Staring down at the blue hardback book in my lap, I’m overcome with guilt. The binding is split and loose strings are coming off the fabric covering, but I’m more concerned with the fact that I’ve had this book for nearly six years, and I have no idea who it belongs to.
Not only that, it’s a tikkun, the book used to practice laining, or reading Torah in synagogue. On one side of each page are the words of the Torah, complete with vowels and trope, cantillation marks; on the other are the same words as they appear on a Torah scroll, with no guiding marks.
I’ve stolen a book of Torah, and I feel horrible about it.
In September 2005, my boyfriend (now my husband) and I moved to San Jose from the East Coast. Two weeks after our arrival, it was Rosh Hashanah. I bought High Holy Day tickets for the Conservative synagogue, Congregation Sinai. I sat by myself during services, feeling out of place in more ways than one.
On the second day, a woman sat down next to me toward the end of the service. She had noticed I was a newcomer and wanted to welcome me. I was relieved to have someone to talk to, and as we chatted, we discovered that she had grown up in the same part of Boston as my mother and had gone to day school with my aunt.
The woman invited me to have Shabbat dinner with her family, and I gladly accepted.
A few weeks later, Dieter and I had a lovely meal at her home. I don’t remember much about it, except that when we arrived, she told us that her family only ate locally grown food. My mind was fully blown. As a Bay Area newcomer, I had never heard of a locavore, and thought this was absolutely crazy. How many farms could there be in the area?
After dinner, we got to talking about the synagogue, and I expressed interest in reading Torah or Haftorah sometime. The woman’s husband asked me if I had a tikkun. I said I did, but it was back at my parents’ house in Maryland. He pulled a worn tikkun off the bookshelf and handed it to me.
“I got this for my bar mitzvah,” he said. “We have another copy, so you can borrow this one until you have yours sent out here.”
I thanked him, making a mental note that I should get ahold of my own tikkun and mail his back as soon as possible. I felt bad about borrowing something that was obviously a family heirloom.
Needless to say, that never happened. Soon after that Shabbat dinner, I got a job at j. and Dieter and I moved north to Burlingame. The tikkun survived the move, but the card with its owner’s address on it didn’t. I should have made an effort to recall who it belonged to, but life got in the way and I forgot.
Since that time, the tikkun has been sitting in a box in the back of a closet. Once a year or so, Dieter will say to me, “Did you ever return that book to those people?”
I say no. He says, “You really should do that.” I nod, and then forget for another year.
I’ve held on to this tikkun for almost six years, for no good reason. What must this family think of me?
And if there’s anyone who knows how important a tikkun is, it’s me.
I still remember getting mine when I was around 13. I had worked hard for it — a few Saturdays a month I would go to shul for Torah Club, where kids would be taught how to chant Torah. We would read during Maariv, the evening service, on Mondays and Thursdays. And after a certain number of readings we would be honored at a ceremony during Shavuot, where we would get our very own tikkun.
Standing on the bimah on a warm May day, I was handed the crisp blue book with my name written in beautiful calligraphy inside. More even than having my bat mitzvah, I felt at that moment that I had “arrived” as a Jew.
I can only imagine that the man who loaned it to me felt much the same way.
I’ll be moving again soon, this time even further away, and I want to get this tikkun back to its owner. If you know who that might be, please contact me.
Rachel Leibold is a copy editor at j. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.