Please note these 10 Commandments of In-Person Simchat Torah Hakafot at Shabbos House 2020:
1) This is YOUR Simchat Torah and it now depends on each individual more than ever. Our crowd is you, no one is free to be uninvolved, indifferent, or feel like an outsider. This Simchat Torah is a much much smaller group than most years, so it leaves more of it on the shoulders (or feet) of each one of us. But remember – Shabbos House is never pushy, and certainly not during Covid. Do not feel pressured or pushed to do anything you aren’t comfortable doing or if you feel it isn’t right or not for you. Only engage to the extent you want to.
2) We should dance! But dancing will be different during Covid. No close-together circle dances, no holding hands, we must be cognizant, aware and careful to maintain distance. Passing each other isn’t a big deal but prolonged close-up exposure is what makes you vulnerable to the virus or a possible quarantine. Both masks and distance are required throughout Hakafot. We’ve ordered a bunch of gadgets to help keep distancing and keep it fun at the same time including hoola-hoops, can-stilts, bamboo canes, and a giant parachute (though you’ll have to skip every other handle or two) to send ripples across, generate waves and go around in a distanced circle.
3) Pas-Seul is some fancy term for solo-dancing. We’ll do some of that, too, do your dance moves from your own distanced spot. Maybe you have a cool dance move you can teach us. Maybe we can even attempt to synchronize it. But remember we’re not dancing alone! We’re dancing along with fellow Jews all over the world, we’re dancing together with past and future Jewish generations, the Torah dances along with us! And being that so many can’t be in synagogue, and hopefully we can, that behooves us to do our best for those who can’t be present themselves.
4) We’re going to make a nice big Kiddush before Hakafot begins. And a festive holiday meal after Hakafot ends. Some years some students tend to do a little pre-gaming of their own, but this year its especially important to be extra responsible and self-aware at Hakafot so we don’t blur lines and confuse boundaries and distances. Many shuls have notified their congregants to cut back or cut out the Lchaims this year for this reason. The letting-go, let-yourself-dance, mental/emotional state can be reached many other ways – even as we carefully distance.
5) Something you might not realize, but Chabad does Hakafot TWO nights: Friday Night (which is the night of Simchat Torah in Israel) and Saturday night (which is Simchat Torah here). The main night of dancing will be Sat Night, but we’ll do basic Hakafot on Friday night, too. On Friday night we’ll do one song per Hakafah and on Sat Night two songs per, maybe 3. But we gotta keep it limited this year.
6) About the time constraint: Most years we love to keep Hakafot going, build momentum and spirt and go for a half-hour or more each. We love when Hakafot begin at 8pm and go strong until midnight or later. This year is different. We’re happy we can do some Hakafot altogether, on a year when so many can not, so we’re not going to push the envelope. The goal is to keep each Hakafah to two (or max three) songs, singing only with masks on, and keep careful distance while we move about or use the parachute or dance in place or whatever. It’s going to be much shorter this year, but at least we hopefully can have it. And please no yelling atop our lungs as we love or are wont to do on Simchat Torah every other year. We can sing but only masked, and not overly loud, as loud singing can be a spreader concern.
7) Given that we’re so limited with the songs, gotta choose wisely. Give it some thought ahead of time! Usually we prefer songs that most people know or have broader appeal, but its a smaller crowd this year. Keep in mind, we do have 3 sets of 7 Hakafot: Friday night (for Shemini Atzeret, Chabad custom – in solidarity with Israel), Sat Night for Simchat Torah night, and Sunday day for Simchat Torah. That’s 21 Hakafot, 2 songs each, we should be able to get your favorite song in!
8) As always hand-sanitizer will be in ample supply and the washing sink with soap is nearby. Whatever touch points there will be, be it the parachute handles or the Torah, keep your hands clean in good Covid fashion. Remember, to only engage to the extent you are comfortable with. We are not sure yet the procedures for holding the Torah or leading Hakafot, but whatever is figured out to do, students have been quite good at respecting the guidelines here at Shabbos House.
9) RSVP! All in-person events during Covid must be via RSVP. Unlike the revolving door in and out Simchat Torah’s of the past, people can not just drop in this year..
10) As much as things are different this year, we’ll also try to keep up familiar traditions and classic observances. And we look forward to getting back into Simchat Torah full force when it will be safe to go all out!