Someone Else's Simcha Ori Marchiv's Hatimat Torah - A Samaritan Rite of Passage Busts a Move

A young Samaritan boy marks the community's version of a Bar Mitzvah, with all the standard staples: Torah, dancing, food, and, of course, video games.

Ron Ben-Tovim
Ron Ben-Tovim
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Ron Ben-Tovim
Ron Ben-Tovim

Location: Neve Pinchas neighborhood, Holon

Time: 6:30 P.M.

In the neighborhood: Dance pop soaring over the quiet homes of Holon's Ben Amram Street, home to the city's Samaritan community. Strobe lights in green, red, and yellow flash over the dance floor, overpowering the diminutive festive bulbs hanging on front gates, ahead of the Samartian Sukkot, celebrated several weeks after the Jewish holiday.

Venue: About 25 square tables, covered with blue table cloths and yellow napkins (a testament to the local love for the Maccabi Tel Aviv sports club) fill the small yard between the Samaritan community center and the local synagogue. An arch of blue-and-yellow balloons traces the compounds masonry counterpart, under which actors dressed as Peter Pan, Snow White, a pirate and a Brazilian samba dancer welcome the incoming guests. Over near the DJ booth, a super-sized LED screen treats the audience to a Celine Dion concert. An elderly Samaritan priest, red head cover and all, slowly makes his way to his seat, as the French-Canadian pop star asks: "Are you guys having fun?!"

Simcha: Ori Marchiv's Hatimat Torah ceremony

Hatimat Torah: The Samaritan equivalent of a Bar Mitzvah, a Hatimat Torah celebrates a Samaritan boy or girl for completing his or her study of the Torah. Beginning at the age of five, Samarian children attend after-school classes, learning ancient Hebrew script, Torah and prayer. Studies take about one to two years, meaning the Samaritan version of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is usually anywhere between six and eight years old.

Number of guests: 350

Home: Red-headed Ori, 7, lives in Holon with his little sister Sarai, 5, and parents Kobi, 36, a service agent for a local office supplies firm, and Sagit, 35, who commutes to Tel Aviv every morning ("fast lane, and then a shuttle"), where she works for an insurance company. After being held back in pre-school over slight motor-skill issues, Ori recently entered the first grade, attending after-hours basketball and swimming classes (Kobi: "He's running with it").

A brief history of time: As the eldest son, Ori's is the family's first Hatimat Torah, as well as the first of the Marchiv's Holon chapter. Another grandson of Ori's generation reached the hallowed mark in the Samaritan community in Mount Gerizim, near the West Bank city of Nablus. Little Sarai is next in line.

Rites: An elevated platform surrounded by fancy office chairs in a semi-circle seats the community's priestly family - the Cohens - including High Priest Aharon ben Ab-Chisda ben Yaacob. A buzz of grown-up chatter and children's horseplay envelops the crowd seated all over the yard as Ori's diminutive figure, clad in traditional white cloths and black head cover, takes the stage. Kobi and Sagit, both in quasi-wedding dress, flank the little boy, along with Kobi's mom Malka, 65, and Sagit's mother Dallal, 60. In the old days, apparently, getting even this far was a little trickier (Kobi: "In my Hatimat Torah, I went before the crowd wearing my everyday cloths, and then I was undressed before everyone and dressed with the festive clothing. I thought I'd save Ori the embarrassment I felt that day").

Starting off the evening, the fully dressed Ori picks up the microphone and launches into a recitation of a sermon in ancient Hebrew, written by Kobi's uncle Baruch, in which he thanks his family, especially his personal tutor and uncle Adi. Next, little Ori really gets down to business, reciting, by heart, his entire Torah portion - V'Zot Haberachah, the last portion of the Torah's last book, Deuteronomy. With Kobi and Sagit nervously mouthing off every syllable of the lengthy text, and with teacher and uncle Adi tensely looking on, Ori earns his Torah stripes, acing every twist and turn, to the joy of the entire community.

Finally, the portion's last words are uttered and the entire crowd erupts, washing over and lifting the little man like a family overrunning the chuppah after the glass has been broken. Quickly, the mob of loves turns into a dancing one, with the flashy DJ pumping out the best in Middle-Eastern dance and pop, complete with teenage girls in short skirts singing along to every tune. The priests red head covers flash with disco fever.

Despite all the tension, and its immediate release, the evenings true gem arrives a few moments later, as Ori, who is whisked away to the community center's side room by strangely dressed dancers, reemerges in red overalls, and proceeds to bust a mean little move, along with a cast of sturdy looking dancers. Finishing off the number (to the tune of the 1980s Israeli classic "I am Still a Child"), fireworks explode in the background, and the crowd goes even wilder. Behind the synagogue, members of the community's early-teen constituency enjoy their own little dance, happily piloting the several X-box, Playstation and Wii consoles at hand.

A star is born.
The young man addresses the crowd.
Ori reciting his Torah portion.
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A star is born.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen
1 of 6 |
The young man addresses the crowd.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen
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Ori reciting his Torah portion. Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen
Ori's Hatimat Torah

Music: Samaritan prayer, Celine Dion, salsa, and the stuff that makes you move on the floor (other than Celine Dion, that is).

Food: Assorted salads (hummus, spicy beetroot salad, et al.), along with fresh flatbread, couscous, kebab, and fish.

Drink: Sodas, beer, red wine, and one surprise visit by Mr. Johnny Walker (Black Label).

Word in the ear: Kobi, on passing on family tradition through the generations, and their link to the evening's blue-and-yellow décor: "[Ori's] a huge Maccabi Tel Aviv fan. He just sat next to me as we were watching games, and now he's crazier about them than I am. The entire community, in Mount Gerizim as well, is head over heels for Maccabi."

In my spiritual doggy bag: To ensure that tradition is handed down the generations, while insisting the kids still get to have their fun (and their video games).

Random quote: Shahar, a tour instructor who is also one of those in charge of the community's PR, explains the advantages of a story being written on Samaritans in the paper to the secretary general of the community in Mount Gerizim: "Come, you can complain about the Palestinian Authority, or Israel," to which the latter answers: "The first one? Never. But the other one, we can think about that."

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Ori Marchiv, 7, at his Hatimat Torah celebration, the Samaritan community's equivalent to a Bar Mitzvah.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen

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