This week's Torah portion is Parashat T'rumah, Exodus 25:1-27:19, which gives specific instructions for the building of the Mishkan, also known as the Tabernacle. So many of the items named in the parashat as building materials in the Tabernacle, can still be seen in our synagogues...the ark and its cover, the tables and menorahs, the lamps, jewels and yarns. You can walk into almost any synagogue in the world and see symbols that let you know that you are indeed in a Jewish house of worship.
Over the years, I've worshiped in many places. One of the most memorable for me was in the hills of North Georgia, at our regional URJ camp, Camp Coleman. My children had attended Coleman, but growing up I'd never had the opportunity to go to Jewish camp, thus attending camp with the WRJ Southeast district women always proved to be very special. The Interim Kallah held there in 2006 was one of the most amazing journeys of my life, as I celebrated an occasion most girls of today do at the age of 13. I had my Bat Mitzvah at the age of 52. This event resoundingly drove home the fact that I had found a place in Sisterhood and in my Temple...not because I had sought it out, but because many years prior the women of Sisterhood had asked me to join them. Those women were perceptive enough to know that I needed Sisterhood as much as Sisterhood needed me. What they didn't know then, was that they gave me the gift of feeling less isolated, of really feeling part of my temple family.
That wonderful gift of persistence led me to become active in Women of Reform Judaism serving on the district and North American boards. I had found sisters not just here in Greenville, South Carolina, but from all across our country who worked as I did for their Sisterhood, their congregations and their communities. I even found the courage to do things I never imagined; traveling to unknown places to speak before people I'd never met, delivering sermons, leading workshops, telling the WRJ story, and yes, eventually reading from the Torah.
Now...back to my journey at camp. I will always remember that feeling as I stood before the Torah, in the camp dining hall because of the weather. The ark was there, the table with the Torah on it was there, the eternal light hung over the ark and most importantly, my "sisters" were there. My joy mixed with real fear. Reading Hebrew did not come easily to me. I began the Torah blessings enveloped in the spirit and serenity that is Camp Coleman. My hands shook as I held the Yad. A journey of many years and there I was...reading Torah...surrounded by supportive Sisterhood women from across the Southeast. There simply because I was asked to join. Believe me when I say, that day will always remain a memory that I cherish. I thank every "sister" who led me to that day.
When we combine our spirit, our energy, our efforts and our voices, we can all be women approaching Torah, practicing traditions and ensuring Reform Judaism for many years to come.
God said, “And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I will dwell among them."
Jo Stamler Thompson is a WRJ Board Member, a past president of the Southeast District, the current president of the Temple of Israel, and a proud member of the Temple of Israel Sisterhood in Greenville, SC.