If you asked me to choose a favorite Jewish holiday, Simchat Torah would be right up near the top of the list. I always find our celebration of the festival at Temple Beth Torah joyful and uplifting.
First off, I love the fact that all ages participate in the service. You see babies in the arms of parents; toddlers gripping the hands of their moms and dads; grandchildren with grandparents; teenagers enjoying being with one another – Simchat Torah is for everybody.
Secondly, the music is especially freilach (happy). Mark Levy and his bandmates provide a lot of spirit. With Susan Wagner playing accordion; Eve Wagner the violin; and Mark on guitar or drums, the threesome weave together Hebrew songs and Klezmer music that animate our marching with our three Torahs.
Thirdly, and most importantly, midway through the service we do something that only happens once a year: we unroll an entire Sefer Torah. Everyone participates by upholding the scroll. It is an inspiring sight when the Torah is unrolled and the beginning and end are side by side.
We read an aliyah from the conclusion of Deuteronomy followed immediately by the opening words of Genesis, symbolizing the unending cycle of Torah learning. Seeing the community standing together, bound by Torah, is an affirmation of the centrality of Torah to our lives
The last element that makes Simchat Torah so special is a custom I have only seen at Temple Beth Torah: the candy line that forms after the service concludes. In ancient times, children would begin learning the Aleph-Bet with Hebrew letters smeared with a little honey. It seems that folks at TBT figured out that if Snickers, Mars bars, M&M’s, and lollipops help do the trick of treating our kids to a sweet time on Simchat Torah, then it’s a good thing!
The service for Simchat Torah will take place this Sunday night at 7:30pm. I hope we have, as we usually do, a large and robust congregation to celebrate the festival. It is such a happy holiday and such a life-affirming experience.