Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Simchat Torah Memories

Rejoice with the Torah! Such is the proclamation for the holiday that finished this evening...and so mark the end of our chagim until Chanukah.

I've seen Simchat Torah in many forms, in many shuls throughout my years.

My earliest memories are of the shteibel we attended till I was about eight years old. Young and old alike in the basement of a house dancing in glee and carrying that glee upstairs and out of doors onto public property...proclaiming to any and limited passing car and foot traffic that the Torah is ours and it's here to stay.

My next memories are of the family shul, also an Orthodox minyan, where I could still join the men downstairs because I was not yet bat mitzvah age. Or else I stood with my mother and the other ladies and young girls in the balcony, looking down below and watching as certain shul members overexaggerated everything, helped by a little -- or a lot of -- liquor in their systems.

There was one year that I was with friends and we were downtown (the Lower East Side area of Toronto, called Kensington Market) at a shul that just happened to be egalitarian. Now that concept was far beyond me and what I was used to. Yes, we danced outside on the shul property with the Torahs, but when someone offered to hand me the Torah to dance with, I declined. And back inside the shul, when someone offered me hagbah, and then an aliyah, I declined again. It was so foreign to me, so far removed from the environment I was accustomed to, so NOT ME.

One of my loveliest memories of the holiday is from about 10 years ago -- I was married and our oldest was about 6 months old. He was wearing a beautiful white and blue plush velour sleeper and was dancing in the arms of my husband, back in a shteibel setting of the shul my husband attended when we married and where we continued to daven until we moved northward. That memory of that baby being held is likened to a Torah in its mantel being held -- lovingly, adoringly and carefully -- and displayed for all to see.

Before a move a couple years ago we attended another small Orthodox shul and the last year we were there, one of the women pseudo-begged the rabbi for the men to pass the Torah over. Reluctantly he and the menfolk agreed and this woman held and danced with the Torah, crying like a baby. She said she'd been trying for over 20 years to get to hold a Torah. She truly rejoiced as she held the Torah like it were her baby and embraced it lovingly. Yes, I finally took the Torah where it was offered to me, but it wasn't as if it were a great achievement for me. I was indifferent, but not as against holding it as I'd been almost 20 years earlier. I just remember being v...e...r...y cautious when I held it.

The shul we attended for the past two Simchat Torah celebrations is very lively -- Bnai Akiva teens come from far and wide and add to the spirit with their singing and dancing. As well, in this shul, also Orthodox, the Torah gets passed over the mechitzah to the women. Women come from far because they know this shul gives women the right to hold and dance with the Torah.

It is clear that the glee shown on the faces of these women and teenage girls as they dance with the Torah is the same glee and wonderment that shone on my face when I was a little girl in that first shteibel my family attended. Then, I stood on the outside looking in on the men; these women stand on the inside and get to look out. There is a great joy in knowing that each of us is part of something bigger, of a community, of a people. And the Torah is our inheritance, our heritage.

May we all merit to share in the joy and dancing of Simchat Torah next year again.