Sammy Miller and the Congregation will play at "Night Shift," a late-night Shavuot event in a Palo Alto shopping center, June 8, 2019.
Sammy Miller and the Congregation will play at "Night Shift," a late-night Shavuot event in a Palo Alto shopping center, June 8, 2019.

An eclectic Shavuot all-nighter in a Palo Alto shopping center

Town & Country Village in Palo Alto is usually a bustling hub of wine shops, day spas and boutiques. But on June 8, after the last cars drive away, something different is going to happen.

That Saturday night starting at 8 p.m., the Oshman Family JCC and the Israel-based education organization Bina are taking over the shopping center for “Night Shift,” a Shavuot festival of music, food and learning that aims to give Palo Alto a little of the feel of Israel, where Jewish celebrations are part of everyday life.

“You don’t have to go into a synagogue for the holiday to happen,” said Zoe Jick, associate director of Jewish content at the OFJCC. “You feel it in the streets.”

That’s what “Night Shift” is about, added Tova Birnbaum, the OFJCC’s director of Jewish content. It’s finding an alternative to the synagogue experience by bringing a celebration into a public space that becomes Jewish by virtue of the fact that Jews are celebrating there.

“We’re really trying to create a space for people to come in and experience Shavuot in a cultural Jewish way,” she said.

With Shavuot commemorating both the harvest and the giving of Torah, this festival is an eclectic mix of learning, eating and music, both outside and in Town & Country shops such as Prana, Bar Method, Aiken, Books Inc. and Tin Pot Creamery.

Want to learn to make babka? You can do that at a workshop led by Ayélet Nuchi, owner of Babka by Ayélet, at her shop/bakery. Or if you prefer the sweetness of language instead of dough, you can attend a session titled “Translingual Modernists and Their Contemporary Legacies.” And if you need to combine your hankering for sugar with a desire for earnest thought, Reboot is hosting “Death Over Dairy” with a frank discussion about end-of-life topics along with tasty milk-based treats. One session is already sold out: An investigation and interpretation of the lyrics of Leonard Cohen, with a live performance by Lior Ben-Hur.

You don’t have to go into a synagogue for the holiday to happen.

In addition, one can just hang out. That, Jick said, is part of how “Night Shift” wants to bring Jewish holidays into everyday life.

Visitors can check out art exhibits, a singing circle, various talks, a sustainable fashion show and more. Throughout the event, some shops will stay open and sell food and goods, including Babka by Ayélet, Douce France, Aiken, Tin Pot Creamery, Kara’s Cupcakes, Asian Box, Poke House, Bar Method and Core Power Yoga.

The event will kick off at 8 p.m. with a talk by writer Nicole Krauss, author of “Forest Dark” and other bestselling novels. Workshops and talks will be held in sessions from 9 to 9:50 p.m. and from 10 to 10:50 p.m. A concert featuring upbeat jazz by New York-based Sammy Miller and the Congregation will begin at 11 p.m. Miller, 27, is a Los Angeles native who played drums on various tracks of “My Favorite Things,” which was nominated for a Grammy for best instrumental jazz album in 2016.

The admission price includes lectures and workshops, although the babka-making class carries an extra charge.

“Night Shift” is in line with the ideals of Israel-based nonprofit Bina, which takes a secular approach to Jewish learning that is based on text analysis, social action and community. In Israel, where Bina operates three secular yeshivas, it provides a pluralistic alternative to the dominant Orthodox structure. In February, Bina began holding classes at the OFJCC that cover “the people, the books and the life.”

They’ve been a great success, said Jick, who developed the Bina program at the JCC.

“We’re not only putting on a course. We’re creating a feeling of community and commitment,” she said.

American Jews are used to their communal Jewish experiences happening within the traditional precincts of a synagogue, a JCC, a school or a camp. But, said Jick, there’s also a way to be Jewish in a place as ordinary as a shopping plaza.

“Going to the mall or getting Asian food can be a Jewish experience,” Jick said.

“Night Shift”

8 p.m. Saturday, June 8 at Town & Country Village, Palo Alto. $36.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.