Personal Journey: Called to take part in service at Russia's Jewish museum

Sea Kaplan (center) of Chesterbrook recites the blessing before the start of the Torah reading at Moscow's Museum of the Jewish History in Russia. "I was nervous, excited, and feeling so special - all at the same time," he writes.
Sea Kaplan (center) of Chesterbrook recites the blessing before the start of the Torah reading at Moscow's Museum of the Jewish History in Russia. "I was nervous, excited, and feeling so special - all at the same time," he writes.
Posted: March 17, 2014

At the end of July I had the unexpected pleasure of taking a river cruise in Russia with a friend. This was exciting - my mother was from Zvenyhorodka, a town north of Kiev in the Ukraine, my father from a suburb south of Kiev. The cruise started out in St. Petersburg and wound up in Moscow.

On a scheduled bus trip in Moscow, we went to the Museum of the Jewish History in Russia, the only Jewish museum and Holocaust memorial in the country.

When we got to the museum, the men were laying tefillin - wearing black boxes on their foreheads containing verses from the Torah that serve as a reminder of God's intervention during the Exodus from Egypt - so we were ushered upstairs to the balcony for the service.

While we were walking up, a voice called out, "Is there a kohen in the group?" (A kohen is a priest in the Torah, and the word now refers to one of the three tribal affiliations in Judaism, passed from father to son. In most Orthodox and Conservative synagogues, it is customary for a kohen to recite the blessing before the start of the Torah reading.)

I said, "Yes, I'm a kohen."

The response: "Well, come on, we are going to read from the Torah and we need you." I got so nervous that I almost forgot my Jewish name, Zacharia, and completely forgot my father's, ben Yosif Laib.

They brought me down to the bimah and put a tallis (prayer shawl) on me. I asked for the transliteration card for the service - it's been a while. But when I looked at it, it was in Russian. Ouch.

So someone said the prayer aloud and I repeated it after him. When we finished, I was so relieved.

It was the highlight of my trip. I was nervous, excited, and feeling so special - all at the same time.

The rabbi said he had a son who was a rabbi in Philadelphia. I'm still trying to find him.


Sea Kaplan writes from Chesterbrook.

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