My father picked me up at San Diego Airport at 9AM and we went directly to temple. Normally, I don’t spend my sunny Saturday mornings in the synagogue nor do I intend to start, but this was a very special Saturday. My step-brother Adam and his wife Miryam had welcomed their new baby girl, Georgi into the world on Thursday morning. While mommy and baby were still in the hospital, the Rabbi was going to say a few special prayers that Dad and Caryl were not going to miss.
In some cultures services start and end exactly on time, lasting for usually an hour or two. Not Conservative Jews! We start at about 9:30 and easily run way past noon. I was interested though, considering my recent travels to Israel and that I hadn’t been to Temple with Dad in a very long time. My father taught me to read Hebrew when I was a child and had been the driving force in my religious education. When I was Bar Mitzvah’d he was very involved with the Temple, attending and leading services frequently. He has a wonderful signing voice, and I can remember listening to him practice in our home growing up. I was fairly content through the first hour of the service.
Adam’s in-laws are very involved with their community, and Reuben was passing out the various Aliyahs [honors] for different people to participate in the service. I didn’t expect to be included and was honored when he walked over and asked:
Are you in good shape?
You will Hagbah the first Torah.
Whoa! Me, Hagbah? After the Torah reading, the Hagbah lifts the Torah in the air, turns his back for all to see the writing, then sits down while the Torah is dressed. It’s as much an honor as it is a feet of strength and a calculated risk. Two large wooden scrolls, each wrapped in parchment containing the holy text are held about 2 to 3 feet feet apart over your head. Although the weight isn’t that much, it’s a bit unwieldy and requires balance. The risk is that you will drop it humiliating yourself and your family while desecrating the sacred text. Suddenly, I felt the need to add some actual prayer into my Saturday morning grumbling.
During the Torah reading, various people where called up for Aliyahs. At one point, Adam was called up as the Rabbi made a wonderful blessing for baby Georgi. I could see tears well up in his eyes, sense the joy he felt and the awesomeness of his responsibility. I was glad to be there.
When my time came, I stood at the Beemah [podium] and felt a light flow of adrenaline course through my veins. The Rabbi’s assistant turns to me and warns, “This is a heavy one, bend your knees and take it low.” As if I weren’t worried enough.
At the prescribed moment, I bended…lifted…and up she went. I showed 3 columns, which is quite good. I could’ve gone for four…but who wants to be a showoff? After, I sat while the torah was wrapped and covered and I rested on the beemah with her in my lap. I must’ve been beeming with pride from ear to ear. Torahs are special. Part of me wanted to snap a picture, but better judgement prevailed.
By 11:45, I was safely back in my seat and feeling the attention deficit disorder that made religion so challenging as a youth. There is a reason I only do this a few times a year. I excused myself and took the time to bask in the San Diego sun and make a few phone calls. After observing a quick Kiddush and passing on the Matzoh, Dad, Caryl and I retired for a nice lunch at C-Level. I am so incredibly impressed by them. Dad was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer early last year and I am amazed by his strength in making the cross country journey, and moreso in awe of the love and support that Caryl shows for him each and every day. Life doesn’t always deal you the best hand, and I felt fortunate to have this time with them.
We spent the afternoon relaxing by the hotel pool. Caryl’s brother Josh came over with his wife Laura and daughter Eliana. I had only met them briefly and enjoyed getting to know them better as we ventured through the shops at Old Town and then to dinner at Romesco.
Finally, at around 8PM we made our way over to Casa de Seid. They were only home from the hospital for a few hours, but why not overwhelm them with guests? Georgi was sleeping quietly and I have to say that she is adorable. I’ve never seen a newborn this young before. I held Jamie’s friend Victoria’s son when he was a few weeks old, but that was different because I don’t know Victoria very well and even a few weeks makes a big difference. We each visited in waves, then waited downstairs while the baby was fed. I got to help out by making a late night run to Walgreens for the new parents, and had a funny experience when I got back.
Adam and I were standing in their bedroom looking down at little Georgi sleeping peacefully in her bassonet, with Miryam and everyone else busy in the next room. We were both clearly in awe of his daughter and were making little baby faces at her while trying to grasp the enormity of his responsibility, completely silent so as not to disturb her slumber. We looked at one another and without saying a word it was clear that we were no longer the teenagers we were in 1998 when our parents started dating and used to hang out on the couch listening to Phish together. My little step bro was a grown up. A Daddy. Neither one of us knew what to do or what to say. I wanted to give her a hug, but how do you even pick one of those things up? I think Adam was first figuring these things out for himself. We just smiled and watched the tiny little creature below.
Sunday morning I treated Dad and Caryl to breakfast across from the hotel. Indeed, It was the ‘least I could do.’ Soon after, I was on my way to the airport then floating above California gathering my thoughts and trying to make sense of the last 36 hours.
What a weekend.