Bikkurim – First Fruits Pilgrimage

 

Subject: Bikkurim - First Fruits Pilgrimage

Target: All members of the community

Time Frame : 90 minutes

Congregation: Congregation B’nai Amoona; United Hebrew Congregation

Contributor: Rachel Persellin-Armoza

Overview

Shavuot marks the end of the Counting of the Omer and the time the Children of Israel received the Torah.  Shavuot is also known as Yom Habikkurim.  Bikkurim are the first fruits from the Seven Species i.e., wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.  This program focuses on the mitzvah of the First Fruits.  During the time of the Holy Temple, the Children of Israel made pilgrimages to Jerusalem (especially during the “Shalosh Regalim” festivals of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot).  During Bikkurim, families took offerings from their first harvest, as a gift to God, to the Kohanim who served and protected the Temple.  After the Bikkurim ceremony, the Israelites sang and danced in the streets of Jerusalem before returning to their homes and their fields.

Goals

This program addresses Jewish concepts and values.  On Shavuot we give gratitude for the first harvest and we remember people less fortunate than ourselves.  The idea is reinforced that together, our families are the Children of Israel.  We celebrate our wealth of the harvest and of Torah and of community.  

Objectives

Families re-enact the pilgrimage to the Holy Temple.  They put fruit into decorated baskets, perform the ritual of Tenufah and end with singing, eating and dancing.  They also set aside some baskets with canned goods to be given to people in need.   

Target Population

This program is adaptable for all members of the community.  Our specific program was designed for parents and children ages 3-12, with the older children taking a more active part in the actual Tenufah, offering ceremony. 

Location

This program was initially held during Shabbat family services. It can take place anywhere a Jewish community congregates.  It is ideal for a family retreat or congregation-wide picnics.

Staff and Specialists

Initially, this program was facilitated by the family life coordinator, with the assistance of 6th grade Religious School students.  Religious School teachers, art and music specialists and laypeople can also facilitate this program.

Preparation

Preparation for this activity includes sending out letters to families several weeks before the program, giving them details of the activity and asking them to bring canned fruits or vegetables as their own “offering” for tzedakah

Preparations also include gathering supplies such as nametags, pens, thick paper, scissors, markers and crayons.  Also, age-specific texts about Shiv’at Haminim, the Seven Species, and the Three Pilgrimage holidays, copies of the Torah and the story of Ruth are collected. 

Handouts are prepared for the families to read and take home with them, explaining to them the mitzvah and traditions of bikurim. 

Baskets, colorful ribbons and simple costumes, such as white sheets, scarves and traditional headdresses and breastplates for the Kohanim are all prepared for the activity.  A CD with Shavuot songs and simple Israeli circle dances and a boom box are also set aside for the activity.

Program Activities

1.  Families are welcomed into the sanctuary or auditorium, and all participants wear nametags.  The morning begins with a brief overview and introduction to the program.  Families are given a handout explaining Bikurim and read through it together. 

2.  Next, participants “prepare” the bikurim offering.  They choose and talk about the fruits [shiv’at haminim:  the seven fruits of the Land of Israel: wheat, barley, figs, pomegranates, olives, dates and grapes].  Participants cut and color fruits and / or use stickers on prepared fruit shaped cutouts, and decorate the bikurim baskets.  Older kids are invited to choose a blessing or verse from the supplementary texts that appeals to them, and they can write it on the fruits.  All fruits are then placed in the baskets.  Some baskets have been set aside for the canned fruit donations families are asked to bring with them – these baskets are also decorated and carried on the “pilgrimage”.

3.  Families put on scarves, etc., gather up their baskets and collectively move to another corner of the sanctuary, or another room.  This process can be accompanied with song and/or dance.  When participants reach “Jerusalem”, they turn to the Kohanim, the protectors of the Holy Temple, with their offerings.  Older kids (or parents) can play the part of the Kohanim.  This process illustrates how all participants (and, then, how each Israelite has his/her own role) take a part in the ceremony and mitzvah [welcoming, or offering, or receiving].

4.  The families offer their fruits to the Kohanim, who accept it in God’s name, and all perform the ritual of Tenufah together, chanting the prayers, waving the basket and singing songs.

During the Tenufah ceremony, the Kohanim place their hands underneath the basket while the families hold the handle.  The basket is waved in four different directions to show that God is everywhere and that the fruits belong to God.  The basket is then placed in front of the “ark” and  a verse is read from ParashaT Ki Tavo.

The Kohanim read:  “When you enter the land that God is giving to you as your eternal heritage, and you settle it and cultivate it, bring the first ripened fruits (bikurim) of your orchard to the Holy Temple, and declare your gratitude for all that G-d has done for you.”

Here is a good time to for all participants to chant the Shehechiyanu, and also sing Hine Ma Tov or Oseh Shalom

5.  Families then sit together, drink grape juice (the short Kiddush is recited) and enjoy cookies and raisins.  Participants are asked to share with the group something that they learned that day.  The program concludes with several simple circle dances, accompanied by either a CD recording or families singing:  Mayim Mayim, Nigun Atik, Tzadik Katamar, the Hippo dance.

Budget

This is a very budget-friendly activity.  Many of the items will be used again at another event.

Suggestions

Before the conclusion of the program, participants were asked to share with the group something that they had learned that day.  Some mentioned the “basket waving”, some talked about the seven fruits, and others talked about the mitzvah of giving to the poor.  Informal evaluation of this activity was performed after it was first held.  As part of the Shabbat family service activities, parents and kids are invited to share their comments and suggestions, either at the close of the program (informally) or via written suggestions to the family life programming committee. 

Feedback showed that families enjoyed the activity, particularly the kids who got to “dress up” and role-play.  Kids were also eager to show their parents what they had previously learned in congregation settings (i.e. Religious School, camps, events, etc.), such as the Israeli dances, the “kehilah” songs and the Shehechiyanu.  Parents enjoyed interaction with other families and appreciated the simple and fun approach of the program.  One comment that was received was that for the older kids, additional age-specific activities should be introduced.

References and Resources

The Torah and weekly parasha Ki Tavo;  The Story of Ruth

Books:     
The Seven Species: Stories and Recipes Inspired by the Foods of the Bible  
by Matt Biers-Ariel

Websites:
www.chabad.org                                                                                                                                       www.torahtots.com [includes also printable cutouts of the seven species)