Simchat Torah is a joyous time and Wisconsin synagogues are ready to party.
The Jewish holiday – observed Oct. 16-17 – celebrates and marks the conclusion of the annual cycle of public Torah readings and the beginning of a new cycle.
Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun, Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid and Temple Beth El in Madison are among the state’s synagogues where members and spiritual leaders will be dancing and singing with the Torah scrolls. CEEBJ will feature bands and choir singing for the celebration.
Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun
“We are the ‘people of the Book’ and we love reading the stories of the Torah over and over again each year,” said Cantor David Barash of CEEBJ, the Reform congregation in River Hills. “It is a jubilant time when we finish the reading of the Torah and then start anew. It is certainly a time to rejoice.”
The celebration at CEEBJ will feature a nine-piece band of wind players, most of whom are synagogue members. The band, which formed in 2018, includes Dan Dance on piano, Andrea Goetzinger on tuba, Gary Kavalar on alto sax, Jean Lauterbach on French horn, Barb Levin on alto sax, Michael Levin on oboe, Laura Straus on flute, Michael Taibleson on trumpet and Pam Treisman on English horn.
Dance, the synagogue’s professional accompanist, has arranged compositions of favorite melodies. They include “Hava Nagila,” “Tsena, Tsena” and “Yism’chu HaShamayim.”
“Our version of “Hava Nagila” is just a party,” Dance said.
“The music is just full of life and full of fun, very up tempo and celebratory,” said Dance, who is a Catholic and classically trained jazz pianist. “And the congregants just run around, the kids are literally climbing the walls, jumping, singing, dancing.”
“We’re very excited to make a comeback after the pandemic,” said Barash, who will conduct the band. “We are very fortunate to have our own band and the quality is very high.”
The joyous climax of Simchat Torah is the hakafot (circles) during which the entire congregations circle and dance around the Torah. Rabbi Marc Berkson of CEEBJ has been known to take his shoes off and dance on a chair with a Sefer Torah.
“It’s quite a lively experience,” Barash said.
The intergenerational celebration is as much geared towards children as adults, he added. Different people will read from the end of the Torah and the beginning, from the close of Deuteronomy to the start of Bereishit. There will be a festive dinner and new religious students will be consecrated.
Temple Beth El In Madison
At the Reform Temple Beth El In Madison, a celebration early in the day will be geared to religious school kids and their families, said Cantor Jacob Niemi. They will experience the hafakot and see the whole Torah rolled out. A community observance will be held later in the afternoon.
A special anniversary will be recognized and celebrated, Niemi said. It’s the 40th year that a Torah study group has been meeting.
“Simchat Torah is an opportunity to go back through the Torah and to continue to learn more and dive deeper into Jewish learning as a community,” Niemi said. “Starting that cycle all over again, the learning never stops. We can always go deeper; we can always gain new perspectives.
“We read from the end of Deuteronomy and the beginning of Genesis and that has the implication that our story is never-ending,” Niemi added.
Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid
At Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid in Glendale, the Conservative congregation will offer some special touches for Simchat Torah. “We’re going to have lively song and dance as we celebrate the completion of reading the Torah,” said Hazzan (cantor) Jeremy Stein.
There will be a bar where kids can dip an apple in melted caramel. Spirits will be on hand for the adults.
The pandemic reduced the crowd size last year. This year, the whole congregation is expected to gather,” Stein said. “There is a lot of joy when voices come together singing.
“It’s a joy to complete the cycle of the Torah every year in its entirety. We celebrate not just the completion of the Torah, but the opportunity to start the Torah anew from its beginning,” he added. “It’s a joy that we live in a time and a place when we are free to celebrate reading the Torah openly.”
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