Shavuot is a holiday celebrated in Israel that commemorates when the Israelites received the Torah during their desert wandering almost 3400 years ago. The word Shavuot means ‘Festival of Weeks’ but it is also known as First Harvest Festival, Day of the First Fruits, Z’man Matan Torah and the Season of Giving of the Torah. It is celebrated 50 days after the day of Passover and some believe it is one holiday with Passover. Here we will see all of the ways Shavuot is celebrated in Israel.
All Things Dairy
The world’s largest selection of dairy products is highlighted during the Shavuot with soft, spreadable, locally made cheeses and dairy products from over 1,000 farmers. It’s the only time when dairy is on the menu for Jewish holidays because of its reference to ‘the land of milk and honey’, which is Israel. When Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai receiving the Torah it included the commandment to keep kosher but instead of creating kosher slaughtering techniques it was easier to celebrate the receiving of law with the preparation and distribution of dairy products. Ironically enough, the word ‘milk’ or ‘chalav’ also carries the same numerical value of the amount of days Moses spent on Mount Sinai, which was 40.
The First Fruits
Since Shavuot is a holiday where farming communities all over Israel get to show off their hard work, it’s no wonder that this time is taken to show off samples of fruits and vegetables to the President of Jerusalem. The annual pilgrimage to the presidential residence is a highlight for farmers and their communities. Traditionally, in ancient times, Shavuot was the day to bring offerings to the Holy Temple from the first fruits of the harvest and the first animals born to flocks. This tradition has carried over in modern practices with wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates being the symbolic seven species that the land of Israel is blessed with. Agricultural festivals are also known to take place during this time.
Late Nights And Water Fights
If you were to visit Israel during the time of Shavuot you would witness the many water guns, water balloons and water buckets being used in friendly wars upon the streets, parks and public squares. Children all over can be spotted joining in on this fun activity as Shavuot is celebrated. The Torah is often likened to water which is where this celebratory tradition most likely comes from. Others may even engage in water activities like walks along waterways and hiking Israel’s rivers.
Staying up all night is another popular tradition during Shavuot that is not just for the youth. In biblical times, the Israelites were known for oversleeping in the morning when they were supposed to receive the Torah. Therefore, staying up all night is a way to give honor where some believe the Israelites did not. The nightly engagements are known as Tikkun Leil Savuot or Repair of Shavuot Night where many denominations come to visit synagogues, community centers, theaters and schools; all dressed in white as a symbol of purity. This modern day tradition has become so popular that nightly lectures are presented from all walks of life on the night of Shavuot.
Let’s Not Forget About The Food
If you live in Israel then you are privy to all the recipe booklets and pamphlets that one receives before Shavuot actually arrives. Weeks before Shavuot takes place, newspapers begin to be flooded with recipes that make even the most ‘challenged’ cook feel confident in the kitchen. Recipes for the quickest and easiest cheesecake or best blintzes in town are promised to knock anyone’s socks off! Even social media platforms are flooded with posts sharing star quality recipes for dairy pastries and foods of all sorts.
Whether it’s water wars on the streets, eating your favorite dairy pastry or sampling all the many cheeses that stores have to offer, Shavuot is active in festivities and traditional roots that give patronage to ancient times. Israel is a land that loves to celebrate and seeing how Shavuot is celebrated in Israel is just one example of their rich Jewish culture and nature as a people.