Three weeks ago we celebrated the beginning of a new year. Ten days after that came Yom Kippur, the day of atonement followed a few days later by Sukkot which has seen rain every single day this week making our outdoor festival less joyous this year than usual --the weather is supposed to be dry for the next week, wouldn't you know?
Our holiday season concludes with Simchat Torah. Jews throughout the world read the from the Torah in shul on Shabbat morning and each week every congregation will read from the same section in sequence throughout the year. Simchat Torah celebrates the end of the old cycle and the beginning of the new one, so we read from the very end of Deuteronomy and the beginning of Genesis in the same evening.
We remove the Torah scrolls from their regular resting place and while music plays, everyone dances and the Torahs are passed from one person to the next so that everyone has a chance to dance with a Torah. I never fail to be moved by this, sometimes to tears. That after all these years and all that's happed, there are still Jews to dance with the Torah. No small thing, that.
Our rabbi, who has been on sabbatical since July, returned to lead tonight's service. There was a very moving moment when a young man just returned from army service in Iraq was called to say a blessing over the Torah reading. I was stunned when he signed up and, quite honestly, never expected him to return. It was lovely to be part of welcoming him back home.
After the rabbi reads the final section, the entire scroll is unrolled which is quite a sight. This is many, many yards of handwritten parchment held up by members of the congregation. The rabbi does a quick reverse tour of the year, ending up back at the beginning, Bereshit. I've been to many of these services over the years and I always love it. It's a very special service, but also relaxed, noisy, slightly chaotic and very enjoyable.
Now it's back to regularly scheduled programming until Chanukah arrives in December. I love the rhythms and cycles of Judaism--there are times for busyness and times for quiet, times for serious introspection, and times for silliness and fun. There are weekly, monthly, and yearly cycles giving us a regular rhythm and an ongoing chance to revisit our texts and reexamine our lives.
After spending so much time in the last month really focused on our holy days, one thing that's struck me is all the happy children in our community: children dancing, children in laps, children learning, children snuggled in under a parent's tallit. I am so happy that my kids are growing up in this community. MonkeyBoy will happily go to anything relating to our synagogue because he knows he'll see his best friend there. The rabbi takes the time to see how The Dark Lord is doing in school. The Princess has no end of adult admirers. On a BBC radio program yesterday I heard a man claim that raising children with religion is child abuse. There's no doubt in my mind that religion can be presented to kids in an abusive and horrible way. But a religion that encourages questions and encourages both gratitude and joy? We're blessed to have it in our lives.