By Eugene “Jesse” Nash IV
Over a hundred students danced for almost five hours Monday night for Simchat Torah. Many do not even attend this university.
Students danced from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. at gatherings from Hillel to Chabad to celebrate the completion of another year of reading the Torah. Per tradition, groups held hands in circles known as hakafot and jumped, kicked and shouted their way around Torah scrolls held by students.
The hakafot represent the continuous reading of the Torah without beginning or end according to MJ Kurs-Lasky, director of student life at Hillel. Some students in those circles came from as far as Arizona to celebrate Simchat Torah at this university. Others who were not even Jewish followed the scrolls in the Chabad hakafot later at night.
Mecah Levy, a junior construction management major at Arizona State University, said he flew in on Friday to experience Simchat Torah at Maryland and plans to leave on Wednesday. His experience “exceeded” his expectations.
Aaron Koffsky, a media studies major at Queens College, also travelled hours to attend the dancing. He said he was one of many to make the trip from New York to College Park for the holiday, and the celebrations were all they were hyped up to be.
The hakafot started inside the Hillel synagogue and proceeded into the common area as students became louder and more lively. By 8:20 p.m., two Orthodox students set up a plastic table and drummed on its surface with their hands to keep a beat.
Students were banging on windows and hitting the ceiling while pushing each other and chanting about happiness. Sophomore philosophy major Aryeh Roberts called the dancing “dysfunctional, but good.”
Students danced and sweated around the scrolls in Hillel until 10 p.m., when they took a break before starting a parade around campus with Chabad. Yedidyah Samuels, a sophomore letters and sciences major, said sweating is part of the process in celebrating Simchat Torah. Samuels was one of many to dance throughout the whole five hours from Hillel to the Chabad house.
At 10:45 p.m., the Hillel circles died down but the Chabad circles had just begun. The University of Maryland Police Department closed off the traffic circle on Stadium Drive and students entered the streets with the hakafot. As Rabbi Eli Backman, his children and some Jewish students from earlier in the night began to dance and shout in the street, a few non-religious students started to notice and join in.
The crowd doubled in size at McKeldin Library as students jumped on top of Testudo and attracted attention from within the building. Jack Thomas, a junior government and politics major who was passing by while taking a Snapchat video of the dancers called the celebrations “beautiful.”
As the parade passed Prince Frederick’s Hall, two girls looked out from a sixth floor window while two other students filmed the procession from the stairwell.
“I’ve never seen so many yarmulkes in one place,” said Juan Carlos, a freshman animal sciences major who is not Jewish, but followed the dancing from Denton Hall to the South Campus Commons.
By midnight, the crowd stopped at the Dunkin’ Donuts under the Terrapin Row apartments where students watched and filmed them. Directly above the doughnut shop in a second story window, two students held up their dogs and had them dance along.
The procession continued down Knox Road past Route 1 and ended at the Chabad house at 12:40 a.m., almost five hours since the night started. Students then gathered for a buffet and water offered by Backman at his home under a temporary wooden shelter with tables set up on his front lawn.
Once the Torah scrolls arrived inside, the dancing and singing died down. Students still drank soup and ate egg rolls among other foods while chatting with friends in the Chabad house, but most students left before 2 a.m.
Students would not sleep for long though. In the morning, some students planned to wake up to read the Torah at the synagogue and participate in more dancing before starting classes again according to sophomore information science major Jacob Cohen, who danced the whole night from Hillel to Chabad.