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Thursday, October 27, 2005

My First Sukkot Experience

I may be an orthodox Jew, but last night was my first Simchat Torah celebration. Don't get me wrong, I've been to shul for Hakafot and Simchat Torah for as long as I can remember. But, until I saw Hakafot Shniot being celebrated in Eshchar, in Israel, as an Israeli, last night, I had not celebrated Simchat Torah. This description will probably be a bit disorganized since I'm trying to put all these thoughts and feelings into coherent sentences. Let's start from the beginning. We need to back up a few steps here.

The husband and I spent the entire "High Holiday" season up at his parents' house in Eshchar. For those of you who haven't read my blog in the past, Eshchar is a settlement up north, in the Galil. It is part of a larger settlement community of about 20 something settlements in Misgav. It's near Carmiel. Praying amongst the hills and valleys of the Galil, looking out towards the Meditteranean Sea on the left side and the Golan Heights on the other during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services was something else. If you've never been there and done it, I just can't describe the raw emotion that went through me. Praying in Israel, and hearing the Shofar being blown while overlooking the mountain sides was simply awe inspiring.

Fast forward to Sukkot. Having a Sukkot where the Sukkah you eat in has the kinds of views I'm talking about was just amazing. Celebrating a Sukkot where it's nice and warm outside and not freezing, snowing, or raining is also a pretty cool thing. Especially, when it's being celebrated at the end of October. I'm from Michigan. It's usually pretty darn cold by this time of the year. I had pretty much gotten used to, either, wearing a coat and gloves to eat in the Sukkah or eating in the house. It was very different this time around. There are netted windows on the Sukkah, so sitting down at the first night was really cool. Us and two other families gathered around to eat while staring down at the lights of the surrouding settlements and Carmiel. The next day, we barbequed. It was a nice clear sunny day. We had a bunch of people over, and celebrated the chag looking at the same gorgeous views. Of course, one of the best things of living here is the reward of one day of chag. Well, at least, I see it as a reward and the second day as a punishment for those living in Galut or Chul.

Let's move on to the second days, or Simchat Torah. The husband and I invited a couple of friends of ours, married, who aren't Jewish. They came here at the same time as I did last year. We met in Ulpan. They're not Jewish, but they love learning about Judaism, and they really wanted to experience the holidays. When I heard what kind of experience was awaiting us in Eshchar, I knew that there was no better place for them to be. These two know and understand more about Judaism than most regular Jews know and understand. They're just great and amazing people, and I really wanted to share with them the experience and feelings of celebrating the Torah. The Hakafot the first night were very cool. It was a gorgeous warm night. We did them outisde of the shul. It was so great to see how enthusiastic the kids were and how hard the shul workd to ensure that they were involved. They were allowed to say parts of the Hakafot. Of course, they were reading them while standing on chairs that were being bounced up and down by everyone else. It was just great. I was used to shul hopping with my friends every Sukkot and watching guys get totally wasted. It was entertaining but never really made me feel like I was celebrating Sukkot. There was no shul hopping this year, but I wasn't missing out on anything. Then, the next day, the shul did their yearly tradition. They danced and did the Hakafot throughout the streets of the Yishuv. It was so much fun to watch. Then when they came back to shul and did the last Hakafa in the shul, it brought tears to my eyes. Hearing them sing "Ani Ma'Amin" and realizing where I was really made me emotional.

OK, let's get to the really good stuff. Eshchar and most other settlement communities around the country, if not every city, has a celebration of Hakafot Shniot after the chag ends. Eshchar is the host settlement for the communites of Misgav. They all come to Eshchar to celebrate Hakafot Shniot. Settlements like Moreshet, Shorashim, Yuvalim, etc. Settlements that, like Eshchar, are a mix of religious and non-religious alike. They all come to Eshchar to celebrate with the Torah. And, at the moment that I stepped over the hill and saw the mass gathered on the Migrash and heard the music playing, I realized that, just like our non-Jewish friends, I had never celebrated Simchat Torah until that night. Watching hundreds of people dance with such vigor, excitement, and ruach, such raw celebration around the Torah scrolls struck right through my heart. They were swinging they Moatzha's, Eshchar's, and Israel's flags with such pride and happiness that my smile couldn't have been taken off my face with mack truck. I ran home and got my digital camera. I took so many pictures. I couldn't stop. I wanted to capture that event, somehow, so I could send them home to my family, so I could show them what it's like to celebrate Simchat Torah, to show them what celebrating is like in Eretz Yisroel!!!! Imagine a green anglo like me seeing all this. The music, the noise, the site, the sounds... I can't even put it into enough words. Those words don't exist in the dictionary. I repeatedly told my friends that I had never seen anything like this. This was new for me too. Back in Michigan, our shul has regularly brought in reform and conservative kids to see how an orthodox shul celebrated Simchat Torah. I never really saw it as particularly successful. I thought that it was great for them to come, but I didn't see them as really into it or really caring what was going on. I thought the shul tried to get them involved, but... Anyways, seeing the celebration in Eshchar was something different. No-one even had to try to get the non-religious crowd involved in the celebration. I knew a lot of the non-religious people who were there. A lot of the time, they were dancing harder than everyone else. They were so into it. It seemed that everyone had a true sense of what they were really celebrating. Most, if not all, of the kids there that are 18 and over are or were in the Army. Most of them, at one point or another, also celebrated Simchat Torah with their Army units. I could see and feel through their celebration and through their excitement what it means to celebrate our Torah as Jewish soldiers and citizens, defending and living in Eretz Yisroel; on the very land that G-d gave us in that very Torah that they and we were dancing around. So, it doesn't matter if they were religious or not. They understand what Simchat Torah means. They understand why it's worth celebrating it with all your heart. I will not get the opportunity to serve in the Army, but, as a citizen, I can live because of what they have defended to give me. I can celebrate it with all my might because I am living on the soil that my Jewish ancestors, brothers, and sisters lived and died to give me. I can celebrate it with all my might because I am reading G-d's Torah and celebrating it in the very land that HE gave to me. I don't think that's something any American can understand. Therefore, I don't believe that they can truly celebrate Simchat Torah. When you sing "Next year in Jerusalem", think of how far away you are, and how close I am. The Kotel is less than a 10 minute drive from where I live.

Hey, Iran, again, declared that their aim is to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, and they're planning new attacks. First of all, what else is new? Second of all, after last night, I only hope they try. If you were there last night, you know why.

I have concluded my first "High Holiday" season in Israel. I can't wait for next year!!


At 4:45 PM, Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Hey OC -

May you spend all your chagim in Israel!

BTW - Its so cool to do al-ha'aish on Chag. We did that as well, and it seemed so un-frum :-) No one would ever do that in the US...and definitly not where anyone can see!

Choref Tov!

At 12:59 AM, Blogger The Immigrant said...

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