Beyond Shavuot


One of the heartening trends in American Jewish life in recent years is the rediscovery by many of the power and beauty of Shavuot, the commemoration of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, which we marked this week.

Long considered the forgotten festival, lacking Passover’s seder and Sukkot’s sukkah, Shavuot has undergone a welcome renaissance in some quarters, most evident by the increasing numbers of diverse and creative Shavuot night programs in synagogues, JCCs and other venues here and around the country. The Orthodox community has for centuries observed the custom of staying up all night on the first night of the holiday to study Torah. Others have now come to appreciate the impact and symbolism of devoting a night to the tradition, and widened its parameters beyond individual study, chavruta (or partner) study and lectures to include broader Jewish topics as well as music, art and dance.

The JCC in Manhattan, through its full and diverse Shavuot night program sponsored in memory of Paul Feig, has attracted thousands of New Yorkers in recent years, many of whom never before celebrated Shavuot in such a meaningful way. The atmosphere in the building throughout the night is one of high energy, enthusiasm and inspiration.

Perhaps those who enjoyed the experience there or in other venues this week will come to realize that their involvement in Jewish study, however defined, need not be limited to once or twice a year. New Yorkers are especially fortunate to have so many study and experiential programs to choose from throughout the year.

One of the most meaningful and timely lessons of Shavuot is that the Torah was given to all of us. Indeed, according to tradition, every Jew — past, present and future — stood at Sinai to receive Judaism’s most precious gift. Let’s not wait until next Shavuot to make use of it.