Before I start to tell you all about Sukot and Simchat Torah, I want to point out that I have started a new chapter. So many things that would come up in the last few weeks were always postponed until Acharei HaChagim - after the Holy Days. We are officially after the Chagim! Now back to a "normal" life.
The last week of the Jewish Holiday Season is very celebratory. Sukkot, the Festival of Booths starts very shortly after Yom Kippur and is a celebration of the fall harvest as well other things. Around Jerusalem, Sukkot -booths- pop up all over the place. Think of it like in America around Christmas time. Every hotel, restaurant and many houses proudly display their sukkah and many people eat all their meals and even sleep in them for the week long holiday. Here are some awesome examples!
The Sukkah in front of a restaurant on Karen HaYesod
I can count at least 10 different sukkot on this apartment building
Just a great sukkah on someone's balcony
Then, at the end of Sukkot is Simchat Torah. This celebrates the fact that we have finished reading the entire Torah this year. So what do you do when you finish reading this book? Reroll the scrolls and start back at the beginning with creation and read it all over again. This is a great time of year and everyone is very happy!
There is a special service in which you conclude reading the Torah, dance around the synagogue in celebration and then start over again. During this service there is a lot of singing and dancing. One of the students here is working with a Kibbutz outside of Jerusalem, Kibbutz Gezer. A group of us went to the Kibbutz to play music for two of the Hakafot -processions. At the last minute, I was able to hop on the bus he had hired and I got to play the hand drum along with the people who were playing guitar and singing. It was a lot of fun!
I had been planning on playing for a Reform Congregation with a few other students the next morning at Har El. We got to take the music on all of the Hafakot and it was a lot of fun that morning too. While they were reading from the Torah though, they used a trope -a system that instructs the reader in musically reading from the Torah- that I had never heard before. I believe it was a Sephardic Trope, which was really cool to hear.
That night, I went for a walk with Sarah around the Old City. What I had completely forgotten is that in "Orthodox" Communities, they celebrate Simchat Torah during the day and again after the sun goes down. Simchat Torah is a full Holy Day and therefore many people refrain from any work. Part of the prohibitions for a Holy Day are that you cannot use electricity. In order to make another celebration with much more music, they celebrate again when the sun goes down. It was really cool to see and hear this celebration while we were walking in the Old City.
Now it's back to school and homework since it is after the holidays.