Unfortunately, the places I like to daven on this particular holiday are not in walking distance from my home (for me*). Usually, this is not a problem, since we welcome the opportunity to stay with friends. But, with my entire family here from the US, I didn't see how I would manage to find appropriate housing for everyone.
The thought of missing out on this special davening made me sad. I decided that I had to at least make the effort. If it didn't work out, then I did my hishtadlut (part in the effort). But I had to try and give God the opportunity to help me out. He did.
As soon as I mentioned that I was looking for accomodations, friends offered to host. Some lived far away, some offers were tentative, but there were offers and there were options. As Simchat Torah approached, I discovered that I was able to find hosts for everyone in a close radius to my sister's home, where we would all be having lunch, and to the shul (synagogue), where we would all be davening at night. (It would have worked out perfectly had I informed my brother, or his host, at which shul we would be davening. Ooops.)
I couldn't believe it. Even with all my guests, I would be able to daven in the places that uplift me spiritually. I would get my spiritual "booster shot." I was so excited and grateful to God -- and to my hosts!
At the last minute, we discovered that both Y & A had strept-throat. Even though A tested positive, she seemed totally healthy. However Y was really sick and could barely get out of bed. In the end, Y stayed with my sister. Y was disappointed to miss out on all the fun, but it was a treat for her to stay with her aunt. We hoped that by the next day (24 hours after starting antibiotics) she would at least feel well enough to join us for lunch. She did.
At night, we davened at Shir Hadash, a "Carlebach" minyan, with lots of ruach (spirit). Before we moved, that was our shul and I loved it -- I still do. I love the community, which is warm and welcoming, and I love the singing, which is strong and melodious. On Simchat Torah, there is LOTS of dancing, on both sides of the mechitzah (divider). And it is muvan me'alav (a given) that the women are also dancing, with a Sefer Torah. I especially love watching the women who are dancing with the Sefer Torah for the first time. It is a wonderful and inspiring experience.
In the past, I would dance and dance, without stopping. I didn't understand why women would stand around chatting, when they had the opportunity to sing and dance and celebrate the Torah.
This year, I knew things would be different. I wasn't able to really dance (no high-impact activity allowed -- due to the cancer in my bones, particularly in my hip). So, I had to be very careful. Still, A was with me and she wouldn't dance if I didn't. So, we danced together, in the slower parts of the circles.
I might have skipped dancing with a Sefer Torah if it hadn't been for A. In her sweet, quiet way, she let me know that she really wanted to dance with a Sefer Torah. She couldn't do that without me; she's still little. So I made sure to get the Sefer Torah during the second Hakafah, since I didn't know for how long I would be able to dance. I helped A to hold the Sefer Torah -- she wanted to hold it on her own, but it was large and heavy, so I also held on to it -- and we danced together. When she was done, I took the Sefer Torah and lifted it high into the air. I danced with it for a short while longer, then passed it on to the next woman, who was waiting.
I was able to dance for the rest of that Hakafah and one more. But by the fourth Hakafah, I had to sit down. It was a bit humbling for me to join the ranks of the "talkers" (rather than the "dancers"). And I did join in the singing occasionally (though it felt strange to be singing "from the outside"). Admittedly, I enjoyed talking with friends. And I am grateful to the friends who sat with me and kept me company! But it is difficult to accept that I can't dance the way I used to.
Moshe and I had the distinct honor of being hosted by the Rabbi and his family. It was a nice opportunity for us to get to know them better. In addition to being interesting people and wonderful hosts, they have a phenomenal assortment of books. Moshe looked around the library and stated: If I was locked in here for five years, I wouldn't get bored!!
In the morning, we (my mother, sister-in-law, and I) davened at Shirat Sarah, a unique women's tefillah group. For me, it was like coming home. I felt embraced by my friends and community. Before we moved, I used to daven there regularly (tefillot are approximately once every 6 weeks). My girls "grew up" there, and that's where Y had her Bat Mitzvah. (more on that another time)
During the year, the tefillot at Shirat Sarah are very traditional (sans d'varim she'bikedusha). But on Simchat Torah, the women can be as creative as they want with their Hakafot. This year, most of the Hakafot were unconventional, but not very radical -- instead of singing and dancing, there were many different divrei Torah. Though I really love dancing, it was gam zu l'tovah (all for the best), since I was able to sit for most of it. Still, I would have liked more dancing. Since the make-up of the Hakafot is determined by who volunteers to lead them, I volunteered to lead a more traditional Hakafah next year (b'li neder).
There was some dancing during one of the Hakafot, and A really wanted to dance with a Sefer Torah. There were three Sifrei Torah, and one was quite little (and light). I gave that one to A, and she was able to hold it by herself. She looked up at me with the sweetest smile and said "this is why I like coming to the women's tefillah". I thought my heart would burst with joy and love.
I read "V'Zot HaB'racha" in the main room, and A was by my side for much of the time. Earlier, on the way to shul, she asked if she could stand with me and told me that she likes hearing me read Torah. It was very special for me.
It was harder than usual to stay standing for so long. But I love reading and I love enabling other women to read and to get so close to the Sefer Torah and to HaShem. I was "called up" for the last "aliyah", with all the children. It was a real honor and very meaningful to me.
That moment, under the canopy of a tallit, immediately surrounded by all the children, and within a larger circle of women who I know daven for my refuah (recovery), I felt so close to God.
If I was a more learned person, I would quote a pasuk (Torah passage) here. Suffice it to say that I am grateful to everyone who helped make it possible for me to celebrate the way I wanted. And I am grateful to God, for all the gifts He gives me every day.
Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.
With love and optimism,
* There are young madrichim (youth group counselors) who walk to Homat Shmuel from Kagtamon (and farther) every week. And we've had friends who have walked over on Shabbat. But I can't walk that far -- certainly not in time for shul! :-}