When it comes to programming on Shavuot night for teens, you need to be creative. An all-star speaker usually won’t do the trick regardless of how inspiring and interesting the topic may be.
On Shavuot night, teens are up late, are with their friends, and the whole environment and atmosphere are just not conducive to traditional-style classes. Instead, you need to plan educational experiences that are NOT lecture based.
The learning must be interactive, discussion based, and aim to get kids on their feet. That does not mean that there can’t be an element of lecture, but it should definitely not be the main focus of the programming.
Another important component of the evening is to feature incredible food. It may sound funny, but it’s a big draw. In order to have a successful program, you have to put yourself in the mind of your audience. Many kids simply won’t want to show up without that knock-out appeal.
Shavuot programs are best when there is a large group of kids coming together and there is more of an active and fun atmosphere. Since I live in a large Jewish community in Los Angeles, I try to partner up with other shuls and organizations to build excitement and drive home the community feel to the program. There has been a lot of positive feedback using this model and I encourage you to see if it is an option in your communities.
Here’s what we successfully organized on a recent Shavuot: The theme of unity fits into Shavuot quite nicely. We scheduled different educational activities at three local shuls over the evening: The first shul featured a team-building game about unity and the importance of collaborating, the second shul presented a community member who was serving in the Israeli army and spoke about what life was like living as an Orthodox Jew in the army, and the third shul hosted chavruta learning with high school students, analyzed Jewish sources on unity and ended with a group discussion. And the food? Ice cream and cakes were served at the first shul, and burgers and hot dogs at the last one.
This year, we are doing an “Asher Bachar Banu–Chosen for What?” theme. Ner Le’Elef offers a wonderful class in PDF and Word formats on this theme that you can adapt to your crowd. Our goal is to drive home the point that although we are “chosen”, we are not elitist and do not think we are better than everyone else. We want to explain exactly what being “chosen” means. We’re still developing the activities and classes for this year.
If you have any helpful programming tips that you have used in the past or are implementing this year, please feel free to share them in the comments below.
Hatzlacha and Chag Sameach!
Rabbi Zach Swigard teaches 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy and is the administrative director for BILU, both in Beverly Hills, California. Rabbi Swigard also teaches a college level, Touro accredited class at BILU titled, “Modern Jewish Questions”.