Starting again 

Starting again 

It’s almost over now.

It’s really autumn. The trees, finally, are starting to show some orange and red — not much, they’re still mainly green, but there is some bright color, along with a dispiriting display of drab crumbly brown — and the holidays are coming to an end. The season is about to decant us, ready or not, in the actual dailiness of the year.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the physicality of the holidays, how they seem to move from the more purely spiritual to the mixture of body and soul that culminates in Simchat Torah. Rosh Hashanah mainly demands that we gather — and of course eat, we always eat — and listen to the shofar. The sound is unearthly, and it has a physical effect on our eardrums, vibrating them in a way that is specific and peculiar to itself.

On Yom Kippur we acknowledge and transcend the physical by denying ourselves its obvious pleasures, which, in the right place, in the right mood, with the right kavannah, can end in exhilaration as the shofar again rattles us and night falls.

On Sukkot we become far more physical, surrounded by greenery and sparkly lights, once again sitting jammed chair to chair at a table with our friends (virus? What virus?), waving lulavim and listening to them snap, holding etrogim and having them perfume our hands.

This week’s Simchat Torah, the end, when the act of receiving the Torah, turning it around, and starting it all over again, combines with wild dancing to marry the spiritual with the physical, leaving us sweaty with joy.

And then real life starts again.

Every Simchat Torah I remember what it used to be like, 22 years ago, before September 11, when we danced in the streets; ironically, for the last two years it was like that again. In 2020, the dancing was restrained, joyless, pathetic, a few brave people holding onto the ends of ropes that separated them from each other. Last year it was better, but still masked, separated, outside, and careful. Very careful.

This year, we’ll still be careful, but it seems like some of the joy is back.

The year we’re finally moving into will be a difficult one. The stories of Kanye West’s antisemitic tweets and Doug Mastriano’s not-so-veiled swipes at Jewish day schools, like the one where his opponent Josh Shapiro’s kids go, as “privileged, exclusive, elite,” are dangerous. Old threats that we thought were buried seem as if they just were hibernating. It is, to understate, unnerving.

But — and there’s always a but — we are heading into this new year both clear-eyed and hopeful. Election day is less than four weeks away. We urge our readers to dance joyously on Simchat Torah, and then vote hopefully and knowledgably on November 8.

Chag sameach. We wish all our readers a year of joy, love, health, wisdom, sanity, and peace.


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