Shavuot is one of those holidays that Israel does so well. Fine, you’re right, they are all pretty great here… but Shavuot is definitely a highlight. Clever dairy product ads start popping up, everyone is getting their finest whites ready, and Israeli florists are gearing up to make sure homes are adorned in our country’s most beautiful, natural decor.
In North America, we were always used to Shavuot being an “observant” holiday. If you weren’t part of an observant community, you likely didn’t do much for the holiday (as one of my colleagues described, in her small Hebrew School it was like, “Oh ya, and by the way we got the Torah”). But here in Israel, as with many parts of our Jewish identity, holidays are part of the national dialogue – regardless of our style of observance. As soon as Yom Ha’atzmaut starts winding down, everyone starts looking forward to the next cause for celebration (and vacation) coming down the pike.
There are many traditions here related to Shavuot that don’t get translated to Jewish communities around the world; it is one of those hidden gems that you unexpectedly discover when you live here.
Israel is known globally for the quality of our milk products – think Israeli breakfast with fresh salad, eggs and a selection of the most gorgeous cheeses. Gad, one of the more well-known dairy companies, becomes the king of advertising in the weeks leading up to the holiday known for its cheesy goodness. While the entire country gets their dairy recipes ready for this Chag, Gad Dairy makes their company synonymous with the upcoming holiday of Shavuot. Driving down the highway and seeing a cheesy delicious billboard that Gad created to make you crave this holiday makes me wonder how anyone can let Shavuot pass by without the trademark cheesecake (sorry lactose intolerant folk).
In North America, as November rolls around, the cultural atmosphere floods newsfeeds and marketing campaigns with feelings of Thanksgiving, autumn-themed spreads, and sweater-weather vibes. You are bombarded with images of good-looking people in a pumpkin field, pumpkin spice lattes, cinnamon, and turkey recipes. Israel has a similar atmosphere with Shavuot. Women across Israel get ready for the Chag with white dresses (flowy, cotton, hair blowing in the breeze, Israeli style). Newspapers and lifestyle sections fill up with “Guide to Getting your White Dress for Shavuot,” best prices, and this year’s styles. Just like Americans search for the perfect cozy sweater for Thanksgiving, we seek comfortable and beautiful white flowy dresses and head outside to soak up the sun.
Unlike America where “Holiday Season” and the intense family time is once a year, we just had a week of family time, nonstop food and activities seven weeks ago. Yet, here we go again; another long holiday weekend to head out, come hungry, and make memories with our loved ones. There is something about this culture that encourages (read: forces) you to work things out with your family and friends, so much so that you find all these constant excuses for more time around the table, heading out for an activity and adventure, and coming home at the end exhausted and happy with the memories and laughs you shared. Holidays like these make us truly appreciate our lives in Israel.
While for many this is a holiday of staying home, learning Torah, and spending time with your family, we found a few other ways to celebrate Shavuot around here. From a Shavuot fair this Friday morning at the Michzurit in Be’er Sheva with local vendors selling crafts, goods, and live music, to a tour of a cheese farm in honor of the dairy holiday at Meshek Shmueli, there is so much more going on, no matter what area you live in. There is also an Israeli tradition of celebrating “Chag Hamayim,” where Israelis celebrate the Shavuot holiday splashing one another with water and heading out on water hikes. This tradition can be traced to Morocco and Tripoli, where they believed that pouring water on people on Shavuot would protect them in the upcoming year. Water also represents Torah, and Shavuot is the anniversary of our receiving the Torah. Alternatively, there are plenty of learning programs going on all over the country. Whether you are looking for an intellectual lecture, a history-based program, or a more overtly spiritual experience, there is something for you.
Chag Shavuot Sameach from all of us!