by Holden and Stuart Karon, Gateways student and parent
In my Torah portion, Aaron and his sons are getting ready to become priests. Aaron and his sons stay in the Tent of Meeting that was used as a temple. They should not leave the tent while they are getting ready to become priests. Aaron and his sons stay in the tent for seven days.
While Aaron and his sons are in the tent, they prayed. They also apologized for things they had done wrong in the past. Aaron and his sons only left the tent when they were ready to become priests.
Priests are leaders. Priests lead by comforting people. They can also be leaders by helping people do mitzvot. I can be a leader, too. I can be a leader by helping other people. I can also be a leader by being kind. Now that I am a Bar-Mitzvah, I look forward to being a leader in the Jewish community.
Gateways is a Hebrew school for kids who don’t learn in typical ways. My son, Holden, has been learning at Gateways since we moved to Boston six years ago. In preparation for his bar mitzvah, they sent home a pictorial version of his parsha (Tzav). It’s the first time I’ve seen an abbreviated, kid-friendly story provide more plot and detail than the original, unless you’re looking to brush up on the finer points of animal and grain sacrifices.
In the parsha, Aaron and his sons go into a tent for seven days to prepare to be Jewish leaders. Gateways has been Holden’s tent. They have kids for 90 minutes each Sunday. It took years but this past weekend, Holden finally worked up enough hours to equal one full week in the tent.
In his d’var, Holden speaks of being a leader. He won’t run a country, a company or even a committee. He may never hold a job. So how can he be a leader? Jodi and I wouldn’t be here this morning if not for Holden. Holden likes coming to shul, and so Jodi and I have become Shabbat regulars.
The parsha doesn’t give much detail of what Aaron and his sons do in the tent. When we pick up Holden from Gateways, we don’t get a lot of detail about what they did. And like a typical teen, Holden doesn’t tell us much.
Holden is not a detail-oriented kid, but enough details have stuck to give him a general appreciation and enjoyment of Jewish ritual. For him, rituals may be more fun than serious. He lights up when the ark opens and he sees a Torah. He covers his eyes for the Shema and peeks through fingers with a grin as the rest of us recite the prayer.
Enthusiasm inspires others. Holden starts clapping before the pace of the song picks up and the cantor and rabbis encourage us all to clap. If he spies the table with the challah and wine rolling up the ramp, he leads the way to the bima before one of the rabbis calls kids up at the end of the service. We’ve been wondering if he’ll still be welcome to join the kids on the bima now that he’s officially an adult. I’m not sure anyone will be able to dissuade him.
Holden leads in subtle ways, too. We used to live in Vermont. Holden led us to Boston in search of better schools for him. He led Jodi to our synagogue’s inclusion committee. He leads me to the T, as in MBTA. Every time we drive through Newton Center, Holden says “trains” with his iPad, and points and looks eagerly toward Station Street. Luckily the T hasn’t imposed fare hikes for standing on the platform, at least not at our favorite stop where you can see trains come and go for nearly a mile. I may not be as excited by the trains as he is, but an hour under the Station Diner with no agenda offers a break from routine, not unlike being at our synagogue for Shabbat. We should all find such breaks in our busy weeks. If any of you are interested, Holden would be happy to share the platform and show you how exciting trainspotting can be.
Our fellow congregants have heard some of Holden’s iPad-based siddur, and they will hear more. Many people have contributed to his voice. The recordings come from volunteers who work with Holden at Gateways, sit with him at services and live with him. Holden and others like him may not find solutions to global warming or income inequality, but they inspire many people to help others.
We’re surrounded by efforts to include everyone in Jewish life. The ramp up to the bimah, the sound system and wireless hearing-assist devices, the kids’ books and fidget toys that work for adults, too. Our congregation has three rabbis with very different styles, and we have many teens and professionals who make Gateways happen.
Holden may need more help and guidance than a typical person, but we all rely on others. None of us would do too well if we had to produce all our own food, build our own shelter and fabricate all our own clothes using only materials and tools we find or make. Some of us write useful software using tools others wrote to do so. Some of us provide medical, spiritual and legal care, while at times needing a little, too. Some of us cut hair, drive trains and prepare our temple’s hall for the lovely kiddush we enjoy after services. We help and we need help.
Aaron and his sons went to the tent so that they could help others participate in Jewish life. Aaron and his sons wouldn’t have had much to do or to eat if no one had brought sacrifices to the altar.
On his bar mitzvah day, Holden is manning the altar. Consider bringing a goat or sheep as an offering. He’d be thrilled. He’d keep it as a pet instead of sending it up in smoke, but that should be preferable at a Conservative congregation. If a ram or goat from your flock is too much, a friendly “hello” or smile will do.
Including everyone in Jewish life and other aspects of our daily ritual can mean having conversations that don’t come naturally to us. It takes a little effort, but we can all find ways to talk to people like Holden, who can’t speak, and to those who may be independent and typical, but don’t have people with whom to speak. Say “hello”, smile and ask a question that’s outside the routine.
With Holden, keep it simple. Ask if he’s seen any good trains lately. Tell him you saw a big plane fly overhead as you came to shul or that a fire truck passed by your house recently. You’re sure to get a smile, and you’ll have made him and whoever is with him, usually Jodi or me, feel a little more welcome. Then try it with someone else. Let Holden lead us all to make community gatherings a little more friendly.