Our neighborhood, is one of Jerusalem’s religious/secular, Sephardi/Ashkenazi mixed Jewish neighborhoods. Unlike other mixed Jerusalem neighborhoods were there is a constant uneasiness between neighbors due to religious and/or ethnic differences in our neighborhood we all live together sharing in each others’ lives and in our vibrant cultural and religious similarities and differences.
About two years ago our neighborhood celebrated a joyous event. One of the local synagogues, the Sephardi congregation of Ezer Dalim, (Aid for the Humble), welcomed a new Sefer Torah. In Jerusalem, as in every other Jewish community throughout the world, the Hachnasat Sefer Torah (Ushering in a Torah Scroll) ceremony is a real celebration. It is accompanied by joyous street dancing, singing and a festive meal, and everyone is welcome to come along and celebrate. The tradition of Hachnasat Sefer Torah finds its earliest echoes back in First Temple times (about 1000 BCE) when King David “danced before the Ark (of the Covenant)” and “danced before the L-rd” (See: 2nd Samuel 6:14-15). Back then the Ark of the Covenant was where G-d’s word was held, today G-d’s word is held within the Sefer Torah and to sing and dance before it is an act of joyous praise before G-d.
As the procession made it’s way up the street it was joined by more and more neighbors who came out to sing and dance the Torah Scroll along its way to its new home at Ezer Dalim Synagogue. Since the congregants of Ezer Dalim are observant Sephardim we all respected the separation between men and women. But there was one young woman, wearing a summer sleeveless tee shirt, who with near ecstatic excitement kept calling out, “I want to kiss the Torah! I want to kiss the Torah, too!”
Off to the side were a group of dancing Sephardi Saftot (grannies) who upon hearing the young woman’s plea came up to her and without skipping a beat surrounded her and danced her right up to the Torah Scroll. The whole procession was stopped by the dancing grannies who each one in her turn kissed the Torah scroll, one of them gently wrapped her own shawl around the young woman’s shoulders and then walked her up to the Torah scroll so that she could kiss it too.
I wish I had managed to get photos of all of this, but one of the dancing grannies called out to me saying: “No need for photographs, I’m sure you’ve got enough. G-d has a good memory, come honor the Torah scroll with us. Hallelujah! Praise G-d, come dance, sing and kiss the Torah! It will be for a blessing for you!”
The blessing I received that summer night two years ago was to see the generous tolerance of my fellow neighbors one for the other. All of us together comfortably dancing and singing before the L-rd!
All photographs for this post by Isa David-Ben-Rafael, copyright owned by IsraeLightly