Friday, October 28, 2016

At Touro Synagogue, Saturday, October 22, 2016, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah

At Touro Synagogue, Saturday, October 22, 2016, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah 

by Aaron Ginsburg

Shabbat Hol HaMoed Sukkot, Saturday, October 22, had special Torah and Haftarah
Paris, France
readings. Rabbi Mandel discussed Sukkot. “What is the purpose of a sukkah?” he asked. The congregation gave several answers, although not the one he was looking for. Perhaps someone should be planted in the congregation to bail us out when we are stumped.
Rabbi Mandel explained, “ A sukkah is for protection. When people are moving from one place to another, they are vulnerable. The Jews were vulnerable when they left Egypt, but they were protected by God. There is a debate in the Talmud if they were protected by real sukkahs or Divine clouds of protection. Today, there are millions of migrants in the world and they are vulnerable. They often lack protection. We can relate to this.“ 
Sukkah or dIvine protection? It’s not an either-or situation, and besides, it’s always good to have a back up plan. If your computer has ever crashed, you know that!
At Kiddish, Rabbi Mandel received several complements…for his tuna salad! It seems he did not go overboard on the mayo, and people observed that it actually looked like tuna salad rather than mayo salad. I was about to speak up on behalf of mayonnaise, but bit my tongue. Did Phil Ochs write a song about this?
On Monday, Shemini Atzeret, we had a few visitors, including a couple from Toronto (originally from Zimbabwe), and some of the omnipresent New Yorkers. As a young, strong New Yorker was about to lift a very heavy and lopsided Torah, Rabbi Mandel said softly, “This one might be a little heavy.” The Torah was raised with the greatest of ease. I breathed a sigh of relief that I was not asked to lift that one. 
As he gave Saul Schweber a Yashar Koach after an aliyah, Mike Josephson told Saul in an audible voice, “If you go up often enough, you’ll learn the blessings by heart.” 
Rabbi Mandel told us that Shemini Atzeret was difficult to understand. “On the one hand, it’s the 8th day of Sukkot ( Shemini means 8 ). On the other hand, we don't sit in the sukkah or use the lulav and etrog. Either way, it is the end of Sukkot.” He also mentioned a website that is devoted to pictures of sukkahs. The site is great fun, although in need of updating.
“Sukkahs are a unifying force, because we all come together into one sukkah,” he said. “A sukkah also unifies us with earlier Jewish communities, because, their sukkahs were probably similar, in many ways, to our sukkahs.” He spoke of the many sukkahs he remembered as a child in New York City, including sukkahs on fire escapes for those who lived in apartment buildings. 
I recall the sukkah at Touro Synagogue from my youth. It had heavy canvas undecorated walls. That was before the plastic century began. I also recall enjoying the sukkah because of the herring.
When the Rabbi reviewed the Simchat Torah schedule, there was a question from the balcony. “Will there be a women’s hakafa tomorrow?” inquired Rita Slom. Rabbi Mandel confirmed that indeed there would.
When introducing Yizkor, he asked people to remember their childhood sukkahs and the memories they have of their parents and grandparents sukkahs.
On Simchat Torah evening, we were fortunate to be joined by some children. Because of the weather, we danced inside, but our joy was not diminished. And there was a women’s hakafa. Two mini-Torahs had the complete Torah printed on paper, making them fast-proof if they were dropped (It is traditional to fast if a Torah is dropped). They were carried by children of all ages! On Tuesday morning, services were efficient as usual. We did two hakofas at a time, and doing all seven didn’t take long. We had no trouble finishing by our usual 11:00 AM. @Tourosynagogue

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