I used to shun most anything religious, whether it was related to my own Jewish faith or someone else’s. Religious symbols made me uncomfortable. Religious ceremonies largely bored me. Religious anything seemed like something worth skipping.
But as I went from my 20s to my 30s, I became more curious, primarily, about my own religion. Gingerly, slowly, I got to know more about Judaism, the religion of my birth. And yet, until tonight, I had never attended a Simchat Torah service. Until tonight, I did not know just how much I missed all those years when I avoided setting foot into a synagogue.
What is Simchat Torah? It’s a celebration of the end of the annual cycle of reading the Torah. Well, that is the general definition. I witnessed it from several angles tonight – as a flutist in our temple Klezmer band, as a mother whose young child was there dancing with the congregation, as a wife whose husband held up a part of the completely rolled out Torah, and as a Jew still very much on a journey closer to her faith.
What struck me was the true simcha of the night. Simchat means rejoicing. Simcha means joy. People of all generations smiled, laughed, danced, and sung together. Applause – not permitted during Shabbat services – was plentiful. Clapping to the music – often not evident as well during regular services – was in abundant supply. It was organized chaos. The service included short readings from the Torah, short enough that my 2-year-old did not even fidget. Everyone stood for most of the service. It was just an hour long, yet the service was rich with both content and flavor.
The joy of the evening still hung in the air after the band played our last song, and the congregation danced its last dance — Hava Nagila. My son ran with a young friend between the chairs in the sanctuary, then kept heading up to the front to pretend he too was singing. He played with a microphone and began singing what the cantor had begun the service with, “Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu.”
Simchat Torah, I suspect, will become a regular tradition in my family for years to come. The energy in our temple sanctuary was unparalleled. So was the pure fun of it.