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Celebrating Shavu'ot in Israel - Blog #7

Of the three festival holydays Shavu’ot is strikingly different. It is a 1-day holiday in Israel, whereas Pesach and Succot last for a week. (Outside of Israel each is an additional day.) Pesach requires extensive preparations in part due to the elaborate seder and the restrictions on chametz. Succot has two notable mitzvot -- we sit in a succah for seven days and “take” and shake the lulav and etrog. Shavu’ot is observed with Torah study.

During the middle ages, kabbalists initiated an all-night study, called tikkun leil Shavu’ot. Two interpretations emerged about our receiving the Torah at Sinai. One was that our ancestors were up all night; the other was that they slept. Tikkun, which means repair, is our response -- repairing our behavior for sleeping.

The tikkun at Micah’s shul in Modi'in -- all in Hebrew -- began at 10:30 PM and continued until about 5:30 AM, followed by shacharit. Cheesecakes, snacks and drinks sat before us. By dawn, Micah and I were too tired for the early shacharit. We returned to his apartment, slept for a few hours, and attended the 8:30 service instead.

I was honored to be invited by the rabbi to teach one of the all-night sessions -- in Hebrew. It was to be my first all-in-Hebrew class and my goal was to teach on many levels, since that is the nature of the composition, even in Israeli synagogues. All of the 20 or so attendees were dedicated observant Jews but some had yeshivah backgrounds, some did not, and others less so. My slot was 1:15 - 2:00 AM (and I actually kept to my allotted time).

Ezra, Shiri and their three children had come in from Haifa, and with Micah, Alyssa, their two children and their dog, their apartment was crowded – but it was a blessing to be with them. For our dairy Shavu’ot meal, Shiri made salmon, Micah baked zitis-- one with tomato sauce and another with pesto -- and Alyssa made two types of pizza and baked cheesecake and other desserts. Bagels with tuna and leftovers were the next day’s lunch, with meat/chicken for Shabbat.

I wanted to sleep in my own (rented) apartment and bed, so Ezra volunteered to walk with me after Shabbat dinner, pushing Ma’oz Chayyim (5 ½ months) in his carriage for the half-hour late-night stroll. We walked back the next morning for 8:30 shacharit.

One of the great thrills of the tikkun was learning from the other speakers -- nearly all excellent. After one class I offered the leader a compliment and a comment -- a potential disagreement. The young man, Moti, 42 and an attorney (who has five children in the same order as I have -- boy, boy, boy, boy, and girl), invited me to study with him, and on Shabbat afternoon I walked to his place. We enjoyed some personal get-to-know you conversations and an amazing study session. I expected to learn for about an hour but it went for two, and we still had not finished the section in question when his Shabbat afternoon guests began to arrive. I also met his wife and her grandmother, who came to Israel from Russia as a young girl in the 1930’s. She is probably close to 100, and still doing pretty well.

It was a memorable Shavu’ot in Israel.


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