A few years ago at seder, I commented to one of my brothers that I wondered what it would be like to celebrate Pesach with a community of people who are as gung-ho about Judaism as I am. I said maybe next year I'd spend the holiday on retreat.
"I hope you don't," he said, "because that would be a loss for the rest of us." Having me there -- as quirky and feminist and in-love with Judaism as I am -- adds something to my family's seder. When I recuse myself to spend holidays with other people just like me, my family misses out.
I don't always make it to Texas for seder. My families are many. If I could teleport to hold a seder every night of the festival in a different place, I'm still not sure I could manage to be with everyone I'd like to celebrate with. That's okay.
But as we approach Shavuot, I'm thinking about retreats again. At the Kehilat Hadar retreat at Camp Ramah, a community of invested, engaged, thinking Jews will stay up all night studying and praying, and will welcome the dawn with enthusiastic prayer and song. I can't tell you how great that sounds.
But I'm not going. Because I'm organizing my shul's tikkun leyl Shavuot this year. (That's the traditional all-night study session. "Tikkun" literally means "repair" or "healing" -- an interesting term to use for Torah study, no?)
Last year was the first time I celebrated Shavuot as an adult. About twenty people started the night at my shul with the evening service; then community members taught shiurim, lessons, on subjects ranging from midrash-writing to Biblical poetry. (We interpret "Torah study" pretty broadly.) The crowd was skewed towards real grown-ups, with jobs to attend the next morning; a few people left after each shiur, until by 2am it was just Jeff (the rabbi) and me. He taught his lesson, and then we went home. Kinda...anti-climactic.
I wanted to last until dawn, to see what it's like to davven the morning blessings after studying all night in a mindful way. Jeff says he's happy with how it went, though, and from his point of view I can see why. It's good that our small congregation has people interested in celebrating Shavuot; and if we can't make it all night long, well, what's important is that we're trying. As leader of a smalltown congregation, he's thrilled that there's enthusiasm.
Me, I'm not the rabbi. I'm a community member who wants a particular experience, and I'm not getting it. And I know I could get it by going on retreat. So why aren't I going?
Because of what my brother said that Pesach. If I leave town to get all of my good Jewish experiences, then I'm not helping to build kehillat kodesh, holy community, in the community where I live. I can't donate funds to maintain our building; what I can give is my time, and my desire to help create meaningful Jewish experiences.
As things stand now, eight people have agreed to teach, including Jeff and me. People who don't teach regularly don't necessarily know how long a given discussion will last; there's a good chance we'll run through eight lessons in four hours. In other words, this could be another year when we fizzle by two.
I know I'll be bummed if/when I don't get the all-night tikkun I'm looking for, but I still think I made the right call. For Yom Kippur, when my shul will be packed to the gills, I'm returning to Elat Chayyim. But for Shavuot? I have a role to play here. I like knowing that I'll be helping members of my community get a joyful experience, even if it's not exactly the experience of my dreams.