I sat quietly several rows back, playing the respectful atheist. My young cousin blushed and simpered on the bema--the wide, raised platform at the front synagogue. This was her day.
The rabbi called out my mother's name in Hebrew. She rose from her seat beside mine and ascended to the bema. Two more honored relatives took their places at either side of a curtained cabinet embedded in the wall--the Holy Ark of the Torah. As they drew back the curtains, the congregation rose and began to chant reverently in Hebrew. Few of us understood the words. Translated to English, they plead, "Arise, Lord! May your enemies be scattered, may your foes be put to flight.'"
The rabbi then reached into the Ark and withdrew the sacred Torah, two massive scrolls of parchment trussed in velvet and silver. He held it up lovingly like a trophy or the urned remains of some revered ancestor.
"One is our God, great is our Lord, holy is his name," sang the congregation in Hebrew. Then the rabbi placed the Torah gently into my mother's arms. As she paraded it slowly around the room, the congregants reached out to touch it with prayer books or pieces of cloth--never bare hands--and then reverently kissed the item that had come in contact with the holy Torah.