Every so often, a series of discrete events seems to coalesce. This week is no exception. I have been thinking of the upcoming holiday of Simhat Torah and remembering how much it meant to Alla to be able to be part of such a boisterous Jewish celebration. The dancing and singing proclaimed, Am Yisrael hai, The People of Israel live! I appreciate how Alla drew Vera into the holiday and how she defied the fears that beset others and determined to find a way to be part of the celebration. Today in the US, there are no barriers to American Jews participating in Simhat Torah. Yet, how many people will appear in our synagogue on Friday morning? Simhat Torah also reminds me of the role that liquor and drinking ashot or two plays in the celebration. In our synagogue, there has been a group of men who keep a bottle of schnapps and glasses aside to enhance their celebration.
I remember my dad and my grandfather raising a glass of schnapps after Yom Kippur. How did they drink without falling over after fasting for twenty-five hours?
While I think forward about the upcoming holiday, I’m also thinking about the Monday before Rosh haShana when Rabbi Barry Woolf z"l died and was buried in Israel before the New Year arrived. Rabbi Woolf’s experience and influence in the Twin Cities Jewish community was far flung. He taught hundreds of children at the Minneapolis Talmud Torah. He influenced hundreds more through programs that combatted addictions like alcoholism. He denounced the myth that alcoholism was absent from the Jewish community. We’d like to believe that Jews are moderate in all they do, but that’s a myth that defies the reality of both today and our past history. Rabbi Woolf held up a mirror to the Jewish community and insisted that we look. Jews are vulnerable to all the ills that plague the society in which we live. When Simhat Torah arrives on Thursday night, will there be excessive drinking or will we return to the balance that Judaism has sought to instill in us?
We rejoice in the Torah this Thursday night and Friday. May all Jews everywhere be privileged to freely study and practice Torah. May the memory of Simhat Torah in Leningrad warm the hearts of Alla and Vera as they enjoy their lives in London and the Cayman Islands. And, as a memorial to Rabbi Woolf, may we never cease to acknowledge the ills that beset us Jews and seek to remedy them.