Have you ever turned the corner and found yourself in the middle of a street party? Men dancing in the street, women carrying babies standing, smiling and watching, loud music and vehicles lit up all colors of the rainbow… happy people, celebrating.
What a beautiful thing.
It was the last night of Hanukah and we were walking in a religious neighborhood of Haifa. After that experience, this was even more special.
It wasn’t just any party. This was the celebration of the dedication of a new Torah scroll for a synagogue.
Hanukah is a celebration of Jewish persistence, of the victory of the few over the many, of the regaining of sovereignty in the land of Israel from an occupier much larger and more powerful. Hanukah is a celebration of faith when there is no logical reason to retain faith – the miracle of the light that was not extinguished, although the laws of nature say it should have been.
How fitting to celebrate a new Torah scroll on the last night of Hanukah.
Every Torah scroll is written by hand. Every letter must be perfect, otherwise the scroll cannot be used. God used words to create the universe, thus words, every individual letter has power that must be treated with respect and the appropriate awe. The words of the Torah, the content are the guidelines that have led our people, defined us and kept us together for centuries. This makes each scroll a precious treasure, adorned with its own decorations and carried lovingly like one would carry a baby.
On the holiday of Jewish sovereignty, these Jews were celebrating the continuation of Jewish legacy in the land that the Maccabees freed. They brought the other Torah scrolls the synagogue already had as if bringing them to greet the new scroll, dancing with all of them together, in the street. Police blocked off the road to make sure everyone was safe from cars while they celebrated.
As I watched the celebration I looked at the faces of the people and noted that this was a Chabad synagogue with a community of Russian Jews. These are people who, in Russia had been disconnected from their Jewish roots. Nevertheless, when they could, they made aliyah, coming back to the land of their ancestors and found a way to return to the practice of Judaism. Against all odds, these Jews came back to their roots, retook their legacy. A miracle.
You never know what you will see in Israel. This is a land of surprises. Ours are a people who love to celebrate and we have many reasons to do so.