Saturday, November 7, 2009


It was a minor incident in the great scheme of things. But, then again, “Does a butterfly flapping its wings . . .”

During the High Holiday services (and all other services for that matter), congregants are honored by being asked to open (peticha) and close (segura) the Holy Ark (where the Torahs are kept). This is done during the Torah Service, and many more times during the service where centuries of Rabbinic thought has gone into deciding during which prayers the Torah’s presence is required. The congregation stands while the Ark is open.

I missed my peticha on Kol Nidre.

In our synagogue, past presidents and officers get the petichas on Kol Nidre evening—usually the best attended service of the year. This peticha was to be with my wife Laura with whom I served three years as co-president of the synagogue and our dear friends Art and Patty Werschulz—Patty served as president before we did. A gabbai (beadle, shammash, sexton) gives you ample warning of when your honor will be, and you do your best to be on the bimah (elevated area or platform at the front of the sanctuary) to take your honor. Art and Laura sing in the choir and were already up on the bimah.

Several things conspired to keep me from ascending the bimah in time:

  1. The gabbai told me to go up after the previous honorees came down, but failed to realize that this ark opening comes immediately after the previous ark closing
  2. I have multiple sclerosis and use a walker to assist my slow ambulation; it takes me extra time to get anywhere, especially up steps in front of hundreds of people
  3. The Rabbi called for the opening of the Ark while I was still en route
  4. The Cantor, whose personal religious practice does not permit him to use voice amplification on Shabbat or Holidays, had set up with a secondary lectern that had him standing where my walker needed to go if I ascended the nearer part of the bimah. I would need to cross to the far side of the bimah to use the handrail there.
  5. Neither my wife nor my friends signaled the Rabbi for a delay long enough to get me up on the bimah. This is a good thing, because the spectacle of delaying the service while I clanked up the stairs with everyone waiting and watching would have been more mortifying than what happened, leaving me standing at the foot of the bimah steps, forlornly leaning on my walker while the service continued apace.

I usually don’t let such things bother me. My evening was ruined. I paid less attention than usual to the ritual, the people, or the higher meaning of the service. I’m not big on allegory anyhow, but my sour mood precluded anything but self-indulgent rehashing of the incident.

I woke up in the dark hours of the next morning with little enthusiasm about going to synagogue. There were plenty of people to blame for my missing my peticha and my resultant snarly attitude. My wife, my friends, the gabbai, Rabbi and Cantor had all had a hand in my embarrassment. Laura got up to go to Shul, dressed and left the house while I lay there reveling in my resentment. I was well on my way to sinking into a blue funk, which history demonstrates takes me days to shake. And so long as I was assigning blame, the real problem was my MS!

No! I don’t go there. I never give in to blaming the disease. It is a core article of faith with me that I will never willingly cede one dyne of power to the MS. Reevaluation. My problems are my responsibility; not my fault, but my responsibility nonetheless.

I did not make it up on the bimah for my peticha. I have had MS for over 35 years—it is not something new. For everything I do I know I must have a strategy and a plan. The power to plan ahead belongs to me. I employ the foresight to anticipate my needs every day, and get better at it all the time. I own the power to control my circumstances, but I must not forget to use it. None of the people I blamed for this incident have an obligation to plan for my needs, nor do they have the insight to completely grasp all that entails (although Laura is pretty damn good at it most of the time). My brother Larry tells me that I have every right to be mad; if they give you an honor, they should see to it that you receive the honor. He’s right, of course. But I cannot afford the luxury of being mad. I own the problem, and am completely responsible for the result. I take back the power.

I don’t know how this works, but I get up, dress, and go to synagogue feeling empowered. I never reject a hand proffered in help, but I cannot plan on it

It would be nice, though, if the bimah were a little easier to navigate.

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