The high holidays are behind us and normal life can begin again. I have to admit that I am totally exhausted from celebrating, because this year the holidays were always in the middle of the week. So there was a seemingly unending series of holidays followed by Shabbats, with of course a day of preparation before each.
So there was the Friday before Shabbat when people cook and clean, then the day of preparation for the holiday when they cook and clean, and of course the holy days themselves, when people pray a lot, have active “rest” and entertain the children. If I lived and worked anywhere else in the world, I would have had to take the entire month of September as vacation.
Exhausting doesn’t mean it was bad, but I could really use a real vacation now, one in which I could lay down on the beach at an all-inclusive hotel where my only worry would be not to get sunburned.
Especially the last holiday, Simchat Torah, was a fitting end to the long holiday season. On this day we rejoice in our Torah, and during prayer we dance with the Torah scroll and sing songs. In my synagogue, the prayer started at 9 a.m. and after about an hour we took a break in the middle of the prayer and strengthened ourselves a little. There was herring, sweet and savory pastries, Kugel and, most importantly, whiskey and vodka.
Do not be surprised that we are already drinking whiskey and vodka at 10 a.m., you have to be Be’Simcha (full of joy) for this gathering, and any help is welcome. While we sat, ate and drank in our prayer shawls, we bid for the honor of dancing with the Torah. One of the congregants stood, whiskey in-hand, and held an auction.
“First round of Torah dancing. 250 shekels, first, second … Ah, someone offers 300! 300 shekels for the first round to the first, the second, the third! Sold to the gentleman in a black suit and prayer shawl.”
“Second round of Torah dancing! Who offers 200 shekels?”
It went like this for all seven rounds and it took an hour for all of them to be sold. In this way, the synagogue is partially financed. The wealthy Jews in America are said to raise unbelievable sums of money at these auctions, but at most synagogues in Israel it is just enough to pay for the air conditioning in the summer.
When all the rounds were sold, the first buyer took a Torah scroll from the ark, said a blessing and the party started. With the Torah he circled the table in the middle of the room while everyone else kissed the scroll (in this way we immunize ourselves against corona and other viruses) and sang loudly. If you haven’t had enough, you could take a break and have another sip of whiskey or vodka and then queue up again.
Of course, our children should also learn to love the Torah and they should also dance, kiss the scroll and have fun. It is customary to throw candies during these proceedings, and the kids can all be found scrambling on the floor to collect them. My brilliant wife had given our three girls a shopping bag to collect their sweets in. That way they didn’t stuff themselves with it and later on they could be given the many sweets in a controlled manner as dessert or as a reward. Again and again they proudly came and showed me how full their shopping bag was.
After the seven rounds, which lasted about two hours, the prayer continued, it got a little more serious again, but not too serious, because the mood was full of Simcha and the prayer leader let his musical skills run free. From the crowd of worshippers, a loud “ai ai ai” or “oi oi oi” kept coming back to support him.
It was a really joyful time, but after six hours I was totally exhausted. The feast was still to come, but my intoxication was already subsiding and I quickly stuffed the meatballs into my mouth and went to take my well-deserved nap. The children weren’t very interested in meatballs either, because everyone was allowed to choose four sweets from the overflowing shopping bag for dessert.
That kept the children busy for a while while I slept like a rock for two hours. Then the holiday was almost over.
The week was soon behind us and we had to prepare again for Shabbat, which I am busy with right now. With this in mind, I wish you a Shabbat Shalom and a Happy New Year!