Shorashim was founded as a liberal-traditional community, by a group of young middle-class pioneers, from Conservative, Reform, and secular Zionist backgrounds, who wanted a strong Jewish spirit without entanglement with the religious establishment of Israel. The holidays have been, throughout the years here, a focus of the creative integration of tradition with secular Israeli culture. Some of these have developed their own "orthodoxy" within the Shorashim community: the same people volunteer for the same holiday committee each year, and their "production" is fully ritualized, though minor changes and additions do creep in. For example, Israeli Memorial Day (the day before Independence Day) is the project of a whole cadre of our Sabra members, who mobilize the teenagers and produce a classic Israeli pageant of songs and readings (the same ones each time), complete with a "ketovet eish" ("fire script" the word "yizkor" spelled out in kerosene-soaked rags on a wire frame, set alight as a background for the pageant).
Another holiday that has acquired a fixed form over the years is Simchat Torah. Here, the format is a traditional one: we gather for an early evening holiday service, and at the appropriate point, the sifrei Torah are taken out, and seven hakafot, rounds of dancing, take place. There are flags made by the kids. Cold drinks, liquor, and snacks are put out, and there is always a crowd at the "bar." Little kids ride their parents' shoulders, and at some point the whole procession moves outdoors to the amphitheater adjacent to the synagogue. Ultimately, after a brief Torah reading, the service concludes and we go home to dinner.
Simchat Torah was always one of the most popular holidays at Shorashim there was always a crowd, including some families who seemed to appear at synagogue only then. It was not only a religious event, but a fun social gathering as well those who didn't dance were happy to sit and talk.
This year, however, seemed to continue a trend that has been noticeable for the past few years of diminution of Simchat Torah. The crowd seemed to be limited almost entirely to synagogue "regulars." We danced, but the circle was small, and no one even suggested leading the dancing out to the amphitheater, where we would have felt ridiculously small. We went through all the motions, but it felt like we hadn't achieved critical mass. And so, those of us who are among the regulars once again ask ourselves the same nagging questions: is this a trend or a blip? Did we do something alienating, or did we not do enough to welcome those who felt strange at synagogue? Is this a byproduct of privatization, whereby the old intensity of the commune is giving way to the neighborliness of a suburb? When our community was small, perhaps many people attended out a sense of obligation that has faded as we have both privatized and grown. Is it just the way of the world? Or do we lack leadership? Do we lack energy? Do we lack commitment? Should we be worrying about this or is it silly and pointless to do so?
Communities have their ups and downs, their crises and their cycles. The shrinking of Simchat Torah at Shorashim may be a barometer of communal dynamics; it may just be a function of a particular leadership constellation; or it may be a random fluctuation. Fortunately, "the seasons they go round and round," and we'll finish reading the Torah in another year, no matter what, and celebrate once again.