My first Simhat Torah and I think my last first holiday of the year. The next holiday is Chanukah and I snuck in on that one last year with my roommate. A little behind his back, but who went to Marshall Fields and bought the menorah? Moi!
Simhat Torah–the night we read the end of the Torah, the final verses of Dueteronomy and the first verses of the Torah in Genesis. But before that, we dance with the Torah. We circled the sanctuary seven times with all of our torahs and yods and everything. First the concrecration class with their parents, then the board members, then the Brother and Sisterhoods, then grandparents, people who had been ill and recovered, people who’d been to Israel, and finally people who were proud to be jews.
I hesitated–I’m proud to be jewish, but I’m not technically jewish yet. My friend Scott said, “You’ve been Jewish in your heart for a long time, of course you get to!” So I did. I also think I got a nod from my Cantor that it was okay.
WAIT WAIT WAIT… let me back up and tell you about an amazing part at the beginning. The consecreation class of 5766 was a group of about a dozen pre-school & kindergarten students. This is when they are officially welcomed into the congregations as students. (You get officially welcomed a lot of times–at birth & naming, consecration, bar or bat mitzvah, confirmation. Then when you join as an adult, get married, become parents. It never stops.)
They all came in with their very first torahs–miniature torahs–stood together under a chuppah. Yes, the same canopy used at a wedding. Three or four tallit connected into a canopy. Together, they then sang the shema. I burst into tears. Little kids singing anything can touch your heart, little kids singing the shema in a silent sanctuary under the chuppah, in front of the ark. I just started to cry. The shema, if you aren’t familiar, is a six word prayer that is the mission statement of Judaism. The most basic, simple prayer of judaism. Amazing.
Later we sat in two long rows facing each other and unrolled the torah scroll across the laps of the entire congregation. I was sitting under the section that introduces the Shema. Pretty cool. It stretched from one end of the sanctuary back, back, back halfway into the social hall. The coolest thing ever.
No, wait, cooler than that was when we started praying as we put the Torah away. I was far away from my seat and my prayer book. It was time to chant the aleinu and I didn’t have a prayer book. Guess what? I knew it. I didn’t need the prayer book, I mumbled once or twice, but didn’t need the prayer book. Then when we got to our seats, it was time to say the mourner’s kaddish. I never stand for it, but I read along and quietly chant.
My friend Scott, on the other hand, is still in the official mourning time following his Dad’s death last winter. His girlfriend stands with him, but she wasn’t there. He stood up and looked at me, “Please stand with me.” So I stood up and said the mourner’s kaddish without the prayerbook. Why didn’t I grab it? I wasn’t planning on saying it, I was winded from dancing, I was trying to sit. But I stood up and knew every word of the kaddish.
The Shema made me cry and I know the aleinu and the mourner’s kaddish. It was like crossing some sort of finish line, but I know it isn’t finished. It is far from finished.