Jews prepare for their Shavuot all-nighter

Jews prepare for their Shavuot all-nighter

The night before God gave the Torah to the Jews, they went to sleep so that they would be well rested for the next day’s momentous event, according to a story in the Midrash.

But, they overslept.

Moses had to awaken his people, while God waited for them at Mt. Sinai.

As a sort of national repentance for this faux pas, the custom evolved for Jews to stay up all night on Shavuot to study Torah.

Jewish Pittsburghers from across denominational lines can take part in this custom, which has become known as a tikkun (repair), on Tuesday night, June 7, at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh in Squirrel Hill.

Fourteen area congregations and organizations will participate, presenting a variety of classes on a plethora of topics.

One can choose from six or seven different sessions offered during each of three different time blocks, beginning at 10 p.m., and continuing until 12:50 a.m.

Coffee and dessert will be served between study sessions.

This will be the third straight year the community has collaborated to present the tikkun, and this year’s event will follow its usual format.

“The model has been successful, and we want to continue that success in an effort that brings the community together,” said Rabbi Scott Aaron, community scholar at the Agency for Jewish Learning, which, along with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, and the JCC, is sponsoring the evening of learning.

“It’s following a format we developed together with the rabbis in order to be sensitive to everybody’s needs and religious practices,” said Ed Frim, executive director of the AJL. “There are issues we have to deal with when we bring the whole community together across denominations. Everybody has to compromise a little bit.”

For example, while some rabbis requested power point equipment, or permission to use guitars, those requests were denied in order to ensure others would be comfortable, according to Frim.

“We don’t allow music and projection because that would preclude some participants,” he said. “We want everyone to be comfortable. The more we can do together as a community, the better.”

The rabbis and cantors leading the study sessions have the freedom to choose their own topics, Frim said.

The topics are diverse, ranging from “D’var Debbie: The spirituality of Debbie Friedman’s Liturgical Legacy,” taught together by Cantor Richard Berlin and soloist Sara Stock-Mayo, to Rabbi Yisroel Altein’s session on “The geometry of Shabbat,” to Rabbi James Gibson’s topic of “Who is in? Who is out? The limits of inclusion in the Jewish community.”

While most sessions will be taught by single instructors, others will be team-taught in creative ways, said Aaron.

“The tikkun is an opportunity for cre- ativity, experimentation and cross-cooperation in ways we don’t see throughout the year,” he said.

This year’s event will see collaboration between spiritual leaders from various venues, as well as a session taught cooperatively by a husband and wife teaching team. More than 400 participants are expected throughout the night, based on the attendance of the previous two years.

Following the tikkun, Torah study will continue throughout the night at Beth Shalom Congregation, the Kollel Jewish Learning Center, Chabad/Lebovitch Center, Congregation Poale Zedeck and Shaare Torah Congregation.

(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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