In honor of Shavuot, the farmers of the Megilot Regional Council presented Israeli President Shimon Peres with the first fruits from their farms, following an ancient holiday custom that dates back to when Jewish pilgrims presented offered their first yields to Temple.
Shavuot, which begins on May 26, is often celebrated in the United States with all-night Torah study marathons, wearing white and eating cheese. In many areas of Israel, however, Shavuot celebrations harken back to the agricultural roots of the holiday with community festivals honoring both the land and the season’s crops.
Michal Peleg-Uziyahu, who now lives in Denver, describes her childhood memories of Shavuot: “I grew up on a moshav that was completely secular. Our celebrations always emphasized the agricultural component. Everyone went out to the fields and decorated the tractors. We all wore white, which made us feel holy and pure, like we do on Shabbat.”
At Kibbutz Sde Boker, Shavuot is a way to celebrate both children and the beautiful nature blooming all around them. Each year, the community gathers the first fruits and the babies born in the last year for a special celebration and games.
Eytan Pe’er, a kibbutznik since 1979 describes the day’s events: “We bring out old agricultural tools and tractors, things we haven’t used for many years, and have competitions. It’s our Olympic Games. And the winners have to make coffee.”
The day concludes with a reading of the Book of Ruth. “The story of Ruth is very important. For us, it means that we should have patience for non-Jews. It’s a symbol of how society should teach tolerance and love for other people.”
The focus on agriculture is also slowly catching on among American Jews, particularly those concerned with sustainability and food justice issues. The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life encourages the Jewish community to see Shavuot as a call to action.
“Being a harvest festival, Shavuot is also a good time to reflect on how we run our agricultural system in the United States and how we can improve that system to be more sustainable, conserve energy and protect the environment,” the organization explains.
.ORG-Connection: The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life deepens the Jewish community’s commitment to the stewardship of creation and mobilizes the resources of Jewish life and learning to protect the Earth and all its inhabitants.