In a ceremony called hakafot, the doors of the ark are flung open, the Torah scrolls are taken out and handed to various community members, and everyone jubilantly parades around the bimah in the synagogue with their precious heritage in hand. The celebrations will take place this year from the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 28, to nightfall on Wednesday, Sept. 29, following the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, which begins on Monday, Sept. 28 at sunset. (In Israel, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are celebrated together, beginning on Monday night.)
So has it been celebrated for hundreds of years, in various formats, all across the Jewish landscape. Of course, given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, congregations will celebrate with proper precautions appropriate for their locations. In addition, Chabad.org has created a 10 step guide to the holiday for those who will celebrate at home.
Wherever the celebrations take place, dancing with the Torah is meant to be an act of unparalleled encompassing joy, taught the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—and the Rebbe’s hakafot on Simchat Torah were unforgettable experiences that drew visitors from around the world. It’s a holy joy that Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries strive to replicate in synagogues around the world, which can be located using Chabad.org’s Sukkot and Simchat Torah Directory.
The effort will indeed be a global one: Chabad-Lubavitch is the largest Jewish organization in the world, with 3,500 educational, religious and social-service institutions in more than 100 countries and territories. According to the Pew Research Center’s 2020 “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” two in five Jewish adults—some 38 percent of American Jews or 2.2 million people—report having some interaction with Chabad. It’s a level of engagement that extends to Jewish communities large and small around the world.
Dancing with Their New Torah Scrolls
In certain communities, the prospect of dancing with the Torah will be particularly exciting this year as it will afford them the opportunity to repeat something on Simchat Torah they recently did on a weekday when they danced through the streets of their communities with a new Torah scroll.
Each Torah scroll is entirely hand-written by a trained scribe, guided by a complex and detailed set of laws. The loving yet painstaking process typically takes upwards of a year, and when finally completed and brought to its final home in the synagogue, is a cause of great joy.
Regardless of what time of the year such a celebration occurs, the trappings are very similar to Simchat Torah, with a similar hakafot ceremony. The Torah scroll is paraded down the street near the synagogue, and people sing and dance as they hold and escort the new scroll to its home.
The Jewish community in Beachwood, Ohio, recently saw this type of joy on their own streets on Aug. 29, when the Fromovitz Chabad Center, co-directed by Rabbi Moshe and Rivky Gancz, dedicated a brand-new Torah scroll in memory of Shlomo Yitzchok and Ida Fromovitz, and Will Grunspan.
“To have such a celebration right before the High Holidays was a huge boost,” said Juscelino Colares, who recently moved to the neighborhood from the area he and his wife, Suzanna, used to live in, next to Case Western University. “There was record attendance at services this year, and that’s certainly a credit to the energy and momentum from the Torah celebration we just had,” said Colares.
“It also adds a wonderful component to the upcoming Simchat Torahcelebrations,” he continued. This new scroll is a source of pride for everyone, increasing the opportunity for more people to get a chance to dance with the Torah on the special day.”
Celebrating New Beginnings
For Sara Tucker of Petaluma, Calif., the message of Simchat Torahalways struck a chord. And coming off the recent dedication of a new Torah scroll on Aug. 22 at the Chabad Jewish Center of Petaluma, co-directed by Rabbi Dovid and Devorah Bush, it’s especially poignant. “I love the theme of a new beginning, of starting fresh. The celebration in August was really wonderful, and as we get ready for another Simchat Torah, I’m excited about the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the Torah. Really, in these times, any opportunity to celebrate is so welcome, and I look forward to rejoicing with others.”
The added interest of a new Torah dedication so close to the High Holidays was a real boon for the relatively small Central California community. “For this year, we are joining our friends nearby at Chabad of Santa Rosa for Simchat Torah,” said Bush. “To be able to bring our own Torah scroll there and enable our community members to dance with their very own Torah is particularly meaningful and personal.”
More than 7,000 miles away, Rabbi Eli and Sara Naiditch are expecting hundreds to turn out for dancing through the streets with the Torah on Monday night at a Simchat Torah event sponsored by Chabad on the Coast and Young Jewish Professionals of Tel Aviv, just as they did a few short months ago when a community Torah scroll was completed and dedicated amidst much celebration in Israel’s city that never sleeps.
The Jewish community in Hackensack, N.J., also dedicated a new Torah scroll not too long ago, escorting their new prize to Chabad of Hackensack, co-directed by Rabbi Mendy and Shterna Kaminker. “The hakafot were really great, and it was so nice to do it just before the chagim (holidays),” said resident Uri Ichilov.
Parading with such pride down the streets of so many different communities with a Torah scroll in hand is a true testament to the indomitable Jewish spirit and the joy that saturates it, residents say. “This singular event that brings so many people together with so much positive celebration really highlights the role of Chabad. We’re all different, and yet here we are, celebrating together in the simple joy of our heritage, the holy Torah,” said Colares.
To locate a Simchat Torah celebration near you, visit Chabad.org’s Sukkot and Simchat Torah Directory