It turns out that cheesecake and Torah study are a winning combination.
Tikkun Leil Shavuot, a night of Jewish learning that takes place this year on May 25, is among the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s most popular events, according to Federation Scholar Rabbi Danny Schiff. The night of study typically draws between 300-400 people to the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh, Schiff said, has a broad range of rabbis, Jewish study experts and thoughtful Jewish thinkers available to teach at the annual program he shepherds.
This year, 24 community leaders will present 22 sessions spanning topics as varied as Mussa (a Jewish spiritual practice that gives instructions on how to live an ethical life), genetically modified designer babies, the Diaspora and the impact of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik.
Schiff, who will present “Democracy in Judaism,” said that each topic is chosen by the speaker presenting it. And while he doesn’t direct the subjects taught, he does work to ensure that a broad variety of topics — and teachers representing as many Jewish movements as possible — are available in each of the three hours of classes offered.
“I’m anxious to balance each hour,” he said. “If you only show up for the 10 or 11 o’clock hour, I’m anxious that there are people across the spectrum and in different age groups, etc. in each hour.”
He also wants teachers new to town to get into the program as soon as possible.
“I’m definitely on the lookout for different people who might present,” Schiff said. “I’m always thinking about how we can offer the core, beloved teachers that are central to the community but also some new faces.”
This year is a return to form for the program, which made COVID-19 accommodations the last several years. In both 2020 and 2021, Federation and the JCC offered pre-Shavuot online learning opportunities. In 2022, the program was in person but truncated.
“We only had 15 sessions,” Schiff explained, “because people were just coming into the public again, so we had a smaller number of offerings. This year, we’re back full strength.”
There will be no virtual classes, Schiff said, because the event is held on Shavuot.
“It’s important to us at Federation that this be inclusive to everyone in the community, which means that in order for the entire Jewish spectrum to be able to participate we have to respect the halachic stipulations of the community, and that means no electronics. It also means no microphones,” he said.
Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Jewish communities around the world honor the tradition by studying Jewish texts and participating in learning opportunities throughout the night. Federation and the JCC break up their program into three 50-minute blocks of learning beginning at 10 p.m.
Cheesecake and coffee are offered during the free event.
It’s an open discussion as to why cheesecake has come to be associated with the holiday, although many believe it has to do with the fact that cheesecake is sweet, resembling the milk and honey offered in the Promised Land.
The program is the “epitome of the Pittsburgh Jewish community,” said Adam Hertzman, Federation’s director of marketing.
“With such a broad spectrum of participants by age, background, religion, observance and many other characteristics, Tikkun Leil Shavuot has come to represent the beautiful way Jewish Pittsburgh tries to include everyone in Jewish life, inspired by our Jewish values,” he said.
For Schiff, one of the things that makes Pittsburgh special is the sense of community across Jewish movements.
“The Pittsburgh community is really distinctive in the way we get along and cooperate together,” he said. “I think that the opportunity that Tikkun Leil Shavuot gives us to engage in the traditional practice of Torah Study is really very special.”
A complete list of presenters and topics is available at jewishpgh.org/occasion/tikkun. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at email@example.com.