Over the weekend, on Sunday to be precise (Yom Rishon), I finished my cycle of holidays as someone studying for a conversion to Orthodox Judaism. Interestingly, it was Simchat Torah – the day in which we take out the Torah, dance around the shul with it, singing songs, and inevitably roll the scroll back to the beginning, to Bereshit. Simchat Torah also is my Hebrew birthday. Technically, that is. I’m not sure if it really counts since I wasn’t born a Jew (although, let it be known, I was born WITH this big Jewish soul of mine). I was born September 30, 1983, and that, folks was Simchat Torah! I keep coming full circle, and Sunday was just another way that I’ve done this. It also means I’ve finished my obligation to fulfill a complete cycle of Jewish holidays in my community. Amen.
I can’t really describe how Sukkot , Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah were. The funny thing about being observant is that I can’t use cameras on the holidays. Now, I’m a big picture-taker. I like to capture the beautiful and special moments in my life. I wish I could have captured so many small moments. Small things.
For example, it rained here last Saturday, a lot. The rabbi discussed how we aren’t obligated to eat in the sukkah if it’s raining cats and dogs, so we resigned ourselves to NOT eating in the sukkah. But for dinner that night, before we entered the second day of Sukkot, we grabbed the challah, ran out into the sukkah – the whole family, the kids, the guests, everyone – to say a blessing in the sukkah. Someone even brought out the green stuff (parsley, garlic, olive oil) for dipping!
Or take the erev Simchat Torah, on Saturday, when I held the Torah, dancing around, women in a circle around me, hopping and smiling and laughing, clapping and singing. That thing was heavy. The men were doing the same dances, the same songs, just on the other side of the bimah, which served as our mechitzah. The joint was jumping, and the musical musings of Harmonia were keeping us all on our toes. We then headed outside for the second to last hakafot, it was dark and cool, and the entire congregation was outside singing and dancing. There was a busload of people unloading at the church across the street, probably looking at us like we were absolutely off our rockers. But we danced on the cool, damp grass and the teenagers kept the songs loud and vibrant. I had started to feel pains in my knees (as was expected, since they sort of lack cartilage) and I walked away, leaning against one of the pillars by the entrance. I started to cry, just a little bit. It was the most beautiful site – the community, dancing with Torot, singing loudly, laughing, joking. It was a moment of complete bliss, a true wedding of Israel and the word of G-d in the Torah. But then I got a little lightheaded and had to sit down.
I wish I could have captured those moments. Click. Snap. Perfection.
There was, of course, the sukkah hop last Sunday. It was geared toward the kids, but plenty of adults carried on with the kids. We walked from sukkah to sukkah to sukkah, hopping along to five in the neighborhood that were nothing alike. The kids, having arrived at the fourth sukkah, complained that the goods being offered – grapes and nuts – weren’t “cool.” I assured them that there were plenty of goods at the next location and boy were they stoked. They were greeted with cookies, twizzlers, and every other sweet snack known to man.
On the note of sweets, I’m intrigued by the massive quantities of sweets that flooded the shul during Simchat Torah. M&Ms, Snickers, Nilla Wafers … the sugar high these kids (and some adults) must have been on definitely fueled the dancing. The sticky mess on the floor reminded me of movie theaters and I definitely wish I could have snapped a photo of the little girl I was holding, as she gnawed away at a lollipop (got to save her from swallowing something badly and choking, blech).
There was also the rabbi, dancing with the young guys, and his wife, whose energy I can only dream of, leading dancing with the women.
It was interesting. It was intense. It was unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. Never before did I eat in the sukkah, never before did I dance with the Torah, never before did I watch a group of women reading from the sefer Torah privately with a dozen other women, never before did I experience Simchat Torah. The past two weeks were new to me, fresh, and beautiful. It was as if the entire community came alive. After all of the holidays, all of the time in synagogue, all of the busy houses and guests, and in those moments everyone was dancing and singing – alive!
Of course, now we’re all exhausted, trying to recover from the holidays. They were long, they were busy, but they were more than worth it. After all, we reaffirmed everything when it comes to being Jewish. It’s that starting point where we’re all anew. We’ll sleep a lot, relish in not having another major holiday until Pesach, and swear to ourselves that we won’t eat as much in the coming Shabboses.
Snapshots are nice. I think that memories sometimes lose their vibrancy without photographs, but they remain memories nonetheless. And when it comes down to it, it is better to simply keep memories because when they’re just memories, you have to maintain them. You have to constantly remember them, their emotions, their every moment.