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A Convert’s First Simchat Torah

When the holiday turned my synagogue into a chaotic nightclub, I finally felt like part of the Jewish community

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Being ignorant of how to behave and filled with a kind of euphoria, I made my way upstairs to the shul’s balcony and pulled out my cell phone—man, if I saw someone do that now my heart would freeze in Dana Carvey Church Lady horror—and dialed my brother in Ohio. “Guess where I am!” I screamed at him and held out the phone to the engulfing throb of the music (“Asher bara sasson ve simcha, sasson ve simcha, chatan ve kallah!”). When I brought the phone back to my ear I heard my un-ecstatic, commonsense, dry, wry, and decidedly un-Jewish brother Paul’s voice saying, “I don’t know. A Jewish nightclub?”

“Wrong!” I hollered happily. “It’s Simchat Torah!” I sent love and hung up.

I went outside and was shocked by the coldness of the air on my sweat-drenched body after the fevered heat inside the shul. I left after 10 p.m., with a crowd still going strong. (I have never been able to stay long at nightclubs.)

The next morning, I showed up for services still tired, ears still ringing. What was supposed to happen on the day of Simchat Torah? I wondered. I had no clue. Reading of select passages suited to the immensity of the occasion? I sat through the service, still stumbling along in those early days of learning Judaism, landing on the wrong page often as not. Services seemed to be coming to a stately conclusion. I looked around hesitantly and then started for the door. But just then the chazzan played some familiar chords, and I whirled around. Was this the soundtrack of my addled Jewish-wedding dreams of the previous night? Was I reliving the insistent, maddening strains of music I’d heard in my sleep, as black-clad men in fur hats spun in dizzying circles around invisible me? But it was no dream, not even a hallucinogenic one, not even the hypnogogic images before the unconscious plunge. No, this was real. This was happening.

By God, they were doing it all over again.

***

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I love Simchat Torah at BJ, always a blast. You know I think American Judaism would be way better off is there was some sort of rabbinical edict that you could skip Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. But you had to go to Simchat torah, Purim, Sukkot, and 4 shabbat services, once every quarter.

Simchat Torah is the other side of the coin of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, you can’t have one without the other.

Great article. But “Images of the infamous 1979 Who concert in Cincinnati floated through my head.”? What you describe was nothing like that. Sounds a lot more like the Dead in Indy four days later.

Larisa T says:

WOW!

“One of the metaphors I had used to explain
becoming a Jew was a kind of vision I’d had of me walking through a dark
landscape and coming upon a house with bright light pouring out of
glowing windows and lively movement inside; when I knock on the door, my
rabbi answers it and welcomes me into the light and the life inside
there.”

I had much the same experience after attending my first serious, adult Torah study session. I described it as “living in this nice house, never feeling like I was missing anything, but then one day pulling aside the curtains and seeing this beautiful garden outside that I was free to visit whenever I wanted.”

Nice to know that Judaism study & practice gives other the same feeling of joy & discovery.

Was just talking to my almost 90 year old mother who vividly remembers Simchat Torah as a little girl in Poland. The thrill of seeing their community being so elated will always remain with her. She especially remember her father’s beaming face. Of course he perished not long after but she always tries to think of him when he was the happiest. Made me cry.
Your article was beautiful and I welcome you to our fold.

Wonderful!
Always Live Israel!!

Wonderful!
Always Live Israel!!

and when all the hoopla is over, it’s still just part of a cycle – with its ups and downs, its elation and its sameness. and that’s where the test is – do we get the same satisfaction on a regular Tuesday morning for completing morning prayers and possibly studying a bit of Torah before going to work, to the gym, or to school. Or do we need the high of the crowd to feel that we’re part of it

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A Convert’s First Simchat Torah

When the holiday turned my synagogue into a chaotic nightclub, I finally felt like part of the Jewish community

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