition" this year at Simchat Torah. After decades of having three chatanim chosen from the men of the community, and several more or less feminist rabbis, they finally decided to find a way to honor women of the community on Simchat Torah. Their solution: Ateret HaKehillah / Ateret Torah, two new "honors" bestowed on women of the community at the nighttime Simchat Torah service.

My mother, Wendy Baker, (naturally) was one of the first women so chosen, to be Ateret HaKehillah, as she has been "the chesed lady" since Rabbi Berman's tenure in the mid-1980s. She has run weekly food recycling efforts, three food drives and two clothing drives each year, recycling tons of food and clothing each year, recruiting volunteers from the synagogue and its teens (who need chesed-work credits for school), drivers and shleppers two evenings a week, etc. She was also one of the founding members of the LSS Women's Davening Group, the first ongoing WTG ever, and has served on both its board and the shul board. She spends several hours a week learning at Drisha and at the shul's classes. At her summer C-nagogue, she has taught parsha and pirke avot classes, served on the board, and has done as much as possible to encourage halachic observance and traditional prayer. All in all someone who has really done what she can for herself, her communities and God.

For the occasion, she stood up while the rabbi explained her accomplishments. Cantor Goffin composed a poem, in the spirit of the Reshuyot (flowery summons to the Torah) for the Chatanim, based on verses and Rabbinic statements. He sang it to the traditional tune for the Reshuyot, a "Missinai" tune that we also use for the Holiday evening kiddush. The poem for the event was also presented (framed, on nice paper) to my mother as a plaque. The honorees then co-sponsored a kiddush/lunch for the congregation, as is also traditional for the chatanim.

My mother was thrilled, despite my ill-considered attempts to harsh her squee (as my wife might say). I mean, it's a new thing, and interesting to honor women in parallel with the chatanim, but she was using terms like "historic" and "groundbreaking" to describe it, and I just don't see it that way. Shuls honor women at dinners, in newsletters, etc. all the time. But putting it in as part of the service, with a (homemade) liturgy, I think before the Atah Horeisas, makes it more than just yet another announcement, or something done outside the context of the sanctuary.

I posted my mother's part with her permission, but didn't post the other woman's part. If there's interest, I'll scan and post that as well.

1 comment:

MDJ said...

KJ has been doing something similar for a few years, but on Shavu'ot. But AIUI, it is explicitly to balance out the chatanim of ST.