Jewish Philly Celebrates Shavuot Online

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Lisa Litman
Lisa Litman reads aloud during jkidphilly’s virtual Shavuot story time. (Courtesy of jkidphilly)

Jewish organizations are helping Philadelphians celebrate a socially distant Shavuot with virtual events and study sessions.

Center City Kehillah, which usually hosts an all-night interdenominational Shavuot celebration, is creating a modified version using Zoom.

“We wanted to do something different and innovative and virtual and celebratory,” Center City Kehillah Director Miriam Steinberg-Egeth said.

The event’s organizing committee is not trying to replace or re-create the experience of having more than 300 people in one room for 12 hours. Instead, they are trying to offer an opportunity for connection during the holiday.

“The things that are important about the in-person gathering, besides the volume and diversity of people, is people feeling connected to something bigger than themselves, being able to learn something new, feeling the closeness of what Center City Jewish life is like,” she said.

There will be a Zoom service on May 28 before candles are lit so those who do not use technology during holidays can participate.

There will also be a series of online classes in honor of the custom of staying up all night to learn Torah. Rather than hosting a single all-night study session, classes will be offered in the evenings on May 26-28.

Teachers will provide source sheets to aid in further study, and participants can be matched with small groups of learning partners, or chavruta.

Additionally, Center City Kehillah will deliver free cheesecake, a traditional Shavuot dessert, and collect donations on its website to cover the cost.

“It’s a symbol and it’s a tangible thing people can actually enjoy when so much is virtual,”  Steinberg-Egeth said. “Food really is a way to show love, and I want people to feel loved by their community.”

Kehillah of Old York Road is also offering free cheesecake and dairy pound cake deliveries.

“A day after the offer went online, 50 people had signed up,” Kehillah of Old York Road Director Kim Decker said.

KOYR will feature rabbis and scholars over Zoom speaking on various topics, including coronavirus and Jewish rituals involving the body in the days leading to Shavuot.

Decker said her community’s connectedness made the transition to virtual celebrations easier.

“I’m proud that my community naturally comes together and we have for a long time, so this has not been a difficult transition. We’re all connected in some way, and I look at that as something positive” she said.

“I also think many people are looking for purpose and meaning in their lives right now. Maybe celebrating Jewish holidays can be helpful with that,” she added.

Adults can socialize and study virtually over Zoom, but what about kids?

Lisa Litman, director of the Jewish learning website jkidphilly.org, had suggestions for engaging them in Shavuot celebrations at home.

“Shavuot celebrates the first fruits of the summer harvests, so a taste tests of different kinds of breads or fruits could be fun,” she said.

Other activities that go with the harvest theme are planting gardens and decorating the house with flowers or paper cutouts.

The jkidphilly website lists kid-friendly recipes for festive dairy foods, including no-bake cheesecake, blintzes and ice cream in a bag.

“You could do a whole ice cream taste test for different flavors or have a sundae bar with all different toppings,” Litman said.

Other Shavuot customs, such as making pilgrimages to Jerusalem or staying up all night learning, can be honored with a walk around the block and a pajama party. Kids and parents can visit the jkidphilly Facebook page for Shavuot-themed story time and sing-alongs.

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