The most fun I ever had on Shavuot was in 1986. My wife, 20-month old daughter and I spent the holiday that year visiting friends on Kibbutz Ga’aton in northern Israel. It was not a particularly religious place. Actually, the kibbutzniks prided themselves on having rejected the traditional Jewish practices closely associated with Jewish life back in Eastern Europe, the home of many of their parents and grandparents. But they did spend considerable energy inventing new rituals aligned with the way they were living their lives. They were deeply connected to the values at the heart of our Jewish holidays.

On Shavuot, the holiday of the late spring harvest, our tradition recognizes and celebrates the historical and spiritual significance of Matan Torah, the Giving of the Torah at Mt Sinai. But on the kibbutz the values of gratitude and acknowledging the blessings of the harvest were paramount and expressed profoundly through a connection to family, community and the Land of Israel. The whole community gathered for a huge parade. No floats and marching bands, just tractors pulling bushels of produce, cages filled with chickens and turkeys, products produced in the small kibbutz factory, artwork from the kibbutz artists and lastly all the babies: gorgeous  Israeli babies born during the past year. That was joy! The kids were the Shavuot stars!

Standing in the lobby of the JCC I just relived that Shavuot moment. All the Room L kids from our Bernice B. Godine JCC Early Learning Center were seated on cute little chairs. They had just presented a check for $450 that they had raised themselves to Andrea from the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. As each of their names was called they marched forward to receive a handshake and a beautiful certificate. The coterie of photographers (mostly proud parents) resembled a presidential press conference. A crowd of seniors gathered to witness this moment of learning and living the Jewish value of Tzedakah—doing justly by helping others.

The kids of Room L are this year’s Shavuot stars—four year old Mitzvah heroes. Their teachers Yana Balanov and Leslie Diamond are creating rituals rooted deeply in Jewish values that speak to the kinds of lives we are trying to live and bequeath to our children.

I love Shavuot. The kids are still pure joy.

Chag Samayach—Happy Shavuot,

Mark Sokoll
Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston                     

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