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May 22, 2009     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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HERITAGE-FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MAY 22, 2009 PAGE 15A By Edmon J. Rodman LOS ANGELES (JTA)--I hear America singing, except it's in Hebrew. Approaching Shavuot, the time of matan Torah, the giving of the Torah, I have heard the song of the new Torah reader in a storefront minyan, and the song of the Jew by choice; the singing of Torah in cyberspace, and the 60-year-old chanting for the first time. How did this happen? After generations of relegating To- rah reading to professionals, and to those seemingly born into this artful skill, who finally took the "can't" out of cantillation? A new wave of Torah read- ers is coming online, literally. How do they do it? To begin, open a Hebrew and English edition of a Chumash, the Five Books of Moses it will help you navigate through the weekly Torah portions. Below each word are the usual dashes. T shapes and dots--the vowels used by many non-native Hebrew speakers to give each word proper pronunciation. Look closer still and you will see above an~below each word another set of curlicues. dots. curves and zigzags. These marks are the Torah trope "ta'amei ha-mikra" or "te'amim"--used for the public singing of sacred texts wherever Jews gather to pray. As a group, the trope form a system of musical notation that can connect us ir~an in- timate way to the Torah the By Paul Steinberg ENCINO. Calif. (JTA) Hundreds of young people gathered to become a part of Camp Obama for intensive three-day weekend retreats throughout the months of July and August of 2007. Sev- eral of the retreats were led by Marshall Ganz. a Harvard professor of sociology and son of a rabbi and World War II Army chaplain. Although these weekends were associated with a politi- cal campaign, for Ganz the ob - jective of the experience was not simply to develop political organizing skills for volun- teers but to "put into words why you're called, and why we've been called, to change the way the world works." These are fairly lofty ide- als upon which to spend such considerable campaign dollars and time, especially considering that in the sum- mer of 2007, Obama was still a long shot for candidacy, let alone the presidency. What is most fascinating, however, is how Ganz and Camp Obama accomplished their goal of inspiring these mostly young and new vot- ers to fulfill the camp's goal, which was to mobilize a political campaign with an injection of emotion and renewed faith. The central experience of the retreats was to inspire gift that with Shavuot we are about to celebrate. Trope, also called niggun, or cantillation, in addition to telling the chanter, the ba'al koreh, how to sing each word, tells them how to punctuate each verse--which words to sing together, which apart and where to place the emphasis. Arguments have even been made that trope adds meaning to certain key words. Here's the really hard thing about trope: They do not ap- pear on the Torah scroll, and must be memorized and then applied to the text. Torah trope typically is taught to bar mitzvah-age children through CD, cassette and rap3 player accompanied by a printed version, a mne- monic device that shows the musical notes for each trope, arranging them by common combinations and usage. For most Jews in North America, bar mitzvah time is trope time. Once it's missed-- perhaps you passed on the whole bar mitzvah thing it's very difficult for an adult to go back and learn. Yet yoo can. I did. I did not read from the To- rah at my bar mitzvah. With too many baby boomers at my suburban temple and not enough teachers, the cantor was happy if we learned the Torah blessings and sweated through a haftarah. I was nearly 40 when I finally read from the Torah. My prayer community, the Movable Minyan, had just purchased a sefer Torah. and I wanted to be among the first hope and a&ivism through stories. Not stories of the past not biblical stories, his- tory or even mythology--but each participant's own story. Each person at Camp Obama was invited to share three stories: the story of self (their personal story); the story of us (theirstory of being part of the collective); and the story of now (what they see in the world that needs healing). No matter where each of us stands on the political spec- trum. we can all appreciate the wisdom of Camp Obama's ap- proach to developing invested. motivated and committed' campaign organizers. After all, seeing the world through our stories and how our per- sonal experiences interweave with the world's story is very inspirational. More than that, however, it is very spiritual. And. by the "way, it is very Jewish. Take the Jewish calendar, for example. There are three pillars upon which the Jewish calendar stands, each origi- nating from the Torah. One is the fall holidays of Tishrei: Rosh Hashanah, Yore Kippur and Sukkot. The second is the spring holiday of Passover. And the third is Shavuot, falling seven weeks after Pass- over. at the start of summer. Each of these seasonal pillars tells a story that colors and animates the Jewish spirit. The Jewish story of self. Edmon Rodman Fad can point you in the right direction if you want to give Torah trope a try. to read from it. A friend who often read Torah recorded three verses for me on a cassette. Wary of trope, I learned my first reading the way many teens do--by memorizing it. The morning of my first reading, our minyan had moved into a neighborhood living room. On a simple table- top, converted to a shulchan. l picked up the silver Torah pointer, the yad, and read for the first time, stumblingwhen the tape in my head didn't match the reading, but pulling through to the final "sof pas- auk," the musical cue marking the end of the passage. I didn't need someone giv- ing me a Cross pen to know that in those few minutes. about 26 years late. I had chanted myself into a new Jewish adulthood: Hebrew calligraphy was singing, and I could finally hear the words. Today, years later, after leaning the trope and being able to master a short aliyah or two, I need to ask: If we can Twitter, why can't we cantor? The music of our lives isall around us. Why don'twewant to sing it? Tone deafness does not quite cover it. Inability to read music doesn't either. Gender-based prohibitions, in many settings, are no longer an argument. Is reading He- brew the barrier? There is already an intrepid crew of cantors, tutors and knowledgeable lay teachers out there struggling to teach the pre-teen learner: the Hebrew beginner, the tone deaf. the my parents-made- me-comers. We also need a group just as eager and trained to teach the adult learner: the shul-shy, the preoccupied, the don't- have-the-timers. With the rise of the minyan and havurah movements, who will read Torah? How will new readers learn? Go online. An explosion of sites and products teaches trope in every conceivable wa : terrific trainers, tutors, CDs, and mp3s, even power- ful learning tools that create individual Torah portion recordings. Sites that will get you up and chanting are ORT's Navigating the Bible and Ellie Wack- erman's Torah Trope Tu- tor . YouTube even has a video that will give you a taste, graphically and in song, how to chant=