Another Jewish holiday is fast approaching—Shavuot, when the Jewish people received the Torah on Mount Sinai 3,333 years ago. And like everything else over this unique period of world history, Jewish communities worldwide are gearing up to mark the two-day holiday—celebrated from sunset on Sunday, May 16, until nightfall on Tuesday, May 18 (one day in Israel)—with newfound enthusiasm.

The Jewish people’s resilience in celebrating the holidays over the pandemic has been nothing short of legendary. In what has become a routine, communities across the globe have pivoted and retrofitted their Passover seder celebrations,adapted public menorah-lightings and recalibrated the High Holidays in creative ways.

With the most severe pandemic restrictions lifted in many places, the most recent Jewish holidays have seen cautious optimism, with newly vaccinated gathering in slightly larger numbers, along with other outdoor activities taking place in the warming spring months. Preparations for the upcoming Shavuot holiday are building on that positive outlook and ability to meet in person.

With the warm May weather, Shavuot has always been a great time to congregate outside and revel in the holiday festivities. Following the urging of the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—that all men, women and especially children hear the Ten Commandments read from a Torah scroll, Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries have for years staged events that bring people together throughout the day to mingle, socialize, eat a traditional dairy treat or two, and, of course, hear the Ten Commandments (or Aseret Hadibrot in Hebrew).

"Celebrations this year are quite an excitement," said Melissa Schwartzbaum of Madison, Wisconsin. "It’s a tradition for my family to come and hear the Ten Commandments on Shavuot, and to be able to do so once again is a real joy."

Cheesecake in Curacao
Cheesecake in Curacao

What a Difference a Year Makes

With strict limitations on public gatherings throughout much of 2020, such events were impossible to arrange last year. It's why Rabbi Shmuel Posner, who co-directs Chabad Young Professionals in Cincinnati with his wife, Mushkie, is eager to bring the Torah scroll outside to the community once again this year. “It’s a huge contrast to last year, when we were limited to distributing packages to people before the holiday and giving out pre-packaged blintzes to people who stopped by our front yard on Shavuot morning. This year, as restrictions in the state of Ohio have pretty much been entirely lifted, we are planning on hosting a ‘Dairy Social’ for young adults: a chance to get together, socialize, eat, and listen to the Ten Commandments that will be read from the Torah.

“A nice bonus about these events just out of the shadow of the pandemic is the fact that it’s the first chance for people to meet each other post lockdown. Over the course of this entire past year, we never stopped engaging and meeting new people, yet they have not yet been able to meet each other. We’re excited for this chance to get together in person in one place and finally get to meet each other.”

In Austin, Texas, Rabbi Mendy and Mussy Levertov are planning much the same for the young-adult community they serve there. Levertov is spinning a menu for an ice cream bar and full-on dairy buffet. It’s much the same for the young adult community further north in Madison, Wis. “We’re putting together pre-packaged dairy food for people to partake of as we read the Torah outdoors,” said Rabbi Avremel Matusof of Chabad of Madison.

Pre-Shavuot inpiration from Chabad in Buenos Aires
Pre-Shavuot inpiration from Chabad in Buenos Aires

A Vaccinated Gathering

“Thank G‑d, more and more people around us have been vaccinated, and people are becoming increasingly comfortable gathering together,” said Rabbi Yitzchak Kahan, of Chabad of Medford, N.J. “It’s so refreshing to be able to celebrate once again under pretty much regular standards,” added his wife and co-director, Baily Kahan. To that end, the Kahans plan on hosting people in their home for late-night learning on Shavuot eve, followed with services in the shul on Monday, Shavuot morning. Of course, to make the Ten Commandments available to as wide an audience as possible, they will be reading them once again outdoors in the afternoon—with the obligatory ice-cream.

"We're very excited about gathering together to celebrate this year," said Carl Tepper of Mount Laurel, N.J. "Every year, our family comes out together to hear the Ten Commandments, and after the hiatus of last year, it just feels right to be back at it once again, thank G‑d."

Celebrating Shavuot in Curacao.
Celebrating Shavuot in Curacao.

Learning on Shavuot Night

Studying all night on the holiday is a time-honored custom, demonstrating the Jewish people's eager anticipation for the incredible gift that will be coming its way the next morning—the holy Torah. For those preparing to learn at night, a printable Shavuot study guide from Chabad.org can be accessed to enhance this year’s at-home all-night study marathon and print out before the holiday. A Shavuot-at-home guide and readings are also available free at Chabad.org/ShavuotAtHome.

Groups will be gathering in all sizes and formats at Chabad centers worldwide to revel in Torah study as they burn the midnight oil. While last year, such gathering were largely impossible, forcing people to study alone and battle the hands of the clock alone, thankfully this year, many comrades in arms will be available to help each other fulfill this tradition.

For Chabad of the Coast in the bustling urban center of Tel Aviv, excitement is mounting for a joyous holiday filled with Torah study, which comes after Israel's successful mass vaccination campaign. “The uncles of two different members of our community tragically passed in Meron, and we are doing a pre-Shavuot class in their honor,” said Rabbi Eli Naiditch. “For the first night of the holiday, we are planning a vegetarian-friendly meal, followed by all night learning with debates, talks and discussions.”

In Tel Aviv, on the day of the festival itself, the synagogue will be open for services and the traditional Ten Commandments reading, followed by another reading and ice-cream party later in the day for children in their school.

“As recent as Purim, we were in full lockdown here in Israel, and it’s exhilarating to be able to celebrate in person once again,” said co-director Sara Naiditch.

Ten talks on the Ten Commandments in Argentina .
Ten talks on the Ten Commandments in Argentina .

Still Limited

Life in some places, like the Caribbean island of Curaçao, has still not returned to normal, and the island's current guidelines remain extremely stringent. That still might change.

“We were planning on opening our synagogue to the public and hosting our regular crowd of upwards of seventy people for the Torah reading,” said Rabbi Refoel Silver of Chabad of Curaçao-Shaarei Tsedek “The government had planned on extending the restrictions, barring anyone from leaving their home except for twice a week, and even then, only in shifts based on the number of your license plate. So, we’re going back to virtual plans. Thankfully, they should be lifted by the time the holiday comes round.”

Virtual plans are also underway, in the form of a pre-holiday cheesecake bake with Chani Silver over Zoom, with the option for participants to come by the center and pick up the ingredients prior.

“We are planning on packing in as many Torah readings as we can in the morning and stagger the crowds as much as possible for safety purposes,” said Silver.

Movement in Argentina is also still somewhat limited, and so Rabbi Zalmi Levy of Chabad of Palermo in Buenos Aires is planning accordingly, preparing packages with the Torah reading and some food to be sent around the neighborhood prior to the holiday. Limited religious gathering is allowed, and so they will gather together to hear the Torah being read outside in small groups on the day of the holiday.

"We're very excited about reopening our synagogue doors to all locals and tourists, just in time to celebrate Shavuot," said Ivan Becher, President of the Shaarei Tsedek Jewish Community in Curacao. "Every year, we all gather together to hear the Ten Commandments, and after the last year when we were unable to do so, this is a real blessing, thank G‑d."

Shavuot kits from Chabad in Buenos Aires, where many are still homebound due to the pandemic.
Shavuot kits from Chabad in Buenos Aires, where many are still homebound due to the pandemic.