Monday, May 17, 2010

Shavuot and 'Bikurim' Festivals are Here

Delving through a mountain of blintzes, salads and cheese cakes (photo), many people look forward to the festival of Shavuot, the last important Jewish holiday of the year and also known as Bikurim or 'First Fruits' of the harvest. The holiday, which begins Tuesday evening, or the fifth day or the Hebrew month of Sivan, causes thousands of Israelis to rush to their favorite supermarket to stock up on provisions which such zeal that one would think that it was a week long festival instead of just one day.

One thing that may have been the cause for the abnormally large supermarket crowds, as well as the congested highways is that people are encouraged to visit many nature parks and Kibbutzim cooperative settlements which usually stage harvest pageants in which their members, especially children are dressed in special costumes to commemorate the bringing in of wheat and other crops.

Temperatures are still relatively comfortable, and Israel is blessed with a variety of natural sites, offering something for everyone. Those who are inclined can take advantage of these green spots, as well as seaside beach facilities on the Mediterranean Sea, Dead Sea, and Gulf of Eilat.

The parks and beaches surrounding Israel's only large fresh water lake, the Kinneret, are often very crowded, with many people camping out and cooking a variety of roasted meats on their barbeques or 'mangals'. The unpleasant side of this experience includes the overcrowding and the debris or garbage left behind, often scattered all over the park or beach front.

This year in particular, it is suggested that people think about conserving Israel's precious water resources as the country's only major fresh water lake, the Kinneret, is still very low, despite the rains which came this past winter. Another 'water issue' that people should become more interested in is the sad state of the Lower Jordan River, which for most of it's 115 kilometer distance after leaving the Kinneret is no more than a sewage canal, carrying a combination of raw sewage from towns and settlements along it's banks and saline water that is diverted into it from salt springs and fish ponds. Scientists studying the river's present situation fear that the Lower Jordan may even "run dry" by the end of 2011 when this sewage and saline water is treated by new sewage treatment plants and diverted to farmers for agricultural use.

From a religious standpoint, Shavuot is one of Israel's most important Jewish festivals, as it commemorates the receiving of the Torah or Laws of God which Moses received from God on Mt. Sinai. The name Shavuot, or "weeks", means the culmination of the seventh week from when the Children of Israel left their bondage in Egypt and began their long journey to the Land of Israel. For religious Jews, the entire night is spent in study and prayer which culminates the following morning. As noted at the beginning of this article, the holiday is also symbolized by eating dairy meals, especially various cheese dishes. Shavuot is the last major Jewish holiday of the year and also ushers in the summer period when many young couples get married in Israel.

Whether one celebrates this beautiful holiday from a religious or secular standpoint, the festival of Shavuot is beautiful time to be in the Land of Israel.

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