What motivates 200 people to participate in a tikkun layl Shavuot—an all-night program of study that marks the holiday of Shavuot and is intended to replicate the period of waiting undertaken by the ancient Israelites in anticipation of the giving of the Torah?
That was the question I asked myself while speaking about my work to the crowd at Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis, Minnesota where my son Avi is one of the rabbis. The presentation emerged from my book Twelve Jewish Steps to Recovery, which was reissued about a year or so ago after eight printings by Jewish Lights Publishing. And I think that the answer to the question was quite simple. The subject of healing addressed the specific needs of the people in attendance. It was not projected onto the audience by the program planners or presenters. Rather, the topic was chosen by identifying the needs of the potential target population.
Some people were there because they would have attended the event irrespective of the topic. It didn’t matter that it was a Saturday night. It didn’t matter that it was also Memorial Day weekend. Other people were clearly there for specific sessions and speakers. But I think that the pervasive issue was that people didn’t come for Shavuot. They came for the topic and, as a result, ended up sharing in the celebration of the holiday. Will they be more likely to attend the event next year because they benefited from their attendance this year? I believe so—provided that those who attended are nurtured in the meantime. We’ll have to wait until next year to be sure.
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