Shavuot Decorations

These are traditionally found both in the home and the synagogue.

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The prohibition by the Vilna Gaon of using decorative greens may have led to the adaptation of the folk art of paper cutting specifically for Shavuot. While the craft in general was widespread, its application for this holiday was limited geographically to Galicia, Bukovina, and adjoining areas of Poland and Russia, especially Lithuania and the Ukraine.

Inthe 19th and early 20th centuries, heder [religious school] and yeshivah [advanced Talmudic academy] students and older men with time on their hands created the intricate lacy patterns. The papercuts--called Shavuoslekh (little Shavuot) or roiselekh (little roses) for their characteristic shape and  design--were the only Jewish papercuts seen from the street. (The works of the Jewish artists Maurice Gottleib and Mark Antokolski are said to have attracted the attention of non-Jewish patrons who later helped the artists enter art academies.)

Floral motifs were prevalent, inspired by words of the Akdamut hymn [which is read in synagogue on Shavuot], the legend that Mount Sinai burst into flower at the giving of the Torah, the classic image of Torah as the Tree of Life, and the Song of Songs' image of Israel as a rose. Some papercuts had text--"Hag Hashavuot Hazeh"(this Shavuot festival)--and some depicted classic Jewish symbols: the crowned Torah scroll, tablets of the commandments, star of David, animals real and mythological, and zodiac signs.

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Lesli Koppelman Ross is a writer and artist whose works have appeared nationally. She has devoted much of her time to the causes of Ethiopian Jewry and Jewish education.