Simchat Torah

 LEADER TIMES WEEKEND RELIGION COLUMN FOR

October 6, 2012 by William H. Scarle, Jr.

A bit of nostalgia should be permitted in a column that has been around for over twenty years.  This past week the biblical Feast of Tabernacles has been celebrated.  It is a weeklong festival that began Sunday evening, September 30 and runs through Monday evening, October 8.  For Jews around the world it is a celebration of the harvest of fruits: grapes and olives for the most part.  It also concludes the festival year, being the last of the pilgrimage festivals, namely Passover, Pentecost and Booths or Tabernacles.

Obviously the harvest implied in the feast is in Israel.  It is the beginning of their rainy season, and a time to pray for rain through the winter.  It is the end of the summer and also the beginning of the tourist season for those who visit Israel in the off season when prices are lower.  The many trips to Israel which I hosted were usually in January or February when the Israeli farmer would be busy plowing the land and planting for the spring harvest of grain.

When I retired Joan and I took some trips to Israel on our own and stayed for longer periods of time.  One of those trips was during Tabernacles (Sukkot).  As we would leisurely walk through the Jewish Quarter of the Old City we would observe the “sukkot,” or booths, built on the roof tops of Jewish homes.  The quarter is crowded and there are no yards in which to build your booth, so you put it on the roof or on the fire escape.  At the Western Wall there was a large community booth where special events were held.  When we would visit the Upper Room we could look down on a large booth connected with a Hebrew school at the Tomb David which is on the first floor under the traditional Upper Room.

However, the highlight of this particular trip was the celebration connected with an additional day added to the Feast of Tabernacles and called “Simchat Torah,” or rejoicing in the Torah.  This year it comes in on Monday evening, the eighth, and lasts through Tuesday evening.  Joan and I went to Liberty Bell Park on the evening that begins the day of rejoicing in the Torah.  There was a stage set up and huge crowds of people.  The children had miniature Torah scrolls they were waving.  The various Jewish communities from Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Arabia, Egypt, et al were taking their turns dancing to their particular music with their Torah scrolls in hand.  The crowds were singing and dancing along with the performers.  It was a joyous time and a time to remember.

Liberty Bell Park is just outside the Old City walls.  It was begun in 1976 as a tribute to the bicentennial of the United States.  At the center is a replica of the Liberty Bell donated by the city of Philadelphia.  In January of 1976 I stood there when there was nothing present but the bell in a field of dirt.  With me was the representative of the Mayer of Jerusalem and a few friends.  We presented the first contribution to the park from America.  There were pictures, but they are long gone.  However, the memory is there.

The Bible is often seen as a book that brings something other than joy.  For Israel Simchat Torah is a reminder of the high privilege of receiving, recording and communicating the Word of God.  It is good news of great joy which is for all people.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at ravscarle@verizon.net).

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