Confessions of a Shavuot Hater - by Benyamin
The following is an essay called "Confessions of a Shavuot Hater" by Benyamin, the same mysterious semi-anonymous contributor who won Kumah a silver metal for Best Humor Post for his "Becoming a Real Israeli" confessional.
Thoughts on Shavuot
by Baruch Ben-Galut
My earliest memories of Shavuot are of my Consecration ceremony. Although I was very young, I was nevertheless aware that Consecration was not cool. No matter how satisfying or memorable your synagogue experience was, you can probably find something disturbing. My large suburban conservative American synagogue had many. Although I appreciate the religious basis I received, there was a healthy dose of synagogue experiences that turned me off to being Jewish as well. One of these was Consecration.
Somehow I knew even back then that this was some kind of a set-up. Some kind of trick to get me to go to Sunday School or Hebrew School or both every week so I could get a quality Jewish education. Not too Jewish, because, heaven forbid, I could end up making aliyah and then I would not grow up to be a dues-paying synagogue member with a doctorate and 2.5 kids.
Consecration involved the graduating class of 1st grade Sunday School marching around the synagogue with little miniature Torah's. The thought alone of standing in front of that many people was traumatic. On top of this terror, I was convinced there was something worse.
The word Consecration did not sit well with me. It sounded way too much like the word circumcision and I was still trying to figure out what that one meant and if it made me any less of a man then my classmates in public school. Further more, the word Consecration sounded suspiciously Christian to me. It definitely didn't sound Hebrew. And I wasn't going to be tricked into being Christian. I heard some of the students in public school talking about some kind of consecration at their church. I didn't know much about being Jewish, but I knew that we Jewish folks didn't go to church and that we had some kind of unspoken obligation to think of church with aversion.
My Jewish consciousness was strong at a young age. That is until I ruined it by abandoning my people by moving to a strange Middle Eastern country on the shores of the Mediterranean where they barely had any conservative or reform synagogues let alone a Sunday School.
Being Jewish to me meant being a Grinch. I was compelled to flip the TV channel whenever a Christmas movie came on. We received presents on Hanukah, not that other holiday. That's what made me special. But the word 'special' doesn't always have positive connotations.
This brings us up to the holiday of Shavuot, the most forgotten holiday of them all and yet perhaps one of the most important. I get presents on Hanukah. I eat apples and honey on Rusha Shonah. On Passover my whole family comes over and I get to eat a big meal. On Yom Kipper, I don't eat anything, that is, if I�m hardcore enough and punk rock enough to go through with fasting an entire day.
Every holiday seems to have something. Shavuot has nothing. Nothing that is, except Consecration. I eventually went through with the ceremony but it was but a precursor to my Bar Mitzvah. I failed in finding a good way out of that as well. I also failed in my elaborately planned protest against the degradation of Hebrew School Graduation. But I tricked them all by moving to Israel and thus sparing my children from the same experiences.
Shavuot. The day we received the Torah. One of the three pilgrimage festivals. This is a big one. Surely there should be some kind of ritual to celebrate it. But there isn't. Maybe that's the point. The concepts expressed on Shavuot should be taken on their own merit without any extras.
Eventually I discovered that there more to being Jewish then the fact that I get presents on a different day then the people on TV do. I also found that my Jewishness does not end at my bar mitzvah in a 13 year old mentality. That doesn't mean that my thoughts at age 13 are not legitimate. They are. But I'm not 13 any more and my Jewishness has to grow along with me. Because you can't be proud of who you are if you're walking around apologizing for what you are.
My synagogue experience didn't make me feel particular proud of my roots, but I discovered something that did. It had something to do about fighting for a cause and protesting against injustice. I learned all about a movement to create an independent nation in the face of great adversity. It went by a name that begins with the letter Z but I also learned that we're not supposed to use that word anymore. In college it had negative connotations.
By the time I got to college I felt strongly enough that I refused to go to school on Shavuot. Instead I went to shul. Finals happened to be on the same day as Shavuot, the second day, that is. I asked the professor if I could take the test a day later. A fellow Jewish student overheard the conversation. "That's right! Shavuot IS next week, isn't it." He too asked the professor if he could take finals a day later. The professor, smiling, refused on the grounds that he knew I would go to synagogue while my classmate just wanted an extra day to study. The student admitted the professor was right. I took the test a day later and passed.
It wasn't always that easy. Once in high school, I got in trouble and had to get a note from the principal's office. The next day was Shavuot. I thought I could get away with not bothering to go to the principal's office at all. But I didn't get away that easy. At home it was insisted upon that I get the note either before or after synagogue.
And thus came the great dilemma. What would the others students say when they saw me waltzing into school with a button-down white shirt and black slacks? Should I wear the clothes I usually wore to school? But then what would the rabbi in synagogue say? Should I leave my kippah on or not? What would the other students say when they saw me in a kippah? Would I get a nasty comment? Did it make any sense for me to walk in school with a button-down white shirt and black slacks and no kippah? Would that be even more awkward?
That day, I cut school, went to shul, then went to school, got the note and then went home. The next day in school the only comments were the fact that I had cut school. In my school, it was just as likely that I was dressed up because I had to appear in court. Most of my friends just assumed that I cut for fun. My Jewishness wasn't questioned in the least. By the next school year I was wearing a kippah every day, both in school and in the street.
Although my non-Jewish acquaintances were understanding, the yom tov dilemma always cropped up. I dreaded holidays because it meant asking off from work and explaining why I couldn't use electricity. But worse then that was trying to explain why the holiday was celebrated two days in America when it seemed to be that technically it was really only one day. Shavuot was the worst, since, as discussed earlier, it is the least known and least celebrated of the holidays. Even Jewish people didn't exactly understand. In Conservative and Reform Judaism, of course Shavuot is only one day.
Two-day yomtovs are great when it means Passover with two seders and all my favorite foods two days in a row. But on a holiday like Shavuot, especially when it comes on a Shabbos, it means up to three days without showering. It was a happy occasion if The Jewish Press arrived before sunset so I could devour the screaming blue headlines that predicted utter catastrophe for Israel at any minute. And I dreamed of that far off country with blue skies and palm trees where I could fight for the struggle and watch TV on the second day of yomtov.
But those concerns are now worlds away. This year, Shavuot will take on a new meaning. We learned in Sunday School that Shavuot was a day when the entire Jewish people made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Then we were taught of the importance of not chewing gum during synagogue services. I doubt any of the students in 1st grade Sunday School believed that Jewish people in modern times actually make pilgrimages to Jerusalem for Shavuot. Growing up, travelling to Shavuot services required either the Volvo or the Honda. Today I can walk to the site of the Holy Temple where Shavuot has been celebrated for generations.
In Israel, I've barely thought for a second what the reaction would be if I wore a kippah in public or how I'm going to explain to my boss why I need off for yet another Jewish holiday. I'm still afraid, however, to use the Z word in certain circles, let alone neo-Z.
Moving to Israel did not magically transform my life for the better. It's a challenge which I've taken up. The new challenges that are far preferable to the once I grew up with. My identity issues have been transformed for the better.