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Hearing The Blessing

Rabbi Charles S. ShermanBy: Rabbi Charles S. Sherman

I go to morning Minyan (quorum) services just about every day. I appreciate the quiet, reflective beginning to a day. After services, I enjoy the camaraderie, the banter, the good-natured teasing, catching up with the Minyan “regulars,” who have breakfast together. Among those regulars is Ruth. Ruth is a retired schoolteacher. Like most of us, she’s had some hardships in life. She drives quite a distance, in all kinds of Upstate New York weather, to arrive at the synagogue, an hour or so before services, so she can start preparing the breakfast and set up the table. She understands Minyan is both nourishment for the soul and nourishment for the body.                                                                                       

A couple of weeks ago, Ruth approached me before services and asked if she could clip a small transmitter on my lapel. She wore a device around her neck, like a pendant, that was somehow connected to my transmitter. Over the past few years, Ruth has lost much of her hearing. She had tried all kinds of hearing aids, with little success. This was another attempt. Like many people who are “hard of hearing,” Ruth was very good at compensating. But it was difficult for her.                             

We began the service and said the blessings that are said every single morning. One of the early blessings is thanking God for the rooster, who distinguishes between daytime and nighttime. I have said this blessing thousands and thousands of times. I admit, it is a bit rote for me. And, to be quite honest, I am a “city boy,” what do I know about roosters? But this morning, I happened to glance up from the prayer book and made eye contact with Ruth. There was such a brightness and light in her eyes, I knew immediately the transmitter had worked. Each blessing ends with a communal response. I could hear Ruth’s robust “Amen” above all of the other voices. I think Ruth will remember that blessing, because for the first time in many years, she heard it clearly. And as for me, I will never say the blessing for the rooster again, without picturing Ruth and her joy at being able to hear.    

While her participation has been enhanced with the transmitter, it’s so important to remember that Ruth was always a part of the Minyan community. She may not have been able to hear every word, she may have missed some of the responses, but she was embraced and encouraged by her fellow worshipers, and thus always understood her presence was needed and appreciated. Physical accessibility is very important in our synagogues. Technology is an incredible resource for all of us who are challenged. But every bit as important as physical accessibility and technology, is the fostering of a culture of welcome and affirmation.

Working together, Ruth was able to hear the blessings uttered by Rabbi Sherman

Rabbi Charles S. Sherman is the author of The Broken and The Whole, Discovering Joy After Heartbreak: Lessons from a Life of Faith. (Scribern/Simon and Schuster March 2014).

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