Jam session in public succa.
(photo credit: Moshe Goldberg)
This Succot might as well have been sponsored by Nokia. It was all about
connecting people. Which is what Succot is all about and is probably
the reason it’s my favorite festival on the Jewish calendar. The three
pilgrimage festivals – or regalim,
as they’re known in Hebrew – all represent landmarks in the Jewish life
cycle. Passover represents birth: The children of Israel were freed
from slavery and the Jewish nation was born. Shavuot symbolizes the bar
mitzva of the Jewish nation: It is the festival of coming of age, where
Jews begin to assume accountability for their actions following the
acceptance of the Torah and its mitzvot. Succot represents marriage,
with its main aspect being connection.
Interestingly Succot is the only festival in which the nations of the world were also invited to take part.
Even today, Christians come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles.
is a festival that binds and bonds human beings. It is also a leveling
festival – that is to say, in the succa, all people are equal. In that
simple construct, the richest Jew is on the same level as the poorest
So in the spirit of the festival, this year a group of young
entrepreneurial Tel Avivians – myself included – came together to build
a public succa in Atarim Square, just above the Tel Aviv marina. A
permit was procured from the municipality for the construction of the
succa and a Facebook group was created to announce the activities that
would take place therein.
All different types of Jews frequented the succa during Hol Hamoed (the intermediate days of the holiday).
sessions were set up during the daytime and different functions hosted
in the evenings. These included lectures and discussion groups by local
rabbis, and on the third night, there was an evening of traditional
foods from different nationalities in the succa. To the delight of the
attending masses, a local Tel Avivian with a passion for cooking
prepared delicacies from Moroccan, Yemenite and Kurdish cuisines.
Thursday night, I arranged a jam session in the succa to mark my
one-year anniversary of moving to Tel Aviv. A motley crew of musicians
arrived for what turned out to be a musical mash-fest that only ended at
3:30 a.m. I even managed to convince quite a few friends to come from
Jerusalem – not an easy feat, since so many Jerusalemites are averse to
making the long and arduous journey to Sin City. Following the sounds of
guitars being strummed, passersby also joined the fray.
again, the crowd was made up of all different types of Jews: olim and
Israelis, religious and secular, rightwingers and left-wingers – all
drinking wine and belting out Beatles classics and Israeli ballads of
On Shabbat of Hol Hamoed, some 60 people showed up
for a Friday night meal, and during the day there was a huge kiddush in
the succa with over 100 people in attendance. I remained in the succa
for much of the day, encouraging passersby to stop inside and have a
bite to eat. Many of them were clad in bikinis, having just come from
the beach, and quite a few of them admitted not to having stepped into a
succa for years.
RABA marked the last night of activities in the succa with an all-night
learning program. The following day, Succot was ushered out and Simhat
Torah took its place.
I was unsure about where to spend Simhat
Torah. I thought about joining the masses and ascending to Jerusalem,
but I was nervous because, due to overcrowding in shuls and a lack of
planning, Simhat Torah in the Holy City is somewhat of a hit-or-miss
holiday. I decided to go for the safe option and head to a friend’s
house in Mevo Modi’im, which is what I’d done in previous years. And I’m
glad I did.
Mevo Modi’im is officially called Meor Modi’im, but
for the people who live there, it is simply known as “the Moshav.” It
was founded in 1976 as a “moshav shitufi”
– cooperative village – by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who lived there
later in his life. As Wikipedia sagely notes, the Moshav comprises a
“remarkable collection of eclectic individuals, including musicians,
artists, organic farmers, wine makers, perfumers and specialists in many
areas – many of whom are among the very best in their field in all of
But perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Moshav
is its uncanny ability to unite people from all different walks of life.
Many olim are used to meeting Jews from all corners of the Diaspora at
Shabbat or festival meals. What’s amazing about the Moshav is that it
provides a rare forum in which Jews from all over the country can gather
at one table as well. Indeed, this Simhat Torah I was at a meal that
included a second-generation American from Efrat, a national-religious
Israeli from Peduel and a staunchly Moroccan Jew from Ashdod. In
accordance with Israeli tradition, poking fun at the “foreign” other was
the order of the day, albeit in good humor.
The Simhat Torah prayers were conducted in classic Carlebach melodies and finished at 3:30 p.m. The seven hakafot – rounds of dancing in a circle around the Torah scrolls – was a euphoric event for all in attendance. For the fifth hakafa,
all the worshipers abandoned the synagogue and encircled the entire
periphery of the Moshav, dancing and singing at the top of their lungs.
perhaps the most special event was the penultimate hakafa, in which
many of the residents left the settlement and, armed with a Torah
scroll, they headed toward Zachor – a historical site located just next
to the Moshav, near the Maccabean caves.
The site commemorates
those who perished in the Holocaust from the city of Zaglebie, Poland,
and it has a monument with their names. A glass encasement embedded in
the stone wall of the edifice houses a piece of parchment from a Torah
scroll rescued from a synagogue in Zaglebie.
It is apt that the
Moshav residents choose to come to a Holocaust site to dance a hakafa on
Simhat Torah, but this is not the main reason they come. The site,
which has tall trees surrounding manicured lawns, attracts a fair number
of secular Israelis who come to barbecue and enjoy the sunshine.
full song and dance, the Moshavnikim descend on the site and encourage
the picnickers to join the circle. It’s a spectacle that moves me to
tears every year I’m there.
This year, the Torah scroll was
handed to a young secular girl who clutched it with fervent piety to her
heart as the other women danced around her. Unwilling to relinquish it,
she held the scroll for most of the duration of the dancing.
After the dancing, the Torah scroll was unrolled on a stone wall, and one by one, whoever wanted to receive an aliya –
a chance to read from the Torah – was invited to read the blessings.
These were people who would not otherwise have had the opportunity to
participate in Simhat Torah festivities. Illustrating their lack of
knowledge was the following amusing anecdote: A member of the Moshav
asked one boy what his name was, to which he responded, “Ohad.” The
Moshavnik then asked, “Ohad ben...?” – expecting the boy to give his
father’s name. But the boy misunderstood and answered simply, “Ohad ben ehad esrei” – giving his age instead.
man came up to me after reading the Torah blessings, and in a choked
voice said, “You don’t understand what this means to me. You’ve made my
Perhaps, then, that is what Simhat Torah – the rejoicing
of the Torah – is all about: taking the Torah out of the synagogue and
bringing it to the people who might otherwise never have the chance to
On motzei Simhat
Torah, I attended hakafot shniyot – hakafot for those celebrating a
second day of the festival – in the Barby club in South Tel Aviv.
Usually a club that hosts rock concerts, every motzei Simhat Torah the
club turns into a party for the religious and secular masses. This year,
a band called Nosei Hakelim played Jewish music from the stage, while
the mosh-pit was full of men dancing with a Torah scroll. In another
room, all manner of women danced in circles of ecstasy.
The event was hosted by Rosh Yehudi, a Jewish learning center in central Tel Aviv, and was broadcast live on Army Radio.
So there you have it. Succot/Simhat Torah in the brand new year of 5773: Connecting people.