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Shavuot Memories

Shavuot Memories

by Jordan Helfman
Also posted in Ten Minutes of Torah

A creamy all-nighter with text in front and discarded candy wrappers on the synagogue floor behind. A quiet night at home in conscious rebellion again a mindlessly ritual 'celebration' of farming in our world planted with fiber-optic cables. An evening spent, between yawns, catching threads of a sermon on a Mosaic moment of revelation preached at modern sensibilities happy to shrug this idea off as antique.

How does a thinking Reform Jew connect to Shavuot, a day steeped both in concepts of agriculture - the giving of the first fruits to the Temple - and in a moment of revelation at Sinai divorced from personal belief and exclusive to men?1

My personal connection comes in the form of memories leading up to one Erev Shavuot which tower over those festival nights recalled above:

The memory starts with weeknights making the hard choice between myfriends in Scouts and conversations about Judaism at my localonce-a-week Hebrew High School. It continues with sweaty footracesaround the loop of our temple building, laughs shared in the kitchenmunching on week old oneg and wheeling our classmate Lizzy around onconveyances not necessarily designed for that purpose. It ends with aceremony where I and a few of my good friends stood on the bimah of oursynagogue read original compositions and played music as we confirmedour attachment to Judaism.

I compare this moment to the one when I stood several inches shorter onthat same bimah and was nearly thirteen. I had not yet learned aboutReform Judaism and the social justice commitments it entails or thefriendships it could enrich my life with. And when it came down to thewire, while I could repeat tape-recorded Torah trope with relativeprecision, I couldn't pronounce my second-cousins, the Shlangs's namecorrectly during my reception. The life-cycle event of Confirmation (onewonders why the Shlangs didn't attend mine...) was my first positiveconnection to Shavuot. 

Since, I have also started to connect to Shavuot through agriculture in away that reminds me of why Reform Judaism is so potent and importantfor the world.   On a recent trip to an impoverished Mayan area ofMexico near Cancun through the American Jewish World Service, I learnedthat the Mayans shared this idea of a festival of first fruits.  Theyused to make pilgrimage to the local temple (Chichen Itza), just as ourpeople used to make pilgrimage to our local temple (Jerusalem).  Nowwhen I think of Shavuot, one of my associations will always be to thepowerful experiences I had on this trip seeing how Jewish concern andresources have helped these people to work against the poverty andculture of disempowerment that surrounds them.

But now that I'm back from Mexico and am no more than Facebookacquaintances with my fellow confirmands, how do I connect to Shavuotbesides reminiscing?

Truthfully, like many other Reform Jews before me, I still struggle toconnect.  But when I do make the effort, I do it through that very firstsnippet of a memory I shared with you - a Tikkun Leil Shavuot - a latenight, sometimes all-night, study, (and increasingly) dance, massage andmusic session.  It is something I know I can relive every year.

At the end of a Tikkun Leil Shavuot surrounded by friends and fellowlearners, when I look up from horsing-around at a table full of dairyproducts and candy wrappers, I am confirming a connection to my closefriends on that Shavuot early-morning and am full of hope for moreShavuot memories still to be made.

1. Ex. 19:15

Jordan Helfman is a rising fourth year rabbinical student at HUCinci andis currently serving Temple Beth Israel in Bay City and Saginaw,Michigan. Jordan is a Society for Classical Reform Judaism scholarshiprecipient. Prior to the last two summers  when Jordan served as LimmudDirector at URJ Crane Lake Camp and Asst. Ed. Director at URJ GreeneFamily Camp, Jordan served as the Oved Chinuch of Liberal Judaism'syouth movement LJY-Netzer in the UK. In happy news, Jordan just gotmarried!

Published: 6/06/2011

Categories: Reform Judaism, Shavuot
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