July 19, 2024
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Savoring My ‘Sephardic Bar Mitzvah’

I was struck with stage fright as the time for the Torah reading began. This journey began back in August on the Thursday prior to Shabbat Nachamu. The time for Torah reading at Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck, had come, and no one present knew the Torah reading. I decided that since I knew the Ashkenazic version of the reading and I had heard Sephardic reading so many times in my capacity as rav of Shaarei Orah, that I would give it a try. Lo and behold, the reading emerged as a good-quality Sephardic-Yerushalmi-style Torah reading.

I decided to try it again that Shabbat morning and it worked again, baruch Hashem. And again for the last three aliyot of Parshat Re’eih and was successful. Then again for the Torah reading of Shemini Atzeret and it worked. I then mustered enough courage to ask to read the entire Parshat Noach. I had read it as my bar mitzvah and I decided to “convert” my training to Sephardic.

My primary worry was that I would slip into my old familiar Ashkenazic style, especially upon hearing an Ashkenazi-tune bracha recited for an aliyah. However, veteran Torah reader and Shaarei Orah congregant Moshe Nissanian taught me his secret—whisper to Hashem that you are working purely on behalf of the tzibbur (community) and ask Hashem for His help. I did that plus indulge in a few self-affirmations (such as saying to myself “you are a confident and competent Sephardic Torah reader”), and I was still petrified.

I knew my beloved family (except for my son Binyamin who is studying at Yeshivat Shaalvim) and congregants were present and very supportive, but only when two TABC students walked in did I finally feel calm and at ease. I was so grateful upon seeing Torah Academy of Bergen County seniors Akiva Reich and Avi Schmeltz. I had told the youngsters that I was reading the next day and that I was nervous; a big smile came to my face upon seeing this surprise and I was ready to go. Baruch Hashem, the reading went well. As the reading and tefillah progressed, more and more TABC students began to file in. The students included Natan Barnett, Yonatan Katz, Aharon Press, Ezra Seplowitz and Aharon Weiden, among the nearly two dozen who came.

These boys truly understood my fears. They had relatively recently celebrated their bar mitzvahs and recalled their nervous feelings and came to help me deal with my anxiety. Their presence was very comforting.

My Sephardic-Yerushalmi reading of Parshat Noach was truly an adult bar mitzvah of sorts. It was another rite of passage for me into the Sephardic world. Now I can serve as a Sephardic Torah reader, Sephardic haftarah reader and a Sephardic shaliach tzibbur in addition to delivering shiurim, issue Sephardic halachic rulings and serve as a personal guide.

So if you are engulfed in anxiety upon beginning a new and daunting task, recognize that it is normal to be nervous. The way to overcome the anxiety is to reach out to Hashem, believe in yourself and visualize the support of your loved ones. The presence of Hashem, my beloved family, beloved congregants and beloved Torah Academy of Bergen County students combined to ease my tension and allowed me to confidently and competently serve the community.

By Rabbi Haim Jachter

 Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

 

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