Dvar trek: Night of Torah study goes mobile in S.F.

This Shavuot, California Street in San Francisco will fill with wandering Jews. The multitude will be part of Traveling Shavuot, a first-time event in which participants will walk from synagogue to synagogue for all-night Torah study.

Or as organizers call it, a shul crawl.

It’s based on the pub crawl model. But unlike a pub crawl, in which revelers grow steadily more inebriated as the night goes on, shul crawlers ideally will become high on Jewish learning.

Traveling Shavuot begins 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 28, at Congregation Sherith Israel, moves three-fourths of a mile to the JCC of San Francisco, then treks another three-fourths of a mile to Congregation Emanu-El, and finally one more mile to Congregation Beth Sholom, where the party may continue until dawn.

A promotional flier for San Francisco’s first Traveling Shavuot.

Participants are encouraged to join in anywhere along the way. At each stop, noted local rabbis, cantors and scholars will share Torah lessons, many focused on the Exodus and its meaning.

“We wanted to hit different centers of learning,” said Beth Sholom Rabbi Micah Hyman, one of the event’s planners. “There is art, singing, candlelighting, political action work. Talking about the Exodus, from slavery to freedom, isn’t just something nice to learn, but an essential component of Shavuot.”

An all-night Torah study session — known as tikkun leyl Shavuot — is a popular way to celebrate the holiday. The Jewish Community Center of the East Bay has held an annual tikkun for years, and there are others around the region.

Emanu-El Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe felt the time was right to launch a tikkun and Torah procession along the California Street corridor, which houses Sherith Israel and the JCC (both on California Street) and Emanu-El and Beth Sholom (each one block off the street).

“I realized we didn’t have [a tikkun],” he said, “so I was looking to start something here. I contacted Rabbi Hyman and pitched the basic idea. It was his idea to make this a shul crawl.”

Guest speakers in-clude Hyman and fellow rabbis Stephen Pearce, Julie Saxe-Taller, Larry Raphael, Peretz Wolf-Prusan and David Levinsky, Cantor Roslyn Barak and scholar Aaron Hahn Tapper.

And in this case, “guest” is the operative word. Raphael of Sherith Israel and Barak of Emanu-El will speak at Beth Sholom, Hyman at Emanu-El, and so on.

“We wanted the opportunity to teach in each other’s spaces,” Hyman said.

Added Jaffe, “It’s a nice way to foster a sense of connection. We were all eager to learn from one another.”

Though the topics covered at the tikkun pose intellectual challenges, Hyman and Jaffe insist the event is for anyone, Jewish and non-Jewish, any age, any gender, any level of Jewish education.

Even kids can enjoy the holiday at a 5:30 p.m. family dinner at Sherith Israel, featuring music and storytelling from Cantor Rita Glassman.

“Everyone is welcome,” Hyman said. “The point is community being together. The point is you stay up all night because you don’t want to miss it.”

Jaffe said he remembers fondly all-night tikkuns in Jerusalem, when white-clad Jews would fill the streets, clutching sheaves of barley and heading to various study sessions.

The sheaves of barley represent the Omer counted for the seven weeks after Passover, commemorating the holiday’s harvest festival origins. Shavuot, meaning “weeks” in Hebrew, also marks the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people.

If all goes well, Jaffe and Hyman hope to make Traveling Shavuot an annual event. Of course, both know that before one learns to run, one must first learn to crawl.

“Hopefully,” says Hyman, “this turns into spiritual fireworks.”

Traveling Shavuot is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. to 12 a.m. Thursday, May 28. Free. Optional dinner $7 per person, $12 per family. Information: Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe, (415) 751-2541 ext. 109 or jjaffe@emanuelsf.org.


Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.