A study session was part of the all-night
Alma Tikkun in New York City in 2004
The event drew 1,700 people.
Shavuot Gets Hipper
Younger generation gives holiday study sessions new meaning.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
havuot, which begins June 12,
may be one of Judaism's three
major festivals, but it's never
caught on in America like its more
popular cousins, Passover and Sukkot.
Orthodox Jews have kept the tradi-
tion of tikkun leil Shavuot, the all-
night study session that marks the
commemoration of God's giving of
the Torah at Mt. Sinai.
Many Conservative congregations
also have Shavuot study sessions. But
for most unaffiliated and many non-
Orthodox Jews, the tradition of study
associated with the holiday has gone
That appears to be changing.
During the past few years, there's
been a resurgence of interest in tikkun
leil Shavuot. Of all the holidays in the
Jewish calendar it's this one, with its
focus on intellectual exploration and
spiritual self-examination, that is being
seized upon by a new generation.
Rabbi Daniel Freelander, vice presi-
dent of the Union for Reform Judaism
(URJ), says the upsurge of interest in
tikkun leil Shavuot is a "six- to eight-
year phenomenon" in the Reform move-
ment, with 200 to 300 Reform congre-
gations now holding such sessions.
"Our goal is to reclaim Shavuot for
adult study," he says.
Locally, it is gradually becoming a
part of Reform congregations, with a
few of them holding tikkun leil
Shavuot programming this year.
At Temple Beth Emeth in Ann
Arbor, an adult study session held at
the synagogue has ushered in the holi-
day for the past several years.
"In the past, we have conducted
study in several different areas," said
Devon Fitzig, director of congregation-
al services and coordinator of adult
education programs at Beth Emeth.
"Last year, [Beth Emeth] Rabbi
[Robert] Levy and I took a look at the
Book of Ruth. A lot of times we use
study resources supplied by the URJ."
This year, Rabbi Levy will lead a study
of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers).
But beyond the synagogue walls,
something even more interesting is
taking place: Large-scale alternative
Shavuot night happenings are being
held in clubs and JCCs on both coasts,
where participants prepare themselves
for the morning's revelation with sun-
set-to-dawn smorgasbords of text
study, lectures, music, film, discussion
groups, folk dancing, performance art
and, of course, cheesecake.
It seems, Shavuot's becoming hip.
Last year, close to 300 people
showed up at the 'Whispers Club in
San Francisco for "Dawn," a Shavuot
event billed as an "all-night multime-
dia arts experience."
In New York, more than 1,500
came to 'Alma Tikkun," an all-night
study and cultural extravaganza held
simultaneously at the Manhattan JCC
and 92nd Street Y.
These two Shavuot celebrations,
both being held again this year, share
an exuberant, culture-centered
approach to what has traditionally
been an intimate, text-centered ritual,
while seeking to maintain the holiday's
focus on exploring the connection
between Jewish identity and Torah.
The program schedules read like
street festivals, with multiple events
taking place simultaneously.
“"My generation likes to stay up all
night and watch the sun rise, and we
want progressive ideas, we want to learn
about the environment and what's going
on politically," says David Katznelson of
San Francisco, musician and record pro-
ducer and a self-described agnostic.
Dawn was his brainchild.
Somewhere in between the syna-
gogue classes and the hundreds-strong
musical festivities is a first-time pro-
gram at Temple Shir Shalom in West
While nighttime Shavuot study ses-
sions have been held on the holiday for
the past 3-4 years, this year the four-
hour adult and children's program will
be held in the home of one of the syn-
With a different topic each year, this
year's focus will be on either Psalms or
Pirkei Avot, something to be decided
by the two program
"It is part of our
that people should
learn and they
should do it in a
said. 'And there is
nothing more tradi-
tional than tikkun.
So why all this
interest in Shavuot?
the founder of
Alma College in
Tel Aviv and the
spiritual force behind the Alma
Tikkun in New York, which she
brought over from Israel three years
ago, says Shavuot is also compelling to
her generation because "it wasn't
Most Israelis, she says, only know
the holiday as Chag Habikurim, or
festival of the first fruits. 'As young
secular Israelis, it wasn't relevant for us
in the agricultural sense anymore, but
we saw it could be relevant to us as
the People of the Book." El
JN Staff Writer Shelli Liebman
Do7finan contributed to this report.
Many area congregations will
hold tikkun leil Shavuot pro-
gramming. Most will also con-
duct Yizkor services during the
holiday. Contact individual syna-
gogues for days and times.