Sunday, October 21, 2012

Cleaning the covers

In the shul where I usually daven on weekdays, there are covers. One covers the Bimah, which is where the Torah is placed when read on Monday and Thursday mornings. The other covers the Amud, or prayer stand. On this stand is placed the prayer book the prayer leader uses while leading prayers. It is in front of this stand where I've spent hours and hours leading prayers. It's become a spot I was quite familiar with, that place from which I said the prayers, both silently and out loud for the community. Often I held on to the stand, at times feeling so overwhelmed that I felt I was holding on to it for dear life.

The covers, which match, are beautiful. They are a reddish purple shade with flower-like designs on them. But they were filthy. So many hands had been on them. I could tell they hadn't been cleaned in a while.

In the beginning of his book Kaddish, Leon Wieseltier comments on covers: "A red velvet cloth is thrown over the rostrum at the front of the shul, directly before the ark in which the Torah scrolls are placed. Here stands the precenter, that is, the leader of the service, that is, the mourner; and as I place my hands on this cloth, which is the color of wine, I see the traces of the hands that preceded mine. There are stains in the velvet. In places it is threadbare. This is an exquisite erosion. It is not neglect that thins these instruments. Quite the contrary. The more threadbare, the better. The thinner, the thicker" (Kaddish, p. 5).

Wieseltier may have been moved by stains, but for months I have been hoping to get the covers cleaned. In a previous post, I complained about the condition of the shul. (see http://mykaddishyear.blogspot.com/2012/05/complaint.html) My mother believed in noticing everything, in paying attention to the details of our inner and outer lives. I never heard her say this, but her actions demonstrated that we are responsible for creating the physical spaces we inhabit. We are called upon to create beauty and order in this world. This was not just an obsession with cleanliness, but a philosophy that our outer world, whether they be our clothes, homes, possessions, or the way we carry ourselves, reflect our humanity.

For my own sensibility (I guess she taught me well) and to honor her, I have tried in small ways to make certain aesthetic improvements to the shul. I moved the ark slightly so that it was more centered and gave space between the Ark and the Amud (prayer stand). I purchased bookends for books the rabbis use so they wouldn't pile up.

During the high holidays, the covers on the Amud and the Bimah were replaced with white covers. The replacement during this period of the regular covers with white ones is traditional and reflects our yearning to be spiritually pure, cleansed of our sins, and to begin the new year with a fresh start. I suggested to the Rabbi and shul's Executive Director that this time be used to have the covers brought in to the dry cleaners.

Two days ago I entered the shul to find the white covers gone and the regular ones there, sparkling clean. Their presence radiated, standing out among the books and white walls. I gasped and said to myself, "Ma, look how much nicer this place is" and I felt her smile, "yes." It made my day. I was saying my prayers in a place she would have felt comfortable.

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