Netivat Sofrut: diary of a Soferet

Adventures of a female sofer learning to heal the world by doing Holy Work...writing a Sefer Torah

נחזיר את השכינה למקומה בצייון ובתבל כלה

"Let us restore the Divine In-Dwelling to Her Place in Zion & infuse Her spirit throughout the whole inhabited world."

So wherever we are, let us bring the Peace of G@d's Presence.

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Location: Vancouver/London, British Columbia/UK, Canada

SCRIBAL EVANGELIST As the only living certified Soferet (סופרת - female Jewish ritual scribe) & the first woman to practice sofrut (creation of sacred Hebrew texts) in over 200 years, I feel an obligation to blog about my experiences of The Work. I am also currently researching the foundation of a lost tradtion of women practicing this holy craft. For more on the services I provide, please see; Sofrut Nation. I am now available to engage with students, male or female, wishing to enter into the preliminary stage of learning sofrut. You are welcome to join me on this path. "Tzedeq, tzedeq tir'dof - Justice, justice you shall pursue." Devarim/Deuteronomy 16:20.

Thursday, September 04, 2003



Thursday, August 14th

Heathrow: I'm 4 hours early for check-in instead of three, which would be fine, except that the 2 El Al locations (one for ticketing & one for security) are shut tight with a sign saying they'll be open 3 hours before the next scheduled flight. There are teenaged women sleeping all over their back packs on the floor in between the metal-shuttered counter & the enormous abandoned x-ray machine. I drag my belongings away from that corner in search of a place where I can sit & find the airport's wireless internet hub when I pass the corner where the El Al counter *used* to be. I stop, remembering the news reports of a suicide bomb years back & look up. The wall above the locked shutter is scorched. Still. People were murdered here.
There is no hub at Heathrow. I look up from my seat directly at a big guy in a light suit using an internet kiosk. Filled with glee, I bound up to it & read the instruction on the side opposite him. British change. I need more British change. It doesn't take credit cards. I began with the 50p minimum it asked for & used it up simply attempting to access my account as each time I successfully logged in it suddenly informed me that the page couldn't be accessed. Growl. A $150 airport card in my laptop, an internet kiosk & NO WAY to access the web. Sigh.
I began browsing the shops, not that I can really afford anything or need anything. I'd checked on the counter & there was still nobody there. The stores aren't so great here anyway, as it's before travellers are admitted through security. I return to El Al only to find it still locked down way past the time the sign indicated & the area like a ghost town. I go to the restroom.
Moments later, as I emerge from the ladies room, a huge line up has formed that blocks my exit. I negotiate the crowd, noticing that they're all speaking Hebrew. The line runs from the suddenly opened El Al counter to way past the block of shops & there are Israeli military all over this. M16s everywhere. Guns, shields, knives, bullet proof vests. It's just an average day.
I queue up & it takes forever to get to the front of the security line, as each of us has to be interrogated & several attempts must be made to trick us into admitting some terrible secret that would have us removed & detained. The young Yemenite man who questions me does not take his piercing black eyes away from mine & aggressively presses me with questions in quick succession, like he's strafing me with bullets. My laptop is prepared for examination & I move to stage two: luggage search & further interrogation. My El Al security check is made by an Israeli Backstreet Boy. "Why are you coming to Israel?" he asks. "I'm learning to be a soferet st"m."
"I'm learning to be a soferet st"m. I'm learning with my sofer." He is secular, so I'm not sure whether he knows what I mean.
"You want to write Sifrei Torah?" he looks confused & is unsuccessfully trying to hide it. It's not his duty to look confused. "Why?"
I open my mouth to begin the mind boggling story when he pulls my copy of "Liqutey Sifrei ST"M" ("How to Write ST"M Books" or "ST"M for Dummies", as I fondly refer to it). "Oo-wah", he exclaims, searching the pages to make sure nothing is hidden in between the pages that would threaten the lives of my fellow travellers. It was great timing. He softened somewhat for the rest of the interview & search & then kept my bags.
"Medaberet Ivrit?" he asked. ("Do you speak Hebrew?").
"Qtsat Ivrit, betach." I answered. ("A little Hebrew, sure.")
I wandered through the maze of taped off security lines to The Other Side. El Al passengers have to go *far* away from everyone else in their own line & go through more, different security checks with more, different equipment & more, different weapons.
I had two hours still, so I wandered the duty free on the Good Side, unburdened by my luggage. Eventually I went to the very last gate in the very farthest terminal, again, for security reasons, to move on to the next phase of checks. There are never any departures from the gates next to an El Al flight.
Waiting to board El Al. Just went through the body search behind the examination curtains, complete with invasive wand & shoe removal. The girl was very apologetic. No problem, I said. She offered me a glass of water & returned my carryon & computer to me, so I'm happy my box still works after they wrapped it in that black foam coffin & shoved it through the x-ray...
So much Hebrew. So many Israelis. Either wearing black & white or skin. Nothing in between but me.
There are 3 young men jamming on the floor of the security area, 2 guitars & a harmonica. Their shaved heads & boarder duds traces a grin across my face as does their music.
I seat myself in the aisle after being shown down a number of corridors...I guess they do this rather than call seat numbers as they do back home. Presently I'm joined by the two Ultra-Orthodox women I saw chatting on the public phones earlier. They are both smaller & rounder than I, with dark eyes & no makeup. It's unclear how old they are. One has a navy shmatte tied tightly over her scalp, hiding her ears & making it obvious that her head is shaved. The other, who sits next to me, has a classy navy pillbox hat (both women are in navy & light blue) over a dark brown sheytl. We don't speak for a while, but eventually I hear her break out of the Yiddish she's chatting with her companion & address me, peering at me over her plastic specs.
I had just completed my tefilat haderekh (travellers' prayer) & softly sung Joel's niggun :) to "Hiney Anokhi..." - which brought further, subtle tears of joy. Their names were Chanie & Malka. They lived in Me'ah She'arim. Malka spoke only Yiddish & Hebrew, while Chanie spoke English because she & her husband lived in Montréal for a time. She asked what I'd be doing for my 2 months b'Aretz, so I said "learning". She was very excited, "With who?". "Oh, probably nobody you've heard of..." I smiled & changed the subject.
They were grateful that they'd been seated next to a woman who dressed "properly". "I just look at all these Yidden, you know," Chanie was talking with her hands now, "& I think 'you're all such a chaval', you know?" She was referring to all the secular Israelis & other non-frum Jews on the plane & how they didn't (she assumed) keep kosher or daven or dress respectfully. "They could be so holy, but instead they're a chaval. You know, if you do an aveyra in the Aretz, it's *way* worse than if you do it anywhere else..." I guess she was trying to find common ground with me, in order to start a conversation. I nodded, then replied, "I actually like to be friends with all sorts of people. I have religious friends (a word I don't normally use as it's so loaded, but for the purposes of speaking to her, it really was the best choice), non-religious friends & goyishe friends. I find that we can all teach each other important things & share what we have in common without focusing on our differences. Besides, then maybe my non-religious friends won't think that religious people are so bad & my goyishe friends won't think that Jews are so bad. It's Kiruv (outreach)." I smiled. She thought for a moment & then a look of appreciation crossed her face. "Well, good for you that you can do that..." she said - or words to that effect.
We started talking about Jewish music. They were quite pleased that I adored Yiddish, even tho' I only know a range of nouns (& the saucy ones at that) that can be used as verbs but I have no clue how to conjugate. Chanie translated everything between me & Malka. She said she could recommend some great tapes to me if I were interested & I said SURE! She went on at length about 3 or 4 Chassidic male musicians whose songs were all about Shabbes, Yontif, Oilam HaBah, etc...she showed me a couple & then wrote a bunch down for me. "I just *love* music!" she glowed at me. "Yeah - me too!" I shone back at her. If only she knew that my first record ever was a Xmas gift from my big sister Tamsin: a Queen 45 featuring their single "Another One Bites the Dust" & "Don't Try Suicide" on the flipside...
I was feeling bold (or completely insane), so I started talking about Palestinians. I told Chanie & Malka that R' Menachem Fromen of Tekoa is my hero because he's Ultra-Orthodox & yet believes that all Arabs (regardless of whether they're Muslim) & all Muslims (regardless of whether they're Arabs) are our cousins & we must treat each other as neighbours. I tried gently to plant those seeds in a way I hoped they'd hear me without feeling threatened & that sounded like it was really G@d's will that we practice gemilut chassedim (acts of kindness) on each other, not just on other Jews & not just on other observant Jews. They swallowed it without complaining. Malka told me of a prophesy in Hebrew about equalization & I was very pleased to hear her say such things & even more pleased that I understood her :)
When the meals came, Chanie & Malka were dissatisfied with the hek'sher on their food. They'd ordered "special kosher" which means glatt, but apparently they'd expected the Kedassia London hek'sher & this is not the right kind of glatt for them. They tried to switch. The staff were as unsympathetic to their request as the two women had been quietly critical to me about the non-observant earlier. Chanie broke out the snacks they'd brought just in case. They shared with me, which was very generous. When my meal came, Chanie pointed out that it hadn't been double-wrapped & said that "they heat up all kinds of things up in those ovens, y'know - meat & dairy & probably treyf as well" & offered me her meal. I was stunned, "You really think so?" I asked. "You just don't know & do you think any of these people care or even know whether something is truly kosher or not? Here - this food isn't fine for me, but it's still glatt kosher & it's double-wrapped, so it's fine for you to eat." I ate her meal. Chicken. It was delicious & I thanked her very much.
We each slept for an hour or two.


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