Laura Ben-David
Sharing Israel with the world through my lens
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Putting the ‘simcha’ in Simchat Torah, in an unexpected way

Such a small thing -- being given an 'aliya' on Simchat Torah -- but oh, the joy
A Torah scroll at a prayer service at the Robinson's arch area of the Western Wall. Photo credit: Laura Ben-David
A Torah scroll at a prayer service at the Robinson's arch area of the Western Wall. Photo credit: Laura Ben-David

We spent Simchat Torah with my childhood friend in Tekoa — among many reasons, for Tekoa’s reputation for progressive and enthusiastic Simchat Torah services.

I was not disappointed. As my 15-year-old son described it, despite the fact that, at the particular synagogue we were at, there was but a fraction of the people as at our own synagogue, the energy and excitement in the dancing with the Torah was way more than what we were accustomed to. Enormously impressive…

The women danced with the Torah as well, with an equal measure of passion and joy. My 8-year-old daughter and I loved being a part of it. It was simply a happy experience in a happy place…

One custom on Simchat Torah morning is for everyone to get an aliyah (call-up) to the Torah. “Everyone,” meaning “men…” This never specifically bothered me.

However in Tekoa, “everyone” meant “everyone.” It was suggested that I join the women’s aliyot during the morning services when all of the aliyahs were taking place. Here I was, suddenly, presented with an imminent opportunity I had never even thought to seek. It thrilled and excited me and I went over to join the women, seating myself in the back as more of a spectator, with the mounting anticipation of my own aliyah in the very near future.

As the crowd in the women’s room thinned, I realized that my turn would be coming soon and I had no real idea of what to do. I couldn’t really hear what was being said, but it sounded strange to me though I’ve been to shul hundreds (thousands?) of times. Turns out the words were unfamiliar to me because they are different than what the men say. It was explained to me that since women don’t have the obligation the men have, they give them a different set of equally meaningful prayers.

Suddenly, the woman in charge of the aliyot looked in my direction and pointed, seemingly at me. I froze in utter panic until the woman next to me began to rise and take her place at the bimah. That was when I realized I didn’t think I could actually go through with it after all. And I was miserable with myself…

All of a sudden, Hindy, my dear friend and my host for the holiday, materialized next to me. She was waiting for her own turn and she saw my panic. I thought that perhaps I could follow her up when she got her aliyah, and simply watch from close-up; perhaps this would alleviate my anxiety.

“Why don’t you just come up with me?” Hindy suggested. “We can have the aliyah together.”

Such a simple and wonderful solution! I was thrilled and immediately relaxed somewhat. We waited patiently for our turn, then gave our Hebrew names to the gabbait and, holding each others’ hands tightly for (my) support, took our positions next to the Torah reader in front of the Torah scroll. And I started to cry…

Then, together with my best friend from kindergarten — when I first learned how to pray and to make the blessings — I said the special prayers for the aliyah.

Finally the gabbait read a beautiful prayer for mine and Hindy’s success, health and happiness… I was overwhelmed. And I was so happy…

Such a small thing. Something I’d never even thought about… Yet it made “Simchat Torah” — literally “rejoicing with the Torah” — more meaningful and joyful than I ever could have imagined.

About the Author
Laura Ben-David is a photographer, public speaker and Israel advocate. Inspired by her Aliyah experience, Laura began writing and never stopped. She is the author of the book, MOVING UP: An Aliyah Journal, a memoir of her move to Israel. She has spoken all over the world about Israel, Aliyah and other topics, often with beautiful photographic presentations. Formerly the head of social media at Nefesh B'Nefesh, Laura is the director of marketing at Shavei Israel as well as a marketing consultant.
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