Create Your Own Shavuot

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The best Shavuot I ever had, I made myself. I invited a bunch of friends, cooked a bunch of food, and then prepared myself for the all-night study extravaganza that is traditional to the holiday. I’m an author, and a geek, and for both reasons a holiday in which you’re commanded to stay up all night and study hugely appeals to my sensibilities.

I scattered a bunch of books in the center of the room. Some were Jewish books (my faves: Ben Ish Chai, Outpouring of the Soul, and a book of Rebbe Nachman‘s stories). There was a Torah and some printed-out translations of the Talmud. And then I scattered a bunch of X-Men comics, for good measure.

Slowly, people started to scatter in. At first, except for the lack of music, it resembled an ordinary night at the house — a bunch of kids leafing through books, sitting on the couch. Then, a friend of a friend — a Hasidic kid who’d been visiting from New York — jumped on the couch and started to tell a story.

From that point on, it was social, but social in a way that parties never had been. It was like there were twice as much company in the room, people + books. We studied individually. We studied together. The night wore on, and not many people stuck around till sunrise, but there were a few of us who did. (We watched it on the back porch, with the world still, one of those rare days when you can actually see through to the Pacific Ocean.) For the final half hour, in the time when we weren’t sure whether it still counted as night or not, I ripped open my X-Men comics (the Grant Morrison run, #141-144, I believe) and started learning things from there.

Torah is kind of like a Swiss Army knife. It has a thousand tools that can be used in half a million different permutations. I’m never as smart as I am when I stand up after learning Torah, when it’s all fresh in my mind and I really feel like I can do anything. Reading X-Men after seven hours of learning — reading it aloud to a room of other people who’ve also had seven hours of nothing but Torah in their heads — was one of the most transcendent reading experiences of my life. Do you remember the first time you saw your favorite movie? It was that good. Each panel was like a new world of meaning — the way they fought and spoke, the way Wolverine’s adamantium skeleton was actually a permutation of his inner kabbalistic sefirot not being as fluid as, say, Jean Grey’s.

So this year, we’re hanging out at home. The brilliant Jake Marmer and will just be getting home from Israel, and crashing at his in-laws’ near our place. We’re going to set up camp and learn. No plans for a big event, either like San Francisco or like the integrated Reform-Conservative-Orthodox all-nite affair last year in Chicago, where 75 people showed up for a random lecture on Hasidic thought and time travel. But sometimes, a good friend and a good book is all you need.

Oh, and a tiny tiny plug — my old yeshiva, Simchat Shlomo, is having a Shavuot night learn-a-thon, where people sponsor you $10 or $1 or whatever per hour of Torah study. It’s a great cause on both ends…and I’ve got a kid who wakes up early, so I promise not to study *too* long. If you want to sponsor me, give me a holler.

Posted on May 20, 2009

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