The Chabad Center of Merrick and Bellmore held its Simchat Torah celebration on Oct. 11, hosting hundreds of residents who dined on sushi in their sukkah, participated in a holiday service and danced with the Torah.
Once a year, Jewish communities around the world celebrate Simchat Torah — the completion of their annual cycle of readings from the Five Books of Moses. On this day, communities march the Torah through their synagogues as they join in the traditional “hora” dance.
The Chabad Center’s celebration also included a petting zoo with pony rides, arts and crafts, and a dessert buffet. “Some people understand more of the Torah, and some people understand less,” said Rabbi Shimon Kramer. “Some people are able to read Hebrew words, some are not. We still celebrate together because it’s a gift for everybody.”
Simchat Torah is also a meaningful holiday for the Jewish people, Kramer said, because it is the last of the fall holidays that also include Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkoth.
While guests enjoyed sushi — cylindrical, like the Torah — some took part in the joining of the four species, a Jewish ritual that involves shaking four plants that each represent a different member of a community: a citrus fruit known as an etrog, a myrtle branch, a palm leaf and a willow branch.
“We unite them to show that everybody counts and everybody’s important,” Kramer said. “No matter what qualities they have, they still matter.”
The etrog is known for its pleasant smell and taste, he explained. This represents those who are intelligent and charitable. The myrtle is known for its pleasant smell, but is not edible. It represents those who are charitable, but not wise. The palm is edible, but scentless, representing those who are intelligent but unable to perform charitable acts. Last, the willow has no taste or smell, and represents those who are simple, such as children.
The Chabad Center’s sukkah was a donation from the Klein family, of Merrick, in memory of Stanley Klein, who died in 1998 in an airplane crash. Stanley was one of the original members of the Herman Goldman Foundation, named after the late founder of his law firm. When Klein died, the organization’s members renamed it in memory of Klein and his charitable work.
The Stanley Klein Foundation has contributed to a number of causes at the Chabad Center, including the construction of its library and mikvah, or ritual bath. Currently, Klein said, the organization is focusing on St. Thomas and Puerto Rico, helping both communities rebuild in the wake of hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Klein said that deciding which cause the foundation donates to can be daunting. However, he said, “Puerto Rico’s situation is becoming worse and worse. I think they rely on charitable organizations for help.”
Kramer said he is grateful that Klein is a member of the Bellmore-Merrick community. “Most people in Merrick don’t have a sukkah,” he said. “We are happy to give them an opportunity to come out, celebrate the holiday and eat together.”