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Re: [yellowspringshavurah] Why Not Shavuot?

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  • Cheryl Levine
    Good ideas, Celia (and Margaret!) I m assuming I m not alone (hence, the difficulty in getting Jews to be interested in the observance of Shavuot) when I say
    Message 1 of 6 , May 18, 2010
      Good ideas, Celia (and Margaret!)
      I'm assuming I'm not alone (hence, the difficulty in getting Jews to be interested in the observance of Shavuot) when I say that I am not particularly motivated by an all night (or part of the night) study session.  As I've been reading more about Shavuot, I am intrigued by the possibilities...
      In honor of Shavuot next year, I wonder if we could take a road trip to Kent, OH to meet the Jewish woman who runs the Lucky Penny Creamery and makes kosher cheeses...
      Or do an artisan cheese tasting here at home...and have someone like Michael Brown coordinate some wines to go with...
      Or write a new Midrash about Ruth as a group--some creative brainstorming...
      So, I wonder what would motivate all of you?
      -c
       


      --- On Tue, 5/18/10, Celia Diamond <cdiamond66@...> wrote:

      From: Celia Diamond <cdiamond66@...>
      Subject: Re: [yellowspringshavurah] Why Not Shavuot?
      To: yellowspringshavurah@yahoogroups.com
      Date: Tuesday, May 18, 2010, 10:49 AM

       
      Hey, we read the Book of Ruth on Shavuoth, which is reason enough to enjoy a Tikkun L'eyl Shavuoth.  I note that Beth Abraham is celebrating, although I can't attend because I'm still out of town, but would otherwise.  A meal together and late-night study session might be something our Havurah would like to look into some other year.  It used to be very enjoyable and stimulating when my synagogue in Schenectady did that.
      So maybe we can keep it in mind.

      On Mon, May 17, 2010 at 9:57 AM, Cheryl Levine <clevineys@yahoo. com> wrote:
       

      A New Read on Jewish Life

      Field Study

      Why the holiday of Shavuot is all but ignored across America

      By Marissa Brostoff | 7:00 am May 17, 2010
      Children marching in the streets of Jerusalem on Shavuot, 1942.
      CREDIT: Photo by Sonia Geedal (Epstein), published in Photography in Palestine in the 1930s–1940s, edited by Rona Selah (Herzliya Museum of Art and Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 2000.)
      When it comes to theological significance, the late-spring festival of Shavuot is no slouch: The event it commemorates— God giving the Torah to the Jews at Mount Sinai—is arguably the most pivotal in the narrative of the Jewish people. But from the treatment it receives next to its more popular siblings—at least within non-Orthodox American communities—you wouldn’t know it. Passover gets celebrated at the White House [1] and inspires novels [2], Yom Kippur turned Sandy Koufax into an American Jewish hero, and Hanukkah is so visible that conservative talk radio hosts think it threatens Christmas [3]. Shavuot, meanwhile, can’t even satisfy Tom Lehrer, who “spent Shavuos, in East St. Louis [4]/A charming spot but clearly not the spot for me.”
      “When you ask people what’s their favorite holiday, I’ve heard people say Passover, Hanukkah, Sukkot, Purim,” says Jonathan Sarna, who teaches American Jewish history at Brandeis University. “I think it’s harder for people to find an emotional attachment to Shavuot than to almost any other Jewish holiday.” According to Sarna and other historians, Shavuot’s trouble catching on is nothing new—it goes back, they say, to the fall of the Second Temple in the year 70 C.E.
      In its earliest incarnation, Shavuot marked a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the sacrifice of the harvest’s first fruits and is one of a historical trio of harvest celebrations, along with Sukkot and Passover, known as the shalosh regalim. According to Paul Steinberg, a rabbi at the Conservative synagogue Valley Beth Shalom in Los Angeles and the author of a series of books on the Jewish holidays [5], rabbis in the Talmudic period needed to reinvent Shavuot after the Jews left Israel for the Diaspora and no longer traveled to Jerusalem with harvest offerings. So, through what Steinberg calls the use of “complicated mathematical formulas” that were debated for centuries, the sages associated Shavuot with the giving of the Torah. But that interpretive shift, says Steinberg, has not “captured the imagination of Jews in America or anywhere else.” (According to Reform rabbi Andy Bachman, who leads Brooklyn’s Congregation Beth Elohim [6], some early Zionist settlers went so far as to explicitly reject the rabbinic interpretation of the holiday in favor of the agricultural one and celebrated Shavuot by dancing in the fields and riding on tractors.)
      In the United States, Shavuot has met with particularly bad fortune. “They used to say that Jewish holidays needed mazel,” or luck, Sarna says. Hanukkah and Passover—located next to major Christian holidays that Jews want an alternative to—have mazel. Shavuot, marooned in the long stretch between Passover and the High Holidays, has the opposite. “Passover is the last Jewish gesture of the year before you disappear into summer camp, Memorial Day, et cetera,” Bachman says.
      Until recently, Shavuot’s overlap with the end of the school year actually did confer some mazel at many Reform and Conservative synagogues, because Confirmation ceremonies—celebrati ons for high school students who have continued their Jewish education in addition to or instead of bar and bat mitzvahs—have traditionally been held on the holiday. But many congregations, including Bachman’s and Steinberg’s, have recently dropped Confirmation, which is increasingly seen an accommodation to Protestantism without authentic Jewish roots—another inadvertent blow to Shavuot.
      Beyond the bad mazel, though, some conjecture that Shavuot may simply be too abstract to become popular among all but the most engaged or observant Jews. “The holidays that have done really well here are either firmly grounded in the home or allow for a kind of interplay between the synagogue and the home,” says Jenna Weissman Joselit, who teaches American Jewish history at George Washington University. Home-based holidays have strong elements of material and ritual—seders for Passover, sukkahs for Sukkot, menorahs for Hanukkah. But on Shavuot, “there’s no stuff and nothing to do, if you don’t go to shul,” Joselit says. “It’s a very serious holiday about law and responsibility and duty.” (All of this might be said as well for the High Holidays, which of course don’t lack for attendance. But the High Holidays make these themes personal, while Shavuot applies them to the Jews as a people—which, Joselit argues, makes them feel more remote.)
      Shavuot is the consummate rabbis’ holiday: Its difficult themes of revelation, law, and collective responsibility make it a favorite among scholars—who struggle with how to share their enthusiasm with the laity. Elliot Dorff, a rabbi and professor of theology at American Jewish University in Los Angeles, calls it “my holiday”—precisely for the reasons their congregants may not. And Sarna says, “Shavuot is the holiday of books—it’s a harder sell, but we’re the People of the Book. Maybe it is our most authentic and distinctive holiday in that way.”
      This idea might be starting to catch on: In the past few years, some synagogues have begun holding a tikkun leil Shavuot, or all-night study session, to celebrate the holiday. In its original form, the tikkun, first practiced in the 16th century by kabbalists who were themselves trying to revitalize Shavuot, involved prayer and Torah study from dusk until dawn; non-Orthodox congregations that hold the celebration now usually substitute lectures and roundtable discussions on a variety of subjects. Dorff said that Temple Beth Am, the Conservative synagogue he attends, can pull in 500 people for its tikkun (this year themed around “ethical, spiritual, halakhic implications of our food choices”), with 100 still remaining when the sun rises.
      But some question whether the tikkun will ever catch on at most synagogues in a way that even approximates the success of lighter, more family-oriented holiday celebrations. “God bless Elliot Dorff, but Beth Am has a lot of academics and rabbis,” Steinberg said when asked whether he thought all-night study could save Shavuot. “That’s not the case for most synagogues. Most synagogues you get people till 10:00, then it dwindles.” (Indeed, some Jewish communities—in New York [7], California [8], and elsewhere—are trying to make the tikkun a more popular destination with performances, film screenings, and Israeli dancing.)
      Steinberg’s own congregation is trying a different approach this year: bringing in a cow. Children at the synagogue will have an opportunity to watch a milking demonstration and churn their own butter in conjunction with the tradition of eating dairy on Shavuot. “We’ll see how it goes,” Steinberg says wryly. “It’s an intervention, if you will.”

      Article printed from Tablet Magazine: http://www.tabletma g.com

      Cheryl B. Levine, Psy.D.
      Clinical and Consulting Psychologist
      Positive Perspectives, Inc.
      1130 Vester Avenue, Suite C
      Springfield, OH 45503
      937.390.3800
      937.390.3804 (fax)
      www.positiveperspec tivescounseling. com

      The Ohio State University Rural Program
      Behavioral Scientist/Preceptor
      4879 US Route 68 South
      West Liberty, OH 43357
      937.465.0080
       
      Hey, I just was wondering why my family doesn't have more of a connection with Shavuot when I read this article in the Tablet--thought you might be interested too:
       
      Tablet Mag Logo

    • Cheryl Levine
      Rabbi Janice--thanks for the heads up about the Temple Sholom celebration!  And thanks for including us. Chag Sameach to you, too! -c Cheryl B. Levine, Psy.D.
      Message 2 of 6 , May 18, 2010
        Rabbi Janice--thanks for the heads up about the Temple Sholom celebration!  And thanks for including us.
        Chag Sameach to you, too!
        -c

        Cheryl B. Levine, Psy.D.
        Clinical and Consulting Psychologist
        Positive Perspectives, Inc.
        1130 Vester Avenue, Suite C
        Springfield, OH 45503
        937.390.3800
        937.390.3804 (fax)
        www.positiveperspectivescounseling.com

        The Ohio State University Rural Program
        Behavioral Scientist/Preceptor
        4879 US Route 68 South
        West Liberty, OH 43357
        937.465.0080
         


        --- On Tue, 5/18/10, temple sholom <templesholom@...> wrote:

        From: temple sholom <templesholom@...>
        Subject: Re: [yellowspringshavurah] Why Not Shavuot?
        To: yellowspringshavurah@yahoogroups.com
        Date: Tuesday, May 18, 2010, 11:16 AM

         
        Shalom!
        Temple Sholom is having an Erev Shavuot service tonight at 7:00 pm (including reading the Ten Commandments and a short yizkor), followed by dairy treats (blintzes? cheesecake?) , and a mini-tikkun from 8:20 ish til about 9:30.
         
        You are all more than welcone to come!
         
        Hag Sameach,
        -Rabbi Janice
         


        --- On Tue, 5/18/10, Celia Diamond <cdiamond66@gmail. com> wrote:

        From: Celia Diamond <cdiamond66@gmail. com>
        Subject: Re: [yellowspringshavur ah] Why Not Shavuot?
        To: yellowspringshavura h@yahoogroups. com
        Date: Tuesday, May 18, 2010, 10:49 AM

         
        Hey, we read the Book of Ruth on Shavuoth, which is reason enough to enjoy a Tikkun L'eyl Shavuoth.  I note that Beth Abraham is celebrating, although I can't attend because I'm still out of town, but would otherwise.  A meal together and late-night study session might be something our Havurah would like to look into some other year.  It used to be very enjoyable and stimulating when my synagogue in Schenectady did that.
        So maybe we can keep it in mind.

        On Mon, May 17, 2010 at 9:57 AM, Cheryl Levine <clevineys@yahoo. com> wrote:
         

        A New Read on Jewish Life

        Field Study

        Why the holiday of Shavuot is all but ignored across America

        By Marissa Brostoff | 7:00 am May 17, 2010
        Children marching in the streets of Jerusalem on Shavuot, 1942.
        CREDIT: Photo by Sonia Geedal (Epstein), published in Photography in Palestine in the 1930s–1940s, edited by Rona Selah (Herzliya Museum of Art and Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 2000.)
        When it comes to theological significance, the late-spring festival of Shavuot is no slouch: The event it commemorates— God giving the Torah to the Jews at Mount Sinai—is arguably the most pivotal in the narrative of the Jewish people. But from the treatment it receives next to its more popular siblings—at least within non-Orthodox American communities—you wouldn’t know it. Passover gets celebrated at the White House [1] and inspires novels [2], Yom Kippur turned Sandy Koufax into an American Jewish hero, and Hanukkah is so visible that conservative talk radio hosts think it threatens Christmas [3]. Shavuot, meanwhile, can’t even satisfy Tom Lehrer, who “spent Shavuos, in East St. Louis [4]/A charming spot but clearly not the spot for me.”
        “When you ask people what’s their favorite holiday, I’ve heard people say Passover, Hanukkah, Sukkot, Purim,” says Jonathan Sarna, who teaches American Jewish history at Brandeis University. “I think it’s harder for people to find an emotional attachment to Shavuot than to almost any other Jewish holiday.” According to Sarna and other historians, Shavuot’s trouble catching on is nothing new—it goes back, they say, to the fall of the Second Temple in the year 70 C.E.
        In its earliest incarnation, Shavuot marked a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the sacrifice of the harvest’s first fruits and is one of a historical trio of harvest celebrations, along with Sukkot and Passover, known as the shalosh regalim. According to Paul Steinberg, a rabbi at the Conservative synagogue Valley Beth Shalom in Los Angeles and the author of a series of books on the Jewish holidays [5], rabbis in the Talmudic period needed to reinvent Shavuot after the Jews left Israel for the Diaspora and no longer traveled to Jerusalem with harvest offerings. So, through what Steinberg calls the use of “complicated mathematical formulas” that were debated for centuries, the sages associated Shavuot with the giving of the Torah. But that interpretive shift, says Steinberg, has not “captured the imagination of Jews in America or anywhere else.” (According to Reform rabbi Andy Bachman, who leads Brooklyn’s Congregation Beth Elohim [6], some early Zionist settlers went so far as to explicitly reject the rabbinic interpretation of the holiday in favor of the agricultural one and celebrated Shavuot by dancing in the fields and riding on tractors.)
        In the United States, Shavuot has met with particularly bad fortune. “They used to say that Jewish holidays needed mazel,” or luck, Sarna says. Hanukkah and Passover—located next to major Christian holidays that Jews want an alternative to—have mazel. Shavuot, marooned in the long stretch between Passover and the High Holidays, has the opposite. “Passover is the last Jewish gesture of the year before you disappear into summer camp, Memorial Day, et cetera,” Bachman says.
        Until recently, Shavuot’s overlap with the end of the school year actually did confer some mazel at many Reform and Conservative synagogues, because Confirmation ceremonies—celebrati ons for high school students who have continued their Jewish education in addition to or instead of bar and bat mitzvahs—have traditionally been held on the holiday. But many congregations, including Bachman’s and Steinberg’s, have recently dropped Confirmation, which is increasingly seen an accommodation to Protestantism without authentic Jewish roots—another inadvertent blow to Shavuot.
        Beyond the bad mazel, though, some conjecture that Shavuot may simply be too abstract to become popular among all but the most engaged or observant Jews. “The holidays that have done really well here are either firmly grounded in the home or allow for a kind of interplay between the synagogue and the home,” says Jenna Weissman Joselit, who teaches American Jewish history at George Washington University. Home-based holidays have strong elements of material and ritual—seders for Passover, sukkahs for Sukkot, menorahs for Hanukkah. But on Shavuot, “there’s no stuff and nothing to do, if you don’t go to shul,” Joselit says. “It’s a very serious holiday about law and responsibility and duty.” (All of this might be said as well for the High Holidays, which of course don’t lack for attendance. But the High Holidays make these themes personal, while Shavuot applies them to the Jews as a people—which, Joselit argues, makes them feel more remote.)
        Shavuot is the consummate rabbis’ holiday: Its difficult themes of revelation, law, and collective responsibility make it a favorite among scholars—who struggle with how to share their enthusiasm with the laity. Elliot Dorff, a rabbi and professor of theology at American Jewish University in Los Angeles, calls it “my holiday”—precisely for the reasons their congregants may not. And Sarna says, “Shavuot is the holiday of books—it’s a harder sell, but we’re the People of the Book. Maybe it is our most authentic and distinctive holiday in that way.”
        This idea might be starting to catch on: In the past few years, some synagogues have begun holding a tikkun leil Shavuot, or all-night study session, to celebrate the holiday. In its original form, the tikkun, first practiced in the 16th century by kabbalists who were themselves trying to revitalize Shavuot, involved prayer and Torah study from dusk until dawn; non-Orthodox congregations that hold the celebration now usually substitute lectures and roundtable discussions on a variety of subjects. Dorff said that Temple Beth Am, the Conservative synagogue he attends, can pull in 500 people for its tikkun (this year themed around “ethical, spiritual, halakhic implications of our food choices”), with 100 still remaining when the sun rises.
        But some question whether the tikkun will ever catch on at most synagogues in a way that even approximates the success of lighter, more family-oriented holiday celebrations. “God bless Elliot Dorff, but Beth Am has a lot of academics and rabbis,” Steinberg said when asked whether he thought all-night study could save Shavuot. “That’s not the case for most synagogues. Most synagogues you get people till 10:00, then it dwindles.” (Indeed, some Jewish communities—in New York [7], California [8], and elsewhere—are trying to make the tikkun a more popular destination with performances, film screenings, and Israeli dancing.)
        Steinberg’s own congregation is trying a different approach this year: bringing in a cow. Children at the synagogue will have an opportunity to watch a milking demonstration and churn their own butter in conjunction with the tradition of eating dairy on Shavuot. “We’ll see how it goes,” Steinberg says wryly. “It’s an intervention, if you will.”

        Article printed from Tablet Magazine: http://www.tabletma g.com

        Cheryl B. Levine, Psy.D.
        Clinical and Consulting Psychologist
        Positive Perspectives, Inc.
        1130 Vester Avenue, Suite C
        Springfield, OH 45503
        937.390.3800
        937.390.3804 (fax)
        www.positiveperspec tivescounseling. com

        The Ohio State University Rural Program
        Behavioral Scientist/Preceptor
        4879 US Route 68 South
        West Liberty, OH 43357
        937.465.0080
         
        Hey, I just was wondering why my family doesn't have more of a connection with Shavuot when I read this article in the Tablet--thought you might be interested too:
         
        Tablet Mag Logo

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