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Victory Lap

Traditions are a way to unite generations and cultures by having shared experiences to celebrate life’s milestones. There are formal traditions like Jewish bat mitzvahs which mark a child’s entrance into adulthood and there are informal traditions like blowing out candles on a birthday cake. Some people like traditions and find comfort in having a common way in which to acknowledge the passage of time. Other people shun traditions as boring and predictable. However, when the predictability of formal traditions and the unpredictability of clumsiness are combined, it is anything but boring.

Our niece, Anise, was preparing for her bat mitzvah. When I read an e-mail from Oregano’s sister asking us to participate in the ceremony, I gasped. I knew tradition and clumsiness were about to have a head to head showdown in a temple. During a portion of the ceremony the ark is opened and the Torah is removed. Oregano and I were asked to hold the Torah, a Jewish Bible written in convenient, portable scroll form. The rabbi would place it in my arms and then it would be my job to hold the Torah and lead the rabbi, cantor and Anise in a parade around the sanctuary. Oregano would get the hand-off to hold it as they prepared it to return to the ark.

“Your sister is familiar with my long-standing history of clumsiness, isn’t she?” I asked Oregano when I finished reading the e-mail to him.

“I’m sure she’s heard the legendary tales of how you broke your middle finger doing laundry and fell in a manhole in front of your entire graduating class during graduation rehearsal.”

“What exactly is this going to entail? How heavy is the Torah? Can you walk around behind me in case it starts to slip out of my arms?” I fired these questions at him with great trepidation. I didn’t want to disappoint Anise, but a lifetime of unintentional slapstick comedy does tend to undermine my confidence in my ability to carry out seemingly unathletic endeavors.

“The scroll weighs about 50 pounds, but you won’t have to pick it up, the rabbi will hand it to you. It will be my job to hold the Torah after you are done so I can’t be part of your jaunt through the sanctuary. The rabbi will be with you the whole time,” Oregano replied.

“I sure hope he’s got good reflexes,” I said, envisioning a disaster of Biblical proportions.

We e-mailed Anise’s mom to tell her we’d be honored to participate in the bat mitzvah ceremony. Her reply was, “Oh, we didn’t think Aunt Paprika would actually say yes. We’re thrilled!”

Apparently, she is familiar with my proclivity to poorly timed physical mishaps. I’ve suffered public humiliation before because of my clumsiness, but never while wearing a dress and carrying a religious object in a house of worship. Preparation would be my key to success this time.  My training began in earnest after that e-mail. I started carrying heavy, unwieldy objects like 25 pound bags of cat food while walking around my house. My strength training regimen consisted of lifting 50 pound boxes of kitty litter. Like professional athletes, I visualized a successful Torah lap, but having never seen the inside of this temple, I had to use my vivid imagination. After 8 weeks of training, the day of the bat mitzvah arrived and I was as ready as I could possibly be.

When we entered the sanctuary I was ecstatic to see that it was even smaller than I had imagined. Phew! What I didn’t expect were the stairs leading to the bimah (altar). I totally forgot that there would be stairs. How could I have made such a miscalculation? I should have practiced carrying the bags of cat food up and down the stairs in my house. Too late now; I’d have to improvise and hope that all of my training had prepared me for this unanticipated obstacle.

The day was supposed to be all about Anise, but if I dropped the Torah and it ripped into two pieces that rolled down the aisle, no one would be focused on her. They would be focused on trying to capture what was sure to become You Tube’s next viral video. When the rabbi called me up to the bimah I felt like an Olympic runner being called to the starting blocks. I climbed the stairs and turned to smile at the congregation. It was show time! No turning back now. The rabbi placed the Torah in my arms like it was a baby; a 3 foot long baby weighing 50 pounds. My knees buckled under the weight, but the transfer went smoothly. I was eager to make my trek and get this over with before my luck ran out and disaster struck.  As I stood there trying not to shift the weight cradled in my arms, the cantor began singing. The Torah was getting heavy and I hadn’t even made it to the stairs yet. No one mentioned I’d be holding it as they sang a few songs. I’m sure the songs they were singing had some spiritual significance, but all I heard was the theme from the movie Rocky playing in my head. As Rocky Balboa ran through the streets of Philadelphia on my mental movie screen, I visualized an uneventful lap: no dropping, no tripping, no ripping.

The music stopped and the rabbi gestured toward the stairs. In reality, there were only 3 stairs, but it may as well have been a Mayan pyramid. As gracefully as I could manage holding a delicate religious scroll more than half the length of my body, I descended the stairs and began my march around the blissfully small sanctuary.  I was focused. When I made the turn at the end of the aisle, I was almost home free. I was a Torah carrying machine as I carefully climbed the steps and made it successfully back onto the bimah. Hooray!! I wanted to spike the Torah, high-five the rabbi and do a dance to celebrate my success, but I restrained myself. The rabbi directed me to a throne-like chair and I was able to take a load off while holding onto the Torah during the next musical interlude.

When the song concluded, someone lifted the Torah from my arms; it was probably the rabbi, but it could have been the janitor. It didn’t matter to me. I had survived my encounter with the Torah and more importantly, the Torah had survived its encounter with me. Years of ineptitude made me nervous about my ability to fulfill my duties during the bat mitzvah. Maybe all I needed was some divine intervention to finally lift the curse of clumsiness. Could this successful lap around the temple have been my personal victory lap? Perhaps I am no longer the graceless, petite clod I perceive myself to be, but rather, a graceful, petite swan.  Just 6 days later, the euphoric feeling of my victory lap still fresh in my mind, I gouged a huge chunk of skin out of my thumb while cutting cheese for a grilled cheese sandwich. As I sat there applying pressure to stanch the blood coming from my wound, I realized that some victories are short-lived.

** I’d like to give a shout out to Anise’s friend, Louisa, who reads Good Humored every week. She was so excited to meet me at the bat mitzvah that she was unable to speak. I have that effect on people, but have always assumed they just thought I was too boring to talk to.**


About Paprika Furstenburg

I was born with an overly developed sense of humor and poor coordination. The combination of these two character traits has taught me humility and given me the perspective to find the funny in everyday experiences.

52 responses »

  1. And I would have just been so happy that no one asked me to speak during an event! I hate public speaking. Though I’m not sure I could have carried something that weighed 50 pounds either. I’m impressed with your training. Good move!

    • I hate speaking in front of large groups of people, too. Frankly, I was worried they were going to ask me to read something in Hebrew, so carrying the 50 pound Torah was actually a relief by comparison.

  2. Yeah well, gouging your finger ain’t nothing after the success at the bat mitzvah!

  3. Renee Weinreich

    You crazy woman! Are you telling me that all the grace and agility of your years on the CHS flag team have left you the clumsy, bumbling clod that you profess to be? Silly girl!!

  4. If I had known about this earlier, I would have happily made you a training chart. Congratulations!
    My husband just walked into the room and said, “You look happy honey.” I responded, “That’s because this lady Paprika is so funny.”

    • I probably could have used one of your magnificent training charts.

      I’m sitting here alone in my office, but if someone were to walk in right now they would see a huge smile on my face. If they asked why I’d say, “That Worrywart is one very kind lady for leaving me such a wonderful compliment.” I’m so glad I could make you smile 🙂

  5. Sean and I still laugh about when you kicked your own butt raking leaves. Not that I am one to talk, given my own propensity to falling. Want to freak people out? Try falling in the parking lot when you’re 7 months pregnant.

    • I do have quite the long history of assaulting myself. At least others find humor in my misfortune.

      I can only imagine how people freaked out seeing you take a tumble while 7 months pregnant.

  6. congratulations on your significant role – performed to perfection – for your niece’s bat mitzvah. and while i was unable to view the embedded video – instead in black and white, as in white font on a black background: this video contains content from mgm, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds – i nevertheless enjoyed this post immensely.
    and while the cheese grating may have put a temporary damper on your victory, it did provide another chuckle – not at you but with you. and as a suggestion, you could simply consider it a momentary lapse. don’t even call it ‘your clumsiness’ because it doesn’t own you. it is just that clumsy sometimes happens. i am sure there are some well-paid staff at Buckingham Palace that could easily tell us lots of stories about tripping on long gowns or droopy tiaras, but prefer their salary over the noteriety of their tales. so if royals can trip or slip, it is no dishonour, for sure. 🙂
    and for what it’s worth, you have my vote for the next auspicious occasion. you will shine,no doubt about it. 😀
    now if i can just find a work-around to view that video……

    • Thanks! I’m so glad you enjoyed the writing, especially since there wasn’t any video to enhance it.

      Interesting to know that mgm blocks its content. I had no idea. Not sure how to get around that. It was scene from Rocky when the theme song is playing as he runs through Philadelphia and victoriously up the steps of the art museum.

      Thanks for your kind words about how clumsiness does not define me. It did contribute greatly to the development of my sense of humor. As you pointed out, we all have our graceless moments. I just have more than the average person.

  7. As someone who trips over dust, I winced every time you were entrusted with the Torah. Praying that you’d make it thru. Thanks for the laughs and for making this klutz feel less alone.

  8. Hi Paprika. I awarded you the Sunshine Blog Award!

  9. I was waiting for it to drop or you to fall so congrats and enjoy this victory 🙂

  10. Such a great read! Funny and well paced.(I just started reading faster and faster out of fear- I meant concern…)
    Must have had some special help that day …just for that day apparently. (You are who you are..and that’s fine with us)

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the story and thought it was suspenseful. I’m quite certain that divine intervention played a role in my uneventful Torah lap. Gashing my finger open later that week confirmed my suspicion that I only get that type of assistance when carrying out a religious duty.

  11. Loved your comment of wanting to spike & high five! After all that stress, most would at least want to give a “Woo Hoo!”

  12. Great story-telling, as usual, and I loved the Rocky video, of course. Maybe you passed on your clumsiness curse to me. Although I didn’t rip the Torah in half, it was pretty bad when the metal decorative top of the Torah came crashing down to the floor during Anise’s performance! Good thing that she took it in stride, and never missed a beat.

  13. Ha! Niece “Anise,” I love it! My friend’s daughter wasn’t allowed to wear heels while carrying the torah during her bat mitzvah service. She managed to find a way to wear her high heels and follow the rules: she changed into flats mid-service!

    • Thanks, Lisa. I was agonizing over what food/spice to name my niece and then Anise hit me and made me laugh out loud.

      Wearing heels to the bat mitzvah was never even on my radar. I can’t walk in them on a good day and I wasn’t going to attempt it while holding the Torah. What a disaster that would have been!

  14. I loved the note to your commenters. I noticed the default setting recently and keep forgetting to uncheck the box, later ending up unfollowing the comments from my personal settings. 🙂 Thanks for reminding me. And loved your post. Hilarious as always! Hope your finger gets better soon!

  15. rosemary and basil

    As the Gramma in attendance at that bat mitzvah, I can say that you performed your honor with confidence and grace never revealing the turmoil going on in your head….but now I know why I kept hearing Rocky’s theme faintly in the background!! Xoxo

    • I’m glad you said that I perfomed with confidence and grace. I was so focused on what I was doing I have no idea what was going on around me. I was too terrified of dropping the Torah to be self-conscious.

  16. You had me total stitches again, Paprika. With each sentence, the sense of anticipation increased, and I was fearing the worst…. When you had made it safely all the way around the temple, I felt like high-fiving you too! Just as well I wasn’t in the temple on the day… WELL DONE, PAPRIKA!!

    • Thanks so much, Reggie. I’m glad you thought it was suspenseful and weren’t disappointed that I didn’t drop the Torah in the end. If you were in the temple that day, I would have gladly high fived you on the way back to my seat 🙂

  17. Glad you had at least a short reprieve — I’m fairly clumsy and usually just incorporate it into whatever I’m doing (Chevy Chase like). But no one would EVER have me do something that required the respect due (and given here) by you! Well done!

    And thanks for the shout out about the comments. I knew about it but I often forget to uncheck. My inbox is ummmm, interesting.

    • I was kidding myself thinking that this experience meant that I had turned over a new leaf. I think I just got lucky for 10 minutes. Thankfully, it was the right 10 minutes. I have one more bar mitzvah to go in 3 years. Let’s hope I can get lucky again then.

  18. Happy to hear you didn’t get knocked off balance with all the obligatory touching with the sidur. LOL

  19. Ah, it’s so good to hear your voice again and what an awesome post to get me right back into the swing of things 😉

    I have to admit i don’t envy you the victory lap cradeling a 50 pound religious artifact (and if you are anything like me probably in way-too-high-but-oh-so-pretty-heels) – Takes a strong woman to stand up to that kind of pressure 😉

    Good for you! 🙂 Also I think your mishap with the finger might just have been one of those dramatic intermediate crisis – if I remember correctly Rocky did he spin around the block and up those stairs at least three times 😉

    • It’s so nice to see you back again 🙂 You were missed. I hope all went well with your exams.

      For the record, I was not wearing heels. Between problems with my feet/ankles and my clumsiness, I don’t wear heels no matter how pretty they look.

      I think cutting my finger was just the universe’s way of evening things out.

      • Yeah well I will have to wait until the end of may to see if I’ve qualified for the oral in july – so I don’t really know yet (and my intuition changes daily 😉 ).

        I just had a hard time to get my life in here and my life out there balance correctly – I’m trying the moderation approach now Worrywart suggested, but I did miss you –

        Your posts make my days happier and whats a day without a good laugh?! 😉

        (PS- Okay, I’ll have to substract some gosh-the-girl’s-got-guts-points for the no-heels, but I’m still thoroughly impressed and quite awed 😉 )

      • I’m glad my posts make your days happier. That’s such a wonderful thing to hear. Thank you!

        I’m willing to accept your point deduction. The lack of heels does diminish the degree of difficulty.

  20. Thank you for telling me about the default setting. I was wondering why I was getting every follow up comment to every post I commented on the last few days. You know, it is all about quality of life and you just made mine better. Thank you, Paprika!

    • I don’t recall seeing anything about the default comment setting changing and I started getting tons of e-mails over the weekend. I thought I had clicked the button so I just unsubscribed from the comments, but then it happened again on 3 different blogs. When I went back to see what was going on I saw that that box was now ticked. My suspicions were confirmed in a post by Tammy at Laughing at Everyday Life. I don’t know why they changed that setting. It is irritating and I hope they change it back.

      Glad I could help improve the quality of your life 🙂

    • I know, I had the same problem – I didn’t realise until Paprika mentioned it that WordPress had changed the default setting… one more thing to keep an eye on… Thank you, Paprika!

  21. Mazel tov!

  22. Love it! I’m glad you didn’t cause any damage to yourself or the temple.


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