After the holiday of Simchat Torah ended today, my family put on our dancing shoes and headed to the Old City of Jerusalem. We had all danced earlier today in celebration of the completion of the Torah and the beginning of the next cycle of reading, but you can never get enough Simchat Torah joy.
Only days before, the alleyways of the Old City had been packed with people - Jews and non-Jews - who were making pilgrimages there. The Jewish people, especially those who live in Israel, may visit the Old City often, but an aliyah l'regal (visit to Jerusalem for the holiday) is a special experience. When the Holy Temple stood, Jews were commanded to visit three times a year - Sukkot, Pesach and Shavuot. Although unfortunately our Temple has not yet been rebuilt, the Jewish people visit the last remnant of the Temple Mount - the Kotel (The Western Wall).
Myriads of Jews came to the Western Wall over the holidays. There were sukkot set up for them to eat lunch or dinner inside. The Jerusalem Municipality Sukkot (left) were gorgeous.
There were even lulav and etrog stations that were available for anyone who did not have a holiday lulav-etrog set of their own, so that they could shake the four species together. The sign on the left says that the four species are being made available to the public thanks to the sponsorship of Gross Etrog. That's pretty terrific!
Tonight our family arrived at the Kotel just in time for Second Hakafot (the circular dances done with Torah Scroll on the holiday of Simchat Torah). My husband, son and nephew jumped right into the circle of men and boys that was directly in front of the Kotel. Dancing with almost 40 sifrei Torah - both Ashkenaz and Sefard, some absolutely magnificent - were dozens of men. Both my son and I felt that the most special part about those hakafot were the different kinds of Jews participating in it - Chassidim with their fur hats, yeshiva boys, national religious teens, and secular men with cardboard skullcaps, folks in suits and guys in jeans. There was a representative of every type of Jew in that circle.
That, in fact, is the message of the Sukkot holiday. We take four different species - different in every way - and we hold them together for a blessing. When the Jewish people, as different as they are, come together in unity, they bring a blessing.
My husband and son helped put away the Sifrei Torah when the hakafot ended. There are several holy arks for the Torahs near the Western Wall, and they were all filled to the brim. My son had to climb on a chair to return one Torah to the top shelf of one of the arks.
Then we climbed the steps from the Kotel Plaza up to Yeshivat Porat Yosef. The students in the yeshiva were dancing with their Roshei Yeshiva. A very loud and lively band shook the hall. My family danced as I took pictures of the concentric circles below me.
Jewish Quarter Dancing
Last stop was the Main Square of the Jewish Quarter. In the dim light of the square, a band of Breslover Chassidim were playing for the crowd. It wasn't exactly hakafot, but it was spirited and fun.
Thousands of people were walking around, most still in their yom tov (holiday) finery, hoping to hold on to that holiday feeling just a little bit longer.
And for those of us who love the fun and spirit of the holidays, hakafot shniyot were just what we needed.