April 2009: Episode Four All in the Temple…

What is the definition of a Gabbai?

“A Gabbai maintains the ritual of the Torah and the Torah service,”says Joan Levine, our Gabbai at Temple Beth Sholom.” What I really find fulfilling, is calling someone up for their first time or for their simcha, or even for their yahrzeit.”

Before the Torah is read, one might wonder what Joan is saying in Hebrew as one approaches the Torah for an Aliyah. The translation is, May G-d help shield and save all who trust in him and let us say, Amen. Ascribe greatness unto our G-d and render honor to the Torah”. The Hebrew name is then read aloud.

Joan, raised orthodox, was shocked when she first came to TBS. She never saw women kiss the Torah. “That as really something!” she explains. So, her journey began. Her involvement actually started when she was saying Kaddish in memory of her father in 1990. The warmth of the community was felt within. Joan then became an active participant in the Ritual Committee, Sisterhood Board and then co-President of Sisterhood with me. I remember that we complemented each other, introducing programs that have now become part of the traditions at Temple Beth Sholom.

Joan continued on her journey when she was elected as Ritual Vice President. In this role on the Board of Directors, she recalls many discussions with Rabbi Scolnic and President Sheila Mendlestein wanting to offer evening minyans to the congregation. Joan worked very hard to organize this and this service has continued to be available for our members.

Joan became very passionate with another project. There was a need for our Torahs to be restored twelve years ago. “There was a lot of planning to educate people to restore the Torah,” she explains. A special weekend included all arms of the Temple. Families met the scribe and, as part of the fundraising efforts, families and individuals were able to actually write letters in the Torah. To celebrate the culmination of the restoration, a Congregation Chuppah was handmade by many loving hands. Families were asked to design a square that would be sewn together patch quilt style. This Chuppah is still used every Simchat Torah. I always look for the square my family and parents created together-fond memories.

One of the highlights of Joan’s life was having an Adult B’not Mitzvah at Temple Beth Sholom. She shared the simcha with Sheila Mendlestein. Joan read from the Torah and was honored to carry the Torah around the congregation. “The voices surrounded me. It was a very spiritual time of my life,” her voice whispered. Another important commitment Joan has at Temple Beth Sholom is taking care of the Saturday morning Kiddush. As in every home, holiday foods bring a connection to our Jewishness. Joan works with the caterers and families as special occasions are planned.

Joan is encouraged when she sees more and more women participate at Shabbat morning services. She sees our community grow, as it stresses egalitarianism. “Our congregation promotes the needs of each individual. It’s wonderful to see young families become involved and participate,” she says.

Joan and her husband Steve have been members of our community for 31 years. They are proud parents of two daughters and a son-in-law. She laughs when she starts to talk about her grand-dog. You see, she is not favorable toward dogs. But, she is getting used to her. Even though she is four-legged, she’s now part of the family.

We are glad Joan and Steve are part of our caring community.