It may surprise you to learn that, across the metro Atlanta area, nearly a thousand Jews came together over Zoom for an evening of Torah study to mark our observance of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.
Shavuot is the holiday that often gets forgotten, because it generally falls at the beginning of summer (as the comedian Jackie Mason once quipped, the Jewish holidays are always early or late, but never “on time”). Nonetheless, its importance is on par with its better known counterpart — Passover.
Traditionally, Jews count 50 days from the evening of the second night of Passover, marking the period when we first left Egypt until our arrival at Mount Sinai. The last day of the counting, the holiday of Shavuot, commemorates our receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai.
In addition to spending the prior evening learning Torah, there are several customs associated with its observance. Most commonly practiced is the tradition of eating dairy foods (cheesecake and blintzes are staples). The reason usually given for this practice is because we symbolically re-enact the receiving of the Torah on Shavuot; we pretend as though we had not yet received the kosher laws. “To be on the safe side,” we eat only dairy. We also hold religious services where we recite a special celebratory service full of selections from the Book of Psalms, known as “Hallel.”
Although, in America, Shavuot is sometimes “the forgotten holiday,” in Israel, the holiday of Shavuot is seeing a resurgence. This is largely due to the North African Jewish community, which has brought rituals from their home countries to Israel, regarding the use of water during this season. Throughout our sacred literature, the Jewish people and our relationship to Torah is compared with fish living in water. Without the spiritual nourishment that comes from our connection to Torah, it is hard for us to breathe.
To celebrate this relationship, Shavuot now sometimes is called Chag HaMayim, “the water holiday,” in Israel. In 2017, Dubnov Park in Tel Aviv brought in a giant slip-and-slide, and held a bubble workshop. At home, Israeli children also now celebrate Shavuot with water guns and water balloons.
I am thinking we may have found a way to reinvigorate this otherwise forgotten holiday in America. Next year, I am thinking it’s time to place a giant slip-and-slide across my synagogue.
– Rabbi Dan Dorsch serves Congregation Etz Chaim in Marietta.