Maya’s bat mitzvah, as I may have mentioned, is coming up. I may have also mentioned that I have a Torah portion myself.
Here’s a little primer for the uninitiated:
The Torah reading is split into 7 parts. The kid learns the last part first, then goes to the beginning and starts learning each portion. S/he first learns another reading, called the Haftarah, doing that whole thing. Other people will take portions too, sometimes. I watched my BIL and FIL do a portion each for my nephew’s bar mitzvah and thought ‘that’s cool; we should do that.’ Then I thought, wait a minute! It’s a bat mitzvah, it should be the women folk!
My mother isn’t Jewish, so she’s off the hook. I went instead to my MIL and suggested she take one portion and I take another. I was very impressed when she agreed. At the time, a year ago, she didn’t even read Hebrew. She hired a tutor and learned.
But chanting Torah is way more complicated than that. Written Hebrew doesn’t really have vowels. The vowel sounds are indicated with small marks above or below the letters and those proficient in Hebrew don’t bother with them at all. What we have to learn from has the vowels. It also has other marks, to indicated how the word is to be sung. Learning that – the trope – is a big part of learning for the kid, but since we only had one portion each, my MIL and I went for straight memorization. However, when you sing something about one zillion times, you start to recognize the marks as meaning certain sounds. Doesn’t really matter, though, because the actual Torah scroll you read from up in front of everyone has none of that – no vowels, no trope. And the letters are stylized. It’s a bit like reading a medieval scroll.
The rabbi gave us photocopies of our portions and the Cantor (the singy guy at the synagogue) chanted them for us onto a CD. I downloaded it onto my iPod. Pretty much every day since the beginning of December, recently several times a day, I have been trying to stuff this thing into my head.
Today, I went met with the Cantor and sang it for him, hoping desperately that I hadn’t made any huge errors. As the header suggests quite strongly, I didn’t suck! I actually did pretty darn well. He says he’s not remotely worried that I’ll get it all done in time and that I’m 95% ready. He gave me some pointers for getting the last little bit.
This is a huge, huge relief. And now, off to study!