My favorite parts of Simchat Torah is always the dancing. In my synagogue, this begins when the men take each Torah from the Aron Kodesh (ark) and then give them to the Cohanim (priests) and Levi’im (Levites).
When all the men are ready to dance, they begin the Hakafot circuits. Usually, a teenage boy will chant the Hebrew words according to that Hakaffa circuit. Everyone will answer as the men go around in a circle, and the ones holding the Torahs gravitate towards the middle. They sing various Jewish songs, customarily involving the word “Torah.” Once they have completed a few songs, the Torahs are laid on a table covered by a Tallit (Prayer shawl) and then picked up by another member of the congregation. This repeats a few times. Another boy will then stand on a chair and chant a different song that everyone will respond to by banging on the floor and/or jumping up and down. After that song is over, the Hakafot resumes and everyone begins to dance again.
On the women’s side, there is usually a circle which quickly becomes a bunch of smaller circles within the bigger circle as the children come to join. After every Hakafa circuit, the men holding the Torahs bring them onto the woman’s side so that the woman can kiss them. The woman all stand in a line and kiss the Torahs as they walk by. Usually about 10-12 Torahs pass through the Woman’s section seven times.
Most of the children like to dance with the men because they get to be closer to the Torahs and ride on their dad’s shoulders. However, when the kids come on the women’s side they join the circle and everyone makes room.
Watching the kids dancing makes me remember all the times I danced on Simchat Torah in lower school. Now that I’m in high school, it’s become my job to make sure those younger kids have someone to dance with. Although I usually don’t dance, Simchat Torah is the exception; with everyone dancing, singing and jumping around there is a lot of positive energy in the room, and I love helping contribute to this feeling of liveliness.
But by far, the most beautiful part of the singing and dancing is the togetherness of it all. Even though there’s not a band or instruments, it feels like there is. While it might seem like just a group of people singing while holding the Torahs, it is more than that. It’s a community dancing as one unit, as we celebrate our accomplishment of finishing the Torah.
Hannah Munk is a sophomore at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School For Girls in Teaneck, N.J.