The Torah on the March from Selma
By Rich Harwood This past Monday, I sat in services for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, nervous about my task: to go to the front of the congregation and lift the Torah (Holy Scripture scrolls) above my head after it was read and before it was to be placed back in its Holy Ark, where it is kept.
I thought about all the things that could go wrong, and all the things I realized I wasn’t sure I was to do in performing this ritual. Why had I ever agreed to do this?
Then, all of a sudden, I was awakened from my anxious stupor by our rabbi who told the story of the Torah we were about to read from that day. On this day, we wouldn’t hear young congregants chant from our own Torah; rather, we were to use a different one. Since August 1, the Torah we were about to open had been carried for 45 days and almost 1,000 miles on an historic march from Selma, Alabama to Washington, D.C. The march, America’s Journey for Justice, was organized by the NAACP.
Our congregation, Temple Micah, had been blessed. On the only day this Torah was to be absent from the march, on this Rosh Hashanah, our modest congregation was to be its temporary home and would get to read from it. And on this day, as is tradition, we would hear the story of Abraham’s test from God, when he was commanded to sacrifice his son, Issac. Only at the last moment, after proving an abiding faith, would an angel be sent to give Abraham and Issac a reprieve.
Our own faith is tested all the time, and especially in recent time. How do we understand a rash of shootings that have taken place in our cities and towns – from Newtown to Ferguson? How do we come to grips with ever-growing gaps between rich and poor? How do we restore a belief in ourselves that we can come together and get things done?
So many things were going through my mind as I sat there in Rosh Hashanah services – which happened to be taking place in a Methodist church. You see, our Rosh Hashanah services are held in the same church each year because the over-flowing crowd is too large for our own synagogue. So, there I was sitting in a church, observing our High Holy Day services, about to lift a Torah above my head, only to find out that this particular Torah had been carried for weeks on a march from Selma organized by the NAACP.
As I sat in the pew, and heard the story of this Torah, all the anxiety that had consumed me immediately left my body. I then found myself glancing over at the stone etchings of people’s names on the wall celebrating the good lives lived by various Methodist church members over the years. I could envision people on the march from Selma, day after day, seeking on their journey a more perfect union. I could see before me row after row of fellow Jews (and non-Jewish partners) praying.
I knew then that I was in the right place. As I sat there, I was reminded of all the things that can come between us, and yet our common journey must go on.