"I'm just curious," my husband began, "are you always planning to go to Katamon for Simchat Torah?"
That is a no-brainer.
I want to celebrate Simchat Torah the way I like, without having to "fight" for what I want. That means being somewhere where women dance and sing, with a Sefer Torah.
In Katamon, there are multiple venues for celebrating the way I like. I have options,and they are "normal."
At night, we went to Shir Hadash, a wonderful, warm, and welcoming minyan, with a lot of ruach (lit: spirit; read: singing!). Though the shul (synagogue) is always packed, the mechitza runs down the middle, allocating equal importance to the presence of both men and women. During Hakafot, one of the two Sifrei Torah was immediately passed to the women.
In the beginning, there were so many women dancing, you could barely move. That was just right for me, since I can't move fast these days, and I can't jump around (doctor's orders). As more and more women had their turn dancing with the Sefer Torah, the crowd thinned. At times, I noticed the woman holding the Sefer Torah dancing almost alone. I immediately joined the women who were dancing, and invited others to dance by reaching for their hands (read: grabbing their hands as we passed by). I knew many of the women there, so I knew who to whom to reach out (literally and figuratively).
One of the young women there was slightly handicapped (I think both physically and mentally, but it was hard to tell). She seemed eager to be included, and every time I extended my hand to hers, she readily took it and joined the dancing. It was very special to watch her dancing with the Sefer Torah.
One of the "regulars" at Shir Hadash is a special young woman, whom I've known for several years. When I met her, she was 13, very close with her mother, always smiling, and so friendly. She gave me hope that a girl could be a teenager, and still be really nice. (I have this primal fear of my dear, sweet children, morphing into evil teenagers). I became friends with her, even though she is much younger. I enjoy her company, and her good nature. It was great "catching up" with her, and dancing and praying together.
After shul, we had a quiet dinner with our hosts, R&IP. We stayed with them last year as well; both years, we had a really nice time.
In the morning, Moshe and MD went back to Shir Hadash. A an I went to Shirat Sarah, a very special women's tefillah (prayer) group, that meets in the Pardes Beit Midrash (study hall). I had volunteered to lead one of the hakafot (I will post more on that later), and to read V'Zot HaB'racha, the Torah portion that is read, repeatedly, so that anyone who wants may receive an aliyah (be called up) to the Torah. I was honored to read the aliyah for children. (Traditionally, during the final aliyah of V'Zot HaB'racha, all the children are called up to the Torah; they stand, surrounding the bimah, under a tallit, looking up at the Sefer Torah, while the final portion is read. Then congregants throw candy at them, to make it a sweet experience.)
We stood under Rahel's beautiful, colorful tallit. I explained to the children what we were doing; then I read loudly and clearly. I always find it emotionally exciting to read Torah; I feel overwhelmed by the power of transmitting God's words. I am especially moved when I read for others, and even more so when I am reading for the children. It is a wonderful responsibility, and a gift. I try to read accurately, both grammatically, and musically.
Our tefillah group is very "earthy-crunchy;" most moms in the group (including me) don't really give their kids candies. This year, none of us remembered to bring candies to throw at the kids. My daughter, A, who is a little older, and more experienced, was surprised (read: outraged) that there was no candy!
I have been reading V'Zot HaB'racha, every year, for over 20 years. I do not really need to prepare much, since I know the reading almost by heart. Nevertheless, every year, I try to read it a little better (such as emphasizing a dagesh that I might have missed in previous years). And still, I get so excited, and nervous, when I read. It is a real privilege!
After shul, my mother (who met us at Shirat Sarah), A, and I walked up the hill to my sister's, for lunch. Thank God, the weather was cooler this year, and the walk was quite pleasant. (Last year, I really struggled in the heat). Lunch was really nice. My sister is a great cook, and a wonderful hostess.
As soon as he finished eating, MD asked to be excused. It took me a few minutes to realize he was anxious to walk over to his friend, YB. A left with him, eager to play with the girls where we were staying; she returned a few minutes later. Apparently our hosts had not yet returned from shul. A joined us for dessert, then played by herself for a while, before leaving on her own to try again at our hosts' home. This time, like the dove from Noah's Ark, she did not return.
The rest of us hung out, mostly reading, until Yom Tov (the holiday) was over.
After we made Havdallah, Moshe pronouced: "Now it's time to do 'everything.'"
I did not understand, until he explained: "Now we have to do all those things we put off until 'after the chagim (holidays).'"*
We all laughed.
This year, Y chose to join her Ezra youth group, in going to Lod (a development town), to bring youth and spirit to the town's Simchat Torah celebrations. It was hard for me to let her go, but I realized that I should support her decision to participate in this mitzvah. Several friends encouraged me to let her participate in this giving, and growing, experience. As Y pointed out, "This is something different. I've been celebrating Simchat Torah with you for 14 years; I already know what that is like."
After Simchat Torah, Y came back excited and animated. She was also indignant: "Do you know that they did not give the girls a Sefer Torah for even one hakafah?"
I smiled wryly as I answered quietly, "That's not surprising. Many places are like that. That's why I like to go where we go."
Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.
With love and optimism,
* In Israel, twice a year, during the period between Rosh HaShanah and Simchat Torah, and again from about two weeks before Pesach until after Pesach, the country virtually shuts down until "after the chagim." Offices are closed, or only open part time. Services are limited. And everyone is in holiday mode. It is pretty phenomenal.