Last Thursday I spent the night drinking, dancing and partying. But I was not at a fraternity house or a seedy bar. I was at Boston University’s Hillel House. Simchat Torah has got to be one of the top three holidays we’ve got.
It’s easy to forget, especially after the marathon prayer services of the high holidays, that Judaism is not boring. But luckily, soon after comes Simchat Torah, or “celebration of the Torah,” which is basically a big party for our holy book.
After a tisch, which includes snacks, drinks and singing (sort of like a religious cocktail party, I suppose) we all went into the kosher dining hall. With men on one side and women on the other, we preceded to dance and enthusiastically sing upbeat Hebrew songs while a few people held Torahs. We danced in circles; we danced free style; people cheered; people did the shrill and undulating middle eastern-style shout. In was frenzied.
Different people recited each of the seven prayers, which occurred at intervals throughout the night. When a man did it, his friend would playfully wrap his tie around his head. When a woman did it, standing on a chair and reciting the prayer, two lines formed in front of her, arms out, so that when she was done she could leap into them. Jewish body surfing. For one night, everyone had fun together. People I have seen around Hillel for two years but am not friends with pulled me into the circle dance as if we are best friends all the time. It really was beautiful. And fun. Some people were drunk, everyone was dancing wildly, but for one Thursday night, it was not in pursuit of fun for its own sake, but was in celebration of our Torah and God.
For two of the last segments of the festivities, we filed out of the Hillel house and danced and sang our way to Marsh Plaza, the central part of campus. Unsuspecting pedestrians, drivers and trolley and bus riders were suddenly assaulted with the image of a pack of dressed-up youngsters running around singing and dancing like a crazy cult from some distant primitive island.
We took the Torah, a large set of scrolls in a velvet cover, out with us. It was not in its normal resting place in the ark. It was not even within the Hillel house. It was out in the world where all of Commonwealth Avenue could see it, being celebrated and loved, as it should be.