Back in 2009, as Jewish Pittsburgh’s first community-wide Tikkun Leil Shavuot was being planned, organizers at the now defunct Agency for Jewish Learning had no idea if the program would be a success. While there had been all-night study sessions during Shavuot at various synagogues throughout the years, there was no guarantee that an attempt to bring community members of all denominations together to learn from a diverse range of rabbis and educators would be a hit.
Not only was the event a success, but it exceeded expectations.
Now, in its 11th year — and presented by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh in partnership with the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh — Tikkun Leil Shavuot is one of the most popular annual events for Jewish Pittsburgh, and is a lesson in how to bridge gaps among diverse segments of the community.
Since its launch, the program has consistently attracted more than 400 attendees each year. Those who come to learn can choose from about two dozen different study sessions led by rabbis from virtually all streams of Judaism, local Jewish educators, as well as a Hebrew priestess.
People have been taking advantage of the opportunity to hear perspectives from those teachers whom they would normally not encounter in their typical worship or learning environments. Orthodox men have sat in sessions led by the Hebrew priestess, and Reform Jews have engaged in learning with Chabad rabbis.
This year, 22 sessions taught by 22 distinct Jewish voices will be offered at the JCC in Squirrel Hill, beginning at 10 p.m. on Saturday, June 8. The topics are as varied as the teachers, including “Jewish Texts on Resilience,” “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself: From the Heart of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” “Finding Joy in Judaism” and “Redemption Song: The Yearning of Early Zionist Poets.”
It is a longstanding tradition on Shavuot to study Torah all night. That tradition is enhanced by bringing together the entire community, with open minds and open hearts, to learn from each other.
This type of community-wide educational event is a unique phenomenon that does not happen in many other cities, and Jewish Pittsburgh’s enthusiast embrace of collaboration beyond denominational lines should be appreciated and celebrated.
After the Oct. 27 massacre at the Tree of Life building, all of Jewish Pittsburgh was united in its response to the tragedy and in support of one another. We came together seamlessly because we already knew that our commonalities far outweighed that which might divide us.
Prior to that first community-wide Tikkun Leil Shavuot, Barbara Shuman, co-chair of the AJL’s adult learning committee, told the Chronicle: “To me, the news is not how many people show up, but that we’ve been able to bring teachers and students from every corner of the Jewish community together to learn. I’m hoping this will not be the last time, that it will be the start of a community custom.”
Shuman’s words then were prescient. The event has become a community custom. But it should also serve as an example of what we can accomplish when we pool our resources, disregard our differences and join together for a common cause or celebration, or even a common time to mourn.
We applaud the Federation and the JCC for continuing to offer this remarkable event to Jewish Pittsburgh, and encourage our communal leaders to seek out and implement other programs that will bring us together. pjc