At PJA we love celebrating holidays! We dress up on Purim and enjoy a carnival and a hilarious student shpiel (play). Every day during Hanukkah we light candles together during carpool, and enjoy the lingering smell of oil in the hallways knowing every class has taken their turn making latkes. We eat lunches and snacks in the Sukkah during Sukkot and give each student a chance to shake the lulav and smell the etrog. On the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we walk to an area creek to perform the ritual of tashlich, we have a shuk and an Israeli dance party on Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day) and just before Passover we gather together for a celebration of freedom. Our holiday celebrations allow us to come together and unabashedly experience the joy of our sacred kehilah (community). One of the most challenging aspects of virtual learning is transferring our beloved holiday traditions into a virtual world.
A celebration we especially cherish at PJA is our annual Simchat Torah celebration. Simchat Torah comes at the very end of our high holiday season, and it’s very name expresses it’s meaning, Joy of Torah. On Simchat Torah we complete the annual reading of the Torah and immediately begin again. It is a day filled with gladness, song, and dance. Simchat Torah is considered a day of no work (like Shabbat) so for us it is not a school day. This means we celebrate Simchat Torah at PJA several days before the actual holiday, while it is still Sukkot.
Our assembly always includes singing, marching with the Torah, and a d’var Torah given by a local clergy. However, the highlight for us, is our Torah service. Every year members of our 8th grade class are invited to participate in a Torah service, both chanting from the Torah and doing the blessings before and after the Torah readings (aliyot). Our younger children look at these older children with so much admiration, and our teachers and families are filled with pride as we watch these young adults joyfully express their commitment to Torah, Judaism, and their PJA community.
This year we decided that it was vitally important to keep that 8th grade Torah service as the heart and soul of our celebration. Since we are allowed to bring students to school for small, socially distant gatherings, and since the weather has been nice, we invited members of our 8th grade class to come to PJA to participate in a Torah service. Luckily for us our 8th graders and their families saw the importance of this! Our 8th grade Torah readers worked hard to learn their portions, and arrived ready to celebrate and lead the Simchat Torah celebration this past Thursday!
Our celebration began with the majority of our school on Zoom while several of us were in our Beit Midrash. Kim led songs and Merrill paraded the Torah out to the Sukkah all while the rest of the school sang along with us. Having the Torah service in the Sukkah really allowed us to celebrate the upcoming holiday and the current holiday of Sukkot at the same time. The students led the Torah service with ease and enthusiasm, bringing inspiration to the younger children on the call and filling the adults (including some of their grandparents!) with pride. We all got to hear Rabbi Eve Posen teach us about the connection between gathering for real, alongside the sacredness of gathering on Zoom, and then Merrill and Kim led us on a Torah parade around the Sukkah while everyone was invited to march along at home. All in all it was a magical Simchat Torah experience, filled with all of the joy that comes when we celebrate holidays together as a PJA Kehilah. We love holidays at PJA!