Shavuot Resources for Families and Educators
Rabbi Cara Weinstein Rosenthal, PJ Library Coordinator, USCJ
Shavuot is perhaps the least well-known of the the three Jewish holidays that were once observed as pilgrimage festivals (the other two are Pesach and Sukkot). Shavuot commemorates the time of the barley harvest in Israel and the receiving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. Shavuot takes place seven weeks after the second day of Passover, and it’s a tradition to eagerly count the Omer – the period of time between these two festivals – and to mark the time between the anniversary of our freedom from slavery and the anniversary of the giving of the Torah. On Shavuot, our ancestors would show their gratitude to God by bringing an offering of the first fruits of their harvest. Today, this holiday is a wonderful opportunity to teach kids about the Torah and to celebrate spring, nature, and being outdoors. Coming at the end of the Omer period, Shavuot is also a great time to reflect on the themes of journey, movement and growth. The ancient Israelites journeyed from Egypt to Mount Sinai, learning from each other and from God. Children – and parents – are on their own journeys as well, and as the plants and flowers grow in the spring, Shavuot inspires us to take stock of how far we have come and where we are headed.
Celebrating Shavuot 101
Some key Shavuot traditions are:
- Tikkun Leil Shavuot – an all-night Torah study session
- Reading the Biblical Book of Ruth (her story takes place during the harvest season)
- Eating dairy dishes (the Torah is compared to “milk and honey”)
- Decorating the synagogue or home with greenery and flowers
Resources and Program Ideas
Here are a few Shavuot resources and activities for families with young children:
Up All Night
- One Shavuot tradition is the Tikkun Leil Shavuot – an all-night Torah study session. Enjoy the spirit of this tradition without staying up all night (unless you want to!) by having a Shavuot pajama party at home. Spread blankets and pillows on the living-room floor, wear your favorite PJs, and share stories and games. Reading stories with a Jewish theme is a great way to incorporate the idea of Torah study in a kid-friendly way. Finish up with a make-your-own sundae bar for a Shavuot treat!
Eat It...Just Eat It! Edible Torah Treats for Shavuot
- Make an edible Torah: use pretzel rods for the atzei chayim (poles) and a fruit roll-up for the parchment. “Glue” Hershey’s kisses onto the top and bottom of each pretzel rod with frosting. Roll up the “Torah” and tie it with a licorice string!
- Celebrate the site of the giving of the Torah by making an edible Mount Sinai!
Milk and Honey: Dairy Dishes for Shavuot
- Don’t have an ice cream maker (or don’t feel like schlepping it down from the top shelf of the cabinet)? Kveller has a recipe for homemade ice cream using just a Ziploc bag.
- Kveller also has some more cool ideas for fun, kid-friendly dairy treats. What’s better than blintzes? Blintzes on a stick, obviously!
- Want to try some “real” baking and make a cheesecake? Jewish cooking guru Joan Nathan has an easy recipe for you.
- Why do we eat dairy on Shavuot, anyway (besides the fact that it’s delicious)? My Jewish Learning offers some traditional explanations for this Shavuot custom.
- Want to try a non-food-related project? Modern Jewish Mom offers this simple plan for creating a beautiful Mount-Sinai-themed piece of artwork.
Shavuot Values for Kids
- This beautiful article explains how the story of Ruth teaches the values of tzedakah (charity), loyalty, and kindness, and offers some suggestions about how to share the story with young children.
- Have kids come up with their own “Ten Commandments,” or work together to make a set of “commandments” for your home or classroom (“Treat each other nicely,” “Always share your toys,” etc.) Decorate your list and display it in a prominent place.
- Talk about what the world would be like if there were no rules, and explain why rules are important. The book No Rules for Michael by Sylvia Rouss (a PJ Library selection) can be used to illustrate this concept.
PJ Library Books for Shavuot
- And, of course, what better way to tap into Shavuot traditions and values than to share a good book? These PJ Library selections are a fun and meaningful way to introduce kids to some of the key themes and customs of Shavuot.
Looking for more Shavuot ideas – or have some to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chag Shavuot Sameach – Have a Happy Holiday!