Thursday, September 26, 2013

Simchat Torah, Memories

Here in Israel, we've just finished the marathon of Jewish Holidays which begins the Jewish Year.  A couple of hours ago, this year's Simchat Torah, Being Joyful in the Torah ended.  Whew!  I'm just catching my breath before getting read for Shabbat, which begins in less than twenty-four 24 hours.  Outside of Israel, Torah observant Jews are only now celebrating Simchat Torah. They won't have a break.  Holidays are a bit different there, but that would be the topic for another post, if at all. I'm not a real expert in it, so no promises.

Eretz Israel Museum
I have very limited memories of Simchat Torah from my "pre-frum" (before I became religious) days. No doubt they taught us something in the Oakland Jewish Center, Bayside, NY, (Conservative) Hebrew School.  I went to "services" at least once and have memories of dancing around with special flags and being given a "jelly apple" to eat.  I have no idea why we got the apples, but they are as distinct in my memory as the flags we were waving while singing and marching/dancing.

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.


Shy Guy said...

You got candied apples??? I'm jealous!

Not that I can complain. We each got a box of assorted Barton's (remember them?) candies. I miss the sugar glazed jelly fruit slices in red, green, yellow and orange.

I do have a childhood recollection from one year that the Chazan was taking too long in Chazarat Hashatz in Mussaf.

So some guys picked him up by his legs, keeping his feet together and placed him standing up on top of an empty table in the shul's auditorium facing straight up to back wall.

The Chazan continued on non-stop while everyone else made kiddush. :)

Batya said...

Of course I remember Barton's. There was one on 5th Avenue making keeping kosher very easy and sweet.

I wonder if the public drinking in shul on Simchat Torah was to make up for the fact that for many frum people in the states Purim was a work day and they had to rush home late for the seuda.

Shy Guy said...

I think Barton's was the first ever to sell Kosher L'Pesach ice cream. What a treat that was way back when there was nowhere near the variety of KP products like we have available today.

Batya, I think people drink on Simchat Torah because they think that it is an appropriate form of Simcha. I think they're missing something if they need a pick-me-up for that. Besides, it often turns ugly.

I am literally a happy drunk every Purim but I have nothing more than my kiddush and a lechaim on any given Shabbat or Yom Tov.

See EOZ for an article about Simchat Torah flags. The third flag down looks very familiar to me.

Batya said...

Shy, I wouldn't know. I'm here since 1970 and was only starting to get frum in the mid-1960's, which didn't leave me many years to know the kosher scene in the states.
I loved Mason's Mints...