Each of us are Jews of Choice. Each of us…has the ability to approach our Judaism in deeper and meaningful ways

              

After Purim and Passover, it is easy to overlook the final spring holiday on the Jewish calendar. Shavuot should not go unnoticed. Shavuot is one of our three Pilgrimage Festivals, (Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot) when the Israelites brought their sacrifices to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Each year on the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, we re-enact the receiving of the Ten Commandments and the Torah at Mount Sinai. It is not surprising then that the allotted Torah portion on Shavuot is that of the Ten Commandments. What is not as obvious is the connection to our Haftorah portion, the story of the Book of Ruth. Who was Ruth?

Ruth was the daughter in law of Naomi. As the story goes, Naomi’s husband passed away, soon followed by both of her sons. Naomi had two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. When Naomi’s sons died, she instructed her daughters-in-law to leave her and find new husbands and a new way of life. Orpah tearfully hugged and kissed Naomi goodbye and went on her way. Ruth on the other hand, did not leave. Ruth uttered these famous words, “Wherever you go, I will go. Your people shall be my people.” Ruth stayed with her mother-in-law, Naomi.

From this story, Ruth becomes the prototype for conversion. Out of love for her mother-in-law and after living in accordance to Jewish lifestyle and customs, Ruth takes on Judaism as a way of life. As a result of her loyalty and devotion, Naomi arranges it so that Ruth is married off to her kinsman, Boaz. Her sincerity and love were rewarded.

There is a midrash that explains that, when Moses received the Torah at Mount Sinai, all of the Israelites underwent a conversion. Never before having exposure to the mitzvot, the commandments that were just revealed in the Torah, this type of Judaism was new for all of the Israelites. This Jewish way of life was more detailed and structured. The covenant, the promise between God and the Jewish people, was strengthened by the revelation and acceptance of the Torah.  In that moment, Judaism changed.

As Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan once said, “Judaism is an evolving religious civilization.” Our divine mission as Jewish people is to be a “light unto the nations.” We are not asked to act as missionaries but rather to model exemplary behavior that demonstrates our beliefs and values. Both Judaism itself and the Jewish people change and evolve. Ruth became Jewish after living among the Jewish people, through a sincere desire to become a part of the community and out of love for Naomi.

Today there are many reasons why individuals convert to Judaism. For some, it’s the desire to be a part of the Jewish community, a place where they have found understanding and friendship. For others, they have discovered Judaism through the eyes of a partner, and together are seeking to create an authentic life experience.

Traditionally the term for a convert has been a ger, which can be translated as a stranger or foreigner, someone who comes from another place. Today we often use the term, “Jew by Choice.” Yet in these day and age, with the myriad of choices available to us, we are all Jews by choice. Each of us, like Ruth and like the Israelites assembled at the foot of Mount Sinai, has the ability to approach our Judaism in deeper and meaningful ways. We are continued asked to respond to the question, will we stay or will we go?

We can see Ruth as a model, not just for conversion but even more so for the choice each of us must make. We have a choice, whether to go our own ways, or take on the traditions of our ancestors. The young men and women in this year’s Confirmation Class have taken their commitment to the next level and demonstrate their devotion to the Jewish way of life. They are to be commended and respected. On Saturday, May 20th, at 5:30pm, our 10th grade students will be confirming their choice to live Jewish lives. This is not merely an event for these families, but rather a special occasion for our entire congregation, as the next generation of “Jews by Choice” are received into our TBA community. These young adults are the future of Reform Judaism. Each of us are Jews of Choice. We each choose whether or not we wish to engage with our community, adhere to tradition and celebrate the Jewish holidays and life cycle events. My hope this Shavuot is that you will be like Ruth, and like our Confirmation Students, choosing a Jewish way of life.   Chag Sameach!

Shavuot at the Temple:

Erev Shavuot services (with Yizkor) will be held on Tuesday night May 30 at 7:30pm. As is customary on Shavuot, we will be following our service with a Tikkun Leil Shavuot, a late-night period of study and reflection, ending by midnight. On Wednesday morning, May 31, a Shavuot/Yizkor service will take place at 9am and the Family Shavuot celebration for preschoolers and their families will take place at 10:30 am. - Cantor Eschler will lead a Shavuot sing-along, followed by a dairy snack.