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December 19, 2014 | 27th Kislev 5775

Vol. 12, No. 2 - Shavuot for Teens

The gift of Torah is at the center of the holiday of Shavuot. It is traditional to stay up all night studying Torah. (What a perfect event for teens – staying up all night!)

“The study of Torah encompasses them all.”

These are obligations without measure; their fruit we eat now, their essence remains for us in the life to come:

To honor father and mother; to perform acts of love and kindness; to attend the house of study daily; to welcome the stranger, to visit the sick; to rejoice with bride and groom; to console the bereaved; to pray with sincerity, to make peace when there is strife. But the study of Torah is equal to them all. (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 127a)

How is the study of Torah equal to them all? Perhaps because it will lead us to perform those mitzvot. But Jewish tradition also promotes the study of Torah as a worthy discipline in and of itself. Studying Torah simply for the sake of study is called torah lishmah. Although studying Torah can lead to a righteous life, one should also study for the rewards that have not yet been revealed and are beyond our current comprehension.

Not everything has an immediate and observable reward, and this message is developmentally appropriate for teenagers. Our culture is capitalistic, and therefore work is done with the goal of achieving concrete rewards: study to get good grades to get into the right school and land a good job. The countercultural message of Judaism is to study because it’s a good habit. Where does the study of Torah fit into our lives if it will not increase our material success? When do we study for the sake of learning itself? More importantly what can we do to make Shavuot be at least one day a year when we recognize the importance of learning for its own sake?

The gift of Torah is at the center of the holiday of Shavuot. It is traditional to stay up all night studying Torah. (What a perfect event for teens – staying up all night!)

In the Bible, Shavuot is only described as a harvest festival. In time, the Rabbis linked this holiday to its current significance of marking the day when the Torah was revealed to and received by the Jewish people.

“All the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the blare of the horn and the mountain smoking, and when the people saw it, they fell back and stood at a distance. ‘You speak to us’ they (the Israelites) said to Moses, ‘and we will obey’” (Exodus 20:15-16).

The experience of communal revelation is also appropriate to teens, whose peer group has a greater significance than it will likely at any other time in their lives. When one teen is upset, her whole group is upset with her. Shavuot is often the day when congregations celebrate Confirmation, a group of teens affirming their collective commitment to the Jewish community and to Jewish learning and living. Teens lead the congregation in worship and a reading of the 10 Commandments. This ceremony and this text ask us all to accept communal responsibility, to understand that our actions make a difference beyond ourselves and that our actions define us as a holy community.

Pull an All-Nighter
On Erev Shavuot it is praiseworthy to stay up all night studying Torah (Here Torah can mean anything that is part of the broad canon of Jewish literature; you may choose to stay up all night watching movies with Jewish content!) The object is to prepare for the momentous revelation that will happen the next day, receiving the Torah. Attend a local Tikkun Leil Shavuot. Often local Jewish synagogues or JCCs will host a night of study with excellent teachers, interesting topics, and exciting learning. Although the intent is to stay up all night, attending any part of such a special night is a worthwhile experience.

Torah lishmah

Sit and study some text together, and let it build into meaningful conversation.

1) Choose a text: This can be any Jewish text or contemporary article. Traditionally the Ten Commandments are studied, but you could also study the child’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah portion, the Torah portion of the week, or any article from a popular periodical. The Ten Commandments apprear twice in the Torah; another option is to compare the two versions: Exodus 20-1-14 and Deuteronomy 5:6-18.

2) Read the text while looking for good questions. A “good” question sparks discussion, makes people think, and challenges people to read the text deeper.

3) Discuss possible answers and share opinions. This allows for people to reach a deeper understanding of a text, but it also allows people to open up and learn about one another.

The haftara portion read on Shavuot is the book of Ruth. Ruth serves as the quintessential model of a Jewish convert. In her story, Ruth is ultimately defining who she will be, breaking out on her own, finding a man and a new family and making big choices about her life’s direction. These are the same issues that adolescents struggle with as they venture out on their own, and Ruth was likely a teenager at the time the events in the story take place. Discuss how Ruth’s decisions and struggles mirror those in your family.

Celebrate Teens

Attend your synagogue’s Confirmation ceremony. Many synagogues place Confirmation on Shavuot, because it symbolizes the newest generation of students standing at Sinai, joining the Jewish community and receiving Torah. Teens often share their own writings and reflections on what being Jewish means to them. Find out when your synagogue’s Confirmation service is. Going to this service can be very meaningful and touching for teens who are both younger and older than Confirmation age.

Go Green

It is traditional to decorate with green plants and flowers on Shavuot. Take it one step further and plant or tend a garden. Harvest the vegetables for healthy family meals all summer long.

Dairy foods are traditional for Shavuot.

Blintz Souffle
12 frozen fruit or cheese blintzes

1/4 lb. margarine
4 eggs
1 1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
1 pinch cinnamon

Grease a 9"x13" oven proof pan, using a portion of the margarine or cooking spray. Lay out the frozen blintzes in the pan.

Melt the remaining margarine and allow to cool. Combine all the remaining ingredients, including the melted margarine and beat well. Pour the mixture over blintzes.

Bake uncovered at 350° for about 1 hour.

From Cyber-Kitchen.com

Cheesecake Bars

1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup sugar
8 ounces cream cheese
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cream the butter and brown sugar.

Add the flour, chopped nuts and vanilla to the butter and brown sugar mixture. Set aside one cup of the mixture.

Press the rest into a 9" square pan and bake for 12-15 minutes. Let cool.

Cream the sugar and cream cheese. Add the egg, milk and lemon juice to the sugar and cream cheese mixture. Pour over the cooled crust. Sprinkle the crumbs you had initially set aside over the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Cut into squares and serve when cool. Makes 20 bars

From Judy Grabhorn "Finalist: SierraHome.com Great Holiday Cookie Bakeoff"

Read a basic background on Shavuot from the Union for Reform Judaism, or use these resources to plan your own all-night Tikkun Leil Shauvot.

Get political with these study guidesfrom the Religious Action Center for Shavuot.

MyJewishLearning.com has a range of interesting articles on Shavuot and the Book of Ruth.

Use this study guide for young adults from Hillel on the Book of Ruth.

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