High school boys wearing yarmulkes, older couples holding hands and young women in their holiday best all sit gathered around a man telling a story of bioethics, the Golem, and Frankenstein. Replacing the story teller, an octogenarian begins to speak on the role of the Cohenim in the days of the temple. A local teacher later comes to the front and gives a lecture on Revelation. This opportunity to learn, what seems like a TedX Conference in the making, is actually a holiday.
Tonight is the beginning of Shavuot. On Shavuot, we celebrate the beginning of the harvest and the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. It is customary on Shavuot to spend the entire night studying Torah. Many communities have their own version of this tradition, for example, having speakers come to present to a crowd.
The festival is called the giving of the Torah and not the receiving of the Torah. In this way, the Jewish tradition recognizes that people are constantly receiving knowledge. Learning should never stop.
Holidays in the American mindset are usually associated with a break. A break from thinking, a break from school, a break from learning. Judaism, however, recognizes that there is no break from learning. By associating learning and knowledge with holidays, Judaism creates a positive perception of education.
Not only on Shavuot, but on all other Jewish holidays, learning and books is central to celebration. On Passover we read the Haggadah, on Purim we read the Megillah. Lessons from those stories are central to the Jewish tradition. In Judaism, a person does not stop growing until they are dead. There is always an opportunity to become a better person. Whether a high school boy wearing a yarmulke, an old couple holding hands, or a young woman in your holiday best, Judaism teaches that you are never too old to grow, that life is one long lesson, and that there are always new stories to learn.