A revelation they’ll beg for year after year.
The holiday of Shavuot tends to lack many of the kid-friendly themes that are part of the richness of other holidays.
Here are a number of ways that we can connect our children and students to this special holiday.
Camp Out or Camp-In: Leil Shavuot
On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone forth from the land of Egypt, on that very day, they entered the wilderness of Sinai. Having journeyed from Rephidim, they entered the wilderness of Sinai and encamped in the wilderness. Israel encamped there in front of the mountain, and Moses went up to God. (Exodus 19:1-3)
Re-enact the Israelites camping at the foot of Sinai with your own camp out, weather permitting. Too cold or rainy? Pitch a tent indoors or building one with chairs and blankets. Invite friends for a sleepover, or sleep there with the whole family! Stay up late telling stories — from the giving of the Torah, to the book of Ruth, to memories of camping. Wake up to the sound of a shofar or other horn blasts.
Bikkurim: Grain & Fruit
Shavuot marks the end of the grain season and the beginning of the fruit season. It follows seven weeks of harvesting barley (or, in modern times, counting the omer).
The following five activities are connected to grain and fruit.
Shewbreads: A Celebration of Wheat
“You shall take choice flour and bake of it twelve loaves, two-tenths of a measure for each loaf. Place them on the pure table before the Lord in two rows, six to a row… He shall arrange them before the Lord regularly every sabbath day — it is a commitment for all time on the part of the Israelites… They shall belong to Aaron and his sons, who shall eat them in the sacred precinct; for they are his as most holy things from the Lord’s offerings by fire, a due for all time.” (Leviticus 24:5-9)
Preparing “holy” bread in honor of the Sabbath is a great mitzvah. In honor of the wheat season and the Shavuot holiday , why not bake your own challah? If you have time, purchase some whole-wheat berries and grind them yourself, so you can see what the inside looks like. The shell is called the bran and the brown spec in the center is the germ. White flour is made by separating out the bran and the germ until you are left with only “choice flour.” Make extras for neighbors, friends or your freezer.
Silky Snuggly Challah
This activity is a great alternative for those who are allergic to wheat, for schools without a cooking facility, or for anyone who has ever wanted their own silky snuggly challah to love.
Materials (per pair of challot):
3 pairs of beige pantyhose
Fiberfill stuffing (polyester or cotton is fine)
Needle and thread (beige if you have it)
Cut off the waist section of the pantyhose so that you have six “legs.” Gather together the “toes” of three pairs each and sew together. You should now have what look like two very limp unbraided challot. Next, stuff each of the “legs” full of stuffing, filling them about 3/4 of the way. Tie a loose knot in the end of each leg. Now, braid each of your challot and sew up the other end. Next, give your challot a big hug!
Bible Cake: Educational and Delicious
The ingredients for this cake are hidden in Bible verses. Study first, then bake, and eat.
A. 1/2 cup Judges 5:25
B. 2 cups Jeremiah 6:20
C. 2 tablespoons I Samuel 14:25
D. 6 Jeremiah 17:11
E. 1 1/2 cups I Kings 5:2
F. 2 teaspoons Amos 4:5
G. 4 teaspoons II Chronicles 9:9
H. a pinch of Leviticus 2:13
I. 1/2 cup Judges 4:19
J. 2 cups (chopped) Nahum 3:12
K. 2 cups I Samuel 30:12
L. 2 cups (chopped) Numbers 13:23
1. Cream together A, B, C and the yolks of D.
2. Sift together E, F, G, and H.
3. Combine the above together with I.
4. Add J, L, and K.
5. Add in stiffly beaten whites of D.
6. Bake in a well-greased rectangular (13” X 9”) pan at 325 degrees for an hour or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Local Flowers & Fruits
And he carved all the walls of the house round about with carved figures of
cherubim and palm-trees and open flowers, within and without. (1 Kings 6:29)
On Shavuot there is a custom to decorate the insides of our synagogues
and homes with beautiful flowers. Shavuot is also a wonderful opportunity to enjoy some time in nature.
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat
down under a broom-tree. (1 Kings 19:14)
Go on a nature walk in a park or area of conservation land, or find a place that sells flowers or fruits grown locally. See how many different colors you can find, and how many of the seven species are available to pick or buy (Deuteronomy 8:8 enumerates these: “A land of wheat and barley and vines and fig and pomegranates a land of olive oil and [date] honey”).
The desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom
abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. (Isaiah 35:1-2)
Collect wildflowers and other colorful flowers and fruit to make a centerpiece for your holiday meal, or take pictures of fruits and flowers and create a special Shavuot collage. You may wish to write (in English or Hebrew) one of the biblical quotations above on a large piece of paper, and then decorate the border with wildflowers, leaves, or juice from deep colored berries.
Fruit Ripening Contest
Many of us are not able to watch fruit ripen on a tree during this or any other time of the year. In honor of Shavuot gather a few friends, classmates, or family members and plan your own fruit-ripening contest!
Pick or buy at least a dozen kinds of unripened fruit, such as pears, tomatoes, or bananas. Feel free to choose other local fruit according to what is available.
Put two of each kind in the following places:
In a bowl with ripe fruit
On a sunny windowsill
In the refrigerator
In a brown bag by itself
In a brown bag with an apple
A place of your choosing
First each person chooses which piece of fruit he or she thinks will ripen most quickly. Write this list down.
Check your ripening fruit every day for a week (or more). Which one ripened the quickest? Why do you think this happened?
Once you’ve declared the winner, consecrate the winning piece of fruit. Slice it up into fun shapes like a Star of David, or bake it into a fancy dish for your holiday.
What Does Quiet Sound Like?
Rabbi Abahu said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: When God gave the Torah, no bird chirped, no fowl flew, no ox made a sound, angels did not fly, Seraphim did not say “Kadosh,” the sea did not stir, no creature spoke. The world was utterly silent — and a voice was heard: “I am the Lord your God.” (Midrash Shemot Rabbah, 29)
Gather a small group — it can be a class, your family, or simply a group of friends. Read the above midrash once through. Assign each person or small groups of people one of the “noises” — birds chirping, fowl flying, etc. Then, reread the midrash having everyone in the group add sound effects. Repeat this until everyone is making his or her noise as loud as possible. Finally, count to three, and enjoy a full minute of silence. How does that sound?
Ruth and Deeds of Kindness
“This scroll [of Ruth] tells nothing either of cleanliness or of uncleanliness, neither of prohibition or permission. For what purpose then was it written? To teach how great is the reward of those who do deeds of kindness.” (Midrash Ruth Rabbah 2.13)
Even when tragedy struck, Ruth stuck by her mother-in-law Naomi. Naomi and Boaz also showed great kindness in this story.
For the weeks around Shavuot, nominate people in your class or among your family for “Ruth Awards.” Or, each time someone does something nice, put a handful of barley into a jar. When the jar is full, cook the barley into a delicious meal and celebrate together.
Happy Birthday, King David!
Host a birthday party in honor of King David, a direct descendant of Ruth. According to the legend in Masekhet Hagiga 12a, King David was born and died on Shavuot. Read your favorite sections of the King David story, sing psalms ascribed to him in the book of Psalms, or watch a movie that tells his story.
Sarah Chandler is the Director of Jewish Family Learning & Life at West End Synagogue, A Reconstructionist Congregation in Manhattan. She has her M.A. in Jewish Education and Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary. She is also a senior editor of Jewschool.com and Director of Programming for Zeek: A Jewish Journal of Thought and Culture.