This past weekend was Shemini Atzeret (8th day of the festival - that *is* what it means) and Simchat Torah. In Israel, where they only celebrate single day holidays, the two are combined and called Simchat Torah. The first is just that, like Passover, the holiday of Sukkkot is eight days long and begins and ends with holidays.
The thing about Shemini Atzeret is that it is when we begin to pray for rain in Israel - don't want to start doing it before Sukkot is over. There's a lovely long prayer that begins this. Also, it becomes optional to eat in the Sukkah - some people don't and others do but without the blessing.
We were invited out for Shemini Atzeret/Shabbat dinner by a family who does eat in their sukkah, so we did. The food, to put it bluntly, was dreadful, but the company was good so that didn't matter. The next day, *we'd* invited people to lunch in *our* sukkah, but not because it's our custom. It was because Sharon is in a wheelchair and it's currently difficult for her husband to carry her up a flight of stairs. Our sukkah is ground level. I can't speak for the food (except - no leftovers) but the company was, again, wonderful.
Simchat Torah is. Special. It's in many ways the most joyous holiday we have. The name means "Celebration of the Torah" - during the course of the year, we read through the Five Books of Moses in order. On this day, we complete the reading and begin again, because everything is a circle. And when one completes a course of study, one celebrates. I've had a "siyyum" or two myself.
How do we celebrate? With song and dance and cake, and in some places, not ours, wine and whiskey. The men take out the Torah scrolls and dance with them and each other and sing. In many places, there are separate celebrations where women have their own Torah scrolls.
I'd love to take part in these, but Simchat Torah is also for me my father's yahrtzeit - he died on that holiday three years ago. I've taken on the obligation to say Kaddish for him, because his sons don't seem to care (sorry, it's rather irritating that burden of mourning my father has fallen to my husband and me, especially when my brothers are the ones obligated. A soul ascends to the Garden of Eden according the merit garnered by those who say kaddish, and those who are obligated garner more merit. Daughters are not required to say kaddish; sons-in-law with living parents (thank God) are even less so. Sons, on the other hand, have the highest level. And my older brother couldn't even be bothered to light a candle or attend a yizkor (memorial) service. Not that I'm not obligated to do those things as well, but do I have to be the only one?) Anyway, I took on that obligation, which means I need to be with a minyan by Orthodox standards. And our synagogue gave my husband the evening service so he could say kaddish with me - our rabbi's rules for women who say kaddish is that they cannot say it unless a man also says it with them. Other rabbis forbid it outright.
So, I spent the evening and the next morning watching the men of our synagogue dance and sing and, well, *play*. And it was wonderful, at least for a time. There were also times it was not so much fun, but I brought a book with me. And we chatted and ate the kiddush that Jonathan and I sponsored in memory of Daddy. And Jonathan led the morning service and if he'd felt up to it, he could have done the additional one and the afternoon one, but he let other people do it. And he got the special aliyah for the children, where all the children under bar or bat mitzvah crowd around the bimah under a canopy of prayer shawls (babies in their father's arms)and then get a special blessing. It was lovely.
And as soon as we got home after the afternoon service, I took the chicken and rice that had been sitting in a warm oven since 8:30 that morning and we had lunch and then took naps. Jonathan went to evening service,and it was all *over*.
Yesterday, Jonathan took down the sukkah - he'd taken the day off. I spent the day reprogramming the office telephones. And it is all back to normal. Yay.