Home December 2011 Simchat Potter

Simchat Potter

Every night for more than a year, my family has gathered together to read aloud from one of the world’s most famous books.  We have pored over the sacred words, filled with magic, wisdom, heartbreak and wonder.  We have shuddered at the deeds of evil-doers recorded in its pages and rejoiced in the triumphs of imperfect heroes.
The Torah?  Well (shuffle feet awkwardly).  No.  Actually, I’m referring to Harry Potter.
If we were great Jewish parents, we would spend every night reviewing the week’s Torah portion and discussing the ethical and spiritual implications of what we read.  But we’re not great Jewish parents.  We’re just good.  Or maybe just passable.  Besides, we’re really, really into Harry Potter.
It started before Zev’s fifth birthday, when Hubby pulled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone from the bookshelf where it was positioned – and I’m not making this up – right next to the Tanach.  He began reading out loud, and Zev and I were both immediately hooked.  Zev’s buddy bought him the rest of the series for his fifth birthday, and – with the exception of a few breaks for other less terrifying tales – most of our nights since have been spent at Hogwarts.
We have shivered together under the covers as Dementors threatened to suck the souls out of Harry and his friends.  We have looked to Albus Dumbledore for answers and hissed at the very mention of Severus Snape.
With Talmudic reverence, we have dissected characters’ motives and wondered how – or if – evil could be vanquished with each ensuing challenge.
But as I write these words, our bookmark is poised a scant 200 pages away from the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the last book in the series.  Two hundred pages, and this rich story that has brought us together will all be over.
When I wondered aloud what we would do when this consuming story ends, Zev offered a suggestion that would make our rabbi proud.  Kinda.
“When we finish,” he declared breathlessly the other night, “we’ll start over again from the beginning!  Like Simchat Torah.”
Simchat Potter?
Now, before I offend the entirety of my people, let me say that I know the seven books of Harry Potter are not akin to the five books of the Torah.  First off, there is no sex in Harry Potter, so right there it’s not as engaging a book (though the Weasleys could have their own “begats” section).  And, of course, no one could organize life principles around the rules of Quidditch.
But even if the sages wouldn’t be thrilled by the idea of revering books about wand-wielding teens, I love how Zev masterfully applied his Jewish day school education to a British boarding school for wizards.  And as soon as he suggested Simchat Potter, my appreciation for the real Jewish holiday took on new meaning.
Every year, when Jews reach the last words of the Torah, we party, dance around and begin – immediately – to re-read the very first words of the Torah scroll.  It’s a beautiful and meaningful way to honor a book that has taken up residence in our homes and in our hearts.
I’m not convinced it would be healthy to start the Harry Potter series from the beginning.  And dancing around with the tomes held aloft would feel silly and a few melted gold nuggets away from sacrilege.
But as Simchat Torah shows us, we Jews really, really love our books.  I can’t imagine casually returning Harry Potter to the shelf without fanfare.  It simply wouldn’t be Jewish to reach the end of more than 4,000 pages of text without some kind of celebration.
Inspired by Zev, I started to think of things we could borrow from Simchat Torah to commemorate the end of this epic reading experience, but I’ve come up short.  We’re not going to dance around with the book.  Or sing.  Or throw candy at one another in our living room.
Jews have prayers for everything.  Why not create a ritual for reaching the end of a really engaging secular book?  We could have a special song.  Or a short prayer.  Or … or …
Or, I guess, we could just watch the movies.

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