This year my older son became interested in counting the omer—the ritual of counting the days between the second night of Passover and Shavuot. He’s 6 and a half—no, he’s 6 and 3/4—and he loves numbers. So counting each night has been a fun addition to our bedtime routine. I love that he’s reading the Hebrew words, saying the blessing, and doing some interesting calculations all in the name of Judaism.
It’s become so ingrained in our bedtime routine that I’m worried he may want to do it forever. In fact, I recently realized he might not remember that we only count for seven weeks. And then we’re done! And what is this holiday of Shavuot that we’ve been counting toward anyway?
While Shavuot is one of the three main Jewish festivals, it doesn’t have as much fun (or as much preparation) as the other two: Sukkot when we build a sukkah and eat outside for a week, and Passover when we clean our homes, change dishes, and eat different foods for a week. So how might we get our little ones excited about celebrating Shavuot?
As Shavuot is the holiday in which we receive the 10 commandments, here are 10 ways to make the holiday of Shavuot more meaningful (and fun!) for your family:
1. Dance with the Torah. While it’s not Simchat Torah, the holiday when we actually dance with the Torah, on Shavuot we celebrate when God gave us the Torah. So find a Torah (it could even be a stuffed toy Torah!) and have a dance party. It’s always fun to dance and sing and experience the joy of Judaism.
2. Read the story of Ruth. On Shavuot we read Megilat Ruth, the story of the young Moabite woman who clings to her mother-in-law Naomi and chooses to follow her and her lifestyle. Whether it’s a children’s book or a women’s commentary, spend some time celebrating Judaism’s ultimate Jew-by-choice.
3. Talk about choosing Judaism. Ruth is not the only Jew-by-choice; we all are, whether we converted or were born Jewish. What does it mean to actively choose Judaism? How do we make choices in our observance? This could be a very engaging conversation to have with your family.
4. Cultivate your garden. Shavuot is also an agricultural holiday so it’s a perfect time to plant some vegetables or flowers. You may also want to decorate your home with plants.
5. First fruits. On Shavuot we brought our offerings of first fruits to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. Some synagogues invite children to carry baskets of (pretend) fruit to reenact this. You may also want to try a new fruit for the season with your family—remember to say Shehecheyanu when you do!
6. Remember loved ones. On Shavuot, just like on the last days of Passover and Sukkot, we remember those who have died through the Yizkor service. Take a few moments—either with your synagogue community or at home—to remember parents, siblings, spouses, children, friends, and any other relatives who are no longer here. Pledge to give tzedakah (charity), on their behalf. And then tell your children a story about the person you are remembering so that their memory lives on.
7. Explore the 10 commandments. You can print a list of the commandments and cut them up—one slip of paper for each one—and then play a game of putting them in order. Perhaps the order isn’t the actual order, but one that makes sense to you. Discuss what each commandment means and how you might enact (or not, depending on the commandment) each one in your life.
8. Celebrate the big reveal. Shavuot is our holiday marking the revelation of the Torah. So make it a time for revelations: It could be the perfect time to share news of a new pregnancy or an upcoming trip, or just a fun reason to play a family version of “truth or dare.” Share and create relationships, just like God did (and does!) when giving us the Torah.
9. Stay up all night. Shavuot begins with a Tikkun Leyl Shavuot—an all-night study session when Jews learn about the Torah and other aspects of Judaism. Imagine what it was like to receive the Torah while in the desert: We were unsure of how to live and wanted to study God’s rules immediately upon receiving them. You can almost feel the urgency. Study Jewish laws, read a Jewish book, or have an all-night Jewish movie marathon. When dawn approaches, rest comfortably knowing you have joined Jews throughout the world in an exciting tradition.
10. Eat blintzes and ice cream. Need I say more? Because we didn’t know how or what to eat right after receiving the Torah, we ate only dairy so as not to break any of the laws of keeping kosher. On Shavuot even today, Jews eat dairy foods such as cheese blintzes and ice cream in order to remember that experience. Yum!
Shavuot is often ignored, since it usually falls between the end of school and the beginning of summer, and because of its lack of ritual. But I hope you will have a meaningful, innovative, and engaging Shavuot, and that you will experience a sense of renewed connection to Judaism through some of these 10 ideas.