The Sunken Synagogue
pa vezer o vageal e kreiz e klever a-wechoù un trouz iskis:
kleier ur sinagogenn a zo o seniñ dindan ar mor...

Monday, October 16, 2006
The Sukkot Aftermath

Another Sukkot has come and gone. Now's not the time, I think, to finish the Sukkos Fairy Tale I was writing (Parts I and II). It's twelve months away, but I'd rather save the ending for next Sukkot, and instead reflect a little more seriously now on my experiences in the previous days and where we're left now.

I'm happy to have experienced Sukkot in Israel this year.

We saw this past week the first sprinklings of the rainy season, but overall the skies and the air here are much more hospitable to outdoor dwelling than in New York this time of year. Here the weather was a little inconvenient; when I built a sukkah in New York, the storms drenched the schach, melted the decorations, and then squashed it like an insect. There the weather defeated my efforts; here it was just enough to remind me that I was, after all, outside.

The concentration of Jews here doesn't hurt either. In leaving the solid, impersonal walls of our houses and apartments for seven days, we became physically, socially, and spiritually closer to the people that make up our community. My neighbor and I bridged the gap between our porches with a halachic discussion of my sukkah's walls as I was putting them up. Sitting inside, we exchanged greetings with passers-by through cut-out windows. Zemiros-singing and instrument playing that would have been hidden any other week were now exposed for all to hear and appreciate.

Simchat Torah here was special as well. All I needed to do to daven at the Kotel was to take a half hour walk and step through a metal detector. I prayed and danced with a microcosm of our entire people, meters away from the site of the temple—that place where our connection with G-d, and perhaps each other, is strongest.

When the chag came to a close, we davened maariv, and then took a couple of hours to unwind. The relief was necessary but temporary: before long hakafot shniyot had erupted everywhere, as groups large and small took Torahs in their arms and went for another whirl, this time with live music, and the intensity that that brings. It was the loud and colorful culmination of a season of holy days, and the last burst before the post-Tishrei calm would set in.

I had the privilege of attending hakafot shniyot led by one of the few religious singers whose music I find pleasant. I'd heard him over the internet from the States, and now that I was in Israel, it just so happened that he was performing not five minutes from my apartment. This is a small country, I was reminded, and that's how things work here.

The celebration here was of a different order than what I'd seen at the Kotel during the actual holiday. More than at the Kotel, or any other synagogue I've been to, this was a gathering of different kinds of Jews, in roughly equal proportions. The participants were younger and more energetic, and the musicians interacted with them. It seemed to me that this was less a religious event than a popular one: the constituency was not according to sect, but neighborhood, and the energy and purpose seemed to come from the bottom up rather than from the top down. (Would that all popular events would revolve around such elevated themes.) It wasn't hard to get into it. I danced and span till I felt like a Sufi, and went home exhausted halfway through. Two days later, I can still feel some of the ecstasy, and my legs are still sore.

And so the frenzies and physicalities of Tishrei fade and we're left with memories, and hopefully, some growth. My sukkah is coming down, slowly, and the porch underneath looks disturbingly bare, like a winter tree bereft of its leaves. There's some temptation to simply leave the sukkah up for the rest of the year, but then it would lose much of its significance and pull, wouldn't it? Meaning and beauty need limitations to exist; otherwise it's just chaos. And it's quite fitting that the holiday which seeks to impart the message of our own fragility and impermanence in this world should itself be brief. Just as the days of a sukkah are circumscribed, so are our own. For that matter, just as a storm can fell a sukkah before its time, so can we fall, even in the prime of life. Both sukkah and man will rise again though, when the time is right. And even as Sukkot and the Days of Awe come to an end, the cycle of Torah reading begins again, with renewed strength and dedication. Until next Tishrei comes around, we have plenty to keep our sprits occupied.

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מי הוא זה ואי זה הוא

Name: Sabzi Aash
Location: Jerusalem, Israel

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