The month of May was pretty productive. Adam and I were very focused on work, which was why it felt like the holiday of Shavuot snuck up on us even though we were dedicated to counting Omer, which means that every night, we literally counted the days from Passover to Shavuot. Despite the fact that we felt a little disorganized prior to the holiday, we did have an amazing experience here in Jerusalem.
Shavuot is a holiday celebrating the giving of the Torah. The main traditions associated with this holiday are eating dairy meals and studying Torah all night long. Given that there are so many synagogues and so many places of learning here in Jerusalem, there were hundreds of discussions going on throughout the night. There were actually so many that it was overwhelming! Based on the topics being discussed and where people we knew were going, we came up with a basic plan for the evening. While I was very proud last year to have made it all night, I did not have that same expectation this year. Adam, however, has always been good about staying up and this year wasn’t going to be any different.
We started our evening at our friend’s house for a nice quiet dinner. Because there needs to be a complete 50 days between Passover and Shavuot, we couldn’t begin our meal until nightfall, so we didn’t sit down to eat until around 8:30 or so. The first talk that we planned to attend was set to start at 11 pm so we didn’t feel too much in a rush. We had a very relaxing meal, just chatting about different things. Amazingly, time slipped by very quickly and before we knew it, it was 10:55 and we were just finishing dessert. We quickly finished up, cleared the table, and went back to our apartment to drop off some of the leftover food. Adam grabbed some books and then we made our way to our first talk, which was at Pardes. Pardes is a learning program that a large number of our friends have attended (and loved!). I had originally thought about attending the program there, but didn’t feel ready to commit to it when we first arrived because it turns out to be a full “work” week. In the beginning, I was definitely more interested in something part time, and while Pardes does have classes that meet once a week, I never got a chance to pursue them since my time became filled with babysitting, teaching, and volunteering.
We arrived at Pardes about 45 minutes late and embarrassingly had to walk into the class while in progress. The room was packed but amazingly, upon entering the room, we immediately saw friends of ours. There were no seats here, however, so we moved to the other side of the room where we found other friends. We heard about the last third of the lecture, which was interesting. After it was over, we walked to the synagogue where we go. They were also having lectures all night, and one of the Fulbright professors was giving his in English at 1:30 am. Also, Adam promised to help make sure there was enough food available for people learning from 1-2 am so we had to be there. We got to the synagogue at around 12:45 am. New lectures were just beginning but we weren’t interested in what was being discussed so we went to a room designated for group learning. This room was pretty full with people in small groups. We found an empty table and settled in. Adam and Gil (the friend we ate dinner with) studied Rambam together while I read a book by Rav Solevetchik. It was a really nice atmosphere to be surrounded by people who just wanted to learn Torah. The time until the lecture passed very quickly.
The next and final lecture we went to was given by Professor Michael Satlow, who we have come to know a bit from the Fulbright program. The discussion was about the language that Torah readings should be done in given that not everyone listening always understands Hebrew. I really found the topic interesting, but unfortunately it was too late for me, and I dozed off a bit during the discussion. Adam and Gil said it was well done, and the parts I heard were good. Adam had been going in and out of the lecture to check on the food situation, and at the end of the lecture, his job was done so he and Gil walked me home. We had a little snack, and then I got ready for bed. By the time I fell asleep it was probably about 3:30 am. Adam and Gil stayed in our apartment and learned more Rambam together until the light in our living room went off. Then they walked back to Gil’s place to continue their studies. At 4:40 am, they walked to the Kotel (Western Wall) for early services.
According to Adam, the Kotel was packed with people. Adam said that there were groups of people praying together all over the plaza rather than just up near the wall itself, which is more typical for a normal day. He and Gil joined a group that were praying according to Syrian traditions. They stayed with this group until they reached the Torah service, since the group didn’t have a Torah. They moved a little bit, easily found a group that had one, and joined in. Adam said it was amazing to be celebrating the holiday with so many people in one place and it was cool to hear so many different styles of prayer in one spot.
Adam got home about the time that I woke up to go to synagogue. He went to sleep, and I went to pray. I was very tired during the service because I had gone to bed so late, which made me realize that it is better either to stay up all night or go to bed at a relatively normal time (12:30 or so) rather than trying to do something in between. After synagogue, I came home to find Adam still sleeping. Being tired myself, I went back to bed for a few hours, and when we both woke up, we had a nice, leisurely lunch together. We spent the rest of the afternoon talking, playing board games (it was either Settlers of Catan or Pandemic, I can’t remember!), and to be honest, we took a nap. The day was very relaxing and rejuvenating; it was what we needed after working so hard the few weeks prior to the holiday and for staying up so late. It was amazing how quickly the holiday went by.
Reflecting on our Shavuot experience, it really was amazing to see so many people dedicated to learning and trying to stay up all night. I’m not sure how the holiday is in other parts of the country, but so many places throughout Jerusalem were supporting these efforts. While we love the holidays here because everyone celebrates together, this is the first holiday were the small nature of things back home is equally appealing. Back in West Hartford, a decent size group would start the evening learning together, but by 1 or 2 am, the numbers would dwindle to maybe ten or twelve. These dedicated learners would push through the night; helping each other stay awake. It was a real bonding experience, and it was very special to be amongst the few who made it to the sunrise prayer service. While it is amazing to celebrate with the masses, it is also nice to have a more intimate experience on Shavuot.
Until next time…