Brad Halpern, a congregant at Congregation Or Ami (Calabasas, CA) reflects upon holding the Torah during the singing of Kol Nidre:
An Invitation in a Text
When I received a text from Rabbi Paul Kipnes asking if I would hold the Torah during High Holy Days, I was beyond flattered. I had helped Congregation Or Ami work out some scheduling problems with the theatre that hosts our High Holy Day services. I was honored to be honored.
Yet, a couple weeks later, when I learned that my wife Robyn and I were being honored with holding the Torah on Kol Nidre, I was taken aback. Truth is, all I did was connect the dots, but I wasn’t going to share my feeling of having done so little… because I relished such a unique honor. I have since learned there is both an honor of the mind, and an honor in the heart.
Have you ever done this before?
On Yom Kippur, while gathered in the hallway, waiting to walk onto the Bimah, I asked the others (some of them Or Ami past presidents) if they had ever done this before. The response was all the same, “Yes, but never on Kol Nidre”. Whoooosh— like a hurricane-force wind, the realization of the extraordinary specialness of this honor took over my mind. Soon I was walking with the others across the rear of the Bimah, feeling the weight of the honor.
Once in position, the first of three groups moved toward the ark to hold the Torah scrolls. I suddenly felt unprepared, that I had taken this all too lightly. I spent most of those four minutes trying to get my thoughts in line with both the honor and magnitude. Kol Nidre was all so familiar to me. Fifty four times in my life I have watched and listened to this scene play out, BUT always at a 180 degree angle from this night.
Like I was holding a baby
Then Rabbi Julia Weisz handed the Torah to me. The rest was uncontrolled: my eyes closed, head tilted downward and nestled onto the Torah like I was holding a baby. That familiar music that cuts through everything ran through my body and had me rocking back and forth. A feeling like never before. It sounds odd, but it felt like what others describe as an out of body experience.
I never truly understood the significance of the words our Cantor Doug Cotler sings, “I’m standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before me” until that second. Now I felt part of the chain of those who have cherished Torah for 5777 years. I acknowledged in my heart what they endured so I could do the same. That ruach (spirit or wind) that ran through my brain before holding Torah was now the warm wind of Judaism running through my heart.
After a few moments, I opened my eyes, still swaying with the Torah. I looked to everyone around me. and felt the enormous impact and honor bestowed upon me that night. It made me exceedingly proud of being a Jew.
Upon returning to my seat in the audience I sat there in a crazy haze.
Top 20 Best Moments in My Life
Later, I told my family it was a Top-20 of my life’s most impactful, meaningful, and favorite moments.
The following morning I spoke to Rabbi Julia prior to the service, still unable to put into words what I had experienced. She explained that a lot of care goes into selecting those who hold the Torah on Kol Nidre. It’s now been a couple weeks and my eyes still well-up every time I think about it, or tell someone I got to hold the Torah on Kol Nidre. I truly am thankful for receiving this amazing honor that has resonated to my core.
When I actually sat down to take a different sort of stock, and wrote out that list of the Top-20 moments in my life: Holding Torah on Kol Nidre at Congregation Or Ami is #11.
Thank you so much!