Baltimore Community Celebrates a Virtual Shavuot

Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg. Photo by Jim Burger.

Set to begin the evening of May 28, Shavuot is celebrated through all-night studying of the Torah, and synagogues have online classes lined up for the big night.

“Shavuot is the giving of the Torah, but what that means is that it’s the moment of commitment between God and the Jewish people,” said Rabbi Deborah Wechsler of Chizuk Amuno Congregation. “It’s akin to, and it’s often compared in Jewish sources, to a wedding, that Shavuot is the moment when the Jewish people commit themselves to God.”

Chizuk Amuno is just one of the congregations taking part in “Come and Learn: A Greater Baltimore Virtual Shavuot Experience” on May 28, which features no less than 20 synagogues and organizations, including Chevrei Tzedek Congregation, JCC of Greater Baltimore, Beth El Congregation, and Jews United for Justice. The first classes will begin at 7:30 p.m., Wechsler said, and will continue until 4:30 a.m.

Chizuk Amuno will offer a class on the “midrashim of receiving Torah” and a class on “grief and the festival, and celebrating the holidays in the midst of a pandemic,” Wechsler said. Meanwhile, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation is looking to offer classes on meditation and Torah, on the Psalms, and on the Book of Ruth, said Rabbi Andrew Busch, though he emphasized that plans had not been finalized. Columbia Jewish Congregation will offer a class on “song and prayers for healing” and a class on how to engage in Jewish rituals during social distancing, said Rabbi Sonya Starr, while Chevrei Tzedek will have a lesson titled “The Miraculous and the Traumatic: Accessing Divine During Communal Crises,” according to Rabbi Rory Katz.

Wechsler and Busch both acknowledged the number of congregations and organizations participating in a single event is uncommon for the area, and gave credit to Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg of Beth Am Synagogue for organizing it.

“I guess I had the initial idea,” Burg said. “I figured since so many of us were already online because of coronavirus, this might be the right year to do something collaboratively.”

“I was surprised and delighted when not just a few other congregations wanted to come play with us, but it’s now grown to be 19 partner organizations,” Burg continued.

Busch felt the event would offer a “message of solidarity that is especially important at this time.”

However, the Come and Learn event won’t be the only game in town for Shavuot, as Beth Tfiloh Congregation has two separate events planned for the holiday. The first, called “Six Rabbis Reading Ruth and Eating Cheesecake,” on May 26, will be a joint program between Beth Tfiloh and several other modern Orthodox synagogues, including B’nai Israel, Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Congregation, and Netivot Shalom, said Beth Tfiloh Rabbi Chai Posner.

On May 28, Beth Tfiloh will have a Shavuot edition of their weekly “MeZOOMin” program, Posner said.

“Shavuot to me is a time of celebrating the Jewish people’s commitment to Torah, to learning, and to nurturing our connection, both vertically and horizontally, across time to our tradition,” said Busch. “I mean both remembering all those people who have studied and cherished Torah before us, and I also mean those people … who are also alive today, and cherishing Torah and learning Torah as well.”

According to Burg, Shavuot is “really the other side of the coin that is Passover. Passover is about redemption, it’s about liberation, but freedom without laws, guidelines, sacred obligations is anarchy. And so Shavuot has always been the corollary to Passover, and it’s a time to celebrate the gift of Torah and Torah study.”

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