MANY WILL BE HOME THIS YEAR
Many synagogues are still closed for in-person services, even those that are open have many limitations and restrictions. We know that many current students and alumni friends will not be able to celebrate this most joyous holiday with community in person. But community or not, synagogue or not, it is still Simchat Torah and we must celebrate. We’ll try to list below a number of different ways, suggestions & resources along with inspiration to meaningfully celebrate at home with family, or even alone, as some of us will be celebrating this holiday alone in dorms, apartments, etc.
SAVE THE DATE!
Simchat Torah 2020 (5781) falls Saturday night October 10th through Sunday October 11th. Your festivities (and yes, no matter where we are or with whom we are – we should have festivities) can be either on Saturday night or Sunday during the day, or ideally both.
FIRST, THE FIRST QUESTION
In early August 2020, as we were preparing for UAlbany’s re-opening during Covid, a returning second-year student came by to say hello. We were standing on the deck, and the first question he asked was: “Mendel, what will be with Simchat Torah!?” I was blown away, uplifted! Imagine this being the first question of a student, two months before the holiday… Indeed, Simchat Torah with its exuberant dancing, loud singing, increasing closeness – this is especially challenging during Corona.
NO TORAH SCROLL?
The vast majority of people don’t have their own Torah scrolls at home (though we do know of rare examples of alumni who do!). But most do have a Jewish book of learning, perhaps a Chumash or even a Siddur, some book of Jewish texts. We can dance with a book like that. The current situation brings to mind a story about the Rebbe’s father dancing with a Jewish text on a Simchat Torah night in a bitter lonely exile. I wrote about it here in this article about his Hakafot Niggun for Chabad.org. The story is in middle of the article, but the whole article is actually really relevant now. So go ahead and dance while holding a Jewish book, it is most appropriate. For those who have children at home there’s also this beautiful Abe Foxman’s post-Holocaust story about dancing with children instead of a Torah scroll. And for couples, one of our favorite Baal Shem Tov stories (I’ve told it many times at Shabbos House) is the story of the Friday night dance of Shabse and Mrs. Bookbinder, which tells the story behind the birth of the Koznitzer Maggid, an ancestor of one of our alumni. To see one version of the Bookbinder story, click on the Look Inside feature of this Amazon book, its on pages 3-5)
YOUR FAVORITE JEWISH SONGS
Whether you know many Jewish songs or just a few, there has to be a couple of Jewish songs that you know. Sing them! It doesn’t have to be formally connected with Simchat Torah. The Sukkahleh Song will do. Sing Hoshiya es Amecha, David Melech Yisrael, Am Yisrael Chai, Al Tirah, whatever you’ve got. At Shabbos House we like to change it up between fast songs and slow songs, old songs, newer songs, they can be in Hebrew or in English, some with interaction, some with added inflection, make it your own. See this 3-page PDF of Hakafot Verses with a list of sample songs to jog your memory.
They say a fancy term for solo-dancing is Pas-Seul. My colleague at Chabad of Texas A&M says its an opportunity to emphasize our personal connection with G-d. Indeed, we’re not dancing alone! We’re dancing along with all Jewish generations, we’re dancing with Jews in all corners of the world. We may be ourselves this Simchas Torah but we’re not dancing alone. Even if just for a bit, we have to lift our feet and do a little dancing on Simchat Torah. Don’t feel like it? Not in the mood? No matter! Dance a little anyways! If others are home with you, dance with them or dance alone, but a Jew has to dance a little on Simchat Torah – it is very good for our soul!
Simchat Torah is one of those holidays when its traditional to make a toast, to drink a little something (healthy, safe moderation, of course) to get your feet dancing. For those 21+ you can do this literally, for those under age 21, think of mental/emotional ways to let go a little, to throw yourself into it, to warm up and be energized. One of my (Mendel’s) methods is “to get drunk on people’s faces” I get excited and enthused from people’s stories, their life experiences, their participation & involvement, their steps and movement in the complex dance of life. But whatever method, we can’t stay on the observer sidelines on Simchat Torah, apathetic and indifferent. We have to throw ourselves into it, even if we are the one only ones present! — Note that even in adult communities where alcohol is usually served on Simchat Torah many are holding back this year to ensure careful adherence to distancing guidelines, but if you’re home anyways, and over 21+, a little (jelly-bean holder of) L’chaim could be in order.
THE VERSES, SAMPLE SONGS
See the Simchat Torah page in a Siddur for the verses traditionally recited on Simchat Torah before the Hakafot, and the verses designated for each of the seven Hakafot. You don’t need a Minyan to say them, and they can be said at home as well. See this 3-page PDF of Hakafot Verses, a list of sample songs to jog your memory, and other Shabbos House Simchat Torah classics.– download and print for use before Shabbat and the holiday.
FLAGS FOR KIDS
This idea is for alumni with young children. An old tradition is for children to make Torah flags and wave them aloft on Simchat Torah. This year it may be even more energizing! These flags should be colored/made before the onset of the Shabbat and holiday weekend. Some of these flag templates can be downloaded online, but any Torah-related design will do! Personalized and homemade is best!
A FESTIVE MEAL
It is a Jewish holiday after all. Make it special, pull out the stops, eat and enjoy a festive holiday meal. It is the closing to the long holiday season, and the sendoff to the year ahead.