Simchat Torah Marks End to High Holidays

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By Raimundo Ortiz

Monday and Tuesday mark the end of the Jewish High Holiday season, and begins a major holiday-less stretch that continues until Passover. On Monday, Jews celebrate Shemini Atzeret, the closing festival of the seven-day holiday of Sukkot and on Tuesday, they observe Simchat Torah, although in some forms of Judaism and in Israel these two holidays are combined.

Shemini Atzeret is a day at the end of Sukkot that many Jews spend inside their sukkahs mustering up the spirituality that they will draw from for the rest of the year.

Shemini Atzeret leads into Simchat Torah, which literally means “celebration of the Torah,” according to Rabbi Nochem Tenenboim of Chabad of Hewlett. On Simchat Torah, the final portion of the Torah is read, and the cycle begins anew. Rabbi Tenenboim said that on the morning of Simchat Torah, a very important aspect is the opportunity for everyone in attendance to receive an aliyah, a chance to read directly from the Torah. “Usually only seven people can get this honor, but on Simchat Torah, everyone gets the chance,” said Tenenboim. “Even the children get the opportunity. It builds the connection to the Torah in a young kid to be able to read and be a part of it. It gives them importance.”

Celebrating the spiritual connection to the Torah is the major thrust of this holiday. Whereas many holidays are about studying the Torah, and understanding it, Simchat Torah is simply a celebration. “You will see people dancing with it (Torah),” said Tenenboim. “This may seem strange but the idea is to have a relationship and closeness with it.”

Tenenboim said that Simchat Torah is probably the most anticipated of the High Holidays, because of the feasting, dancing and rejoicing. For Tenenboim, children are the top priority on Simchat Torah. “We believe the children are the future and share an equal part of the Torah with all Jews. They must build a strong connection, celebrate and show love.”

Chabad of Hewlett will be hosting a celebration at 31 Franklin Avenue at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, October 8th. “We have a table that we put the Torah on and we dance around it.  The kids have flags with different statements about their love and happiness of being part of this beautiful Torah,” said Tenenboim. The reason for revolving around the table is the symbolism of a circle and the continuing relationship with the Torah passing from one generation to the next.

The Hewlett-East Rockaway Jewish Centre (Conservative), at 245 Main Street in East Rockaway, is having Shemini Atzeret services Monday morning at 9:30 a.m. and a Simchat Torah service and celebration at 6:30 p.m. Monday evening, where refreshments will be served. Temple Israel (Reform) at 140 Lawrence Avenue, Lawrence, will have a dinner on Monday night at 6:00 p.m. followed by a service at 7:00 p.m. All attendees will march around the temple with the Torah while children carry flags and eat jelly apples.

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