October 6, 2023
- Simchat Torah!!
- A call for reminiscences and recollections: the history project
My rabbinic, cantorial, and synagogue-professional colleagues often use the word “grueling” to describe the fall holiday season. For most of us, the High Holy Days begin in July or August with our intensive preparations, and continue until the end of Simchat Torah, which usually falls between late September and mid-October. The Days of Awe and the ensuing holidays of Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah occupy a full quarter of the year.
But “grueling” kind-of misses the point, doesn’t it? These are supposed to be (and for many of us, are) the most uplifting and spiritually rewarding days of the year. Yes, the work is hard and uniquely exhausting, but to a large degree (as with all things), what you take away from it is in proportion to what you put into it.
The very last day of the season is the holiday of Simchat Torah, when we complete our annual reading of the Torah and start all over again from “In the beginning….” Like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it emphasizes the cyclical nature of the Jewish year and picks up the seasonal theme of “new beginnings.” That’s the thing I love best about Simchat Torah.
The other thing I love is our practice of unrolling the entire Torah scroll, something we began doing about 10 years ago and that has become a tradition (we took a break for the worst of the pandemic years). It’s glorious to see the entire Torah on display, start to finish, with a gaggle of children standing in the middle, embraced by its words. In that moment, I like to take the kids on a “tour” of the Torah, pointing out some of its remarkable or unusual features, sending them on a kind of scribal scavenger hunt to look for oddities in the text.
After that, we begin the evening service for Simchat Torah, the bulk of which is taken up with performing the hakafot – the seven processions, each of which is punctuated with joyous singing and dancing with the Torah scrolls. As always, we’ll have candy apples for the kids, and promise a raucous good time for “kids” of all ages.
This year, we’ll be adding another special element to our celebration. Before the hakafot, we’ll be welcoming a new Torah scroll to EMJC. The scroll was in the possession of a congregation in Bensonhurst, Shaarei Shamayim, led by our own Natalya Shiryayeva, and now, through her efforts, the Torah scroll has come to live at EMJC. We will append the joyful hachnasat sefer Torah (“welcoming a Torah scroll”) ceremony to our celebration – what better time to receive such a gift!
Simchat Torah services begin around 5:40 pm with the unrolling. Feed the kids before you come – we aren’t serving dinner – but be sure to bring them for the powerful Jewish experience of Simchat Torah.
I’ll make a quick plug for Saturday morning services as well. The holiday of Shmini Atzeret coincides with Shabbat this year. Shmini Atzeret is related to, but distinct from, Sukkot, which ends today at sundown. Our Shabbat morning service will feature the beautiful and tuneful Hallel psalms, the reading of selections from the book of Ecclesiastes (Kohelet) with its unique cantillation (unique to the Three Festivals), Yizkor, and the annual recitation of the magnificent Tefillat Geshem – the Prayer for Rain. I hope to see you there!
A call for reminiscences and recollections: the history project
The opening event of our year-long centennial celebrations, 100 Years on the Bimah: A Retrospective of the Rabbis of EMJC, will take place on Sunday, October 22nd at 4pm. I will have the great pleasure of holding a public discussion with Rabbi Emeritus Dr. Alvin Kass, mostly about his illustrious career, that of his predecessor, the legendary Rabbi Harry Halpern ztz”l, and our beloved Rabbi Aaron Pomerantz, ztz”l. In anticipation of this event, we are trying to collect stories, reminiscences, and anecdotes about these rabbis. If you have something to share with us, please let us know as soon as possible. You can contact me (email@example.com) or Audrey Korelstein (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your recollections. They will greatly enrich the program.
In the meantime, I wish you all a Shabbat shalom um’vorach and a chag same’ach – a peaceful and blessed Shabbat and a very happy Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.
Rabbi Sam Levine