I’ve had opportunity to mention the various Jewish learning initiatives that take place in Israel year-round. Today I’d like to talk about an even more amazing phenomenon: the transformation of Shavuot into “National Jewish learning day”.
Anyone who has lived here in the past ten years or so can attest to what can only be called a revolution. The old religious minhag of studying all Shavuot night in preparation for kabalat hatorah has turned into a gigantic festival of Jewish learning, lectures and symposia all over the country. Everyone – Charedim, Orthodox, traditional and secular – are joining in the fun, whether in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or Sderot. The learning comes in all flavors, from divrei Torah at shuls, to lectures by the Conservative and Reform movements, to secular cultural gatherings that discuss Jewish sources from even more diverse points of view.
Speaking as someone for whom Shavuot was, for many years, the “cheesecake” holiday that’s just another Yom Tov, I stand amazed at this development. It is a testament to the desire on the part of many, many Jews to strengthen and deepen their Jewish identity and cultural attachments. It is, if you will, a different kind of kiruv, ofkiruv levavot (bringing people together); what Evanston Jew would call chizuk. At a time when the Charedi-secular kulturkampf drums are being beaten once again, it’s nice to look at Shavuot in Israel and see what a little learning can do to bring Jews together.
So, for those of you who read my blog, both in Eretz Hakodesh and in the Diaspora, I wish you all a Chag Shavuot Sameach and a Happy National Learning Day. Let’s learn ’till we drop!