(By Lorne Opler)It’s the Rodney Dangerfield of Jewish Festivals. Like the crusty comedian himself, Shavuot gets "no respect" here in North America. It doesn''t have the awe and gravitas of Rosh Hashana, or share the popularity of the Passover seder, the most widely observed Jewish ritual on this continent. It doesn''t have a wow factor like Sukkot, where synagogues, neighbors and communal organizations often vie for the most beautiful decorated Sukkah. Obsequious politicians don''t take out notices in Jewish papers extending holiday greetings to their Jewish constituents. Nobody sends Shavuot cards to friends or family members. And the Long Island Rail Road does not add extra cars to its trains on the eve of the holiday.
Indeed, if Shavuot were a film, the opening sequence would look like this:
SCENE: Bedroom. Husband and wife sleeping.
WIFE (awakens suddenly, shakes husband): Honey, I just realized Shavuot is tomorrow!
HUSBAND: That''s nice dear, now go back to sleep.
Some Jews, I posit, may not have even heard of the holiday. Such is Shavuot - afterthought in America. And that''s too bad, because it''s such a great holiday. Unlike Yom Kippur, we aren’t complaining all day of hunger. Unlike Passover, we can eat poppy seed bagels to our heart’s content. And unlike Chanukah, we are not busting our bank accounts on big ticket gift items, which have nothing inherently to do with the holiday.
In fact, I suggest that Shavuot is the model Jewish holiday. It’s short (only two days in the Diaspora), the weather is ideal, it’s focus on dairy foods makes it veggie friendly, and if you’re up all night studying, you get to sleep late the next day, as long as you want. So what’s not to celebrate?
But more importantly, if there was no Shavuot, we wouldn’t be here today. Shavuot commemorates the momentous occasion when our ancestors received the Torah at Mt. Sinai. Prior to the event, the Jews were a people, the chosen people at that, but we had no idea what we were being chosen for. At Mt. Sinai, we found out. The Torah bestowed upon the Jewish nation a faith unlike that of any other people. If it wasn’t for Shavuot, we might just be a rag tag bunch of highly educated nerds.
You’d think the importance of receiving the Torah would be enough reason to raise the profile of Shavuot among North American Jews. But it’s not. And therein lay the challenge. What does it take to transform Shavuot into the rock star of Jewish holidays?
In market driven North America, home to a consumerist culture and a “what’s in it for me?” attitude, it means mass marketing, rebranding and heavy discounting.
So, here are my suggestions to swell the ranks of Jews who are yet to observe this beautiful but overlooked celebration.
1. Present a bonafide Torah scroll at any Mt. Sinai hospital, and receive half price admission on any surgical procedure*, and two complementary blintzes in the hospital cafeteria. Kids get to stay and eat for free
*excludes cosmetic surgeries
2. Offer tax breaks to anyone who can prove: Attendance at synagogue (minimum 2 hours stay, includes free parking)
3. Two days paid vacation for every American woman named Naomi or Ruth.
4. Complete your conversion to Judaism before Erev Shavuot and receive a free welcome kit including:
a. “I Love Shavuot” mouse pad, water bottle, and recycled tote bag
b. One year supply of kosher salt
And these are just for starters. Consider neighbourhood projects like a Granola Eating Contest to commemorate the holiday’s focus on Israel’s first grain harvest of the season. Or start your own Granola Queen Beauty pageant. The possibilities are endless.
Finally, let’s hope that with more and more American Jews enticed to celebrate Shavuot, the festival will eventually catch the attention of corporate sponsors, and watch the big bucks begin to roll into our community. Imagine next year, walking into synagogue on this occasion, a huge banner draped over its entrance declaring, “Wheaties Whole Grain Shavuot – the High Fiber Holiday of Champions.”
I’ll eat to that. Chag Sameyach.