The Museum of

       Shabbat and the Jewish Holidays


Paint What You Remember
Shabbat and the Jewish Holidays in Opatów, Poland
as told by Mayer Kirshenblatt


 Simchas Torah 

We youngsters used to look forward to Simkhes toyre. Jews read portions of the Torah, the Pentateuch, each week. By the time we came to this day of the year, we had finished reading the whole scroll and were ready to start all over again. The annual cycle of Torah reading was complete. It was time to celebrate. We would bring out all the scrolls so everybody could dance and sing with them in a festive procession. The procession of the Torah scrolls is called hakufes. This painting shows the hakufes in the New Study House, der nayer besmedresh. It was hundreds of years old. They only called it new because it was newer than the oldest house of study in our town.

We would follow the adults around with flags. The flags were made of brightly colored shiny paper. Some were rectangular, others had two points. They were decorated with a Star of David and an inscription of some kind. We bought them in town and saved them from year to year.

Finding the little flags was a big effort. Father pretended he couldn't find them. Suddenly, a miracle, the flags appeared! This was a little game he played with us. Then, he stuck an apple into the top of the flag's stick and inserted a candle into the apple, and we headed off for the besmedresh.

Once there, we lit the candles and joined the procession. We were too small to carry our own Torah scroll, so we made a malekh, or angel, instead. We put aside our little flags and candles for the moment. An adult would gather six or eight us together. He would throw a prayer shawl over us, while he carried a Torah scroll. It was as if all of us were dancing with his one Torah. We had a great time.



Simchas Torah.

Kirshenblatt, Mayer (1916-2009)
Simchas Torah, c. 1993
Acrylic on canvas
36 x 48 in.
Collection of Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett
and Max Gimblett, New York.
Photographed by Tom Warren,
with the assistance of Anthony Fodero.

How did we get so many scrolls? A Torah scroll was never thrown out, no matter what its condition, as it is forbidden to desecrate any page of holy writ or to use it for any profane purpose. When a scroll or a prayer book or a khumesh (Pentateuch) got old and dog-eared, when it was beyond repair, it was deposited in the pulish. The pulish was a little shed near the synagogue. When the pulish was full, the holy texts were buried in the cemetery. The synagogue was around 500 years old, so there were lots of Torahs in the pulish. Since there was no pulish in the besmedresh, they kept worn out scrolls and books in a special cabinet. On Simkhes toyre we dug out all the scrolls, so a lot of people had a chance to parade with one. This holiday was one of the few times when it was permissible to get a little tipsy.

Mayer discusses the Jewish holiday of Simchas Torah (Simkhes toyre), which was a festive time. Listen to it.

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