Shavuot on Mount Zion
Shavuot on Mount

The Olam Habah Events Collective in conjunction with the Jewish Unity Project is holding a special Shavuot lecture series on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. This is the second year the group will be organizing activities for English speakers.

The Shavuot festival on Mount Zion has been taking place for the past eleven years. It was originally begun by the husband and wife team of Shimon and Batsheva Sheleg as a small family gathering. Since then, hundreds have joined them for an all-night camp-out with traditional Jewish prayer services and Torah learning. As the eve of Shavuot approaches, the scenic hilltop adjacent to the Old City will transform into a plethora of tents, campfires, and people.

Olam Habah has organized Purim parades and other holiday events this past year. Yitzchok Meir Malek and Ariel Kohane, two of the organizers spoke to Arutz Sheva - Israel National Radio about the festival.

To listen to the full podcast download the Israel Beat Jewish Music Podcast by clicking here.

"Imagine two thousand years ago when we had the Beis HaMikdash. Everybody took the trek to Yerushalayim three times a year," Kohane explained, referencing the Shalosh Regalim, or three pilgrimage festivals of Shavuot, Sukkot and Passover. "The entire people came together. We are trying to once again explore that spiritual potency," Kohane stated.

The young woman described her pleasant yet unfulfilling experience growing up in a mid-west Jewish community in the United States and the contrast to her current Israeli experience. "The holidays meant going to synagogue and it felt dry for me. They didn't resonate," she related. "I thought it had nothing to do with me. But once I came to Yerushalayim and met this community, I realized how alive and relevant these holidays can be to our lives. This can be a opportunity for true Jewish unity because the entire nation of Israel came together," she added.

Shavuot regularly attracts a sea of thousands of people to the Old City of Jerusalem, and in particular the Western Wall. But around the corner, just outside the Zion Gate, the quaint Mount Zion neighborhood may seem a little more bohemian in nature. However Kohane asserted, "this is not a Grateful Dead concert. We are open minded, but we are also serious about Torah. We honor the chag. This will be a halachic experience open to all comers whether or not you personally keep halacha. Because we want all types of Jews to feel comfortable we have created a common denominator," Kohane related.

Malek agreed with the sentiment. The young singer-songwriter has been working with the Jewish Unity Project and has first-hand experience with diverse groups of people. Over the past ten years Malek has become a well-known fixture in the local music scene due in part to his performances for Israel Defense Force soldiers from a variety of diverse units. He has also appeared on nationally syndicated Israeli television broadcasts. He recently returned from a tour in Chile, the United Kingdom and other countries.

"You don't have to agree in order to love one another," Malek stressed. "This is a tremendous misconception. You don't have to be the same. People are looking to take responsibility and stop pointing fingers a politicians, and at governments and at teachers and at parents, but instead asking 'what can I do?'"

On the holiday of Shavuot it is traditional to stay up all night and study Torah. The lecture series will begin at 11:00pm. The schedule of guest speakers are: Steve Moshe Hazzan who will speak on "Tikun Leyl Shavuot - The Night's Kabbalistic Order of Learning"; Rabbi Itzchak Even Shays, director of English programming at Beit HaRav Kook who will speak about Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook; Izzy Greenberg formerly of Ascent Tzfat who will speak about "Angels vs. Humans"; Shoshana Harrari author of The 7 Healing Fruits of Israel, Shaina Batsheva who will discuss women and the Shavuoy holiday; Dovid Feldman who will talk about "The Power if Pattern: The Shared structure if nature and tradition"; Yoseph Ibn Mordachya who will speak on the Kabbalistic work Sefer Yetzira and 7 doubles; Pesach Stadlin will talk about "the Golden Route - Walking Connected." All workshops are open to the public.

The festival of Shavuot will begin Tuesday evening May 14th at sundown. In Israel it is one day and outside of Israel it lasts for two days. Following the end of Shavuot in Israel at sundown on Wednesday, the Shavuot on Mount Zion celebration will continue with a bonfire and music.

For the full interview including a discussion of the term "olam habah" download the podcast by clicking here.

For a photo essay and interviews from last year's event click here.

Ben Bresky is a music journalist living in Jerusalem. He hosts The Israel Beat Jewish Music Podcast interviewing a wide range of Jewish and Israeli musicians from Carlebach to klezmer, from hassidic to trance. For mp3 archives click here. For Facebook click here. For Twitter click here.