The upcoming festival of Shavuot is designated in the Torah as Chag haBikurim, “The Festival of the First Fruits,” and Chag haKatzir, “The Harvest Festival.” It’s one of the shlosh regalim, the three “walking” or pilgrimage festivals (Passover and Sukkot are the others) when Jews from all over would come to the Temple in Jerusalem to present their offerings. Shavuot is interesting, because the Torah understood that it wasn’t always possible for people to make this trip, so a provision was made to enjoy the fruits in the place where they lived.Once the Temple was destroyed and these offerings could no longer be brought, Shavuot was connected to Passover and the period of the omer, and based on a variety of numeric calculations, Shavuot became z’man mtan torataynu, “The Time of the Giving of the Torah” on Mt. Sinai (Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 68b).
It’s customary to read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot for two reasons. One, because it takes place during the harvest, and second, because Ruth is often seen as the first person to convert to Judaism when she insists on following her mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Bethlehem. Despite Naomi’s attempts to dissuade her, Ruth chose to embrace the Jewish people’s covenant with God and accept the Torah’s commandments … and — spoiler alert — she becomes the grand grandmother of King David.
People who convert to Judaism are often referred to as “Jews by Choice,” but in reality, we are all Jews by choice. This has nothing to do with who are parents are; it has to do with how we identify ourselves, how we live our lives, what we choose to tell the world, and how we embrace and practice Judaism at home and outside. There’s no question that I’d love to see more people at Shabbat and holiday services, attending our programs and being active in the synagogue, but I know that not everyone expresses their Judaism that way. What does being Jewish mean to you? How do you “do Jewish?” I want to know!
It’s practically old news and definitely public knowledge that MJC will be looking for a new physical home in the next few years. I think this is an exciting opportunity for us, and I’m looking forward to the possibilities that will open up. To do this we need everyone on board in a variety of ways; one is by quashing any rumors suggesting that this move signals our demise — it doesn’t. Second is by reaching out to those in your various social circles to let friends, family and acquaintances know about all of the great things going on inside and outside of our walls. Third, get involved! If there’s something you’re interested in, let me know.
Ruth set the stage for the future when she embraced the Jewish community, a community that is going strong more than 2,000 years later. Now it’s our turn to keep it going.
Rabbi Susan Elkodsi