Baltimore to Celebrate Shavuot With Learning, Ice Cream and More

Guests at a Pearlstone Shavuot retreat (Courtesy of Pearlstone)

Shavuot begins the evening of May 25, ending the counting of the Omer for the year and welcoming the start of summer in a uniquely Jewish fashion.

Local synagogues and Jewish community organizations are coming out in full force to celebrate, hosting parties, retreats and readings of the Ten Commandments to mark the occasion.

Occurring 50 days after Passover, Shavuot marks an end to the time the Jewish people spent wandering the desert once they fled Egypt, when God gave Moses the Torah on Mount Sinai. According to My Jewish Learning, it is one of the three pilgrimage festivals, along with Passover and Sukkot, where Israelites would journey to Jerusalem to make offerings at the Temple. A secondary purpose of the holiday was to mark the summer’s grain harvest, with grain being a common offering to the Temple.

While it is no longer common for Jewish people to make the journey to Jerusalem for Shavuot, people still celebrate the holiday at home by practicing its associated traditions. lists several of the more common ones, including eating dairy foods, reading the Ten Commandments and the Book of Ruth and staying up all night on the first night of Shavuot to study the Torah.

As such, Baltimore’s Jewish community has many events dedicated to the holiday and different ways of celebrating it, from casual ice cream socials to retreats that span multiple days.

The Pearlstone Retreat Center in Reisterstown will be hosting its annual Shavuot Retreat from May 25 to May 28 — its first since the center finished merging with Hazon and became Adamah. The four-day Shavuot experience offers opportunities for Torah learning, community gathering and farm-to-table meals in the naturalistic setting Pearlstone is known for.

“[Pearlstone] was doing an informal Shavuot retreat for many years, but it became popular and took on a life of its own. It’s now one of our featured retreats, and we’re on track to sell out this year,” said Chani Pearlstein, Pearlstone’s retreat director.

She added that the merger has not done anything to affect Pearlstone’s Shavuot programming, and retreat regulars can expect the same insightful guest speakers and interactive activities as always.

Chabad of Ellicott City is hosting multiple events at their Chabad house to celebrate Shavuot, starting with a “Learn Nosh” on May 25 where people can eat and learn more about Torah-related subjects and how they connect to today’s world. There will also be a reading of the Ten Commandments the day after on the morning of May 26, followed by an ice cream social for younger attendees and their families.

Rabbi Yanky Baron, the Chabad house’s executive director, said they make a concerted effort to create child-friendly events for Shavuot.

“Children are the guarantors of the Torah,” he explained. “The Talmud tells us that God wanted a guarantor for the Torah, so the Jewish people offered their children through transmitting the knowledge of Torah and the performance of mitzvot to the next generation. It’s a guarantee that Judaism will flourish and continue through future generations.”

Baron also noted that the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, emphasized the involvement of children in their religious community at a young age.

He added that learning Torah is an important focus of Shavuot, as it is a uniting force for the Jewish community.

“We often think of antisemitism as something that unifies the Jewish community to fight against it,” Baron said. “But the real secret sauce is learning Torah and performing mitzvot. In my opinion, what will keep Judaism together and create a more wholesome community is us uniting around the Torah.”

It’s a more bittersweet occasion for 2023 cohort of Shinshinim, whose Shavuot celebration at Chizuk Amuno Congregation will double as a farewell party for them. The Shinshinim are a group of Israeli teens who delayed their military service by a year to spend time serving a community in the United States, and they will be returning to Israel in mid-June.

Following the farewell party, where the Shinshinim will thank their host families, they and other attendees will be able to engage in traditional Israeli Shavuot games, such as playing in hay, a water balloon fight and creative arts-based activities.

The Baltimore Shinshinim program is a collaboration between the Jewish Agency of Israel and The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore.

“Shavuot in Israel is usually a celebration of the country’s agriculture and national produce,” explained Yali Shapira, one member of the 2023 cohort of Shinshinim. “Around Israel, especially in its agricultural moshavim and kibbutzim, the year’s ‘yevul,’ or crops, are presented, and community celebrations follow. Tractor parades, folk dancing, hayrides, water balloon fights and other festivities are featured across the country.”

Many of the Shinshinim hail from more rural areas of Israel, so celebrating Shavuot in Baltimore will be a different experience.

“For us, it is a privilege to be able to bring the Israeli side of the Shavuot celebration to the community in Baltimore,” Shapira said. “To be able to take pride in the agricultural roots of our hometowns and bring the special celebration of Shavuot abroad is a truly amazing experience.”

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