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From The Truth: June 2016

posted Jun 6, 2016, 9:47 AM by Michael Rose   [ updated Jun 6, 2016, 9:47 AM ]
This month we celebrate what is probably the
least known of the three most important Jewish
holidays: Shavuot. While Hanukkah is probably the
most-celebrated Jewish holiday, it is really a minor
festival that is not found in the Torah. The three major
festivals, which are all described in the Torah, are
Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. These were the
pilgrimage holidays, when, in the time when the
Temple was still standing (before the year 70 CE),
Jews would travel to Jerusalem to bring sacrifices.

Originally all three of the festivals were
harvest celebrations. Later, they were also
theologically connected to Judaism. Passover—
probably the second-most-celebrated Jewish
holiday—remembers slavery in Egypt and the
redemption of the Israelites through the exodus.
Shavuot, on the 50th day after Passover begins,
celebrates the revelation of Torah at Mount Sinai.
Sukkot is in the fall, right after the High Holidays. It is
still a harvest holiday, and we build fragile huts to
dwell in (or visit the synagogue or a friend who has
built one), remembering the Israelites’ 40 years in the
wilderness before entering the land of Canaan, which
later was Israel.

For Passover there are seders (festive meals
with a ritual service) in people’s homes, and for
Sukkot there are the huts (which are called sukkot) in
people’s yards (or on balconies, or roofs, or in
community gardens). Shavuot doesn’t have rituals to
perform at home, or really very many traditions
surrounding it. It also falls in late May or early June,
toward the end of the school year, when there’s a lot
going on for a lot of people. Perhaps these are
reasons Shavuot is less well known.

One tradition at Shavuot is to eat dairy food
and no meat. No one knows exactly why, but one
explanation given is that when the Israelites received
the Torah they realized that their meat was not
kosher, so they only ate dairy until they could get the
meat situation straightened out. These days this
usually means cheesecake and blintzes, and other
dairy foods.

Another tradition is to stay up all night
studying. This is a relatively recent tradition,
begun by Jewish mystics at Safed, Israel in the
16th century. One reason for it is to make up for
the Israelites, who, according to midrash (stories
that fill in what we’re not told in the Torah—one
way to think of it is as fan fiction on the Torah),
fell asleep just before the revelation of Torah at
Mt. Sinai. They had to be awakened by thunder,
lightning, and the blast of a horn. Therefore, we
show that we are willing to stay up for revelation.

This year at temple, we will have our
first-ever all-ages, all-night Shavuot tikkun. We
are collaborating with Progressive Temple Beth
Ahavath Shalom for a wonderful night. The
theme will be community-building. We will begin
at 7 pm on June 11 with make-your-own blintzes
and other dairy treats. There will be havdallah
and text study, and age-appropriate activities for
children. The centerpiece of the night for adults
and teens will be a four-hour workshop, from 10
pm to 2 am, led by coaches from The Moth
( They will lead us in
beginning to craft our personal stories for telling

Stalwarts will continue until 6 am on
June 12 with more fellowship and learning. Then
we’ll be able to rest for a couple of hours, and
anyone who wishes to attend Shavuot morning
services and Yizkor is encouraged to go to
Progressive Temple Beth Ahavat Shalom, 1515
46th Street in Brooklyn, at 10:30 am. We will go
to services there and will not hold Shavuot
morning services in our building.

Kids should bring sleeping bags and
pillows, because we do expect that they will go
to sleep at some point. Adults may also bring
sleeping gear (air mattresses, etc.) if they
choose. And of course, anyone may choose not
to stay for the full night.

I have stayed up learning all night for
Shavuot twice before. My experience is that
around 3 or 4 am, I was so tired that my usual
thought patterns broke down and I began to
make connections I never had before. They
were experiences of revelation, and were both
moving and exciting.

I hope you will be able to come for at
least part of this great night so we can celebrate
Shavuot together.

Also at Shavuot we celebrate confirmation, and
at our June 11 Shabbat service in the morning at 11:15,
we will joyfully honor one confirmand, Hannalina
Hoover. At Shabbat services on Friday evening, June
10 and on Saturday morning, we will also honor Rabbi
Lizz Goldstein, our newly ordained outgoing Jacqueline
Smith Memorial Rabbinic Intern. Mazal tov to Rabbi
Goldstein and Hannalina!