By Faustine Goldberg-Sigal, International Director of Jewish Education and Shaina Abrams-Kornblum, Eastern Community Manager

Raise your hand if you’ve lost track of how many “I hope you’re doing well in these weird times” text messages you have sent and received lately. In these “weird times”, why does Judaism matter? On Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where does Torah fit when people are worried about their health, income, and rent? How do we make space for Shavuot under such pressure?

This year, Shavuot begins at sundown on Thursday, May 28th and lasts until sundown on Saturday, May 30th. With it, Shavuot brings familiarity in our lives and opportunities for our communities to draw meaning and grounding from the Torah and the beautiful rituals of Shavuot (cheesecake anyone?!). Here are some program suggestions, with step-by-step guides, to explore Shavuot through mind, body, and soul. Let’s see how the current situation can change our perspective on this holiday forever – and how celebrating could change your perspective on these “weird times”. 

Mind: Join The Global Shavuot Festival and Shavuot Night Live

You’re invited to the first-ever Moishe House Global Shavuot Festival! Think virtual, interactive, casual Ted Talks-style and programs spread over 25 hours, across continents. Spearheaded by Moishe House community builders, log into the Festival Zoom at any time! You’ll be able to meet someone new, learn, discuss, listen, and dance! 

The celebration of Shavuot is about the Jewish people receiving the Torah. Because of that, a great way to celebrate Shavuot is to study Torah and engage with Jewish learning. This year, a group of Moishe House Community Builders are spearheading a Global Shavuot Festival during which residents from all over the world will be participating in over 25 hours of continuous Jewish programming around the world. This is a unique opportunity to use virtual connections to learn together Torah through multiple perspectives, passions, and countries. You can explore all of the information for sessions on the Facebook event as well as information on how to register.

On Sunday May 31st fom 2-3PM EDT Moishe House staff will be hosting Shavuot Night Live, an interactive, playful exploration into the themes and teachings of Shavuot, including but not limited to gameshows, live comedy sketches, cooking challenges, and so much more. Join Moishe House and The Bible Players for a cheesy celebration of this holiday unlike anything you’ve seen before!

Body: Shavuot through the Senses

Shavuot has a rich tradition of including dairy in its celebration, with many explanations as to why including celebrating Israel as the land of milk and honey. It can feel silly to celebrate the Jewish people being given the Torah with dairy products, but it does give us a really fun and unique way to celebrate. Here’s a program idea for a discussion about Jewish food traditions while making ice cream over Zoom.

Many of us did it at summer camp 10 years ago, but when was the last time you made your own ice cream? Let’s take the classic activity and turn it into a virtual program! 

Before everyone logs on, share the ingredients and supplies list so that you can make the ice cream together. 

Follow this dairy recipe or for our vegan or lactose intolerant community members you can try this dairy-free recipe. This program involves an easy assembly of the ingredients together as a group and then the collective shaking of the bags, as required by the recipe. Shaking the bags and creating ice cream can be stress relieving and you can use the time for a quick discussion about Jewish holidays and food traditions. Here are some question ideas:

  1. What is your favorite Jewish holiday food?
  2. What is something special that your family makes for the holidays?
  3. What is your favorite family memory connected to food?
  4. How do food traditions change? 
  5. Have you modified any family recipes to meet your dietary restrictions? 
  6. How can you pass on traditions while innovating? (ex. charoset ice cream)
  7. What is the significance of food in the Jewish tradition both culturally and ritualistically?

After the event, ask your community members to share their ice cream pictures in the Facebook event or Whatsapp group. This is a great way to build content for your social media pages. Some community members may even get creative and add their favorite topping. Using the photos on social media will also showcase the event to any community members who have not joined you yet. This is a great way to draw in new attendees. 

Soul: TED Talks with Jewish Grandparents

In its core meaning, Tikkun Olam is about repairing the world through working on your soul. You can bring Shavuot closer to your soul this year by getting some of your community’s grandparents together and hosting a TED talk style event. The coronavirus has increased the isolation that our elderly community has experienced. Use Shavuot to connect with other generations and their stories through this program guide! 

We are taught that it is not only the Israelites at Sinai who received the Torah but rather all of us and that we continue to receive the Torah continually during our entire lives. One of the ways we receive it is through our parents and grandparents. Through family stories, songs, and recipes, we learn about Jewish history and values.

For this program, start with a brainstorming session to see if you or your roommates might know of any amazing grandparents who would want to share a story about their favorite Jewish tradition. Create a Facebook post to see if any of your community members have a grandparent or elder in their lives that would be able to speak or record themselves speaking about their favorite Jewish tradition. The beauty of Judaism is that there is no one way to celebrate a holiday, so we see many different family traditions emerge. Use these questions as a prompt for your speakers:

  • What is your favorite Jewish tradition?
  • Why is that Jewish tradition special to you?
  • Did your family have a special way of celebrating Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah, Passover etc.?
  • Is there a recipe, song, or story that was passed on to you that reflects your Jewish values?

If you would like to have the grandparents speak on Zoom live, you should put together a schedule of 1-3 presenters and let each speaker know that they’ll have 5-10 minutes to speak and then an opportunity for people to ask questions. If a grandparent would not be able to attend the Zoom, have them record their story and send it in so that you can watch it together during the program by sharing your screen (be sure to check the box that says “share my sound” as well!). To spread the word and get your community excited about your event, get a short summary of each of the presenters that can be shared before the event begins.

Make sure to have someone assigned to keep time during the program to keep community members engaged. This program will give you plenty of opportunities to get the warm fuzzies and sending a handwritten thank you note to your presenters would make it extra special!

During the festival of Shavuot, we can use the mind, body, and soul as partners in what makes up our lives. There’s a popular medieval saying that the Torah has seventy faces. Seventy is a rabbinic symbol of infinity – or at least multitude: Jews relate to the Torah with the idea that is multifaceted, with many narratives and many lessons. Shavuot is not only a representation of the physical harvest that our ancestors took part in but also a spiritual harvest. We hope this resource helps to make your Shavuot programming unique.