Shavuot: Reclaiming the Jewish Calendar’s Best-Kept Secret

127633903 Traditional Shavuot Harvest Se

What is Shavuot, anyway? Although it enjoys a lofty status as one of Judaism’s three pilgrimage festivals (the Shalosh Regalim), Shavuot doesn’t get nearly as much press as Passover or Sukkot. This may be because Shavuot doesn’t have a labor-intensive, performative ritual that engages the whole family - There’s no Seder full of symbolic foods, no sukkah to build and decorate. Shavuot is brief, too – just two days as opposed to the eight days of Passover or Sukkot. But Shavuot is a little gem, filled with sweetness both physical and spiritual. As a kid, I don’t remember getting excited about Shavuot the way I looked forward to the other Jewish holidays. As an adult, though, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that Shavuot is perhaps my favorite festival.

Dairy Feast

According to Jewish tradition, Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai in Biblical times. For this reason, the study of Jewish sacred texts is the ritual linchpin of Shavuot. There’s also a tradition to eat dairy foods on Shavuot, perhaps because the Torah is traditionally likened to “milk and honey.” What’s not to love about a short, sweet holiday that doesn’t involve back-breaking work, and that inspires us to study Torah and eat cheesecake?

Tikkun Leil Shavuot: All Night Torah Study

Shavuot’s best-known tradition is the Tikkun Leil Shavuot, an all-night Torah study extravaganza that occurs on the first night of the holiday. Of course, those who are familiar with the rhythms of life with children can see why Shavuot’s focus on pulling an all-nighter has made this holiday seem a little less than family-friendly. There are other ways in which synagogue communities can engage families with young children on Shavuot, though – and the themes of Shavuot are ones that families can delve into in fun and meaningful ways.

5/28 Webinar: A Family Shavuot Celebration

To help families experience Shavuot and engage with its central messages, USCJ is offering an online gathering entitled “A Family Shavuot Celebration: Meet Me at Mount Sinai.” This holiday celebration is designed to be an experience that elementary-school-age kids can enjoy together with their parents (of course, siblings of other ages are welcome to tune in as well). The event will highlight the themes of Shavuot, with a special focus on the Ten Commandments. Participants will be able to share their own ideas about Shavuot and about the Ten Commandments through interactive Zoom polls, and will get to try their hand at creating an original Shavuot-themed haiku. The webinar will also offer some culinary inspiration – we’ll explore the tradition of eating dairy foods on Shavuot, and will demonstrate how to make an edible Torah with some sweet ingredients. The celebration will be enhanced by songs from special guest Hazzan Bonnie Zakarin of the Hewlett-East Rockaway Jewish Centre.

A Family Shavuot Celebration: Meet Me at Mount Sinai will take place on Thursday, May 28 at 4 PM Eastern Time. Register here.

Click here for more Shavuot resources.


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