During any worship service, Jews do a lot of standing. There’s the Amidah, “the standing prayer” at the core of each service. We stand when doors of the Holy Ark containing our Torah scrolls are opened. We stand to recite the Kaddish (a memorial prayer.) We stand for (non-memorial) Kaddishes that punctuate various transitions during the worship service, conclude of a brief period of learning within a service, or celebrate the completion of an extended period of study of certain texts. We stand for the Kiddush which is a prayer recited over wine or grape juice and is not to be confused with Kaddish. We stand during the hakafah when the Torah is walked through the congregation. During the High Holidays there is even more standing.
So it was, during this past High Holiday season, that I became vexed at a woman who remained seated during an entire service. She didn’t seem to have a physical limitation; there was no walker within reach or cast on her foot. When we stood in unison to recite the Amidah, she sat. When the ark was opened, she sat. When the congregation rose for the memorial Kaddish, she sat. Not only didn’t she stand, but she never opened a prayer book, opting instead for her Kindle. Perhaps she had a vision impairment and had downloaded the service on her e-reader so that she could enlarge the type? No, she was just reading a book. Not The Book. I was waxing wroth big time. Why was she acting with such obvious disrespect? She had to be Jewish. No non-Jew would have behaved so obtusely.
Then the words of Rabbi Alicia Magal came to me. She leads a congregation in Sedona, AZ where the average age of the worshippers is in the 60’s. Inevitably someone is recovering from surgery. Or has taken a tumble on a hike and is casted or bandaged. Or endures some other infirmity and can only rise in his or her heart. Rabbi Magal’s invitation is always phrased thus, “If you are able, please rise.”
It occurred to me that perhaps the woman two seats over simply wasn’t able to rise, for whatever reason. Physical impairments are not always visible. Emotional ones even less so. Perhaps she hadn’t attended synagogue in years due to some tangled tormented emotional pain and resentment. Showing up Rosh Hashanah morning was as far as she could rise. Perhaps she was there out of deference to her husband and some grand bargain they had struck: she would attend but would remain seated and take refuge not in the prayers but in her Kindle. Perhaps she remained seated simply to mirror back to me my own pissy judgment.
That realization sent me on a train of thought about this coming year and the inevitable expectations I will place upon those in my circle. I began considering the ways I have expected others to rise to my standards and my subsequent judgments when I perceived they didn’t. I pondered the unknown and unconsidered ways I surely had not risen to my loved ones’ hopes this past year and began to consider how I might rise to them in this New Year.
“If you are able, please rise.” How many times is each of us just not able? Not because we don’t care but because of some inner barrier, known or unknown, that disables us. How many times do we rise but it just doesn’t look like it from the outside? How often have I refused to rise simply because I didn’t wanna? How will this year be different?
The woman two seats over will never know the impact she had on me. I am grateful to her for rising that Rosh Hashanah morning to attend synagogue. Sitting through the entire service, she invited me to rise. I pray to be able.