I have a photograph: a forty-one year old, beaming with pure joy, pride, and enthusiasm, holding a bat mitzvah certificate. I am on the front steps of my beloved spiritual home, Temple Beth Or. On this  chai 18th anniversary year of my bat mitzvah, I now stand before you, the congregation, eager for us to know each other. Together may we continue to open the doors of the synagogue and our hearts, exploring, sharing, and growing on our spiritual journey in sacred community.

Sheryl, 9 years old; Sheryl in 1996

Perhaps for my parents, it would have meant a loss of dignity to request a scholarship. Perhaps it was simply that this education wasn’t “expected” or “necessary” for a girl growing up in a Conservative Brooklyn shul in the 1960s. For me, it was a deep loss that I could not comprehend. Why did I have to stop and my brother have to go? He would have happily traded places with me! I was a good girl, a “bright” student. After all, I earned 22% extra credit on my test! Didn’t I matter? My only consolation was that I would go to the Temple on Sunday mornings with my Dad. There I had a place at the table, nourished by the spirited chanting of prayers by male elders.

This denial of formal education did not make me turn away from the synagogue. Instead it seems to have been the start of an on-going yearning and struggle to feel a true sense of Jewish belonging with my family, my community, our God. I was able to find a rich connection in hearing the cantor, humming to myself the deep, penetrating Hebrew melodies. I also remember clearly the words above the Aron Kodesh, the Holy Ark: “Know Before Whom Thou Standest.” This command increased my sense of wonder and awe, pondering, “Was I the “Thou?” How indeed could I “know” “who” was before me?

No guidance to explore these questions was offered at this point in my life. Yet, the internal “knowing” of the Presence was indeed present in the innocence, mystery, respect, and deep thirst I felt as a child. She is here still…

And here I am, decades later. It is Tevet 5774 (December 2013), the time of my father’s yahrzeit. I am among 5,000 Jews at the URJ (Union of Reform Judaism) Biennial Conference in San Diego, the very city where he died 28 years ago. This is a place of deep personal convergence of time: immersed in the intensity of the moment (shehecheyanu!), standing at the threshold of

becoming president of our congregation, and remembering and recognizing anew the roots of my adulthood. It was here in my 20s that I found precious
companions who welcomed, awakened, and lovingly challenged me. I carry so many blessings from that time in my
life — the bold, innovative women of the San Diego Woman’s Institute for Continuing Jewish Education, and the warmth of the Hillel Chavurah where I met my husband, Jeff.

I have a photograph: a forty-one year old, beaming with pure joy, pride, and enthusiasm, holding a bat mitzvah certificate. I am on the front steps of my beloved spiritual home, Temple Beth Or. On this  chai 18th anniversary year of my bat mitzvah, I now stand before you, the congregation, eager for us to know each other. Together may we continue to open the doors of the synagogue and our hearts, exploring, sharing, and growing on our spiritual journey in sacred community.

L ’shalom,

Sheryl Shapiro