June 9, 2005
Shavuot Gets Hip
Is Shavuot becoming hip? The holiday, which begins June 12, may be one of Judaism's three major festivals, but it had never caught on in America like its more popular cousins, Passover and Sukkot.
The tradition of tikkun l'eil Shavuot, the all-night study session that marks the commemoration of God's giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, is celebrated by most Orthodox Jews and many Conservative congregations. But for many unaffiliated and non-Orthodox Jews, the holiday has gone fairly unnoticed.
In the past few years there's been a resurgence of interest in tikkun l'eil Shavuot. Of all the holidays in the Jewish calendar it's this one, with its focus on intellectual exploration and spiritual self-examination, that is being seized upon by a new generation as a day -- or, rather, night -- ripe for reinvention.
It's been happening in the synagogues. Rabbi Daniel Freelander, vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said 200 to 300 Reform congregations now hold tikkun l'eil Shavuot sessions.
But beyond the synagogue walls, something even more interesting is taking place: Large-scale alternative Shavuot night happenings are being held in clubs and JCCs on both coasts, where participants prepare themselves for the morning's revelation with sunset-to-dawn smorgasbords of text study, lectures, music, film, discussion groups, folk dancing, performance art and, of course, cheesecake.
In New York, more than 1,500 came to Alma Tikkun, an all-night study and cultural extravaganza held simultaneously at the Manhattan JCC and 92nd Street Y.
In Los Angeles, synagogues around the city are also sponsoring events -- from a cheekily titled "Jews for Cheeses!" at Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica to a social justice event at the Westside Jewish Community Center on Olympic Boulevard, sponsored by the Progressive Jewish Alliance and Ikar, a year-old nonaffiliated congregation.
Rabbi Sharon Brous, Ikar's spiritual leader, said her group will study traditional texts -- Torah, talmudic and Chasidic writings -- but will use them to discuss hunger and warfare in Africa, immigrant rights and "our commitment to a pluralistic, diverse world."
Other progressive prayer groups, such as Rabbi Naomi Levy's Nashuva, will also study mystical teachings in honor of the holiday. At Shomrei Torah in West Hills, the evening fare will discuss "What Is Shavuot Really About?"
Why all this interest in Shavuot?
Ruth Calderon, the founder of Alma College in Tel Aviv and the spiritual force behind the Alma Tikkun in New York, said Shavuot is also compelling to her generation because "it wasn't 'taken' yet."
"As young secular Israelis, it wasn't relevant for us in the agricultural sense anymore, but we saw it could be relevant to us as the People of the Book.'"
For more Shavuot events, see our Calendar.