As with most Jewish holidays, tradition dictates large community gatherings, but in the midst of Stay-at-Home orders issued by state and local governments, Boulder’s rabbinic council, Haver, had to innovate ways to celebrate Shavuot, the holiday commemorating receiving the Torah from Mount Sinai.
“We normally gather at one of Boulder’s synagogues in the evening just before sundown and spend all night learning and discussing Torah,” explained Rabbi Marc Soloway of Congregation Bonai Shalom. Rabbi Marc is also this year’s Shavuot Committee Chair. “The festivities were supposed to take place on Thursday, May 28th at Bonai Shalom, but because of Covid-19, we had to re-think how we could celebrate as a community.”
After numerous brain-storming sessions over Zoom, the committee settled on a live panel of five rabbis from Boulder’s diverse synagogues moderated by Boulder JCC Executive Director Jonathan Lev. They also created a YouTube channel which offers short, personal teachings of Torah by members of Haver and select teachers form the greater Boulder community. The panel took place on Sunday, May 24th, before Shavuot, and the YouTube recordings are available for people to watch at any time as part of their personal observation of the holiday.
“This isn’t anything we would have considered before, but I think it worked out really well,” said Rabbi Marc. “I was very happy with the panel and thought there was some good discussion. Jonathan did a great job as moderator, too.”
Typically, the overnight Torah jam session attracts between 60-80 people. This year’s Shavuot celebration reached more than twice that number and continues to grow as more people find their way to the Boulder Haver Youtube channel, which contains videos on everything from personal “Sinai moments” to a deep dive into blessings as well as content for kids.
The format was so well received, Rabbi Marc and his Haver colleagues say they will consider it for future programs, including Shavuot. “Our dire circumstances brought on by Covid-19 also led us to create something new and innovative, which in turn reached more people and allowed for greater participation, which is at the heart of Jewish celebration.”