“Excuse me, is this 'Jews and UFOs?'"
An account of the greatest Jewish night of my life, the JCC’s Tikkun Leil Shavuot.
Imagine something that makes you happy that you love to get lost in or spend hours talking about. Now imagine getting to stay up all night with your friends, engaging in workshops about that topic with free cheesecake. For me, this was Shavuot at the JCC. Their Tikkun Leil awakened my Jewish soul, I wanted to share what I learned and some things I pondered.
Thank you to everyone who came out to The Shabbat Drop’s first drop-in on Sunday! I used to host Jewish events in DC, so it felt awesome gathering strangers and friends on such a lovely day with intention. I can’t promise there will always be free cheese at these, so I hope you will attend future events.
Which brings us to…
Whiskey Tasting with Jews and Booze: I associate Israel with wine and arak, so tasting whiskey made in Israel was new to me! But this guy’s liquid gold was more than triple the proof I’m used to, so I quickly moved on.
A Study on the Book of Ruth: Went to a small group discussion on what I thought I already knew. But that’s the beauty of Torah study – there’s always something new to learn! I picked up some similarities between this story and the stories of Genesis, like the parallels between Naomi and Sarah. Naomi was an older woman who nursed Ruth’s baby and Sarah bore Isaac in her 90s. There’s also the similar theme of leaving a familiar land for a strange one, like how Ruth and Abraham bravely left their homes to dwell amongst strangers. And lest we forget hospitality towards the stranger.
“Excuse me, is this the talk on Jews and UFOs in contemporary culture?”
“No, this is the live orchestra from the music of Succession. Would you like some wine?”
A Q&A with Actors from Leopoldstadt: After an unsuccessful attempt at joining a full session on Jews and UFOs, I ended up at a session about Leopoldstadt (I’m a Succession fan but there were too many goodies going on) and I was glad I did, for it was the most compelling session of the whole night for me personally.
After the session ended, I joined some women in conversation about antisemitism getting worse in modern society. One of them said, “I can’t believe some people saw the play and didn’t pick up on that,” to which the other replied, “Well not all of us grew up going to day school surrounded by pictures of Herzl.” It’s exchanges like this in a bathroom line at midnight that make my heart soar, even if the conversation is grim. Talking Judaism and culture and Torah! And this is only the beginning, my friends.
Identity Beyond Israel: After a cheesecake and coffee break, I headed to a talk that explored what young Jews are craving today. The panelists focused on community, but then the conversation turned too anti-Zionist for me. I should have realized this from the title! I looked up one of the panelist’s magazines and was shocked when the first article on their homepage was about how the Iron Dome isn’t really about safety. I’m all about exploring other viewpoints, but this seemed a touch too radical for me and I wasn’t getting much out of the talk anyway.
Rooftop Silent Disco: Time to shake off the anti-Zionist blues with some Lizzo and Taylor Swift buzzing in my eardrums! I was surprised to find some of my MJE pals at such a secular gathering and we danced the morning away on a clear, quiet night.
Israeli Folk Dancing: I kept the party going with some gymnasium dancing. The foot stomps, short claps, and sudden directional changes kept me awake and energized.
Live Klezmer: Such a musical hour! I needed a break from dancing and stepped into a small room with a live Klezmer band that told stories from old shtetl culture. By the end, we moved chairs to the side and dancing the hora. I felt so incredibly lucky to be dancing and laughing with strangers at 2am.
Coffee break to look at an Israeli photography exhibit celebrating Israel’s diversity. One of the photos featured our very own Beejhy Barhany who I interviewed last fall!
Cemetery Measuring Women: I went to an intriguing talk on the practices of Ashkenazi women in cemeteries. There’s research that shows women (called feldmesterins) in the 18th-20th centuries used to walk the perimeter of cemeteries, using thread to measure the perimeter and then making candles out of that thread in an attempt to contact the dead. I must write a Shabbat Drop on this topic!
Just kidding, the morning’s not quite over yet! I was going to go home until some pals roped me into joining them for morning services. So there I was, at 5:00am on a shul rooftop, cold and falling asleep, but still somehow connecting to the Ten Commandments before me. While I was happy to have ended my Tikkun Leil spiritually – after all, this is what the holiday is all about – I couldn’t help but think, “What’s the point of trying to connect to the Torah if you’re miserable and dead tired?”
My brother and I often talk about what our own form of Judaism would look like. My Judaism would look like my Shavuot: dancing, drinking, lessons on the Greatest Hits (Zionism, Torah, history, music, pop culture) given to an inter-generational audience, sandwiched between meditation and prayer. But minimal prayer. Or at least prayer before 5am. Either way, I can’t wait to do it all again next year.
What’s something you learned on Shavuot or just in general recently? Hit us with those fun facts in the comments! Could be Jewish or about anything else.
I just learned that all the other islands of Hawaii could fit into the Big Island and that the Big Island is the size of Connecticut.