A year ago, I wrote an article about very real challenges in religious progress, in particular relating to women who wish to dance with a Torah scroll on Simchat Torah – the holiday whose very purpose is to celebrate the Torah.
The story I’d written about was based on an incident in my synagogue in which I hadn’t actually participated. In fact, I wasn’t even present when it occurred. More so, though I was and am fully supportive of women’s right and privilege to hold and dance with a Torah scroll, it was never something I felt lacking in not having ever done. That was last year.
This year, circumstances found me, my 14-year-old son and my 7-year-old daughter alone for Simchat Torah. We decided to take advantage and branch out of our little village and head for the big city. That is why we ended up in Jerusalem.
We had the holiday evening all planned out. An out-of-the-ordinary early dinner before synagogue so we didn’t feel rushed; and a carefully (hand drawn! Forgot to print it…) mapped route to take us to the most exciting, inspiring, inviting synagogues.
Even with our carefully drawn out plans, I couldn’t have prepared for the exciting, inspiring event that was to occur.
We entered one of the synagogues on our route; a small, unassuming synagogue in a hidden courtyard in the neighborhood of Nachlaot. We were strangers there; we knew no one.
My son went off to the men’s side and my daughter and I entered the women’s section. Immediately, we saw that the women were dancing with a Torah. I watched from a distance, getting my bearings, somewhat amazed and delighted.
Suddenly, the woman holding the Torah came straight over to me and asked if I’d like to hold the Torah. Time stood still for me as an entire conversation took place in my mind. [Me? That’s not my thing. I’ve never done this. I never wanted to do it. But right now, suddenly, there is nothing I want to do as badly as hold that beautiful Torah scroll and dance with it!]
Almost shaking, I nodded to the woman as she gently handed it to me, explaining exactly where and how I should hold it.
And then, there I was; holding a Torah scroll as one would hold a precious baby. Standing in the middle of a circle of women in a synagogue I’d entered for the first time only moments before.
I was holding the star of the celebration — the Torah on Simchat Torah. And everyone was dancing around me. Around “us.” I was overwhelmed. My eyes were brimming with tears.
I realized my little girl was part of the dancing circle. I gestured for her to join me in the center. She did so without hesitation. I sacrificed one finger from the solid grip I had on my precious cargo to take hold of a finger of hers. This most precious of moments was one I was desperate to share with her. If only my son, alone on the other side of the partition, had realized and could have witnessed this as well.
It was the most confusing, exultant, emotional experience I can ever recall. In that moment, it occurred to me that not dancing around the Torah on Simchat Torah was like not dancing around the bride at a wedding. Dancing with the Torah felt natural. It was normal. But more than that; it was everything.