Strengthening The Feast of Weeks: PR for Shavuot

Of course, we all know that Shavuot observance and the holiday's customs are long-standing and from our Sages, but a little humor doesn't hurt.

Tags: Shavuot Cheese
Yonatan Sredni

Judaism פרה חלב
פרה חלב
Arutz 7

Short Story

The new client sitting across from the two of us in the conference room looked vaguely familiar, but for the life of me I couldn’t place him. Fortunately, my boss, who also heads the PR department, took the lead.

“Tell us about yourself,” he said, smiling to the client. “Give us your 30-second elevator pitch and explain why you came to us.”

The client stroked his white beard and spoke in a quiet, but confident tone.

“My name is Shavuot,” he said. “I am one of the the three biblical pilgrimage festivals, along with Passover and Sukkot.”

“Cool,” I blurted out. “Do you have any interesting symbols like those other two holidays? Passover has Matza, Sukkot has the sukkah and the four species.”

Shavuot shook his head sadly. “That’s part of the reason I’m here. I don’t have any of those special symbols. In fact, outside of Israel hardly anyone knows about me. That’s why I need really good public relations.”

“Well, you’ve come to the right place,” my boss said confidently, while sensing this wouldn’t be an easy client to promote. “What else? Are you a weeklong festival like those other two?

Shavuot shook his head again. “One day,” he answered, “two in the diaspora.”

“Well, a one or two day festival is often easier to promote than a week long one,” I added optimistically.

“So when exactly is your holiday?” my boss asked.

“50 days after the first day of Passover,” he said proudly. “Everyone counts 49 days and then the 50th day is Shavuot.”

“I see,” my boss answered, quite perplexed. “As I seem to have left my Jewish calendar at home, when is that exactly?”

“It comes out to be the 6th of Sivan.”

I write that down in my notebook, and jump in with a follow up question, “You said you were a biblical holiday. What does the Torah say about you?”

“That’s the problem,” Shavuot replied. “It doesn’t say a whole lot. It doesn’t even give me a date, just count seven weeks from Passover and you get to me. Even my name, Shavuot, simply means ‘weeks’.”

“Can you give us anything?” my boss asked. “Surely there is something unique about Shavuot written in the Torah.”

“Well,” Shavuot said slowly, thinking hard, “there are the Bikurim, the first fruits. In Temple times the Israelites would bring their first fruits to the temple starting on Shavuot, also known as the holiday of Bikurim.”

“Ok,” my boss replied not very convinced, “I am sure we can do something with that...first fruits, harvest, reaping, maybe we can get the kibbutzim involved and promote it somehow, but I’m not sure. What else have you got?”

Shavuot shrugged.

“Listen,” my boss began, shifting to full PR mode. “Let me tell you about another one day festival that came to us not so long ago with no special biblical symbols and what we did for them. Have you heard of Simchat Torah?”

“Sure!” Shavuot’s eyes lit up. “You guys promoted Simchat Torah?”

“Let me explain,” my boss began. “That client was attached to the end of the holiday of Sukkot, yet claimed to be his own holiday - but with no sukkah, no four species, nothing. Worse yet, his name wasn’t catchy, Shmini Atzeret, The 8th Day of Assembly, what was that all about?”

Shavuot listened intently nodding along.

“We told Shmini that it was nice to have his own holiday and added a prayer for rain to his observance, but it needed more. At that time everyone was following the old custom of reading the whole Torah in the course of three years. We suggested that they break up the Torah into 54 weekly portions, doubling up when needed, and finish the whole reading once a year on Shmini Atzeret and start over again the same day.”

“So you gave them the name, ‘Simchat Torah’?”

“Brilliant, wasn’t it? I mean who else but a PR company could come up with a name like that,” my boss smiled. “So what do you have similar to that.”

“Well,” Shavuot said. “According to tradition the Torah was given on Shavuot, either the 6th or 7th of Sivan.”

“Perfect!” my boss exclaimed, nearly jumping out of his chair. “Now, we’ve got something. Let’s give you an additional name, “Zman Matan Torahteinu”, and we can say ‘zman’ being a little vague about the exact date, the key is that it will be a celebration of the giving of the Torah.”

“You think people will go for it?” Shavuot asked.

“Of course they will!” my boss got said confidently. “The Torah is very big with Jews. We just have to package this story right.” Turning to me, he signaled to start taking notes, which I did. “Ok,” he continued, “we’ll make the Torah reading of Shavuot morning about the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai along with the 10 Commandments.

“And we’ll have communities decorate their synagogues with flowers, leaves and plants for Shavuot,” I added. “Because according to the Midrash, Mt. Sinai blossomed with flowers in anticipation of the giving of the Torah!”

My boss nodded. A plan was coming together. “What else?” he asked the client.

“I have this beautiful liturgical poem called Akdamut that could be read in synagogues just before the holiday Torah reading,” Shavuot suggested, sliding over a sheet in Aramaic.

“Hmmm…” my boss handed the sheet of paper to me to put on file. “We’ll see. Anything else?”

“Well,” Shavuot said, “the Midrash relates that the night before the Torah was given, the Israelites retired early to be well-rested for the momentous day ahead, but they overslept and Moses had to wake them up because God was already waiting on the mountaintop.”

“We can fix that,” my boss replied. “We’ll have Jews celebrate Shavuot by staying up all night to learn Torah, we’ll call it Tikkun Leil Shavuot. It will be big, I promise you. And soon it won’t just be in synagogues, but everywhere. Before long everybody from the biggest rabbis to Yair Lapid will be giving lectures on Shavuot night.”

“Who’s Yair Lapid?” Shavuot asked.

“Never mind,” my boss said. “What other ideas do you have?”

“There’s The Book of Ruth,” Shavuot suggested. “The protagonists are two women, Ruth and Naomi, and it takes place around this time of the year. It’s a story about kindness and Ruth ended up being the great grandmother of King David, who was born on Shavuot.

“Excellent!” my boss exclaimed. “We’ll add in reading The Book of Ruth to the Shavuot service, it’ll attract the women too. One last question, what special foods do people eat on this holiday?”

“I honestly don’t know,” Shavuot apologized. “You see, before they received the Torah, the Israelites were not obligated to follow its laws, which include shechita (ritual slaughter of animals) and kashrut. Since all their meat pots and dishes now had to be made kosher before use, I suppose they opted to eat dairy foods.”

“Awesome!” my boss said turning to me. “Yonatan, write this down: dairy foods, blintzes, quiche, cheeses, ice cream, make a full list. We’ll market this as a dairy holiday so that Tnuva will love us. What’s the gematria of the Hebrew word for milk, chalav?”

I did the math in my head quickly. “40,” I replied.

“There you go! Milk=40, and for 40 days Moses was up on Mt. Sinai getting the Torah. It all works out perfectly.”

Soon our time had run out we thanked the client, told him that we’d use all these new ideas for holiday customs we had brainstormed on together and start promoting Shavuot immediately.

He thanked us profusely as we escorted him out of our offices.

But as he was leaving, my boss put his hand on Shavuot’s shoulder, reminiscent of a memorable scene from Dustin Hoffman’s from The Graduate.

“Mr. Shavuot,” my boss said quietly. “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word that can make or break your holiday.”


“Are you listening?”

“Yes, I am.”

My boss leaned in and whispered in his ear, “Cheesecake.”

The writer has an MA in Creative Writing and works in PR for Blonde 2.0