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It’s Simchat Torah! Let’s Dance!

Simchat Torah in the Yari’s sukkah.

Ya know how when you throw an epic party and everyone comes and has a great time, and there’s always one last person to leave? It’s like the ultimate Jewish goodbye. Well that’s my analogy for Simcha Torah, and the guest of honor is God, who wants us to soak in every last bit of happiness and newfound wisdom from the weeklong festival of Sukkot. When we welcome guests into our outdoor huts and we gather together in the beauty of nature and under the stars, we are humble and grateful.  We aren’t focused on material things that separates us, but rather the simple joys that bring us together. My mouth is still watering from dipping soft chewey challah into tahini stuffed eggplant and butternut squash soup, a few of the delicacies that wet our appetites for a feast served inside the sukkah of Rabbi Yosef and Mimi David. Consideirng the meal began after sundown, when the stars appeared, it was a late nite before we said our goodbyes. As we walked down the sidewalk together, we heard the sounds of crickets chirping and the faint singing of neighbors down the street who were still rejoicing after a full day of fun in their annual Yari sukkah party with lots of children, families, balloon making, moon bounce, a juggling rabbi, and a dairy meal of pasta, quiche, and sweets that kept on coming. This feeling of joy is what we strive for when Sukkot is finally over and we move back into our homes and return to our everyday lives. We try to maintain the closeness to each other, to God, and to nature.

Rabbi Yari known for his many talents, including juggling at weddings and special holidays.

Children enjoy the balloon making, treats, moon bounce and more.

The holiday of Simchat Torah (“Rejoicing of the Torah”) marks the reading of the final portion of the Hebrew Bible and the start of the cycle for the next year. The festivities move from our sukkos to our synagogue to our streets as valuable parchment scrolls are taken from their places of safe-keeping in synagogues into the streets.  In Israel, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah fall on the same day. In the diaspora (where Jews live outside of Israel), Simchat Torah is celebrated on the day after Shemini Atzeret and celebrates the completion of the annual reading of the Torah and affirms Torah as one of the pillars on which we build our lives.

Nobody leaves a Yari party hungry.

Guests of all ages love Rabbi’s juggling act.

Pudding cups–sweet treat!

Juggling plates, basketballs, tennis balls, and apples…

I have to admit I’m living vicariously through Jack as he describes to me some of his experiences during the High Holiday while living in Jerusalem. On Rosh Hashanah, for example, he sat on a park bench in his favorite quiet street when an old man with a long white beard sat next to him and asked if he had gone to synagogue that day. When Jack told him no, the man pulled a shofar out of his pocket, blew the blasts of the ram’s horn, recited a short prayer in Hebrew, and then quietly left.  Jack recalled sitting there by himself again, bewildered or more like in “awe” of what just happened.

Only in Israel. 

On the holy day of Yom Kippur, when businesses and schools are closed and the city shuts down except for synagogues and no cars are allowed on the roads, Jack embraced the moment and skateboarded down the middle of Highway 50 (also called Begin Boulevard) that is bumper to bumper traffic on any other day. My 23-year-old son had this empty major interstate, that connects Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, all to himself, except for a few other pedestrians taking advantage of this surreal moment.

Only in Israel.

In preparation for Sukkot, Jack helped build his first sukkah for his new friend Shalom who is a Yeshiva student in Jerusalem and the son of my friend Zipporah Yari, whose family was in desperate need of an outdoor hut for the holiday. After they assembled the temporary dwelling, Shalom took Jack to the crowded market where ultra Orthodox Jews spend hours picking out the perfect species of etrog and lulav, followed by a delicious lunch of roasted chicken and koogle at a nearby Kosher deli, of course.

Only in Israel

Moving onto the next adventure that very same day, Jack joined Jewish people from all walks of life in a huge sukkah of world-renowned Rabbi Yom Tov Glaser, where everyone sang, danced, played instruments, and shared a festive meal together.

Only in Israel.

In the middle of the weeklong holiday of Sukkot, Shalom took Jack to Mea She’arim, the oldest and most religious neighborhood in Israel, and they witnessed hundreds of jubilant Hasidic Jews raise the roof in unison as they continued to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. The noise was so over the top, Jack took Tylenol when he got home.

Only in Israel.

And on Simchat Torah, the eighth and final day of Sukkot, Jack was invited to conclude the holiday on high note like never before with Tzvi, who is dean of students at the Yeshiva in the Old City and the brother of my friend Mimi David. Tzvi introduced Jack to the highest-ranking Rabbi Cohen who personally gave my son a special blessing because they are both “Kohanim” of the same descendants. Then the growing mass of people proceeded to dance in circles around the honored Rabbi.

Only in Israel.

And if that isn’t enough, somebody in the crowd handed Jack a real Torah scroll that he lifted in the air and was swept up in the frenzy that is Simchat Torah at the Kotel. For hours, hundreds of Yeshiva students, their families, alumni, and even Israelis and tourists from both religious and secular backgrounds joined hands, formed circles, and sang at the top of their lungs, danced their hearts out. This mass formation traveled up the stairs to the Yeshiva, their white shirts soaked from using every ounce of energy that demonstrated their love of Torah and getting caught up in the moment.

Only in Israel.

After the whirlwind celebration of dancing with the Torahs, Jack was welcomed into Tzvi’s intimate home with his family in the Old City for another succulent feast of fresh homemade challah, dips, meats, vegetables, desserts, and more.

Only in Israel.

Finally, as the night of Simchat Torah calmed down, Jack walked back to his apartment. The streets are fairly safe with people usually out and about at all hours, and security is around every corner. He got back home by midnight, grabbed his skateboard, and rode down the street to his favorite park bench for some peace and quiet.  He thought about everything that he experienced on that incredible day, the energized people, music, singing, dancing with the Torah, being blessed by the Rabbi, joining the David family for dinner in their home. And then he called his mother.

Only in Israel.

Today, Jack went to the bar with his friends, fellow Masa teachers, and watched the Brewers beat the Cubs in a tiebreaking baseball game.

Only in Israel.

Chag Semaech! Hope your holiday was joyous and meaningful. Next year in Jerusalem!

(This 6-minute video of a Simchat Torah celebration captures what the energy is like on this holiday in the Old City.  I squinted my eyes looking for a ginger with a beard and glasses, and found a couple of red-headed Yeshiva students in this video, but none were Jack. He was somewhere at the Kotel, carrying a Torah, but not sure if he was in this location.  Let me know if you spot him, and you win a free copy of my book “Mishegas of Motherhood.”)