Shavuot: Up All Night

Shavuot has become a defining moment in the history of the Jewish people since the rabbis chose to link the holiday with the giving of Torah on Mt. Sinai. Perhaps it is because of its timing or perhaps it is because of its history, but until recently Shavuot was one of those holidays observed by few outside of the traditionally observant. Even the bolstering of the holiday by the Reform movement—by associating it with Confirmation—had diminished over time. Lately, however, the reintroduction of a Kabalistic tradition of tikkun layl Shavuot (a mystical custom to remain awake all night studying sacred Jewish texts) has breathed new life into a totally under-appreciated holiday. Even in small Jewish communities like Canton, OH, their late-night community-wide Shavuot program called “The Gathering” reached large numbers of people who normally don’t participate in such events. (I was thrilled to be part of that program last year.)

So what do we do with those on the periphery? How do we help them to mark Shavuot? A few years ago, JOI applied its Public Space Judaism model to the late-night celebration of Shavuot and developed a program which was to utilize three local secular establishments: a coffee shop, book store, and the arts space of a local college. Wanting to use this as a demonstration project, we applied to a local Jewish community for funding. We met all of their concerns (concerns perhaps more relevant to community insiders than the very people the program was intended to serve): Will the food be kosher? How will you handle funds on the holiday when doing so is prohibited by Jewish law? Etc. Nevertheless, we had the entire program worked out. In the end, we were not funded for the event, and instead all communal Shavuot events were held inside Jewish institutions.

While it is fine to run programs serving a primarily already-engaged Jewish population, we at JOI are still interested in applying the Public Space Judaism model for Shavuot programming by staging a tikkun at a Starbucks or local coffee house. Bookstores with in-house coffee stands work well too. After all, if you are going to be “Up All Night” (the name of our original Shavuot program proposal), what better place than a coffee house and bookstore? Perhaps we can together build this model and then share it with communities around the country—as we did Passover in the Aisles. Please let us know your ideas for building this program and we will add them to our own and then share them across our outreach professionals network.

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