The high holidays are almost over. It all began with rain, a visible sign of blessing! Succot week here in Jerusalem has been full of many events. Hiking, picnicking and 'olive picking the old way' outings are offered to families. Succahs are filled with friends and food.
There is the energy of joy in the air; one sees it in the eyes and hears it in the voices. Every day and evening, gathering places on Ben Yehuda and Jaffa streets are packed with musicians, excited tourists and celebratory Israelis who flood the falafel shops, ice cream parlors and the café succahs. Families meander with their children. Tourists sit to people watch. The Knelsen's photograph!
Today is the eighth day, concluding the holiday with Simcha Torah. In every synagogue, the last verses of Deuteronomy will be read. Before sundown, the first verses of the book of Genesis will be read.
As we walked along Jaffa street this morning, toward the Jerusalem Great Synagogue on King George, we approached an elderly man walking together with a younger man, perhaps his son. The older man suddenly raised a hand and passionately recited a Simcha Torah prayer.
We greeted them with a warm "Hag Sameach", which was enthusiastically returned; an obvious openness, and welcome to us.
Just before we turned onto King George, that passionate prayer burst out again. I turned around, raised both hands and called out a "praise the LORD" to them; they responded eagerly with both hands raised.
We have no photograph of this interchange, but the image will linger with us because it was another example of the growing openness of some Jews to Christians joining them; this is, of course, not yet the norm, but in the near future, I will expand on this observation in another blog.
Worship and prayer at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue rang out with wonderful singing that concluded with the traditional dancing parade of the Torah scrolls around the bima, the raised platform in the middle of a synagogue. All of the scrolls are taken from the ark and carried by men, often dancing, in this procession. The rest of us line up in the isles to touch/kiss the Torah, as a sign of love for the Word, when the scrolls pass. (Photographs are not allowed in the synagogue on a Shabbat).
But this celebratory procession does not remain in the synagogue; often it pours out into the street as an acknowledgement that the Torah was given for all nations, not just to the Jews. What a joy to experience, to participate in, the celebration of Simcha Torah in Jerusalem. As Grace indicated above, this event celebrates the conclusion of the cycle of Torah readings for the year. Later, the Genesis readings begin.