This month we celebrate Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah, or law, by G-d to the Jewish people – think Charlton Heston receiving the ten commandments in Cecil B. DeMille’s Passover classic. Also known as the Feast of Weeks, it occurs 50 days after the second day of Passover.
As one might expect, for many observant Jews, Shavuot is one of the holiest days of the year given that we are celebrating G-d’s covenant with the Jews as His chosen people. In Christianity, Shavuot took on a different meaning in the form of the Pentecost.
Both history and rabbinic custom contribute to the way Shavuot is celebrated, which makes for an unusual and enjoyable holiday – especially for those who like cheesecake. Because the Israelites had to learn how to prepare meat in the new accepted way according to the law, tradition stipulates that meat is not eaten on Shavuot. It became customary to eat and celebrate with dairy products on Shavuot. Though there is no biblical or historical foundation for this notion, this delicious tradition has stuck.
For centuries, it has also been customary to study the Torah through the night. In fact, when I was a Yeshiva student, I learned some incredible Chasidic stories during these overnight sessions. It was an unforgettable experience.
In Israel, many secular Jews celebrate Shavuot by going to museums, art exhibits, etc. Most nonobservant Jews all over the world know little or anything about Shavuot, and it sometimes passes in obscurity on the Jewish calendar. So, I challenge us all to find new and creative ways to celebrate and find meaning in Shavuot and to fall in love with this oft-forgotten holiday all over again. What will you do?
Marty Haberer is the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix.