Shavuot is one of those pilgrimage festivals that has a little something for everyone. There’s cheesecake and blintzes for the foodies; white duds for those seeking a sartorial slant to the celebration of the giving of the Torah; water fights for the kids (claimed to be a custom from North Africa, where Jews equated Torah with water); flower wreaths and baskets full of harvest bounty for the nature lovers and, of course, plenty of Torah study and learning for those seeking some edification.
Wherever you are in this land, it’s easy enough to find a Shavuot activity, whether prior to, or during the one-day holiday. Take your pick from the list of events; there’s learning and feasting, movement and prayer, and, of course, barbecues to be had, in a range of locations throughout the land.
1) It’s said the Israelites overslept on the morning they were supposed to receive the Torah, and we’ve been compensating ever since with all-night sessions on Shavuot. Every synagogue and community center has their Tikkun Leil Shavuot, and the pluralistic community in Tel Aviv is joining together this year for Bikurei Laila or Night Visits, a play on bikurim, the Hebrew word for harvest and bikur, the visit or stops made in a long night of learning. Kehillat HaLev, Alma, Secular Yeshiva Bina, Neve Shechter of the Conservative Movement and the Reform Movement’s Beit Daniel are just a few of the Tel Aviv organizations joining together for classes, plays, tours, art, lectures and workshops on Tuesday night, May 14. (For US residents looking for a taste of pluralistic learning, BINA educator Muki Tsur will be in the Bay Area this weekend, May 9-12.)
2) The First Station, Jerusalem’s newly revamped historic railway station that aims to be an integral part of the city’s cultural life is celebrating its official opening on the eve of Shavuot, May 14, with a full list of events throughout the day. Decorated with haystacks for the harvest holiday, there will be Shavuot-themed characters marching around the station, and a noontime Israeli folk dance performance and group dancing. As part of the regular fairs that will be taking place, the crafts fair, fashion designers’ stalls and farmer’s market will be open for business, as will bistro Adom, boutique restaurant Hamiznon, Re:Bar, The Kids’ Saloon for workshops and the Smart Tour visitor center for walking, Segway and electric bicycle tours.
3) Shavuot is cheese time; it seems only fair that the land of milk and honey celebrate its dairy products at some point in the calendar year. There are many ways to spotlight dairy: try making some endive chowder, if the weather stays as pleasant as it’s been, or tsatsiki, yogurt-and-cucumber soup, if it gets hot again. I’m also thinking about lemon bars and Julia Child’s clafoutis recipe, a classic summer fruit cake that is so much better with milk rather than soy milk, subbing in the traditional cherries for another yet-to-be-determined fruit in season right now.
If you’re thinking about a cheese platter, Basher Resto Cheese Bar from Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda is auctioning them off, or you can purchase one — prices range from NIS 85 to NIS 350. Finally, if you are thinking about a holiday barbecue, but in the Shavuot dairy tradition, consider this side dish: Grilled slices of Halloumi cheese, which doesn’t melt away when heated. Brush them with olive oil, place on a medium-hot grill, and cook two minutes per side, or until golden brown. Drizzle with lemon juice, and garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.
4) Get outta town and do something funky for Shavuot, focusing on nature and harvest, the other side of this pilgrimage holiday. One option is to settle in with the Vertigo troupe dancers at their Eco-Art Village in the heart of the Ela Valley, in Kibbutz Netiv Halamed Hey. The dance troupe created an alternative center for itself several years ago at the kibbutz, and it hosts a Shavuot event each year, with workshops, all-night learning, sessions in movement, song and meditation, starting Tuesday (it runs May 14-15). Guests are invited to set up tents or sleep on mattresses in one of the open spaces made available, all meals are vegetarian. Call 02-990-0235 for more information.
If you’re looking for something that requires less of a commitment, consider the mostly-free walks and workshops being offered by Keren Kayemet. Go see ripe wheat fields on Friday, May 17, 10 a.m. (driving from Haruvit Forest to Park Britannia); view the seven species up close and personal at Park Ayalon Canada on Wednesday and Thursday, May 15 and 16, 10 a.m.; or tour and then cook in the forests of Tzippori on Friday and Saturday, May 17 and 18, at 10 a.m. (The last tour is NIS 15 per person, NIS 60 per family.) To register and for more information, call 1-800-350-550.
5) Get into that harvest mood and plant some of your own crops. (Which you’ll be able to harvest soon enough, but not in time for Shavuot.) This pre-summer weather is the perfect season for planting all kinds of summer vegetables, including tomatoes, cucumbers, hot or sweet peppers, eggplant, squash; the list goes on. All you need is a plot or box of soil, even a small container or flower box will do. Fill with fresh soil and some fertilizer — both available at local garden stores — and then poke the seeds or seedlings into holes spaced evenly along the soil. The plants need to be watered daily, and soon enough you’ll be biting into a crunchy cucumber or juicy tomato. It’s the Shavuot celebration that keeps on giving.