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Simchat Chochmah V'hatchalah: A Celebration of Wisdom and New Beginnings

By Sandy Warshaw

"Kominsky had undertaken a bold and hazardous enterprise in inventing and staging a one-of-a-kind ritual.

All rituals are paradoxical and dangerous enterprises, the traditional and improvised, the sacred and secular. Paradoxical because rituals are conspicuously artificial and theatrical, yet designed to suggest the inevitability and absolute truth of their messages. Dangerous because when we are not convinced by a ritual we may become aware of ourselves as having made them up, thence on to the paralyzing realizations that we have made up all our truths; our ceremonies, our most precious conceptions and convictionsall are mere invention, not inevitable understandings about the world at all but the result of mortals' imaginings."1

Begining the Journey: Answering the Call to Be a Jew

Sandy :

Where did my journey begin? The beginning, of course, was my birth: as Sandra Maxine Singer in September, 1933...2


To be a Jew in the 20th century is to be offered a gift.


The Lord said to Abram: "Go forth from your native land and from your fathers house to the land that I will show you..." (Genesis 12:1)

Cantorial Soloist:

L'chi lach, to a land that I will show you.
Lech l'cha to a place you do not know
L'chi lach, on your journey I will bless you.
And you shall be a blessing (3x) l'chi lach.3

Continuing the Journey: Surviving to Speak a New Language and Receive a New Name


But there come timesperhaps this is one of them
When we have to take ourselves more seriously or die;
When we have to pull back from the incantations,
Rhythms we've moved to thoughtlessly,
And disenthrall ourselves, bestow
Ourselves to silence, or a server listening, cleansed
Of oratory, formulas, choruses, laments, static
Crowding the wires. We cut the wires,
Find ourselves in free-fall, as if
Our true home were the unidimensional
Solitudes, the rift
In the Great Nebula.
No one who survives to speak
New language, has avoided this:
The cutting-away of an old force that held her
Rooted in an old ground.4


"Do you remember? Where were you when the Kennedy's died? When Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed? When the Astronauts first left earth? When you read The "Feminine Mystique"? I was being a wife and mother on Park Avenue. I have the pictures to prove it..."


A woman and a Jew, sometimes more
Of a contradiction that I can sweat out
Yet finally the intersection that is both
Collision and fusion, stone and seed.5


And God said, "You shall no longer be called Avram, but your name shall be Abraham. As for Sarai, you shall not call her Sarai, but her name shall be Sarah." (Genesis 17:5, 15)

Cantorial Soloist:


(May God who blessed our fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and our mothers, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah bless this woman and let he name in Israel be Scheme Sarah Miriam bat Moshe v'Silke.

Scheme, the daughter of Sylvia and Morton.

Sarah, the mother of Douglas and Meredith, Melissa and Mike, grandmother of Keith.

Miriam, the singer of new songs, teacher of women.

The righteous will yield fruit even in old age, vigorous, and fresh shall they be. Psalm 92)

Giving Thanks: For Courage


My cancer was breast cancer. My sister had died of breast cancer five years earlier. Eighteen years ago today, I had a mastectomy.


The courage to walk out of pain that is known
Into the pain that cannot be imagined,
Mapless, walking in to the wilderness, going
Barefcot with a canteen into the desert
Stuffed in the stinking hold of a rotting ship
Sailing off the map into dragons' mouths.6


For the courage to walk into the wilderness, we give thanks.

For Teachers


My journey would have been much different without the teachers who were there, women by example in their daily lives, some by their caring attention.

For my teachers and their teachings, I give thanks.


For our teachers and their students
And the students of the students
We ask for peace and lovingkindncss
And let us say Amen.

And for those who study Torah
Here and everywhere,
May they be blessed with all they need,
And let us say Amen.

We ask for peace and lovingkindness.
And let us say Amen.7

For Wisdom Gained Along the Way


"It wasn't planned..." For wisdom in my life, I give thanks.


What is it like to be [sixty]? If someone else had lived so long and could remember things [fiftyl years ago with such clarity, she would seem very old to me. But I do not feel old at all, not as much a survivor as a person still on her way. I suppose real old age begins when one looks backward rather then forward, but I look forward with joy to the years ahead and especially to the surprise that any day may bring.8


In the middle of the night things well up from the past that are not always cause for rejoicingthe unsolved, the painful encounters, the mistakes, the reasons for shame or woe. But all, good or bad, painful or delightful, weave themselves into a rich tapestry, and give food for thought, food to grow on. 9

Cantorial Soloist:


And from your wisdom impart to me,
And from your insight give me insight,
And in your kindness be kind to me,
And with Your power stop my enemies.
Pour Bountiful oil upon
The seven branches of the menorah,
To cause your goodness to flow
Unto all the living.
Open up Your hand.
Open up Your hand.
Open up Your hand and satistfy.10

For Life Itself


"In November, 1992 my friend Romi died. Her death, just before Thanksgiving, raised a number of questions..."

For the daily commitment to life, I give thanks.

B'rukha Yah, Sh'khinah, Eloheinu malkat ha-olam, shehechiatnu, v'kiy'matnu, v'higiatnu, la-z'man ha-zeh.


Praised be whoever, whatever, that has kept me in life, sustained me and enabled me to reach this season. Praised be the source of life; the life force that has kept me alive, to love and feel joy as well as pain; that leads me to seek strength from within and around me; that has enabled me for reasons unknown to me, to reach this season.

Prayers for Continuing the Journey


Abraham journeyed from there to the region of the Negeb. Genesis 20:1

Speaker 1:


May we be blessed as we go on our way.

Speaker 2:


May we be blessed as we go on our way.

Speaker 3:


May we be blessed as we go on our way.


May we be blessed as we go on our way
May we be guided in peace
May we be blessed with health and joy
May this be our blessing, Amen.

May we be sheltered by the wings of peace
May we be kept in safety and in love
May grace and compassion find their way to every soul
May this be our blessing, Amen.11

Anticipating the Adventure Still to Come


God holds our face in her two hands and whispers, "Do not be afraid." I will be faithful to the promise I made to you when you were young. "I will be with you. Even in your old age I will be with you. When you are grey headed. still I will hold you. I gave birth to you. I carried you. I will hold you still. Grow old along with me..." 12

Cantorial Soloist:

Al Tira... (Do not be afraid...)13


My fear of the future might be tempered now by curiosity: The universe is infinite. Unlimited possibilities are arrayed before us. Though the sun rises and sets just as the day before, no two days are the same. We can grect each day with eagerness, awakening to wonder:14


What shall I learn today? What can I create today? What will I notice that I have never seen before?


L'chi lach, to a land that I will show you.
Lech l'cha, to a place you do not know.
L'chi lach, on your journey I will bless you.
And you shall be a blessing (3x) l'chi lach.

Lehi lach, and I shall make your name great
Lech leha, and all shall praise your name
L'chi lach, to the place that I will show you.
L'simchat chokhmah (x3) l'chi lach.


Ha-vah nagilah,
Ha-vab nagilah,
Ha-vah nagilah, v'nism'kha.
Ha-vah nagilah,
Ha-vah nagilah,
Ha-vah nagilah, v'nism'chah

Ha-vah n'rann'na,
Ha-vah n'rann'na,
Ha-vah n'rann'na, v'nism'kha

Ha-vah n'rann'na,
Ha-vah n'rann'na,
Ha-vah n'rann'na, v'nism'kha

Uru, uru achim,
uru achim, b'lev samei'ach,
uru achim, b'lev samei'ach,
uru achim, b'lev samei'ach,
uru achim, b'lev samei'ach, uru achim, uru achim, b'lev samei'ach.

(Come let us be glad and rejoice. Arise brother and sisters with a joyful heart.)

This celebration was prepared by Sandy Warshaw With the help of Rabbi Margaret Moers Wenig and Margot Fein.

Ami Kaplan played the guitar.


My Simchat Chokhmah was planned over the period of one yearOctober 1992 through October 1993by me with Rabbi Margaret Mcers Wenig (Maggie), who at that time was the Rabbi of Beth Am, the Peoples Temple. Celebrating with us were Maggie, Cantorial Soloist Margot Fein, Guitarist Ami Kaplan, members of my family, and a few select friends. It was Maggie who chose most of the music and intertwined her comments and music with my words.

We celebrated in the chapel at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, which was large enough to hold my hundred or more guests and small enough to be intimate. The chapel was dedicated by my uncle in memory of my grandparents; the stained-glass windows and arc had been designed by the Israeli artist, Agam.

What started as a Simchat Chokhmaha ceremony of wisdom in celebration of my 60th birthdayquickly became a Simchat Chochma V'Chatchalaa ceremony of wisdom and new beginnings. This was because I questioned my "wisdom," and knew that I was in a new stage of life that promised great adventure.

I patterned the ritual after one described by Savina Teubal, described in Umanski's Four Hundred Years of Women's Spirituality.

In taking a new name, I chose Miriam, the leader I hoped to be. In second thought I chose Sarahafter all I had been a wife and was a mother. Maggie urged me to keep Scheinethe source of strength I was just beginning to recognize.

In her welcome, Maggie stated:

"Welcome to this celebration of wisdom and new beginnings:"

This is the celebration of one woman's journey;
It is the celebration of each of our journeys;
It is the celebration of the first steps we took as a peoplea journey we are still on.

I. Where did my journey begin?

I tell about growing up in Scarsdale with mixed messages about being a girl and Jewish in a Christian community and college.

II. My marriage in the days of "compulsory heterosexuality."

My alcoholisms, and then my breast cancer, which had killed my sister, and my survival to learn a new language, a new spirituality, and to take a new name. The tension between being female/feminist and Jewish. Conflicts, resolutions, and possibilitiesMarge PiercyA woman and a Jew and what it means.

III. Giving Thanks

To "surrogate aunts," friends who helped me out of darkness, therapists, feminist and karate friends, my cousin, my niece, my children and their partners, and last, but not least, my RabbiMaggie. These were my life teachersand we sang Debbie Friedman's Kaddish D'Rabanan.

My thanks for courage for the journey after drinking, after cancer, after near death

For wisdom and the real teachers and the courage to learnthe wisdom I gainedand my beginnings as an advocate for midlife and older women. My coming out as a lesbianhinted at but not openly named in this ceremony.

My own shehechiyanu. For being blessed with continuing life. Prayers for the rest of the journey came from specific guests, my OWL friend, my CBST friend, my nieceeach followed by T'fillat Ha-derekh.

IV. The meaning of Maggie's sermon

"God is a Woman and She is Growing Older," which allowed me to see myself in Judaism as a woman growing older. My fear of the future is calmed by "what shall I learn today."

L'chi lach (Friedman) the beginning of a new journey, a new adventureHava Nagilaand dancing by allas we leave the chapel.


  1. From Number Our Days by Barbara Myerhoff
  2. From Letter to the Front, by Muriel Rukeyser
  3.  (words and music by Debbie Friedman)
  4. From "Transcendental Etude," in The Dream of Common Language, by Adrienne Rich
  5. From "The Ram's Horn Sounding," by Marge Piercy
  6. (From Loving the Crone by Marge Piercy)
  7. Kadish D'Rababan by Debbie Friedman
  8. From At Seventy by May Sarton
  9. From At Seventy by May Sarton
  10. (Music by David Feinberg)
  11. T'filat Haderech, by Debbie Friedman
  12. From the 1990 Kol Nidre sermon, God is a Woman and She is Growing Older, by Rabbi Margaret Moers Wenig
  13. From a prayer added to the Mourner's Kaddish in some siddurimProverbs 3:25; Isaiah 8:10, 46:4; music by David Feinberg, 1991
  14. Debbie Friedman
Complete Ceremony