Cultural and religious communities in Israel find different meanings in Shavuot


The holiday is celebrated as the day the Jewish people received the Torah, as marking the wheat harvest, and as the birth of the Christian church.

Shavuot, which will be celebrated Saturday night and Sunday across Israel, is a multi-faceted holiday that holds different meaning for Israelis across the cultural and religious spectrum.

While for some Israelis, Shavuot primarily celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people, for others it is a celebration of the wheat harvest, and some commemorate it as the moment when the Christian church was born – and there are those who use the holiday as an opportunity to raise awareness about food waste.

The holiday is called Shavuot (“weeks” in Hebrew) because it is celebrated after counting seven weeks – a week of weeks – from Passover. Christians call their own feast Pentecost (from the Greek word meaning “fiftieth”) because it is celebrated on the 50th day from Easter Sunday.

Yosef Ote, the community rabbi of the Orthodox Hazvi Yisrael Synagogue in Jerusalem, told The Media Line that in his community, the main element celebrated on Shavuot is the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people.

In a more religious environment, he said, Shavuot is about studying Torah.

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, he added, “in our community, we have done everything we can to uplift and continue to learn Torah and teach Torah.”

Ote recalled that, during the pandemic, “what we’ve been trying to do is kind of deliver the important Torah messages through emails and visits.”

One of the traditions of Shavuot in various Jewish communities is to gather together and learn Torah all night long.

This year, with absolutely no restrictions on gatherings, things have returned to normal and all regular classes that are usually taught throughout the night are returning, Ote says.

He says he believes his community still has a strong desire to learn — to stay up all night and try to wrestle with Torah, learn Torah, and appreciate Torah.

Former Yemeni Jews study Torah in a synagogue in Ottoman Palestine, photographed by Ephraim Moses Lilien, circa 1906-1918. (Creative Commons)

Jordana Baharav, cultural events organizer for Kibbutz Ginosar, an agricultural community in the Jordan Valley in northern Israel, told The Media Line that the holiday is about celebrating the harvest and the land that nurtures the community.

“We celebrate the fruits that the earth gives us,” she said.

Baharav explained how this celebration has been such a central issue throughout history.

Over the years, she said, “the Jewish people have learned to work the land better and better, and today Israel is a pioneer in agriculture. It has startups, innovations.

“It has always been an agricultural feast for the kibbutzim,” she added.

The Kibbutz Ginosar community celebrates Shavuot with a large outdoor dinner, at which everyone wears white and eats dairy products. Kibbutz women dance in their white dresses and the community celebrates the newborns of the past year, “which we also consider our harvest,” she said.

A feast and many speeches and blessings for the kibbutz are part of the traditional holiday celebration in Ginosar.

David Parsons, vice president and senior spokesperson for the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, explained that the holiday holds special significance for Christians.

Pentecost, the Christian name for the holiday, celebrates the birth of the Christian church “when the disciples of Jesus, who were all Jews, were in Jerusalem marking the feast of Shavuot, and the Holy Spirit fell upon them, and the church was born,” Parsons told The Media Line.

He added that the gentile church began to separate from the Jewish people between the 3rd and 4th centuries. Today, he added, “many Christians are returning to their Jewish roots and taking more interest not only in the Christian celebration of Pentecost, but also in the Jewish observance of Shavuot.”

The Christian community in Israel will celebrate the holiday through special music concerts for local believers.

He added that there are usually big events in different parts of the country, bringing together expatriate churches and local Jewish believers in Jesus.

Joseph Gitler is the founder and president of Leket Israel, an Israeli nonprofit that describes itself as the leading food rescue organization.

“Shavuot is the feast of Ruth and Boaz meeting in the fields for the gleaning feast, so it’s so close to our hearts and we’re so lucky to bring back an ancient commandment, a mitzvah for our modern times,” said Gitler. Media line.

“Ruth in the Field of Boaz” (1828) by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld. (Gandalf’s Gallery/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Leket takes care of the harvesting of surplus agricultural products and the collection of leftover ready meals, which are then sorted and distributed to the needy throughout the country.

The organization is extremely concerned about food waste during the holidays, he said.

“While we believe that food is plentiful and plentiful, and we are so thankful that the State of Israel has enough food to feed all of its citizens, that does not give us the right to waste,” he said. -he declares.

His organization will do everything in its power to try to convince people to only buy what they want to eat, only serve what they need to serve, and not overdo it – and s ‘They overdo it, to make sure leftover food is eaten either by their family or by other people they can give it to,’ Gitler said.

For Shavuot this year, Gitler said, “Leket Israel continues to remind people that food waste is not an option. No matter who you are, no matter what you have and how much you have, you have no rights.

Although we believe that food is plentiful and plentiful, and we are so grateful that the State of Israel has enough food to feed all of its citizens, that does not give us the right to waste

“We are all one big community of people, one world, one planet, and we need to take care of each other,” he continued.

Kibbutz Ginosar has no problem with leftover food, according to Baharav.

She explains that it’s because there’s actually no leftover food. “We have around 800 people eating together, so each family brings their food and then brings home the leftovers.”

Parsons said that, for Christians, the essence of the holiday is to feel the presence of God.

“As Christians, we hope to return to that original church that was born in fire on the day of Pentecost, where the unmistakable presence of God was felt by the early believers of Jesus, even with tons of fire protester,” he said.

Pentecost depicted in a parchment Missal, circa 1310-1320, from East Anglia. (National Library of Wales/Creative Commons)

Whether you are Jewish or Christian, he continued, “you want to feel the presence of God at this holiday, that is the most important thing.”

Ote said that, for him, the message Shavuot delivers is about the importance of unity.

To truly accept what the Torah has to offer, he said, “we must be united. It is true that there is so much diversity, so many different opinions within our Israeli society; but I think at the end of the day, even though there are many differences that you can see just by watching the news and the Knesset, at the end of the day we have a common goal.

Shavuot for people who live on the kibbutz, Baharav said, “is really a celebration of the land. We are happy for all that we are given, and we understand that it is important to respect our environment and the earth that nourishes us, so we must continue to respect it so that it gives us food again.

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