Second Thoughts

Tishrei is quickly coming to a close. Inspired by the traditional “Goodbye” we wish the sukkah before we leave our temporary home, I would like to look back on Tishrei and reflect on events both local and international before I wish this, the first month of the Jewish year, goodbye.

To some in the reading public, the end of Tishrei and its run of holidays may come as a “relief.” I suspect this is because in galut you still experience two-day Yom Tov which this year segued into Shabbat, repeatedly making three-day Yom Tov, causing the logistical challenges that  Eruv Tavshilin was created to address. Others are relieved to return to a familiar schedule and the return of their kids to school.

We here in Israel, while occasionally missing the extra day of Yom Tov (in particular the Pesach  Seder — all that work in preparation for the seudah and all those school projects), delight in practicing Yom Tov as it was intended for Jews living within Israel. Ushering in the Yamim Tovim is Rosh Hashanah, with Sukkot closing the season. Generally, most observance is basically the same both in Israel and in galut, except for the very last day of Sukkot in which the difference in practice comes into sharp contrast. Due to the extra day of Yom Tov outside of Israel, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are celebrated on separate days; in Israel they are fused together in one. And it is on the night after Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, on Isru Chag, that a spectacle unique to Israel takes place: Hakafot Shniot — The Second Hakafot.

The hakafot of Hakafot Shniot are identical to those of Simchat Torah but, without the travel restrictions of Yom Tov; people are able to travel far and wide to participate in them. Think of it is a celebratory hybrid of simchat beit hasho’eivah and Simchat Torah.

The celebrations are held throughout the land of Israel in places both expected and surprising. Tel Aviv, generally starved for Torah, perhaps not so surprisingly hosts some of the most “leibidigHakafot Shniot. Religious youth groups will rent halls in Tel Aviv, post signs throughout neighborhoods and invite a “hip” general public — that presumably would not have a Simchat Torah celebration — to come and experience Hakafot Shniot. It is an inspiring sight to see the cool and hip of Tel Aviv take time from their fast-track,  success-oriented lives to dance round-and-round with the Torah, their inheritance, and know the simchah of dancing with the Torah rather than chasing after false truths of commercialism and secularism.

Closer to home, at Tzomet HaGush, Gush Etzion Junction, a mere half-mile from our home, there was a Hakafot Shniot as well. It was held not for the non-religious (though they would be most welcome there are hardly any in Gush Etzion); it was held in honor of the young men and women serving in the Israel Defense Force. These soldiers are stationed at the Gush Junction because it is the last major Jewish intersection before Me’aras Hamachpelah, the burial cave of our forefathers in Chevron. It is also an intersection of Israelis and Palestinians, and it is not always safe. The soldiers are ever-vigilant, and as thanks, Gush Etzion built Pinah Chamah, literally translated as the “Warm Corner,” for them to relax. It is a small rest place, a glorified shack where any soldier can come have a coffee, a soda or eat a piece of cake or cookies, all baked and delivered by the wonderful residents of Gush Etzion.

It was in front of Pinah Chamah that we held our Hakafot Shniot for our soldiers, visible to all who drove by, both Israeli and Palestinian. There was a live band: a local who’s who was there, and of course numerous soldiers were there. Not surprisingly, some were religious, others not yet. But it was the diversity of the civilians who turned out that was surprising.  Though the majority of the crowd was religious-Zionist (not surprising) there were also numerous yeshivishe participants and one elderly Chassid, with peyos, in a long bekeshe, dancing with his einikel on his shoulder. It was amazing to watch their holy peyos bounce as they danced around and around the circle in a Hakafot Shniot in honor of religious and non-religious soldiers while, in Tel Aviv at the same moment, secular Jews are dancing to the same Hakafot in a club. The neshamah got an emotional glimpse of the holiness of a unified Jewish people sharing our heritage.

Though not shy, I am not one to do too much dancing. Inspired by this Chassid and his einikel, I went to the center of the circle where two soldiers were dancing with sifrei Torah. I picked up the Ethiopian soldier and danced with him on my shoulders. By his Hebrew I could tell he had not been in Israel long, and I doubt he had enjoyed many Simchat Torahs or Hakafot Shniot. I further doubt that he spent a lot of time aloft the shoulders of a religious settler from Alon Shvut, but there we were: a Chassid with his einikel on his shoulders and I with an Ethiopian soldier holding a sefer Torah on mine. Only in Israel!


 

Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst and commentator living in Alon Shvut, Israel with his wife and two children. He can be contacted at msolomon@Hamodia.com