Forward Thinking

5 Ways To Make Folks Care About Shavuot

By Amy Klein

  • Print
  • Share Share

Hey, did you know that Shavuot is upon us?

If you said, “no” or “oh, right, I remember that vaguely from grade school,” you’re not alone. Many non-observant Jews (not to mention non-Jews) are unfamiliar with this festival, even though it’s one of the most important ones in the Bible, celebrating… something (see No. 4).

And you know why? Bad marketing. Here are five ways to get this festival on the map.

1. Better Branding

Look, we Jews are not great at naming things. I mean, Rosh Hashanah? That doesn’t play well in Peoria. Thankfully, someone had the wisdom to say it’s “The Jewish New Year,” although that leads to more questions than answers. (“Why is your New Year in September and sometimes October?” and “What the heck is a lunar calendar?”)

The name “Shavuot” is a mouthful, and its Ashkenazi pronunciation sounds like a sneeze: “shavOO-us!” (Gesundheit.) The Biblical name is not much better: “Pentecost” sounds like a holiday of repentance — which we already have on Yom Kippur.

My suggestion? It needs a tagline. Something to do with the holiday’s meaning.

2. Stay On Message

Here’s the thing: No one is 100% clear what Shavuot is about. Most agree that it commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai… although it’s also one of the three biblical pilgrimage festivals, which is important if you’re religious because it means that synagogue will get out much later. In Temple times, it was the first day people could bring first fruits.

See what I mean? Confused messaging. Other, more popular holidays have better messages: Hanukkah has the oil miracle, so we eat oily foods and hope to miraculously not gain weight. Passover has us as slaves fleeing Egypt in a hurry with the no-rise bread, so for eight days we have to eat tasteless food that only gluten-free people like.

Shavuot needs one message. Then you’d have a tagline, a food and a following.

3. Food, Food, Food

Most Jewish holidays are summed up famously as “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.” This festival, sadly, has no wartime theme to whet our appetites. No worries, though there’s dairy. No one agrees why — frankly all the reasons on Wikipedia seem rather weak — but who cares?

This is the one aspect of the holiday that has the most potential: It’s a time to eat blueberry blintzes with sour cream; eggplant parm with cheesy sauce; cherry cheesecake with graham cracker crust. Now that’s marketable. (Except to the lactose intolerant, which is 47% of the Jewish people.) NB: opportunity for lactose aid tie-ins?

4. Customs

To become popular worldwide, occasions need customs. For example, the bar mitzvah’s lavish parties (found nowhere in the Bible) make some people so jealous, they have their dogs confirmed. (“Bark Mitzvahs.”) Purim — another ill-marketed holiday — at least has dressing up in costume, which allows people to say “It’s the Jewish Halloween.”

What does Shavuot have? Studying. That’s right. Many people stay up all night studying Jewish texts to commemorate how the Jews stayed up all night for receiving the Torah. Sounds fun? Not.

No one in this generation has the attention span for a long night of learning. Some community centers are realizing this, so they’re adding rock concerts, movies and TVs to the all-night affair.

We should add social media to the mix. “All night Facebooking!” “Tweet the Torah,” and “How to Pinterest your Favorite Biblical Passages.”

5. Timing

It’s a well-known fact that the closer to a Christian holiday and Jewish one falls, the more popular it will be. Passover-Easter, Hanukkah-Christmas, Shavuot–… Mother’s Day? … Fathers’ Day? The closest occasion in the calendar is graduation.

“It’s the end of the school year — how about staying up all night eating ice cream?” Might have some potential. Otherwise, just move it to the Fourth of July and call it Jewish Independence Day.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: shavuot, rebrand

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.