Simchat Torah this year was probably better than in years past, yet it was a bit weird in some respects. For a holiday as joyous and crazy as Simchat Torah, I guess I expected it to be unreal, but it didn’t feel the most special for me. I’ll explain these feelings as I give the lowdown on what I did.
Friday night, many of us went to Kol Rina, a beit kenesset in Nachlaot that meets in a bomb shelter. The tefillah was perfectly fine. Afterwards, though, after we stacked all of the chairs to the side, the gabbai or whoever he was gets on a chair and asks for 800 shekels for a hakafa. Most of the guys I’m with think he’s kidding, not even sure if it’s permitted to auction on Shabbat. But I knew he wasn’t kidding, it was not at all far feteched. Not too many takers on the bid, though, and you’d expect that at a certain point, he’d hold off if people weren’t buying.
But that’s not what happened.
He kept forcing and forcing it, joking sarcastically that maybe people aren’t buying because it’s not high enough and they want a greater z’chut. It’s a bit of chaos everywhere – people are talking or sitting on the side silently waiting for it to pass. I’m thinking maybe they don’t have Sifrei Torah and the auction is for them to raise money for a Torah so they can have hakafot next year – because no good action was coming. Pressure doesn’t stop. He finally exclaims, “I’m embarrassed! I’m not embarrassed for myself, I have no shame. I’m embarrassed for you, for not wanting to partake in the z’chut” blah blah blah. It got a bit obnoxious.
Eventually, they took out the Sifrei Torah and started Atah Horeita. I did a verse, and Josh did one, too, the really long one, thinking it was only three words (when it was really three lines). The Hakafot started, and we danced around. It got a bit repetetive, we didn’t know many of the songs, and we had to be back for dinner at 7:30, so we left in the middle of the second hakafah.
We had a Nativ-A-Tisch with Marzipan rugelach (taste of Olam Haba) – ‘twas pretty wild. A little too much slow songs to my taste, especially for Simchat Torah, but it was really nice and the singing was incredible. I did V’yitnu Lecha Keter Melucha, which was quite a thriller.
For Shacharit, I went to a kehilla in Baka called Yedidya. I went with about 10 girls and my friend Josh. Apparently tefillot had started at 7:30 and we didn’t leave until a quarter past eight as it was, so we missed Shacharit and Hallel. Oh well. I davened through the fourth or so hakafa – they were fairly short and sweet. I saw a former Rosh Ediah of mine as I walked into the hakafot, Benny Levy – it was good to see him and catch up with him. For the seventh hakafa, we went outside and it was great. While it took me a little while to warm up to the unfamiliar community, I got into it by the sixth and seventh hakafot. They held separate k’riot Torah for men and women, and they only did one cycle after hakafot. Afterwards came Yizkor (which everyone stays in for, especially because of what they do in memory of Tzahal), Geshem (which they do before Musaf in Israel), and a very nice Musaf. After kiddush (there were great brownies), they did the k’riah in many cycles so that everyone could have an aliyah. It was an interesting and, I think, effective way of doing it. I believe this will be a worthwile walk whenever I’m in Jerusalem on Shabbatot for Shacharit – nice davening, progressive Modern Orthodox, and not all of Nativ goes there.
What you definitely don’t see in America related to Simchat Torah are Hakafot Shniyot – hakafot with live music. After Shabbat, we went to Gan Ha-Pa’amon for the hakafot. It started slow, with lots of speeches, including one from Yona Metzger, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel. Chazzan Chaim Adler of the Great Synagogue also did a piece of chazzanut before the start, and then he started the hakafot. Spirits were high, and we danced the night away. Quite some simcha.