Reflections from Shavuot

Perth was abuzz with Torah learning during Shavuot, with public Tikkun Leil learning programs at all Shules, Carmel School and Bnei Akiva and some private learning initiatives too.  It is worth noting two wonderful achievements, the first being that a very large number of the senior kids at Carmel School (we heard 80% of the year 11 class) opted to participate in the school program.  This shows how far the school has come in recent years.  What a fantastic response!  The second was news of an event hosted by a young graduate student and community leader who hosted a large gathering of students and young adults in his home.  About 40 people attended, creating a social and educational environment of their own. 

What is most encouraging about both of these events, is that they were hosted outside of the framework and formal auspices of the Shules. It is very important that the institutionalisation of the community does not stifle growth of this community as it has done in the past.

To many traditional Jewish people Shavuot has been the forgotten festival. It is not marked by any mitzvah (eg, Matzah, Shofar, Succah, Chanukiah etc). Some would take in a cheese blintz or a slice of cheesecake, even take in a Shule service or shiur, but the effort of a Tikkun Leil and intensive learning of Torah has not been a “culture” of Perth Jewry. Yet this year, hundreds of people across at least seven gatherings joined to participate in learning.

It is this change in the dynamic of Perth Jewry that is not being noticed to its full extent. Those immersed within see a gradual resurgence of Jewish observance, but do not notice the continuing strengthening of the community week by week, precisely because it is so gradual. Those who are not so immersed in their own journey of Jewish growth are victim to a cocoon state of being, of not wanting change and not being able to cope with change at a communal level.

I hope to share several posts over the coming days about various aspects of Jewish identity. However no message is more poignant than the one that I came across during my Shavuot learning. It is a quote from the great Jewish leader Nahum Goldman, written in his personal memoir “The Jewish Paradox”:

“If someone was to ask me the meaning of Judaism, I would answer that it was nonconformism. We are history’s non conformist people par-excellence. We began with Abraham, who left his country not to conquer others, or to get rich, but simply because he could not bear the idolatrous religion which surrounded him. From Abraham to Einstein, nonconformism has remained our most basic feature. If the Jewish people has survived, it is because it was nonconformist, because it rejected the notions of the greatest number.”

“a conformist people has nothing to offer to its young idealists; it must be contented with the sort of prosaic young generation whose only aims are to live well, make love and make money. It seems to me that the only solution is to create a young generation which is nonconformist, revolutionary and Jewish all at once.”