October 09, 2004
TabaSimchat Torah is the glorious culmination of a week of what is supposed to be unadulterated joy and relaxation at completing the hard work of self-examination and teshuvah of Ellul and the Yamim Noraim. Of course (and it is telling that I can preface this by saying "of course"), our unguarded moments of national, ethnic celebration are the preferred occasions for terrorist strikes, and we entered this evening and day of celebration with our eyes full of the horrible photos of hundreds of vacationing Jews dead and maimed.
So after Hallel and before the Torah service and hakafot, the rabbi said a few words about the bombings in the Sinai, and then rhetorically asked how are we supposed to respond to an event like this on our most joyous day? He then pointed out that even the joy of Z'man Simchateynu is not unadulterated, because on the Shabbat of this week we read Kohelet. Which is full of zingy one-liners like:
All matters are tiring, more than anyone can express. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. What is is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done. There is nothing new under the sun.And
For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge, increases pain. I said to myself, "Come now, I will mix [wine] with joy and experience pleasure"; and behold, this too was vanity. Of laughter, I said, "[It is] mingled"; and concerning joy, "What does this accomplish?"Right then I had a blogger ego moment, because I had noted the juxtaposition myself just the other day. Or rather, I had linked to Robert Avrech, who - mourning his son's death in a time when he was nonetheless commanded to be joyous - found shelter in Kohelet.
So the rabbi said, among other things, that a Jew is someone who can sing Hallel and chant Kohelet in the same 20 minutes. (I think Robert would agree.)
So the first hakafah was slow, accompanied by the beautiful contemplative melody for Psalm 122, verse 7: Ah yes, when Jews are murdered for being Jews, liberals start singing about peace. Then they start 15 dialogue groups with reluctant blacks and Muslims and hope that if they are understanding enough, and never angry, and never make any demands, they will be loved and no Jews will ever be murdered again.
But okay, it's supposed to be a happy day of dedication to the Torah, and this will ease us into it. No anger until after Simchat Torah, okay. Then "Acheinu," and the tone became more defiant, triumphal. People were crying. Better. "Uvizman kariv," you fuckers! But one more sweaty circle dances and the mood had shifted to the usual Simchat Torah ecstacy and sorrow and anger were forgotten, as they should be, until the hag is over. Although for the emergency workers and armed forces on the Egyptian border trying frantically to get to the site of the bombing, the hag was already over.
Song followed song, and at one point the song was "Od Yavo Shalom aleynu," a relic of the hopeful days of the Oslo Accords. When I learned it in Austin, people sang the refrain alternating "salaam" and "shalom." You get the idea: dialogue, mutual respect, kumbaya. On the Upper West Side, it's usually just "salaam, salaam" (which, as you might guess, I find a bit too bending over backward and misses the point that you can't have a dialogue if you erase yourself). Anyway, I began shaking with rage. Every time the throng sang "salaam" I sang "shalom" as loudly as I could (which was a croak, because I have been battling this throat/congestion/thingy that's going around). Finally I couldn't stand it any more and stormed out, saying angrily to everyone who made eye contact with me: "I am not going to sing 'salaam' today!!!" I stood out in the lobby calming down and then went back in as soon as the song changed.
It doesn't bother me that song came up; in the flow of things no one would have thought about its lyrics ahead of time. I am disturbed that so many people didn't mind singing "salaam" at the top of their lungs less than 24 hours after a huge terrorist attack targeting Jews on a Jewish holiday, which we all know was not perpetrated by Presbyterians. Or even Southern Baptists.
PS. Luke seemed to have more fun Erev Simchat Torah than I did; my allergy/cold thing drained my energy and I went home early.
UPDATE: Some of the victims of the bombings at Taba.
Judith | 10/09/04 at 08:13 PM | Categories: - Chagim
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Anonymous | October 9, 2004 08:13 PM