The Parade by Dan Butler

It was a big family. Nine children. Descended of royalty. Jewish royalty. Scholarly attainment. Charitable activity. Doesn't really matter anymore. The Nazis killed them.

All but one. The oldest daughter. A woman nearly as old as this century, who outlived two husbands and never knew the joy of children.. A woman whose parents and brothers and sisters and their children died in ways no one wants to know. And she sat alone, remembering alone. The song of her long-murdered mother. From a different world in a different time. Knowing, but not accepting that she might be the last to hear that song...SO SHE BEGAN TO PLAN THAT LAST MITZVAH.

The TORAH. Y'know, the Five Books of Moses. Handwritten on parchment. Said to contain 613 mitzvot/commandments. DOs and DON'Ts –the DOs are generally considered good deeds, like charity, the DON'Ts –well, you're not in the mood for that now. Anyway, towards the end of the Torah, there is a verse that starts out: “Now write yourself this SONG and teach it to the Jews, and make them remember it so that it will bear witness for them." And the TALMUD explains that the TORAH is referring to itself as a S0NG, and that this verse is the source for the LAST MITZVAH in the Torah, number 613 –to cause a Torah Scroll to be written.

So, she decided to write the SONG that her family had loved and lived by, and give it to the Synagogue so that others could handle it and cherish it and live by its music. So that in some small way the lives of those she had loved would continue in the strains of the melody that others would dance to.

It's an old Synagogue. Old building. Old neighborhood. But filled with tomorrow. Recently refurbished from top to bottom, it has the smell of the future. Services and classes. Young administration. New faces slowly outnumbering the old ones. And children. Countless children who gather together on Shabbat –while their elders hear a sermon –to pray, and sing that SONG. Exuberantly. Raucously. She chose the right place.

So the Synagogue planned a party. It would be on a Sunday morning in June. Might even attract a couple hundred people. The last lines in the Torah would be ceremoniously filled in. Refreshments would be served. Nobody could remember when the congregation had last welcomed a new Torah. So they'd do it right.

And, of course, following an old tradition, they decided on a parade. To escort their new Torah to its new home. Three blocks, up a big hill. From her new home to their home. Maybe some music. A band on a flatbed trailer. And they would spread the word...

So last Sunday, a year after the idea was born, the new Torah painstakingly written by a Tel Aviv scribe laboring through SCUD attacks to meet this schedule, began it's new active life in the arms of a Rabbi, under the traditional Chupah, heading toward the big hill, followed by that flatbed trailer and its amplified music. Ignoring the amplification, that Torah generated a music of its own. And like the children of Hamelin, they began to follow. First scores of them, then hundreds, and finally, literally thousands of people in a small old neighborhood. On a Sunday morning. In 1991. In Mid-America. Responding to what the city's newspaper the next morning called –on its front page– "a once in a generation event" –they scrambled to be part of that short musical trip. Just to be a part of it all.

And beards and hats and long black coats danced with shorts and Reeboks and neon t-shirts. Together. Just like once before so long ago, with the first Torah. And an old man with a walker. And one with oxygen. And one who wasn't sure where he was. An a woman in a wheelchair.

And healthy people, too. And their children and their grandchildren. Little boys, little girls and their friends & the neighbors. Big smiles. And in the center of it all an old woman with memories. And a song to sing. And the sun shined. And the birds sang. And or the time span of that short parade, not much else mattered.

Ad, at the top of that hill, hundreds more people and all the old Torahs of the congregation were waiting out front to greet a new member of the chorus. And they moved inside. And the SONG continued.

THe Hebrew word CHAI, which means life, has a numerical value of 18. Remember that Torah verse about the SONG? Well, 18 verses later, the Torah advises, "Remember days long gone by. Ponder the years of each generation. Ask your father. He will tell it to you, and ask your grandfather. He will explain it to you…".

So inside the Sanctuary, jammed to its massive capacity, they sat and talked. Two, three, four generations. In a relaxed family atmosphere, as each "purchaser" of one of the Torah's final letters was called forward to witness its inclusion. The others spoke of pogroms and immigration and marriage an births an illnesses and deaths. And the best brand of camcorder. And all the while some danced to the songs sung by a group of children whose energy level remained constant. Led by the youth leader who seemed similarly afflicted.

And the scribe finished the last letter of the Torah's last word. YISROEL. ISRAEL. It fit so well. And there was a satisfied pause. And the young Rabbi swung into action, reading a message sent by the old, retired rabbi –whose tenure had started 65 years before. And shortly it was over.

There were barely enough refreshments for the crowd. But nobody minded. It seemed so unimportant. As we left the synagogue, my father, who had never greeted a new Torah before, said to his nine-year-old grandson, "Put this deeply in your memory. It may be a long time before you see it again." And my son nodded solemnly. He will remember.

And I turned back for a moment, marveling at the event with a twinge for those who had missed it. But as I listened, I could still hear that song. Ad I realized that like the first time, in a way, nobody had really missed it. It's still there. Go see it. Join the celebration. March in the parade.