Let Me Count the Ways: 5 Shavuot Projects

by Carol Oseran Starin

For those of us in the Jewish school business, Shavuot gets little attention.

It usually comes after the school is over for the year. As my colleague Rivy says, “Shavuot has yet to capture the attention of card companies and synagogue gift shops.” But once it captures our attention and we make it part of our lives, we begin to understand the opportunities it offers teachers.

Here are 5 Shavuot projects.

1. Share Marc Gellman’s wonderful midrashim “The Rock Words” and “The Commandments on Moses’ Sleeves” from “God’s Mailbox.” Then ask students to explain the commandments in their own words. Create a classroom book to send home.

2. Teach about the harvest aspect of the holiday—the festival of first fruits—then use it as a tzedakah opportunity to collect canned fruits and vegetables (or fresh, if it can be arranged) for the local food pantry. The Book of Ruth also provides an opportunity to talk about “gleanings” and other agriculturally-linked tzedakah mechanisms.

3. Read Torah Aura’s “When I Stood at Sinai.” It’s done with a class of 12-year-olds and is a participatory exploration of midrashim about the giving of the Torah. The book invites students to tell their own stories. You can use it as the basis of a wonderful discussion and then structure a similar experience for your class.

4. For young children, try a mezuzah hunt. Teach the Shema. Do your students know it’s in the Torah and can be found tangibly in the school/synagogue? Challenge children to find all the mezuzot, from the plastic ones to the elaborate ones. Have them hunt at home. Help them make mezuzot to take home.

5. Create a family Shavuot experience. Paul Epstein submitted a family program, developed by Michael Galchinsky that included the following activities:
+ making fruit shakes or fruit sundaes
+ hanging up traditional paper cuts students made in class
+ studying text
+ hearing a lecture from local scholar
+ davening

I once attended a similar family program that included an adults-only study of the Book of Ruth, Israeli dancing and blintz-eating. My shul does a great Simchat Torah activity that could be a great Shavuot activity. 54 small groups (mixed children and adults) were created—one for each parasha. Each group was assigned to study one pasuk from their parasha. Then the entire Torah was unrolled in a huge circle, with many adults holding up sections of the scroll. Children sat in the middle of the circle. As the name of each parasha was called out, the group that had studied that part called out something they had learned.

Mike Fixler, a member of our “5 things advisory board” suggests that we should all pledge to give Shavuot a little bit more treatment. Shavuot offers a lot to make it a good end of year celebration.

If your school is closed for the summer, why not send a letter to each member of your class and include a Shavuot activity or a personal invitation to the synagogue’s Shavuot celebration?

If it’s too late for this year, start planning now to make Shavuot an important focus for 5759.

Thanks to Rivy Poupko Kletenik, Paul Epstein, Iris Petroff, Susan Fish, Idie Benjamin, Rabbi David Fine and Mike Fixler.