Torah falls, congregants fast

No one is supposed to know exactly how one of Congregation Rodef Sholom’s Torah scrolls hit the ground.

Yet the circumstances surrounding the incident a few months ago sparked more than a bit of curiosity from its members.

“It was funny how many people wanted the gory details,” said congregant Gail Napell. “It’s natural human curiosity. We all know it happens and could happen to anyone.”

Inquisitiveness aside, members of the Reform synagogue in San Rafael wanted to acknowledge the ancient ritual associated with dropping or watching a Torah fall — fasting for 40 days, sunup to sundown.

And with a few modern twists, they did just that Feb. 24. 

Instead of the traditional 40-day fast, a group of about 40 fasted for a single day. Rodef Sholom congregants, plus a few eighth-grade students from Brandeis Hillel Day School in Marin, gathered at the synagogue not just to fast, but also to cook a full meal for a local shelter.

“We came together as a community,” said Michael Levinson, a self-described “gatekeeper” who rounded up participants. “It was pretty meaningful for a lot of people.”

People gravitated toward different activities throughout the day. Some didn’t eat, some did. Many opted to cook, while others observed the fast at their homes or offices.  

The day started with a service, followed by hours of preparing dinner for New Beginnings, a shelter affiliated with Homeward Bound of Marin, a large provider of shelter and residential services for homeless families and individuals.

Napell delivered the meal — bowtie pasta with roasted vegetables, salad, rolls and brownies — to the shelter, capping a full day of working in the congregation’s kitchen without a bite of food. 

“Everyone said how good the brownies smelled,” Napell said with a laugh. “We agreed that even though we were around food, it was easier to fast because we were so busy. Cooking was a delightful distraction.”

During January’s “Torah on the Trail,” a monthly Torah study group that ventures into the wilderness for its lessons, Rabbi Michael Lezak broached the matter of the dropped Torah. He gave the group a homework assignment to devise appropriate Reform responses to the incident.

Napell said fasting was most popular, noting its traditional ties. Others preferred to donate money or food to a local shelter.

 “Personally, when you’re not fasting in a Yom Kippur setting, it’s a very solitary response,” Napell said. “We loved the idea of communally doing something to give as opposed to just fasting.”

Of course, participants made extra food and broke the fast together at sundown.