Simchat Beit Hashoavah: The Water-Drawing Festival

A Sukkot ritual from ancient times

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We do not imagine our distinguished sages as acrobats and tumblers, but they were often agile physically as well as mentally: Rabbi Simon ben Gamaliel juggled eight lighted torches and raised himself into a handstand on two fingers, a gymnastic feat no one else could master. Others juggled eight knives, eight glasses of wine, or eight eggs before leaders and dignitaries.

At dawn, as the rejoicing subsided, the priests enacted what some have identified as the transformation of another folk rite, one to rekindle a diminishing sun approaching the autumnal equinox. With trumpet blasts, the Kohanim descended the steps to the Women's Court, marched to the Eastern Gate, turned their faces west to the Temple, and proclaimed, "Our fathers who were in this place stood with their backs to the Temple and their faces eastward and worshipped the sun, but our eyes are unto the Lord" (based on Ezekiel 8:16).

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Lesli Koppelman Ross is a writer and artist whose works have appeared nationally. She has devoted much of her time to the causes of Ethiopian Jewry and Jewish education.