Simchat Torah in Yemen
The holiday of Simchat Torah celebrates the completion of the Torah. It is a festive holiday, one of singing and dancing. It is tradition to parade the Torah in circles around the synagogue, singing all the while. In Yemen, the synagogue is the rabbi’s living room, so we paraded the Torah around a podium in the center of the room.
The Torah used by this community is more than 300 years old. It has survived more than four wars, and like the Jews of Tourist City, is a refugee. There are actually two Torahs, but one is unfit for use in services and thus lives in a closet. However, for the service it was brought out and paraded around.
Prior to their exodus from the north, the Jews had another Torah, more than 500 years old and written on deer’s hide that had been prepared in such a way that it turned bright red as it aged. This is a unique trait of Yemenite Jewry. The Houthis stole, defaced, then destroyed this Torah, following the Jews’ flight from Sa’ada.
In Mizrachi Jewish practice, a metal or wooden case is traditionally used to hold the Torah. The case is designed to open in such a way that each end of the scroll is held in place. In their exodus from Sa’ada, this case was abandoned, and the Torah is now wrapped in a series of textiles, then covered in bubble wrap, and then finally a blue tarp.
The following evening, Mori Yahya went to the market and came back with two massive garbage bags full of junk food and candy. On the morning of the holiday, the entire community assembled in the rabbi’s living room and candy was handed out to the kids, who started little stashes in every pocket and nook they could find.
All photographs by Rachael Strecher