Tomorrow's Haftarah

A few weeks ago I got an email from the Torah reading coordination at my minyan. They needed someone to read tomorrow's haftara,  The reading from the prophets that follows the Torah reading. I took a look at the haftarah and realized that it was deeply familiar.

The reading is short, only 9 verses, ( Isiah 54, verses 1-9). It is a haftarah that is often given to kids with learning issues. I claimed the haftarah only to be told that someone else had grabbed it before I had responded.

Last week I got another email. The person who had made their first dibs on that haftara was unable to to do it. Was I willing to to take it on. Of course I was!

So now a bit of my history with this haftara. There was a boy in my community who was born with developmental disabilities. When he was ten or eleven, his grandparents approached my parents and said that they wanted to be sure that Barry had a bar-mitzvah.

My mother began teaching Barry how to read Hebrew.  I was three and often sat at the kitchen table along with my mother and Barry. I knew that my job was to be quiet and let my mother teach Barry. Barry had learning issues and sometimes the reading came hard for him. I felt badly for him I sympathized with his struggle. At one point I decided to help Barry by finishing reading the sentence for him.

My mother then realized that I could read. My mother  worked with me on my own  also teaching me how to write in Hebrew on machberet paper folded into 1/4's the long way with a letters or later words written one in each colunm of the paper.


Once Barry had mastered reading Hebrew, it was time for my father to teach Barry how to chant his haftarah. My father also had one of the slightly older kids, tutor Barry.

I remember Barry's bar-mitzvah. I remember sitting anxiously hoping that he could get through his haftara smoothly. I remember the knot in my stomach. Barry had inherited the terrible singing voices of both his parents. He was hesitant and careful and got through his haftarah. One of my sisters remembers my mother weeping throughout Barry's chanting.

My mother had once taught this haftara to a kid in Halifax as well. She loved it, and used to sing the first couple of verses by heart.

I learned the  haftara with great pleasure. Wednesday I received an-email from our rabbi. because of vagueries in the Jewish calendar, I would have to do a longer version of the haftara. I had to learn 12 verses in two days.

The longer version is the haftara  is alsorecited on Parashat Noach.  It's Isiah. The language is wonderful. I keep practicing my now longer haftarah.

A memory then bubbles up.  My father died at what is now called Hebrew Senior Life in Boston. In the old days it was called Hebrew Home for the Aged.  My parents always called it The Hebrew Hilton, it was a nice place. My father was there for the last couple of months of his life.

One of the other patients at the Hebrew Hilton was a rabbinic colleague of my father's, someone a few years older, a brilliant rabbi . He and his two siblings had all succumbed to Alzheimer's. Occasionally, when my mother had the emotional strength, my mother used to visit Al.

Al's memory was mostly gone. My mother used to introduce herself and then do one of the things that she was amazing at, connecting to someone whose brain was mostly far away. She reminded Al that it would soon be Rosh HaShanah. Then she asked him if he knew the Haftarah for Noach. My mother began to chant the haftarah by heart. Al soon joined in. Al then chanted the entire haftara from memory with just a couple of prompts from my mother.

Tomorrow I will chant the haftarah.
Tomorrow my head will be filled not only with the sound of my own voice but that of my mother and Al and Barry.

Comments

  1. What a touching and sweet post filled with memories of kindness.

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  2. It is a lovely passage. What a blessing to recite it...joining your voice with your mothers...and Al's...and Barry's.

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