The corner of Ben Yehuda and Ben Gurion is the most symbolic spot in Tel Aviv. One next to the other: a wine bar, a yoghurt bar, a sushi bar, and a cafe so treif it sells bacon on Shabbat. And hidden behind them, wedged between apartment balconies… a synagogue.
The constant buzz of the White City is a whir of bicycles and wafting chatter from street-front cafes. But on Simchat Torah, that rhythm becomes the background noise of a more powerful melody.
The look on the faces of passersby could only be described as a mixture of bafflement and bemusement, as perhaps two hundred people erupted from the wine/yoghurt/sushi/cafe-hidden synagogue and spilled onto Ben Yehuda Street — men, women and children — singing and dancing and clutching Torah scrolls.
Israelis have no shame. Some passersby even walked into the middle of the circle to take photos on their phones, surprised to see a quaint street circus they simply had to tell their families about.
Singing (really just chanting nai-nai-nai in any random tune, by this point), we strode from a street named for the man who revived the Hebrew language, along a boulevard named for the man who resurrected the Hebrew state, and to a street named for the mayor of the first Hebrew city. The women, embracing a scroll, danced in a circle, artfully dodging the passing bicycles. Someone threw a basket of lollipops in the air, and the children scrambled to clear the litter.
The heavy scroll in my arm was rolled precisely to the section when the Children of Israel part from Moses on the banks of the Promised Land, on the cusp of securing their liberty. We sang about the two-thousand year dream to be a free people in our own land. The dream to engage in such eccentric rituals unmolested. And the dream to sit in cafes and ride bicycles, if we wish, as we watch them instead, bemused and befuddled as the bedraggled Israelites in those final, calligraphed paragraphs would be if they could see us now.
And then we slipped back inside, and the White City buzz returned to its routine, punctuated — maybe, and maybe not — by the odd quip about what a meshigge little occurrence just took place.
What a time and place to be alive.