Celebrating the First Harvest with Shavuot in Western MA

Not Your Grandparents' Shtel: Exploring Jewish Culture in Western Mass by Amy Meltzer

Shavuot: Celebrating the First Harvest

During the celebration of the first harvest, many communities decorate their synagogues with local greenery and flowers, while children in Israel often create and wear crowns made of flowers.

The holiday of Shavuot celebrates two seemingly unrelated events – the gathering of the first harvest of the year, and divine revelation – the day the Hebrews received the gift of Torah at Mount Sinai. Most contemporary Jewish practices focus primarily on the latter theme, honoring the day by publicly reading the Ten Commandments as part of their worship services, and holding all-night Torah study sessions for adults and teens. Some synagogues also hold a consecration, an opportunity for older children to affirm their commitment to Jewish traditions.

To honor the agricultural roots of the holiday, synagogues read the biblical book of Ruth, which recalls the ancient imperative to allow those in need to glean, or gather the usable crops that are left behind after the farmer has harvested. Many communities also decorate their synagogues with local greenery and flowers, while children in Israel often create and wear crowns made of flowers. In Western MA, there are several opportunities to celebrate local agriculture as part of Shavuot – check out the listings below for the Shavuot Bread Festival in Colrain.

I’ll be taking a break from my column for the summer but I’ll be back as the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, approaches in September!

Sunday, May 20 from 10am-12Noon – YOM YERUSHALAVIM:  Jerusalem Reunification Day. Come learn about Jerusalem, the State of Israel, and Hebrew at Sinai Academy of the Berkshires. This family oriented program will include storytelling, crafts, music, and snacks, offering several concurrent programs for children up to 9yo. Other family members and friends are all invited.413-442-4360 x14. 199 South Street. Pittsfield, MA (FREE)

Sunday, May 27 at 12Noon – ICE CREAM PARTY: Shavuot Torah Reading of Ten Commandments followed by an ice cream party at the Chabad House.  413-549-8749. 30 North Hadley Rd. Amherst, MA (FREE)

Sunday, May 27 10am-6pm – BREAD FROM THE EARTH: Everyone is welcome to workshops on Jewish food and farming with hands-on artisan bread-baking in a wood-fired oven with einkorn, an ancient Israeli grain at Colrain Seed Farm. Potluck festival Shavuot meal. 413-624-0214. 400 Adamsville Rd. Colrain, MA (FREE)

Monday, June 4 from 10:30-11:30am – WONDERS OF CHALLAH: Are you looking for a child-friendly activity to do with the family? Try PJ Pals, a Jewish book-based program for young children (6mo-6yo) and their parents/caregivers for book reading, crafts, music, snacks and fun at The Church On The Hill Chapel. In June the them is The Wonders of Challah and Challi-days. Participants will shape challah rolls, design challah covers, and enjoy a reading of A Holiday for Noah by Susan Remnick Topek. 413-442-4360 x14. 55 Main St. Lenox, MA. (FREE)

July 2 – August 10SUMMER CAMP: In its 26th year, Camp Shemesh serves young people ages 6-16 with diverse, creative and joyful Jewish programming. Amherst, MA ($$$)


Amy Meltzer

Amy is a Kindergarten teacher at Lander-Grinspoon Academy in Northampton, MA, and the author of two children’s books, A Mezuzah on the Door, and The Shabbat Princess. She writes the blog Homeshuling for Beliefnet, and a monthly column for the Jewish parenting site Kveller.com. Amy lives in Northampton, MA with her husband and two daughters.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Tomer Arazy]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: