Simchat Torah is not one of those holidays that everyone takes off from classes. It isn't one of those holidays that your non-Jewish friends will recognize and ask you about. And oftentimes, it's a holiday that many of us will forget about or not make the effort to celebrate (including myself).
So then why was American University's campus buzzing about Simchat Torah last week?
It's because this year, the AU Jewish Student Association, along with AU Hillel, decided to do something innovative, thought provoking, and unique. We rolled out our own "Torah" on the Quad and asked people to become a sofer (scribe) for a day. We asked Jews and non-Jews alike a simple question: "What's in YOUR Torah?"
We had the opportunity many times over to explain Simchat Torah to those who were unfamiliar with the holiday. We often prompted those that were confused with follow-up questions like, "What's your favorite part of the Torah?", "What are your values?", "What laws do you live by?", and "What laws do you think everyone else should live by?"
This blank roll of paper soon became filled with the thoughts of students, professors, and visitors. We were astounded with the response. We had one-word answers like "friends" and "family," entire song lyrics, messages in Hebrew, drawings, and verses of Torah.
The Jewish Student Association board showed outstanding commitment by trading off facilitating the activity for over 7 hours. Everyone worked together to contribute their part: be it going shopping for supplies, making a sign for the event, creating handouts, or spreading the buzz on social media. This was truly a shining example of how a cohesive, hard-working, and dedicated board can make a positive impact.
The Torah means something different to everyone, even to people who haven't studied it. Whether it is the historical narrative, ethical teachings, or the sheer awesomeness of G-d's power, everyone is able to take away something different. The more we work to learn from one another's values, the more we can enrich our own.
Give it some thought. What's in YOUR Torah?
Guest blogger Aaron Stein is a sophomore from Deerfield, IL, studying Political Science at American University. He proudly serves as the Vice President of the AU Jewish Student Association, as well as the Freshmen Engagement Intern for AU Hillel.