Pulling a Jewish All-Nighter

The Night Time is the Right Time…for Learning

By Esther Kustanowitz

What would you stay up all night for? To be the first to see Disneyland’s new Galaxy’s Edge Star Wars attraction? To check in for your upcoming flight so you can avoid getting stuck in a middle seat? To make sure you don’t sleep through your alarm and miss that early meeting? What about to learn Torah on the Jewish holiday of Shavuot?

Turns out, there ain’t no party like a Shavuot party because a Shavuot party goes ALL NIGHT. (And usually serves cheesecake and coffee, so that’s always a PAR-TAY.) Every year, many Jews participate in an all-night Torah party called Tikkun Leil Shavuot, a chance to study whatever their community defines as “Torah,” in anticipation of Shavuot, which celebrates Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah.

Text study? Big-name presenters and highly-regarded teachers? Spoken word? Film criticism? Improv? A Tikkun Leil Shavuot may include any of these, all within the wider interpretation of “Torah study.” For instance, the program at “Stay the Night” at the JCC of Manhattan has everything from a joint lecture by a rabbi and an astrophysicist to salsa, modern dance and Broadway lessons. At Los Angeles’ Pico Shul, “Shavuot Night Live” will feature “stand-up Torah, fast-paced, 5-20 minute-classes on relevant and exciting topics” and runs all night. IKAR, also in Los Angeles, is hosting “The Big Reveal,” promising “a night of discovery through Torah, speakers, and alternative and experiential learning” that runs till 1:00am. Each community organization does Tikkun Leil Shavuot differently, but share one thing in common: to help people delve a little deeper, a little differently, into Torah study, and to feel part of a community that is doing the same.

Participating in a Tikkun Leil Shavuot near you can help expand your mind and stretch beyond your comfort zone. It’s a chance to go deep into Jewish learning, life, ritual and culture — the way a bar or bat mitzvah student does… but without worrying about your Torah portion. It’s an opportunity to join community and understand deeply that there are 10 commandments, but Jewish values and tradition are based on more than that: they depend on our understanding that there is a connection between all of us and that we are responsible for one another.

So, come as you are, and put yourself in the narrative. Do a “mini-Tikkun” with the members of your immediate family, or do a Google search/check your local Jewish news sources to find out what’s happening in the community.

A midrash reminds us that all the Jews stood at Sinai together, all the Jews who were or would ever be born (including those who converted to Judaism), to receive the Torah. So to celebrate Sinai, and Jewish tradition, go deep. Be in community, whether it’s with people in your home or at a synagogue or JCC. Connect. Renew your understanding that there are many ways to look at Jewish life, practice and tradition. And see if you can follow in the footsteps of those who party all night in celebration of the Torah!

Esther D. Kustanowitz is a writer, editor and consultant based in Los Angeles.

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