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Reclaiming the Holidays for Adults

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First, you are a kid, and you experience the Jewish holidays on that level: costumes and graggers on Purim, The Four Questions and afikomen gifts at the Passover Seder, and dreidels and latkes (and more gifts) at Chanukah.

Then you go to high school, and want nothing to do with anything child-related. Then you go to college, and major in cynicism with a minor in irony… and want may have nothing to do with anything religion-related.

Later, you have a kid and begin to revisit the holidays, trying to re-create the fond memories from your own childhood… or create new, positive ones. But once again, you are relating to the holidays on a child’s level— and then on a grandchild’s level.

The result? At no point have you had— or taken— the opportunity to explore the highlights of the Jewish calendar as an adult. This is a sad, but preventable, situation.

Each of the Jewish holidays has a historical lesson and a deep, metaphysical meaning. They relate to seasons of the Earth and seasons of the soul. They connect the ancient stories of defeat and victory with the struggles we fight today. They are set aside for introspection and celebration, for connecting with family and community, but also reconnecting with ourselves.

I went to a talk before Purim one year. The rabbi spoke movingly about Esther’s struggle against discrimination— as a woman and as a Jew. It really made me wonder what else there might be, hiding behind the paper-plate masks of my childhood view of the holidays.

Now, I love my kids, nieces, and nephews, and I love having the Seder with them every year. But part of me has longed to go to a Seder for grown-ups, which is why I was really glad to attend the Downtown Seder this year at City Winery.

I am writing this now because it is time for Shavuot. One reason this holiday— which celebrates the receiving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, no less— is under-appreciated is its lack of well-known rituals. There is no shofar to sound, no matzah to break, no menorah to light.

But lesser-known that they may be, Shavuot does have its practices, including eating dairy foods, decorating the synagogue with greenery and staying up all night studying. This practice is called “Tikkun Leil Shavuot.”

And this year, it will once again be held at Anshe Emet Synagogue from late May 14 to early May 15, and all are invited. The evening begins with a panel of rabbis from across the Jewish denominational spectrum, with a time for questions afterward. Then, community scholars host a selection of discussion groups— a new set every hour— until sunrise, with snacks and coffee available to help you stay awake! The event concludes with a walk to Lake Michigan, and morning prayers said by the light of the sun rising over the water. If you have never been to a Tikkun, I urge you to go. If you have, then you will no doubt be back, and I will see you there.

While enjoying the holidays and passing them on are important activities, we also need to drop the dreidels once in a while and study the meaning and lessons of the holidays on an adult level. We must wrest the holidays from the sticky hands of our kids. If we don’t, we risk seeing Judaism itself as merely childish.

And so, fellow grown-ups, let us reclaim the Jewish holidays. The Downtown Seder, Tikkun Leil Shavuot, the Latke-Hamentash Debate, and even Beef and Bourbon in the Sukkah are great, but only the start. So below, let’s start talking about how else we can study, honor, and celebrate our Jewish holidays— like adults.

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