From Passover to Shavu’ot

Drawing Holidays With Children

In the Jewish tradition, the 49-day period that stretches between the springtime holidays of Passover and Shavu’ot mark a special time.  It begins with Pesach (Hebrew for Passover), which commemorates the story of Exodus, when the Israelite slaves were liberated from Egypt approximately 3264 years ago (1250 BCE).  From there, seven weeks are formally counted (known as “counting the Omer”) until we arrive at the holiday of Shavu’ot (Hebrew for “weeks”), which commemorates the giving of the Torah:  the sacred teachings of the Jewish people that were given to Moses at Mount Sinai.

This spring, I had the privilege of marking this “season of liberation” with two different groups of children.  At Temple Emanuel in Kingston, NY, I worked with students on an illustrated haggadah, or “telling” of the Passover story.  Each child was assigned one part of the seder to illustrate in the style of a medieval illuminated manuscript.  At the Woodstock Jewish Congregation, a class of fourth-grade Judaics students drew their impressions of Shavu’ot, and what it means to receive the Torah.  From liberation to revelation, these drawings are fresh and spirited.  I am honored to share them with you.

Children relate easily to the archetypal stories that stand behind these holidays.   Moses sees a burning bush that is possessed of divine spirit and is not consumed.  God sends plagues that thwart the evil intentions of the cruel Pharoah.  The Red Sea parts, and the Israelites flee to freedom.  Mount Sinai spews forth fire and smoke.  And the sacred literature of the People of the Book, also known as the Etz Chaim, or tree of life, is given to humanity forever.

Many of you are familiar with these stories . . . so without further ado, I present these beautiful drawings for your viewing pleasure.  The ancient festivals of Passover and Shavuot are transformed into a feast for the eye!

Rachzah: ritual hand-washing at the Passover seder

Hiding the “Afikomen” – a challenge for young children to find the hidden matzah

Maror: eating bitter herbs to remember our ancestors’ lives of slavery

Hallel: singing songs of praise and freedom

Shavu’ot: the Torah scroll becomes a Tree of Life – a collection of sacred literature that is rooted in ancient times, and continues to grow into the future

The teachings of Torah are a lifelong gift of guidance, likened to the devoted love of a parent that is passed from one generation to the next.

Each individual may relate directly to the Torah, and is free to interpret it as he or she understands it.

As the sacred scroll unrolls, so too does our understanding of it evolve with the unfolding of time.

Lastly, I share with you my own interpretation of Shavu’ot.  For me, the holiday is an honoring not only of tradition, but of a lifelong source of artistic inspiration.  I started this painting two years ago with the desire to create a “visual Torah” that imparts a sense of the different landscapes in which the Jewish tradition is rooted: the craggy mountains and wide deserts of the Sinai; the rolling pastures and olive groves of the Galilee; the buildings and streets of Jerusalem; and the fertile valleys where almond trees blossom each spring, bringing the promise of new life.

“Shavu’ot” – Copyright © 2014 Durga Yael Bernhard

Thanks to the talented young talmidim at Temple Emanuel and the WJC for their wonderful drawings!   As a children’s book illustrator and arts-in-ed teacher, I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with young artists.  It really brings the holidays alive, and affirms our connection to the cycling of the seasons.

Chag Sameach (happy holidays) to all!

D Yael

D Yael Bernhard

Author / Illustrator of
NEVER SAY A MEAN WORD AGAIN – New!! – A Publishers Weekly Starred Review
WHILE YOU ARE SLEEPING- Charlesbridge Publishing A Childrens Book Council Notable Book
AROUND THE WORLD IN ONE SHABBAT – Jewish Lights – A Sydney Taylor Honor Book
GREEN BIBLE STORIES FOR CHILDREN – a National Green Book Festival Notable Book
A RIDE ON MOTHER’S BACK – an American Bookseller Association Pick of the List
– and more!

This entry was posted in Arts-in-Ed Programs, Jewish Learning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *