Tikkun Leil Shavuot: A Jewish Cultural White Night Festival at the 14th Street Y

by The 14th Street Y Executive Director Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein

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You may have noticed a lot of signs up at the Y inviting you to stay up all night with us on Tuesday, June 3-Wednesday June 4. Or, you may have noticed a slight change in schedule for that Tuesday evening as we move classes and activities to make room for Shavuot celebrations. Our staff are working overtime to prepare this all-night cultural, artistic, intellectual celebration–and we are hoping that you will join us! A quick primer on Shavuot and the celebration:

Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) is one of the three Jewish festivals, along with Passover and Sukkot. Many of us have been counting the days since Passover (this is called “counting the Omer”), and Shavuot will take place fifty days after the Passover Seder.

Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein
Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein

While here in the East Village we are more likely to be aware of single-origin coffee than early-summer barley, this is the time that our ancestors would celebrate the summer grain harvest. Seven weeks after we marked freedom from slavery with Passover, Shavuot is also celebration of the Torah (the source of Jewish laws, customs, and narrative) as we remember receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai seven weeks after the biblical Exodus. Our ancient ancestors used to gather together and make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot, but in later times Jewish practice includes prayer, study, eating dairy foods, and communal prayer.

In the 16th century, Kabbalist mystics developed a ritual of all-night study, called a “Tikkun Leil Shavuot,” or “Restoration/Enhancement for Shavuot Night.” Some scholars think that the Kabbalists were drawn to the all-nighter as early adopters of coffee-drinking (thanks, rabbis!)–but these spiritual philosophers believed that the dawn of Shavuot morning was a mystical moment of unification between humans and the Divine. Studying texts throughout the night was a  a workout for the mind and a spa treatment for the soul, as a way of spiritual preparation for the magical moment of Shavuot dawn. Around the world, all-night study sessions have become the custom for the night of Shavuot.

At the 14th Street Y, we are taking the idea of Tikkun Leil Shavuot and giving it our own spin. From 7am-7pm, on Shavuot night (this year, Tuesday night June 3-Wednesday morning June 4), we will be hosting our own edgy version of the Jewish cultural “White Nights Festival.” The Y will stay open all night long as more than 25 artists, musicians, writers, philosophers, culture-makers, rabbis, and even a baker, take over the building to enlighten, engage and even entertain everyone who wants to join. In partnership with more than 20 downtown organizations and synagogues (full list here LINK), and with the sponsorship of UJA-Federation of New York, the night begins at 7pm with traditional and non-traditional worship and ritual in synagogues around the neighborhood, or a unique ritual by the rabbis and musicians of Lab Shul, The New Shul and CBST, in the theater at the 14th Street Y.

From 8:30pm  until dawn, we will have hosted conversations, performances, artist talks, text study classes, workshops–of course, with a side of cheesecake and a glass of wine. I’m excited to see nine 10-minute plays inspired by King David (R-rated, so I’m leaving the kids home); to sing with violin virtuoso Alicia Svigals as she teaches wordless songs; to enjoy making a dairy delicacy with Erin Patinkin of Ovenly Bakery; to talk social justice with ZEEK Editor Erica Brody, JFREJ Executive Director Marjorie Dove Kent and writer-activist Sarah Seltzer;  and to learn about sexuality, Judaism and boundaries with Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and Rabbi Rachel Weiss of CBST.  What will your journey INTO THE NIGHT look like? Check out the details of all of our performances, workshops and classes at www.14streety.org/tikkun

Please check out our website at www.14streety.org/tikkun for more details, or email shayna_kreisler@14streety.org with any questions. I hope to see you at our first Downtown Tikkun Leil Shavuot at the 14th Street Y!

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