Simchat Torah on a farm!
It was rumoured for a few weeks that Simchat Torah on the farm was going to go off, a night of heavy drinking and a chance to interact with people from the outside world. Ah, the outside world, I remember that, a world where people wear shoes other than blundstones and the options for shirts extends well beyond red flannel or blue flannel. It’s fair to say I had mixed feelings about it all because at the end of the day, by all standards it was going to be a big dance party. And let’s set the record straight here, I can’t dance. Some people’s bodies move in a way that allows them to gracefully float through the rhythm and to elegantly move their limbs perfectly to the beat, but I was not blessed with such poise in my abilities. I’m what we would call an awkward head bopper. Sometimes I will throw a clap or two in there for variety and to show I’m not a one trick pony, but that’s about all I got really. It’s a hard life, but I make do. Tea and conversation will always beat drinking and dancing for me.
As I walked closer to the main building where the festivities were being held, I started to feel the vibrations in the floor of the drums and feet stomping to the beat. I heard a beautiful voice singing, followed by a choir of angelic tones responding in unison. I was intrigued. I opened the door and it was like the circus had come to town; people jumping, singing, and dancing in circles. Drinks were flowing and bodies were moving. Torahs were held in the air along with the person dressed up as a Torah being carried through the crowd. If pure joy could be characterised in a moment than this was it. Even the aroma of the room felt joyous. I got a whiff of whiskey, ancient parchment and flowers, and then it hit me, like a bad aftertaste: body odour and sweat. The members of my cohort near me all did a quick pit check for each other, each taking turns sticking their noses into the pits of the person next to them to make sure it wasn’t us. We were in the clear, don’t worry, but I am sure we looked proper strange doing that.
I was dragged into a swinging circle of random people as we danced and sang at the top of our lungs, “Aneinu Aneinu B’Yom Koreinu,” Answer us, answer us on the day we call. The party moved outside and no one seemed too bothered that it was 5 degrees. Hundreds of people holding hands, smiling and singing together, dancing around a scroll made from animal skin with words and teachings over 2000 years old. I mentally removed myself for a moment of perspective and I came to the conclusion that to an outsider this must look absolutely bizarre! And to be fair, it kind of is, and I kind of don’t care. I can’t move past the word joy, it’s just so simple and beautifully authentic.
Working in various Jewish communities in different countries for the last 8 years of my life, I have experienced many intellectual dilemmas, crises of continuity, and moments of despair trying to engage the unengaged. It can be very rewarding and at the same time emotionally draining, feeling like you are dragging yourself over the finish line and someone keeps moving the line right when you get close. There is no end goal to community, no utopian wonderland waiting for the righteous. Even if there were, we wouldn’t agree on what it should look like.
This Simchat Torah, I could not escape the overwhelming sense of pure joy and happiness I felt while being surrounded by my people celebrating thousands of years of culture. We have this rich history that extends beyond stories of persecution and struggle and it is filled with moments of elation and a demand to strive for pleasure and joy. Thousands of years of different iterations of Jewish peoplehood spanning the globe and periods and here I am, a lone Australian in the middle of the woods in Connecticut, USA in 2019, dancing around an old book.
There is an old proverb of a struggling man trying to feed his family, he works for one gold coin every day to buy a loaf of bread. One day, after a long hard week of labour, he is given 2 gold coins and he buys a loaf of bread and a rose. Asked why he did not just buy 2 loaves of bread the man responds, “I got the bread so I can live, I got the rose for something to live for.” This speaks truth to me today as I contemplate what type of community I want to build and be a part of. We need the bread, the structures and traditions but we equally need to rose, the joy and beauty.
Maybe in this new farm we will plant a few rose beds.
Missed Succot? Check out the blog
Still on the repentance train? Check this out
Concerned about the climate, read this blog
Learn what it means to schlepp here
Catch the Part 3 by heading here
Did you see Part 2? If not click here
What about Part 1? No, check it out here