Sunday, September 30, 2018

A Wonderful Experience. But...

As we approach Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah - the final phase of this holiday season, I once again wish all of my readers Chag Sameach.

I am not much of a dancer. I mention this in the context  of Simchas Torah. This is when we celebrate the yearly end to the weekly Torah reading cycle. This is done by reading by the final chapter of the Torah and then beginning reading the Torah anew from the beginning. In Israel this happens on Shemini Atzeres. Outside of Israel it happens the day after Shemini Atzeres.

The Siddur records a tradition called Hakafos (circling). Once in the evening and once the next morning. Seven verses are sung by a Chazan who holds a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) while circling the Bimah.  He is followed by men - each of them holding a Sefer Torah . They circle the Bimah 7 times, one time for each verse. That is followed by reading the last chapter of Torah which is then followed by reading the first chapter of the Torah.

Over time the custom of adding some lively religious themed songs have been added to which those circling the Bimah start dancing - while still holding those Sifrei Torah.  In recent years that has become a ‘dancefest’  lasting for hours. With each Hakafah seeming to take forever while exuberant young Yeshiva students take over the room and dance with near abandon. Often they insist on dancing well after the Gabbai has called for the Hakafa to end and the next Hakafa to begin. 

I know that a lot of these students do so out of a pure love of Torah and simply want to express their joy in this way. But in doing so it completely ignores those of us that simply do not have the energy to dance for hours at a time. This leaves many of us that had joined them early in the dance in the dance phase - standing by and waiting until they are done for what seems like an interminable amount of time. After each Hakafa!

If any one of us expresses their thoughts about it, we are accused of not sufficiently appreciating what the day is all about… and the dancers just continue dancing as though we weren’t there.

This is why I Daven at a Vasikin Minyan that finishes Birchas Kriyas Shema at the exact moment of sunrise (about 6:35 AM in Bet Shemesh). The Hakafos there have just a minute or 2 of dancing after each Hakafa. We then  proceed to the Torah reading and rest of the days prayer obligations. This is more or less ‘perfect’ for me. I do this whether I am in Israel or at home in Chicago.

The problem with doing it in Israel is that for someone like me and many of the other visitors to Israel - we celebrate two days of Yom Tov even while in Israel. Which means we seek a ‘Chutz’ Minyan that caters to those of us visiting from out of the country, They have their own Hakafos. I wouldn't even mind that so much if they did what Vasikin Minyanim do.  But that is far form the case. For some reason there are a few individuals that control the one and only Chutz Minyan here that believe they have to outdo the Hakafos of the previous day done by Israelis at the regular Minyan.  

For me that is pure torture. I cannot even begin to say how uncomfortable  I am  re-living something that I don’t even enjoy the first time it’s done (which is –as I said – why I go to the Vasikin Minyan).

That is the one ‘fly in the ointment’ of an otherwise wonderful and inspiring trip to the Holyland. For example there is nothing in Chicago even remotely close to the inspiring Yom Kippur I spend in Israel. After that everyone is scurrying around to complete theis Sukkos and obtain ther Arba Minim (better knows as the Lulav and Esrog). The Yom Tov spirit is everywhere. No matter how religious or irreligious one is, you know it’s Sukkos here. 

And in a place like Ramat Bet Shemssh there is no traffic in the streets (except for the occasional emergency vehicle when needed) so that little children can play and adults can go for long strolls after the meal.

So the ‘price’ I described for the forced 2nd day of Yom Tov for ‘out of towners’ is small compared to what we get out of the entire Yom Tov experience. Anyone that has not experienced a Yom Tov here I highly recommend trying it.
And with that I want to once again wish all of my readers a ‘Chag Sameach’.

Post Script
It took 6 hours. The Vaskin Minyan yesterday (Simchas Torah in Israel) took 2 and a half hours. Nuff said!!!