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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hakafot

My contact with Jewish people was quite limited growing up in New England. Moving to New York City changed the equation dramatically. Here, it felt like the city was dominated by Jewish people. Their culture was everywhere - in the food, in the slang with a heavy use of Yiddish, in the professions. I grew to love the tight, familial nature of Jewish people. Nearly all of my best friends have been Jewish.

One thing I quickly noticed was how Jews seemed to be having more fun. Their faith seemed to be virtually defined by celebration, and unlike the Catholic faith (which is how I grew up), many of the Jewish holidays were times to party. I often remarked how envious I was - the Jewish calendar had a minor holiday every few days and allowed for so many work days off.

Near my home is an NYU Chabad center. On October 20th, I noticed an inordinate number of students overflowing into the street. I had wanted to do a story on this center and the Chabad movement, so I inquired of one of the members if he thought photography would be allowed inside the center. He escorted me in and asked the Rabbi for me. I was told it would be possible, but any other time. Tonight was a big celebration.

It was suggested that if I wanted to see and photograph a big celebration, I should head to East 6th Street, where Simchat Torah would be taking place. The holiday celebration culminates in the Rejoicing with the Torah and the dancing of hakafot (for more information, see here). For New York City in the East Village, this literally means Dancing in the Street for hours into the night.

When I arrived, people were spilling out from the Community Synagogue Max D. Raiskin Ctr. at 325 East 6th Street. There were hundreds dancing, circling, and singing. I was asked to join in by one man. When I informed him that I was not Jewish, he told me it was no matter - everyone was welcome. There was a tremendous feeling of community. I was an interloper, secretly wishing that I had grown up with festival activities such as hakafot :)



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5 comments:

Abe Lincoln said...

Looks like everyone is having a great time. Maybe some will wake up in the morning with a bad headache?

Mary P. said...

Everyone here is so young! (That's a good thing.)

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post Brian - a very dear friend of mine is jewish and indeed they do know how to celebrate, not only jewish occasions but life itself. I too was raised within the Catholic faith but had wonderful joyous experiences from parishes all over Australia.
I am a regular follower of your blog, and intend to visit New York (one day)Your blog has taken on quite a highlight for me as my daughter and son-in-law will be in NY for Christmas. All the best Brian from country NSW Australia.

HKatz said...

Though holidays in general are joyous, Simchat Torah is probably the most exuberant.

Purim is another one where there's a such a happy celebratory atmosphere, with lots of people in costumes too :)

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