I was taught to lein (read publicly from the torah) by one of the finest baalei keriah (Torah readers) I have ever heard, and the ability has served me very well, in many ways, over the years since.
When I was in RIETS, I spent a year as baal keriah for Young Israel of Massapequa, a small shul on Long Island. I lived in the shul (it was a converted home) every other Shabbat, leined, taught a class on Shabbat afternoons, and had a great time. It was a warm community of great people (and it didn't hurt that they paid well).
Move ahead a few years and I was ready to look for a shul. My soon-to-be Rebbetzin was in school in Boston, so we needed a shul in the general vicinity – and we found, through a family friend, Congregation Ohawe Sholam (yes, that's the way it's spelled), the Young Israel of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. They needed a rabbi as well as a baal keriah, and I fit the bill. It was a great match; what a fantastic community. I also learned “the signs” there – a code of hand-gestures a gabbai could use to lead a baal keriah with decent peripheral vision. I wasn't a believer in the signs until the day I had to take over at the second aliyah of Vayyakhel-Pekudei, without preparation, and was able to complete it on the strength of those signs.
Fast-forward four years and we moved to Allentown, where, again, the shul needed both rabbi and baal keriah. I nearly didn't get the job – the other candidate was more charismatic, as I recall – but my leining definitely helped. I taught a series of gabbaim those signs, just to be on the safe side. The result was a wonderful eight years.
Jump ahead eight-plus years, to this morning. I'm in Toronto for a few days of meetings, and nervously mulling the fact that the community is so large that people can get by without being actively involved in leading its institutions. Certainly, people can always help other people, and can find roles to play when they wish, and Toronto is known for its activism, but if people aren't sought out, how many just fall through the communal cracks, going through life without becoming involved in making thing happen? This bothers me; I don't feel comfortable in that kind of environment. After the past 12 years, I feel at home in a community of people who are taking their time to make things happen, whether school or shul, eruv or Federation or mikveh or JCC or vaad hakashrut.
So this morning, as I'm finishing putting on tefillin at the 7:30 minyan (what a luxury – a 7:30 weekday minyan!), a gabbai from an earlier minyan comes by looking for a baal keriah. I volunteered, and “got the job.” I had a chance to help. Just three quick aliyot, but it made my morning and set a good tone for the day.
It was a tiny thing, but it was a way to see that, yes, even in mighty Toronto they come looking for you to help. And if you know how to handle a Yad, you'll be able to respond.