Thanks to the “TorahNator”
Seniors Access Shabbat Services
“I’m calling it the TorahNator,” said a smiling Dr. Sanford Stone. “The minute I saw it I knew it was something special.”
And special it is. For many years I have had the honor and privilege to serve seniors. Over the years I have created adaptive measures so that more of our fragile seniors might participate more fully in our Kabbalat Shabbat and Shabbat Shacharit (morning) services.
Those who use wheelchairs and walkers, or who are a bit unsteady on their feet, or who struggle with cognitive deficiencies – many regularly attend our specially designed services, chant and sing the prayers, make Kiddush and enjoy challah after a rousing “HaMotzi.” Yet something was missing. That’s where the TorahNator made all the difference.
The Torah reading is the heart of our Shabbat morning service where one of resident serving as “Ba’al Kore,” chants 5-10 verses. One Aliyah blessing sung by the entire congregation announces the reading and one group Aliyah makes the concluding blessing. But it’s what happens prior to the reading that has made an enormous difference for our congregants.
“I used to carry the Torah,” said a wistful Sidney S., who recalled the days in his home synagogue when he hoisted a large Torah scroll on his shoulder and during the traditional “hakafah” ceremony he carefully carried the scroll to each congregant. “How I’d like to do that again.” And so the TorahNator was born. As I watched so many carefully and skillfully maneuver their walkers, it occurred to me that a walker could be retrofitted to carry the Torah scroll.
Walkers come in many shapes and sizes and today they sport a variety of accoutrements so it wasn’t difficult for me to find a walker that had been replaced with a newer model. With handyman Jose as my guide, we removed the walker’s seat and refitted it with a plywood base. After measuring the spindles of our Torah scroll, we drilled two holes into the plywood so that the Torah with its mantle covering would fit securely into the plywood base. One of our talented residents, Sandy Klein, created a multi-colored velvet covering for the plywood so that the TorahNator would have the dignity it deserved. With the Torah scroll in place in its TorahNator, a majority of our residents now participate in the hakafah and bring the Torah scroll to the majority of our residents.
In a sermon given by Rabbi Barry H. Block (1996), the rabbi offers an elegant explanation of the Torah procession; Rabbi Block says, “The hakafah, then, imposes a double responsibility, because both rabbis and lay people are included. We rabbis must …help our community to know the tradition that is ours to do. As we carry the scrolls into the congregation, we recommit ourselves to this task. You, our congregants, as you turn to kiss the Torah, brought close to you more often than ever before … (can) , receive the hakafah as a symbol that you share in the responsibility to study the Torah and to do the mitzvot.”
In Psalm 71 we read these words; “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me…” Thanks to the TorahNator seniors can indeed break through physical isolation and share in the responsibility that Rabbi Block so eloquently describes. As elderly men and women come forward to place their hands on the walker’s handles, and then pushing the TorahNator forward bring the Torah scrolls to their neighbors and friends, they have the opportunity to reconnect with rituals and practices that were once an important part of their lives.