Haifa Playground

Western Wall, Jerusalem, 2014

Several feet away from me is the Western wall. Hundreds of thousands of prayers stuffed into the pockets of ancient stones stick out of cracks as women bury their noses in prayer books, looking to this sacred place for connection.

A worn down bookshelf holding public ancient prayer books stands off to the side, but I am nowhere close to reading. I hold the hands of two Jewish women — one from Russia, one from Paris. We sing and join the circle of other women dancing in the woman’s section of the Western wall.

Around me are women from all over the world, celebrating the beginning of the Sabbath, celebrating the Jewish return home, celebrating the moment, celebrating a Jewish army, Jewish government, and a home. My feet move without thought, every woman there feels like a sister.

My soul is on fire and I celebrate the feeling with a dance.

Moshava Stone, Pennsylvania, 2014

A week working at B’nei Akiva camp has ended. We have spent all week running from activity to activity, teaching, tiring ourselves out, cleaning up the camp before Shabbat, and finally ending up in the chapel for our weekly Friday night service.

Our voices fill the wooden sanctuary as we bellow out songs and dance together with all of our leftover energy from the week before. Our circle is spinning, jumping, vibrating as we hear the voices of the men on the other side of the Mechitza.  We gave ourselves to the mission of education during the week, and tonight we are given the opportunity to rest joyfully. We dance around in circles, welcoming in Shabbat and restoring our bodies for the week to come.

Rena closes her eyes, begins a new song, and hundreds of campers and counselors follow suit. Our chapel has become a sanctified space-only joy and celebration are allowed. We jump and yell at the top of our lungs-but always in the confines of our joyful circle. Anyone who wants to join, our hands are ready for them.

Younger campers make circles in the middle of us as we give praise for a successful week and yet another Shabbat to sanctify the time we’ve spent at the Moshava.

Simchat Torah, Madrid, Spain 2014

On my way in to synogogue,  I hear yells from the balconies in my neighborhood.  We have caught the resident’s attention and they are yelling at us “Jews” and laughing.

I finally reach the largest synogogue in Madrid and am escorted to a balcony above the men’s section.

3 older women sit behind me and the woman sitting next to me tells me about her son as I look below me at the first floor.  I hear song and watch from a bird’s eye view as the men below dance and sing around the Torah. I look around as other women look down. There is no dancing upstairs.

I do not sing and I do not dance. I am exiled from the circle of joy downstairs.  Men below me dance in Joy around our inheritance, our history. I am overtaken with pain at the exclusion.

I leave the synagogue and I don’t look back.

Simchat Torah, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2016

2 years have passed since my last dance cycle around the Torah.

It has been a hard day. Someone in my family is having a rough time, and when a friend texts me about the Tremont Shul Simchat Torah celebration, I know this is what I need.

I arrive at a closed off street.  In the distance I see a mass of many circles. I run toward them. Hundreds of Bostonians, layered in heavy jackets, scarves and gloves, sing and dance around multiple Torahs.

I enter the circles. Rena from Moshava Stone takes my hand and we dance around in the cold. Dan from my time in Spain holds the Torah in the middle of our circle. Two women from Paris greet me in yet another circle. I find myself holding the hand of a young boy sitting on his father’s shoulders. He looks at me and laughs as our circle moves faster, then slower, then faster, then slower. On my other side, a man with a beard looks at me mischievously.

“I’m not even Jewish!” he whispers to me, and we laugh together and I dance and let the pulls of the dancers and the moments bring me around and around, full circle.

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