Everything is set for the first Shavuot celebration at the lone Chabad center in rural Wasilla, Alaska. The cheese and the ice-cream have been sent by plane from Seattle, and the other dairy goodies (crepes, pasta and cheesecakes) have been made from scratch by Chaya Greenberg, who co-directs the Chabad House with her husband, Rabbi Mendy Greenberg.

They’ll be hosting their first-ever reading of the Ten Commandments on Sunday, the first day of Shavuot, which celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. For now, the couple is focusing on inviting as many of their constituents as possible, especially children.

Chabad representatives in 50 states expect to host as many as 50,000 children for the services, with many more adults present as well. A surge is expected in part because kids are out of school for the weekend and free to go—or already slated to attend Chabad Hebrew school in their communities.

In recent years, there has been a dramatic uptick in children’s programming at Chabad centers, in part due to the growth of C-Kids (the Chabad Children’s Network), which is currently active in 700 Chabad Houses, Hebrew schools and camps in the English-speaking world.

In Tenafly, N.J., Rabbi Yossi and Bassi Katz, youth directors at Lubavitch on the Palisades, are gearing up to greet as many as 200 children on Shavuot morning. The pair, who run a preschool serving 400 children, as well as a day school and Hebrew school affiliated with Chabad, will be hosting two separate kids’ programs—one during the main prayer service and another at noon.

International statistics are harder to come by, but with Chabad Houses operating in 100 countries worldwide (and additional C-Kids branches in Spanish-, Russian-, German- and French-speaking nations), the numbers are presumed to be in the hundreds of thousands.

Homemade cheesecakes at Chabad of Northbrook, Ill., outside of Chicago.
Homemade cheesecakes at Chabad of Northbrook, Ill., outside of Chicago.

From Mount Sinai to Hanoi

In Hanoi, Vietnam, a crowd of 80 people—a mix of tourists, diplomats, business people and expats, and their children—is expected to hear the Ten Commandments read by Rabbi Levi Laine, who co-directs Chabad of Hanoi with his wife, Mushky. Based on past participation, they are preparing for as many as 30 children to come to the reading and then make edible, holiday-themed crafts, as they and their parents and caregivers enjoy cheesecake and other dairy treats. The Shavuot fare arrived from Israel and the United States through the cooperation of Chabad centers in Ho Chi Minh City, Cambodia and South Korea.

The program is strikingly similar from New Jersey to Newcastle. After listening quietly through the Torah reading, children are often treated to ice-cream bars while the adults enjoy crepes, cheesecakes and other dairy desserts (read why Shavuot became the only Jewish holiday when dairy is served).

The Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—explained that there is special significance to bringing children, even the youngest of infants, to hear the Ten Commandments on Shavuot morning.

Before G‑d gave the Torah to the Jewish people, says the Midrash, He demanded guarantors. The Jews made a number of suggestions, all rejected by G‑d, until they declared: “Our children will be our guarantors that we will cherish and observe the Torah.”

G‑d immediately accepted them and agreed to give the Torah.

“By listening to the Ten Commandments on Shavuot morning,” the Rebbe explained to a pre-Shavuot children’s gathering in 1980, “the words of Torah will be engraved in the hearts and minds of the children. And through them, the Torah will be etched within their parents and grandparents with even greater intensity. Thus, the Ten Commandments, which include within them the entire Torah, will become a part of our lives throughout the entire year.”

Preparing for the holiday at the Chabad Neshama Center in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Preparing for the holiday at the Chabad Neshama Center in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, N.Y.