By Elisabeth TurnerStaff Writer
Last Monday night students from Hofstra University’s Hillel met at Columbia University in Manhattan to partner with the university’s and Barnard College’s students in celebrating Simchat Torah. The holiday involves dancing and singing, and concludes the lengthy fall Jewish holiday season of Yom Kippur, then Sukkot, two holidays that precede Simchat Torah.
For students like Rayssa Gomes, Hofstra University sophomore, the night was an opportunity to partake in a culture that she is not a part of by blood, but feels supports her like a second family. “It’s this time of joy … where we’re welcoming the New Year," she said.
Students arrived around 8 p.m., most dressed in semi-formal attire; men wore suits or a nice top with dress pants, women skirts or dresses. A few wore jeans.
Loud strains of Hebrew verse were heard in the moments leading up to the start of the celebration. From the corner of 115th street, students glided down the sidewalk toward Colombia’s Kraft Center in joyous clusters, their voices permeating the otherwise silent, upper Manhattan night.
The students divided into groups after they arrived, then proceeded to different rooms to sing traditional holiday songs in Hebrew. Afterwards, everyone gathered on the first floor of the building to dance and read from the Torah for the next several hours.
Rabbi Lyle Rothman, former Rabbinic Intern at Colombia and Barnard, and presently, one of the Rabbis at Congregation Rodeph and Sholom in Manhattan, saw the event as “a night of celebration, renewal, and return.”
This was the second time that Hofstra Hillel’s partnered with Colombia and Barnard’s for Simchat Torah. Rothman, although citing his connection to the schools as means of the collaboration, also mentioned Rabbi Dave Siegel, the Executive Director of Hofstra Hillel, as well as Rabbi Meir Mitelman of Hofstra, as sources of help in organizing the affair.
“We wanted to bring Hofstra students into the city to see this vibrant celebration in Manhattan. It was an opportunity to experience Simchat Torah in an exciting and meaningful way,” said Siegel.
One first-time student, non-Jewish sophomore Melissa Pagnotta, was enamored by the enthusiasm and devotion that the students expressed: “It was really inspiring and hopeful to see that young adults are still passionate about their beliefs; you could see their joy and excitement as they danced and embraced each other."
As the night progressed, most students seemed to be sustaining their energy, smiling continuously while dancing or laughing in the midst of conversing on the sidelines near the doors.
At various points throughout, one or two students stood on tables in the middle of the room, and read a short Torah passage loud enough for everyone to hear. Students surrounding the tables shouted back with the traditional and enthusiastic response.
There was also an abundance of sweets and fruit to choose from just outside the main room, including strawberries, cookies, and other pastry-like treats.
By the time students began to leave, the room was heated from the action; a few students were grabbing cups of water from the food tables, and others were exchanging farewells.
Pagnotta said it was the epitome of college memories. "It was such a great night ... I'm already looking forward to next year's celebration.”