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Jewish Journal

Got Shavuot?

by David Suissa

May 17, 2007 | 8:00 pm

The hottest word in marketing today is "interactive." After decades of treating consumers like passive targets, marketers have learned that the best way to get people excited about your product is to create some kind of interaction -- to make consumers feel and experience the uniqueness of your product.

It's also called "high-touch" or "relationship" marketing. I've seen this evolution with all kinds of clients, from baby food to luxury cars. But what I find fascinating is that based on this new trend, Judaism is bursting with marketing potential.

Look at some of our holidays. In the middle of winter, while most of the world sits around a little tree lit with electricity, we go old school and harness the iconic power of candles -- beautiful, flickering, magical candles. We don't just look at light, we create it.

At springtime, God comes to us with one of life's most satisfying experiences: He instructs us to clean up every little corner of our homes. Not only do we end up finding loose change in the sofas, but we feel like we're back in control of our messy lives. And when our homes are nice and orderly, what do we do? We have an elaborate meal full of interactive rituals to celebrate that most valuable of consumer products -- human freedom.

To make sure we take none of our comforts for granted, Judaism doesn't settle for charismatic preaching or simple prayer. Like they say in marketing, that would be "me too-ish," and certainly not very interactive. So come fall, Judaism instructs us to build a frail, little hut in our backyards -- and eat there for eight days.

This instinct for high-touch marketing never ends. We are the People of the Book, so what do we do at the very end of our religious year, when we've just finished reading that Book? We take it out, raise it high, dance, drink and have a huge party around it. Talk about interactive.

Marketers know the importance of kids, and so does Judaism. You could fill a 24-hour cable channel with news of interactive games and art projects for kids that flow out of Jewish holidays.

You wonder sometimes if God and his helpers hired an ad agency to help them come up with all these super-creative, interactive holidays. I guess when you have 613 commandments, it's not like you can't use a little marketing help.

One of my favorite high-touch holidays on the Jewish calendar is the one that tells us to chill for one day a week -- no cell phones, no "Grey's Anatomy," no Beverly Center -- so that we can recharge our batteries for the coming week. That's some foresight they must have had at Sinai, to anticipate that 3,300 years later, we'd all be sleeping with our BlackBerries -- desperate for a weekly dose of unplugged bliss.

And just when you think you've hit a lull in the Jewish holiday calendar, you get hit with a happening like a bonfire on the beach to celebrate a great mystic, or the planting of trees to celebrate the biblical imperative to renew and protect the earth. This is interactive marketing at its finest: high consumer involvement, with hardly ever a dull moment.

Which brings me to what may arguably be the dullest moment in the Jewish calendar: the holiday of Shavuot, which is now upon us.

It pains me to think that God's ad agency might have taken the day off on this one. What a blunder! On the one holiday that the People of the Book celebrate the receipt of that very book, what do they come up with? Cheese blintzes? A dairy festival? Didn't they anticipate all those news reports of the mucus-inducing properties of milk and other dairy products?

It's not fair. More attention must be paid to this holiday. Of course, here in the hood, as in all observant communities, the two days of Shavuot are as important as the two days of Rosh Hashanah -- the kids are off school and everybody's in shul. It's holiday business as usual.

But unlike Rosh Hashanah -- which has the irresistible attraction of a new year and a new beginning -- and other holidays that have their own attractions, Shavuot seems to miss that special sizzle that could engage mainstream Judaism.

We can change that. The truth is, some of our most creative customs and ideas have evolved over the centuries. So why not find creative ways to get more Jews to "interact" with Shavuot?

If Judaism were my client, here's what I would recommend: Make Shavuot the coolest holiday of the year by playing up the little-known Shavuot custom of staying up all night -- just like the ancient mystics.

Think about the times in your life -- except for final exams -- when you've stayed up all night. Isn't there something a little rebellious and bohemian about this idea of the night that never ends? OK, you won't be in a jazz bar or partying on a beach in Bali, but you'll be breaking the boundaries of your everyday routine, and isn't that worth something?

The observant Jews who stay up all night on Shavuot usually do a lot of learning, with some Sephardic Jews doing certain prayers of rectification. But get creative. Bring out your favorite Jewish books, read Jewish poetry, tell Jewish stories, sing a few songs, meditate -- in other words, create your own all-night Shavuot salon, and make sure you have plenty of Turkish coffee.

That's my idea. Now get interactive and e-mail me your own ideas. Winning entry gets a free cheesecake.


David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.


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