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Jerusalem hakafot mayhemby simone • October 20 2008
Holidays, For the kids, Things to do
Simchat Torah celebrations kick off Monday night as Jews gather in synagogues throughout the capital to party with the Holy Book. Marking the completion of the annual cycle of public Torah readings, traditional Jewish Jerusalemites dance a bunch, drink a bunch, and start the process all over again. Dozens of hakafot ritual celebration sessions are happening throughout the city, but here are five hot-spots guaranteed to provide a good time Monday night and Tuesday morning (for those who aren't too hung-over).
Narkis St. 28, Nachlaot
Officially a Chabad synagogue, Mayanot has a distinct Carlebachian vibe and attracts a large number of both native Israelis and immigrants (Anglo and French alike) to its weekly Shabbat services and vodka-heavy Kiddushes. On Simchat Torah, the drinking (and the singing and dancing) kick up a notch as the Torahs are danced around the synagogue and general mayhem erupts, spilling from the sanctuary into the streets below.
Western Wall (Kotel)
Jewish Quarter, Old City
If variety is your thing, the Kotel provides more than enough. With 20-25 different services running at once on Simchat Torah night, you can hop from Eastern European chants to Moroccan dirges and back again in less time than it takes to cross the plaza. With so many people competing for so little space, the dancing is subdued (and the drinking all done behind the scenes). It's worth sticking around, though, because when the other congregations clear out, the Carlebach contingent comes down, as do the students from Yeshivat Hakotel, who form one big circle around the plaza. Festivities only last about an hour, leaving you plenty of time to check out the other craziness going on, both in the Old City and the New.
Halamed-Hey St. 10, Katamon
The scene at Yakar, a Katamon-area synagogue with a heavy focus on spiritual prayer, seems to be more in the street than in the synagogue. While the hakafot (seven circuits made with the Torah around the platform on which the Torah is normally read) inside are lively enough (with women getting to hold the Torah for a number of revolutions), the street could pass for an open audition for Srugim, as Jerusalem's singles gather to see and be seen. If you thought Friday nights were happening, you ain't seen nothing yet.
Kehilat Moreshet Avraham (The Conservative Shul)
Adam St. 22, Talpiot
If you're looking for family-oriented fun with an egalitarian-twist, Jerusalem's Conservative Synagogue is the place to go. Over the years, the congregation has attracted a number of kohanim (the Jewish priestly caste) to its ranks, so there is one hakafa dedicated solely to them. Not to be left out, there are separate hakafot for levi'im (the Kohanic helpers) and women, as well as one for rabbis and one for PhDs. (What about the lawyers and doctors? We're guessing the stock brokers will be sitting their hakafa out this year). Most of the dancing takes place inside, though the last hakafa spills out to the parking lot and lasts as long as all the inside ones combined. In the morning, in addition to hakafot, there are a number of Torah-reading stations including one for children where 10 and 11-year-olds show the eight-year-olds how it's done.
If you thought the Nachlaot Carlebach minyans were over-the-top, try the Leader Minyan (Amika De-Bira) which meets once a month for Shabbat services and throughout the holiday season. Typical services start at 8:00 and don't end until 15:00, so you can only imagine what it's like on Simchat Torah. Basically, you'll be dancing yourself silly, and if you made plans to eat at someone's house, you might as well cancel them, because you'll never make it in time.
Photo of Jews getting down with the Torah courtesy of Dave Bender from Flickr under a Creative Commons License.
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