Linnaea Mallette via Public Domain Pictures

Connecting to Shavuot

What makes a holiday special?

Shavuot is a holy day on which we commemorate the anniversary of receiving the Torah from G-d at Har Sinai. Yet, it seems to get lost in my mind and I can barely remember what day it begins. How can I remember holidays such as Hanukkah and Passover, yet overlook one of the most pivotal events in the narrative of the Jewish people? 

I think there are several reasons. First, it is only observed for or two days—depending on one’s religious background and whether you’re in Israel or not; its short duration may not trigger the anticipation levels that I get for Sukkot or Passover. Second, Shavuot occurs in America towards the end of the school year and the beginning of summer, so I, and likely many of my peers, are distracted with final exams and summer plans.  

Also, there is no seemingly outward symbol of the holiday. We specifically associate menorahs with Hanukkah, matzah with Passover and Sukkot with sukkahs, lulavs and etrogs. However, besides the tradition of eating dairy foods (which reminds us that Torah nourishes our bodies the way milk nourishes our bodies), the Torah—a ritual object of prime importance to Jewish life—is still associated with more daily Jewish living. Therefore, it does not evoke the same anticipation as the once-a-year chance to sit outside in a hut or refrain from eating chametz.

This year, the coronavirus pandemic has been the main focus of these past few months for literally the whole world; it is safe to say that everyone has been uprooted from their normal schedule, enough to have difficulty keeping track of the calendar. For me, this has only exacerbated my occasional lapses in thought regarding the holiday. 

But with more time to introspect, I realized that the way to make Shavuot stand out in my mind can come from within. If eating cheesecake and reviewing the commandments is not enough, a significant question emerges: what does make this holiday special to me? How can I connect to the Torah internally, rather than externally? Not only will this bring anticipation for Shavuot, but it will give me a chance to separate myself from the crazy schedule many have adapted to while we try to stay safe.

Laila Friedman is a sophomore at East Brunswick High School.

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