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.

Monday, October 23, 2006



Sefer B'reyshit/Genesis 1:14-18 reads:

יד וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי מְאֹרֹת בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמַיִם, לְהַבְדִּיל, בֵּין הַיּוֹם וּבֵין הַלָּיְלָה; וְהָיוּ לְאֹתֹת וּלְמוֹעֲדִים, וּלְיָמִים וְשָׁנִים. 14
& G@d said: 'Let there be lights in the firmament of the Heaven to part the day from the night; & let them be for signs, & for seasons, & for days and years;
טו וְהָיוּ לִמְאוֹרֹת בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמַיִם, לְהָאִיר עַל-הָאָרֶץ; וַיְהִי-כֵן. 15
& let them be for lights in the firmament of the Heaven to give light upon the Earth.' And it was so.
טז וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-שְׁנֵי הַמְּאֹרֹת הַגְּדֹלִים: אֶת-הַמָּאוֹר הַגָּדֹל, לְמֶמְשֶׁלֶת הַיּוֹם, וְאֶת-הַמָּאוֹר הַקָּטֹן לְמֶמְשֶׁלֶת הַלַּיְלָה, וְאֵת הַכּוֹכָבִים. 16
& G@d made the two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, & the lesser light to rule the night; & the stars.
יז וַיִּתֵּן אֹתָם אֱלֹהִים, בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמָיִם, לְהָאִיר, עַל-הָאָרֶץ. 17
& G@d set them in the firmament of the Heaven to give light upon the Earth,
יח וְלִמְשֹׁל, בַּיּוֹם וּבַלַּיְלָה, וּלְהַבְדִּיל, בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחֹשֶׁךְ; וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים, כִּי-טוֹב. 18
& to rule over the day & night, & to divide the light from the darkness; & G@d saw that it was good.

Last week when we read Parshat B'reyshit, we again witnessed the birth of Creation. Humankind was, much like children when first born, placed in a garden, protected from the elements of the outside world. All our physical comforts were taken care of without any effort on our part, & we had G@d, the sun, moon & stars to watch over & guide us.

Much like being born into your family with your father, mother (the 2 large luminaries) & older sibs (stars) to welcome & care for you. This is one of the ways I read these verses in Genesis, because of my own family & my personal origins. I was lucky enough to be the last born into a clan of Mum, Dad, & many older sisters. They, along with G@d, began my narrative & I owe them all much for being "the light upon the Earth" for me.

I want to talk about ha-ma'or ha-gadol le-memshelet ha-yom..., the great light to govern the day...because for me, this great light was my dad, Alex. & at this time in the Jewish calendar, when we finish our annual Torah reading cycle & begin it all over again, is when he was suddenly called to the next world. This sentimental d'var Torah I write in his honour.

I inheirited much from Dad. I have not only his sirname, but his eyes, his freckles, his lower lip & his feet all on my own female version of his small frame. He gifted me with his disparate ancestry from the Yekke, Nusach Venezia, & John McIntosh. I also owe him for his goofy sense of humour, love of all movies, & the ability to take any leftovers that happen to be in the fridge at the end of the week & make a comforting, tasty soup that every one loves & demands the recipe for.

Dad used to manage movie theatres, & until I was in school I spent my days with him at work while Mum was out at her job. I drew pictures in the projection booth, befriended the cleaning ladies, & played in the parking lot in between shows when it was empty. I also watched the same movies over & over every day, subsisting on popcorn, Twizzlers & Orange Crush. At the end of each film's run, he used to carefully cut the people & animals out of the movie posters & give them to me to play with. It was Heaven.

If I hadn't sat, completely transfixed, through "Fiddler on the Roof" hundreds of times in 1972, I would not now be an Orthodox Jewish soferet.
& if he hadn't brought rolls of paper home from the theatre for me to draw & write on, I would never have "written my first Torah scroll" as a preschooler.

Dad retired from management when I was 6 years old. He was almost 60 when I was born, & decided to go back to being a movie projectionist in the evenings as he had been in the 1940's. & yes, if you've ever seen "Cinema Paradiso", that was our life.
With his days free, he walked the dog, did the shopping, cooked our meals & generally minded the house. When we were sick, he was the one who brought us home from school & took care of us with his famous soups.

I consider my dad to be "a great light", because he was just a regular man, very unassuming, who was kind to people, & quietly brought justice. The whole time he was in management, from the 1940's to the 1970's, he used to pay his female employees the same as his male employees. He would make sure elderly people had jobs, if they needed one. He used to help aspiring actors like Bruno Gerussi by giving access to & attention in the auditorium while it was closed to the public. & he used to make one night per week free admission to the movies for the Aboriginal Canadians in our community. When he retired, they gave him beautiful beaded Native jewellery to thank him, which Mum still has. Even Chief Dan George thought well of him.

He was also very generous. When Mum & Dad returned from their trip to the UK in 1977, I remember someone asking what he'd bought for himself, & him remarking, "Everything I bought was for other people. This was the only thing I bought for myself" & with that he produced a leverage-type bottle opener with the shield of Scotland on the handle.
(By the way, I haven't been able to find this for several months, so if you borrowed it or mistakenly took it with you somewhere, please please bring it back. It means a lot to me)

But only our family & very close friends know these things about him, because he was also a modest man. & for all the good things I inheirited from him, there are other good things I did not & am still learning from him these decades after his death. From him (& from Mum) I learned how to run a home, that it's important to dance a little in the kitchen while you make dinner, & when enough is enough. I'm still learning to be patient, to improve my listening skills & reach out to my local community.

Dad was the memshala, from the same root as le-memshelet, of our home. He was, quietly, the boss. The buck stopped with him, but he was gentle about it. He was also the mashal, again from the same root, which means 'to speak in parables', or 'to give an example'. He was a great joker & story teller who was fond of singing & playing music with people. Especially Hoagy Carmichael.

The Ramban teaches that the great light mentioned in Genesis, whether we're literally talking about the sun here or the Great Daddy Energy, causes growth & nurturance. Fathers, like the sun, if they shine brightly they can provide their families with security, build a structure from within which spouse & children can receive the special energy that only fathers can gift. A sustaining influence that, as vital as mothers are, is a different kind of care that only a man can give the children in his household.

I struggled with G@d for years over Dad's death, but my process kept leading me back to the same ha-ma'or ha-gadol le-memshelet ha-yom... each day we are grown in all our ways by the great light. Being a good father is one of the most challenging relationships a man can have. So many people have fathers who, for whatever reason, cannot care for them well. But I'm not one of those people. Having a good dad is one of the greatest blessings a child can have, a vital, nourishing source for growth. & I had that. I have no business resenting G@d for having my dad around for such a short time, especially when other people get not-so-great-dads for their entire lifetime. & his influence on me is still with me, encouraging me by the examples he set to grow into a better person. So I have every reason to feel gratitude - & thank G@d.

Over 400 people came to his memorial service. We held it in his last movie theatre. Many people spontaneously stood & told wonderful stories about how my dad had helped them, or cheered them up, or took them out for a drink & advice. Stories I would never have known otherwise, because his life was mostly over by the time I was born. Stories which confirmed what I already knew: Dad was a mensch.

Father's Day, 2006:
Dad at Rest
May each spark our loved ones, our teachers, bring into the world be perpetuated in every moment by we who are left behind to continue the work. Or gadol.

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Blogger Poor Mad Peter said...

I have seen Cinema Paradiso, and it is a treasure. Blessings on the memory of your father, Avielah.

4:17 a.m.  
Blogger Soferet said...

Isn't it?
Thanks, Peter, you're really kind. Ameyn.

5:03 a.m.  
Anonymous Rachel said...

Thank you for sharing the blessing of your father's memory with us!

6:09 a.m.  
Blogger Aaron said...

A lovely remembrance Avielah, you did him proud.

10:26 a.m.  
Blogger Soferet said...

Thanks, guys. If there's anything I can do to honour my dad (who'd be almost 100 years old now!) & his memory, it's to share all the good teachings I gained by the way he lived. Family is so important, as is the accumulated wisdom of generations.

1:32 p.m.  
Blogger MiriyaB (Becca) said...

That was truly beautiful, and it is a tribute to both him and to you that you are very much your father's daughter. Thank you for sharing this torah with us...

4:18 p.m.  
Blogger Karryn Barclay said...

Thank you for this, Alli. You have left tears in my eyes. Love you lots, Mum

4:29 p.m.  
Blogger Soferet said...

Thanks, Becca. Although Dad had his flaws, like anyone, I still view him as a kinder & more ethical person than I am. I wish I could more closely learn those good traits he had that I still need to improve.

Hi Mum! What a great surprise for you to make yourself a Blogger profile & comment here!
You aren't alone - my eyes were moist the whole time I was writing & editing this, even though I was also smiling.

5:12 p.m.  
Blogger Jordan Stratford+ said...

Avielah - I've read this several times since you first posted it and am still moved by it. I've had friends lose their fathers in recent weeks, and you beautifully remind me of what that means to all of us spiritually: the lesson to me personally makes me want to be a better father, a greater light.

Lovely, thank you.

1:09 p.m.  
Anonymous alissa said...

Beautiful. You honoured your father well.

3:41 p.m.  

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