|Eretz Israel Museum|
The next very distinct memory of Simchat Torah was when I was becoming religious and attended services, as the prayers are called in America, at the Great Neck Synagogue. I remember it as joyous and that the men were extra "joyous" due to the shot glasses of schnapps that they were polishing off. If I'm not mistaken we danced with the Sifrei Torah in the street, or am I imagining it? I don't remember if women received one to hold. Possibly the following year, NCSY arranged for our region to be in Boro Park, Brooklyn for the holiday. As usual we danced during the meals, but I don't remember much about the synagogue we attended.
My first Simchat Torah in Israel was before I was married. I as here as a student, and my friend and I went wandering around Meah She'arim looking to see the dancing. I remember being disappointed. It wasn't as large as I had expected, at least where women could view it. The Hakafot Sh'niyot, Second night, which actually was after the holiday was great fun. It's a very popular Israeli custom to celebrate Simchat Torah when it's over, but then one is permitted to use live bands.
I had no idea there was a custom to have all of the children gather under a Tallit (or as many as needed to cover) to be blessed. I just don't remember seeing it until I was a mother, and my husband would take the children. It's a gorgeous sight to behold from the Ezrat Nashim, Women's Section when we're sitting high up on a balcony. This year things were a bit different; I guess it's a new custom. Apparently parents were informed that there wouldn't be enough room for all of the kids, so little girls over the age of five were to be excluded. Or this could have been the custom from the neighborhood shul that joined with us for the dovening/prayers. As a response, the young mothers showed up with a collection of large tallitot and made a canopy for the little girls upstairs. I have no idea if this custom will continue.
A real local, neighborhood custom is for young girls, youth, women to go to homes of those unable to make it to the synagogue and sing and dance for them. It's enjoyed by both the "entertainers" and those being "entertained." That's the joy of Simchat Torah, the mitzvah of being good to others and making including them in the holiday.
Shabbat Shalom! Yes, it's soon.