Marshall Shapiro – Jewish Tribune
More than 800 dancing Chasidim and others filled Queen Street in downtown Niagara Falls where Rabbi Zalman Zaltzman, the young Chabad rabbi, produced a rousing sendoff to the Jewish High Holidays with Simchas Beis Hashoava – a Sukkot with singing, dancing, hotdogs and hamburgers and the Nafshenu Orchestra, reputedly Toronto’s most popular Jewish wedding band, with a driving beat and out-klezing the klezmers.
For the past half decade, Rabbi Zaltzman has been ferreting out Jews in all corners of Niagara on both sides of the border. Tempted by promises of dinner in a Succah (a tabernacle of solid walls and a roof made from loosely laid tree branches), the street, which had been closed to traffic by the city, was rocking. Secular, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Lubavitch joined hands and danced in ever-increasing circles. Children sat on the shoulders of their dancing parents.
Chasidic dance music, while the lyrics are usually biblically based, is a combination of klezmer, big band jazz and rock ’n’ roll. Chasidim believe that prayer should be joyful and this music would certainly get G-d’s attention.
They came from St. Catharines, Toronto, Buffalo, Rochester and New York City – some from as far as Israel the UK, some wearing kippot (skull caps), many without. Hundreds of black fedoras bobbed to the sounds pounding out from the stage. Yiddishkeit was in the air. The event was also attended by local Niagara Falls Mayor Ted Salsi, who rejoiced at the way the downtown was being rejuvenated with help from a Lubavitch developer.
Simchas Beis Hashoava was an event that few members of the liberal branches of Judaism had ever heard of, let alone participated in. The event is based on the word, Hashoava, which means ‘the drawing’ of water. In the days of the Temple, the priests drew water from a nearby, running spring (Shiluach). In the course of the celebration, the priests would juggle fire and full glasses of water from which, miraculously, they would not spill a drop. After the destruction of the Temple, rabbis took over the role. And yes, there was a pyro juggler entertaining the crowd.
According to Rabbi Yoseph Zaltzman, father of the Niagara Falls rabbi, nobody expected so large a turnout. Simchas Beis Hashoava is the biggest event Chabad Niagara has had so far.