by Miriam Szubin, Washington DCJCC Parenting Center Coordinator
Shavuot begins at sundown on May 26. How do I get my kids excited about it in advance?
Shavuot, the next major Jewish holiday after Passover (and considered of equal importance in Jewish tradition to its more famous predecessor), often seems like an afterthought. An informal poll of the students in the Introduction to Judaism class that I teach at the J revealed that, while all of them had heard of Passover prior to taking the class, none of the non-Jewish students and only a very small fraction of the Jewish students had even heard of Shavuot, let along ever celebrated it in any sort of way.
And from a parenting perspective, Shavuot can be quite a tough sell. Passover provides all sorts of fun and meaningful ways to involve children, but Shavuot lacks the intense preparatory requirements, the striking shift in eating habits, the ritual banquet, and the dramatic narrative. Four weeks after Passover and with just over three weeks to go before Shavuot, my kids are still obsessed with the Ten Plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. But I have yet to engage them in the stories associated with Shavuot, either the actual receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai (they like the thunder and lightning part but don’t really connect to the rest of it yet) or the story of Ruth and Naomi traditionally read in synagogue on Shavuot. Furthermore, the main observance associated with Shavuot, the all-night study session known as a tikkun, happens after their bedtime. And they love blintzes and cheesecake, but no one seems to know exactly why those foods are associated with Shavuot, so it’s not as meaningful an inroad to discussion as say, horseradish or haroset.
But since feeding my kids seems to be the most effective way to accomplish anything in my house, I decided this year to try to build excitement about Shavuot through the seven types of non-dairy foods traditionally (and more explicably) associated with the holiday. The Torah describes the Land of Israel as “a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey (Deut. 8:8)” and these seven species were the harvest fruits historically brought to the Temple as sacrifices on Shavuot. With one quick post-work trip to Whole Foods, I was able to set up a little Shavuot Seven Species tasting menu on a random weeknight (added bonus: I didn’t have to cook anything for dinner that night!). The kids loved the bread rolls, grapes, figs, olives, and honey sticks; they were iffier on the pomegranate seeds and mushroom barley salad but were good sports about trying them.
More importantly, they loved the novelty of the evening and seemed to more or less understand the connection to Shavuot. And they are now looking forward somewhat more eagerly to the actual holiday, when I’ve promised them a reprise of the tasting menu (plus cheesecake!).
For more ideas about observing Shavuot with your kids, check out these resources from My Jewish Learning: