It’s a family affair
Parents and children who read Torah, blow shofar create a ‘meaningful’ experience
The High Holiday Torah readings at Temple B’nai Shalom in East Brunswick have been called “the Fabricant family show” by Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer because so many members of the family head to the bima to read Torah. Mom Stephanie, who converted to Judaism, reads in the morning on Yom Kippur. Sons Jacob, 17, and Joshua, 15, read in the afternoon. Daughter Brooke, a student at Rider University, also chanted on the bima before heading off to college.
“It makes you feel really good” to be on the bima with so many family members participating, said David, Stephanie’s husband. “It’s pretty cool to watch them read.”
Stephanie learned to read Torah with the proper trope, or cantillation, when she enrolled in an adult b’nei mitzvah class at the Reform synagogue. Her enthusiasm spread to her children. “Being up on the bima with the boys chanting Torah is very meaningful,” said Stephanie, who lives in Monroe Township with her family. “It reflects the past and what is coming in the future.”
After becoming a bar mitzvah, Joshua “wanted to continue my Judaism, and one of the best ways to do it was by reading Torah,” he said. The Monroe Township High School sophomore said he gets nervous, “but once I’m up there, I feel a part of the community and it feels wonderful.”
Jacob started because “my mom wanted me to do it,” he said, but once he began participating regularly after his bar mitzvah, the high school junior found it “really enhances my appreciation of the holidays.”
The Fabricants are one of several families who are making Torah reading and shofar blowing at High Holiday services a family affair.
The Barofsky family of Wayside is also a family of Torah readers. At Congregation Torat El in Oakhurst, Jonathan Barofsky and his three daughters have all read on the High Holidays, although the oldest two — Alana, 21,who just graduated from the University of Michigan, and Julia, 19, who is a student there — are no longer home to chant at the Conservative synagogue. But the youngest, 16-year-old Emma, continues the family tradition.
Jonathan noted both he and his wife, Dawn — who is a synagogue board member and president of Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Monmouth County — had strong Jewish upbringings and passed that on to their children.
“We all have the feeling that we want to keep the tradition alive,” said Jonathan, who used to practice with his daughters, but “they all became good enough that they don’t need me anymore.”
Emma, in particular, seems to have a knack for looking at a parsha, Torah portion, and being able to recite it with the correct trope within days, he said. Jonathan, who has been chanting Torah since he was young, reads on Yom Kippur, and Emma on the second day of Rosh HaShanah. Emma, a junior at Communications High School in Wall, said, “I like being involved and connected to Judaism.”
That feeling of connection to synagogue and tradition also inspires Michele and Mark Rosenfield of Metuchen and their children.
“My husband has been reading Torah most of his life, but I came to it as an adult,” said Michele, who became more observant and earned at age 40 a master’s degree in Jewish education from the Jewish Theological Seminary. The family belongs to Conservative Congregation Neve Shalom in Metuchen.
Michele, a shul board member, also chairs the committee that runs the synagogue’s alternate service on the first day of Rosh HaShanah, called “Search for Meaning,” at which the youngest of the couple’s three sons, Daniel, 21, chants Torah. His brothers, Simon, 24, and Ben, who will turn 27 in September, previously have read Torah on Shabbat. Michele reads on Yom Kippur and Mark on the second day of Rosh HaShanah.
Mark hopes his children “will continue to use this ability for the rest of their lives in whatever community they may find themselves,” he said.
Daniel, a student at Montgomery Academy, enjoys reading Torah. “People come up to me and say, ‘You sound so much like your dad,’” he said.
For the Willner family of Morganville, blowing the shofar on the High Holidays has become a three-generation tradition. Marc and his daughter, Aliza, are two of the eight people who simultaneously sound the shofar at Temple Rodeph Torah in Marlboro. His son, Brett, blows the shofar at his Detroit-area synagogue, and Brett’s 3-year-old son, Nadav, is already getting lessons from his father and grandfather. Marc’s wife, Shelley, sings at High Holiday services with the Reform synagogue’s choir.
Marc has been blowing shofar for 48 years, first at synagogues in North Jersey and Michigan before joining Rodeph Torah in 1982.
“The idea of blowing shofar to wake up your soul appealed to me,” he said. “We’ve always felt it’s important to be active members of our temple, which goes back to my parents and my wife’s parents.”
After one of the first times that Marc and his son blew shofar together at the Neilah service ending Yom Kippur, people complimented him for letting the young boy’s Tekiah last longer than his own. “I said, ‘It was not a choice,’” laughed Marc.
Aliza, 36, of Jersey City returns annually for High Holiday services at Rodeph Torah. She became curious about blowing the shofar as a child, when she watched her father. “It’s a mitzvah to blow and hear the shofar being blown. It’s really lovely to do it with my dad.”
She thinks it’s important for young children to hear the shofar, and she enjoys seeing that “little bit of glee in their eyes,” said Aliza. “It’s that same bit of glee I had.”