Sunday, June 7, 2009

Welcoming Her Majesty

At the entrance to most synagogues sits a receptacle filled with kippot, or headcoverings, that are worn by all men and those women who want them during the prayer service. It is of the fashion to order them in different colors for the celebration of milestone events like bar or bat mitzvahs and weddings, and so this receptacle is filled with every color of the rainbow.

There is no interpretation of Jewish law that stipulates a three-year-old girl must wear a kippah. But: there are purple kippot in that box. And so, E believes she needs one.

Once a month our synagogue has a special Friday evening service for the preschool crowd. E loves it. We sit in one of the front pews so she is ready for the dancing, for the storybook on the altar, for the more dancing, and so she can see the prayer leader's every cue to the kids for the next hand motion or game or song. E adores the prayer leader but has always felt shy around her. On Friday for the first time she pulled me to the very first pew. She wanted to be noticed.

We recite the words in English and then in Hebrew: You should love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. E enthusiastically hugs herself, pats her heart, encircles her arms over her head and then clenches her fists and flexes her biceps. E loves this part of the evening, I thought, most of all.

When we began singing L'cha Dodi E whispered to me that she was going to walk. She's never voluntarily walked before, and this was going to be the night. The L'cha Dodi is a prayer we sing on Friday evenings to welcome in the Sabbath. In metaphoric terms it sings to a love we welcome each week into our lives, depending on translation, tradition and interpretation, the Sabbath bride or the Sabbath queen. On the last verse the congregation rises and turns to the back of the sanctuary and bows toward the entrance, to the Queen who is about to grace us with her calming majesty. In this children's service, the prayer leader descends from the altar and extends her hands. The children flock to her and together they walk the length of the central aisle, stopping together at the last pew to bow. In past services E has shyly trailed along the back of the crowd. Clearly, she was ready to lead the pack on the arm of the prayer leader.

And this is when that thing happened where the buildup in her mind was so great, her enthusiasm so thoroughly unleashed, that she absolutely lost all control of her limbs and her sensibilities. First she ran right up onto the altar a full verse before the processional commences. The prayer leader sent down a quiet smile and the universal shoo sign with a flick of her wrist, and E sheepishly ran all the way back to me. A minute later the prayer leader finally descended the altar and held out her hands. E wasn't going to miss a second time. She bounced out of her seat and beelined toward the central pew. Two steps from the prayer leader's open left hand, E's velocity got the best of her and she tripped. hard. knocking out the prayer leader at the ankles, who very nearly sat on the four-year-old who was proprietarily clutching her right hand. E found her feet and the prayer leader, trying not to laugh, slowed the tempo of the melody that E might claim that place by her side that clearly meant so much. E and the prayer leader clasped hands and the assembled children behind them were ready to begin the joyous procession when E let out a small scream and dropped the prayer leader's hand. The prayer leader looked to me, confused, but E went backwards two steps and ducked down. Her purple kippah had fallen from her head in the tackle, and goodness knows she couldn't go on without it. Patiently, and I think bemusedly, the prayer leader extended her hand one more time to E, who regally assumed her place, finally ready. The prayer leader and E and the four-year-old on the other side and the dozen or so other children behind them slowly walked the length of the aisle. Together they bowed, E letting go of the prayer leader's hand so she could use both of her palms to keep her kippah in place. As they stood upright and turned around to return to the front of the sanctuary, E looked right to me, all twinkle and smile and pride of shyness overcome, mission accomplished. Bo'i Kallah. Welcome, Queen. Indeed. Pin It