Recently my family and I visited Maryland and Washington, DC for the Thanksgiving holiday extended weekend. While there I attended Shabbat services at Temple Beth El of Montgomery County, located on Old Georgetown Road. This is a modern structure, sprawling in a way that suburban American synagogues tend to be. My home shul, the East Midwood Jewish Center of Brooklyn, New York, architecturally and decoratively, is so very different from Beth El. But I enjoy checking out other shuls. After all, I am the "Lost Synagogues" Lady, and I also appreciate visiting various Active Synagogues as well.

Two interesting and remarkable aspects of the Shabbat morning service occurred while I visited Beth El. Both involved the aliyah brachot of two older men. The first man, who chanted the Cohen aliyah, seemed to choke with sobs during the first part of his recitation of the brachot. I do not think I ever saw or heard that happen before. Certainly it may not be an unknown thing but it is not typical. I do not know what triggered this man's expression of emotion: sadness? growing emotional about the service, which featured the readings of a bat mitzvah girl? something else? In any event, the man did not break down into a full cry. Were we to ignore this, feel sorry for him, chalk it up to a rare expression of feeling?

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The third aliyah brachot were chanted by a man who did so with exuberance. He sounded joyful and deliberate in his recitation of the familiar words. And it turned out that he was celebrating his 100th birthday this very day. It was wonderful that he could reach this milestone and chant an aliyah with such pep!


Too often people race through their aliyot brachot. Or some people get quite nervous and make mistakes. These two men gave quite different renditions of their blessings, and caused me to think about these words which are so common. They really do have great import and that is why they are considered an "honor." They should not be a burden, that's for sure.

As a postscript, I am reminded of a piece of correspondence I read once about aliyot. I was researching the history of a former synagogue in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, called Shaari Israel. The shul's papers and archival material had been deposited in the archive at Manhattan's Jewish Theological Seminary. The final rabbi officiating there was Rabbi Abraham Feldbin, whom I knew as a congregant at the East Midwood Jewish Center, He was a learned, sweet, good-natured  man with whom I spoke often. (He lived into his late 90s.) While rabbi at Shaari Israel, he circulated a note to families of bar mitzvah boys, asking them (parents and other family members and friends) to be sure to practice the Torah aliyah blessings so that they would recite them well at the actual service. I wonder how he would have reacted to the two older men I saw at Temple Beth El; it would have been an interesting discussion!

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