Celebrating Shavuot in Israel
Tonight we celebrate Shavuot, the Jewish holiday that lactose-intolerant people fear the most!
Let's review how this cheesy holiday is celebrated here in Israel.
So what is Shavuot exactly?
Shavuot (the Festival of Weeks), is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Israelites, thousands of years ago, as we are told in the Torah. Jews all over the world celebrate this holiday by learning Torah all night, filling their homes with flowers, and most importantly - eating dairy foods.
But what makes the Shavuot celebrations in Israel so unique?
1. It Coincides With the Agricultural Calendar of Israel
Shavuot is known as the festival of weeks because it comes at the end of the seven-week period between Passover and Shavuot. Like many Jewish holidays, Shavuot revolves around the agricultural calendar of Israel, and this countdown takes us from the festival of no bread (Passover) to the agricultural pinnacle of the Jewish calendar: the wheat harvest. That’s why Shavuot is nicknamed Hag Hakazir (Festival of the Harvest).
2. Cheese. Cheese. & more Cheese. (Do you like cheese?)
It’s a long story, but you should just know that there’s no better time of year to indulge in a good cheesecake in Israel. And it’s a great time to take your family to visit vegetable farms, fruit orchards, and dairy farms all over the country.
A country totally in love with dairy, Israeli cows produce about 12,000 kilograms of milk per cow, each year! Israel boasts more than 1,000 locally made dairy products and the world's largest selection of spreadable white cheeses. To celebrate Israel's dairy industry for Shavuot, the Israel Dairy Board helps arrange visiting days to some of Israel’s 834 dairy farms for visitors to learn how milk is produced.
There are some great cheesemakers in Israel!
3. Shavuot Kibbutz Festivals
One of the most Israeli characteristics you can find is the Shavuot celebrations on kibbutzim here in Israel. Because of the holiday's connection to the harvest season, and the offerings of the fruit and vegetables, Shavuot became the year's highlight on kibbutzim all over the country.
To this day, every kibbutz has its own ceremony on this day, where everyone wears white, all the tractors and vehicles are lined up, and the best produce of the year is showcased in all its glory. The main show is when all the babies that were born that year are lined up, so all of the members and guests can celebrate the kibbutz's growth.
4. Be a part of the tradition
Tradition is strong here in Israel. In ancient times, in the Land of Israel, offerings of the peoples’ first fruits and vegetables were brought to the Temple. Instead, today farmers from all over the country take turns bringing their produce to the President of Israel. It is a big highlight of the Israeli farming community.
5. Join in on the water fights
Yes, it’s hot in Israel, but that’s not the reason for this water fight. That's right, the Torah is often likened to water so, in many Israeli cities, impromptu water-gun and water-balloon wars take over the streets and parks. So if you leave your house during the holiday, don't be surprised if your clothes get a little wet.
6. Stay up ALL NIGHT.
It’s customary for Jews to stay up all night learning the Torah on Shavuot, in a tradition called Tikkun Leil Shavuot. In Israel, you can find entire communities staying up all night to learn together in their synagogues, community centers, and schools. The tradition to study all night has its roots in Tzfat and is practiced worldwide by Jewish communities.
In Tzfat, the streets are full the night of Shavuot with people moving from lecture to lecture throughout the night. In Jerusalem, you can hardly walk between all the people out celebrating and learning. Many people in Jerusalem keep another tradition, where they finish learning towards the morning and make their way by foot to the Kotel, where they arrive in time for the Shavuot morning prayer.