This evening marks the beginning of Shavuot, kind of wallflower Jewish holiday that always seems to get a bit lost as the school years ends.
It’s actually a nice little “jewbilee,” even for us do-it-yourself Jews who don’t like rituals that require cleaning out every closet in the house with a toothbrush or swinging live chickens. Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah to our man Moses on Mt. Sinai, seven weeks after our peeps got the hell outta
Dodge Egypt so many centuries ago. It evolved into late spring harvest festival at the big ol’ temple King Solomon built; however, once all the Jews dispersed all over the planet like dandelion spores, it’s been known as the Rodney Dangerfield of Jewish holidays.
It really should be a big deal for the Abrahamic religions since that’s when the Ten Commandments came down, but here in America, it’s still gets no respect. Tablet‘s Marissa Brostoff explores why such an important holiday gets the shaft and how some synagogues are selling Shavuot to the next generation. Some hipsters have started hosting super cool all-nighters — hilarious comedian Sandra Bernhard headlines this year in San Francisco! — and I love the idea of bringing a cow to shul for the kids to milk to connect the tradition of serving dairy deliciousness.
Shavuot is generally celebrated some late-night study with the rabbis, a reading of the Book of Ruth, putting a vase of pretty flowers on the table and — get this — eating cheesecake. I don’t even remember Shavout growing up Reform in Arizona, but this explains my deep obsession for creamy sweet softness in a graham cracker crust — it’s rooted in my DNA.
Lip-smacking aside, Shavuot also features one of my favorite Torah tales, one of the few starring women with a speaking role. The Book of Ruth takes place during a time of famine, when Jewish mother Naomi has to move to Moab with her husband, who promptly dies. Her sons marry outside the Tribe, then they die. Noami is left with her shiksa daughters-in-laws, Orpah and Ruth, who she tries to convince to go back to their own people. Orpah does leave, but Ruth stays, giving one of the most beautiful speeches any Jewish mother wants to hear:
Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God, my God.
Ruth becomes the first “righteous convert” to Judaism, not necessarily out of love for God, but out of love for Naomi. (Writer David Plotz does an amazing theological/social interpretation of her choice in this piece on Slate.com.)
I relate to Ruth’s decision to stay with Naomi on a personal level. As some of you know, my mother-in-law, once a brilliant and kind lady, has deteriorated these last few years at the unmerciful hands of dementia. We still lived in California when she was diagnosed with cancer before that, and she pooh-poohed us when we offered to come and comfort her. “You guys just take care of the baby. I’ll be fine,” she’d say. She never, ever would have asked us to move back to Savannah to help her and my father-in-law get used to the rotten inevitability of this disease. I don’t know how helpful we actually are, but we did come. Not out of obligation or guilt, but out of love.
So you see, like Ruth, I did convert. Yes, I’m already Jewish, but I love my mother-in-law so much I became SOUTHERN, y’all.
Heheheh. I’d love to tell you I’ll be davening tonight and stuffing my face with cheese blintzes at synagogue. Instead, I’ll be celebrating the handing down of a different, much less significant-to-anyone-but-me type of scroll – a certificate that says I’ve been voted “Best Local Blogger” by the readers of Connect Savannah. I’m still shocked by the honor — there aren’t enough Jews in Savannah to lobby for this, so apparently some of you are just here for the food.
I promise to catch up on Torah study tomorrow with a big fat slice of blueberry cheesecake.