Choosing Judaism

Choosing Judaism

From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon

Late May and early June are times when schools are wrapping up, graduation ceremonies are being held, and families are leaving for summer breaks. It’s also time on the Jewish calendar for the Festival holiday, Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks. It marks the 50th day between Passover, a time of redemption, and Shavuot, a time of revelation. At Passover, the Israelites were redeemed from slavery in Egypt by God’s mighty acts, and on Shavuot, they received God’s teachings at Mount Sinai.

The day is called “Zeman Matan Torateinu,” the season of the giving of the Torah. On Shavuot, we celebrate our covenantal relationship with God and reaffirm our commitment to Jewish life. We participate in study, worship, and customs including special foods for the holiday. Drawing nourishment from Torah, and from the land flowing with “milk and honey,” it’s customary to enjoy dairy foods on Shavuot.  

On Shavuot, we also read from the Book of Ruth. The familiar words, “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God, my God,” express Ruth’s undying attachment to Naomi and her people. This is reflected in the Israelites’ own attachment to God and the eternal covenant God made with our ancestors and with us at this season.

Though the spring and summer pass by with too little notice of Shavuot, it remains one of the three pilgrimage holidays, in addition to Sukkot and Passover. Like Sukkot and Passover, which end with Yizkor, memorial prayers, Shavuot also includes memorial prayers. These are times to pause and reflect on the memories of deceased family and friends who were part of our lives and Jewish celebrations. Though you might be reading this later than worship services on Friday, May 26th, at 10:30am, when Shavuot/Yizkor services are held in the Gordon Chapel or online, it isn’t too late to consider the rich memories of those whom you remember.

The union of covenant and community with God and Torah make Shavuot a special time to deepen our connection to Jewish life. We’ve inherited much from the generations that have gone before us. What will we bequeath to the next generation? Or, asked differently, what do we hope they will remember about our contributions to Jewish life and community? Rabbi Karff (z’l) used to teach that we’re all “Jews-by-Choice.” By this he meant that in an open society with freedom to choose anything, we can also choose our Judaism — or not. How, then, will we demonstrate to our children, our extended family, and our neighbors that Judaism is our faith, heritage, culture, language, and culinary preference? Will the endearing pledge made by Ruth, be our pledge, too?

The answer to the question shouldn’t be “No.” Instead, the answer should be an evolving one that responds to our time and place, today, with our vision set on what we hope to create in the future. For example, the Jewish customs and rituals that we create for our children at home might be the same ones they duplicate in their own homes, or even their college dorms with friends. Don’t refrain from modeling for them how meaningful Jewish life can be. In the future, when they look around for ritual meaning and spiritual significance, they should look no further than the memories you created for them.

On this day of receiving Torah, let Torah be your guide to support Jewish life at home, in the synagogue, and in the future.


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