I've been given an aliyah at my nephew’s bar mitzvah. How can I prepare?

Answered by
Rabbi Victor S. Appell

Being called to the Torah to chant the blessings before and after the Torah reading is a great honor. It is called an aliyah, and the one given the honor is a called an oleh (male) or olah (female); just like the term for moving to Israel, the term refers to both physical and spiritual movement. Aliyah means "going up." The one who receives an aliyah goes up to the bimah (pulpit). One who receives an aliyah has also participated in a mitzvah, a divine obligation.

Depending upon the custom of the congregation, you may be called up by your Hebrew name, if you have one. You may also be asked to wear a tallit (prayer shawl) for the aliyah. In some synagogues, the person chanting the blessing touches the spot on the Torah where the reading begins with the fringes of the tallit and then kisses the fringe. Others use a prayerbook for this purpose. The blessing is then recited. This is followed by the chanting of the Torah portion, during which time the oleh/olah keeps the right hand on the right handle of the Torah scroll. When the chanting is completed, the oleh/olah "kisses," as before, the end of the portion that has been chanted and recites the blessing after the reading .

Depending upon the custom of the congregation, you may shake hands with those on the bimah and then return to your seat, or be asked to remain on the bimah while the next portion of Torah is chanted. Upon returning to your seat, other congregants may offer to shake your hand and offer you the traditional greeting, "yasher koach," (done with strength).