How I Came to Read Torah at Sof Maʻarav

Torah Scroll partly unrolled.

By Chad Teasley


As I read from parashah Tetzaveh at Congregation Sof Ma’arav on February 16th, it seemed to me that my Judaic education had come full circle. About six years ago, as I took the initial steps on my journey toward Jewish conversion, I visited Sof a handful of times at the suggestion of my friend and Judaic mentor, Dr. Dan Bender at the Aloha Jewish Chapel (AJC). Each time I attended Shabbat services at Sof Ma’arav, I was amazed at the Hebrew fluency and melodic harmony the baal korei exhibited during the Torah reading. Though I underwent elementary Hebrew instruction at AJC under the patient tutelage of Dr. Marilyn Landis, I was sure I would never be sufficiently skilled to chant the Torah.

In 2014, I transferred to Norfolk, VA, where I continued my Jewish conversion studies at Norfolk’s Temple Israel. On August 30, 2015, I entered the waters of the mikveh, and appeared before a beit din who admitted me as a full member of the Jewish faith community. Though my conversion experience was incredible, and I learned much from my wonderful rabbi and the synagogue family at Temple Israel, culminating in my adult bar mitzvah in 2016, I still felt that I was unlikely to ever possess the ability to publicly read the Sefer Torah.

After returning to Hawaii and becoming a member of Sof Ma’arav last year, I took Sandy Armstrong’s Beginning Hebrew class. As everyone at Sof knows, Sandy is an extraordinary teacher, who has a rare talent for inspiring her students. At the conclusion of the course, when she invited me to read the Torah in an upcoming Shabbat service, I was so motivated by her passion for Hebrew and Torah that I couldn’t help but reply, “Absolutely! I would love to do that!” A month and a half later, after several Torah trope tutoring sessions with Sandy (both in-person and on the phone), as well as a practice Torah reading under Dan Bender’s supervision at AJC, I had the honor to read from the Sefer Torah before the Sof Ma’arav congregational family. That was truly one of the great moments of my life.

Back when I started my journey to Judaism half a dozen years ago, and believed that I would never have the ability to read Torah, what I did not anticipate was the inspiration and assistance of Judaic teachers and mentors like Sandy Armstrong, Dan Bender, Marilyn Landis, and Rabbi Dr. Michael Panitz of Temple Israel. Nor had I foreseen the incredible fellowship and support extended by the members of Sof Ma’arav, the AJC, and Temple Israel. That support, guidance, and fellowship were what allowed me to read the Torah, and attain this tremendous milestone in the progression of my Jewish observance. For that, I will always be deeply grateful.